Jordan Peterson Is Wrong About Borders

Created: 10 March, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
13 min read

#1. "The fundamental assumptions of Western Civilization are valid."


Jordan Peterson begins a lecture he gave last June:

"12 principles for a 21st century conservatism"


With the caveat:

"I am not making the claim that the statement is perfect, comprehensive, or final."


Below I've transcribed an excerpt from his first principle above.

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Please don't skip over it to the part about borders because pretty much everything he says here is my critique of his fourth principle.

Which is:


#4. "Borders are reasonable. Likewise, limits on immigration are reasonable."


Well let's see how consistent that is with what Dr. Peterson first has to say about what makes Western Civilization great:


#1. "The fundamental assumptions of Western Civilization are valid. (Starts 44:18)Which countries do people want to move away from? Hey– not ours!Which countries do people want to move to? Ours!Guess what? They work better!And it's not because we went around the world stealing everything we could get our hands on.It's because we got certain fundamental assumptions right– thank God for that!After thousands and thousands of years of trying.Because of that we've managed to establish a set of civilizations that are shining lights in the world. You know now you can be pretty damn filthy and still be a shining light in this world.Right?Because if you look around the world at the state of governance in most places– it's like the most pathological, corrupt, and vicious thug rule. And to stand out as an illuminated light against that background isn't so difficult. But nonetheless, we're as good as it's got.And unless we can come up with something better, we should be very careful about messing around with that.So why don't we start with the assumption that we're doing something right?One of the things that we're doing right for example is that we actually value the individual.Right?The individual has intrinsic value in Western societies.Do you know how long it took people to formulate that as an idea?And how unlikely that idea is?That poor you– you know? –useless, powerless you– with all your damn faults– are worth something!You're worth something to the point that the law has to respect you!God– we don't want to abandon that for some half-witted collectivism, which we're doing as rapidly as possible because one of the things that characterizes the radical left types is they don't give a damn about you as an individual or about individuals at all.You're black, or you're white, you're Latino, or you're transsexual, or you're homosexual– whatever.You're a group!You're a member of a group.And the only thing that matters is the group.Well I can tell you:If the only thing that matters is the group– you bloody well don't matter very much.And then you got to ask yourself, just exactly what sort of people are trying to set things up so it is that the individual doesn't matter very much.Well it's the sort of people to whom the individual doesn't matter very much.And I might suggest that you don't elect them.And that when they attempt to take power, you do everything you can to stop them.


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Now with that approach in mind–

Which seems to me a reasonable approach for the reasons he says–

I'm going to respond to Peterson's fourth principle point by point:


#4. "Borders are reasonable! (Starts 1:01:40)The law is the border that stops someone from stealing your laptop.And if it's an Apple laptop then it's the sort of laptop that a social justice warrior would carry.And then the social justice warrior is going to be very irritated if you happen to purloin their laptop.And then you might point out to them– you know– it's a border that protects you from having that thing taken.


Stealing someone's laptop and an immigrant crossing a government's border aren't the same thing at all!

A national border and respect for an individual's private property rights also aren't the same thing at all.

And an immigrant crossing a border does not violate anyone's private property rights by doing so.

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I am shocked that such a careful thinker as Jordan Peterson could draw such a terrible analogy.

And if we're going to talk about immigration in terms of private property rights, which I am completely in favor of, as one of those ideas Western Civilization has figured out to great effect...

Private property owners voluntarily consent to an immigrant's presence in the home they rent from those private property owners; or the store in which they buy goods from private property owners; or in the business where they work for private property owners.

What matters is their consent.

Not the permission of a bean-counting bureaucrat or unscrupulous politician in a swamp in Virginia.


And they say well the border should be open.It's okay man.No problem.You hand over that laptop right now.And everything else you own too.If you don't like borders.And you can get rid of the damn walls in your house.And you don't need doors on your bedroom either.And we can keep an eye on you whenever we want.And so much for borders."


