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The Travesty of Comparing Jordan Peterson to Hitler

(Chris Baamonde)

“Not only ought Gabriel Andrade resist implying there are parallels to be found by Peterson and Hitler, but he also should keep in mind how many lives have been positively changed thanks to his ideas.”

In a recent Merion Wesarticle, Dr. Gabriel Andrade asserts that Jordan Peterson “needs to think harder” about the detrimental effects of his Nietzschean/Randian-inspired philosophy and “must try harder to disavow some of the tendentious readings that people make of his words.” Andrade depicts Ayn Rand as a substandard philosopher and Peterson as an inferior version of Rand—more aptly a “self help motivational coach,” whose ideas resonate with young males and also some of the worst individuals in society, such as members of the alt-right.

Although Andrade wonders what all the “hand-wringing surrounding [Peterson] is all about” and may prefer the “Cliffnotes version of his ideas,” many fans view the Canadian psychologist as a modern-day hero. This is something Andrade seems to recognize when he contends that Peterson has seized the mantle as the “new right-wing intellectual guru.” In doing so, Peterson, according to Andrade, is filling the right’s thirty year intellectual vacuum that has been in place since the death of Ayn Rand. 

Unlike some of his peers, Andrade is very careful in how he structures his arguments. Although he never directly compares Peterson to Adolf Hitler, his assertions are fraught with innuendo as he leaps from one unsubstantiated claim to another. He points out that “Nietzsche was not guilty of the way his philosophy was abused by the Nazis” but that he “gives credence to the thesis that his ideas did sow the seeds of totalitarianism.” Andrade is also concerned that “underneath all the talk about responsibility, order, and anti-political correctness, there may be something more sinister going on with Peterson,” presumably given the fact that some members of the alt-right and Men Going Their Own Way are counted among Peterson’s supporters.

Most unfair of all, however, is when Andrade suggests Peterson might be encouraging thinking along the lines of: “If you worry so much about being a Superman, then ultimately it is not so hard to conclude that weaklings must simply disappear from the face of the Earth.” As such, Andrade engages in the very tactic some commentators, including Conrad Hamilton, have accused Peterson of: suggesting various implications about a writer’s work, while allowing enough distance to disavow said implications if they are explicitly suggested by readers. 

Attempting to invalidate another’s position on the basis of direct or indirect insinuations that there is a comparison to be found with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party makes for an exercise in one of the least excusable of the logical fallacies: Reductio ad Hitlerum. Rachel Maddow, for instance, was one of the mainstream journalists to most notably turn Nazi comparisons into a political strategy. In her effort to equate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign with the advent of awell organized national fascist party” in America, she asserted that “fascism was not just a word or a way to insult one with whom you disagree with.” Maddow continued, “…it is a specific thing…a specific form of far-right politics that involves a sort of narcissistic cult of superman action around the party.”  

In contrast, Princeton Professor Gianni Riotta warned in a January, 2016 Atlantic piece that though xenophobic rhetoric, demagoguery, and populist appeals certainly “borrow from the fascist playbook, “there is no fascism without a rational plan to obliterate democracy via a military coup.” Riotta said that the fascists who marched on Rome in 1922 were “relentlessly, violently focused on a clear goal: to kill democracy and install a dictatorship,” which was clearly not a part of the Trump presidential campaign.

Moreover, the frivolous use of the word fascism, “not only belittles past tragedies but also obscured future dangers.” Since Maddow’s prime time codification of the newest iteration of Reductio ad Hitlerum in 2015, it has become a favorite tactic of many on the left. Politicians such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, and Tom Steyer’s willy-nilly Hitler references are a terrible insult to the actual victims of Nazi genocide, yet they have recently been joined by entertainers such as Linda Ronstadt.  They have done it to Trump, and now they do it to Peterson, the latter of whom even devoted many of his own lectures to explaining how the evil of Hitler was truly unparalleled. 

The Left might not own the means of production, but it greatly controls much of the discourse in cultural institutions, the academic world, and the mass media.

