978-0-02-927725-6 / 9780029277256

Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West


Publisher:Free Press



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About the book:

When the Age of Reason swept away the priests and courtesans of the feudal world, did a better society take its place? John Ralston Saul has doubts. A former Canadian oil executive-turned-novelist and amateur philosopher, Saul believes the "rational society" that emerged has created unprecedented levels of state violence and social disintegration that are now collapsing in on themselves. In his landmark book Voltaire's Bastards, Saul argues that the 20th century, which saw the final victory of pure reason in power, would shock and upset Voltaire and other thinkers of the 18th century who led the fight against feudalism. "Were Voltaire to appear today, he would be outraged by the new structures," he writes.

Voltaire's Bastards is the first volume in a best-selling trilogy that won international acclaim with its sweeping frontal assault on the tenets of Western thought. Saul, husband of Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson, argues that the Age of Reason, now nearing 500 years old, displaced medieval society with a reason-based state-corporate structure in which there are no values--and power became the new religion. Reason without values left the citizenry confused and yearning for meaning, Saul writes, and the new ideology was exploited by the ambitious to seize and justify power. "Knowledge became the currency of power," he says. "The most common characteristics of our elites are cynicism, rhetoric and the worship of both ambition and power. These were also the characteristics of eighteenth-century courtesans." Saul's answer is simple: rigorous skepticism. He argues that those who hold power fear nothing more than criticism and being doubted. "The secret& is that we must alter our civilization from one of answers to one which feels satisfaction, not anxiety, when doubt is established.& Our desperate need is to unify the individual through questions." --Alex Roslin

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