Wednesday, April 7, 2010

96 / Ellul

When I think about the triumph of technique over substance (as when "politics" turns from being the study of what human beings ought do to govern themselves and becomes, instead, an inquiry into how best to achieve a campaign victory), I remember Jacques Ellul.

Ellul was a French philosopher, a hero of the French Resistance, and the author of The Technological Society, which influenced me greatly when I first read it, shortly after its publication in English, in 1965. According to Ellul, The Technological Society is a "work of sociological reflection," and Ellul's reflections lead him to the following conclusion:
Technique is opposed to nature. Art, artifice, artificial: technique as art is the creation of an artificial system. This is not a matter of opinion. The means man has at his disposal as a function of technique are artificial means....The world that is being created by the accumulation of technical means is an artificial world and hence radically different from the natural world.
Following The Technological Society, Ellul wrote Propaganda and The Political Illusion. Near the end of this latter book, he sums up the three issues he has explored in the following way:
The great new facts, such as our increasing technology, our propaganda and psychological techniques, and the systematization of all institutions attack man to make him conform and to reduce him to a mere piece in the system; they attack democracy by substituting a mythical system for one based on reality.
1965 is the year I graduated from college. That was 45 years ago. I'm still looking for ways to transform our "politics" from an illusion into a reality.

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