Not only ought Gabriel Andrade resist implying there are parallels to be found by Peterson and Hitler, but he also should keep in mind how many lives have been positively changed thanks to his ideas. For Andrade, who argues that Peterson, “still has time to avoid going down the path of Ayn Rand” and that his “unchecked views may be promoting a world that few sensible people would want,” I would counter that Andrade still has ample time to avoid going down the path of individuals whose negative fixations on Peterson have resulted in substandard scholarship.

Maybe, instead of belaboring a perceived failure of Peterson to disavow certain subsets of his readers, Andrade should disavow the absurd comparisons of thinkers one disagrees with (or disagrees in part with) to Hitler. So, Andrade writes that, “many, many contemporary intellectuals who have far more interesting things to say than Peterson.” Yet, after reading Andrade’s tired indulgence of a lazy logical fallacy, I am afraid that I can now say the same about Gabriel Andrade.  

There is something Andrade can do to regain the credibility that he has lost in his latest article. It is to give Peterson the respect he deserves as a scholar and refrain from writing articles that reflect the very “unhealthy conspiratorial thinking” that Andrade claims to oppose. Otherwise, Andrade risks continuing the collectivist drift of his thinking and accepting his destiny as a contributing author to Everyone I Don’t Like Is Hitler: a Children’s Guide to Online Political Discussion

But Andrade is correct about one thing; Peterson is someone truly resonating with people, and in turn, he is making some people very upset. All things considered, it is not Peterson—the person himself—that causes many of his detractors to feel such revulsion and anger but, rather, the ideas he promotes, ideas that are a repudiation of the identity politics of the left.

It is not so much the messenger as it is the message. Peterson offers an alternative means of understanding the world for so many, thus diminishing the power of many on the left as a result. I believe that there is a faction within the left that supports a type of authoritarian progressivism as nefarious in all aspects as the kind that Peterson is accused of supporting. The left might not own the means of production, but it greatly controls much of the discourse in cultural institutions, the academic world, and the mass media. Anyone interfering with that process would be attacked similarly. 

Free speech is just one of the ideas that Peterson and his detractors disagree on. It is an ironic twist of fate that Peterson is now the preeminent spokesperson for today’s Free Speech Movement, which had its origins within the counterculture of the Left. Mario Savio was in many ways the Jordan Peterson of his era. He is considered to have been the voice of the Free Speech Movement, and, at one time, he was under investigation by the FBI.   

In an address given at Sproul Hall, University of California in 1964,  Savio asserted that:

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part…And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop…”

Despite the protestations of those such as Andrade, for many (in the United States and around the world), the idea of the heroic protagonist is intrinsic to our identity. For those of us who strive to uphold the principles of individualism, Peterson is a genuine hero, a paragon of virtue, and a man of great moral courage. We are indebted to Peterson for drawing his line in the sand—and doing what needed to be done in his effort to stop the machine. Little wonder that all his detractors have in response are the pettiest of cheap shots.

Tony D. Senatore graduated from Columbia University in 2017, at the age of 55. He is a well-known bassist and musician and can be reached at tds2123@columbia.edu. 

The artwork for this piece was contributed by Chris Baamonde, who can be reached at chrisbaamonde@optonline.net. 

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Mohamed Adel Mostafa
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Mohamed Adel Mostafa

Jordan Peterson is a hero, not because I find most of his ideas refreshing, empowering and reasonable, but because he is facing a massive horde of hypocrates, and bravely doing so. Most of those who criticise him -especially the leftest- don’t know how to command the same level of intelligence and charisma that Peterson has, they just end up attacking him personally instead of discussing his ideas and present their arguments logically. If you disagree with him that’s absolutely okay, criticize his opinions and present your point of view, don’t go after the individual go after their opinions so that in the end we can reach a common ground. What the leftist are doing is alienating themselves by adopting this “If you’re not with us you’re hitler” argument.

Darren Iversen
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Darren Iversen

Great writing, I hope this series continues.
Like Trump, Peterson is a projection receptor. Its like there was a pent up demand that’s suddenly found outlet and unloaded on them. When a thing is so widespread it implies that something archetypal is going on. Is it the father archetype that the radical left is constellating?

