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Jacques Ellul
Full name Jacques Ellul
Born January 6 1912
Bordeaux, France
Died May 19, 1994 (aged 82)
Pessac, France
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School non-conformist

Jacques Ellul (January 6, 1912 – May 19, 1994) was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist. He wrote several books about the "technological society" and the intersection between Christianity and politics, such as Anarchy and Christianity (1991)—arguing that anarchism and Christianity are socially following the same goal.

A philosopher who approached technology from a deterministic viewpoint, Ellul, professor at the University of Bordeaux, authored 58 books and more than a thousand articles over his lifetime, the dominant theme of which has been the threat to human freedom and Christian faith created by modern technology. His constant concern has been the emergence of a "technological tyranny" over humanity. As a philosopher and lay theologian, he further explored the religiosity of the technological society.

Life

Ellul was born in Bordeaux, France, and was educated at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris. In World War II, he was a leader in the French resistance. For his efforts to save Jews he was awarded the title Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1981.[1] He was also prominent in the worldwide Ecumenical movement, although he later became sharply critical of the movement for what he felt were indiscriminate endorsements of political establishments, primarily of the Left. However, he was no friendlier in his assessment of those of the Right, either; he fashioned an explicitly anti-political stance as an alternative to both (see below).

Ellul was best friends with Bernard Charbonneau, who wrote on similar themes.

Ellul studied Karl Marx and became a prolific exegete of his theories. Ellul converted to Christianity at age 22. The influence of these ideologies has alternately earned him devoted followers and vicious enemies. In large measure and especially in those of his books concerned with theological matters, Ellul restates the viewpoints held by the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who was a leader of the resistance against the German state church in World War II. Barth's polar dialectic of the Word of God, in which the Gospel both judges and renews the world, helped to shape Ellul's theological perspective. Ellul went beyond Barth in one particular observation: "That which desacralizes a given reality, itself in turn becomes the new sacred reality".

The sacred is then, as classically defined, the object of both hope and fear, both fascination and dread. Once nature was the all-encompassing environment and power upon which human beings were dependent in life and death, and so was experienced as sacred. The Reformation desacralized the church in the name of the Bible, and the Bible became the sacred book.

Science (through Charles Darwin's theory of evolution) and reason (higher criticism and liberal theology) desacralized the scriptures; subsequent decades have seen science, particularly those in the applied categories amenable to the aims of collective economic production (whether capitalist, socialist, or communist), elevated to the position of sacred in Western culture. Today, argued Ellul, it is the technological society that modern-day humans generally hold sacred. Ellul defined technique as "the totality of methods rationally arrived at, and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity."[2] Thus, it is not the society of machines as such, but the society of "efficient techniques" which is the focus of Ellul's sociological analysis:

Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.

It is useless to think that a distinction can be made between technique and its use, according to Ellul, for techniques have specific social and psychological consequences independent of human desires. There can be no room for moral considerations in their use:

Not even the moral conversion of the technicians could make a difference. At best, they would cease to be good technicians." In the end, technique has only one principle, efficient ordering.

Philosophy

What many consider to be Ellul's most important work, The Technological Society (1964) was originally titled: La Technique: L'enjeu du siècle (which literally translates to "The Stake of the Century").[3] In it, Ellul set forth seven characteristics of modern technology.

The characteristics of technique which serve to make efficiency a necessity are rationality, artificiality, automatism of technical choice, self-augmentation, monism, universalism, and autonomy.[4] The rationality of technique enforces logical and mechanical organization through division of labor, the setting of production standard, etc. And it creates an artificial system which "eliminates or subordinates the natural world."

Regarding technology, instead of it being subservient to humanity, "human beings have to adapt to it, and accept total change." As an example, Ellul offered the diminished value of the humanities to a technological society. As people begin to question the value of learning ancient languages and history, they question those things which, on the surface, do little to advance their financial and technical state. According to Ellul, this misplaced emphasis is one of the problems with modern education.

This, according to Ellul, produces a situation where an incredible stress is placed on information in our schools. The focus in those schools is to prepare young people to enter the world of information, able to handle computers, but knowing only the reasoning, the language, the combinations, and the connections between computers. This movement is invading the whole intellectual domain and also that of conscience.

Ellul's commitment to scrutinize technological development is expressed as such:

[W]hat is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization. I cannot think that choices of this kind are unimportant.[cite this quote]

Theology

While Ellul is perhaps most noted for his sociological work, especially his discussions of technology, he saw his theological work as an essential aspect of his career, and began publishing theological discussions early, with such books as The Presence of the Kingdom (1948).

