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EDUCATIONAL THEORY Fall 1980, Vol. 30, No.

4 @ 1980 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

The Foundations of Ivan Illich's Social Thought*
By Timothy Reagan

Ivan Illich, throughout his prolific writings and activities, has maintained a consistent and identifiable theoretical conception of what he considers to be the "just society." This conception seems to be grounded, to a considerable extent, not in the libertarian or radical perspectives from which he draws his critique of contemporary society (both capitalist and hierarchical socialist),' but rather in the medieval ideal of human society. The medieval ideal of human society stresses the cooperative nature of human endeavor, as well as the ties of the individual both t o the social community and to nature. The partial dichotomy which emerges here between the individual and the community is based on a clear acceptance of the independent existence and ontological significance of the individual - a point to which I will refer shortly. Further, this ideal carries with it a number of other cogent tenets which have major socio-economic, political, and religious implications. Among these are the notion of the dignity of poverty (most clearly exemplified in the medieval view of the mendicant), the concept of legitimate or "just" authority (which, although related to both the notion o f the "Great Chain of Being" and that of Divine Right, is not dependent o n either), and the conception of the central role t o be played by religion (or, more accurately, by religious faith) in both social and individual life. It is important, I think, to clearly distinguish and explicate the ways in which this concept differs from contemporary mainstream ideology in the West (i.e., New Liberalism), which has been one of the frequent, if generally unarticulated, targets of Illich's work. While there are, in fact, some surface similarities, these two conceptions of society are, I would suggest, basically incompatible. The notion of community is a good example of this theoretical incompatibility. While both the New Liberal society and Illich's ideal stress the cooperative nature of the social community, and while both seem to accept a transcendental view of community, the two conceptions are nonetheless far from parallel. The New Liberal conception views the individualicommunity dichotomy as a false one, since, it is asserted, an individual is socially constituted and, hence, has no meaningful indeTimothy Reagan is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A shorter version of this paper appeared in the Journal of the Midwest History of Education Society 9 (1981). I am grateful to Patricia Amburgy, James Anderson, Gloria Cordon de Bunker, Ruth Burnham. Clarence Karier, Gabrielle Lakomski, Mary Leach, Timothy O'Hanlon, Ralph Page, Philip Steedman, Rudolph Troike, and Paul Violas for their help and support. 1. lllich has been described as a libertarian, a revolutionary, a radical, a participatory socialist, a supporter of entrepreneurial capitalism, and probably everything in between. For examples of this broad range of perceptions, see Robin Barrow, Radical Education (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978); Herbert Gintis, "Toward a Political Economy of Education: A Radical Critique of Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society," in Ivan lllich et al., After Deschooling, What? (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973); Carl G. Hedman, "The 'Deschooling' Controversy Revisited: A Defense of Illich's 'Participatory Socialism','' Educational Theory 29, 2 (Spring 1979); Hugh G. Petrie, "Review of Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society," Educational Theory 22, 4 (Fall 1972); Joaquin Saenz y Arriaga, Cuernavaca y e l progresimo religioso en Mexico (Mexico: 1967); and Madan Sarup. Marxism and Education (London: Routledge 8 Kegan Paul, 1978).



