Introduction of the AIJE
WHO ARE WE
THE AIJE was created in Bordeaux in 2000 by David W. Gill of the United States, and Sylvain Dujancourt and Patrick Chastenet, both of France.
Many of its members took courses taught by Jacques Ellul at the Bordeaux Institute of Political Studies and even more studied under him at the Faculty of Law at Bordeaux, where he taught from 1943 through 1980.
The Association was inspired by people representing several generations who became acquainted with Jacques Ellul’s writing in its totality, or with at least a significant part of the sixty books and one thousand plus articles which constitute his life‘s work.
At present, the following make up the Board of Directors:
- President : Patrick CHASTENET
- Vice-president : Sylvain DUJANCOURT
- Secretary : André VITALIS
- Treasurer : Chantal DEMONGIN
- Representative of the IJES : David W. GILL > See NOTE 0
OUR MISSION STATEMENT
We want first of all to underscore the paradoxical character of Ellul’s work -- that it is both extremely pertinent to today’s world and yet virtually unknown. > See NOTE 1
● On the one the hand, intellectual honesty requires us to see in his work, a lucid analysis of the contemporary scene. In 2003, the journalist Jean-Luc Porquet summed it up precisely when he called Ellul the man who ‘predicted (almost) everything.’ Actually, Ellul correctly anticipated, sometimes as early as the 1930s, nearly all of the major ills which have befallen our world. These include mass unemployment, pollution, depletion of natural resources, genetic manipulation, electronic storage of information, electronic search indexes, and media as propaganda -- as well as ideological, political and religious indoctrination. > See NOTE 2
● On the other hand, in spite of the extreme relevance of the analyses which are the foundation of Ellul’s writings, today his work still remains extraordinarily unknown and unrecognized > See NOTE 3by the general public.
● The purpose of our organization is, in a sense, to highlight this paradox, to hold it up to the light of day, and to explain it, both directly through this website and indirectly through public forums. Through these means, we want to help eliminate such ignorance of Ellul’s work.
This paradox is somewhat surprising, because throughout his entire life Ellul never ceased to share his vision, demonstrating how, since the beginning of the industrial era, people have sacrificed their freedom to technique. (Technique is, for Ellul, a special term which implies, not so much technology, but the tendency to submit all of life to the rule of efficiency.> See NOTE 4) Through technique, people are estranged from each other and even from themselves. This negative impact far outweighs any benefits derived from it. This is not because technique is in itself bad, but simply because people allow such alienation to happen through a continuous surrender to technique. They lose any real control they might have though a careful application of logic. And the counterbalance to its power which ethics would provide is largely absent.
Technique, having become autonomous from ethics and logic, determines people’s lives more than they control it. But they obstinately refuse to reevaluate the influence of technique, on the grounds that it is ….necessary.
OUR POINT OF REERENCE :
A MESSAGE OF FREEDOM
TROUGH DESTRUCTION OF THE SACRED AURA
Ellul demonstrates that the argument for the necessity of technique is simply an article of faith. Technique is, so to speak, made sacred and it becomes a taboo never subject to debate. Today, it constrains our lives like a new environment, just as primal nature imposed itself on people’s lives in the past.
Thousands of years ago, people related to nature as a fetish, as if it were inhabited by magical powers which inspired unquestioning reverence; today the concept of unstoppable progress is accepted wholeheartedly, without the slightest discernment, as a magical necessity.
The materialism which dominates our time is nothing more than fetishism. "It is not technique which enslaves us but our reverence for the sacred aura which has been transferred to technique ."
It is no longer a matter of the ends justifying the means. The technical means have become the ends - in other words, they have taken the place of our most basic values.
And when we speak about virtual worlds, we begin subtly to admit the fact that, never before, to the extent that it is true today, have we mistaken our desires for reality. Because of this blind devotion to the sacred aura which hangs over technique, the primary characteristic of our time is that we grow up in a fictitious environment, that we try at all cost to christen our ‘reality.’
Certainly, other thinkers perceived and analyzed the increasing role of this fictitious world. Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard, for example (two men highly respected by Jacques Ellul), respectively called the fiction "theater" and "image". But from the beginning of his deliberations (in the 1930s), Ellul preferred to use the term "technique", considering that it slowly evolved from the relationship of people to their world, from their will to dominate their environment both by their tools and their thoughts.
Ellul expressed himself both in step with the times (because there was already a sense of urgency in 1950) and out of step (in that faith in technique had finally swept away all common sense). Even he, before his death, acknowledged openly that he had "failed" in his task. In fact, to this day, his diagnosis is still not taken seriously, that is when his diagnosis is known at all!
