Daily Moral Libertarian: Jordan Peterson and 'Postmodern neo-Marxism'
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The Moral Libertarian Ideal: Equal Moral Agency for Every Individual.
Dr Jordan Peterson is known for his commentary on what he calls Postmodern neo-Marxism. Many people familiar with leftist theory have commented that the two concepts cannot be combined into one, because Marxism has a grand narrative of history and postmodernism rejects it. Ever since popular YouTuber ContraPoints illustrated this point in a video that has since gone viral a few months ago, there has been even more discussion of this subject. So who is right? We'll have a rational look at it. And since this show is all about classical liberalism, another thing we'll be looking at is, is what Peterson calls postmodern neo-Marxism threatening to classical liberal values, and if it is, how should we respond to it?
Marxism has a Grand Narrative of History.
Postmodernism does not.
Can the two still go together? Yes.
If we look at it from a factual point of view, what ContraPoints said appears to be correct. It is a fact that Marxism has a grand narrative of history and postmodernism rejects all such narratives. Contra also made the observation that Peterson appears to have overlooked the range of different positions existing on the left. Again, this appears to be correct, at least to an extent. However, the fact also remains that many of us know exactly what Peterson is talking about when he says Postmodern Neo-Marxism. Therefore, even if the words used are not 100% technically correct, they do refer to something concrete. And even some people familiar with left have agreed with Peterson that the modern far-left is full of both postmodern and Marxist influences. This is possible because they reject certainty in the grand narrative of Marx, but use his worldview of class oppression and class struggle, as well as his view of dialectical materialism, as tools of analysis, alongside more postmodern tools of analysis provided by figures like Derrida and Foucault. This allows them to, for example, combine a Foucaldian analysis of power relationships in society with the Marxist view of culture being rooted in material conditions, and the need for class struggle. This also allows them to mix and match other thinkers as well, for example, the idea of cultural hegemony that comes from Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, and ideas from schools of radical feminism that are deeply influenced by postmodernism, creating a concept of hegemonic patriarchy that oppresses women. Furthermore, many of these syncretic ideas of the New Left are deeply influenced by Critical Theory, which was invented by Marxist thinkers in the Frankfurt School.
Now, all this remains a loosely organised network of ideas, still without a clear label, but with a clear demographic where it has strong support, and therefore a rising level of influence in our politics and culture. Therefore, it can and should now be considered its own broad school of thought, independent of both classical Marxism and classical postmodernism. As you see, when ideas from a school of thought need to be discussed, we need a label for it. The more traditional label for this school of thought was 'Cultural Marxism', but as this has certain negative connotations, some have been looking for a new term, and Peterson's 'Postmodern neo-Marxism' seems to work for many. To avoid the controversy, I usually just use 'neo-Marxism'. I guess that term is still open to the attack that this new school of thought is not actually Marxism. Therefore, maybe the best word for it is 'neo-socialism'. I will stick with neo-Marxism for now, because that's what people understand.
Is Neo-Marxism Against our Liberal Values?
We must have a Good Answer to it.
As a classical liberal, and in particular, as a moral libertarian, what I am concerned about neo-Marxism is that it appears to be a systematic attempt to invalidate, discredit and turn people away from classical liberal values, using theories derived from radical thinkers. The emphasis on systems of oppression being everywhere, which I believe comes from a combination of the Marxist idea of class oppression and Focauldian power dynamics, perhaps with some radical feminism thrown in there, is a clear attempt at discrediting the individualistic focus of classical liberalism. It attempts to show us that, the premesis of classical liberalism, individual-level equality, is untenable, because there will still be some inequality in some way. And because we can't disprove what they say, classical liberal values will fall in an academic debate, especially one where utilitarianism is the yardstick.
To this, my answer is that, yes, there's a grain of truth in what the neo-Marxist say. There's always a grain of truth in any idea that has some support, and to deny this is usually not fruitful. Life is suffering, the world is imperfect, and whatever system we have, there will always be some form of inequality. To emphasize one form of equality is perhaps to sacrifice equality in another domain. Classical liberalism emphasizes one form of equality, neo-Marxism perhaps emphasizes other forms. So what form of equality does classical liberalism emphasize? To answer this question, we must look at the roots of classical liberalism. Liberalism arose because there was a need for religious toleration, freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is thus the foundation liberalism is built on. Of course, in the modern world, there are many non-religious people, and many people's consciences aren't as tied to religion nowadays. Therefore, this principle needs to be expanded so that it can apply to the modern world.
The Moral Libertarian Ideal: Equal Moral Agency for Every Individual.
The classical liberal demand for equality is one of equality of consciences. It exists on the moral level, the highest level of humanity. From what I can see, the neo-Marxist demand for equality is one of group-based standing, that is, every group in society should have the same outcomes. This is focussing on lower level equality at the expense of higher level equality in my opinion. It is also focussing on class-level equality at the expense of individual-level equality. There is a clear incompatiblity of worldviews here, and I can't help but stand for what I believe to be a superior way. May the best ideas win in the free market of ideas.
That's all for today. I'll be back with more moral libertarian commentary in two days' time. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss it.