Jacques Ellul

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Faith lived in the incognito is one which is located outside the criticism coming from society, from politics, from history, for the very reason that it has itself the vocation to be a source of criticism.

Jacques Ellul (January 6, 1912May 19, 1994) was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist.

Quotes[edit]

I describe a world with no exit, convinced that God accompanies man throughout his history.
The biblical teaching is clear. It always contests political power.
There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it. I must, first say very simply what anarchy I have in view. By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence.
What seems to be one of the disasters of our time is that we all appear to agree that the nation-state is the norm.
  • Faith lived in the incognito is one which is located outside the criticism coming from society, from politics, from history, for the very reason that it has itself the vocation to be a source of criticism. It is faith (lived in the incognito) which triggers the issues for the others, which causes everything seemingly established to be placed in doubt, which drives a wedge into the world of false assurances.
    • L'espérance oubliée (1972) [Hope in Time of Abandonment] translated by C. Edward Hopkin (1973)
  • The biblical teaching is clear. It always contests political power. It incites to "counterpower," to "positive" criticism, to an irreducible dialogue (like that between king and prophet in Israel), to antistatism, to a decentralizing of the relation, to an extreme relativizing of everything political, to an anti-ideology, to a questioning of all that claims either power or dominion (in other words, of all things political), and finally, if we may use a modern term, to a kind of "anarchism" (so long as we do not relate the term to the anarchist teaching of the nineteenth century).
    • The Subversion of Christianity (1986). p. 116
  • This is why there is such an incredible stress on information in our schools.
    The important thing 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. ... What 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.
    • Ce que je crois (1987) [What I Believe] translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1989), p. 140
  • There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it. I must, first say very simply what anarchy I have in view. By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence.
    • Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), p.11
  • What seems to be one of the disasters of our time is that we all appear to agree that the nation-state is the norm. … Whether the state be Marxist or capitalist, it makes no difference. The dominant ideology is that of sovereignty.
    • Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), pp.104–5
  • I can very well say without hesitation that all those who have political power, even if they use it well have acquired it by demonic mediation and even if they are not conscious of it, they are worshippers of diabolos.
    • Si tu es le Fils de Dieu (1991), p.76
  • There remains the problem of Goebbels' reputation. He wore the title of Big Liar (bestowed by Anglo-Saxon propaganda) and yet he never stopped battling for propaganda to be as accurate as possible. He preferred being cynical and brutal to being caught in a lie. He used to say: "Everybody must know what the situation is." He was always the first to announce disastrous events or difficult situations, without hiding anything. The result was a general belief between 1939 and 1942 that German communiqués not only were more concise, clearer and less cluttered, but were more truthful than Allied communiqués (American and neutral opinion) — and, furthermore, that the Germans published all the news two or three days before the Allies. All this is so true that pinning the title of Big Liar on Goebbels must be considered quite a propaganda success.
    • "The Characteristics of Propaganda" in Readings in Propaganda and Persuasion : New and Classic Essays (2006) edited by Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, p. 48, note 47

The Presence of the Kingdom (1948)[edit]

Présence au Monde Moderne (1948)
  • The will of the world is always a will to death, a will to suicide. We must not accept this suicide, and we must so act that it cannot take place.
    • Seabury paperback (1967), p. 28, translation by Olive Wyon.
  • In point of fact there are a certain number of values and of forces which are of decisive importance in our world civilization: the primacy of production, the continual growth of the power of the State and the formation of the National State, the autonomous development of technics, etc. These, among others — far more than the ownership of the means of production or any totalitarian doctrine — are the constitutive elements of the modern world. So long as these elements continue to be taken for granted, the world is standing still.
    • Seabury, p. 33.
  • People think that they have no right to judge a fact — all they have to do is to accept it. Thus from the moment that technics, the State, or production, are facts, we must worship them as facts, and we must try to adapt ourselves to them. This is the very heart of modern religion, the religion of the established fact, the religion on which depend the lesser religions of the dollar, race, or the proletariat, which are only expressions of the great modern divinity, the Moloch of fact.
    • Seabury, p. 37.