The consequences of ignoring his analysis are dangerous: the problems of the last century, which he so minutely described and analyzed, have developed exponentially since the dawn of this new century. For this reason, his current readers (including all the members of our association) work hard to bring his work out of the shadows. However, we do not labor under any illusions.
The insightfulness of Jacques Ellul’s analyses compared to his very modest audience are the two horns of the dilemma or paradox. His voice will remain unheard as long as our world is controlled by apathy to the problems posed by technique.
But if the situation is so discouraging, why our association and why this website?
We do it because despair is not the necessary consequence of facing squarely a discouraging situation. The seeming hopelessness may even act as a prod, generating a sense of urgency.
The Ellul message seems so extraordinary to us not merely because he reveals a superior and more insightful model for understanding our chaotic world, but also because this clarity helps us to develop our own character in opposition to this world dominated by technique, to no longer let ourselves simply rely on it, but to resist it. > See NOTE 5
Because Ellul destroys the sacred aura surrounding everything, beginning with politics (which he calls a pure "illusion" as in a magic show) and religion (more than ever "the opium of the people"), Ellul helps us demystify all areas of public discourse. In doing this, he helps us become supremely free.
The only question is whether our thirst for freedom will get the better of our natural tendency toward servitude. That is the gamble we take.
Some who read this may become skeptical at this point, asking the obvious question: With these few paragraphs, which sound like a eulogy, is AIJE crowning a new guru, who will generate his own type of sacred aura?
We invite you to set aside your prejudices for the moment. The time will come to validate them or invalidate them by carefully reasoned judgment. You will quickly discover for yourselves that Ellul never allowed himself to be upheld as an intellectual guide. Christian but extremely anticlerical and strongly attracted to anarchy, prolific writer but always laughing at "intellectuals", relentless defender of the environment but referring to "Greens" with a quiet irony. The man whom Ivan Illitch affectionately called "Brother Jacques" has within this own thinking too many paradoxes to mobilize crowds. And in a sense, that's just fine!
We can understand his thought only by coupling freedom of judgment with intellectual honesty, by planting them both deep in the heart of what we think of as the secret center of life, holding at a distance disputes between religious denominations, dogmas of political correctness > See NOTE 6 and the noise of the media.
"To believe that we will change anything through existing institutions is an illusion," Ellul often repeated. Conversely, the only revolution which deserves the name lies in the capacity of each person to construct his life by opposing the thousand seductions of the system Ellul calls technique.
To exist is to resist, a resistance to belief systems, to ideologies, to ready-made ideas.
Since the beginning, the world has always been shaped by collective beliefs. There has been nothing new under the sun, until today, that is. Now we have blind faith in the new, in progress, economic growth, reason as the all-sufficient tool, political discourse, and humanist philosophy -- a very frail and shaky foundation generating a wave of uplifting, but equally unsubstantial emotions. But worst of all, is the proliferation of religious systems, running the whole gamut from the most smooth-tongued to the most fanatical. These people are tough opponents, all the more formidable because they are swept along by the power of unprecedented propaganda. Religions’ officiating clerics have mobilized at every level of the social scale, all unconsciously and, most of the time, with the best intentions in the world.
So this website is an invitation to a life of resistance, resistance to a world ever more hypnotized, fascinated and structured by technique.
● The purpose of the AIJE is to encourage the study and the dissemination, in a very practical way, of Jacques Ellul’s thought, both in France and abroad, by building a network of all who identify with his vision, without regard to sex, age, country of origin, religious beliefs or social status.
More precisely, we wish :
- To preserve and spread the literary and intellectual heritage of Jacques Ellul,
- To continue his critical analysis of our technique-oriented society,
- To expand his research in the field of ethics.
Concretely, we dedicate ourselves to :
- Preserving his manuscripts and his personal library in the archives > See NOTE 7 in Bordeaux,
- Working to release unpublished works and to republish new editions of his books on a regular basis, both in France and abroad,
- Keeping this website up to date, especially by listing and indexing his entire body of work, and by providing commentaries and exegetical > See NOTE 7 analyses of his work.
- Making accessible to the public Ellul’s few media appearances,
- Publishing an annual journal on a specific theme,
- Organizing meetings and in forums related to Ellul’s thought.
● Beyond this archival and exegetical work, we want to re-emphasize Ellul’s concept of personal engagement with our world.
