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The Unconscious Civilization

The Unconscious Civilization

by John Ralston Saul, John R. Saul

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In this intellectual tour de force, Saul argues that 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.


In this intellectual tour de force, Saul argues that 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.

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.

Product Details

Free Press
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Product dimensions:
5.77(w) x 8.77(h) x 0.78(d)

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