Review Of "Jacques Ellul: A Companion To His Major Works" By J. E. Van Vleet

Hans Oberdiek, Swarthmore College

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Abstract

Jacques Ellul is known in the US principally through his influential The Technological Society (1954; Eng. tr., 1964), in which Ellul portrayed modernity as a state of unfreedom because of the dominance of technique. Technique consists not just of tools and machines but also of all forms of control that concentrate on efficiency as quantifiable and measurable. In this view, the bureaucratic state, capitalism and socialism, and even the church become instruments of oppression. Ellul’s extreme pessimism about the deadening effects of technique appears to leave no room for hope. But his gloomy assessment is tempered somewhat by his deep faith in a Protestantism that calls for acting as Jesus would have one act: i.e., stop growth for growth's sake and create a new communal life together, however dim the prospects. Van Vleet and Rollison do an exemplary job of explaining how Ellul’s religiosity informs his many books lamenting the human condition, as developed over centuries and as affected by the domination of technology. The book is clearly written and convincing, and it covers the enormous breadth of Ellul’s thinking. This reviewer's only criticism is that the authors are entirely uncritical and do not challenge Ellul’s central thesis. Still the book is an excellent primer on this influential French intellectual. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers.