Governor General's Award Winner
Tenth Anniverary Edition, with a new preface
Our society, John Ralston Saul argues in his 1995 CBC Massey Lectures, is only superficially based on the individual and democracy. Increasingly it is conformist and corporatist, a society in which legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups.
The paradox of our situation is that knowledge has not made us conscious. Instead, we have sought refuge in a world of illusion where language is cut off from reality. Reconnecting language to reality, clarifying what we mean by individualism and democracy, making these realities central to the citizen's life, identifying ideologies in order to control them, these are among the first elements of equilibrium which Saul proposes in these lectures.
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.