New Book

 

 

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

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY AT

www.amazon.com
www.amazon.ca
www.amazon.co.uk

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.    

 

Good Reading
Monday
Apr272015

My Q & A with Ottawa's Hill Times newspaper 

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

Thursday
Apr022015

The Real Reason for US Partisan Gridlock: Democracy Is Falling Apart!

Here is an op-ed I wrote that was posted just a few days ago on the huge US political website, The Daily Caller

http://dailycaller.com/2015/03/30/the-real-reason-for-partisan-gridlock-democracy-is-falling-apart/

 

 

Friday
Mar272015

Update on Media and Sales of The Great Divide

 

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

Tuesday
Jan202015

Charlie Hebdo - It's a War of the Gods!

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.  

Tuesday
Jan132015

New Release Date for The Great Divide

Encounter Books has just confirmed a firm release date for The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree

The book will be delivered from the printer by end of January, and distribution to stores will begin immediately.

The firm release date is now February 17th, at which time reviews can be released and the Publisher is confident the book will be available in stores across the land. 

I am handling a lot of the media promotion in Canada myself, and am happy to announce that about 30 serious interviews/reviews have been scheduled already, and more to come. 

If any of you would like to help, please send me the names and email addresses of media folks in your area whom you think might be interested, and I will follow up. 

This book challenges  liberals and conservatives alike, so we are getting very strong interest from all sides at this early stage because the book includes 15 Tables that ask the reader "Where Do You Stand?" on all the issues examined.

When important interviews get booked, I will post the info here in advance.

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

p.s Also, PJMedia website, which gets a lot of serious traffic, has just accepted an article of mine on the terror in Paris. 

Should be posted by Friday night. Title is: "It's a War of the Gods", and I believe it presents a novel interpretation of that terrible event.

 

 

Wednesday
Nov262014

Ferguson, and the Unreliability of Witnesses

When I was a young university student in a large sociology class in  criminology, the Professor told us that we were going to participate in an experiment on the reliability of witnesses, and that we should come to the next class with five dollars.

When we arrived the next day, he put our money in a pot and said that after the experiment -- he was about to show us a brief film of a chaotic crime scene -- it would be divided and given equally to all those who got the correct answer to a single question about a detail of the film.  As young students without much money, we all got excited, each of us secretly calculating how much food (or beer) getting the right answer was going to bring.  We were motivated to observe carefully.

Then he showed us a grainy, amateurish, thirty-second film of a loud, poorly-lit party scene, in which a lot of people were crowded together, milling about, drinking and dancing. Suddenly, a man with what looked like a stocking over his head burst through a door, waved a weapon at the crowd - which caused a lot of panic and screaming - and as suddenly left the room. The clip ended. It was actually a little scary. And there was a lot of buzz in the class right afterward.

Then came the question: "What kind of weapon was the masked man waving at the crowd?" (a pistol, a knife, a pipe, a sawed-off shotgun?)

A few said the guy either didn't have a weapon, or they didn't see one. Everyone else was sure - absolutely sure - of what they had seen. And most gave different answers: He had a handgun. He had a sawed-off shotgun. He had a long knife. A short knife. A pipe. A short baseball bat. And so on. Students who saw one thing, were in disbelief, to the level of scorn, that others saw something else. 

What was so striking was the certainty of each witness. "Are you absolutely certain?" "Would you swear on a Bible?" Yes. Yes. And again, Yes. And I was no different. I grew up learning about and using guns, and said I was so sure it was a certain kind of revolver that I was willing to put more money into the pot.

Then he showed us the film clip again, but this time in slow motion.

You had to be there to understand the level of disbelief and how shocked we all were to see that what the guy was actually waving at the crowd was ... a  banana!

The film was a set-up. It had been made as an object- lesson in human misperception for criminology students. So at first we felt a bit tricked. But we all agreed that there was never so persuasive and effective a lesson on our own misperceptions, misplaced confidence, and the unreliability of sworn witnesses.

Then he gave us back our money. We were no richer or poorer, but a lot wiser and more skeptical.