ON-Lion Letter

The contention of William D. Gairdner's The Great Divide:  Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree, new from Encounter Books, is that the populations of the democratic world 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 -- democracy, reason, abortion, human nature, homosexuality and gay marriage, freedom, 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.

Gairdner was a silver medalist at the 1963 Pan American Games and taught at York University in Toronto before pursuing a career in business, from which he retired in 1988 to devote himself to writing.

His The Great Divide is an effort to deepen civil 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 that the clash of values will evaporate, but rather that a deeper understanding will generate a more-intelligent and -civil discussion.

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 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.

Encounter Books is an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, a nonprofit group that is substantially supported by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

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