Criticism is perhaps the citizen’s primary weapon

The Unconscious Civilization by Dr. Saul is a good book.

Here are a few excerpts and a good summary:

Real individualism then is the obligation to act as a citizen. This has nothing to do with conformism or obedience to interests outside of the public good. Let me repeat for a last time a few lines from Socrates’ self-defence:

Perhaps someone may say, “But surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business.” This is the hardest thing of all to make some of you understand. If I say that…I cannot “mind my own business”. You will not believe [me].

Now the very essence of corporatism is minding your own business. And the very essence of individualism is the refusal to mind your own business. This is not a particularly pleasant or easy style of life. It is not profitable, efficient, competitive or rewarded. It often consists of being persistently annoying to others as well as being stubborn and repetitive. The German voice of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Nicolai, put it clearly: “Criticism is the only helpmate we have which, while disclosing our inadequacies, can at the same time awake us to the desire for greater improvement.

Criticism is perhaps the citizen’s primary weapon in the exercise of her legitimacy. That is why, in this corporatist society, conformism, loyalty and silence are so admired and rewarded; why criticism is so punished or marginalized. Who has not experienced this conflict?

The Unconscious Civilization, John Ralston Saul, CBC Massey Lectures Series, 1995. p. 169-70

— Image: Anthony Burrill

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