- Paperback: 656 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 30, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679748199
- ISBN-13: 978-0679748199
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 54 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West Paperback – November 30, 1993
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From the Publisher
"Voltaire's Bastards is a hand grenade disguised as a book. The pages explode with insight, style, and intellectual rigor...[This book] will leave you challenged, intrigued, and at times troubled."--Jim Hoagland, The Washington Post
"This is a wise, civilized, and deeply democratic book. John Ralston Saul wants to persuade us that real enlightenment lies not in the modern cult of Answers but in the stubborn, skeptical and human pursuit of Questions, and he does this in a beautifully-argued work." --Jane Kramer
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Through Saul's vast historical knowledge he tells the tale of the powerful and those addicted to power --- Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII, Bonaparte, Louis XVI, James Baker, Robert McNamara and so many others. His skill as a writer transforms the book into a page turner. I could not put it down.
This is a book that could seed a revolution -- and a return to the true roots of Democracy.
But then John Ralston Saul comes face to face with you, removes his glove, and with a gentleman's flourish, whips the leather across your face. Saul is the master of gauntlet-throwing, and after one read of this hefty tome, you will be begging for more.
"The undoubted sign of a society well under control or in decline is that language has ceased to be a means of communication and has become instead a shield for those who master it."
Does this remind you of your country's political process? Or possibly of those ivory-tower publications that you so treasure? How is it that our species has been able to use words to cloak double and triple meanings within the most seemingly innocuous sentences? Is this what we truly want?
"The structures of argument have been co-opted so completely by those who work the system that when an individual reaches for the words and phrases which he senses will express his case, he finds that they are already in active use in the service of power. This now amounts to a virtual dictatorship of vocabulary."
The Inquisition, Machiavellian belief, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Holocaust can be rationally justified, says Saul. The tools of rationality provide the means to any desired end. Men participated in these events of their own free will, and even added their input to make said processes more `efficient'.
"The Inquisitors were the first to formalize the idea that to every question there is a right answer. The answer is known, but the question must be asked and correctly answered. Relativism, humanism, common sense, and moral beliefs were all irrelevant to this process because they assume doubt. Since the Inquisitors knew the answer, doubt was impossible. Process, however, was essential, for efficient governance and process required that questions be asked in order to produce the correct answer."
Is it worth having the tools of reason if they can be manipulated to cause the deaths of 200 million human beings? We all know the answer, as gut-wrenching as it may be... regardless, we can't disassociate our minds from reason any more than we can live without lungs.
So how do we move forward? How do we evolve with such a legacy behind and such uncertainty ahead? First, says Saul, we must remember:
"Memory is always the enemy of structure. The latter flourishes upon method and is frustrated by content. Our need to deny the amorality of reason ensured that memory would be the first victim of the new structures."
Secondly, we open our eyes. Who is it that truly controls our society and its governance? Saul has correctly identified the "men behind the men", the counselors and courtiers whom our leaders turn to for advice, and the bureaucrats, none of whom are elected or held to accountability by our constitution. These puppeteers, say Saul, are the "technocrats" who co-opt reason for limited ends:
"In the context of the technocratic mind, truth, like history and events, is what suits the interests of the system or the game plan of the man in charge."
Thirdly, we do not allow rationality to freeze our minds and our humanity in the cement of process. We employ skepticism (not cynicism) to constantly keep our eyes fresh. When skepticism reveals doubt, we employ common sense and morality, neither of which can or should be defined by, you guessed it, rationality.
Saul is not an enemy of reason. Quite the opposite, his purpose here is to rescue reason from those who fly its banner upon high while secretly using it to shine their shoes.
And how does Saul go about making his argument without using... argument? His method is brilliant. He has constructed a book that reads like a great speech, an enthralling lecture. Saul is discursive... he introduces literally dozens of seemingly unrelated subjects, draws truth from each, and makes his points without needing to build upon the pages before. Saul doesn't lead you from point A to point Q, as his enemies would; he simply enlightens you on many topics and allows your mind to form the connections... a truly satisfying experience.
This book is a fine wine, with the strong tang of truth. These pages are filled with aphorism and information on the widest variety of topics: national defense, economics, television, the Supreme Court, warfare, Congress, science, and celebrity; all of these cloths are woven with the same fundamental threads. Saul unmasks many clandestine operations, most of which are still being played out today.
Your hunger for knowledge will be greatly satisfied (almost satiated) here. Page one will be distinguished as an important point in your life, and we all know how precious such eye-opening works are.
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