Paul From Brooklyn
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Paul From Brooklyn

An article worthy of the forum. Reductio ad Hitlerum! A marvelously appropriate way to describe a rather boring nervous tick in the collective neck of the Left’s apologists. I actually read Dr. Andrade’s article as well, and though Mr. Senatore’s description of it was pretty spot on. Dr. Andrade’s personal insecurities regarding accomplishment and those who embrace it were on full display in most of the article. You know you’re reading an article born of passive-aggressive disdain for the subject matter when you read a line that starts out with “Of course Communism killed millions of people, but….”

ilsemeyer
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ilsemeyer

That was an excellent commentary on Andrade’s piece !! And I’m on the left. Furthermore, there are many, many people on the left who appreciate and understand Jordan Peterson. I would like to make the point, however, that there is a relatively small subsection of the left — typically delineated as the illiberal, regressive or even woke left — and they should not be considered as representative of the left as a whole. Indeed, there are increasing numbers of the larger left who are beginning to agitate against these regressive left tribalists (such as Andrade). Furthermore, there are clearly increasing numbers on the left who see the profound value of many conservative ideals while having little use for the Manichean and narcissistic mindsets of those at the more extreme ends of the political spectrum. And to Tony Senatore, the author of this piece, I would say we need clear thinking like yours more than ever.

Phillip Schearer
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Phillip Schearer

My constant message during over 50 years as an admirer of Ayn Rand and a supporter of her philosophy is that you should not believe anything anyone (yes, including me) tells you about Ayn Rand until you have read enough of her work to judge for yourself. This means reading not just her novels but also her collections of essays which make explicit the thought introduced in the novels. Then you will be prepared to judge how much commentary on Ayn Rand and Objectivism is based on ignorance and hatred of someone who — in the name of reality, reason, and individual rights — stands against thousands of years of irrationality.

Margaret
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Margaret

“Mario Savio was in many ways the Jordan Peterson of his era.”

Hardly. Mario Savio was fighting for social justice, not against it. Peterson would have us bowing down before the machine that Savio was intent on dismantling. As Mario Savio’s son once said (when referring to Milo Yiannopoulos’ use of his father’s name to defend “free speech”), this must be “some kind of sick joke.”

SHERATON SEATTLE
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SHERATON SEATTLE

Plenty of people claim their lives were changed for the better thanks to Scientology or cannibalism or eating Oreo cookies. So what? Where’s the evidence? L. Ron Peterson is a nasty con artist. Most of what he says is complete bullshit.

ilsemeyer
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ilsemeyer

I’m sorry but you’re not contributing to the discussion. Impressive rant though !

Communism is winning and I'm glad it scares you
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Communism is winning and I'm glad it scares you

Nobody is saying Peterson is “literally hitler”. They are saying his rhetoric is rooted in Social Darwinist nonsense with a dash of fear mongering insanity and associates more with alt-right sycophants and psychopaths like Carl Benjamin and Ben Shapiro than any concept of “free speech”. He is a transphobic racist bigot that fraternizes with people that are actual Fascists that have been caught on record advocating for the “death of liberal democracy.” Suddenly, him associating with and agreeing with people who act as mouthpieces that echo the most notorious fascist that ever walked the earth, Peterson facing the consequences of his actions makes a lot of sense. And that point about Peterson talking about how awful Hitler was? Give me a break you tool, the fascist movement has strict rules about not revealing the full extent of what they believe, because they know the public isn’t stupid enough to listen to someone who outright advocates for genocide. The path of fascism is a slow and insidious indoctrination into a cult,… Read more »

Keeping Up
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Keeping Up

Right, keep cheering an ideology that has killed untold millions, such as up to 45 million during Mao’s the Great Leap Forward. You are beyond stupid and nothing that anyone says that someone might find offensive remotely compares with your support for an ideology that leaves nothing but deaths on unprecedented scales in its wake. You are an absolute idiot. Go read a history book

Paul From Brooklyn
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Paul From Brooklyn

Silliness.

John
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John

“… the fascist movement has strict rules about not revealing the full extent of what they believe, because they know the public isn’t stupid enough to listen to someone who outright advocates for genocide. The path of fascism is a slow and insidious indoctrination into a cult”

This is the sort of rhetoric that can only be said by someone who has never made an effort at self-reflection. It takes a lot of ignorance to not realize that not once has Peterson ever advocated for any sort of violence much less genocide. “Communism is winning and I’m glad it scares you”… Yup.