In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.
I have a few reasons for being less than fully bought into Peterson.
1. He is a spellbinding speaker but his first book, Maps of Meaning, was turgid. There is something disconcerting about the fact that his ideas seem to come across better in a format that allows for less editorial polishing. I noted this in December of 2016, when the Peterson tsunami was just forming.
2. Some of his ideas are mystical and sound really strange.
3. He gains some of his stature by attacking post-modernists who are intellectual weak, at least in the way that he presents them. For me, it is more impressive to take on stronger opponents than weaker ones.
He may now be over-rated by his fans on the right. But he is badly, badly, under-rated by smug leftists whose ability to understand opposing viewpoints pales in comparison with his.
Using the three-axes model, I put Peterson firmly in the conservative camp. He sees civilization as fragile and precious, and he is animated by the civilization vs. barbarism axis.
Rather than propose a list of public intellectuals that I think are influential, or important, or prominent, let me just list a few public intellectuals that I admire and trust, in the sense that I think that they really try to be careful to honor opposing viewpoints and try to avoid committing intellectual swindles.
–Jeffrey Friedman. Does he even count as a public intellectual? He is an intellectual, all right, but his writing is often steeped in academic jargon, and he is not a familiar figure, even to the highly-educated portion of the public. His journal, Critical Review, has pieces written by top minds, and yet his own contributions often tower over theirs.
–Steven Pinker. You can get a better education in the humanities by reading The Blank Slate than by taking any freshman humanities course at any university, I would bet.
–Tyler Cowen. Tyler has an unmatched ability to offer ideas that are surprising and original. He takes risks, sort of like an intellectual venture capitalist, if you will. Some of these start-ups don’t make it, but he picks enough winners to more than make up for the failures.
Friedman, Pinker, and Cowen all stand out for being non-tribal or even counter-tribal. They challenge and annoy their most likely allies, rather than offering a steady diet of reinforcement and comfort.