Is Jordan Peterson a conservative?
Jordan Peterson and I both spent decades fascinated with authoritarianism and doing research into it. I am 20 years older than him, however, so our research activities did not overlap. I think, however, that our common research interests may enable me to judge his views more insightfully.
The first thing I have to say is that both Peterson and I have studied, Nazism, Fascism, amtisemitism etc as something which horrifies us, not something we admire. Many people seem unable to allow that, however. You must secretly admire it in order to study it seems to be the claim. And some justification of that will always be devised by misquoting or misunderstanding some isolated fact or bit of text that in fact provides no such justification at all.
And in my case, my frequent promotion of libertarian ideas should show where I belong on the political spectrum. The fact that libertarianism is the exact opposite of Fascism should be convincing about what I believe but it is not, of course. In the twisted minds of the left, liberarianism and Fascism are often equated. Black can be white for them. Even my cast-iron support for the State of Israel can be ignored.
An interesting example of Peterson being accused of what he is not is the case of the now famous article in the historically Leftist NY "Jewish Forward" which implicitly accused Peterson of being antisemitic. The article was such a total denial of everything Peterson has said that it got angry rebuttals from several sources and the "Forward" itself quickly published a retraction. Peterson gives all the detail of that here
So: Don't believe anything about Peterson in the Left-leaning media. Just read what he himself writes. Media comments will be reliably distorted. A rather amusing example of such a distortion is the NYT claim that Peterson advocates "enforced monogamy". Does that mean he wants to abolish all divorce laws? No. As one of Peterson's defenders summarized the matter: "Peterson is using well-established anthropological language here: “enforced monogamy” does not mean government-enforced monogamy. “Enforced monogamy” means socially-promoted, culturally-inculcated monogamy", not legally required monogamy. In other words, faithful marriage should be encouraged by the society at large. See here
Peterson himself says he is a classical liberal, meaning that he believes in a broad spectrum of individual liberties. Conservatives do too but they tend to add in other beliefs about patriotism and such social issues as abortion and homosexuality. And yet Peterson has such conservative positions too so I think he is simply resisting "conservative" as an overinclusive label. He offers no guarantee that he will agree with all conservative positions.
He is right to be cautious. "Racist" is a label that is ceaselessly thrown around by the Left and all conservatives are racist in their view. I did rather a lot of survey research showing that not to be so but Leftists don't need evidence for their accusations. So any mention of race brings howls from the Left and conservatives do in fact mention race in some ways at times.
And that is where Peterson and I part company. I try to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. And as a psychometrician I am well aware of important black/white differences. And I talk about them, sometimes at length. Peterson wisely avoids the topic. Because I do talk about scientifically well-established black white differences I am someone who has to be avoided. The fact that the official position of the American Psychological Association is that blacks are on averge about 15 points lower on IQ does not excuse me. I am simply putting the majority conclusion of academics in my field but I am outside polite society to say so publicly. I see blacks as requiring assistance rather than persecution but that doesn't count either. And I am vociferous in mocking the false assistance of "affirmative action".
So Peterson is something more than a classical liberal but he is not wholly a conservative. So what is he? I think it is reasonable to say that he is a traditionalist. His self-help writings lie well within that description. They do not rely heavily on laboratory research or surveys but also use clinical insights and traditional wisdom: Christian wisdom in particular.
He is certainly using pre-Spock childrearing advice. That Spock himself eventually recanted much of his permissive views and saw much wisdom in earler teachings would support Peterson in that. Anybody who has absorbed Bible teachings in his youth -- as I did -- would find Peterson's personal development teachings familiar. And Peterson makes no secret of that. He appears to be an atheist -- as I am -- but sees Christianity as a great source of wisdom -- as I do.
So his views are not entirely scientific. They are sourced widely rather than in surveys and experiments. But where available the academic literature does offer some cautious support for what he says. And it should be noted that use of insights from clinical work has always been a major source of psychological thinking -- starting from Sigmund Freud -- JR