Paul Tuns:

William Gairdner, author of The War Against the Family and The Trouble with Canada, died Jan. 12th, at the age of 83.

Gairdner was born Oct. 19, 1940 in Oakville, Ont., and competed in the men’s 400m hurdles and men’s decathlon at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He won a silver medal in the decathlon in the 1963 Pan American Games in São Paulo, Brazil. After his athletic career came to a close, Gairdner moved to academia and earned a Ph.D. in English literature at Stanford University.

Gairdner gained national fame with the 1990 bestseller The Trouble with Canada: A Citizen Speaks Out and would go on to write seven more books, publish three collections of his essays, and co-edit several books on Canadian conservatism and Canadian history, many of which were reviewed in The Interim. In the 1990s he was a columnist for the Edmonton Journal and in recent years, his essays appeared in the Epoch Times and The New Criterion.

The Trouble with Canada sold 5000 copies in its first 10 days and was discussed on radio and television for months afterward. It critiqued Canada’s collectivist ideology and addressed a number of social issues including feminism, family breakdown, and abortion, but Gairdner expanded on these topics in 1992 in his new book The War Against the Family: A Parent Speaks Out. Julian Smith wrote in these pages that in The War Against the Family “Gairdner pulls no punches” as he takes on “all the modern ‘sacred cows,’ including homosexuality, euthanasia, radical feminism, and many more.” Gairdner called AIDS a lifestyle disease and labeled feminists “the new barbarians of modern society.”

Gairdner argued that radical tolerance and egalitarianism undermined the traditional family, which is the source of moral values and human freedom. Smith explained that Gairdner “concludes that our society is in deep trouble, due largely to the inability, or the unwillingness, of many families to speak out against the problems that surround us all.”

On abortion, Gairdner graphically described abortion and called it “the invisible holocaust.” He countered the pro-abortion talking points of the day and called out the media for its pro-abortion bias that permits the brutality of abortion to continue unheeded.

In The Interim’s review of The Trouble with Democracy: A Citizen Speaks Out (2001), it was noted that Gairdner said abortion was seen as necessary “in order to sustain … ideological purity,” that of warped egalitarianism that erased any distinction between male and female. At the same time, Gairdner argued that protecting children in the womb implies an “unwilled obligation” which “constrains” freedom, which was anathema to liberals.

The Interim published and reprinted a number of his essays, including “Three Questions About Abortion” in 2009. In it, he posed big and important questions, such as “How is it possible for a civilization to thrive and for a people to arrive at any consensus of the common good when the most fundamental questions are to be decided solely by self-interested individuals without regard to the common good?” Gairdner could weave the big picture – in his books he would quote Marx, Nietzsche, Hobbes, and Locke – while at the same time doing so in language anyone could comprehend.

In 1996, Gairdner founded Civitas Canada, an organization that brings together Canadian conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians for public policy debates. A release by Civitas said, “Bill served as a guide for the organization up until his last days.”

On a personal note, it was there at the first Civitas in 1996 that I first met Bill Gairdner and our paths crossed with some regularity. Gairdner was a dogged defender of life, family, and freedom, and was the utmost gentleman in doing so. He could also drive home a point with aplomb. Once in debating the issue of euthanasia he conceded that if euthanasia were legal, doctors should be prohibited from taking the lives of patients and the deadly deed should be carried out by the lawyers and politicians calling for legal euthanasia. His sparring partner in the debate said such a suggestion was ridiculous; after some back-and-forth, his interlocutor declared that only doctors should be killing patients, which elicited collective laughter from the audience.