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The Unconscious Civilization

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  471 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
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 negotiati
Paperback, 207 pages
Published 1997 by Penguin Books (first published January 7th 1995)
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Sep 07, 2009 Tyler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Libertarians; Fans of Social Sciences
Recommended to Tyler by: Trevor
The denial of the public good in favor of private interests is a theme which gives this book as much relevance now as when it first came out. In this critique of modern society the author, J. R. Saul, raises the humanist banner of Socrates against the ideological standard of Plato.

Since about 1870, he tells us, Western individualism has given way to “corporatism,” the idea that power involves only group interests. The corporatist world view denies that individuals can be a source of social legit
Jul 16, 2007 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-theory
Saul is a beautifully simply writer. His thesis is that we live in a civilization that is fundamentally deluded about the type of society we actually are. We believe we live in a time of remarkable peace, but really there have never been so many wars. We think we are free and that we live in a democracy, but people have never felt so alienated from 'power'. This book is a call to arms over how to make our society more aligned to the myths of our society. Just because things have gotten worse sin ...more
i encountered this book just after my daughter was born. It articulated the sense she had given me, about civic responsibility, and my connection, however tenuous to society around me.

it is still the most concise argument available that demonstrates the need for citizenship and the dangers of narcissistic individualism.

it should be in highschool curriculums everywhere.
Dec 26, 2014 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: society-politics
The book discusses the phenomena of neo-conservatism, the economy's shift from the expansion of the 1960s, and related changes in society. However, that's not exactly what it's about. The author's view is that the central problems today are people thinking in terms of being part of a group rather than as an individual, people operating according to "ideologies", and people not thinking and questioning everything as Socrates did - and the philosophical perspectives behind these tendencies.

In some
Gordon Hilgers
Apr 23, 2013 Gordon Hilgers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For those of us who are at odds with the free market mumbo jumbo machine and the endless references to Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises as the godheads of the so-called market, John Ralston Saul will help to unwind the knots of ideology and show where the holes are in not only free market ideology but in America's drift into corporatism. His contention? The most important factor in contemporary civilization--individualism--is being hijacked and re-defined in such a way as to so limit us into ...more
May 15, 2015 Horus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the written edition of the Massey Lectures John Ralston Saul gave in 1995, and is a densely philosophical treatise on where, in his opinion, society in general is heading. This is neither a happy book, nor is it likely that it has been well understood by many who may have or will read it. His concepts are deeply troubling and as he states a number of times, it is incredibly difficult to remove ourselves from our normal mindset and see our political and societal situations from such ...more
Dec 10, 2009 Leftbanker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sort of a follow-up to Voltaire's Bastards which simply asked a lot of questions. This book begins to offer something in the way of an answer out of the predicament of modern civilization.
Saul got it right way back in 1995 and it could not be more evident today. Money and politics. How did we get here? Who is to blame [all of us, of course]?

Basically, we have been stumbling around for decades, content in our selfishness, unconscious. While we have been amusing ourselves to death, the well financed elites have kept us fed on the soma of consumerism and self-gratification because it lets them proceed to control the bigger systems. They have forced the narrative of our existence int
Apr 26, 2014 Angelmae rated it really liked it
I am always so disappointed to read such great books only to see them fail to change anything. I read this book so long ago, maybe 15 years ago, and still the dumbness of our culture pervades. It taught me the difference between being a mob thinker or a true thinker. Loved this book. It probably also messed me up for ever achieving success in the corporate world.
Paige Ellen Stone
Feb 23, 2016 Paige Ellen Stone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-century
This book is short and too the point. With much research to back up his theory, Saul makes it clear that the main reason that corporatism now rules government and, in turn, us, is that we have become lazy and even fallen asleep in our duties as citizens. With an eloquence I can only envy he shows how this has happened, starting with differences between Socrates and Plato, how it has progress. He shows how it has lulled citizenry into unconsciousness and gives grave warning as to the consequences ...more
Aug 19, 2009 Roz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I want to highlight most of this book
Nov 08, 2014 McKenzie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: newcomers to political ideas
Shelves: canadian, goverance
"The apple (of knowledge) is the game"

Saul effectively delivers a proactive political message in a clear style, that doesn't require a lot of background knowledge. Although, this was presented to a university level one audience, the keen reader can tackle the topic and still gain a lot from a close reading.

