The different voice that Jordan Peterson provides to the array of criticism of the socialist utopias so many seem to believe an actual possibility, in spite of the universal and disastrous failures every such experiment has created, is that he brings a psychological dimension to the arguments that are an important and in his hands devastating addition to the traditional economic and philosophical arguments that have tended to dominate such debates. His has been amongst the most important additions to the criticisms of the left that may have arisen in the present generation. His ability to explain has been recognised in that he has been asked to write The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword for the fiftieth anniversary edition commemorating its first publication in 1968. It is a long intro which is worth the time it takes to read it through.
Why, for example, is it still acceptable—and in polite company—to profess the philosophy of a Communist or, if not that, to at least admire the work of Marx? Why is it still acceptable to regard the Marxist doctrine as essentially accurate in its diagnosis of the hypothetical evils of the free-market, democratic West; to still consider that doctrine “progressive,” and fit for the compassionate and proper thinking person? Twenty-five million dead through internal repression in the Soviet Union (according to The Black Book of Communism). Sixty million dead in Mao’s China (and an all-too-likely return to autocratic oppression in that country in the near future). The horrors of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, with their two million corpses. The barely animate body politic of Cuba, where people struggle even now to feed themselves. Venezuela, where it has now been made illegal to attribute a child’s death in hospital to starvation. No political experiment has ever been tried so widely, with so many disparate people, in so many different countries (with such different histories) and failed so absolutely and so catastrophically. Is it mere ignorance (albeit of the most inexcusable kind) that allows today’s Marxists to flaunt their continued allegiance—to present it as compassion and care? Or is it, instead, envy of the successful, in near-infinite proportions? Or something akin to hatred for mankind itself? How much proof do we need? Why do we still avert our eyes from the truth?
Perhaps we simply lack sophistication. Perhaps we just can’t understand. Perhaps our tendency toward compassion is so powerfully necessary in the intimacy of our families and friendships that we cannot contemplate its limitations, its inability to scale, and its propensity to mutate into hatred of the oppressor, rather than allegiance with the oppressed. Perhaps we cannot comprehend the limitations and dangers of the utopian vision given our definite need to contemplate and to strive for a better tomorrow. We certainly don’t seem to imagine, for example, that the hypothesis of some state of future perfection—for example, the truly egalitarian and permanent brotherhood of man—can be used to justify any and all sacrifices whatsoever (the pristine and heavenly end making all conceivable means not only acceptable but morally required). There is simply no price too great to pay in pursuit of the ultimate utopia. (This is particularly true if it is someone else who foots the bill.) And it is clearly the case that we require a future toward which to orient ourselves—to provide meaning in our life, psychologically speaking. It is for that reason we see the same need expressed collectively, on a much larger scale, in the Judeo-Christian vision of the Promised Land, and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And it is also clearly the case that sacrifice is necessary to bring that desired end state into being. That’s the discovery of the future itself: the necessity to forego instantaneous gratification in the present, to delay, to bargain with fate so that the future can be better; twinned with the necessity to let go, to burn off, to separate wheat from chaff, and to sacrifice what is presently unworthy, so that tomorrow can be better than today. But limits need to be placed around who or what is deemed dispensable.
And when you’ve read the intro you can then watch this.
You have never seen him so angry.
AND THEN THIS: This is Jordan Peterson’s video intro to the book. He states right at the start that writing this introduction is the greatest honour that has been bestowed upon him.