William D. Gairdner, prolific author of The War on the Family, The Trouble with Canada, and several other penetrating publications, is one of the most influential conservative intellectuals in North America. In his latest book, The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives will Never, Ever Agree, he explains how the ideological divide between left- and right-wingers in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in the Western world has developed into an acrimonious rift of virtually total incomprehension.
To begin with, Gairdner points out that while we in the West like to think we are still living in a liberal democracy, that is a delusion. In reality, almost all Western countries are now saddled with an overbearing system of government that bears a closer resemblance to a socialist dictatorship than a genuine liberal democracy dedicated to freedom from political oppression.
What has gone wrong? Gairdner traces the decline of liberal democracy through four stages starting with what he calls “Virtue Liberalism and Social Freedom,” In this first stage of liberalism epitomized in the 17th century by the pilgrims in the United States, most people insisted upon the least amount of government interference with their lives that would be consistent with defending their right to worship as they pleased and to uphold as they saw fit the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality.
Gairdner contends that in stage two, this virtue liberalism gave way to “Individual and Property Liberalism.” He explains: “By the early eighteenth century, all over Europe (but especially in the New World) the virtue motive was slowly being displaced by the individual freedom and property rights motive, a shift that was fueled mostly by the growing influence of what we today call the classical liberal political philosophy of John Locke.”
In Gairdner’s view, Locke “exalted private reason and will above normative law.” Perhaps so, but like Sir William Blackstone, the great 18th century exponent of the common law, Locke acknowledged that there is a natural moral law knowable by reason, which was ordained by God and is in no way incompatible with the divine law revealed in Sacred Scripture. On this basis, Locke and Blackstone would both have agreed with the assertion in the United States Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Gairdner asks: “How did those original liberty-loving but deeply social and religious regimes mutate into the equality-loving, radically individualist, secular, modern liberal regimes we have now?” In response, he describes how “individual liberalism” grounded in reason, faith and tradition gave way to a secular, “equality liberalism” in the 19th century and the utopian pursuit of a so-called just society in the 20th century, which tries to impose equality of results for all, regardless of talent and character, instead of settling for equality of opportunity – the only kind of equality compatible with freedom.
Finally, in “Stage four,” this “equality liberalism” has been supplanted by “The New Synthesis: Libertarian Socialism.” Gairdner observes that instead of upholding the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality, most people in libertarian-socialist regimes insist upon “freedom of individual will for all things personal and private – especially those having to do with sex and the body, such as abortion rights, easy divorce, homosexual rights, contraception rights, transgender rights, pornography rights, gay marriage, and soon euthanasia rights and more, made available to all equally in the name of freedom, many of them subsidized or free of charge.”
At the same time, the will-o-the-wisp pursuit of equality of results in libertarian-socialist countries has led to the development of stagnant “tripartite states” where one third of the people is employed by government, another third subsists on significant annual government handouts and only the remaining third relies on productive, private-sector employment.
Is there any escape from the sordid prison of libertarian socialism? Gairdner is doubtful. He writes: “The endgame has already been decided. Other than by some great moral and political reawakening of the people, rooted in a determined call for liberty from excessive government, for self-reliance, and independence, thus to enable civil society to flourish anew and restore itself as a barrier against state power – there is no way out.”
It is a sombre, but realistic conclusion: nothing less than another Great Awakening of Christian conviction can reverse the seemingly inexorable political, moral and demographic decline of the West.