The Unconscious Civilizationby John Ralston Saul, John R. Saul
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… See more details below
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.
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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- Product dimensions:
- 5.77(w) x 8.77(h) x 0.78(d)
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