that a reasonably valid case might be made (emphasizing George Herbert Mead. however. only together. as understood in medieval social theory. The second goal is happiness in the present world. See Quentin Skinner. the role of religious faith (both personally and socially). this perspective sees the end of the community as the maintenance and continuity of the community itself. the nature. Another approach to this issue is to stress the difference between the articulation and the effects of an ideology. and symptomatic of a problem of adjustment in the individual. writing at the start of the fourteenth ~ e n t u r y referred . Related to this idea of individual responsibility is a notion of the end of the community which is very different from that of the New Liberal conception of social ends. origin. Although typical of the differences between the medieval and New Liberal conceptions of society. of course. and also as potentially (though not necessarily) demonstrative of social. the notion of community is but one of several very good examples which might be presented here. which is achieved through the civil community. for New Liberalism. t h e medieval ideal's rejection of the individuallcommunity dichotomy is less total due to its basic acceptance of the notion of independent and free individuality. thus limiting the extent to which the community can legitimately supersede the individual. the nature of and problems with social institutions. it can in fact be shown to support a variety of very undesirable (and. then.for example. rather than individual. The Foundations of Modern Political Thought. rather than simpty taken at face value.but nevertheless on an essentially individual. I think. I suspect that it could be shown that these two concepts are. and which will be more. Vol. while arguing that in the ideal. this ideal also emphasizes the individual's personal responsibility . These duo ultima can be reached. a problematic one. immoral) social developments. fundamentally in accord on most issues. While stressing the need for and desirability of social cooperation. the role played by saints and. as well as to the issue of whether the central concern of the just social order is the community or the individuals which compose the community. 17. has what Dante.g. This demonstrates a fundamental distinction between the two social ideologies: New Liberalism perceives any conflict between the individual and the community as dysfunctional. This is. basis. 1978). while the medieval notion sees some conflict as a positive and functional social force (e.294 EDUCATIONAL THEORY pendent existence apart from the community. In each of these cases. Other possibilities would include the role of nature in both individual and social life. a grossly over-simptified analysis of New Liberal thought. is related to the rote to be played by the individual in the community. and therefore. and that if the rhetoric of ideological articulation is carefully examined.~ to as duo ultirna -two final goals. The community. I do think. the question of alienation. In the case of New Liberalism. rather than communal. the medieval conception of the "just society" is less able to make this rejection a universal one. and so on. First.. I do not mean to suggest that New Liberalism is entirely consistent internally. for example) which would support the general contention that the individualicommunity dichotomy is. by the Prophets). is to be achieved through membership in the religious community . as noted earlier. 3. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. the need to plan for dissonance which need not be blamed on the individual. communal in orientation. the dichotomy between the individual and the community ought to be minimal. religious regeneration leading to salvation. nor that all of its manifestations will totally ignore the separate existence of the individual. Second. in an earlier age. if not completely. this perspective does recognize the unlikelihood of this fortuitous development. This is so for a number of reasons. Sharing the New Liberal rejection of the individuallcommunity dichotomy to some extent. for ethical decision-making in accord with Moral Law (especially as manifested in informed individual conscience). and limitations of legitimate authority. as two parts of a greater whole.2 Further. The first. the goal of human life. ills. The distinction between the New Liberal and medieval conceptions of social ends. I believe that a good argument 2. despite some apparent inconsistencies. FALL1980 . p. it is believed.

offering an alternative model of what might be. far more easily resolved than those which might be derived from the analysis which follows. and second. quoted in Macklin. leaves one with the fear that. What he fails to provide . a “natural” The negative side of Illich’s dialectic is “schooling. incidentally. and includes such functions as custodial care. “You can’t get there from here. 1976). 46. which is founded on differences in function and consequence. if we so desired. The dialectical stance which lllich adopts for his critique of schooling can be seen clearly in the distinction he draws between the concept of “schooling” and that of “education.” It is worthwhile to reiterate and explicate the functions of modern schooling as lllich -quite rightly. “Education” refers to an individual process. and religion being the most obvious cases in point. on a belief in the meritocratic what lllich terms the “ideology of merit” ideal. is no less applicable to senior citizens who are encouraged to return to the classroom than it is to ten-year-olds removed from the home. Lucia. analyses and social policies.” This distinction. It will then be suggested. is central to Illich’s argument. age-specific institutional process. first stressing the flaws and problems with the current situation. The first function of schooling is that of providing custodial care: As much as anything else.” Saturday Review 51 (20 April 1968): 58. This ideal is reinforced by the school in its role as certifying agency. schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them. though in less detail.” which takes place as a consequence of the deliberate. but in incompatible.” the positive side. a problem of a nature quite different from that with which most of this section will be concerned. o n that do so many other educational critics . The schooU is supposed to take the excess population from the street. The second function of schooling is the process of “social-role selection. is essentially dialectical. which - 4. “education. VOLUME30. we might get from what is to what ought t o be. social theory. p. and his model of the deschooled society is a creative and intriguing one. primarily. Ivan Illich. When Schools are Gone: A Projection of the Thought of /van lllich (St. which I believe to be common t o all of Illich’s institutional critiques.IVANILLICH’S SOCIALTHOUGHT 295 could be presented to suggest that the two ideological perspectives will result not only in different. for Illich. p. cultural. 5. the good of the elite in the society). “The Futility of Schooling in Latin America. planned sorting and tracking which occurs in the school in a variety of ways. and.perceives them. Michael Macklin. Ivan Illich’s treatment of schooling in contemporary society will be a reasonable description of how. “Schooling” is a compulsory. Illich’s critique of schooling. like his critiques of other social institutions. more II.the right to which is. that the same sort of analysis would be applicable to Illich’s treatment of other components of modern society . Queensland: University of Queensland Press. and one which is. the family or the labor force. as the old Vermont farmer once observed with regard to another problem. I think. carried out by and in schools. or sixteen-year-olds from the work force. This sorting is based. This problem. for the good of the society (or. education. and an attempt will be made to relate this treatment to what I believe is the underlying. His insights visa-vis problems in contemporary schooling are both acute and profound. essentially medieval. NUMBER4 .” This is. indoctrination and socialization. sorting and tracking. however. and aesthetic values” which together constitute our social capital. and is tied up with rather vague notions of the voluntary acquisition by the individual of the common “moral. In the next section of this paper. medicine. 25.5 This custodial function of schooling. to a limited extent. I think .

voluntary use. Children are protected by neither the First nor the Fifth Amendment when they stand before the secular priest. See Illich. respectively. p. The teacher in the modern school has. Educacion para el cambio social (Buenos Aires: Tierra Nueva. rather than an aid. 25. any more than contemporary society as a whole. it is clear that lllich views such a result as happening in spite of. in Illich's view. in which there would be n o excuses. the teacher. FALL1980 . This is not to say. Deschooling Society. which lllich argues are the dominant type in modern society. consumerism. the teacher pontificates as pastor. fall along a spectrum. The latter." are very complex. Ibid. Within the institution of schooling. they breed in their clientele an ever-expanding desire for more of their services. 7. and entail production processes which result in convincing consumers of their need for the goods or services offered by the i n s t i t ~ t i o n Schools. and priest . schooling.~ of course. are institutions of the "manipulative" sort: they are compulsory state institutions. become an impediment.'* 6. lllich asserts that "the school has an anti-educational effect on society"a as well as on the individual. in large part. Illich. This is accomplished. 10. The child must confront a man who wears an invisible triple crown..a social order which lllich sees as fundamentally unjust. For the child. As will be discussed in detail later. From his discussion of this aspect of schooling. based on an acceptance of social conformity. are coercive in nature. p. of course.Y. of the young into the social order . "Critica a la liturgia de la enseiianza. Deschooling Society (New York: Harper & Row. is education. A central feature of Illich's paradigm for the examination of social institutions is the nature of the institution itself. Ivan Illich.. It must be avoided. however. p. Illich's alternative to this state of affairs is the development of "convivial" institutions to encourage the process of education. and certainly they convince their clients (both successes and failures) of the need for the services provided by the school.: Doubleday & Co. the symbol of triple authority combined in one person. Ivan Illich. Chapter 4. which only rarely occurs.1° This has come about as a result of the triple role the teacher is expected to play: as custodian. p. and administrator of a sacred ritual. 1970). 1969). and other variables which prevent the development of a true meritocratic order. When Schools are Gone. p. Macklin. ranging from left to right in terms of the extent to which they are." The former are the ideal desired by Illich. 182. lllich believes. 8. 12. like the papal tiara. "convivial" or "manipulative. since a perfect meritocracy would not only be hellish. which one of Illich's supporters has identified as the "main thrust" of his critique of contemporary ~ c h o o l i n g . . lllich implies. teacher. N. Ivan Illich. lllich is well aware of the social class. racial." As lllich comments. and therapist. even to the perfect meritocracy: A perfect meritocracy. tend to be socially and/or psychologically "addictive. Institutions. prophet. ~ The fourth function of schooling. 9. Ceiebration of Awareness (Garden City.. 11. 103. 44-46. Deschooling Society. and the "ideology of merit" which together serve t o perpetuate social ills. 46. it would be The third function performed by schooling is the socialization. pp. though use marked by some degree of regulation. is not yet upon us. sexual. actually are meritocratic. In fact. or indoctrination.. that schools. Inc. and are distinguished by spontaneous. moralist. 1974+).he is at once guide. through the "hidden curriculum" of the school. they are incredibly complex. 11. His critique extends. one of the major components which requires greater examination is the role of the teacher. Publishers. ethnic. and I believe it can be avoided. rather than because of. to the process of education.296 EDUCATIONAL THEORY ensures the continuity of faith in the efficacy of schooling." in Paulo Freire et al.

