New Book



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


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

The Meaning of Marriage

Our youngest of five children will be married tomorrow, and it will be a moving time for our family. We have had quite a bit of discussion about the meaning of marriage, and the assaults upon that meaning, and this reminded me of a column I wrote some years ago on this topic. So I am re-posting it here, as the institution needs defending more than ever.



Society: The Third Marriage Partner


                  In times past, if you wanted to understand the mysteries of human life it was sufficient to plunge both hands into the warm gut of a sacrificial goat and read the entrails.  Now we have to read the desiccated entrails of Supreme Court judgments.

                The Bracklow case of 1999 was one such, and it startled a lot of people by saying something everyone used to take for granted. Namely, that “when two spouses are married they owe each other a mutual duty of support,” a duty that (in some cases, at least) arises “from the marriage relationship itself.”

                 Unlike my more libertarian colleagues, I was cheered a bit by the idea that after decades of marriage-devaluation by the courts, here was a hint that marriage might have some reason and purpose greater than economics or than the sum of the two spouse’s intentions. The struggle to redefine marriage boils down to this: is it just a deal between two people, or between two people and society at large?

                 The marriage-lingo of courts and commentators across the country has pointed to the former notion for too long. It is mostly about “support” and “compensation” and “contract” and economic “factors,” or - yuck! - about “partners” in a “joint venture.” And through it all we are assured that the law wants to encourage “the self-sufficiency of each spouse” when “breakdown” happens to “happen.” Decoded, this means that spouses are not responsible, society could care less, and the last shred of nobility for the law is to ensure we are all eating well.   

                    Well it’s time to get a grip. Until very recently the natural family - a married mother and father living with their dependent children - was considered the very foundation and living model for a healthy and free society. Not the only way to live, of course, but the best social arrangement. The main aim of marriage was not primarily to please the “partners” but to ensure that society could provide a morally and economically stable private environment for the rearing of its millions of children, and a haven for the care and feeding of millions more citizens - such as aging parents and infirm spouses - who are no longer “self-sufficient.”

                    Originally, freedom-loving people in the West insisted on this moral idea of marriage as a religious, or at least a social sacrament, largely because they did not want human life secularized and controlled by the state. So in contrast to today’s pathetic notion, the promises made by bride and groom were understood as made not merely to each other, but to society as a whole, and not as a joke - a so-called “contract” subject to unilateral dissolution by the first disgruntled party - but as a serious compact with all of procreative society. Dissolution, if permitted at all, required the consent of both parties, of course, but also of society. It was a good method for keeping parents and their children out of the hands of the state, and a powerful warning to let society do the job of organizing itself. 

                      That’s why the radicals of Western civilization from Plato, to Rousseau, to Marx and modern feminists, have expressly hated this idea of marriage and the family. They know it engenders overwhelming loyalty to a free society, to home, hearth, and blood relations instead of to the state, and even worse for them, it diverts wealth to private purposes instead of public coffers. So Plato proposed removing all children from parents at birth to be raised in national daycare; Marx and Engels, ditto. The humanity-lover Rousseau, who styled himself “a child of Plato,” gave his five kids up to an orphanage where they all promptly died. And as for radical feminists … they have always wanted the rest of us to look after their children so they can duke it out with men in the marketplace.

                        So it was that the chief social challenge for the ideological juggernaut that rolled over the last century under the flag of collectivism (Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism in Europe, social “progressivism” in North America) was to get rid of all competition for loyalty: the State must be the only family. The social prestige of the private family would be ended by removing its traditional legal and tax privileges and scoffing the moral and religious appeal of marital union. Stripped of all sacramental or transcendent purpose, marriage would then be only a pragmatic, even a temporary sexual and economic deal between autonomous individuals, for mutual convenience. 

                         What is so disturbing about the bevy of redefinitions of marriage in our so-called liberal democracies in recent years, however, is the terrible irony that we are very busy bringing about the same social breakdown as did the collectivist states, but this time through our peculiar species of hyper-individualist “freedom” talk that reduces traditional social commitments to a toothless personal contract. The language of modern democracy, of rights, freedom, and choice are used everywhere to justify dissolving the bonds of traditional society in favour of individual claims and appetites, as if private human behaviour were without any public consequences. The freedom lovers never learned the lesson captured so well by Edmund Burke when he warned that “liberty, when men act in groups – is power.” Just so, our radical individualists have unwittingly joined the collectivists they purport to hate, as architects of social breakdown. They have played into the hands of the state because whenever marriage and the family are eroded in the name of a personal, a-social freedom, pathology skyrockets, and the state and its agencies step in to assume formerly private responsibilities with public funds; proactively under collectivism, retroactively in “free” societies.   

                           In commercial, and many other matters, the reality of contract is vital, of course. But to reduce something as important for society as procreative union to mere contractual considerations, to speak of a right to escape one’s marital and family commitments because of a spouse’s “inability to perform,” or to permit a louse of a spouse to abandon marital vows whenever he or she happens to see  a spouse’s illness coming (both of which were issues in the Bracklow case), is a great folly and sadly exposes every marriage, especially those of the old or infirm who are failing by nature, to a charge of non-performance. Try to imagine millions of aging, Nike-clad Don Juans on Viagra, hormonally-prompted to demand that because their wives can’t keep up now, they want out. They know that hot younger babes in search of support and a handsome Will, are waiting for them in the wings.

                          Sadly, however, we have sunk beneath even this bare notion of contract, for a “deal” such as modern marriage, dissolvable by either party, is in fact no contract at all. A true contract means two must agree to make it, and two to break it, or a stiff penalty must be paid by one of the spouses. But modern vows are just so much unenforceable pre-nuptial salesmanship.  In this respect, we can say that in contemporary “no-fault” marriage zones, it is now actually impossible to marry in any true contractual sense, for a deal that takes two (in my argument, three) to make, but only one to break, has no binding power at all.

               Alas, the institution of marriage has become a blatantly inadequate protection for the honourable partner upholding the marital vows, and for the children increasingly exposed to the home-smashing whims of unsatisfied spouses. Both must therefore be represented and protected by society and by laws holding the parties in marriage to a standard higher, broader, and deeper than simply their personal intent. It is a standard we can only recover by re-socializing marriage. That is, by restoring the marital union to a three-way contract between the couple and a marriage-respecting civil society determined to restore the original meaning of marriage.                           


Senatus et Majoris Tyrannide

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,


National Post's Robert Fulford on The Great Divide

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.”

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.

National Post



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


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




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

* 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 to check the exact air date.

* 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 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, 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 or .ca, upper left.

Thanks for your help