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The Unconscious Civilization


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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.


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

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.)

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