One of Peterson’s frequent bêtes noires is “postmodern neo-Marxism.” In a 2018 interview with Big Think, Peterson laid out his understanding of the concept and its origins. Marxist and socialist ideas were so discredited by the 1960s due to the horrors of Stalinism that “it became impossible for a thinking person to be a Marxist.”
The solution of thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, Peterson argues, was to adapt Marxism’s class-based analysis into a much more general critique of power. The result was postmodern identity politics, with a growing number of self-described marginalized groups — from women to trans people — criticizing “Western society” and demanding a redistribution of power and wealth.
The nefarious end point of this project, to hear Peterson tell it, is an ambiguously defined “equality of outcome” for all people, in all spheres of life. Achieving that will require a massive expansion of state power and coercion, which is why Peterson regards today’s radical left as flirting with the same totalitarian impulses that sent Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to the gulag.
One problem with all of this is that Peterson’s history is just wrong. Long after Derrida and Foucault had embarked on their careers as postmodern thinkers, the leading public intellectual in France, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a committed Marxist. Even more awkwardly for Peterson’s narrative, Sartre — as with many socialists of the day — was both a Marxist and a critic of the Soviet Union.
Peterson seems to find this mix of views — in a word, anti-Stalinism — incomprehensible. In a pinned comment on a 2018 YouTube video, Peterson responded to a debate invitation from the Marxist economist Richard Wolff by referring Wolff to his foreword for the fiftieth anniversary edition of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago — never mind that Wolff has argued the Soviet Union embodied a form of “state capitalism” rather than democratic socialism because Soviet workers didn’t control their workplaces or vote about how to divvy up the surplus value they produced.
Why Jordan Peterson Is Always Wrong