What’s Behind the Sudden Rise of Jordan Peterson?

Why Peterson's message of morals, manners and masculinity resonates with evangelicals.
What’s Behind the Sudden Rise of Jordan Peterson?
Image: Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star / Getty Images

Evangelical Christian men will, sooner or later, be told to check out Jordan Peterson, a 55-year-old University of Toronto psychology professor. His book 12 Rules for Life has sold 700,000 copies since January in North America alone. New York Times columnist David Brooks called him possibly “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now”; The Guardian’s Tim Lott adds that he’s “fast becoming the closest that academia has to a rock star.”

Peterson, formerly at Harvard University, became a hero to conservatives and free speech advocates in 2016 by opposing the Canadian government’s plans to regulate speech about transgender persons. He also became a target of public protest (at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, and Linfield College), media attacks (most notably, an infamous interview on Britain’s Channel 4), and intellectual scorn. Houman Barekat wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books that Peterson “positions himself as a prancing messiah-cum-surrogate-dad for gormless dimwits everywhere.” One filmmaker called 12 Rules a book for “neo-Klansmen.” Peterson defenders say his quotes are misunderstood.

His appeal to Christians is pervasive. Peterson is a charismatic speaker who offers clear guidance on morals and manners—Rule #1: “Stand up straight”; Rule #7: “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).” He takes evil seriously: “You’re bad enough, as other people know you. But only you know the full range of your secret transgressions, insufficiencies and inadequacies.” Peterson also esteems the church and traditional family values. He loves biblical teaching ...

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