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The Philosophy of Jacques Ellul The Technological Society (La Technique) Summary

Technology and culture. The technological society J. Wilkinson, Trans. New York, NY: Vintage. Lerner, Trans. The technological bluff. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Dusek Eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Freud, S.

Civilization and its discontents J. Starchey, Trans. New York, NY: W. Gates, B. Habermas, J.

Legitimation crisis T. McCarthy, Trans. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. The theory of communicative action Vol. Hanks, J. Inter-American Journal of Philosophy, 1 1 , Hobbes, T. New York: Penguin Press. Jonas, H. Toward a philosophy of technology. Hastings Center Report, 9 1 , Kalberg, S. American Journal of Sociology, 85 5 , Marcuse, H.

One-dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston, MA: Beacon. Mumford, L. Technics and civilization. Ortega y Gasset, J. History as a system. Norton and Company. He sees only one logical outcome to each trend he observes, and he insists on each one absolutely, often without much evidence or argument, except perhaps to cite someone else's work in the field. But given how many works he omits or dismisses with a wave of his hand, I find such style to be overbroad and not sufficiently well thought out.

However, he makes some valid points in his defense, such as, "it is an illusion--unfortunately very widespread--to think that because we have broken through the prohibitions, taboos, and rites that bound primitive man, we have become free.

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We are conditioned by something new: technological civilization. Naturally, it does take a person to improve an existing technique or come up with a new one; but in a sense, Ellul is on to something, as so many people are applying widespread techniques, their improvement is almost a matter of when, not by whom.

Jacques Ellul and the Technological Society in the 21st Century (English) Hardco | eBay

Although Ellul emphasizes that industrialized society is different from previous ones, he does single out the Roman society as the technical society of the pre-industrial world a frustrating distinction, since Ellul fails to fully establish objective criteria for the difference between one and the other. He draws many examples from their practice, to include showing how states that wish to run themselves economically do so by using the least possible force, as "force is never economical.

As part of his groping toward a distinction between technical and non-technical society, Ellul focuses on the French Revolution as a process wherein technique "was applied to everything--it resulted not only in the establishment of budgetary rules and in fiscal organization, but in the systematization of weights and measures and the planning of roads. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family The individual remained the sole sociological unit, but, far from assuring him freedom, this fact produced the worst kind of slavery.

It was conceivable only when he literally had no environment, no family, and was not part of a group able to resist economic pressure; when he had almost no way of life left. Despite the conspiratorial terms of this description, Ellul insists that its development was not the conscious product of any one person or group of people--each technique is created and refined to serve its own purpose, without thought to how it impacts people or events outside of its own immediate scope, something Ellul brilliantly illuminates throughout the book.

For example, "The individual, in order to make use of technical instruments, no longer needs to know about his civilization. It certainly is possible, absent the second world war, that nuclear energy could have been discovered and employed prior to its being used as a weapon. Ellul will have none of this. He does have a point that its use as a weapon, if not preceding, most certainly would have soon followed: "everything which is technique is necessarily used as soon as it is available, without distinction of good or evil. Take his analysis of police: "The techniques of the police, which are developing at an extremely rapid tempo, have as their necessary end the transformation of the entire nation into a concentration camp To be sure of apprehending criminals, it is necessary that everyone be supervised This does not imply a reign of terror or of arbitrary arrests.

The best technique is one which makes itself felt the least. Therefore, he makes the error so readily addressed by Friedrich Hayek : our variety and complexity of issues cannot possibly be understood, much less addressed, by any individual or committee; they can only be executed simultaneously by individuals acting on their own, but in concert through microeconomic factors. Ellul puts himself through quite some gymnastics trying to work out how planners figure out how to match production and needs, when microeconomics does so almost instantly through price.


His criticism of democracy's inability to handle specialization p rebounds upon his own envisioned Statism for this very reason. Ellul, for his part, dismisses microeconomics altogether into the dustbin of history prematurely, given the date of publication. For instance, "the good will of the public cannot be counted on. It then becomes indispensable to sanction normalization some other way. And only the state can apply this sanction. He sees this impact not through a national or cultural lens, but rather as the inexorable advance of technique and its inevitable consequences.