Well as I pointed out above, it's the federal agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that are doing that, just getting rid of the damn walls in people's houses and places of business.

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By showing up uninvited on their private property, armed with guns, and seizing their welcome guests– their employees and customers and tenants– and putting them in handcuffs and hauling them off to be caged like the worst, most violent criminals.

Not for hurting anybody, not for stealing anybody's laptop, but merely for being within a 3.8 million square mile space without the permission of Washington bureaucrats and busybodies.

And who the hell are they to decide something like that?

Clearly the immigrants they have treated like this– by the millions under Barack Obama's administration alone– were welcome as tenants, workers, and customers by private property owners.

We should leave it up to 300 million people to decide who is welcome in their private property and who is not.

Rather than suffer the tyranny and abuse of a distant and corrupt government in Washington to tell individuals and businesses who is allowed on their private property and who is not.

And how are limits on immigration– enforced by relentless threats, harassment, intimidation, and armed men and cages– in any way consistent with those principles Jordan Peterson says have made the West great in the first place?


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"One of the things that we're doing right for example is that we actually value the individual.Right?The individual has intrinsic value in Western societies.Do you know how long it took people to formulate that as an idea?And how unlikely that idea is?That poor you– you know? –useless, powerless you– with all your damn faults– are worth something!You're worth something to the point that the law has to respect you!God– we don't want to abandon that for some half-witted collectivism..."


Well enforcing limits on immigration through the aggression of the police state is a blatant violation of the inherent value and dignity of the individual that we hold as axiomatic in the West.

You know what would be even more a violation of the social justice warrior's intrinsic value as an individual than stealing her laptop?

Accosting her at her home or workplace with guns and handcuffs like a violent criminal even though she's not one, and imprisoning her, and then dumping her in a remote country.

You know maybe immigrants are individuals too?

Maybe their lives fall under the purview of their own private property. Maybe seizing their very bodies and putting them in cages is much worse than seizing a laptop from a social justice warrior.

I am so with Peterson that we do not want to abandon our moral and legal traditions for some half-witted collectivism.

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That is exactly why I am against police state measures to enforce immigration limits across national borders. It violates the rights of millions of individuals for a collectivism that is less than half-witted– a collective of people born on one side of an arbitrary line.

I think it's actually worse than less than half-witted.

I think it's insidious. I think the real salient feature of this collective is that it's people who don't speak the dominant language of our society well, so they're easy targets of abuse and scapegoating by a government that needs a scapegoat to continue its relentless march on American freedoms and plunder of American treasure, a government that has done more to steal from Americans and damage their economic prospects than immigrants ever have.


"It's like well we've got some borders.That's a good thing.Maybe some of them need to be moved around a little bit.And that's what the political dialogue is for.But that doesn't mean that borders themselves are a bad idea.They're a great idea."


The political dialogue is not well-suited to that discussion at all because it violates the principles of Western individualism.

I've already explained how.

You don't get to have a political dialogue about who is invited into my house, to work in my place of business, to be a customer in my place of business, or to be a tenant in a residential property that I own and lease. That's none of 300 million other people's business.

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Now the second anyone including an immigrant hurts or threatens someone else or their property, then the local police have a legitimate claim to get involved, but otherwise the reason the West has succeeded on such a great scale is that it has left it up to individual private property owners to establish and maintain the borders around what they're responsible for instead of bowing to central planning by a distant, meddling, tyrannical government.

Or at least we can say to the extent that it has been successful, it is due in great measure to the extent that the West has done this.


Because without borders everything mashes into the same untenable state of undifferentiated chaos.And you can't live in that.


As sharp a thinker as Jordan Peterson has proven to be, his thoughts thus far on immigration are very unclear.

He makes the critical mistake of conflating conceptual borders with national borders.

It's actually the limits on immigration that he advocates which create the untenable state of undifferentiated chaos.

