Email this review


In his influential The Technological Society (1964), French philosopher-theologian-sociologist Ellul portrayed a human society on the verge of being taken over by technology, and in this follow-up (which appeared in France in 1977), he goes a step further. Now, Ellul says, we have passed out of our natural environment and live in a technological one where the notion of ""society"" itself is meaningless. Instead, technology now constitutes a ""system"" of which we are a part, and from here on out, all our choices will be made within bounds set by technology. Ellul isn't talking about the survival of the planet or food production--though he means that too--but about what you decide to do after lunch; that is, he means all choices. This assertion is based on a broad definition of technology, since Ellul says that, ""wherever there is research and application of new means as a criterion of efficiency, one can say that there is a technology""; and he then goes on to argue that everything we do is touched by this systematic quest for efficiency. The computer holds the system together, wedding different technologies, and the kind of choices we have left are those that computers recognize: namely, binary, either-or choices. A woman today may decide to have or not to have an abortion, but the choice is presented purely as a technical one, Ellul contends, and no longer as a moral or ethical choice. Less seriously, we may choose between objects to satisfy needs, but the needs and the objects have both been determined by the technological system. And because of the systemic character of it, Ellul rejects the notion that a technocracy rules; technocrats merely watch over their limited realms of expertise, the system rules. Ellul, undaunted, plans to discuss ""feedback"" in another volume--which, besides examining ""dysfunctions"" like pollution, will include observations on freedom within the system. But the key to Ellul's dogged effort to erect technological barriers to human freedom on human terms lies elsewhere, in his almost casual observation that grace is predicated on total alienation from the external world. Here the theologian gets the better of the sociologist. Repetitive and verbose, Ellul's system is not the path-breaker his society was and he is not the equal of Giedion or Mumford as a technological seer. But academics who want to keep abreast of European cultural discourse will take note.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Seabury