The Unconscious Civilization

It’s hip to hate corporations and easy to blame them for all the woes of our modern world. If the documentary The Corporation is to be believed, corporations behave as psychopaths. An easy way to kill an hour or two at a party: start talking about Exxon, Wal-Mart, Haliburton and watch the venom fly. The great thing about John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization is that it gives a very reasoned and unemotional argument against the corporatism of our modern world.

The book suggests that downsizing in the corporate world did nothing to boost the bottom line of corporations, yet governments followed the lead and chopped away. Saul argues that it is these managers, along with the financial and consulting industries, that are responsible for the ongoing depression facing western economies. You can’t shrink your way to greatness. Modern governments are run as businesses, even though they are nothing of the sort.

Saul quotes Bush Sr.’s inaugural address: “We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections.” Surely you can see that the order with which he ranks these factors is telling. We are no better here in Canada. The Liberal government stated in 1995 that “human rights tend to be best protected by those societies open to trade, financial flows.” Saul points out that this is demonstrably false. The citizen is now seen as a customer of the government, instead of the owners of governmental services. When did this change occur?

This insightful and well-written book will feed your mind. Part of the Massey Lectures series, it feels like a conversation, like Saul is there with you drinking a bottle of Little Penguin and quoting Wilfred Laurier: “What is hateful… is not rebellion but the despotism which induces the rebellion.” Saul would be great fun at a party and you should invite him. Since he is no longer living at Rideau Hall traveling the world at Canadian taxpayer expense, he may have a bit more time on his hands. (Vincent Ponka)

by John Ralston Saul $18.95, 205 pgs, Anansi, 110 Spadina Ave., Suite 801, Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4, anansi.ca

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