The Technological Society (1954)[edit]

A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain.
No technique is possible when men are free.
La technique ou l'enjeu du siècle (1954); translated by John Wilkinson as The Technological Society (1964)
  • Freedom is completely without meaning unless it is related to necessity, unless it represents victory over necessity.
    • p. xxxii
  • Our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means; in the reality of modern life, the means, it would seem, are more important than the ends.
    • p. 19
  • Journalistic content is a technical complex expressly intended to adapt man to the machine.
    • p. 96
  • A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain. Technique never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use. It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality.
    Here, then, is one of the elements of weakness of this point of view. It does not perceive technique's rigorous autonomy with respect to morals; it does not see that the infusion of some more or less vague sentiment of human welfare cannot alter it. Not even the moral conversion of the technicians could make a difference. At best, they would cease to be good technicians. This attitude supposes further that technique evolves with some end in view, and that this end is human good. Technique is totally irrelevant to this notion and pursues no end, professed or unprofessed.
    • p. 97
  • It is not true that the perfection of police power is the result of the state’s Machiavellianism or of some transitory influence. The whole structure of society of society implies it, of necessity. The more we mobilize the forces of nature, the more must we mobilize men and the more do we require order
    • p. 102
  • No technique is possible when men are free. ... Technique requires predictability and, no less, exactness of prediction. It is necessary, then, that technique prevail over the human being. ... The individual must be fashioned by techniques ... in order to wipe out the blots his personal determination introduces into the perfect design of the organization.
    • p. 138
  • True technique will know how to maintain the illusion of liberty, choice, and individuality; but these will have been carefully calculated so that they will be integrated into the mathematical reality merely as appearances!
    • p. 139
  • Science brings to the light of day everything man had believed sacred. Technique takes possession of it and enslaves it.
    • p. 142
  • But if technique demands the participation of everybody, this means that the individual is reduced to a few essential functions which make him a mass man. He remains 'free', but he can no longer escape being a part of the mass. Technical expansion requires the widest possible domain. In the near future not even the whole earth may be sufficient.
    • p. 207
  • ...there is a limited elite that understands the secrets of their own techniques, but not necessarily of all techniques. These men are close to the seat of modern governmental power. The state is no longer founded on the 'average citizen', but on the ability and knowledge of this elite. The average man is altogether unable to penetrate technical secrets or governmental organization and consequently can exert no influence at all on the state.
    • p. 274
  • Technique shapes an aristocratic society, which in turn implies aristocratic government. Democracy in such a society can only be a mere appearance. Even now, we see in propaganda the premises of such a state of affairs. When it comes to state propaganda, there is no longer any question of democracy.
    • p. 275
  • Sport is linked with the technical world because sport itself is a technique. The enormous contrast between the athletes of Greece and those of Rome is well known. For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for increasing the legionnaire’s efficiency. The Roman conception prevails today.
    • pp. 382-383
  • The individual, by means of the discipline imposed on him by sport, not only plays and finds relaxation from the various compulsions to which he is subjected, but without knowing it trains himself for new compulsions. ... Training in sports makes of the individual an efficient piece of apparatus which is henceforth unacquainted with anything but the harsh joys of exploiting his body and winning.
    • p. 383
  • Sport carries on without deviation the mechanical tradition of furnishing relief and distraction to the worker after he has finished his work proper so that he is at no time independent of one technique or another. In sport the citizen of the technical society finds the same spirit, criteria, morality, actions and objectives—in short, all the technical laws and customs—which he encounters in office or factory.
    • p. 384
  • The individual who is the servant of technique must be completely unconscious of himself.

Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1965)[edit]

In the midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means used to prevent these things from being felt as too oppressive and to persuade man to submit with good grace.
Propagandes (1962); trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-394-71874-3.
The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass.
Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.
  • Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action. We are here in the presence of an organized myth that tries to take hold of the entire person. Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence. This myth becomes so powerful that it invades every arena of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact. It stimulates in the individual a feeling of exclusiveness, and produces a biased attitude.
  • Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world.
    • From the Vintage paperback (1973), p.xvii
  • In the midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means used to prevent these things from being felt as too oppressive and to persuade man to submit with good grace. When man will be fully adapted to this technological society, when he will end by obeying with enthusiasm, convinced of the excellence of what he is forced to do, the constraint of the organization will no longer be felt by him; the truth is, it will no longer be a constraint, and the police will have nothing to do. The civic and technological good will and the enthusiasm for the right social myths — both created by propaganda — will finally have solved the problem of man.
    • Vintage, p.xviii
  • First of all, modern propaganda is based on scientific analyses of psychology and sociology. Step by step, the propagandist builds his techniques on the basis of his knowledge of man, his tendencies, his desires, his needs, his psychic mechanisms, his conditioning — and as much on social psychology as on depth psychology. He shapes his procedures on the basis of our knowledge of groups and their laws of formation and dissolution, of mass influences, and of environmental limitations. Without the scientific research of modern psychology and sociology there would be no propaganda, or rather we still would be in the primitive stages of propaganda that existed in the time of Pericles or Augustus.
    • Vintage, p.4.
  • The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass. It is at this point that propaganda can be most effective.
    • Vintage, p.9.
  • Propaganda must be total. The propagandist must utilize all of the technical means at his disposal — the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, door-to-door canvassing. Modern propaganda must utilize all of these media. There is no propaganda as long as one makes use, in sporadic fashion and at random, of a newspaper article here, a poster or a radio program there, organizes a few meetings and lectures, writes a few slogans on walls: that is not propaganda.
    • Vintage, p.9.
  • The aim of modern propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action.
    • Vintage, p.25.
  • Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.
    • Vintage, p.38.
  • Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.
    • Vintage, p.38.
  • ...because of the myth of progress, it is much easier to sell a man an electric razor than a straight-edged one.
    • Vintage, p.41.
  • Having analyzed these traits, we can now advance a definition of propaganda — not an exhaustive definition, unique and exclusive of all others, but at least a partial one: Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization.
    • Vintage, p.61