He gives readers the history of the rise in corporatism, gradual weakening of individualism and democracy, how this relationship functions today, and what can be done about it. Saul does this
Mar 27, 2011 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: Comment on
Coming from a position that cannot be easily characterized as either Left or Right, Saul critiques technocracy and the anti-democratic culture of management and conformity, the favoring of private profit to public good, which comprise what he calls "corporatism." Regularly citing Adam Smith in opposition to the received truths of contemporary "free market" evangelists, Saul argues that markets do have a proper place in society (a fun game for those with the means to enjoy them!), but that they d ...more
Ben Eldridge
Nov 21, 2013 Ben Eldridge rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture-politics
A fascinating examination of contemporary society, The Unconscious Civilization argues that modern society is blindly locked in the self-defeating ideology of corporatism wherein self-interest (of groups) overwhelms the public good. As a basic thesis, Saul is almost undoubtedly correct, and whilst I do take issue with some of his assertions (his passing disposal of deconstructionist approaches to language, for instance), the central contention that modernity is characterised by an unwieldy burea ...more
Hugh Chatfield
I bought this and started to read it quite some time ago - but never finished it. I picked it up again and read it cover to cover - perhaps because he was dealing with the notion of corporatism, something I had recently become very aware of. Everything he discussed rang true in my head, perhaps because I got to experience "corporatism" first hand. "Hey don't this this personally - this is business".
Rohan Traman
I'd been waiting to get my hands on this book and it starts off in very promising fashion with John's statements on how modern day democracy is just a guise for interest groups realising their ambitions.
While there are many sections that I did highlight and found very much relevant to our society today, I have to agree with the comments of another reviewer here who quotes the author himself, "I've said it before that one of the signs of a healthy civilization is the existence of a relatively cl
Saul provides interesting commentary on the legacies of Socrates versus Plato, the "managerial elite", and the corruption of equating individualism with selfishness.

On the other hand, the book suffers from numerous unstated assumptions, which David's review outlines very nicely. I'll just add that I think the most problematic is the assumption that there exists a holistic "public good", which Saul constantly invokes. Ideology is to avoided, he says, because ideology always involves the invention
Feb 11, 2016 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic I have recently re-read after almost twenty years. Prescient and still has a lot to say about our current condition.
What did I think? I thought it was seminal to my understanding of how capitalism works. I still think that.
Feb 06, 2015 xhxhx rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sabrina Ali
Aug 21, 2012 Sabrina Ali rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author makes no sense. He will propose a premise, but the following sentences tend not to address that specific premise and give no rationale for the conclusion he draws. I agreed with many of his conclusions, but it was sheer frustration to read, knowing that I could find more logical, reasoned arguments from an inmate of the local asylum.
Jun 18, 2015 Zainab rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The acceptance of psychic discomfort is the acceptance of consciousness.

Really excellent and frightening/sad that it's 20 years old but sounds mostly completely like today.
Jan 05, 2008 Egang rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author lays out a compelling argument for the promotion of humanism and critiques the current state of our civilization and the traditional ideologies we are so accustomed to hearing from our political figures.
Jun 20, 2008 Mitch rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
this is a groovy little text until it comes to speaking to the heart of the unconscious civilization ... of freudian and jungian theory. john ralston saul gets the notion of the unconscious all wrong.
Sep 14, 2010 Guy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent criticism of the economic ideologies with which we have deluded ourselves, and which are being foisted upon us like religious gospels. Magnificent effort.
Jan 03, 2013 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Made it halfway through. Very dry and hard to tell what is relevant to current events. Vaguely interesting but not a good casual read.
Mar 01, 2014 Shishir rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A rather scenic historic perspective on echelons of power in hands of Corporations manipulating Govt Media and the unconscious public!
H Wesselius
Jul 26, 2011 H Wesselius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps the most succinct summary of his ideas and criticisms of modern society. Only Voltaire's Bastards is better.
Oct 18, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it
One of the best philosophical explanations of why democracy matters both in theory and practice.
May 25, 2012 Christopher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Pretentious - hated it. At least Volitare's bastards had something to it.
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John Ralston Saul is a Canadian author, essayist, and President of International PEN. As an essayist, Saul is particularly known for his commentaries on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good; the failures of manager-, or more precisely technocrat-, led societies; the confusion between leadership and managerialism; military strategy, in particular irregular warfare; the role ...more
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“Whenever governments adopt a moral tone - as opposed to an ethical one - you know something is wrong.” 33 likes
“Now listen to the first three aims of the corporatist movement in Germany, Italy and France during the 1920s. These were developed by the people who went on to become part of the Fascist experience:
(1) shift power directly to economic and social interest groups;
(2) push entrepreneurial initiative in areas normally reserved for public bodies;
(3) obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest -- that is, challenge the idea of the public interest.
This sounds like the official program of most contemporary Western governments.”
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