John Ralston Saul

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John Ralston Saul

His Excellency John Ralston Saul (born June 19, 1947) is a Canadian author, essayist and philosopher. He is the husband and Vice Regal Consort to Canada's Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

Born in Ottawa, Saul studied at McGill University in Montreal and at the University of London, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1972. After working for Petro-Canada, he turned his attention to writing.

His first works were novels, including The Birds of Prey, Baraka, The Next Best Thing, The Paradise Eater, and De si bons Américains.

He is best known now, however, for his philosophical essays. These began with a philosophical trilogy made up of the bestseller Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West; the polemic philosophical dictionary The Doubter's Companion; and the book that grew out of his presentation of the Massey Lectures, The Unconscious Civilization. The latter won the 1996 Governor-General's Award for Non-Fiction Literature.

These books deal with themes such as the dictatorship of reason unbalanced by other human qualities, how it can be used for any ends especially in a directionless state that rewards the pursuit of power for power's sake. He argues that this leads to deformations of thought such as ideology promoted as truth; the rational but anti-democratic structures of corporatism, by which he means the worship of small groups; and the use of language and expertise to mask a practical understanding of the harm this causes, and what else our society might do. He argues that the rise of individualism with no regard for the role of society has not been greater individual autonomy and self-determination, as was once hoped, but isolation and alienation. He calls for a pursuit of a more humanist ideal in which reason is balanced with other human mental capacities such as common sense, ethics, intuition, creativity, and memory, for the sake of the common good, and he discusses the importance of unfettered language and practical democracy.

He expanded on these themes as they relate to Canada and its history and culture in Reflections of a Siamese Twin. In this book, he coined the idea of Canada being a "soft" country, meaning not that the nation is weak, but that it is has a flexible and complex identity, as opposed to the unyielding or monolithic identities of other states.

He argued that Canada's complex national identity is made up of the "triangular reality" of the three nations that compose it: anglophones, francophones, and the First Peoples. He emphasizes the willingness of these Canadian nations to compromise with one another, as opposed to resorting to open confrontations. In the same vein, he criticizes those in the Quebec separatist Montreal School for emphasizing the conflicts in Canadian history, and formulates the concept of a victim mythology as a critical weapon.

His book, On Equilibrium (2001), is an essay on six qualities that all of us possess: Common Sense, Ethics, Imagination, Intuition, Memory, and Reason. He describes how these inner forces serve us, how we can use them to balance each other, and what happens when they are unbalanced such as when one is used in isolation such as when there is a "Dictatorship of Reason".

In a 2004 article written for Harper's magazine, he argued that the globalist ideology was under attack by counter-movements. This argument has been extended in his most recent book, The Collapse of Globalism (2005).

Saul is married to Adrienne Clarkson, the current Governor General of Canada. Due to his position as her spouse, his publishing of On Equilibrium subsequent to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks raised political controversy due to what some perceived as anti-American themes in its final chapter.



  • The Birds of Prey (1977)
  • Baraka
  • The Next Best Thing
  • The Paradise Eater
  • De si bons Américains (1994)

Non Fiction

  • Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West (1992)
  • The Doubter's Companion (1994)
  • The Unconscious Civilization (1995)
  • Reflections of a Siamese Twin (1997)
  • On Equalibrium (2001)
  • The Collapse of Globalism (2005)

External links



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