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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 8 August 2013
Ellul's magnum opus is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and rewards patience with his constant carping about how others ostensibly taking a critical line about technology are wrong in their thinking for various reasons. This doesn't get resolved until near the end, when he properly explains his own, rather fatalistic position about the extent to which we have forgotten the aims of technique (as he calls it, meaning the application of system as much as the use of technological instruments). In the vacuum created by our forgetfulness, technique has developed a trajectory of its own, into which we are all trapped, and behave like the statistics it insists we are. His prognosis is certainly rather gloomy, and much of what he presaged in this book has played out in the abominable amorality of technology and the vacuity of its apologists. That they, too, will be swallowed up in its inexorable progress isn't much consolation.

Ellul gets the invasion into our very being required by participation in a technological society, its intimidating demand for conformism in the name of efficiency and the uselessness of art or protest in the face of its overwhelming force. He even demonstrates exactly how such activities actually support the domination of technique in their very opposition. He is fairly scathing, too, about some of its great achievements: hygiene, longevity, education, communication, mostly because he sees these as an extension of the technological project rather than as supporting a society committed to enabling fulfilment of potential or heterogeneous alternatives. But in this deeply searching examination of the qualities of technique, Ellul admits he cannot tell what the alternative might have been. If protest is futile, so is analysis, and whilst it is not possible to see any mitigation of the tendencies of technique as he explains it (on the contrary, it has only intensified in its domination), this ultimately becomes a book without a purpose given humankind's defeat by the forces it set in motion 200 years ago.

This is a champion read, and takes some serious concentration. The combination of Ellul's dense prose and the extremely small typeface made this a real challenge across its 400 pages. But Ellul's insights remain relevant, unlike so many of the futurologists he satirises towards the end, and his conceptual grasp of the implications for society of technique as he describes it are a match for anyone.
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on 22 December 2008
This book is a highly significant and most important treatise on the cold, hard demonic presence that constitutes the role of technique in our world, and how it birthed "The Technological Society."
I would refrain from using such an easily miscontrued and loaded term as "demonic presence" to attempt to encapsulate what Ellul delineates in this book with consumate skill and near faultless powers of reason; but I think it pretty much fits the bill.
I would recommend Ellul's "Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes" to accompany this book as they dovetail superbly. Perhaps The Technological Society first as it paves the way for Propaganda; one can't exist without the other. And Robert Merton's translation of the former seemed to be more fluid and easier to digest then Kellen & Learner's version of Propaganda. It also introduces key concepts towards an understanding of Ellul's complex analysis of how men's attitudes are "formed."

The Technological Society is a book of immense insight, clarity of thought and mesmerising, profound passages on reality as it is shaped by technique. He presents a world inhabited by the "mass man," in a massified societal complex, which of necessity dictates techniques devoid of humanity to manage it effectively. Technique constitutes a kind of perfect intelligence, whose only point of reference is itself and whose focus is on the efficient integration of the soft, warm, and weak creatures that are mankind. Too wilful, chaotic and numerous are we that techniques of management; organization; regulation; health; information; etc, are inevitable to achieve a universal "best practice" for our own benefit. Or really for the interests of that thing known as society. This phenomenon even births techniques to soothe and placate the soul of man lacerated by the cold, efficient scalpel of the technical apparatus.

It is both the poison and the antidote.

These two quotes from the book will suggest something of Ellul's thought here:

Definition of technique-

"In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given state of development) in every field of human activity."

Machine and Technique-

"All-embracing technique is in fact the consciousness of the mechanized world.
Technique integrates everything. It avoids shock and sensational events. Man is not adapted to a world of steel , technique adapts him to it. It changes the arrangement of this blind world so that man can be a part of it without colliding with its rough edges, without the anguish of being delivered up to the inhuman. Technique thus provides a model, it specifies attitudes that are valid once and for all. The anixiety aroused in man is soothed by the consoling hum of a unified society."

The Characterology of Technique-

"Technique worships nothing, respects nothing. It has a single role: to strip off externals, to bring everything to light, and by rational use to transform everything into means. More than science, which limits itself to to explaining the 'how,' technique desacrilizes because it demonstrates (by evidence and not by reason, through use and not through books) that mystery does not exist. Science brings to the light of day everything that man had believed sacred. Technique takes possession of everything and enslaves it. The sacred cannot resist. Science penetrates to the great depths of the sea to photograph the unknown fish of the deep. Technique captures them, hauls them up to see if they are edible - but before they arrive on deck they burst. And why should technique not act thus? It is autonomous and recognises as barriers only the temporary limits of its action. In its eyes, this terrain, which is for the moment unknown but not mysterious, must be attacked. Far from being restrained by any scruples of anything sacred, technique constantly assails it. Everything which is not yet technique becomes so. It is driven onward by itself, by its character of self-augmentation. Technique denies mystery a priori. The mysterious is merely that which has not yet been technicized."

As has been noted by many, and addressed by Ellul in the forward to the book, his views seem essentially fatalistic, pessimistic, with no potential for escape from the virtual prison he presents here.
I view it far more as an essentially honest and unflinching record of his gaze at the world we live in, perhaps even more relevent now than when it was first published in 1954.
And it is also a challenge: what can we do to counter this presentation of a world encircled by an almost otherworldy phenomena that cares not for humankind?

What is technique? Why has it birthed a world of machines, of technology?
I believe that this book has a huge piece of the puzzle to answer those questions. Technique may seem a boon to our current state of civilization, a saviour of humanity even; this book may reveal that it has a secret undiagnosed pathology that results in it being mightily inimical to man.
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on 18 September 2013
I agree with the previous two reviews of this most profound and solemn work, Full of insight that few such as Ellul can give. Definitely worth the read!!!
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on 28 November 2015
An interesting book, well written, interesting cover. Would read again.
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on 25 March 2015
Not Ellul's best - very poor quality publication also !
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on 28 February 2015
very small print but interesting
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