Although a son of the minority French Reformed tradition and thus a spiritual heir of thinkers like John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, Ellul departed substantially from Reformed doctrinal traditions, but unlike other European Protestant thinkers, utterly rejected the influence of philosophical idealism or romanticism upon his beliefs about God and human faith. In articulating his theological ideas, he mainly drew upon the corpus of works by the Swiss-German professor Karl Barth and the critiques of European state Christianity made by Dane Søren Kierkegaard. This made him one of the more ardent expositors of neo-orthodoxy, which was in decline elsewhere in the Western theological scene during Ellul's heyday. Much like Barth, Ellul had no use for either liberal theology (to him dominated by Enlightenment notions about the goodness of humanity and thus rendered puerile by its naïveté) or orthodox Protestantism (e.g., fundamentalism or scholastic Calvinism, both of which to him refuse to acknowledge the radical freedom of God and humanity) and maintained a roughly anti-Catholic view of the Bible, theology, and the churches. The latter was a standpoint shaped, again, by his membership in a tradition historically persecuted by Catholic clergy and state officials.

One particular theological movement that aroused his ire was that of secular theology, based on notions that traditional Christian conceptions of God and humanity are based upon a primitive consciousness, one that most civilized people have quite overcome. This line of thought affirmed the ethical teachings of Jesus but rejected the idea that he represented anything more than a highly accomplished human being. Ellul attacked this school, and practitioners of it such as Harvey Cox, as out of accord not with Christian doctrinal traditions, but reality itself, namely what he perceived as the irreducible religiosity of the human race, a devotion that has worshiped idols such as rulers, nations, and, in more recent times, technology and economics. To Ellul, people use such fallen images, or powers, as a substitute for God, and are, in turn, used by them, with no possible appeal to innocence or neutrality, which, although possible theoretically, does not in fact exist. Ellul thus renovates in a non-legalistic manner the traditional Christian understanding of original sin and espouses a thoroughgoing pessimism about human capabilities, a view most sharply evidenced in his Meaning of the City (see bibliography below).

Ellul espouses views on salvation, the sovereignty of God, and ethical action that appear to take a deliberately contrarian stance toward established, "mainstream" opinion. For instance, in the book What I Believe, he declared himself to be a Christian Universalist, writing "that all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of His grace no matter what they have done."[5] Ellul formulated this stance not from any liberal or humanistic sympathies, but in the main from an extremely high view of God's transcendence, that God is totally free to do what God pleases. Any attempts to modify that freedom from merely human standards of righteousness and justice amount to sin, to putting oneself in God's place, which is precisely what Adam and Eve sought to do in the creation stories in Genesis. This highly unusual juxtaposition of original sin and universal salvation has repelled liberal and conservative critics and commentators alike, who charge that such views amount to antinomianism, denying that God's laws are binding upon human beings. In most of his theologically-oriented writings, Ellul effectively dismisses those charges as stemming from a radical confusion between religions as human phenomena and the unique claims of the Christian faith, which are not predicated upon human achievement or moral integrity whatsoever.

Political philosophy

Ellul identified himself as a "Christian Anarchist." For him, this meant that nation-states should neither be praised nor feared, but merely ignored. To him, human government is irrelevant in that the law contained in Scripture is sufficient and exclusive. That is, being a Christian means pledging absolute allegiance to Christ, which makes other laws redundant at best or counter to the Law of God. Despite the initial attraction of some evangelicals to his thinking because of his high view of Biblical texts (i.e., generally eschewing the historical-critical method), this position eventually alienated the few followers he had among conservative Protestants (this despite the fact that a U.S. evangelical school, Wheaton College, houses numerous manuscripts of his). Later, he would attract a following among adherents of more ethically-compatible traditions such as the Anabaptists and the house church movement. Similar political ideas to Ellul's appear in the writings of a corresponding friend of his, the American William Stringfellow.

On media and propaganda

Ellul saw the power of the media as another example of technology exerting control over human destiny. As a mechanism of change, the media are almost invariably manipulated by special interests, whether of the market or the state. Using the term "propaganda" to address both political and commercial communication, Ellul wrote:

It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment. Mass media provides the essential link between the individual and the demands of the technological society.

In all of this, Ellul continued to place his understanding of technology and its proper role in this present society in a context that recognizes a faith in the eternal. This allowed Ellul to propose a more explicit alternative to the technology of the technician than those provided by some of his contemporaries, such as Martin Heidegger.

To throw this wager or secular faith into the boldest possible relief, Ellul places it in dialectical contrast with Biblical faith. As a dialectical contrast to "La Technique," for instance, Ellul writes Sans feu ni lieu (published in 1975, although written much earlier.) Whereas technology is the attempt of human beings to create their home in this world, the Bible denies that people, the children of a Creator God, can ever be truly at home here.

Ellul adhered to the maxim "Think globally, act locally" throughout his life. He often said that he was born in Bordeaux by chance, but that it was by choice that he spent almost all his academic career there. After a long illness, he died in his house in Pessac, just a mile or two from the University of Bordeaux campus, surrounded by those closest to him. Not long before his death, the treatment for this illness illustrated to him once again one of his favourite themes - the ambivalence of technological progress.

Books

  • Étude sur l'évolution et la nature juridique du Mancipium. Bordeaux: Delmas, 1936.
  • Le fondement théologique du droit. Neuchâtel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1946.
    • The Theological Foundation of Law. Trans. Marguerite Wieser. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1960. London: SCM, 1961. New York: Seabury, 1969.
  • Présence au monde moderne: Problèmes de la civilisation post-chrétienne. Geneva: Roulet, 1948. Lausanne: Presses Bibliques Universitaires, 1988.
    • The Presence of the Kingdom. Trans. Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1951. London: SCM, 1951. New York: Seabury, 1967. Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 1989.
  • Le livre de Jonas. Paris: Cahiers Bibliques de Foi et Vie, 1952.
    • The Judgment of Jonah. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971.
  • L'homme et l'argent (Nova et vetera). Neuchâtel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1954. Lausanne: Presses Bibliques Universitaires, 1979.
    • Money and Power. Trans. LaVonne Neff. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984. Basingstoke, England: Marshall Pickering, 1986.
  • La technique ou l'enjeu du siècle. Paris: Armand Colin, 1954. Paris: Économica, 1990.
    • The Technological Society. Trans. John Wilkinson. New York: Knopf, 1964. London: Jonathan Cape, 1965. Rev. ed.: New York: Knopf/Vintage, 1967. with introduction by Robert K. Merton (professor of sociology, Columbia University). This may be his best-known work; Aldous Huxley brought the French edition to the attention of an English publisher, and thus brought it to English readers. Theodore Kaczynski had a copy in his cabin and said he read it five times—his "manifesto" addresses similar themes.
  • Histoire des institutions. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France; volumes 1 & 2,
  • L'Antiquité (1955); vol. 3, Le Moyen Age (1956); vol. 4, Les XVIe-XVIIIe siècle (1956); vol. 5, Le XIXe siècle (1789–1914) (1956).
  • Propagandes. Paris: A. Colin, 1962. Paris: Économica, 1990
    • Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. New York: Knopf, 1965. New York: Random House/ Vintage 1973
  • Fausse présence au monde moderne. Paris: Les Bergers et Les Mages, 1963.
    • False Presence of the Kingdom. Trans. C. Edward Hopkin. New York: Seabury, 1972.
  • Le vouloir et le faire: Recherches éthiques pour les chrétiens: Introduction (première partie). Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1964.
    • To Will and to Do: An Ethical Research for Christians. Trans. C. Edward Hopkin. Philadelphia: Pilgrim, 1969.
  • L'illusion politique. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1965. Rev. ed.: Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1977.
    • The Political Illusion. Trans. Konrad Kellen. New York: Knopf, 1967. New York: Random House/Vintage, 1972.
  • Exégèse des nouveaux lieux communs. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1966. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1994.
    • A Critique of the New Commonplaces. Trans. Helen Weaver. New York: Knopf, 1968.
  • Politique de Dieu, politiques de l'homme. Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1966.
    • The Politics of God and the Politics of Man. Trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.
  • Histoire de la propagande. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967, 1976.
  • Métamorphose du bourgeois. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1967. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1998.
  • Autopsie de la révolution. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1969.
    • Autopsy of Revolution. Trans. Patricia Wolf. New York: Knopf, 1971.
  • Contre les violents. Paris: Centurion, 1972.
    • Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective. Trans. Cecelia Gaul Kings. New York: Seabury, 1969. London: SCM Press, 1970. London: Mowbrays, 1978.
  • Sans feu ni lieu: Signification biblique de la Grande Ville. Paris: Gallimard, 1975.
    • The Meaning of the City. Trans. Dennis Pardee. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. Carlisle, Cumbria, England: Paternoster, 1997.
  • L'impossible prière. Paris: Centurion, 1971, 1977.
    • Prayer and Modern Man. Trans. C. Edward Hopkin. New York: Seabury, 1970, 1973
  • Jeunesse délinquante: Une expérience en province. Avec Yves Charrier. Paris: Mercure de France, 1971. 2nd ed.: Jeunesse délinquante: Des blousons noirs aux hippies. Nantes: Éditions de l'AREFPPI, 1985.
  • De la révolution aux révoltes. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1972.
  • L'espérance oubliée. Paris: Gallimard, 1972.
    • Hope in Time of Abandonment. Trans. C. Edward Hopkin. New York: Seabury, 1973.
  • Éthique de la liberté, 2 vols. Geneva: Labor et Fides, I:1973, II:1974.
    • The Ethics of Freedom. Trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976. London: Mowbrays, 1976.
  • Les nouveaux possédés. Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1973.
    • The New Demons. Trans. C. Edward Hopkin. New York: Seabury, 1975. London: Mowbrays, 1975.
  • L'Apocalypse: Architecture en mouvement. Paris: Desclée, 1975.
    • Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation. Trans. George W. Schreiner. New York: Seabury, 1977.
  • Trahison de l'Occident. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1975.
    • The Betrayal of the West. Trans. Matthew J. O'Connell. New York: Seabury,1978.
  • Le système technicien. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1977.
    • The Technological System. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. New York: Continuum, 1980.
  • L'idéologie marxiste chrétienne. Paris: Centurion, 1979.
    • Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology. Trans. Joyce Main Hanks. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
  • L'empire du non-sens: L'art et la société technicienne. Paris: Press Universitaires de France, 1980.
  • La foi au prix du doute: "Encore quarante jours . . ." Paris: Hachette, 1980.
    • Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World. Trans. Peter Heinegg. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.
  • La Parole humiliée. Paris: Seuil, 1981.
    • The Humiliation of the Word. Trans. Joyce Main Hanks. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.
  • Changer de révolution: L'inéluctable prolétariat. Paris: Seuil, 1982.
  • Les combats de la liberté. (Tome 3, L'Ethique de la Liberté) Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1984. Paris: Centurion, 1984.
  • La subversion du Christianisme. Paris: Seuil, 1984, 1994. réédition en 2001, La Table Ronde;
    • The Subversion of Christianity. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.
  • Conférence sur l'Apocalypse de Jean. Nantes: AREFPPI, 1985.
  • Un chrétien pour Israël. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 1986.
  • Ce que je crois. Paris: Grasset and Fasquelle, 1987.
    • What I Believe. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
  • La Genèse aujourd'hui. Avec François Tosquelles. Ligné: AREFPPI, 1987.
  • La raison d'être: Méditation sur l'Ecclésiaste. Paris: Seuil, 1987
    • Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes. Trans. Joyce Main Hanks. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
  • Anarchie et Christianisme. Lyon: Atelier de Création Libertaire, 1988. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1998
    • Anarchy and Christianity. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
  • Le bluff technologique. Paris: Hachette, 1988.
    • The Technological Bluff. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
  • Ce Dieu injuste . . .?: Théologie chrétienne pour le peuple d'Israël. Paris: Arléa, 1991, 1999.
  • Si tu es le Fils de Dieu: Souffrances et tentations de Jésus. Paris: Centurion, 1991.
  • Déviances et déviants dans notre société intolérante. Toulouse: Érés, 1992.
  • Silences: Poèmes. Bordeaux: Opales, 1995.
  • Oratorio: Les quatre cavaliers de l'Apocalypse. Bordeaux: Opales, 1997.
  • Sources and Trajectories: Eight Early Articles by Jacques Ellul that Set the Stage. Trans./ed. Marva J. Dawn. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Interviews

