A love for the actual

Christian Alejandro Gonzalez writes on Jordan B. Peterson’s book:

In his most recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Peterson routinely provides evidence of a deep, thoughtful, yet plainly articulated conservatism. At the same time, his conservatism is in no way dogmatic; he is not a free-marketeering libertarian, for instance. Instead, Peterson’s conservatism manifests itself in his commitment to the preservation of a certain set of institutions, values, and norms without which our society could not operate. This brand of conservatism finds a compelling justification in the work of philosopher Roger Scruton, the most influential conservative intellectual in Britain.

Scruton’s conservatism derives from a love for the “actual”—that is, the astonishing array of privileges and freedoms that our ancestors passed down to us. Included in this inheritance, which we all share and from which we all benefit, are: the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of the powerful over the weak; democracy, as opposed to dictatorship; economic prosperity, as opposed to deprivation; family networks and bonds of friendship, as opposed to social anomy; order as opposed to instability. For most of human history, we could not count on many of these blessings, but today they are taken for granted. In the face of our good fortune, Scruton argues, the most rational response is one of gratitude.

In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson echoes Scrutonian themes by encouraging us to feel grateful for the inheritance we have collectively received—and particularly for a society that continues to function even as individuals deal with the nearly unbelievable burdens of “Being” (like bodily disease, mental illness, deaths in the family, and economic insecurity). He writes “…people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks and to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me this is miraculous—so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only appropriate response.” …

Peterson … [does] not believe that we should just feel gratitude for what we have; they think it’s our duty to understand the ideas that enabled this flourishing in the first place. In other words, one must engage with the intellectual tradition of the West…

… “Our society,” he writes, “faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people…. This is not a good thing. Each person’s private trouble cannot be solved by a social revolution, because revolutions are destabilizing and dangerous…. Altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth…is likely to produce far more trouble than good.” …

He extols the virtue of personal responsibility. He enjoins us to “sort ourselves out” and not blame external circumstances for our failures. But the biggest tell that Peterson is a conservative is simply that his general disposition toward life and society is conservative. Life is difficult, Peterson allows, but there has never been a better time to live. Hard work always makes a difference. Men and women are equal, but they are not biologically identical. Boys must be allowed to mature into men. Hierarchies are not always arbitrary. Inequality does not imply injustice. There is much in our shared traditions that is worth preserving. Our culture serves certain purposes, and does so quite well.

I read Peterson’s book last month. It’s a great book, and I’m a fan of Peterson’s old school style of lecturing that’s rangy and broadminded and provocative and vivifying. And an interest in loving the “actual,” as Scruton puts it.