The current Canadian culture wars are rooted in the fact that democracy, in the form it has evolved to today, is locked in an ideological and moral conflict with many of the forms of belonging that we cherish in civil society – the heart of which is the natural family.

That was the message brought by one of Canada’s leading intellectuals and authors to the annual meeting of the Catholic Civil Rights League in Toronto Nov. 2. William Gairdner serves as chair of Enshrine Marriage Canada, an organization seeking to halt the continued erosion of marriage by enshrining in our Constitution the common definition of marriage – as exclusively between one man and one woman – permanently.

Gairdner wrote the landmark, 650-page 1992 book War Against the Family, which warned against state-subsidized efforts by collectivists to destroy the nuclear family and atomize people into autonomous servants of the state. His later books have included On Higher Ground: Reclaiming a Civil Society, The Trouble With Canada and The Trouble With Democracy: A Citizen Speaks Out.

At the CCRL meeting, Gairdner followed up on these themes, noting that he first became concerned when he noticed that the word democracy was being attached to an almost angry conviction that people had a right to do exactly as they pleased and it was “democratic” to enable them to do so.

The onset of what he termed a “radical” view of democracy meant there developed a deliberate, if veiled, attack on civil society, especially the traditional family, which suddenly became perceived as patriarchal, anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic. There then came a broad acceptance of statism – or “libertarian socialism” – which transformed society into a structure where the all-controlling provider, or nanny state, sat at the top as master, with an increasingly weakened civil society and family structure in the middle. Meanwhile, millions of autonomous individuals, grateful recipients of “equal rights and benefits” dished out by the state, populated the bottom strata.

This atomizing structure duped the populace into believing citizens have all the rights, while governments have all the duties. Words such as “freedom,” “equality,” “rights” and “choice” were bandied about with abandon, making it difficult to oppose the statist agenda. We are now in a position where even opponents of statism have to use these terms.

Gairdner pointed to a conflict between egalitarian and moral views of authority as another factor in our culture wars. This has led to “tolerance” becoming the sole virtue all may share. “This (tolerance) is not itself a good,” he observed. “It is a declaration that everything is good and nothing is bad.”

Truth has become not something transcendent, but rather something internal to all of us. Consequently, truth becomes simply the result of a headcount.

Radical democrats “attack the sovereignty of God and then of kings … and then of aristocracy and then of virtue, all in the name of the people,” said Gairdner. “Democratic ideology seems to end … by attacking the society itself as a sovereign organism prior to the importance of each individual. This is equivalent to an attack on the ideal of the common good. So I suggest we will not be able to restore society to its former role until we return to a more realistic and modest concept of the self and its obligations.”

The egalitarian impulse contained in radical democracy seeks to eliminate privileges of any sort – the natural family being the most glaring and persistent example – as the state showers new rights without qualification, converting what used to be a social privilege into a general economic and legal benefit. “By this means, the institution itself is effectively undermined, if not formally dissolved,” said Gairdner. “Governments can dissolve any social institution in this way.”

What Gairdner termed “democratic fundamentalism” operates through five radical movements aimed at the destruction of the existing order – radical feminism; radical abortion; the radical pan-sexual/homosexual/incest/pornography movements; legal radicalism; and education radicalism.

These movements target a family structure that has never been a democracy – nor should it be. “Try to imagine a family with three children, for example, voting against their parents on whether or not they should attend school or be allowed to burp at the table,” he said wryly. “In its radical form, (democracy) seems to work against the formation of community and takes special aim at the natural family, which will always come out the loser in this war.”

How does the family fight back? By developing specific political and economic policy means, including a brave new terminology, he concluded.

In his yearly review, CCRL president Phil Horgan told the meeting his organization has been working diligently with other concerned groups to bring back the traditional definition of marriage, in light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promise to revisit the issue. He said he was also present at the recent Faith and Freedom conference in Calgary, which launched a new entity that will generate free legal services by lawyers in the cause of social conservative issues.

Horgan added League co-founder Dr. Thomas Langan and his wife, Dr. Janine Langan, received papal honours earlier this year for their outstanding contributions to the Catholic church. Professor Janine Langan was named Lady of St. Sylvester for her work as adjunct professor at St. Augustine’s Seminary and for her co-ordination of the Christianity and Culture program at the University of St. Michael’s College. Professor Tom Langan became a Knight of St. Sylvester for his outstanding service as a Catholic educator, and for his long-term leadership of the Catholic Civil Rights League.

Executive director Joanne McGarry said highlights of the past year included the CCRL’s work with governments to establish and defend laws compatible with Christian values, intervening in court challenges in support of religious freedom and addressing anti-Catholic defamation and inaccuracy or imbalance concerning matters of Catholic teaching in the media.