TOWARD A HISTORY OF NEEDS by Ivan Illich

TOWARD A HISTORY OF NEEDS

KIRKUS REVIEW

These five essays, published over the last ten years, recapitulate Illich's attacks on mass-produced goods (Tools for Conviviality) and professional services (Deschooling Society, Medical Nemesis) and coalesce--not without rhetorical excess and much repetition--into a critique of industrial growth as human impoverization. Because of ""impoverishing wealth,"" he maintains, ""ever more men have fewer basic choices."" The need is for limits: ""Beyond some point, compulsory schooling destroys the environment for learning, medical delivery systems dry up the nontherapeutic sources of health, and transportation smothers traffic."" In the last, paradigmatic instance, he would settle on the cheap, compact, energy-efficient bicycle. ""Motors can be used to transport the sick, the lame, the old, and the just plain lazy."" Health care would be similarly revised by distributing basic diagnostic and therapeutic aids--and restricting medical intervention to such special needs as childbirth. The result, worldwide, would be a postindustrial economy of ""modern subsistence""--from which Illich regrets the Chinese are deviating though he appears to have hopes for the Cambodians. Therein, of course, lies the difficulty: notwithstanding Illich's disclaimers, an authoritarian pall hangs over his proposals--along with a religious asceticism/quietism which condemns as hubris any challenge to ""the thresholds set by nature for man."" Prometheus to the showers, in other words--and few of Illich's adherents will want to follow him that far, regardless.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon