New Book

 


The theme of The Great Divide is that the populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favorite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing -- and that could mean democracy is failing.

This book is an effort to deepen the conversation. It is written for the non-specialist, and aims to reveal the less obvious underlying ideological forces and misconceptions that cause the conflict and outrage at the surface -- not with any expectation the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more intelligent and civil conversation.

As an aid to understanding, the book contains a handful of Tables directly comparing modern liberal and conservative views across a range of fundamental moral and political “issues” so that curious readers can answer the book’s main question: “Where Do You Stand?” An interesting result in testing this exercise has been the number of people who find they “think” one way, but “live” another.    

$21.95 pahardcover · 224 pages
9978-1594037641-January 2015

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY AT
www.amazon.ca

 

Good Reading
Tuesday
May202014

"The Great Divide" ... on Amazon everywhere now

Here it is: 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Divide-Liberals-Conservatives/dp/1594037647

In the spirit of flagrant self-promotion, what can I suggest, but: "Buy now, and save!"

Indeed, many people have been advance-ordering already, and long before a book appears, this tends to get a publisher very excited. So if you do eventualy intend to order, please consider sending the publisher a message by doing so now.

Sincerely,

William


 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr292014

Supreme Court Supports Tradition on the Senate

Last July 4th I posted an essay "On the Proper Role of a Senate." It is re-posted here for those who may have missed it. I think this essay reflects the feelings of our Founders on the proper role of a Senate in a democratic system, and readers will see that this in turn rests on a specific conception of our fallible, rather than perfectible, human nature. 

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               In the long Western tradition the changing conceptions of what a Senate ought to be are intimately related to changing conceptions of human nature, and thus serve as a kind of mirror in which to see ourselves reflected as we grapple with the most important political question: How should we make the laws?

              The Senates of ancient Greece and Rome, despite their differences, shared an underlying classical model of human nature considered universally true: human beings are weak, but willful and impulsive, and therefore prone to error in the measure that their actions are heated and hasty. For the pagan, this was an eternal truth of human nature. For the Christian, human beings were once perfect in Eden, but fell into sin through disobedience to God. Common to both pagan and Christian however, was the commonsensical belief that will and emotion originate in the heart and the appetitive parts of the body, whereas reason originates in the head.

              Accordingly, the standard picture of humanity in the West has been of a divided being forever tormented by a lifelong internal struggle between appetite expressed as Will, and Reason, each vying to be Master by making the other a Slave. This Master/Slave metaphor emerged naturally from slave societies in which freedom was defined, not as today by doing whatever you might want as long as you don’t harm someone else, but as not being a slave. The goal of all free people was to be a rational being who is master of the slave passions.             

       As it was for the body, so it should be for the body politic. The architects of the ancient democracies felt that the public passions, like the private passions, should be acknowledged and heard, but never given control of the whole body. So in the Greek democracy under Demosthenes, for example, the Senate proposed the laws, and the People discussed and voted on them yea or nay. But the law-making “initiative” was with the Senate and almost all the laws came down from the Senate to the people, rather than the other way around as in the modern democracies.

       For the Founders of Canada and America the Master/Slave metaphor was accepted as a fact of personal and political life: when acting without sufficient experience and reflection, the People and their factions will tend to behave emotionally and willfully, will be prone to error and, if acting in a simple democracy will crush all opposing minorities. Hence an appointed Upper House or Senate equating to Reason and filled with wiser and older people who have a stake in the country but are untouched by party, ought to have the final say over the will of the people in the Lower House, or Commons. To omit such a check on the impulsivity of the People is to render them slaves to their own passions.         

        In retrospect, we could say that the changing role of Senates (the American Senate was changed from appointive to elective in 1913) in the West is an institutional reflection of how human nature is (re)imagined at particular historical periods. In conservative periods of high skepticism concerning natural goodness, the safety check of a Senate is called for to protect all the People from majority oppression. Which is to say: to protect them from themselves! Restraint is then the cry. Conversely, in a liberal period such as our own when a belief in natural human goodness runs high, we hear loud cries for more democracy and the abolition of Senates, because (especially when corrupted by people of low character) they are widely viewed as an intolerable brake on the good and pure will of the People. Freedom is then the cry. The core question, then, has to do with whether or not unchecked human will is good by nature. Modern liberals will say yes, and conservatives will say no. 

