A major Canadian publishing house is quietly standing by its decision to publish a new book by a controversial academic whose views and writings have been embraced by the alt-right movement around the globe.
When word came out on Monday that Penguin Random House Canada was going to to publish University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s new book, “Beyond Order” in March 2021, an employee outcry ensued.
The company described the book as a “sequel” to Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life,” which his publishers say has sold 5 million copies since its publication in 2018. Peterson has become a darling of the conservative movement, particularly the alt-right — which eschews mainstream politics and embraces social media to reject social justice causes such as gender and racial equality. Peterson has a large international following through a social networking site called Thinkspot as well as a long-standing presence on YouTube.
An employee at Penguin Random House (PRH) said the company held an on-line forum via Webex on Monday in connection with the announcement, in which an estimated two-thirds of the company’s employees took part.
“My company just claims he has conservative views but that he doesn’t necessarily agree with these alt-right groups. No matter what his intention is with this book, his supporters still have these beliefs. By publishing this book, you’re supporting this and fuelling the fire by giving him a platform,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of being dismissed.
In response, the company said in a statement issued by spokesperson Beth Lockley, that “We remain committed to publishing a range of voices and viewpoints.” Lockley declined a request for interviews with company executives or any further comment.
Peterson first gained notoriety in 2016 for criticizing federal legislation to include “gender identity and expression” as a prohibited grounds for discrimination. As a professor at the University of Toronto, he refused to identify transgender students by their preferred pronouns, describing it as “compelled speech.”
He has also dismisses the idea that white male privilege in society exists, defends patriarchy as sensible saying it stems from male competence, and suggests the rules around sexual consent between men and women are poorly defined.
The PRH statement noted the company had “provided a space for our employees to express their views and offer feedback” along with an “anonymous feedback channel” — which the employee said was closed down a day after the on-line meeting.
Nevertheless, the PRH statement said, “We are open to our employees’ feedback and intend to address their questions.”
The employee noted that most of the comments in the on-line meeting were strongly opposed to Peterson’s views and the news left many employees “in tears.”
But the employee said there is no plan underway to stage a “virtual walkout,” similar to what happened in March when staff at New York’s Hachette Book Group walked out to protest the company’s decision to publish the memoirs of filmmaker Woody Allen, over allegations of sexual abuse. The publisher then withdrew from the project.
“I haven’t heard that anybody’s planning a virtual walkout. I could see it happening,” the employee said.
The employee noted that Peterson’s alt-right following has unleashed a barrage of hatred on social media aimed at VICE News senior editor Manisha Krishnan, who first reported the story, another reason the employee wished to remain anonymous.
Marsha Barber, a journalism professor at Ryerson University who does research on media bias and gender issues, said the publishing company’s decision to publish Peterson’s latest book may be short-sighted.
“It seems like a predictable business call, to publish a bestselling author, a wildly successful author. But it may be a tone-deaf decision that’s out of step with the current push for progress on social justice issues,” Barber said.
“(Peterson) is great for YouTube because he’s outspoken and provocative and he’s a great fit for social media. He’s mobilized the right, including some factions of the alt-right, because he is so divisive and he says the kinds of things that people on the alt-right are hungry to hear. He seems to be particularly good at galvanizing people on social media,” Barber added.
Joe Recupero, an associate professor at Ryerson University who speaks on gender and masculinity issues in sports and society, said Peterson is adept at self-promotion through provocative statements.
“I think he (Peterson) is trying to be a career academic and make a name for himself as big as possible and he knows that to be outspoken and outrageous shines a light on him. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” he said.
“I’m not going to be buying any of Mr. Peterson’s books,” added Recupero, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and doesn’t agree with Peterson’s views.