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Publishing employees try to blockade Peterson

Conservative author’s new book draws complaints before being printed

Jordan Peterson in Cambridge, England, in 2018 Getty Images/Photo by Chris Williamson (file)

Publishing employees try to blockade Peterson

Every fall, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week to promote intellectual freedom by highlighting authors who have experienced censorship or attempts at suppression. Next fall, they can add Jordan Peterson to the list because employees at his own publisher attempted to scuttle his latest book.

Peterson’s announcement of his forthcoming title Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life caused a stir at Penguin Random House Canada, his publisher in his home country. The company held a townhall meeting to handle complaints from employees, some of whom cried because of their distress at Peterson’s views.

Peterson, an academic and clinical psychologist, drew widespread public attention in 2016 when in a YouTube video he said he would not comply with a proposed Canadian law that required the use of an individual’s preferred gender pronouns. Peterson’s commitment to free speech and classical liberalism made him a darling of political conservatives. He also criticized the notion of white privilege and warned that progressive attacks on masculinity will destabilize society. He says he holds the ethics of the Bible in high regard but does not profess faith in Jesus Christ. His 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life, sold millions of copies, becoming an international bestseller, and his YouTube channel has more than 3 million subscribers.

Employees at Penguin Random House accused the company of keeping the book a secret to avoid internal controversy. Some accused Peterson of hate speech and white supremacy. The publisher’s diversity and inclusion committee received numerous complaints about the book, with most recommending it not be published.

Critics have tried to “de-platform” Peterson before. Spectators have shouted him down at events, and schools have disinvited him from speaking engagements after receiving complaints. In 2019, Cambridge University rescinded an offer of a fellowship claiming Peterson didn’t uphold principles of inclusiveness.

Antagonism toward free speech is on the rise in the book publishing world. In March, Hachette, the world’s second-largest publishing house, decided to cancel publication of Woody Allen’s memoir after employees walked off the job in protest. They didn’t have complaints about the book itself, but they said Hachette ought not to publish an author against whom allegations of child sexual abuse had been made.

Over the summer, Hachette employees in the U.K. attempted the same maneuver to get the publisher to drop J. K. Rowling’s standalone fairytale The Ickabog, released this year. In an essay published on her blog in June, the Harry Potter author spoke out against the attempts of the transgender movement to erase biological womanhood. The publisher backed Rowling, saying, “We will never make our employees work on a book whose content they find upsetting for personal reasons, but we draw a distinction between that and refusing to work on a book because they disagree with an author’s views outside their writing, which runs contrary to our belief in free speech.”

When asked about Peterson’s book, Penguin Random House Canada told Vice World News it remained “committed to publishing a range of voices and viewpoints.” The company also plans to publish the book under its U.S. imprint Portfolio, but none of the publisher’s various social media accounts has announced its March 2, 2021, release even though it’s available for preorder. Perhaps Peterson has enough social media followers that his personal announcement is all the marketing he needs.

And those followers are loyal. When news of the emotional townhall at Penguin Random House Canada broke, many of Peterson’s fans mocked the dissenting employees. Peterson, however, proved more generous. He told his followers, “Please, everybody, just leave the @PenguinRandomCA employees alone.”

Collin Garbarino

Collin is a correspondent and movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University graduate, and he teaches at Houston Baptist University. Collin resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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