Jordan Peterson and the Evolution of Marxism

Errata & addenda:

Updated Steelmanning to reconcile confusion over inductive vs. deductive.

Updated Defending Postmodernism to include Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard and criticism of Whig history.

According to Peterson, the Marxists changed their strategy in the 60’s and 70’s from embracing Marxism as a economic system, to a cultural one, which is called postmodernism. I don’t agree entirely with Peterson’s critique of postmodernism, but he mostly hits the nail on the head. Postmodernism, for all intents and purposes, is far-left liberalism, but with a veneer of academic theory to give it additional intellectual weight. Derrida re-framed/deconstructed the debate from being a battle between power and economics, to interpretation. This is similar to Nietzsche in Beyond Good & Evil, in which he wrote “It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of–namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown. ” The language itself is autobiographic. But it also shows how Nietzsche’s views are so encompassing that both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ have adopted them.

The professors in the 60’s and 70’s who promoted communism opposed how Marxist-Leninism marginalized intellectuals. They were sympathetic to ‘class struggle’ but didn’t like the totalitarian and ‘central planning’ aspects of it. But also, many postmodernists and existentialists reject the economic determinism and ‘grand narratives’ of Marxist-Leninism. Lyotard, who coined the term postmodernism, described it as ‘as incredulity toward metanarratives’. In contrast to the determinism of Hegel and Marx–although existentialists argue that individuals are not inherently free, but rather shepherded by societal forces–one can overcome this through the ‘will’, than be powerless to these forces. Heidegger, Derrida, Sartre, and Nietzsche explore this contradiction and conflict between the individual will and society. In the writings of Foucault, who was influenced by Nietzsche’s writings on power, the centrality shifts from one of economics to one of the power relations between the individual and society, and how everything can be reduced to power relations.