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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…”: 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 Fourastié.

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.

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