The Unconcious Civilization

( 2 )

Overview

John Ralston Saul argues that while Fascism was defeated in World War II, its "corporatist" doctrines powerfully influence our own society today. Saul explores how these corporatist priorities have now become so woven into our social fabric that they threaten the practice of Western democracy. Our civic order, Saul argues, has been remade to serve the needs of business managers and technocrats. In turn, other parts of society have come to mimic this arrangement as they themselves fracture into competing interest ...
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The Unconscious Civilization

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Overview

John Ralston Saul argues that while Fascism was defeated in World War II, its "corporatist" doctrines powerfully influence our own society today. Saul explores how these corporatist priorities have now become so woven into our social fabric that they threaten the practice of Western democracy. Our civic order, Saul argues, has been remade to serve the needs of business managers and technocrats. In turn, other parts of society have come to mimic this arrangement as they themselves fracture into competing interest groups and ethnic blocs, virtually eliminating the role of the citizen. This largely unseen social order has deep and vexing roots in Western thought. Saul examines how this structure is bolstered today by political and intellectual charlatans who misleadingly describe it as a "common sense" arrangement, rather than what it is: an insidious war of attrition against the individual as citizen and the delicate system of open dialogue and doubt that alone guarantees the future of democracy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Writing in the same iconoclastic spirit he brought to Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, Canadian writer Saul offers a damning indictment of what he terms corporatism, today's dominant ideology. While the corporatist state maintains a veneer of democracy, it squelches opposition to dominant corporate interests by controlling elected officials through lobbying and by using propaganda and rhetoric to obscure facts and deter communication among citizens. Corporatism, asserts Saul, creates conformists who behave like cogs in organizational hierarchies, not responsible citizens. Moreover, today's managerial-technocratic elite, while glorifying free markets, technology, computers and globalization, is, in Saul's opinion, narrowly self-serving and unable to cope with economic stagnation. His prescriptions include eliminating private-sector financing from electoral politics, renewing citizen participation in public affairs, massive creation of public-service jobs and a humanist education to replace narrow specialization. His erudite, often profound analysis challenges conservatives and liberals alike with its sweeping critique of Western culture, society and economic organization. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Self-knowledge was always a main goal of Western civilization, but the self to be known was understood in generous terms as the basis of community. Saul says that as the gap widens between the worst off and best off, self-knowledge has become self-interest. In Voltaire's Bastards (LJ 9/92), Saul-historian, thriller writer and successful businessman-attacked "rationality" conceived as the pursuit of one's own interest, which comes under fire again, along with passivity, disregard of language, and the quest for an impossible certainty. Lost is the free and open society that comes from a skeptical balance of common sense, ethics, imagination, intuition, history, and reason. Saul marches fast, firing telling volleys at his targets, but he also fires on religious "ideologies" that involve a presumed self-knowledge binding humanity to God and eternity. Thus, he leaves the individual to strike a balance much like the one recommended by the self-interested pragmatists he despises. Still, this is a good book for anyone who likes to see ideas at work. Saul knows how to reach ordinary readers.-Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa
Kirkus Reviews
Readers must look past some unorthodox conceptualizations and outrageous pronouncements to glimpse the piercing insights in this volume.

Essayist and novelist Saul (The Paradise Eater, 1988, etc.) argues that in the 20th century ideologies ranging from socialism and fascism to psychotherapy and free market economics have promoted truisms that undermine the acquisition of knowledge. For example, despite evidence to the contrary, we believe that democracy requires free markets, markets convert self-interest into the common good, and technology is the key to progress. As a result, managers, interest groups, and technocrats have become our gods, and the individual citizen is smothered in a bureaucratic society. Saul finds the antidote for this situation in people who seek knowledge without the pacifier of ideological certainty, the public good without pretending it is synonymous with self-interest, and reason without emasculating it in abstract rationality. His critique leaves few residents of the 20th century unscathed, possibly provoking scholars to look down their noses and sniff about sloppy work while nonacademics reject the arguments as out of touch with the real world. This is to be expected if Saul's thesis has any validity. It is also a pity, for there is much here that should not be dismissed so easily. Identifying "individualism" as an ideology and contrasting it with individual citizens acting in a democracy highlights common assumptions that need to be examined. Portraying universities as willing partners in the commercialization of society, and disciplines like political science and economics as contributors to ideology rather than knowledge, raises serious issues within the undeniably troubled world of academia. Saul's almost nostalgic references to Socrates hardly provide a clear direction, but the lack of an answer should not be used to denigrate the asking of questions.

It is unlikely Saul will be forced to drink hemlock, but supporters of the status quo may suggest it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684871080
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 772,022
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ralston Saul is the International President of PEN International, an essayist, novelist, and long-time champion of freedom of expression. His works have been translated into twenty-three languages in thirty countries, are widely taught in universities, and central to the debate over contemporary society in many countries. They include the philosophical trilogy: Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, The Doubter's Companion, The Unconscious Civilization, and its conclusion, On Equilibrium. In The Collapse of Globalism, he predicted today's economic crisis. In the autumn of 2012, he published his first novel in fifteen years, Dark Diversions: A Traveller’s Tale, a picaresque novel about the life of modern nouveaux riches.

His awards include South Korea’s Manhae Grand Prize for Literature, the Pablo Neruda Medal, Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction, the inaugural Gutenberg Galaxy Award for Literature, and Italy's Premio Letterario Internazionale. He is a Companion in the Order of Canada and a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. He is the recipient of seventeen honorary degrees.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2002

    Ever wonder if our society is unconscious or apathetic?

    A truly educated and insightful analysis of the degradation of modern society. Saul is truly clever and concise. Every paragraph presents logical elucidations, supported with knowledge, wit, and sly nuggets of humor. John Raulston Saul should not be an author, he should educate politicians and CEOs. The world would be a far better place. This book IS literature of value !!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    An awakening

    Wow, what a profound compilation of philosophical ideas. Great read for those starting to question society in 2012. The "miss" (albeit a big one) is the value people place on their fiat currencies and that as a driver of their complacency. If people truely understood that they have little of real value without true education, they may be more willing to stand in front of corporatism with a shield and sword. This is definitely worth the quick read.

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