The Ethics of Freedom (1973 - 1974)[edit]

Men have never been so oppressed as in societies which set man at the pinnacle of values and exalt his greatness or make him the measure of all things.
I am not fighting for the triumph of this doctrine.
On the other hand, it seems to me that an anarchist attitude is the only one that is sufficiently radical in the face of a general statist system.
The Ethics of Freedom [Éthique de la liberté] (1973 - 1974) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1976)
The point is not to enforce a particular view of society but to establish a counterbalance, a protest, a sign of cleavage. In face of an absolute power only a total confrontation has any meaning.
It seems to me that the free man, i.e., the man freed in Christ, ought to take parts in all movements that aim at human freedom. He obviously ought to oppose all dictatorship and oppression and all the fatalities which crush man.
  • Jesus Christ has not come to establish social justice any more than he has come to establish the power of the state or the reign of money or art. Jesus Christ has come to save men, and all that matters is that men may come to know him. We are adept at finding reasons-good theological, political, or practical reasons, for camouflaging this. But the real reason is that we let ourselves be impressed and dominated by the forces of the world, by the press, by public opinion, by the political game, by appeals to justice, liberty, peace, the poverty of the third world, and the Christian civilization of the west, all of which play on our inclinations and weaknesses. Modern protestants are in the main prepared to be all things to all men, like St. Paul, but unfortunately this is not in order that they may save some but in order that they may be like all men.
    • p. 254
  • Man himself is exalted, and paradoxical though it may seem to be, this means the crushing of man. Man's enslavement is the reverse side of the glory, value, and importance that are ascribed to him. The more a society magnifies human greatness, the more one will see men alienated, enslaved, imprisoned, and tortured, in it. Humanism prepares the ground for the anti-human. We do not say that this is an intellectual paradox. All one need do is read history. Men have never been so oppressed as in societies which set man at the pinnacle of values and exalt his greatness or make him the measure of all things. For in such societies freedom is detached from its purpose, which is, we affirm, the glory of God.
    • p. 251
  • Every modern state is totalitarian. It recognizes no limit either factual or legal. This is why I maintain that no state in the modern world is legitimate. No present-day authority can claim to be instructed by God, for all authority is set in the framework of a totalitarian state. This is why I decide for anarchy.
    • p. 396
  • No society can last in conditions of anarchy. This is self-evident and I am in full agreement. But my aim is not the establishment of an anarchist society or the total destruction of the state. Here I differ from anarchists. I do not believe that it is possible to destroy the modern state. It is pure imagination to think that some day this power will be overthrown. From a pragmatic standpoint there is no chance of success. Furthermore, I do not believe that anarchist doctrine is the solution to the problem of organization in society and government. I do not think that if anarchism were to succeed we should have a better or more livable society. Hence I am not fighting for the triumph of this doctrine.
    On the other hand, it seems to me that an anarchist attitude is the only one that is sufficiently radical in the face of a general statist system.
    • p. 396
  • The system absorbs those who think they can utilize it. Nor can there be any question of finding a modus vivendi or achieving attenuations. It has been demonstrated how the liberals state becomes an authoritarian state. The course is set and no accommodation will be either lasting or sufficient.
    In face of this absolute power, only an absolutely negative position is viable. What we have in mind is the attitude that conscientous objectors take on a specific point, and not without good reason. In the present set-up the anarchist attitude of a total refusal of validity or legitimacy to any authority of any kind seems to me to be the only valid and viable one. The point is not to enforce a particular view of society but to establish a counterbalance, a protest, a sign of cleavage. In face of an absolute power only a total confrontation has any meaning.
    • p. 397
  • When we speak of dialogue with the sovereign, it seems to me that this can be definitely initiated only on the basis of the greatest possible intransigence, for power today is completely alien to any real discussion. It is true that discussion is allowed within the system. But the quarrels between right and left seem to me completely futile, for in every possible way they simply lead to an enhancement of the power of the state.
    Democracy is a mere trap with the party system as it is and a bureaucracy that cannot be altered. Discussion may go on about taxes and the improvement of social services. But power is totally deaf to the individual, indifferent to the interests of freedom, and ignorant of the true concerns of the nation. Only a radical opposition, i.e., an attack on the root of the situation, can engage it in authentic dialogue.
    • p. 397
  • This is where each individual must decide for himself. The essential thing is the decision to challenge the modern state, which without this small group of protesters will be checked by neither brake, value, nor reason.
    • p. 397
  • It seems to me that the free man, i.e., the man freed in Christ, ought to take parts in all movements that aim at human freedom. He obviously ought to oppose all dictatorship and oppression and all the fatalities which crush man. The Christian cannot bear it that others should be slaves. His great passion in the world ought to be a passion for the liberation of men.
    • p. 398

