What makes Peterson’s message importantly different and provocative is not the content of his advice and rules, but rather the manner and strength of his rationale. Peterson is, at least at his best, a rational traditionalist: he stakes a claim for Western tradition based not, as Michael Oakeshott says of the conservative temperament, on a preference for the familiar simply because it is familiar, but rather on reason, scientific evidence, and his experience as a clinical psychologist.
Traditionalists feel a personal belonging to and affinity for their collective heritage. Through passed down institutions, art, codes of conduct, celebrations, and stories, the traditionalist is uniquely connected to a way of life that is greater than any one individual. He does not care for his tradition because it accords with any particular abstract ethic, such as because it produces happiness, pleasure, or freedom. Rather, he cares to preserve his tradition because it is his heritage. A traditionalist about marriage, for example, may well believe it is good to give equal rights to gay people, and yet want to preserve marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.
Rationalists do not have this sense of personal belonging, They follow abstract ethical ideals, such as pleasure, happiness, and freedom, that are not tied to any particular tradition. Rather than deciding what to do with tradition based upon preservig a way of life, the rationalist asks whether it will work toward the ethical ideal.
Without tradition we move in the abstract space of ideals; without rationalism we remain bound by tradition. Even if they are dogmatic, the loss of our traditions is the loss of our way of life, our living history, our great supra-individual body. But the loss of our rationalism would mean the inability to change our traditions so they can better serve the individual. We want to revivify our heritage while maintaining a way to discriminate between aspects of our tradition; to say, in an abstract sense, what is good and what is bad.
Peterson helps resolve this conflict by basing a defense of Western tradition upon rationalism.