27. 3." The distinction here is that of knowledge and knowing . "Critica a la liturgia de la ensehanza. while that of the deschooled society is the educated human being.17 as is generally the case in modern no longer grounded in any particular ideology. As a consequence. Ivan Illich. the distinction between knowledge and knowing is demonstrated with great clarity in Illich's refusal to allow competence and curriculum (i.the former being a thing which can be possessed. In short. 14. Illich.l5 An important facet of Illich's attack on contemporary schooling is his critique of the epistemological foundations upon which modern schooling is based. I believe. Deschooling Society. " lllich ~ ~ notes: In all nations. to what lllich calls the "functional shift of institutions. The end of the "schooled" society is the trained (i. schools are seen as factories which produce "knowledge-as-commodity. on the other hand." and can be seen in the linguistic shift which accompanies it.e. The Alternative to Schooling. The deschooled society. p. 48. p. the latter an individual process which cannot be reified. 27. 16.IVANILLICH'SSOCIALTHOUGHT 297 Finally." Further. the educated use the same ritual to seduce and obligate others to accept their faith [in schooIing]." rather than as aiding the individual to subjectively come to "know. The ends of each are distinct. as long as the institution claims the authority to define which activities are legitimate "education. 17. if not actually in diametric opposition. the latter to educate .processes which are. 102."i6 This shift involves the transition from "frameworks of action" to "factories of goods. while "learning webs" and educational vouchers are convivial ones. When Schools are Gone. p. p. 1976). liberalism. Illich. NUMBER 4 . Schools. which lllich calls the "deschooled society. institutional form in contemporary society. Deschooling Society. 15. the school as a manipulative institution must be understood to be a universal phenomenon . Further. quite different. imprisoned in the Global Classroom (London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.e.. "educating children" has become "giving children an education. The preceding discussion constitutes what might be termed the negative side of the dialectic which lllich establishes for his examination of "education" in its conventional. I think. the view of knowledge found in the two sorts of societies are fundamentally incompatible. these processes are carried out in social insitutions of similarly distinct natures. Ivan lllich and Etienne Verne. as noted earlier. perceives 13. p. For example. quoted in Macklin."l Further. indoctrinated) person. The "schooled" society in which we live sees knowledge as a good or commodity which is quantitatively disseminated in specific social institutions (schools). the former may be said to school. in drawing attention to the fact that the ritual of schooling itself constitutes an important aspect of the "hidden c u r r i ~ u l u m . are manipulative institutions. Catholicism. as conceptualized in modern society. A number of introductory and reiterative comments about the contrasts between the "schooled" and "deschooled" societies are appropriate here. Illich. lllich asserts that knowledge has become objectified. lllich argues that: It does not matter whether the curriculum is designed to teach the principles of Fascism. The positive side of the dialectic." presents us with a very different image of how the process of education might be institutionally undertaken by society. VOLUME30. Finally. and whose differential possession serves to explain and justify social inequities.. This distinction is related. certification) to be collapsed into a single concept. socialism or liberation." p." just as "housing oneself" has become "buying a house. 17.

