Book of the week: A self-help guide for the young

Cover of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
by Jordan Peterson
Published by Allen Lane, £20
(Buy at Amazon)

Why not “sit in your mother’s basement and eat Cheetos and play video games and watch pornography? That’s a perfectly valid question.” Max Read, interviewing Jordan Peterson for New York magazine, is stumped.

His mother doesn’t even have a basement. But Peterson – a clinical psychologist and social philosopher who shot to fame for refusing to bow to political correctness and identity politics in his native Canada, and for giving a hostile Channel 4 journalist an intellectual thrashing in an interview that then went viral here in Britain – meant the question rhetorically.

Peterson’s subject is the “existential plight of human beings”, and his message is being picked up especially enthusiastically by young men. His lectures on YouTube and now this new book have, as Amol Rajan puts it in the New Statesman, filled a “gaping hole” in the lives of a generation that is now ready to grow up. The book is basically a self-help guide, and “like every other contribution to that bloated canon contains a mixture of the persuasive and self-evident”.

It insists that some ways of life are morally better than others – and comes at a time when liberals baulk from saying such things and Christianity has lost its appeal. Socioeconomic changes mean that people remain children for longer: the youth of today have more freedom to do what they want than previous generations would have dreamt possible – but to what end?

Peterson’s answers to that question are a breath of fresh air, says Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. He brings a fresh perspective to stale political certainties and has a “warm, scholarly respect” for the insights found in the stories in the Bible, for example. His basic message is that life is a battle against evil and suffering, and that you may as well face it clear-eyed and with some sense of bravery and adventure; and that political ideology is no answer when your life goes wrong.

“Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganise the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?” asks Peterson. That, says Noonan, is “a dangerous thing to say in an ideological age”. But it needs saying. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life “is a good book, blunt and inspiring”.

The advice is obvious stuff – I’ve been saying it for years without attracting a cult following, grumbles Peter Hitchens in The Spectator. But Peterson’s stand against the modern-day Thought Police is brave; his prose is leavened with personal stories that are “genuinely moving”; and his book gives “good advice for troubled, lost people”. Peterson draws crowds of enthusiastic youngsters who thrill to what he has to say, says Douglas Murray, also in The Spectator. I’m not entirely sure what he’s up to. But it is “wonderful”.