In the recent interview above, Jordan Peterson asked “who is White exactly…are the people who inhabit northern India White?” White identitarians are not just “reprehensible” and “detestable,” he said, they make the same mistake as postmodern leftists in believing it is possible to identify racial groups with any certainty. Take a listen. The statement about identity politics and the White race can be heard between 17’45” and 20′. This article focuses broadly on his statements between 9’00” and 20’00”.
The same Peterson who says it is impossible to identify the White race as a distinctive group has also repeated a thousand times that postmodernists are wrong in denying objective knowledge about distinctively “male” and “female” group characteristics. The error of postmodernists, Peterson has said, is that they don’t know how to distinguish substantive biological differences from less significant, socially constructed differences. Postmodernists elevate all differences, including minute differences without distinction, to the same epistemological status, making scientific generalizations impossible, since science operates on the assumption that some properties are more significant than others. For postmodernists reality is an infinite series of differences and particulars, and the criteria that allows us to decide what differences are significant are ideological. This is why postmodernists belief that differences between boys and girls can be eliminated as long as the appropriate “gender experts” are in charge of socialization.
According to Peterson, postmodernists have broken asunder, splintered into multiple concepts, previously stable and meaningful categories. Since every piece of social reality one identifies can be splintered into smaller conceptual units, postmodernists have found themselves unable to offer any stable criteria as to when the splintering should stop. Having brushed aside biological knowledge in the identification of groups, postmodernists have not only made it impossible for social scientists to offer objectively valid criteria for the identification of their smaller groups, they have left themselves open to the endless splintering of their own concepts by the next group of victimized individuals.
Peterson is always insisting, with ever more regularity, that the “far right” is engaging in the same identity politics as the left, and presumably that White identitarians are caught up in the same splintering dynamic, the same arbitrary use of politically-based criteria in the identification of social groups. But we really need to ask, since he never elaborates: why is it impossible for White identitarians to identify Whites as a racial group? What exactly is the alt right doing in their identity politics that resembles the postmodernist logic of the left?
The truth is that White identitarians are following the same biological logic Peterson applies in his identification of males and females. It is Peterson who uses the same postmodernist logic the left uses against the practice of group identification by identitarians. He asks “who is White exactly?” just as postmodernists ask “what exactly is a male?” Postmodernists tell students that there is no such thing as a White race. The White race is a social construct solely determined by the cultural norms and by the elites in charge of knowledge. They always insist that there are far more significant cultural and social differences between individuals across racial lines.
It can be said that Peterson does not deduce, at least overtly, any form of identity politics from the distinctions he notes between males and females. He wants males and females to be judged as individuals. He wants a politics in which a people’s interests are not assumed to be determined by their membership in sexual or racial groups. But can one really avoid political proposals about the best interests of men and women if one agrees that there are substantive biological differences between these two sexes? Would it not be sensible to play up the truthfulness of traditional gender roles? This could be done in a free and democratic fashion, without state imposed sanctions, without negating anyone’s individuality. The point is that education about traditional differences, and policy proposals thereof, are a form of identity politics that make judgments about individual men and women based on their membership in a sexual group.
The same can be said about observable differences in races. White identitarians are not advocating against liberal freedoms but against the illiberal mandate that Whites, and only Whites, abstain from identity politics. Why does Peterson ignore the growing scientific literature supporting the identitarian view that humans generally have a preference for their ethnic in-group, and that such altruistic dispositions as sharing, loyalty, caring are exhibited primarily and intensively within in-groups rather than toward a universal “we” in disregard for one’s community.
We have strong reasons to suspect that Peterson is merely abiding by the politically correct line against White identity because it is too risky. But why not stay silent, why attack White identity politics as “detestable” and “abhorrent”? Why was it so easy for Peterson to argue that Jewish individuals are disproportionately represented in many professions because they have on average, as a group, a higher IQ than individual members of the White group-race? How were Jews and Whites contrasted in their IQ results if there was no objective criteria to decide who is a Jew and who is White? Obviously Peterson would never say that Whites are more successful than Blacks because they are smarter on average.
European Identitarianism = Protection Of Individual Liberties
The individualism Peterson identifies with Western civilization is a recent libertarian interpretation coming at a time when Western traditions have been decimated by postmodernist politics and the relentless spread of commodification. This does not mean that community norms, historical memories, and ethnic identities have disappeared altogether. The liberal communitarianism argument against the classical liberalism Peterson endorses came to be widely accepted precisely because the principle that individuals should be recognized as agents with a capacity for independent judgment resonates only among an actually living European people with collective habits and traditions that value individual liberty.
The immigration restrictions enforced in Canada, Australia, and United States well into the 1960s/70s were the product of peoples with a strong collective identity and a strong tradition of individual freedoms. The liberal nationalism of the peoples of Europe was never based on liberal values alone, but also on a strong sense of peoplehood, territorial attachment, kinship, and collective norms. In this interview Peterson says he is both a libertarian and a “terrified traditionalist.” But what else can traditions mean if not collective beliefs passed down within a group or society with common origins in the past?
The interviewer Matt Lewis, who wrote an article summing up the interview, interprets Peterson’s ambivalence about Trump’s identitarian politics, and his “caution over endorsing sweeping or radical cultural changes,” as a “Burkean” form of conservatism. Edmund Burke is admired for his efforts to combine classical liberal and socially conservative ideas against the French revolutionary experiment of the Jacobin “reign of terror” during the early 1790s. Jacobin revolutionaries sought to remake French society from the ground up by dismantling centuries-old institutions and social practices and forcing through new institutional arrangements based on abstract principles conceived by intellectuals straight out of their heads. But since the West is undergoing the most radically altering experiment conceived in history, forced diversification through mass immigration to destroy the “xenophobic” in-group loyalties and identities of Whites, how could one be seen as a “Burkean conservative” in saying that we must not engage in an identitarian politics that seeks to stop this radical experiment but should simply tinker with this program, perhaps cutting immigration a bit, raising a few words about lack of Muslim integration, but certainly avoiding the “identitarian” Trumpian populist opposition to illegal immigration?
The problem with the West is not excluded to the postmodern ideas of academics. It is centrally about the globalist coalition of leftist academics and fake “Burkean conservatives” in support of diversification against any form of White identitarian reaction to the projected reduction of indigenous Europeans to a minority in their homelands.