Ever since speaking out against a controversial bill in the Ontario legislature, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto has exploded not simply across his home of Canada, but all around the world. A clinical psychologist, Prof Peterson has had fascinating things to say about the rise of social justice Left and how their ideology is somewhat paradoxical combination of neo-Marxism and postmodernism. He has also bravely spoken out against their harmful ideas in an incredibly conclusive and articulate manner.

His work is readily available online, however, in this article I hope to discuss an interesting idea which Peterson spoke about on his recent appearance on the South African podcast The Renegade Report.

In the podcast, Peterson states a very interesting idea of his that one’s political ideals often are a function of their own personal temperament. As a general rule, certain traits may make people tend towards liberalism and others more towards conservatism. Liberals are seen as being high in openness or creativity and low in conscientiousness, which describes rigidity, order and hard work or industriousness, whereas conservatives simply have the vice versa. The values of the temperament of individuals may manifest itself in political ideologies leaning more conservative or liberal, depending on what they are.

Given this understanding of the biological underpinnings of politics, Peterson hypothesises that the real dividing line between conservatism and liberalism is one thing: borders. The important thing to note here is that these are not necessarily borders in the sense of international boundary lines, but rather the concept of borders in any aspect of life.

Naturally, it is common that liberals tend towards more open border policies while conservatives tend to more restrictions of entry into the country (one only needs to look at Europe or the US to see this), but the idea of borders as concept in general also holds holds true in this regard. Conservatives like categories to have borders which may lead to beliefs in objective morality, family values, traditionalism, military strength, fiscal responsibility. Liberals are more open to being relativistic about the ‘borders’ of social phenomena such as marriage, deficit spending, moral relativism, and even in some extreme cases, one’s own biology. Where the conservatives are absolutists, the liberals are relativists.

The problem here is that when it comes to borders as a concept, neither side is 100% correct.

Complete closed borders would not simply mean an end to immigration or movement, but not just movement of people. It would also mean a lack of movement of knowledge, culture, technology, money, goods, and new ideas or information (once again, I speak not of literal ‘borders of a country’, but rather borders as a concept as explained above). On the liberal side, open-borders can also have their own downsides and can even be literally fatal if taken to their extreme. Peterson uses the example of how around 90% of the Native American population was wiped out by diseases introduced by the European settlers. Other examples of this could be seen by examining the various problems which arise when one takes worldview of ontological relativism. If we remove all categorical borders, it might ultimately move us into a realm in which nothing has an absolute meaning causing, untold societal problems.

I think it may be interesting to note the effect which these temperaments have on one’s views of freedom of speech.

Where the conservatives who value orderliness and conceptual borders value truth above all, they are (at least in the 21st century) naturally inclined to be the biggest proponents of free speech. Why? Because the more speech there is, the more different ideas can be heard and so the closer one can get to the objectively true facts. This was naturally not always the case: one only needs to look to tyrannical right-wing governments in history  such as South Africa’s own National Party who heavily censored freedom of expression. This is an example of the extreme implementation of ‘borders’ in society and that imposing too many ‘borders’ literally inhibits the flow of information.

An interesting phenomena is that it is now the left-wing which is advocating against free speech. This may ironically stem from the liberal tendency towards openness or creativity, which has now created a fear that the subject of their creativity might be criticised or have Peterson’s ‘borders’ imposed around ideas. This idea has become so pervasive that people are now willing to sacrifice the truth in order to protect against it, but this is not a great obstacle for the left-wingers, as their temperament would indeed tend them towards a relativist worldview in which mere concept of ‘objective truth’ does not exist.

So when we look at the two opposing ideologies through Peterson’s ‘borders per se’, we can see that the two tend toward each other in their extreme ends, albeit for different reason. This would leave an obvious question, namely, where does the libertarian fit into this spectrum?

It’s an intriguing question. Libertarians are often described as being fiscally responsible but socially liberal, however, against the framework of Peterson’s ‘borders’ analogy, I don’t think this is necessarily true.

I would hypothesise that libertarians are simply individuals who – despite having a temperament which tends towards either orderliness or openness – are simply principled enough toward freedom that they would put this aside and would instead choose to govern based on simple principles which uphold their principle maxim: liberty. For example, I personally hold many socially conservative views which means that I may have a temperament which is more orderly, and yet, I would not choose to legislate these views on others in my commitment to liberty. I would postulate that under Peterson’s idea, libertarians fit into this unique, central category.

Of course, I could be wrong. Nevertheless, Jordan Peterson never ceases to fascinate me.

Professor, if you ever get to read this, I simply want to say that I sincerely admire you speaking out against enormous hostility and I hope that one day I might have to the opportunity to meet you.


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Nicholas is a Senior Staff Writer at the Rational Standard. He is a Local Coordinator for Students For Liberty as well as an organiser of SAFREECON 2017. He takes great interest in the philosophy underlying classical liberal values as well as the Austrian school of economics. He is currently a student at Rhodes University studying towards a BA in Chinese and German.
  • Connor

    I would have to agree with the Libertarian view you presented at the end of the article. I find myself in the same boat and often finding that I struggle to find a place where I fit on the tradition left v right political spectrum. Perhaps it would be better to frame things in terms of liberty v authoritarian. Good article.

    • Colum

      Yep – liberty vs authoritarian, or voluntary vs coercive, or individualist vs statist, all work fine

  • conspiracygirl

    I think Jonathan Haidt’s work on moral foundations better describes libertarians. Libertarians score as high as liberals on openness to experience, lower on empathy than either liberals or conservatives — but the highest of all groups on systemizing. This leads to a masculine, reason-based cognitive style, even amongst female libertarians. Progressives tend to have a feminine cognitive style, even male progressives. You can see this with all their emphasis on feelings — at which libertarians about lose their minds….

    The section on cognitive style is about half-way down the page.

    • Nicholas Babaya

      Thanks for the comment,

      Very interesting analysis there, I had not the considered the possibility of being high in openness but also having that masculine reason-based cognitive style. That’s certainly an idea to consider and I think it explains quite well why left-libertarians are so ostracised in the movement (at least based on my experiences seeing them on social media).

  • Gorgon_Hilldusa

    anyone who is for open borders isn’t for liberty, they’re for their country becoming a hell on earth and their kids growing up in a worse environment. caring about your own family and kids before anyone else is supposed to be a part of human nature. sure you can still be a good neighbor, but when push comes to shove, if your kids and family don’t come first, you’re pathetic. wanting to bring in tons of 3rd worlders who will bring the third world with them, is wanting to lower your child’s future standards of living. congratulations, you’re a moron. you fell for a bunch of propaganda designed to make rich corporations richer all because it sounded good and was wrapped up in the word ‘liberty’, and it’s at you and your family’s expense. a useful idiot. but hey that’s what happens when legalization of weed is one of your *primary* political/life concerns also. getting high is what’s important, right? toke up, doods.