We will work to advance an Ellul-like analysis of every sphere, not only an analysis of technique in the usual sphere of the applied sciences, but also more broadly in politics, the economy, the media, education, the arts, religion and general culture.
Jacques Ellul was not only a lawyer and legal scholar, but also a sociologist, an historian, a teacher and a theologian in a materialistic world. Yet this thinker was not afraid to take action in the public domain; he worked against absurd and destructive urban planning projects in his home province of Aquitaine and helped the local government in prevention of juvenile delinquency. You could say that he had his fingers in many pies.
So he avoided the pessimism which most intellectuals express in the predictable discourse of roundtable discussions. On the contrary, he constantly fed his thought processes on the message of hope as revealed in the Bible.
It is important to understand that his frequent references to biblical texts comprise the fundamental reason for Ellul’s limited audience in France, where - often for seemingly good reasons - secularism has virtually become a religion.
Whatever someone else’s philosophical and spiritual choices, it behooves us all not to participate in such ostracism, but to learn how to understand the testimony of anyone seeking to make his faith more relevant to the modern world, independent of any particular religious trappings. > See NOTE 8
OUR INTERNATIONAL MISSION
Ellul’s analysis focuses on the distortion of our civilization and our planet caused by the primacy of technique over all ethical considerations. The questions he raises can only be addressed in a discussion at the global level.
So the activities of the association must be organized around the international exchanges we organize.
● AIJE was established at the same time as the IJES (International Jacques Ellul Society), which pursues precisely the same objectives in the United States.
● Regular contacts are also maintained with Brazil, where Jacques Ellul’s vision is being more and more appreciated.
● Recently, AIJE has been in close with South Korea. The Korean Jacques Ellul Society (KJES) will be established in 2010 with objectives similar to ours.
● Exchanges occur, too, with Canada and some European countries.
WOW WE OPERATE
● Individual members and local chapters or groups of chapters initiate a variety of activities.
- Scheduling lectures and public discussions,
- Establishing relations with academia by participating in study days,
- Expanding and updating the web site,
- Maintaining contacts with "sisters" associations,
- Preparing teaching tools (brochures, the website, traveling exhibitions, DVDs, etc.),
- Writing articles to be distributed through the press in response to current events.
These groups are completely autonomous, morally, legally and financially; but they share a common vision. Structurally, we hope to avoid the strict hierarchical and bureaucratic model embodied in our understanding of technique.
● In order to maintain a degree of consistency, individual members and groups are accountable for their activities to the board of directors or its president . > See NOTE 9
● The General Assembly meets annuallly to define any desired changes in direction. > See NOTE 10
Don’t hesitate to contact us.
And why not join us.
0 I suggest the list of the Board of Directors be moved to a few lines from the end, where the role of the Board is discussed as providing ‘consistency’.
1 In English, once having stated that a paradox exists, it is important to briefly state that contrast, before expanding on it. And then to restate it once expanded.
2 In English, this list is too long for a parenthetical sentence structure. Also, the three adjectives on indoctrination require a separate clause.
3 No one word properly translates ‘meconnu’. You should use at least two of these words.
4 In English, it is hard to make the jump from the technic to what Ellul means that it is to jump from technique in French. So some explanation is called for.
5 I added ’the tendency to take over the realm of the sacred’ because Ellul is not against technique per se, but against this undue influence it exerts if it enters our lives unexamined.
6 Political correctness may be too loose a translation here.
7 The words archival and exegesis were inserted here, because you use those later -- and in English that link would not be clear without using them previously. I like the part later, but that part needs to ‘echo’ an earlier reference.
8 This bit of rough translation in English seems to bear no resemblance to anything in the French text.
(Huh? To act, it is moreover exactly to cross our words: we open on this site a forum and a space of debates to exchange our analyses and testify of our practices.)
9 This bit of rough translation in English seems to bear no resemblance to anything in the French text.
( Huh? have the possibility of putting a lot in the name of the AIJE but they report regularly their activities to the board of directors.)
10 This entire section in the rough English translation did not appear in the French text online.
The General assembly of December 13th, 2008 gave as objective to return the more visible association. The restructuring of the web site should normally satisfy this need.
But it still stays of the road to be crossed (to be gone through).
● Educational efforts probably are to be supplied to accentuate the current events of the thought of Jacques Ellul (and not only his work).
● We also have to develop our contacts with the foreign countries, mainly in Europe: search for local correspondents and for translators.
These points will be approached during the next General assembly, which will take place in Bordeaux on December 5th, 2009.
Everyone, including from the outside, can contribute to the evolution of our association by announcing us its critical glance.