Carl Trueman | Jordan Peterson sounds the alarm on lowering standards to pacify progressivism
Jordan PetersonGetty Images/Photo by Chris Williamson
In an article for Canada’s National Post, Jordan Peterson announced he is no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto, having resigned and moved to emeritus status. At the age of only 59, this is an unusual move for an academic. Peterson likely has few financial concerns, given the success of his books and lectures. Nevertheless, he is not retiring because he can afford to do so but because he no longer wants to work in a professional culture dominated by the ideological program that goes under the banner of diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Peterson writes with his usual brio and hits all the usual suspects: corrupt university leadership, politically motivated leftist academics, cowardly professors, and, more recently, corporate elites who are destroying sound business practices just as progressives are dismantling academic standards. His article contains nothing new for the Peterson-watcher but is still worth reading, just to be reminded of how fast, how comprehensive, and how damaging these changes are. At the end, he leaves the reader with a clear picture of how Russian President Vladimir Putin looks upon the emergence of the new, effete West.
We truly do live in a “trans” world. Not so much the trans of the LGBTQ movement but rather the trans of 19th-century philosopher (and harbinger of postmodern anarchy) Nietzsche’s so-called transvaluation of all values. Once the foundation of traditional values has been destroyed, there is, Nietzsche declared, a need for such transvaluation: That which was once deemed strong must be exposed, while that which was once considered weak must be lauded as strong.
Peterson points out that higher education has for years pursued active policies to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds. I, for one, think that is a laudable aim, with the same going for student recruitment, as long as it is simply removing non-academic barriers to such. As a first-generation college graduate, I am the beneficiary of an English grammar school education—an early system built by the privileged to grant those from humble backgrounds with the academic ability a chance to excel in a world that would otherwise have been denied to them. But the transvaluation of all values is not concerned with that kind of legitimate and desirable diversity. Indeed, the Nietzschean trans movement cannot stop there precisely because it assumes at the outset that the whole of society (and therefore its constitutive institutions) is systemically corrupt. Grammar schools and financial aid programs are but sops to cover the evil of the status quo. Therefore, the whole system, and the values it embodies, must go. If the progressives transvalue all values, we are doomed as a society to mediocrity and failure.
What Peterson sees happening in higher education and the corporate business world is that facts—the things that made educational institutions great and socially useful (for example, the fact that they did exclude the less academically able and did demand high standards of intellectual accomplishment)—have come to be seen as more or less arbitrary criteria by which some groups (white heterosexual males, for example) can keep other groups (denominated by any combination of adjective or noun that does not include “white,” “heterosexual,” or “male”) out of positions of social and cultural influence. Sad, but at least socially harmless enough, perhaps, when dealing with programs in media studies or Anglo-Saxon literature. It is rather more worrying when it starts to transform medical schools and military academies. I can only speak personally on this, but I prefer my doctor to be competent in identifying medical conditions, not microaggressions and implicit bias. Peterson is right to sound the alarm. If the progressives transvalue all values, we are doomed as a society to mediocrity and failure.
Yet for all the hoo-hah that surrounds Peterson wherever he goes and whenever he speaks, perhaps the most telling thing about him is not his controversial views. Rather, it is that his views are controversial. That he can write a book like 12 Rules for Life containing advice of the profundity of “be your child’s parent, not his or her friend” and it be hailed as a work of intellectual criminality on the left and of genius on the right speaks eloquently of the political culture of our day.
And therein lies the real danger, that of polarization to the point where genuine concern with making sure that education and business are truly meritocratically diverse becomes equated by one side with exclusionary elitism and by the other with a capitulation to chaotic progressivism. It behooves Christians, and their institutions, to show the world a better way.
Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.