Jordan Peterson on the Gulag Archipelago

Given Jordan Peterson’s has spent quite a lot of breath and ink on Solzehenitsyn’s brilliant 1973 book The Gulag Archipelago. Though it took him a decade to write, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s three volume work has become one of the most important texts in evaluating the forced labor camps of the Soviet Union.

Since you probably came here for Jordan, we’ll get right to his interpretation in his own words.

“I had the great privilege of writing the foreword to the 50th anniversary version of the abridged version of one of the most important books of the 20th century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, a devastating account of the absolute horror wreaked upon the people of the Soviet Empire by the acolytes of the doctrine of Karl Marx. I read the foreword here, in its entirety, and encourage everyone to purchase and study the book. It changed the world.”.

There has been at least one historian, particular William T. Bell, to write a long form criticism of Jordan’s views on Solzehenitsyn’s classic work. However most of the criticism it appears is more about Jordan being asked to write the forward to the new edition, than problems with Jordan’s position itself.

That said, the following video displaying Jordan’s full views on the text is, according to William T. Bell, riddled with factual errors. It does seem he should’ve cited these errors in his deconstruction of the Peterson position but we are nonetheless going to embed the video while we await word from Dr. Bell about the aforementioned errors.

In professor Bell’s defense however, Dr. Peterson does provide no citations in his forward to the new release. Perhaps a small point considering it was the forward to the book, however one would think Jordan would want to include such information to add veracity to his claims.

The Gulag Archipelago has been a major element of humanities programs around the world both as required reading for students and the subject of academic scholarship. At the time of the writing, the author was forced to rely on anecdotal experiences and those of other prisoners.

However since access to information has opened up post the collapse of the Soviet Union, historians have discovered that it’s not quite what Solzehenitsyn (and apparently Peterson) believe. As Historian Alan Barenbarg writes “active urban center with a substantial non prisoner population where the borders separating camp and city were contested and permeable, enabling prisoners to establish social connections that would eventually aid them in their transitions to civilian life.”

However, this is fairly essential to the overarching premise that underlies Peterson’s reason for the importance of the text. As Peterson states, “he named it The Gulag Archipelago because an archipelago is a chain of islands and so Solzhenitsyn likened the work camp system in the Soviet Union, which is made up of isolated camps distributed across the entire state, he likened that to a series of islands in hence hence the metaphor.”

Though Peterson is correct about the metaphor, the truth that underlies the metaphor seems to be a little fuzzy. Nevertheless, the text (and Peterson’s explanation) remain powerful examples of the power of one’s personal account. To our knowledge, no one disputes the human atrocities Solzehenitsyn attests to in his work. The aspects of which seem to be the most critical to Peterson’s overarching thesis about the power and importance of the book.

That said, the following video displaying Jordan’s full views on the text is, according to William T. Bell, riddled with factual errors. It does seem he should’ve cited these errors in his deconstruction of the Peterson position but we are nonetheless going to embed the video while we await word from Dr. Bell about the aforementioned errors.

In professor Bell’s defense however, Dr. Peterson does provide no citations in his forward to the new release. Perhaps a small point considering it was the forward to the book, however one would think Jordan would want to include such information to add veracity to his claims.

We encourage readers to read the text and the historical scholarship and come to their own conclusions.

As always, should we become aware that Jordan Peterson has changed his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 

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