Jordan Peterson has never been shy about dispensing advice. But has the court of the Canadian philosopher king now overreached itself? A copy of Peterson’s book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life sparked something of an X (previously known as Twitter) storm Tuesday, when critic James Marriott noted how a truncated form of his Times of London review has appeared on the back of Peterson’s book. Here’s how publishers Allen Lane quoted Marriott’s words on the book of Peterson’s paperback edition:
A philosophy of the meaning of life… the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has written.
Pretty gushing right? But here’s what Marriott’s review actually wrote in the Times in March 2021:
Peterson calls in his hero, “psychoanalyst extraordinaire” Carl Jung, whose theory of the collective unconscious proposes that myths and stories in the culture at large offer clues to universal human attributes, desires and fears. This licenses Peterson (Dan Brown-style symbologist of the Western canon) to hunt down these clues to construct a philosophy of the meaning of life. The predictable flaw is that Peterson’s readings of these myths are shaped by his idiosyncratic personality… To insist on endless struggle and endless heroism and endless meaning is to cut yourself off from a great deal of what is best in people and in the world. Does Peterson suspect this? Rule VIII: Try to Make One Room in Your Home as Beautiful as Possible (in my opinion one of the most sensitive and lucid passages of prose he has written) concerns art and interior design.
Not only did this truncated form of Marriott’s words somewhat distort his review but the publishers also managed to insert the word “touching” in there — a word he never used. It’s hardly an isolated incident too. Johanna Thomas-Corr has now tweeted her disgust at the “gross misrepresentation of my 2,000+ word New Statesman review of his book.” Peterson’s publishers have published the quote to read on the back thus:
Genuinely enlightening and often poignant… Here is a father figure who takes his audience seriously. And here is a grander narrative about truth, being, order and chaos that stretches back to the dawn of human consciousness.
But here’s how the original quote appeared in the NS two years ago:
It reads more like a compendium of stodgy Sunday sermons delivered by a fire-and-brimstone preacher than a conventional self-help manual or political polemic. There’s much in it that’s genuinely enlightening and often poignant, particularly Peterson’s conviction that we need to be “alert, awake, attentive” in our lives. But as you plow on, you occasionally find a shard of something unnerving: petty jibes at young environmentalists, censorious judgements about women who want babies after the age of twenty-nine, and hypocritical tutting at couples who cohabit before marriage… He repeatedly urges his listeners and readers to “think of our lives as stories.” In an age of moral relativism, here is a father figure who takes his audience seriously. And here is a grander narrative about truth, being, order and chaos that stretches back to the dawn of human consciousness. It is, however, a narrative filtered through Peterson’s prejudices.
A similar fate befell the words of Suzanne Moore’s review in the Telegraph. Moore judged Peterson’s book to be “Hokey wisdom combined with good advice.” How did his publishers write that up? “Wisdom combined with good advice” trumpets the back of the book. That makes three of the four reviews on the back which have all been, er, slightly misrepresented.
Cockburn is reminded of Peterson’s original “Rule No.8: Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.” Talk about chutzpah…
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.