The Unconscious Civilizationby John Ralston Saul
In this intellectual tour de force John Ralston Saul argues that our society is only superficially based on the individual and democracy, and the West now toils unconsciously in the grip of a stifling “corporatist” structure that serves the needs of business managers and technocrats as it promotes the segmentation of society into competing interest groups and ethnic blocks.
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.
- Free Press
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- SIMON & SCHUSTER
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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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