The freedoms Britain granted the world are the most precious gift of all. We must preserve them – an important message from Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson: In early December 2021 asked by a major British newspaper to write some words reflecting on my recent two-week visit to the UK. I had been invited, then disinvited, to Cambridge University in 2019, when I had planned and made arrangements to participate in a seminar on the Book of Exodus, to help me prepare a series of public lectures on that story. I was invited back to Cambridge this year, and visited, with my wife, in late November and early December, and I wrote about the experience for The Telegraph, a major UK newspaper. That link is here: Telegraph UK
Below is an excerpt of Jordan Peterson from “The Telegraph” 14 December 2021:
The power of free speech
And what would the world be without the recognition of those rights? A stifling web of intrigue; a system of archaic dynasties; a tribal mess of clans, steeped in nepotism, warring with one another for access to the short-term exigencies of power. I realise that there are other lights in the world, apart from the UK and its subsidiaries and once-dependents, although I would argue that even the European countries that profess respect for freedom of speech and thought (in reality, fealty to the divine word, both secular and inescapably religious) have done so in no small part because of the influence of that great land.
And the fact that Dr Dawkins and I came armed, so to speak, with radically different viewpoints and conceptions was a spur to our very productive conversation, and not an impediment. And the fact that such discussions and their dissemination are possible throughout so much of the world (rather than positively forbidden and fatally dangerous) is another one of the reasons I love Great Britain.
My talks at both Cambridge and Oxford appeared uniformly welcomed by faculty and students alike (with a single exception: a rather courageous and comic young woman, dressed in a full-body lobster suit, who popped in during my most public talk at Cambridge to shout “feminism” and dance briefly about).
Why was that reception so positive, uniform, and manifold, when I was apparently ignorant and malevolent enough to be banned from the campus only two short years ago? The students at Cambridge remained seated when I entered the hall just prior to my first talk, although they had lined up down the block for most of the day beforehand, while the Oxford crowd, anxious as they are not to be outdone, gave me a (overwhelmingly moving) standing ovation before I spoke there.
I say that not in triumph, I hope, as that would be the sort of pride that deservedly invites a fall, although I might need to confess occasionally harbouring at least a quizzical smile about such things. Such a public response seems at curious odds with the idea so invidiously insisted upon that I was and am a fundamentally malign person, characterised by literally unacceptable political opinions.
The same mode of interaction made itself evident in what were many dozens of encounters with individual students on the streets and in the colleges at Oxbridge: no fear, no disgust, no contempt, no hatred — just a series of extremely inviting, pleasant, and often surprisingly deep and intimate individual encounters with fine mostly young people, striving with all due effort upward and onward, informing me forthrightly that they were doing so.
Perhaps an inquiring and curious journalist could discuss, among other issues, the fact of my fellowship revocation, the Regent House vote, and the positive response to my presence at Cambridge with the soon-to-depart Vice Chancellor (another Canadian — we are a pesky and intrusive lot), Prof Stephen Toope, whose precipitous retirement from the glorious UK academic and cultural scene was somewhat synchronistically timed, given the aforementioned vote and my subsequent re-invitation. Or, perhaps it could all be discussed with the tiny number of individuals, still meddling madly and unrepentantly behind the scenes, who orchestrated the whole false thing in the beginning.
And the fact that a journalist could inquire about such things is yet another reason why I love Great Britain, with its profound commitment to the idea that the curious have the right to interrogate and investigate those who have been granted authority or usurped power.
The people of Great Britain have granted the world a gift
After our university sojourn — after having been granted access to the original writings of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, after attending the most beautiful imaginable choir-accompanied services at the magnificent chapels gracing both institutions, after walking down the hallowed historical halls of higher learning in a setting constantly overwhelming and remarkable for a mere colonial, accustomed to history on a much more minor scale — my wife and I were privileged to tour the British Parliament, accompanied by one of the peers of the realm.
And she was great, if I might be so bold to say so: everything a hopeful outsider uncorrupted by the pervasive cynicism that corrupts our time might have wished for — kind, charitable, engaging, unpretentious, articulate, elegant, and possessed of that wonderful accent, bestowing upon its possessor the immediate impression of high intelligence.
In the Palace of Westminster I stopped for a moment at the precise centre of the heart of that remarkable building and lifted my eyes upward directly under the immense chandelier suspended under the beautiful and ornate domed octagonal ceiling. I perceived then that I was standing at the base of the realisation in stone, wood, and the air itself of the Cosmic Tree, Yggdrasil itself, the liana joining heaven and earth, the object of the most ancient of sacred visions and religious transports, the very lifeline between the skies that beckon forever above and the suffering and fallen ground we tread upon.
If I could have asked for something more to befall me at that moment it would have been the music of the divine to accompany that vision, perhaps Bach’s great third Brandenburg Concerto, although I would have settled for the British national anthem, God Save the Queen. That lobby is most certainly not the untrustworthy, corrupt and damnable site of power, dominance and oppression, but the very place where the practical redemption of a great people is continually undertaken, governed by the transcendent and necessary principle of the unalienable right to express the Logos as conscience, soul and rationality itself dictate.
That lobby, enshrined in that Palace — that cardinal Castle of the Word — has been a very light unto the world, concretised and embodied there simultaneously in stone, tradition and living action. It is the very place where the sovereign voice of the people meets the voice of its representatives, to be carried forth into its eventual incarnation into the body of laws we separately and jointly accept, adopt and act out.
We are all carriers of the temptation to resentment and the desire to compel and force those who disagree with our presumptions that poses an eternal threat to the integrity of our souls and our societies. We are all possessed by the attributes of the Auschwitz capo — the Gulag trusty: the willingness to turn away and to consciously deceive, and the capacity to delight in oppression and cruelty. We are each and all of us tainted by the blood that soaks our soil.
But the people of Great Britain have granted the world a gift whose power stands in permanent opposition to our most appalling proclivities as individuals and societies. That gift is the political expression of the sanctification of the word — freedom in speech, imagination and thought: freedom to engage in the very process that builds and rebuilds habitable order itself from the chaos that eternally surrounds us. And that freedom is expressed in many ways, small and great, in the British Isles: in the wit of its people, in the effectiveness of its institutions, in the beauty of its art and literature, in the political and psychological presumptions that guide private discourse and public conception and action.
And that is most particularly why I love Great Britain. And that is why, people of that realm (and not only of that realm), you should love her too, despite her sins, with your eyes lifted upward, your hope to the future, and the word of truth and faith on your tongues.
I love your country.
By Jordan Peterson
Source: Telegraph UK