with his description of the deschooled society that lllich presents a creative and distinctive alternative to that which precedes his arrival on the pedagogic scene. This process of knowing can be facilitated by interaction with others. When Schools are Gone.and cannot be . Maxine Greene. lllich proposes as a tentative alternative some sort of educational voucher system. basically a description of education as it emerges in medieval social thought. Macklin.distributed in manipulative institutions like so many bowls of watered-down soup. The first of these would be a systematic method of providing equal access to whatever educational resources individuals might desire. while both valid and useful. lmprisoned in the Global Classroom. which will together comprise a virtually unlimited series of "learning webs.. in short. pp.not the least of which is Illich's successful role in aiding the popularization of both knowledge of and concern about educational problems I would maintain that it is the critique of contemporary schooling which is the least controversial component of Illich's work. Among these criteria are such considerations as ensuring that education be open to all persons in the society." which is a step toward a "celebration of awareness. 19. stressing a variety of problems which were common knowledge long before Illich. See Illich. I find it difficult to understand how people who are familiar with the literature can react to Illich's reports upon the schools as if he were bringing the news that God is dead. and that it reject a conception of "knowledge-as-commodity." in Ivan lllich et al. As Maxine Greene has noted."z0 Finally. After Deschooling.a notion not amenable to easy quantification." in Celebration of Awareness. As schools are disestablished. pp. "And It Still Is News. rather than for self or for the transcendental society as a whole. 21.298 EDUCATIONAL THEORY knowledge more in terms of the process of k n o w i n g . The critique is primarily a description of modern industrial-bureaucratic schooling. 20. lllich picks out the very problems with which educational researchers and philosophers have been concerned for at least fifty years and displays them before our (presumably horrified) eyes. lllich and Verne. . the third concern is that the right to education is a "natural right" possessed by each individual by virtue of the individual's humanity. "A Call to Celebration. The first of these concerns is an emphasis on inculcating care for others as individuals. - 18. The second and third convivial institutions to be established are networks of educational "tools" and people. It is. is neither as unique nor as original as it is sometimes suggested. that it avoid institutionalizing (in a manipulative sense) either the subject matter or the pedagogical methodology. lllich believes. What?. Presenting not the slightest evidence that he has read the literature of education. These core concerns are manifested in the criteria which lllich argues must be met by alternatives to contemporary schooling for them to be acceptable. Illich's deschooled society is. Illich's conception of the deschooled society. I think. 129.. it is in his conception of the deschooled society that Illich's essentially medieval social theory is manifested. but is not . FALL 1980 . pp.1g The second is that the central aim of educational institutions must be the provision of "access to reality. rather. . The first of these developments is quite simply the disestablishment of schools.18 will entail four interrelated developments. meets all of these criteria. To perform this function. which he believes to have already begun to evolve. 55-56. And. 13-18." While I think that Greene has failed t o recognize some important distinctions between Illich's message and the educational research and discussion which preceded him . 15-16. three sets of convivial institutions must be set up. Illich's critique of contemporary schooling." These convivial educational institutions share three core concerns. that it be available when people need or desire it.'' Deschooling. p.

this ideal is a religious one. So. rather than being either egocentric or poliscentric (where the polis. lllich is consistently vague o n all of these issues. running consistently through22. On first reading. Natural Law (London: Hutchinson University Library. in the conception of natural rights which emerged during the period of the Enlightenment. and so forth. nontheistic construct (hence. when he argues that. P. It is just such a community that is posited by St. NUMBER4 . pp. "My lllich Problem. as one might suppose.27 and his non-compulsory conception of social order. lllich emphasizes that one of the central features of such an institution is to encourage the development in each person of a concern for others as individuals. are his conception of knowledge. Last. it seems to me. d'Entreves. Illich's eye is firmly fixed on the goal. VOLUME30. dignity. which fixation is the essence of authoritarianism. Thomas Aquinas in Chapter 13 of On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life. 25. indeed. Philippe Aries' masterful work. " ~ ~ Finally. Ultimately. 13-18. Neil Postman." in which the biblical injunction t o "love thy neighbor as thyself" is effected... and " j o y f ~ l n e s s . This concern is quite like that of the medieval conception of the "good community. it is important to bear in mind that lllich does accept an authority structure. 