Jacques Ellul quotes

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Jacques Ellul

Birthdate: 6. January 1912
Date of death: 19. May 1994
Other names:ז'ק אלול, 雅克·埃呂爾

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Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, lay theologian, and professor who was a noted Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. A prolific writer, he authored 58 books and more than a thousand articles over his lifetime, many of which discussed propaganda, the impact of technology on society, and the interaction between religion and politics. The dominant theme of his work proved to be the threat to human freedom and religion created by modern technology. Among his most influential books are The Technological Society and Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes.

Considered by many a philosopher, Ellul was by training a sociologist who approached the question of technology and human action from a dialectical viewpoint. His constant concern was the emergence of a technological tyranny over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, he further explored the religiosity of the technological society. In 2000 the International Jacques Ellul Society was founded by a group of former Ellul students. The society, which includes scholars from a variety of disciplines, is devoted to continuing Ellul's legacy and discussing the contemporary relevance and implications of his work.

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Quotes Jacques Ellul

„This is why I decide for anarchy.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: Every modern state is totalitarian. It recognizes no limit either factual or legal. This is why I maintain that no state in the modern world is legitimate. No present-day authority can claim to be instructed by God, for all authority is set in the framework of a totalitarian state. This is why I decide for anarchy. p. 396

„Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence. This myth becomes so powerful that it invades every arena of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact. It stimulates in the individual a feeling of exclusiveness, and produces a biased attitude.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life. It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action. We are here in the presence of an organized myth that tries to take hold of the entire person. Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence. This myth becomes so powerful that it invades every arena of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact. It stimulates in the individual a feeling of exclusiveness, and produces a biased attitude.

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„I cannot think that choices of this kind are unimportant.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: This is why there is such an incredible stress on information in our schools. The important thing is to prepare young people to enter the world of information, able to handle computers, but knowing only the reasoning, the language, the combinations, and the connections between computers. This movement is invading the whole intellectual domain and also that of conscience. … What is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization. I cannot think that choices of this kind are unimportant. Ce que je crois (1987) [What I Believe] translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1989), p. 140

„The church lets itself be seduced, invaded, dominated by the ease with which it can now spread the gospel by force (another force than that of God) and use its influence to make the state, too, Christian. It is great acquiescence to the temptation Jesus himself resisted, for when Satan offers to give him all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus refuses, but the church accepts.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: After his victory at the Milvian Bridge, faithful to his promise, Constantine favors the church from which he has received support. Catholic Christianity becomes the state religion and an exchange takes place: the church is invested with political power, and it invests the emperor with religious power. We have here the same perversion, for how can Jesus manifest himself in the power of domination and constraint? We have to say here very forcefully that we see here the perversion of revelation by participation in politics, by the seeking of power. The church lets itself be seduced, invaded, dominated by the ease with which it can now spread the gospel by force (another force than that of God) and use its influence to make the state, too, Christian. It is great acquiescence to the temptation Jesus himself resisted, for when Satan offers to give him all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus refuses, but the church accepts. p. 124

„Every modern state is totalitarian. It recognizes no limit either factual or legal.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: Every modern state is totalitarian. It recognizes no limit either factual or legal. This is why I maintain that no state in the modern world is legitimate. No present-day authority can claim to be instructed by God, for all authority is set in the framework of a totalitarian state. This is why I decide for anarchy. p. 396

„This movement is invading the whole intellectual domain and also that of conscience.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: This is why there is such an incredible stress on information in our schools. The important thing is to prepare young people to enter the world of information, able to handle computers, but knowing only the reasoning, the language, the combinations, and the connections between computers. This movement is invading the whole intellectual domain and also that of conscience. … What is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization. I cannot think that choices of this kind are unimportant. Ce que je crois (1987) [What I Believe] translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1989), p. 140

„Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: Again I want to emphasize that the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of a technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world. From the Vintage paperback (1973), p. xvii

„The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass. It is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. Vintage, p. 9

