From Barton Swaim at The Wall Street Journal, The Man They Couldn’t Cancel:

The mention of environmentalism brings to mind the cultish side of modern progressivism. Is this desire to flog and destroy, as he puts it, a sign of some twisted spiritual longing? “I think so,” Mr. Peterson says. “The people who caricature Western society as a patriarchy, and then describe it as evil, they’re possessed by a religious idea.” He thinks the problem with modern enlightenment intellectuals—he names the American philosopher Sam Harris, the British conservative writer Matt Ridley and the British broadcaster and writer Stephen Fry, all atheists—is that they offer no mythology, no “adventure.”

“They leave this nihilistic nothingness in their wake, and what happens?” he says. “These kids turn to radical political correctness.” Messrs. Harris, Ridley, Fry, et al. aren’t happy about political correctness, Mr. Peterson notes, but “what did they expect to happen? Did they expect these kids would settle for their insipid rationalism?”

This search for a metaphysical teleology denied young people by “insipid rationalism,” in his view, is also “what motivates antifa and Black Lives Matter and white nationalism and all these other romantic revolutionary rebellions. It’s the romance and the heroism these movements offer.” Mr. Peterson recalls the famous line of George Orwell in his review of “Mein Kampf” in 1940: “Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”

Taking Orwell’s terms “socialism” and “capitalism” both to mean, roughly, life without transcendence or any hint of the supernatural, the point seems defensible. Mr. Peterson thinks atheistic materialism has nothing to compare to religious worldviews. Rather than telling people simply not to do bad things, he says, “the right approach is to say to them: Here’s a better adventure. Now go conquer your own demons.”


In The End of History Francis Fukuyama makes a similar point.  Subverting the quest for glory to rationalism and democracy still fails to satisfy the human need for recognition.  Americans have moved the political quest for recognition to the economy as a means of satisfying this human need.  Perhaps this is why countries that have prioritized equality have shown so much hostility.  There is a human need to be more than equal.