The Betrayal by Technology (1993 film)[edit]

  • In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. A simple example: a dam has been built somewhere, and it bursts. Who is responsible for that? Geologists worked out. They examined the terrain. Engineers drew up the construction plans. Workmen constructed it. And the politicians decided that the dam had to be in that spot. Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all he has to do.
    Just consider, for example, that atrocious excuse… It was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard. The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.
  • I know many people who like watching commercials because they're so funny. They provide relaxation and diversion. People come home after a day's work, from which they derive little satisfaction, and feel the need for diversion and amusement. The word diversion itself is already very significant. When Pascal uses the word diversion he means that people who follow the path of God deviate from the path which leads them to God as a result of diversion and amusement. Instead of thinking of God, they amuse themselves. So, instead of thinking about the problems which have been created by technology and our work we want to amuse ourselves.
  • Mankind in the technological world is prepared to give up his independence in exchange for all kinds of facilities and in exchange for consumer products and a certain security. In short, in exchange for a package of welfare provisions offered to him by society. As I was thinking about that I couldn't help recalling the story in the Bible about Esau and the lentil broth. Esau, who is hungry, is prepared to give up the blessings and promise of God in exchange for some lentil broth. In the same way, modern people are prepared to give up their independence in exchange for some technological lentils.
  • The question now is whether people are prepared or not to realize that they are dominated by technology. And to realize that technology oppresses them, forces them to undertake certain obligations and conditions them. Their freedom begins when they become conscious of these things. For when we become conscious of that which determines our life we attain the highest degree of freedom.

Quotes about Ellul[edit]

Jacques Ellul is no pedantic theologian discussing ideas like a dilettante whose convictions are never baptized in action. On the contrary, in Ellul one finds that ideas and acts are so integral one to the other that his decisions and actions in actual life are an incarnation of what he thinks and writes. … In short, he is one who speaks with authority. ~ William Stringfellow
  • There is probably no other thinker who has thought as deeply about propaganda in all its dimensions and ramifications as Jacques Ellul. What sets him apart from other analysts is his rare if not unique combination of expertise in history, sociology, law, and political science, along with careful study of biblical and Marxist writings.
  • Jacques Ellul is no pedantic theologian discussing ideas like a dilettante whose convictions are never baptized in action. On the contrary, in Ellul one finds that ideas and acts are so integral one to the other that his decisions and actions in actual life are an incarnation of what he thinks and writes. His witness as a Christian has been nurtured in danger and turbulence, not in sanctuary or detachment. He was a militant in the French resistance to the Nazis; he has served in politics as Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux; he is distinguished professionally in the law and in economics; he was among the remnant who were concerned to expose and oppose the atrocities of the French military in the Algerian war; he is esteemed in ecumenical councils as a creative theologian; he is a partisan of renewal and relevance in the Reformed Church of France; he became a Christian in consequence of his immersion in the saga of the Bible while engaged in the strife of the world. In short, he is one who speaks with authority.
    • William Stringfellow in his 1967 introduction to Ellul's, The Presence of the Kingdom, (1948) pp.2-3.
  • It is, in fact, the essence of technique to compel the qualitative to become quantitative, and in this way to force every stage of human activity and man himself to submit to its mathematical calculations. Ellul gives examples of this at every level. Thus, technique forces all sociological phenomena to submit to the clock, for Ellul the most characteristic of all modern technical instruments. The substitution of the tempus mortuum of the mechanical clock for the biological and psychological time "natural" to man is in itself sufficient to suppress all the traditional rhythms of human life in favor of the mechanical.
    • John Wilkinson, in the translator's introduction to The Technological Society (1964), p. xvi

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