On Hyper-Masculinity

Peterson - Steven Leethe.jpg

The Globe and Mail yesterday ran an op-ed on "political machismo" by the Dutch writer Ian Buruma, who is now serving as editor of the New York Review of Books.

Buruma's thesis is that "parts of the world are experiencing eruptions of hyper-masculinity," which he believes is nearly always and everywhere reducible to "humiliation, or the fear of humiliation." The four named villains of the piece are Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Donald Trump and ... Jordan Peterson. "Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson has attracted countless young male followers by telling them to stand up straight, fight the liberal softies, reassert their male authority and restore the old social hierarchies that he believes are forces of nature," Buruma writes. "Mr. Peterson is a slightly more couth version of another male self-help guru, Julien Blanc, who caused a scandal a few years ago by stating that women enjoy being taken by force." Poor Jordan, consigned yet again by Canada's most trusted news source to the annals of infamy, this time alongside two of the twentieth century's cruelest tyrants and a self-styled dating coach no one has ever heard of.

As for Donald Trump, his brand of hyper-masculinity turns out to be fake. "Despite his rants and bluster," according to Buruma, "one still has the impression that behind that facade of pumped-up machismo lurks a frightened little white man who knows that he is no longer in control." No longer in control?  Only in a world where Jordan Peterson makes the Hyper-masculine Hit Parade but Kim Jong-Un, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin do not could such a statement pass editorial muster. We might wonder, though: were Hitler and Mussolini also frightened little white men when they dragged the world into World War II? Did Churchill, Roosevelt and especially Stalin evince hyper-masculinity when they responded to European fascism by crushing it? It's hard to say. Indeed, by the end of the Buruma piece, it is unclear whether hyper-masculinity as a political force is real or imagined, or whether sensible voters should regard it as a threat or a joke.

The obfuscation is deliberate, of course. For what matters is not the analysis but the allusion—and here Buruma leaves nothing to the imagination. "Barack Hussein Obama, though hardly a softie himself, represented everything that many people resent: He was highly educated, liberal, had a Muslim middle name and his father was African. Mr. Obama’s presidency, along with the rise of China, the visibility of non-Western immigrants and the challenges of feminism, showed how much the world has changed. And so people chose a tall, blond, swaggering, president who promised that he would change it all back again."

Tall, blond and swaggering—there's no mistaking the archetype. Buruma's Trump is not a frightened little white man but a latter-day Heydrich. He is a monster.