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„It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: A principal characteristic of technique … is its refusal to tolerate moral judgments. It is absolutely independent of them and eliminates them from its domain. Technique never observes the distinction between moral and immoral use. It tends on the contrary, to create a completely independent technical morality. Here, then, is one of the elements of weakness of this point of view. It does not perceive technique's rigorous autonomy with respect to morals; it does not see that the infusion of some more or less vague sentiment of human welfare cannot alter it. Not even the moral conversion of the technicians could make a difference. At best, they would cease to be good technicians. This attitude supposes further that technique evolves with some end in view, and that this end is human good. Technique is totally irrelevant to this notion and pursues no end, professed or unprofessed. p. 97

„The point is not to enforce a particular view of society but to establish a counterbalance, a protest, a sign of cleavage. In face of an absolute power only a total confrontation has any meaning.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: The system absorbs those who think they can utilize it. Nor can there be any question of finding a modus vivendi or achieving attenuations. It has been demonstrated how the liberals state becomes an authoritarian state. The course is set and no accommodation will be either lasting or sufficient. In face of this absolute power, only an absolutely negative position is viable. What we have in mind is the attitude that conscientous objectors take on a specific point, and not without good reason. In the present set-up the anarchist attitude of a total refusal of validity or legitimacy to any authority of any kind seems to me to be the only valid and viable one. The point is not to enforce a particular view of society but to establish a counterbalance, a protest, a sign of cleavage. In face of an absolute power only a total confrontation has any meaning. p. 397

„On the other hand, it seems to me that an anarchist attitude is the only one that is sufficiently radical in the face of a general statist system.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: No society can last in conditions of anarchy. This is self-evident and I am in full agreement. But my aim is not the establishment of an anarchist society or the total destruction of the state. Here I differ from anarchists. I do not believe that it is possible to destroy the modern state. It is pure imagination to think that some day this power will be overthrown. From a pragmatic standpoint there is no chance of success. Furthermore, I do not believe that anarchist doctrine is the solution to the problem of organization in society and government. I do not think that if anarchism were to succeed we should have a better or more livable society. Hence I am not fighting for the triumph of this doctrine. On the other hand, it seems to me that an anarchist attitude is the only one that is sufficiently radical in the face of a general statist system. p. 396

„By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it. I must, first say very simply what anarchy I have in view. By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence. Hence I cannot accept either nihilists or anar­chists who choose violence as a means of action. Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), p. 11

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„That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. A simple example: a dam has been built somewhere, and it bursts. Who is responsible for that? Geologists worked out. They examined the terrain. Engineers drew up the construction plans. Workmen constructed it. And the politicians decided that the dam had to be in that spot. Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all he has to do. Just consider, for example, that atrocious excuse… It was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard. The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.

„But my aim is not the establishment of an anarchist society or the total destruction of the state. Here I differ from anarchists. I do not believe that it is possible to destroy the modern state.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: No society can last in conditions of anarchy. This is self-evident and I am in full agreement. But my aim is not the establishment of an anarchist society or the total destruction of the state. Here I differ from anarchists. I do not believe that it is possible to destroy the modern state. It is pure imagination to think that some day this power will be overthrown. From a pragmatic standpoint there is no chance of success. Furthermore, I do not believe that anarchist doctrine is the solution to the problem of organization in society and government. I do not think that if anarchism were to succeed we should have a better or more livable society. Hence I am not fighting for the triumph of this doctrine. On the other hand, it seems to me that an anarchist attitude is the only one that is sufficiently radical in the face of a general statist system. p. 396

„What seems to be one of the disasters of our time is that we all appear to agree that the nation-state is the norm.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: Anarchism can teach Christian thinkers to see the realities of our societies from a different standpoint than the dominant one of the state. What seems to be one of the disasters of our time is that we all appear to agree that the nation-state is the norm. … Whether the state be Marxist or capitalist, it makes no difference. The dominant ideology is that of sovereignty. Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), pp.104–5

„There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it.“

—  Jacques Ellul
Context: There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it. I must, first say very simply what anarchy I have in view. By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence. Hence I cannot accept either nihilists or anar­chists who choose violence as a means of action. Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), p. 11

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