Jim Prosser, Savage Messiah: How Jordan Peterson is Saving Western Civilization, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2019 (Hardcover, 339 pages).
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “There exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality in freedom” (Democracy in America). Likewise, those who are psychologically weak and lacking a sense of self may be susceptible to radical (often anti-Western) groups and dogma (their substitute for a religion they long ago abandoned or never had) and lash out at anyone challenging their cherished “religion”, their raison d’etre. All of this will suffice when describing those seeking to destroy Jordan Peterson, a “savage messiah” who dares to intellectually criticize their worldview by defending Western civilization and its values, including the sovereign individual, freedom of speech, and private property rights.
Jordan’s popularity with the unwoke is global and an American, Jim Prosser, has graced us with Savage Messiah: How Jordan Peterson is Saving Western Civilization. Prosser takes us from Jordan’s beginnings in Hines Creek and Fairview, small communities in northwestern Alberta, where he questioned his Christian teachings at age thirteen, ultimately found a niche with a tough crowd, and loved reading from an early age. His high school librarian, Sandra Notley, wife of Alberta’s then NDP leader Grant Notley and mother of future NDP premier Rachel Notley, introduced him to socialist politics, but also exposed him to such literary giants as Orwell, Rand, Solzhenitsyn, and Huxley, not exactly a deep red rogues’ gallery. Nineteen Eighty-Four skewered communism and The Gulag Archipelago shook Jordan’s faith in Marxism/ communism/ socialism to the core, with repercussions in the decades to come. Indeed, Gulag led him to conclude that evil is a natural human condition, albeit not uniquely left wing. His ideals shaken, disillusionment followed.
At the end of the seventies, Jordan continued hanging with the dominant and fashionably leftist crowd as a freshman at Grande Prairie Regional College, but he didn’t respect them, even dismissing them as malcontented misfits, totally ignorant of what Marxism produced. He remained an independent thinker, fascinated with good and evil and the latter’s connection to resentment, hatred, revenge, and demonization, ultimately to murder and even genocide. He transferred to the University of Alberta after his first year and read a great deal of Nietzsche on his way to a BA in political science.
A year was spent working in Europe where he continued to read voraciously and obsess over good and evil, before returning to the “U of A” to study psychology, with large doses of Carl Jung. Jordan remained intellectually driven and plagued by the depression that ran in his family and would dog him his entire life. Wonderful support from his wife, Tammy, his rock over so many years, cannot be deemphasized. Both have suffered recent health scares and our thoughts and prayers go out to them, as well as to their daughter Mikhaila (who battled her own health problems), and son Julian, and their families.
Graduate and post-graduate work in clinical psychology commenced at McGill in 1984, just as sixties radicals were completing their “long march through the institutions”, ultimately to reach critical mass in humanities and social science faculties. The influence of Marcuse and other Marxists (including the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, which infiltrated their protest movements) fueled their hatred of Western civilization, a hatred they passed along to subsequent generations of students. But Jordan had the courage to reject their orthodoxy and ultimately became their bitter enemy. He never forgot The Gulag Archipelago.
Communism’s collapse a few years later didn’t deter these “tenured radicals”, who spent the nineties pivoting to identity politics, postmodernism, radical feminism, deconstructionism, and critical (race) theory, all examples of Marxism by other means. Their equality of outcome ideal evolved to become equality of outcome by identity group.
This was well underway when Jordan began teaching psychology at Harvard in 1994. His extensive knowledge, including his ability to delve into the nature of evil, coupled with being a maverick, endeared him to his students, who appreciated his ability to go beyond psychology into realms of religion, mythology, and philosophy, and earn himself the Joseph R Levenson Teaching Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching.
But this wasn’t without its proverbial bumps in the road. Once a deconstructionist in his class challenged psychological development theories in Erich Neumann’s The Great Mother by claiming, “the ideas of ‘mother’ and the feminine goddesses of the past were simply social constructs of the male patriarchy”. Jordan suggested that this student enlighten the class with “an alternative theoretical framework”. Failing that, he added that we accomplish nothing when we “[tear] down scientific progress without offering a superior solution”.
Also, Jordan’s distaste for socialism, which he claimed was motivated by resentment, revenge, and hatred of the rich, while caring nothing for the poor, was noticed by neo-Marxist faculty members, probably numbering in the hundreds then, plus no small number of far-left students and administrators.
Such people, including a growing number of radicalized feminist professors, also took umbrage when he lamented the indoctrination and lack of scholarship in such disciplines as Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, LGBTQ Studies, and Critical (Race) Theory. Jordan went further, criticizing an identity-politics essay by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” (1988), as merely an opinion piece lacking “empirical backing” and “methodology”. Sadly, petty slander ensues when others don’t like what you have to say and liberal women began accusing Jordan of being what he was not, a racist and a misogynist.
Relocating to the University of Toronto in 1998 sent Jordan from the frying pan into the fire and well beyond as he continued ruffling the feathers of Marxists and other “social justice warriors”, who would later be joined by LGBTQ zealots. Radical feminists were riled further in 2012 when he claimed that many differences between males and females were real, not based on social conditioning. He cited studies (plural) showing that women tend to place more importance on intimate relationships, are more agreeable, have better verbal skills, and are more sensitive to emotional pain. And it is often their unique ability (and choice) to have children, not discrimination, that keeps them out of the workforce for longer periods.
