Man of letters and engaged public intellectual, John Ralston Saul has won an international readership for his novels and essays while animating and enlivening our public discourse by challenging Canadians to think anew about themselves and their country.
Born in Ottawa and educated in the public schools of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, he received an Honours B.A. at McGill and a Ph.D. at King's College, University of London. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada, a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. He has received honorary doctorates from six Canadian universities and in 2000 was the first recipient of the Canadian Teachers' Federation Public Education Advocacy award.
Between 1977 and 1994 John Ralston Saul wrote five novels which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, With the delivery of the Massey Lectures in 1995 and their publication as The Unconscious Civilization he entered the consciousness of people interested in the political and social questions of our era, in Canada and abroad. That book won two major literary awards, the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the Gordon Montador Award for the best Canadian book on contemporary social issues published in 1995. It has been widely re-published and proved to be the first of a trilogy which included Voltaire's Bastards - The Dictatorship of Reason and The Doubter's Companion - A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense. In 1997 he published Reflections of a Siamese Twin, a provocative essay on the nature of Canada. Last year he reflected further on the implications of the earlier trilogy in a new book, On Equilibrium. All these works provoked wide discussion; all proved bestsellers.
In these books he has written on both history and current public issues and, rather unusually in Canada outside the universities, he has sought to discover and illuminate the connections between the two. His wide readership here and abroad among what are, clearly, informed and intelligent lay audiences, suggests that he has done this with some skill and success on subjects not always easily accessible. What sets him apart is not merely that his books provoke discussion and debate but that he has gone well beyond the printed page to engage in public discussion with the public.
John Ralston Saul is of that rare pecies, the public intellectual: one who treats ideas as important, not least in our shared experience as citizens and who, above all, is by temperament, conviction and experience disposed to enter the public forum and engage in a public conversation about important public questions. He does this with considerable passion.
Four years ago this University launched an annual public lecture, The Templeton Lecture on Democracy. The Templeton Committee's first task was to find the appropriate person to give the Inaugural Lecture, a person who would set a high standard for those that followed, one who would have interesting, perhaps provocative things to say, one who would combine that with an ability to initiate and stimulate informed and intelligent public discourse. The person invited was John Ralston Saul. He met and exceeded those expectations in delighting, stimulating and challenging an overflow audience at the public lecture and a graduate seminar the following day.
He has been invited to deliver a number of important inaugural lectures which attests to his ability to engage us in the exercise of looking with fresh eyes at things we thought we knew. He achieves this because he brings to the task a creative intelligence, a broad knowledge of modern history, stylistic elegance and engaging wit, and a marked willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. In short, he displays many of the gifts and discharges many of the responsibilities which are valued by the University.
Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour and a privilege for me to ask in the name of the Senate of the University of Manitoba that you confer upon His Excellency John Ralston Saul, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.