Allowing millions of private property owners living in a 3.8 million square mile space to decide on the basis of their own best interests, who is welcome and who is not on the property they are individually responsible for, is what differentiates the chaos of so vast a country into coherent and orderly units.

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Attempting to set limits on immigration through the political process– which means by a very few people with a necessarily limited amount of knowledge of so vast a country and its millions of inhabitants– is impossible without being tyrannical, and it is in fact this vain attempt at Soviet communist-style central planning by a few that throws the country into an untenable state of undifferentiated chaos.

And millions of immigrants have found that they literally can't live in that. Though they have not hurt anybody, they have been taken out of their homes like criminals and sent by force to a distant country against their will. Families are being torn apart. Businesses are being disrupted. Tell me how January's nationwide raid on 7-11 stores whose employees weren't hurting anybody, by armed federal thugs maintained order? It didn't. It created chaos. People by the millions are having their basic human rights violated. That's not order.


And so the people who are trying to tear down the borders conceptually, politically, and practically, what they want is the chaos that that would bring.They either want that or they're too foolish to know that their pursuits will produce that.


Again here Jordan Peterson conflates national borders (which have been used as a premise for the federal government to throw many people's lives into chaos) with conceptual borders.

I think this is the trick that got Donald Trump elected.

He was literally talking about the border with Mexico when he caught the nation's attention is a presidential candidate, but his campaign spoke to the archetype of borders as symbols of orderliness in the minds of conservatives.

But it is incorrect and dangerous to conflate the two.

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In fact, as I have explained above, it is the enforcement of a national border by Washington that dissolves and usurps the most meaningful and important borders of all in the Western tradition, those borders delineating the private property of individuals, their homes, and their establishments.

And those borders which say– as Peterson does in his first principle of 21st century conservatism– that the law has to respect individuals.

Well immigrants are individuals.

And that's what is most perplexing about Jordan Peterson's tentative position on immigration (and I hope this article may help him to prove to us that it is tentative).

He stands for the individual, and considers collectives dangerous fictions, and is an expert on the horrors of the 20th century that resulted when the individual lost his inherent dignity and worth in the eyes of radical new forms of government.

Does he not see the parallel between the U.S.S.R's treatment of Kulaks and the U.S.A's treatment of immigrants since the fall of the Soviet Union?

The Soviet government rounded up a collective of people from a certain social strata, and regardless of their individual humanity, it took them as prisoners simply because they belonged to a certain arbitrary category of millions, and then shipped them off to a remote country away from their homes.

That is exactly what the U.S. government has done to immigrants in this country!

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Remember– Jordan Peterson's star has risen because he was so concerned about the dangers of resurgent Soviet-style collectivism that he considers the Canadian Parliament's bill C-16 (which requires people to use a transgendered person's preferred pronouns) a dangerous step in that direction and refused to obey that law.

That's what sent the armies of SJWs to protest his lectures (mostly by acting like a bunch of hooligans) and got Peterson the attention of a global audience. I am among those who laud him for having an ounce of critical thought about it and standing up for free speech.

Yet Peterson who is haunted by the nightmare of 20th century communism, the man who thinks requiring people to say a word is a step in the wrong direction, has somehow missed how many steps further in that direction the U.S. government has taken us by rounding up millions of individuals who belong to a certain class, and having them shipped them off to a remote country just as the Soviet Union sent the Kulaks to Siberia.

Now I'm not saying the Department of Homeland Security is as brutal as the Gulag was, but it's definitely incredibly cruel, inhuman, and in direct opposition to classical Western values.

And certainly it's a lot closer to the Gulag than C-16!

That's why I have taken the time to think about and write this article.

I believe his current, tentative position on immigration policy is an especially tragic mistake for someone like Jordan Peterson to make.

Future people will look back on the harassment and abuse of immigrants by Western governments the same way we Peterson looks back today on the treatment of Kulaks.

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I hope he gives it some more thought, because this is a defining issue of this time in history, and right now Peterson is tentatively on the side of collectivism against so many individuals.

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