Additionally, any notion that women are discriminated against is undermined by the tendency for single women with no children to earn more money than childless single men. Would this happen in an oppressive patriarchy? To their credit, these women tend to be better educated than their male counterparts and tend to place more emphasis on their careers.
In any event, the identity politics crowd on campus and beyond prefer herding everyone into groups, then dividing them into oppressor and oppressed categories. Dissenters like Jordan, who believe in the sovereign individual, are a threat to this collectivist dichotomy and aren’t welcome.
Indeed, ideological nonconformity ended a friendship with a psychology colleague who was instrumental in Jordan being hired at the U of T. This colleague took exception to Jordan’s view that Marxism is “murderous” and, instead, described it as “a respectable political and philosophical tradition” which could not be compared to Stalin’s abuses. Oh really? While he got the part about Stalin right, the Soviet Union’s totalitarian persecution didn’t end with him. While uncomplimentary to communism, Prosser could have added that Marxism/communism, the greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century, was an horrific failure everywhere it had been tried. Khrushchev sent tanks into Budapest and Brezhnev sent tanks into Prague; Pol Pot had the killing fields; Mao, perhaps the most prolific murderer of all time, had the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and let’s not forget that the world was “blessed” with the coronavirus under Xi Jinping’s watch. The Kim family gave / gives North Korea mass murder, mass starvation, and torture; and Fidel Castro routinely jailed and even had murdered those who were critical of his regime. And this small sampling of the evils committed under communism doesn’t even touch on its economic incompetence.
Undaunted, the left kept coming. The deconstruction of gender in the early years of the millennium came to a head in 2016, with the Trudeau government’s passage of C-16, a bill mandating that people be addressed by their preferred (not necessarily their real) gender terms. In essence, xy could arbitrarily declare himself to be xx while xx could arbitrarily declare herself to be xy, two logically and biologically nonsensical claims which, henceforth, were to be humoured and never questioned.
Jordan came out swinging, declaring C-16 an assault on objectivity and biology. Mandating that people be addressed by their preferred gender pronouns is totalitarian. It forces people to use a specific language and doesn’t allow them to question the assertions of others.
This was too much for the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), which threatened that it is discriminatory for Jordan or anyone else to refuse to address a trans person by their preferred name and personal pronoun. Why, refusing even creates a “poisoned environment” (??).
Even U of T’s human resources department got into the act by warning Jordan not to speak publicly about C-16. And a petition urging Jordan to resign was signed by approximately two hundred U of T faculty members. So much for freedom of speech on campus or having the courage to defend your colleagues in the face of adversity. Cowardice prevailed.
Through it all, Jordan stressed that functional societies must allow freedom of speech. Ideas and positive change require it, and it is necessary if we are to resolve disagreements and reach acceptable compromises. Conversely, all of this is stifled when we have politically correct echo chambers where people walk on eggshells, terrified of expressing opinions.
Situations on campuses continued to deteriorate. For example, Jordan’s speech at McMaster University was interrupted by some of our “leaders of tomorrow” (mostly women) blowing horns, ringing cowbells, chanting “homophobic piece of shit”, and “no freedom for hate speech”, all because of bill C-16. Of course, this was compounded by Trump’s recent election which was too much for these “social justice warriors”. Voila, another excuse for derangement. One wonders how such people will fare in a real crisis if mere opinion and/ or a US election result sends them into hysterics.
The Lindsay Shepherd fiasco at Wilfrid Laurier University in late 2017 was more grist for the mill. Fortunately, Lindsay had the presence of mind to tape her inquisition at the hands of communications studies professors Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott (with Adria Joel, the acting manager of the campus Diversity and Equity office, along for the ride). Rambukkana was caught on tape comparing Jordan to Hitler (among other things), a libel if ever there was one, and part of the rationale warranting Jordan’s defamation suit against Laurier. Rambukkana obviously knows nothing about Hitler (or Nazism) if he hangs that label on a freedom of speech champion. Kudos to British journalist Melanie Phillips for telling us we have a “world turned upside down”.
But while Savage Messiah has much to recommend it, a couple of errors are too glaring to overlook. There are a few occasions where Prosser refers to the New Democratic Party as the National Democratic Party. And although Canadians may simply recognize the mistake and continue reading, non-Canadians may erroneously assume the two parties are one and the same when they read that Justin Trudeau became leader of the NDP, then led the Liberal Party to victory in 2015. Then again, we can also (sarcastically) lament how understandable this error is, given the dearth of ideological daylight between the Dippers and the Trudeau Liberals.
Be that as it may, this biography doubles as a good history of post-sixties radicalism. Indeed, problems plaguing Jordan Peterson do not begin and end with him. He is but one of many who defend Western civilization, while being persecuted, even cancelled, by the anti-West “woke” mob for having the temerity to express views falling outside an increasingly shrinking politically correct Overton window. Such totalitarian zealots also made life an unbearable hell for the late great Mike Adams, a criminology and sociology professor at the University of North Carolina (Wilmington), and author of Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel: Confessions of a Conservative College Professor (2004).
Suffice to say, Prosser successfully delineates how dire the consequences are for all who value freedom, especially freedom of speech. He also blesses us with a thorough, well researched, and well-deserved tribute to one of the greatest public intellectuals of our age. Like Rex Murphy (and unlike Ben and Jessica Mulroney, Wendy Mesley, and Michael Korenberg), Jordan Peterson stands tall and never caves to politically correct “cultural revolutionaries,” who seem to be everywhere these days.