          Since the Romantic period of the eighteenth century which forcefully insisted on natural human goodness and the concomitant belief that the purity of Will is corrupted not by ourselves, but by failed institutions, the historical trend of the Western democracies has been to dissolve the real and metaphorical corporal opposition between Master and Slave by arguing that human passions and appetites are good in themselves and so must be generally unrestrained. Examples are the release of restraints on divorce, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, and euthanasia.

           It required but one more step in the logic of unrestraint to dissolve the same opposition in the larger body politic: once the People accept the belief that the Will of the People is an unalloyed good, they accept the idea that as they cannot be enslaved to themselves there is no need for a Senate. But is this true?

        On June 18, 2013, Preston Manning, former head of the Reform Party of Canada published an Open Letter to Canada’s Senators in which he opined that “the greatest weakness of the Senate as presently constituted is that Senators are unelected and unaccountable to electors. The Senate lacks the democratic legitimacy required to command public support.”

        If we accept the liberal belief that the Will of the People, whatever it may be is inevitably good, then he is right on, as they say. But if we accept the conservative view that the unalloyed Will of the People is improved by the restraint of independent “sober second thought” – that Reason (a Senate) should be the master of Will (a Commons), then such a view is quite wrong-headed. The conservative should then reply that “the greatest strength of the Senate is that Senators are unelected and unaccountable to the electors. The Senate has the legitimacy required to command public support precisely because it is not democratic and was never intended to be.”

This latter position seeks to avoid the conflict of democratic legitimacy that inevitably arises between two elected bodies each vying to represent the true will of the people (thus to avoid American-style political gridlock), and to preserve the proper relationship between Reason and Will. 

     It all boils down to the acceptance or rejection of the Master/Slave metaphor of human nature. The weakness in the conservative case is only the paucity of Senators of high character and independent mind who refuse in principle to self-corrupt or to be slaves of popular Will.

      That is the mirror in which we are reflected.  

Tuesday
Mar252014

Quebec Has No Right to Separate!

As the April 7th provincial election in Quebec nears, a reminder of the fact that no province of Canada has a right to a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) is in order.

The following is an excerpt from Ch. 14, "French-Fried," in William D. Gairdner, The Trouble With Canada ... Still! (BPS Books, 2011)

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Confederation Is a Co-op                

       Try to imagine that you and nine of your friends (together making up the ten provinces) have all seen a ten-room apartment building you wish to purchase. Together, you enter into an agreement to purchase it based on equal ownership. It’s a co-op. By written agreement, each of you has a share of a certain amount of living space, benefits, and costs, depending on the size of your family, but nothing prevents anyone from relocating within the building, and nothing prevents you as a group from agreeing to reshape the interior. But you all own the whole building equally.

            One day, nine of you arrive home from work to find François, chain-saw in hand, attempting to cut his living quarters away from the building. He is angry. He says he wants to leave and “take what I own.” Imagine the justifiable and spontaneous outrage from the rest: “We all own this building together! You have no right to reconfigure the building without our permission. We all got into this deal together, and no one can change it without unanimous consent. Anyway, you owe us a lot of money. We subsidized you from the start. Even if we decide that we will let you out of this partnership, you will have to settle up with us for what you owe, and maybe even pay damages for devaluing our building, too.”

            So there it is. A confederation of provinces is not like a condo building. It is like a co-op apartment building in which citizens can live in any of the spaces they want. In other words, all Canadian citizens, regardless of where they live for the moment, own Canada equally. The lines on the map for each province (like each apartment wall) are there for administrative and political convenience but do not confer ownership of geographic real assets on the citizens of any province. So if the Québecois, or any other group of citizens in any province attempt to saw off a province and cart it away, they are really trying to take what is owned in common away from all of us without permission. They are breaking their contract.

            Based on this understanding, I suggest there are three large issues, each of them likely irresolvable on the basis of the democratic conceit, around which the dialogue must revolve. They are the issues of permission, partition, and duplication.

1. Permission -- Who Says You Can Leave?

       Can a province just walk away from Confederation? Does any province have the legal right to leave? The answer is a flat “no.” Canada’s Supreme Court has declared as much. But then the court stumbled blindly into political territory when it said that if a clear question on separation had a "clear majority" in favour, Canada would have an obligation to negotiate. But that is not true. Absent real persecution, there is no right for a province to secede unilaterally, and any international court would agree. Why is this so? Legally speaking, if any province of Canada wishes to separate, it must get permission from other Canadians through consent of their Legislatures. Obviously, any such permission must be on terms and conditions that satisfy not only the province wishing to secede, but also all the others from whom it is attempting to secede. That’s a recipe for a massive fight.

