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Technological Society

In response to:

A Nous la Liberte from the November 19, 1964 issue

To the Editors:

This is not the place for me to discuss the personal opinions of Mr. Lichtheim who reviewed my book in the November 19th issue of The New York Review. However, I should like to give some examples of factual errors made by Lichtheim, which completely change the meaning of the book.

1- L. writes: “Ellul provides no factual information”: in a chapter chosen at random (ch. IV), I analyze fortyone facts in detail about the technological society.

2- L. writes: “the few authors to whom Ellul casually refers‚Ķ”: in the text I quote 198 different modern authors, and in the bibliography I list 275 books which were actually used.

3- L. writes (about a sentence where I say that scholastics is the only new intellectual technique created during the Middle Ages): “I had always understood that quite a number of useful inventions go back to those days.” Indeed, I speak of these techniques two pages later!

4- L. writes: “the extremely odd account of the industrial revolution (p.25)”: on page 25 precisely, I only give a very briet account of the place of Technique in various societies, after having clearly stated (p. 23) that I was not writing a history of technology. However, my statements are founded on very basic studies that L. is ignorant of.

5- L. criticizes the sentence “technical progress is a function of bourgeois money.” He suggests that this is my explanation of technical progress! In spite of the fact that I analyze eight factors of technical progress during the 18th and 19th centuries, including in particular the bourgeois capitalization. L. has retained only one sentence of the entire discussion!

6- L. quotes me as saying that peasants of the Middle Ages were happier than we are nowadays. There is not a single sentence in my book which can permit his interpreting me in this way.

7- L., after having quoted a sentence of Friedman, “our world is technical”, writes “I am unable to discover wherein Ellul’s innovation is supposed to lie.” I challenge Lichtheim to find a sociological analysis of the characteristics of Technique, or of the relation between Technique and the State in a study previous to mine. Friedman in particular has never done it.

The space allotted for this reply being very limited, I shall stop here. But I could prove the intellectual bias of Lichtheim in every paragraph that he has written. I shall leave it up to the reader to evaluate the idea he could have of my book after such a distorted review.

J. Ellul


George Lichtheim replies:

Authors who complain about unfairness are difficult to controvert. I did my best with M. Ellul’s longwinded, tedious and eccentric work, and gave what I believe to be a fair summary of its argument. M. Ellul considers that my best is not good enough. However that may be, I did give chapter and verse whenever I felt he had gone completely off the rails: e.g., in his fanciful account of economic history, or in his remarks about the peasantry. The reader who doubts this is advised to consult his observations on the work of Fourasti√©.

Beyond the matter of factual accuracy, which readers can check for themselves, a dispute between the author and reviewer is never profitable. When I say that M. Ellul’s book is a tissue of twaddle, I am giving a considered opinion (and incidentally echoing the equally considered judgment of at least one prominent sociologist of my acquaintance). But in the nature of the case I cannot oblige anyone to accept it as a statement of fact. And, needless to say, I cannot persuade M. Ellul to accept it: that would really be asking too much.