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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.
Posted December 3, 2002
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 !!
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Posted December 26, 2012
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.