            But what if a province says, “To hell with your permission, I’m getting out!” and starts up the chain saw? Well, that’s what’s called a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. A UDI, a form of democratic “self-determination” gets a certain amount of sympathy from freedom-lovers around the world (let it be said: they often confuse democracy with liberty) who are eager to see oppressed people free themselves. But in declaring a UDI, a province would be appealing not to other Canadians, whom they would spite by such a tactic, but to the international community. After all, in the long run it’s the international community that confers sovereignty on a nation through official recognition. If no one recognizes your declaration of independence, you haven’t got a separate country. But let us pause here.

            Arguably, far from being oppressed, Québec is one of the freest and wealthiest territories in the world – in part because it has also been massively subsidized by the rest of us for a very long time, enjoying a standard of living higher than if it had been left on its own. Much higher. More dangerous than any referendum on separation, however, is the decision criterion. Québec nationalists would insist that a simple majority of 51 percent plus one, is sufficient. But many experts argue that for a matter so serious, a special majority of two-thirds, or even 75 percent, ought to be required. Our Supreme Court has called for “a clear majority.” That is because the simple-majority basis would mean that one half of all the citizens of Quebec – more than three and a half million Canadian citizens! - who have paid taxes and sworn allegiance to Canada all their lives and who clearly prefer to live in their own ancestral homes as Canadian citizens, would be forced against their will to live in a separate country. What about their livelihoods, citizenship, passports, properties, investments, rights to Canadian services, and so on? They would scream for protection, and Ottawa would be morally and legally bound to help them. That means federal intervention and whatever force might be necessary to protect loyal Canadians would be used to enter any province that tried this. By now, the idea of a UDI ought to be looking awfully messy.

 

2. Partition—Or, What Came In, Goes Out

        Well, here’s another problem. As I said, the lines on the map, like the partitions inside the building, are just there by common agreement for administrative and political convenience. The lines do not bestow a right of ownership on anyone. If on Monday you move to Québec, you cannot say on the first day there that you mow own part of Québec. Just as if, on Tuesday, should you move back to Ontario, you cannot then say you own part of Ontario and have surrendered whatever it was you owned of the province of Québec. Just try to imagine the “ownership” of each province switching around every time hundreds of thousands of Canadians decide to migrate internally each year. For who, other than the people as a whole could possibly own Canada? Their governments, right? But democratic governments represent the people. And governments come and go. So we are left with the people as owners of the whole. And make no mistake. The taxes you pay every year on Canada’s federal debt are not earmarked by province. You’re paying off debt for the whole nation. So even if Québec or any other province got nasty and tried to declare a UDI, the battle would quickly shift from lines on the map to arguments over what property could by law to be taken out of Confederation as real assets, and what debts must be paid to Canada.

            In the case of Québec, this takes us straight into treaty law to find out what portions of the province were actually ceded or transferred to Québec; the real question, in other words, is not about separation, but about partition, a distinction we don’t hear much about. But our various governments know this distinction very well, and they consider the whole topic too volatile for our poor little heads. And the media, typically, are silent.

            There are many books and articles on the subject of what actually belongs with Québec. You can Google-search them. What it boils down to is that Québec came into Confederation as a much smaller province than it is now. About two-thirds of that province—a vast cornucopia of future extractable wealth - used to be called Rupert’s Land, and it was ceded by Britain to Canada, then by Canada to Québec in two parcels in 1898 and 1912, to be administered by Quebec as a province of Canada - not by Québec as a separate nation. In effect, Rupert’s Land was given to Canada, then transferred to Québec under the Crown, in trusteeship. Strictly speaking, if Québec attempted to separate, that land would by rights transfer back to Britain.  Now that’s bizarre. Such a result could be legally avoided only if Québec seceded peaceably as an independent monarchy, thus retaining those lands. That’s even more bizarre.

            But the underlying argument over partition is that if Québec (or any other province) were granted the right to separate, it would be allowed to take out of Confederation only what was brought into it in 1867( or thereafter). When push comes to shove, as they say, the French-Canadian “people” (make no mistake, in the Québec case, this is not just a conflict over territory, but over culture and race) could only lay a bona-fide legal treaty claim to a strip of land running from west of Montreal, north about a hundred miles, then east to Labrador. Other “peoples” – including a lot of English people - were involved in settling the rest of Québec.

