Like Voltaire, PHd. Historian, John Ralston Saul rails against the arbitrary use of power, absent the moderating influence of ethical structures. We have produced "an unparalleled and permanent institutionalization of state violence" and it is as "Hitleresque" as the Gulf Tonkin Crisis, the false flag the Johnson administration engineered to justify what President John F. Kennedy clearly resisted -the committment of American ground troops to the Vietnam war.
Voltaire had a profound impact on his time. Politicians have ignored John Ralston Saul and the continued imposition of arbitrary power in the name of reason is currently the biggest danger facing our planet.
Ironically, the bizarre unfolding of the world since John Raulston Saul wrote Voltaire's Bastard's has been prophetic and that makes his ideas rather current and worth revisiting. Bill Clinton was President in 1993 when Professor Saul wrote; "A civilization unable to differentiate between illusion and reality is usually believed to be at the tail end of its existence." The public certainly had high hopes for the young president who was supposed to change the world but the orthodoxy that derailed the greatest expectations is still the dominant force in society.
Today, it is rather impossible to dispute Professor Saul, who said that we think we are reasonable but in fact, "while not blind, we see without being ble to perceive the differences between illusion and reality."
Does that sound harsh? Think about what you know about history and you will probably grow the merit of his argument with record speed. In particular, this brief passage from his groundbreaking book should illustrate the point rather handily:
The original easy conviction that reason was a moral force was gradually converted into a desperate, protective assumption. The twentieth century, which has seen the final victory of pure reason in power, has also seen unprecedented unleashing of violence and of power deformed. It is hard, for example, to avoid that the murder of six million Jews was a perfectly rational act.
And you can always rest assured that answers without understanding are like trying to pass a multiple choice exam by guessing.
And yet our civilisation has been constructed precisely in order to avoid such conclusions. We carefully - rationally in fact - assign blame for our crimes to the irrational impulse. In this way we merely shut our eyes to the central and fundamental misunderstanding: reason is no more than structure. And structure is most easily controlled by those who feel themselves to be free of the cumbersome weight represented by common sense and humanism. Structure suits best those whose talents lie in manipulation and who have a taste for power in its purer forms.
Thus the Age of Reason has turned out to be the Age of Structure; a time when, in the absence of purpose the drive for power as a value in itself has become the principle indicator of social approval. And the winning of power has become the measure of social merit.
Knowledge, of course, was to be the guarantor of reason's moral force - knowledge, and invincible weapon in the hands of the individual, a weapon which would ensure that society was built upon considered and sensible actions. But in a world turned upon power through structure, the disinterested consideration of knowledge simply couldn't hold and was rapidly transformed into our obsession with expertise. The old civilization of class was replaced by one of castes - a highly sophisticated version of corporotism. Knowledge became the currency of power and as such was retained. This civilisation of secretive experts was quite naturally obsessed not by the encouragement of understanding but by the providing of answers.
Next: The real crisis in America
is not about walls.