Ellul (1964). Front matter. (The Technological Society.)

Ellul, J. (1964). Front matter. In The Technological Society (pp. v–xxxvi). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

[“Statement from the Publisher” (p ii) …]

[“Foreword” — Robert K. Merton (p v) …]

“_The Technological Society_ requires us to examine anew what the author describes as the essential tragedy of a civilization increasingly dominated by technique.” (p v)

“By technique, for example, he means far more than machine technology. Technique refers to any complex of standardized means for attaining a predetermined result.” (p vi)

“Ours is a progressively technical civilization: by this Ellul means that the ever-expanding and irreversible rule of technique is extended to all domains of life. It is a civilization committed to the quest for continually improved means to carelessly examined ends.” (p vi)

“Politics in turn becomes an arena for contention among rival techniques. … Political doctrine revolves around what is useful rather than what is good.” (p vii)

“The technological society requires men to be content with what they are required to like; for those who are not content, it provides distractions — escape into absorption with technically dominated media of popular culture and communication. … Progress then consists in progressive dehumanization — a busy, pointless, and, in the end, suicidal submission to technique.” (p viii)

[“Translator’s Introduction” — John Wilkinson (p ix) …]

“_Technique_, the reader discovers more or less quickly, must be distinguished from the several _techniques_ which are its elements. It is more even than a generalized mechanical technique; it is, in fact, nothing less than the organized ensemble of _all_ individual techniques which have been used to secure any end whatsoever. Harold Lasswell’s definition comes closest to Ellul’s conception: ‘The ensemble of practices by which one uses available resources to achieve values.’ … Ellul’s further account makes it clear that it does not go far enough, since technique has become indifferent to all the traditional human ends and values by becoming an end-in-itself.” (p x)

“Ellul holds the Americans to be the most conformist people in the world, but in fairness it must be objected that, in his own analysis, the Soviets seem better to deserve this dubious honor since they have made even politics into a technique.” (p xi)

“Since the religious object is that which is uncritically worshipped, technology tends more and more to become the new god.” (p xi)

“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. … 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.” (p xvi)

“The denizen of the technological state of the future will have everything his heart ever desired, except, of course, his freedom.” (p xvii)

“It must not be imagined that the autonomous technique en- [page break] visioned by Ellul is a kind of ‘technological determinism,’ to use a phrase of Veblen.” (p xvii-xviii)

“But art, though it is concrete, is subjective; and science, though objective in its description of reality, is abstract. Only technique is at once both concrete and objective in that it creates the reality it describes.” (p xviii)

[“Note to the Reader” (p xxv) …]

“The term _technique_, as I use it, does not mean machines, technology, or this or that procedure for attaining an end. In our technological society, _technique_ is the _totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency_ (for a given stage of development) in _every_ field of human activity. Its characteristics are new; the technique of the present has no common measure with that of the past.” (p xxv)

“… we shall be looking at technique in its sociological aspect; [page break] that is, we shall censider the effect of technique on social relationships, political structures, economic phenomena. Technique is not an isolated fact in society (as the term _technology_ would lead us to believe) but is related to every factor in the life of modern man; it affects social facts as well as all others. Thus technique itself is a sociological phenomenon, and it is in this light that we shall study it.” (p xxv-xxvi)

[“Author’s Foreword to the Revised American Edition” (p xxvii) …]

“I am keenly aware that I am myself involved in technological civilization, and that its history is also my own.” (p xxvii)

“The reader tempted to brand me a pessimist should begin to examine his own conscience, and ask himself what causes him to make such a judgment.” (p xxvii)

“I believe that there is a collective sociological reality, which is independent of the individual.” (p xxviii)

“… if each one of us — abdicates his responsibilities with regard to values; if each of us limits himself to leading a trivial existence in a technological civilization, with greater adaptation and increasing success as his sole objectives; if we do not even consider the possibility of making a stand against these determinants, then everything _will_ happen as I have described it, and the determinants _will_ be transformed into inevitabilities. … [page break] …it is rather a question of probability, and I have indicated what I think to be its most likely development.” (p xxix-xxx)

“… the challenge is not to scholars and university professors, but to all of us. … While waiting for the specialists to get on with their work on behalf of society, each of us, in his own life, must seek ways of resisting and transcending technological determinants.” (p xxxii)

“Freedom is completely without meaning unless it is related to necessity, unless it represents victory over necessity. … [page break] … The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.” (p xxxii-xxxiii)

[“Author’s Preface to the French Edition” (p xxxv) …]

“But this does not preclude a deeper objectivity. The sign of it will be that worshippers of technique will no doubt find this work pessimistic and haters of technique will find it optimistic.” (p xxxvi)

Selected References

  • Lasswell, H. D. [unknown source]
  • Veblen, Thorstein: The Theory of Business Enterprise. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1932.
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