 

3. Duplication—What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander

             In the extremely unlikely event that Québec were to succeed with the argument of self-determination, why should that same argument not be duplicated for the many enclaves of English-Canadians, and other non-French minorities within Quebec? Why should they not use the same self-determination arguments to separate from the newly-partitioned Québec? Separatists attempt to argue that these minority groups are not a “people,” or that in the case of the English, they already have their own “people” in the Rest of Canada. Now that’s a stretch. Just think of some densely populated enclaves within Québec such as West Montreal with its 300,000 (down from 400,000 in 1990) English-speaking people. They, too, will likely demand to be partitioned out of Québec as a Canadian enclave and will want protected travel corridors by land and water, and so on, just like West Berliners had in East Germany. Along with several other enclaves that would vote to stay in Canada, the new Québec nation would look like a piece of Swiss cheese. Having said this, if Canada ever decided to deal with the French fact it could indeed come up with a Cantonal system on the Swiss model, whereby enclaves or legitimate Cantons within what is now Québec territory would exist with ties either to a new Québec state, or with Canada.

            And what about Canada’s Natives and Inuit? They are obviously a “people” in any sense of the term who, in addition to language and culture also have racial distinctiveness, which is not the case for all francophones. And ... Aboriginals in Quebec have already laid serious treaty claims to over 75 percent of the province of Québec. Some 15,000 Cree natives occupying  most of northern Quebec have made it very clear that they want no part of any separation from Canada, and have publicly declared their intent to separate from Quebec if such an effort were to be successful. We can be certain that all native peoples currently under the jurisdiction of Ottawa and enjoying its considerable largesse (about $8 Billion per year spent by Ottawa alone on Canada’s aboriginals) will want to continue this way.

 

Thursday
Mar132014

Some Clarity on Euthanasia

I have been buried for a number of months writing The Great Divide, which has to be submitted by the end of April. It's going well so far.

One of the "Issues" the book dissects is Euthanasia, which I have included because it keeps rearing its head, and because like a number of other issues, this one marks a watershed divide between liberals and conservatives. Claims of individual freedom and autonomy on one side; charges of amorality and killing on the other. This is a brief segment in which I try to explain what the term "euthanasia" means.

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            We live in an aging, technologically-advanced,  and increasingly secular society in which the lives of the dying can be unnaturally prolonged for a very long time, and the question of whether or not we should be doing this, is controversial. Although we all know with absolute certainty that we will die, we don't know if we will die naturally, or may want to end our own lives for some reason, or will want to have our life ended by a physician, or may, without our consent, be killed by such a person.   

              Accordingly, in his ostensibly compassionate age, the topic of euthanasia is once again front and center, and the direction in which it seems to be moving (like so much else discussed in this book) is toward increased liberalization; a gradual relaxation of traditional moral attitudes, prohibitions, and laws against compassionate killing. Hence, the high emotion surrounding yet another Great Divide. Let us start by looking at how we end.  

 How We Die

              The focus here will be on euthanasia, rather than suicide. However, most people who support euthanasia do not really know the difference between these two things in practice.

As it happens, there are only three ways to die, with variations. You can let nature take its course (natural death); or you can kill yourself without help (suicide), or with someone's help (assisted suicide), as when someone buys you the pills, but you take them yourself, or they help you to the edge of the cliff, but you jump off yourself. Or, you can be killed by someone else with your consent (voluntary euthanasia), or without your consent. For the latter situation a distinction is made between "involuntary," and "non-voluntary" euthanasia. Involuntary refers to a situation where the person to be killed has the capacity to give consent, but has not done so. Non-voluntary refers to a situation where the person is unable to give consent due to coma or dementia. But whatever the case, "euthanasia" of any kind always means someone else is going to kill you, so in effect euthanasia describes what is otherwise known as homicide, or murder, and in this case where this is legal and performed by a licensed physician, it is professional, State-sanctioned murder. All religions and moral systems have always banned euthanasia, and most societies in history with a few exceptions such as the honor-suicide culture of ancient Rome, and of Japan - and now, the Islamist suicide bombers with whom we are all too familiar -- have always banned suicide, and assisted suicide as well, although banning suicide is mostly for the purpose of imbuing society with a respect for life, as it is impossible to punish a suicide. 

          One further clarification: the person who is going to kill you can do so by an act of commission (called "active" euthanasia) such as by administering a drug overdose or by sedating  you then giving a lethal injection, or by taping a garbage bag over your head to suffocate you, and so on; or, by an act of omission (called "passive" euthanasia) such as occurs when you cannot feed yourself and someone decides to stop giving you food and water.

****************

I hope this will assist readers the next time they feel like debating this topic

 

 

Tuesday
Nov192013

A Contract With U.S. Publisher, Encounter Books

Just a note to say that I have concluded a contract for a new book with Encounter Books, a publisher of a great many excellent conservative books. Check them out at www.encounterbooks.com

This excellent publisher is steered by the insightful and elegant thinker (and an author of some very fine books himself) Mr. Roger Kimball, who is also the publisher of The New Criterion -- possibly one of the most erudite culture journals in existence (check that out, too!).

The Manuscript will be delivered in spring, and likely published in the fall. I am rather excited about this opportunity as it is the first time I will have published a book in a country other than Canada.

 The tentative title of the book is:

                                                 The Great Divide

On the Liberal//Conservative Clash of Values in the Western Democracies 

The title, and the sub-title may alter, but the gist of the book is an examination of the underlying ideological incompatibilities that exist -- have always existed -- between the political philosophies of modern liberalism and conservatism. I believe liberalism as it once was has mutated badly, which is why I use the word "modern" before it. I don't use that adjective before the word "conservative" because what attracts in this philosophy of life is its timeless appeal.

However, this book is not about party politics at the surface at all. Rather, it is an attempt to illuminate the underlying ideological forces which, although they may in fact surface eventually in the political arena, behave more like the tectonic plates, so to speak, that produce the earthquakes and lava at the surface.

I have so often heard people ask: "So what exactly is Conservatism [or liberalism], anyway?" So I think readers will be pleased to see that there are many sections of this book that include a "Check Your View" table or chart, in which they can check their view of many concepts and issues and see where they stand. These sections compare and contrast the underlying liberal and conservative views: On Democracy, On Human Nature, On Reason, On Natural law, On Freedom, On Individualism, On Religion, On the Family and Marriage, and much more.

Stay posted! 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Oct092013

Some Bad News About Exercise

The word is out, and for this aging athlete, it’s a bit of a shocker:

Long-term endurance exercise may be good for your fitness, but bad for your health!

 What? How could this be?

To be healthy just means to be free of disease, to have sufficient energy to go to work every day, perform daily chores, and so on. It has nothing to do with extreme fitness.

To be extremely fit means to be capable of demanding physical feats like long-distance running, swimming, cross-country skiing, triathlons, cycling over gut-busting hills, and so on. You know – the kind of effort that produces that soothing, endorphin “natural high” for many hours afterward. That’s what so many of exercise nuts get hooked on.

People have always died of “communicable diseases,” epidemics, and the like.  But with the advent of growing national wealth in the twentieth-century the populations of the richer nations got lazier and fatter and began dying of “lifestyle diseases” resulting mostly from poor diet and lack of exercise.  

So Post WW II governments began fighting back. Get fit and live a longer happier life, was the new mantra. The coach of my track club gave a special ring to high-achievers with the engraved motto Non Uti Est Abuti -- “what is not used is abused.” There was no such thing as too much fitness. You could train until foaming at the mouth. You might get faint, throw up, whatever, but the outer body will always fail before the inner body, and that will put a natural limit on your effort. The only limit is your will to achieve.

But the latest word from cardiology research suggests we were wrong.

Here’s an Abstract from a Mayo Clinic study published in May of this year, entitled   

“Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects from Excessive Endurance Exercise.” You can get the full text at:

http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0025-6196/PIIS0025619612004739.pdf

James H O’Keefe, lead author of the study was immediately challenged, and responded as follows: 

“After our recent articles on this topic, Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and Editor-at-Large for Runner's World Magazine, challenged our assertions about the dangers of extreme endurance efforts by demanding, ‘Show me the bodies’. Amby has a good point: the risk of dropping dead in a marathon is remote, about 0.5 to 1 in 100,000 participants. But the occasional marathoner or triathlete who dies while strenuously exercising is the ‘canary in the coal mine’. Chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive ‘wear-and-tear’ on the heart, inducing adverse structural and electrical remodelling, which offsets some of the CV benefits and longevity improvements conferred by moderate physical activity. Thus, even though chronic extreme exercise may not kill you, it may erase many of the health advantages of regular moderate exercise.”

           Those of us who have made intense endurance exercise a lifelong habit – 55 years of it for this writer – have something new to think about (on my next 50 mile ride!).