Ben Whitham

Lecturer in International Politics at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Ben Whitham is Lecturer in International Politics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Ben’s research interests are in the international political economy and sociology of violence, (in)security and inequalities. He is currently engaged in a research project exploring the ‘intersectional politics of austerity and Islamophobia,’ supported by De Montfort University’s Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA).

A Postmodern Neo-Marxist's Guide to Free Speech

abstract

Not only the infamous "postmodern neo-Marxists" but also feminists, queer and trans rights scholars and activists are lumped together by Jordan Peterson and his "alt right" friends as the "social justice warrior" blob they stand against. Rather than join the chorus of voices highlighting contradictions in his terminology, or the reactionary Marxist repudiation of "identity politics", this essay tackles Peterson's conceptualisation of his enemies head-on, arguing that he essentially identifies something real: a unity among scholars and activists of diverse critical traditions in our opposition to the concept of "free speech".

"Postmodern neo-Marxists" may be an oxymoron; the animosity between these two intellectual movements has been at the centre of bitter battles across the humanities and social sciences. But what postmodernists (or poststructuralists), Marxists ("neo" or otherwise), feminists and gender/queer theorists share in common is a belief that the ways in which we explain and theorise our world must stem from actual social practices rather than abstract, ahistorical categories and narratives of the sort Peterson uses.

The popularity of Peterson, and the general mainstreaming of far right politics, is, I argue, in part a consequence of the proximity of his way of seeing the world to the Anglo-American liberal "analytic" tradition of political philosophy. These reactionary political movements are now joining forces to protect a right to "free speech", a pure abstraction that has never existed in practice in the history of humanity. This essay is a guide to "free speech" politics in the age of Peterson.