  • "A temps et à contretemps: Entretiens avec Madeleine Garrigou-Lagrange". Paris: Centurion, 1981.
  • "In Season, Out of Season: An Introduction to the Thought of Jacques Ellul: Interviews by Madeleine Garrigou-Lagrange." Trans. Lani K. Niles. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982.
  • "Perspectives on Our Age: Jacques Ellul Speaks on His Life and Work". Ed. Willem H. Vanderburg. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. Toronto: CBC, 1981. New York: Seabury, 1981. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi, 1997.
  • "L'homme à lui-même: Correspondance". Avec Didier Nordon. Paris: Félin, 1992.
  • "Entretiens avec Jacques Ellul". Patrick Chastenet. Paris: Table Ronde, 1994.
  • "Jacques Ellul on Religion, Technology, and Politics: Conversations with Patrick Troude-Chastenet". Trans. Joan Mendès France. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998.
  • "Jacques Ellul on Politics, Technology, and Christianity: Conversations with Patrick Troude-Chastenet". Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2005.

See also

External links

Sources

  1. "Righteous Among the Nations Recognized by Yad Vashem as of 1 January 2008 - France" (PDF). Yad Vashem. 2008-01-01. http://www1.yadvashem.org/righteous_new/PDF%20Virtual_Wall_Of_Honor/FRANCE.pdf. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  2. Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Random House, 1964), Note to the Reader.
  3. Taylor, Paul A. and Jan Ll. Harris. Digital Matters: The Theory and Culture of the Matrix. (London: Routledge, 2005), 23.
  4. Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Random House, 1964), 79.
  5. "Did God Create Hell?
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