On Monday July 11, psychotherapist and public intellectual Jordan Peterson offered his thoughts on the Russian war against Ukraine, sympathizing with Russia’s invasion because of Ukraine’s alliance with a morally degenerate United States (click here for a summary of Peterson’s podcast).
Peterson is exactly right when to note America’s ideological and moral degeneracy. As the late sociologist Philip Rieff argued, the West in general—and the US in particular—is in the midst of a historically unprecedented experiment in which they have attempted to sever social order from sacred order. By “sacred order,” he means the Judeo-Christian religious and moral ordering that initially funded the American experiment and enabled it to flourish.
As Rieff argued, this experiment has not gone well so far and will cause further destruction in the future. When American society flouts the most basic moral and natural order of the universe—by, for example, denying the binary nature of sex/gender, deconstructing and then jerry-rigging the institution of marriage, and declaring open season on the weakest and most vulnerable among us—it is corroding the very foundations of society.
The West in general—and the US in particular—cannot flout creation order forever with impunity. What goes around comes around. The West will reap the whirlwind.
Yet, Peterson is exactly wrong to justify Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine. In condoning Russia’s egregiously unjust lethal violence against Ukrainian innocents, he puts himself square in his own cross-sights. Peterson’s justification of the Russian invasion is itself morally degenerate.
First things first. Putin’s initial justifications for the war did not focus on American degeneracy. Instead, he offered a dog’s breakfast of imbecilic reasons. First he claimed Ukrainians were committing genocide against ethnic Russians in the Donbas region. Next, he claimed Ukraine is not a sovereign nation: “Ukraine has never had its own authentic statehood. There has never been a sustainable statehood in Ukraine.” Then, in a speech, Putin argued that Russia’s invasion was an act of self-defense against NATO expansion. Finally, he conjectured that Ukraine is acquiring nuclear weapons for potential use against Russia.
So, Peterson fails to address the circumambient imbecility of Putin’s stated justifications. Further, he failed to focus on something Putin has never said forthrightly but has made clear through his actions: that he wishes to build a Russian empire. And empire-building is never a justification for lethal violence against innocents.
Putin’s Egregious Injustice
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine clearly fails to meet two of the consensus criteria of just war: just cause and right intent.
Putin did not have just cause. Rather than striking Ukraine to correct a specific injustice, Putin justified Russia’s invasion with ambiguous claims and false justifications. His dismissal of Ukraine as a sovereign nation is manifestly false. His claims about NATO’s expansion are irrelevant; they do not point to any specific injustice. His argument that Ukraine will use nuclear weapons against Russia is conjecture. And even if his claim is true about ethnic genocide against Russians in Donbas, those claims do not justify a full-scale invasion. Thus, Russia does not have just cause.
Similarly, Putin’s war fails the criterion of right intent. Under this criterion, a nation must intend to restore a previous state of peace. Instead, it appears that Russia intends to expand the Russian empire, send a deathly message to NATO members, and punish a yet-to-unfold scenario in which Ukraine acquires nuclear weapons to defend itself against Russia.
Putin Was Wrong and So Is Peterson
Putin’s brazen violation of just war criteria should not go unpunished. As I have outlined in this series of short articles, moral accountability is vital for nations, if we are to avoid the atrocities of the twentieth century. Thus, Americans should urge our nation’s leaders to consistently and unflinchingly oppose Putin’s egregiously unjust war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine.