Here is the latest version of my op-ed piece on the real purpose of a Senate in the Western tradition, as published in Canada's National Post, June 18th,
Here is a very positive review of The Great Divide, published today by one of Canada's foremost culture critics:
It is agreed by all liberals that everyone should worry about the widening gulf between rich and poor and that those who aren’t concerned about it are probably heartless.
It threatens “our way of life,” Barack Obama remarked. Still, he believes wise government measures can fix or alleviate this fault in the economy. “That’s our generation’s task,” he said. Justin Trudeau has taken on the same task in Canada. Since 1981, he says, the Canadian economy has enormously grown but average family income has increased only moderately. “Where did all the wealth go?” he asks, and answers: “To the wealthiest one per cent, whose income doubled, and to the wealthiest 0.1 per cent, whose income quintupled.” He says Liberals, if elected, will fight income inequality.
Before we drown in proposals for making incomes more equal, we should consider someone who says inequality doesn’t matter. Poverty matters, sure, but “People who worry about inequality either belong to a culture of jealousy and class hatred or they are confusing inequality with poverty.”
That’s the opinion of William D. Gairdner, expressed in his recent book, The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree (Encounter Books). A conservative, he’s written an outrageous book. It will outrage all those who take for granted that “the conventional wisdom” (as J.K. Galbraith called it) should be treated with respect and automatic approval.
Gairdner dissents from the 2015 moral consensus in many areas, among them abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. Whether one agrees with him or not, he writes with shrewdly deployed energy.
He feels no resentment when he reads of titanic incomes. He assumes that there is a reason, and the reason is freedom. He gives a conservative’s reaction to such news: “Three cheers for freedom, mobility and inequality.” He points out that “Oprah Winfrey, Wayne Gretzky and Bill Gates did not steal their fortunes. They were given to them voluntarily in little bits by millions of people willing to pay for what was offered. There was no hardship for the buyers, and no coercion by the sellers.”
The question of traditional ethics stands at the heart of the argument, the great moral principles that result from tradition and consensus
Gairdner is not in any way typical of writers on political philosophy. In his youth he was a notable athlete, representing Canada in the decathlon at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. After acquiring a PhD in English literature at Stanford University in 1970, he taught at York University in Toronto and then left teaching for business. He was a left-leaning university student but life experiences, his reading and his thinking took him to the conservative side. He founded The Fitness Institute in Toronto and ran it for 15 years. In 1988 he retired, to write books on subjects ranging from family life to democracy.
He explains why we can’t expect liberals and conservatives to agree. The question of traditional ethics stands at the heart of the argument, the great moral principles that result from tradition and consensus. Gairdner says we should always be asking “In what ways can I uphold those principles?” But that question seldom arises, because liberalism has backed away from it. Instead, as Gairdner puts it, “We judge the moral laws, instead of being judged by them.”
In our time liberalism has made values into a personal matter. We worry less about the rightness of an act than about how it makes us feel. “Values education,” as taught in some schools, has become empty and shallow because it’s widely assumed there are no right or wrong values, only personal and usually emotional responses to moral questions. The conservative believes “The truth of life is external to ourselves.” The liberal believes, “Life is a matter of relative values and personal choices; to liberals the truth of most things must be internal.”
Read & Debate
Walt Whitman wrote “I celebrate myself.” Gairdner calls that “perfect individualism,” which he does not mean as praise. Whitman favoured “freedom from all laws or bonds except of one’s own being.” His liberal successors have accomplished “the privatization of morality.”
Gairdner writes with bracing honesty on these and other aspects of the split between left and right. He doesn’t claim that he can close the divide between them. He hopes instead to help his readers understand the sources and implications of their opinions, so that they can take part in a refreshed and articulate debate. Those who read his book may well learn, for the first time, the inner meaning of their strong views. That in itself will be an accomplishment. As he says at one point, the book’s main purpose is self-discovery.
Published: Monday, 04/27/2015 12:00 am EDT
Last Updated: Monday, 04/27/2015 12:18 pm EDT
Populations in the democratic world are becoming “increasingly divided” and there’s a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism, argues author William Gairdner in his book, The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. And if the civil conversation is failing, democracy is also failing.
What is the great divide and why will liberals and conservatives never, ever agree?
“The Great Divide is not about party politics. It’s about a range of fundamental philosophical and moral misunderstandings and disagreements that have divided liberal and conservative-minded people for a very long time. Over the ages, political parties with these labels (or with other labels such as Republican and Democrat) have handled these underlying divisions through policy and legislative compromises, and such, but hardly ever by direct confrontation with them as deeply incompatible ideological positions.”
Why have the populations of the democratic world become so “irreconcilably divided,” as you put it?
“Canadians and Americans came to North America as Christian settlers who spoke a common moral language and therefore a shared conception of the common good. But over time, the spread of materialism and secularism has eroded our common ground. We have been depleting the moral surplus of that age, so to speak, so our last resort is ideological difference.”
Can you elaborate more on why this ideological divide between modern liberalism and conservatism is happening and where it’s happening?
“In the 1990s, Francis Fukuyama wrote a book claiming that liberal democracy was ‘the end of history.’ It was a catchy title. But, of course, history cannot end as long as humans exist. I make a somewhat different case. Namely, that all the so-called liberal democracies of the West have abandoned true liberalism by slowly shifted from their original foundation in liberty for all, to the present foundation of legislated equality for all (which I distinguish clearly from the concept of equity). Because of this shift, all the democracies have found themselves stuck with a fundamental moral and political contradiction: How can a sincere polity be rooted in liberty and forced equality at the same time, when true liberty encourages natural differences, but true equality (as sameness) demands the widespread regulatory force of government? How could a democracy be more or less libertarian, and more or less statist, or socialist-like, at the same time?”
Can you give examples of what you’re talking about?
“I argue that this contradiction has been resolved in all the Western democracies by splitting the body politic in two. Everywhere, we see a highly-regulated, highly-taxed egalitarian public body politic for which countless of our traditional political, economic, and legal liberties have been vastly diminished and brought under regulation.
“But this co-exists with a libertarian private body politic that enjoys more sexual and corporeal freedom than at any previous time in recorded history. We have almost complete freedom of access to abortion on demand (tax-funded in Canada), homosexual and gay marriage rights, trans-gendering, pervasive pornography streamed at will into every computer and cell-phone in the land, and many other such once-forbidden freedoms.
“That is why I say we are all ‘libertarian-socialists’ now. It looks very much like a Faustian deal: sex (and other bodily rights) rather than religion, is the new opiate of the people. This new reality may not be the end of history, but it is not going to change anytime soon.
“The big picture is that all Western democracies have already, or will soon become ‘Tripartite States’—polities in which one-third of working-age people are creating the jobs and wealth; another one-third work for government at some level (municipal, provincial, or federal—or have full-time government contracts, which is the same thing); and another one-third are receiving significant government benefits in cash or kind. Anyone can see that in the voting booth the last two segments will eventually gang up on the first, like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
And how is this divide affecting discussions on democracy, reason, abortion, human nature, homosexuality and gay marriage, freedom, and the role of courts?
“As mentioned, we used to share a common world-view and a moral language that has been eroded. This is exposing us as solitary individuals to the rawness of underlying and opposing ideological forces in every issue examined in The Great Divide. For example, the typical liberal understanding of democracy is that it is intended to express the present will of the people.
“But the conservative says, hold on, democracy, as Burke put it, is about the will and wisdom of those dead (many of whom died to give us what we have), and of course our duties to each other (those living), but also about those yet to be born. The liberal emphasis is on present will, the conservative emphasis is on felt duties and obligations, past, present, and future.
“There is another divide over the meaning of reason. The liberal says all policy must meet the test of reason, without necessarily respecting religion, custom, tradition, or past experience. The conservative says—be careful! Whatever reason can create, reason can destroy. All the totalitarian systems of history have been justified by reason.
“This links to the topic of human nature. The typical liberal says human nature is malleable, and so can be changed by policy and law, and, therefore, is perfectible (by a perfected government).
“The conservative will argue that human nature is not very malleable at all, in fact is rather fixed and universal in its main features, and is more fallible than perfectible. Therefore, the conservative warns, there can be no such thing as a perfect society or government. So beware slippery politicians telling you otherwise (with their hands deep in your pockets).
“The Great Divide really heats up at the end, with the three key social and moral ‘issues’—abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia. I cannot discuss them all here, but basically what we see in all three is a clash between the liberal insistence on compliance with the will of individuals (expressed as ‘choice’) ranked as the most important good, and the conservative insistence on compliance with what is biologically natural, and what naturally conduces to the common good of all ranked as the highest good. It’s the irruption, in new verbal garb, of the moral conflicts argued so passionately between such as Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke.
“On homosexuality and gay marriage, the liberal and the conservative both tend to use rely on a nature argument. The liberal will say homosexuality is natural, and therefore a right; the conservative that it is against nature, and so for the good of all ought to be resisted. On the abortion issue, the liberal will again assert free choice as a right. The conservative will argue that freedom of choice is not necessarily connected to the common good, which is a higher objective than the individual good.”
How is this divide affecting Canadian federal politics?
“The civil conversation is increasingly shallow and vitriolic, such that the deepest ideological divides are simply not discussed at all. Both sides seem ill-equipped intellectually and morally to deal with these matters. My hope for The Great Divide is that it will help to elevate the national conversation on many fronts. In this sense, the book is about self-discovery.”
You say civil conversation at the surface is failing and that could mean democracy is failing. Why?
“Not only is the conversation failing, but, at the most deepest level, there is no conversation at all. I argue that, morally speaking, we have returned to our prior colonial status. When we were a colony, all the key moral decisions essential for Canada were made by judges in England. Eventually, we got responsible government and began discussing and legislating such matters for ourselves. But ever since the onset of the Charter era in 1982 there has been an increased reluctance on the part of legislatures to address divisive moral issues. These, they leave increasingly to judges to debate and decide. That was precisely the case in colonial times, except now the judges are seated here, instead of in England. This reality has infantilized us as a people.”
What is a modern liberal?
“A classical liberal society was rooted in what David Hume called ‘liberty under law.’ In the first part of The Great Divide, I describe the four-stage process whereby in America and Canada, the original ‘virtue liberalism’ slowly mutated into ‘classical liberalism,’ then into ‘equality liberalism,’ and finally (in an unexpectedly successful attempt to resolve the contradiction described above) into our present ‘libertarian-socialism.’ There may be no further stages. We are stuck here, because we seem to like it.”
You’ve added tables in your book so readers can find out if they’re a modern liberal or a conservative. You say a number of people find out that they think one way and live another. Why is this important to know?
“Widespread and deplorable public ignorance is probably the one reality on which all political scientists, of whatever stripe, happen to agree. It was made strikingly evident by the American political scientist Philip Converse in a now-iconic 1964 article entitled ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.’
“The purpose of including the 14 Tables in The Great Divide is to help people see, understand, and articulate their own belief system, and so to rise above public ignorance.”
Why is this book important and who should read it?
“Everyone should read it. It is a call to readers take up intellectual and moral arms in defence of their well-considered ideas and ideals (once they discover what those are with the help of this book), thus to elevate and participate in the civil conversation, unafraid.”
The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree, by William Gairdner, Encounter Books, 264 pp., $32.50.
The Hill Times
Here is an op-ed I wrote that was posted just a few days ago on the huge US political website, The Daily Caller
It's been an interesting ride so far!
The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree was released Feb. 17th in the USA, and March 1st in Canada.
Spence Media, a US publicity agency, is handling media in the USA, and I am organizing what I can in Canada on my own (flagrant self-promotion!).
To date, about 25 radio (and some Skype) interviews have been scheduled, and 21 completed so far. A couple have been Canadian. Most are American. These have ranged from broadcasts in Texas, New Hampshire, Virginia, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, and Colorado, among others. Americans are especially interested in this book because of "the gridlock" in American democracy (and also, I might add, because of upset over President Obama legislating unilaterally, via Executive Orders, etc.).
In Canada, we had a good opener live national interview with Charles Adler on Corus Radio March 1st. There are a few more big Canadian broadcasters now reading the book, who have said they will step up to interview soon. I will post those as they confirm.
Here are a few upcoming events:
* March 30, a live Freedomain Radio interview via Skype. This is an interview with Stephane Molyneux, a well-known Canadian libertarian anarchist philospher. He boasts of over 100 million downloads from his website, which he now operates out of New York. He says it's "the largest philosophical conversation on the web." He and I agree on some things, disagree on others. So this will be an interesting chat. Check it out at https://freedomainradio.com/
* April 8th, at 9:00 a.m., live on the AM 640 "The John Oakley Show" from Toronto
* April 15th, Conrad Black has invited me to participate on a ZOOMER TV panel which will air mid April. Go to www.thezoomertv.com to check the exact air date.
* Amazon.com and .ca
This has been interesting. All book-ratings on Amazon bounce up and down easily, according to sales of the hour. If you want a high rating for an hour, you can organize a dozen friends to buy a copy at the same time, and the rating will go through the roof. And then drop down. Amazon lists about 4 million books. If your book is ranked at, say, 1,000,000 that means 999,999 books sold more than yours in that hour.
The Great Divide started (like any new book) at about a 1.5 million ranking on Amazon.com and at this moment (just checking now) is 71,000. That is a huge climb from where it started. It has been ranked as high as 21,000 for a few hours, and it is trending upward each week in the USA, like a rising staircase. This is good in a market of 330 million people.
In Canada's Amazon.ca, the book (at this moment) is ranked 2,724 of all books sold in Canada, and #10 in books about "political doctrines". Last night, for an hour or so, it was # 2 in that category! The trending in Canada is also upward each week.
* Chapters/Indigo Stores
The stores are chock-a-block with stock of The Great Divide, and it's moving, if a little slowly (author's are always impatient). In-store sales usually respond immediately to radio and TV media, however, so ... I am working hard on that.
If any visitors to this website would like to help get the word out ... please send friends and associates to Chapters/Indigo stores in Canada, and to Barnes and Noble stores in the USA (also well-stocked) where they can buy the book immediately, and once and for all find out where they truly stand on the liberal/conservative divide.
And ... a reminder: You can buy the book right from this home page - click on Amazon.com or .ca, upper left.
Thanks for your help
Here is the full text of this article, as published on www.pjmedia.com last Sunday
"I'd rather die standing, than live on my knees"
That 2012 statement by Stéphane Charbonnier, Editor of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo, was a compelling battle cry, and the tragic murder of him, his staffers, and two policemen in Paris on January 7th guaranteed its place in the modern democratic liturgy. He was willing to die a martyr for the sacred principle of "free speech," and he did.
The flurry of media response has been anguished and, it must be said, ambivalent as to what should be our response. So although there is no doubt we are engaged in a war of terror, it may be time to risk some deeper questions. Such as: Do we adequately understand the theological roots of Islamism, let alone those of democracy? Is it really true that free speech is one of our sacred and "fundamental" principles? And if so, why do we charge citizens with "hate crimes" for speaking freely against such things as abortion, gay marriage, and multiculturalism, yet so passionately defend their right to ridicule Mohammad? The clash of principles voiced on both sides suggests we are engaged in a modern version of a very old confrontation between two incompatible theologies: a sacred religion called "Islamism", and a secular belief system we nonetheless consider sacred, called "democracy".