He thereby excuses especially his fellow Marxists of their willful destruction of previous culture i. Where his critique of liberal society seems to gain more traction is in his perception of the methods of propaganda and censorship. People living in "free" countries seem to not notice the less obnoxious censorship they live under merely because it is either not inflicted by the state, or is applied indirectly through intermediaries. Ellul sees technique itself as the driving force behind this, rather than specific ideological agendas. The chapter on Technique and Economy is the most difficult to get through, owing to Ellul's poor grasp of economics.

He is disbelieving that private concerns can amass enough capital undertake large projects; likewise that they are able to amortize the costs of upgrades to their capital equipment in a rational way, insisting centralization under authoritative government is determined. He disbelieves the ability for private credit to be offered or obtained for long-term loans without government guarantees.

He cites the consolidation of small companies into fewer, larger companies as inevitable, without seeing why Statism and its resulting mass of legislation, regulation, and taxation tends to favor the formation of large companies, though these are actually interfering with the techniques of those sectors in precisely the way he declared impossible. Furthermore, David Friedman provides a clear illustration of how there is a natural limit to the size of a company, beyond which the company loses efficiency and this would violate Ellul's own deterministic rules regarding technique.

Even Ellul recognizes the inferiority of the state, "When the same problems are posed simultaneously to the state and to individuals, the individuals are usually the first to find the correct method and solution The individual considers the problem as it really exists in its individuality and, as a consequence, seeks the method that represents the best solution.

Ellul goes to the trouble of saying, "No one accepts Friedrich August von Hayek's proposition," while clearly indicating he did not read the work beyond the title owing to his ignorance of it. He goes so far to predict liberal countries, "out of commercial necessity, are obliged to align themselves with the Soviet system.

Jacques Ellul and the Technological Society in the 21st Century

Yet his insistence on planning, its inescapable determinism, and his steadfast belief in its superiority with regard to techniques though demonstrably false , may explain the continued adherence to socialism in its several forms, and to Keynesianism in more liberal countries. Ellul is not the only one under the spell of Statism in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. At least he has no illusions about the romantic side of Marxism; anything established for the "benefit" of the proletariat only worked to further integrate him to the Corporatist system, "the [labor] union subordinates its members even more closely to the economic function in the process of satisfying their revolutionary will and exhausting their will with regard to purely economic objects.

Per Ellul's exhortation in the forward, embracing liberalism to the maximum is not only practicable it consistently outperforms the varieties of Statism , but as he points out here, forms a hedge against surrender to technique.

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The other part of this key argument is that no inorganic, inhuman thing like a "system" or technique can ever fully adapt to the human, hence the failure of Statism itself take, for example, the "Best and Brightest" of Kennedy and Johnson's administrations, in their very flower when this was published, and their dismal failure to achieve any of their stated aims except putting a man on the moon.

Interestingly, Ellul predicted that increasingly technical society would snuff out political corruption, a brake on the advance of technique. Ellul spells out the undoing of his own vision toward Statism, "In the area of justice, the state has been a barrier and a check against private technical abuses. But when technique became state technique Experience must answer in the negative. The techniques, to which the state opposed checks when they were in the hands of private persons, become unchecked for the state itself. Ellul calls out materialists masquerading as humanists, "the argument that moral development will follow material development can only be characterized as hypocrisy.

He notes, "the technique cannot be effected unless all children are obliged to participate. They must not become deep relations involving profound ideas, tendencies, and preoccupations A good social conscience appears with the suppression of the critical faculty This conviction is the stronger because it is collectively shared. Yet he appropriately excoriated other self-anointed elites, "Particularly disquieting is the gap between the enormous power they wield and their critical ability, which must be estimated as null. Aug 12, Star Sloth rated it did not like it.

A depressing load of nonsense. The author claims that "technique" causes the gradual loss of freedom in society, but refuses to acknowledge that any individual or group might be consciously cementing their own power. For Ellul, the loss of freedom is strictly a result of the march of A depressing load of nonsense.

For Ellul, the loss of freedom is strictly a result of the march of technique.