A poster carried in the million-plus march in Paris said it all: "Our freedom is greater than your faith." It's a war of gods.
Democracy now has very little to do with the old Judeo-Christian God, and even less to do with God's will. Indeed, we insist on the "separation" of democratic life from God and religion. But it has everything to do with co-opting the full force of God's will and repackaging it as a pure and sacred "will of the people." Indeed, during its early modern period, the right to democracy was everywhere defended in the phrase Vox Populi, Vox Dei ("the voice of the people is the voice of God"). Freedom, for us, means following the god of our own will. The right we call "free speech" is an indispensable aspect of that freedom, for the reason that if the people cannot speak freely, they cannot express their sacred will.
Islamists, too, believe in a God of pure Will, but in this case the reference is directly to the divine Will of a God who is wholly remote from the will of the people. The mere suggestion that the voice of a pure and absolute God can be expressed or decided by the vulgar, forever imperfect voice of "the people" is, for Islamists, a horrendously blasphemous notion; the will of God can never be decided by votes. So freedom, for Islamists, means following the will of God, not our own will. And that is why it will be forever impossible to fuse doctrinaire Islam with democracy.
The fundamentalism with which we are now engaged is sourced in a radical form of Islam that is similar in its strict literalism to the dogmatic Reformation Christianity that arose in the 16th century, in the sense that Islamists yearn to live every detail of life according to the Book. A little study of the work writers such as Sayyid Qutb, and Hassan Al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) will make these distinctions between an ordinary Muslim and an Islamist clear.
They are distinctions that make the idea of "dialogue" with Islamism a lost cause, for it is their unshakeable conviction that the word of God cannot be disputed or changed. As David P. Goldman relates in How Civilizations Die (2011), Christianity has been able to survive two millennia of very challenging Biblical criticism because the Gospels, however revered, are still only human reports of Revelation. For Christians, the actual Revelation, is Jesus Christ himself, and no criticism can touch a sincere faith in Him. For Islam, however, the Qur'an -- believed to have been dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century -- is the only actual revelatory event, and so "to question any statement of the Qur'an ... amounts to apostasy." As one scholar cited by Goldman relates tellingly: "For Muslims, the Qur'an can be compared to Christ: Christ is the Word of God made flesh, while the Qur'an ... is the word 'made paper.'" Accordingly, writes Goldman, unlike the interpretive work of the Catholic Magisterium, or the Oral Torah of Judaism, there is simply "no human agency with the authority to interpret the text" and that is why Islamists meet any attempt to alter or criticize the Qur'an with "rage and doubt" -- and violence.
Seen in this light, the rage and doubt of western journalists in defence of "humour" as an anti-totalitarian weapon, or of "freedom of the press as one of the core values of western democracy," is clearly theological. I am not defending either side at the moment; just trying to understand the war. And I think it goes something like this: With our cartoons and the like we have attacked the God of Islam. So they attack the God of Democracy. We hold the sacred right of free speech higher than their god. They hold the sacred duty to defend God higher than free speech. So what is the difference between 10,000 people chanting "I am Charlie" (faith in free speech is the greatest), and 10,000 people chanting "Allahu Akbar" (faith in God is the greatest)?
The obvious difference is the violence. For the Islamist, however, there is a similarity but not a parity of violence. Our violence against the God of Islamism is being perpetrated directly in their homelands by a half-century of western invasions of nations like Iraq and Afghanistan, and indirectly in their private lives by the internet, sexual licence, unrestrained materialism, and especially -- excuse the phrase -- by the sacred secularism of the West. True believers cannot invade us with armies in response. So their violence against the god of democracy is in the form of isolated acts of terror in the streets, offices, and public spaces of Paris, New York, Ottawa, and Jerusalem.
It is time to recognize that we are in the midst of a war of opposing gods just as dramatic, and theologically-rooted on both sides as any of the ancient wars of the gods depicted by historians, or, more to the point at hand -- by the historians of the Crusades.