1970).as exhibited in such movements as the rise of situational ethics. 258-59. 15. in Illich's case. 1962). lllich sounds considerably more egalitarian than would make such a connection reasonable. the reliance of Illich's defense of the convivial institution on the notion of innate "natural rights" is an interesting one. the increasingly common "suit yourself" brand of individualism. aimed at increasing . Inc. However.. See Vernon J. emphasis on /ex). recognizes the need for both social rules and individual discipline. .not. It appears to me that this concept. 19601.)." in lllich et al. Further. lllich. Bourke (ed. is viewed as a whole rather than as a grouping of individual parts). See A. or community. of course. his non-age specific educational schema.through both social and spiritual activity . The former entails a rejection of the current relativistic conception of social reality . lllich is not only a mystic and a utopian but an authoritarian as well. The latter idea. 23. 26. calls manorial life t o mind. and does not call for any sort of egalitarian revolution." Both of these ideas are grounded in what is a predominantly theocentric view of the world. 143-44. What?. comes to mind here. Centuries of Childhood (New York: Random House. is embedded in an acceptance of the /ex naturalis . most clearly enunciated in Illich's " A Call to C e l e b r a t i ~ n . emphasis on Illich's description of "learning webs. I tend to agree with Neil Postman.mankind's humanity. pp.IVAN ILLICH'S SOCIALTHOUGHT 299 Central t o an adequate understanding of the concept of deschooling is the nature of the convivial institution. The distinction between these two perspectives is an important one: the former presupposes a metaphysical foundation for the law (hence. pp. After Deschooling.The Pocket Aquinas (New York: Washington Square Press. " is ~ cen~ tered o n the desirability o f "living change" rather than on relying on planned or engineered illusions. Illich's rejection of certification in favor of competence is clearly much more compatible with medieval conceptions of society than with modern ones." which play a major role in his conception of the deschooled society. p. Ibid.. the shift in philosophy of science from the positivism of Popper to the near-anarchism of Feyerabend.22 A second feature of the convivial institution is that it provides "access to reality" which plays a role in the development of the "celebration of awareness. 24. . Chapters 3 and 4. 27. Celebration of Awareness.26 One is further reminded of medieval society o n a number of other points. while the latter is a rational.

most specifically on the current energy crisis. as was his perspective on schooling. p. for example. I think. . This is not meant to imply. according t o Illich. pp. . 74. ” ~ The ” contradiction to which this refers is that between social equity (and.300 EDUCATIONAL THEORY out Illich’s writing. virtually indefinitely. First. Energy and Equity (New York: Harper & Row. Ivan Illich. Celebration of Awareness. however. ~ The ’ illusion which is being “consecrated” by the rhetoric of the energy crisis. This contradiction is often emphasized in Illich’s work. is that machine power can. 20-21. on a dialectical view of the situation. p. having naught. See also lllich and Verne. 1948). Illich. a claim I hope to make good below for each of the major social institutions which lllich critiques.28 In the thirteenth century. both on education and other issues. In both cases. It was chosen for more indepth treatment here for two major reasons. 31. High Wisdom is in Poverty. and underequipped nations such as those of Latin America. Publishers. . 173. Illich’s perspective on energy. pp. social justice) and continued industrial growth.. take the place of manpower. agree with such sentiments. lllich sees poverty as granting a special sort of dignity. Illich. For nothing holds her thrall. It imposes its technical characteristics on social relations. 30. for Illich. His critique of contemporary schooling is but one side of a many-faceted assault mounted against modern society by Ivan Illich. lmprisoned in the Global Classroom. To earth-dim eyes concealed . the result is increasingly divisive and rigid social class ~ t r a t i f i c a t i o n . The second reason that Illich’s educational thought was singled out was that it is the most prolific part of the corpus of his work. expert elites in both overindustrialized nations such as the United States. 3. the loser is human freedom: Underequipment keeps people enslaved to primordial nature and limits their freedom. Quoted in Walter Shewring. 29. His critique is based on the notion that the rhetoric surrounding the energy crisis “conceals a contradiction and consecrates an i l l ~ s i o n . “Critica a la liturgia enseiianza. 105-35. 32. See.3’ 28. In terms of schools. Overindustrialization does not admit of differences in production and political style. lllich is perhaps best known for his educational writings. especially Deschooling Society. is a view of poverty which is quite alien to the modern world. FALL 1980 . Energy and Equity. This combination of contradiction and illusion leads to a reliance o n bureaucratic. Celebration of Awareness. That man is poor who. 145-50. A mystic heaven is Poverty. and Illich. for example.. Illich. It is not. and hence the most complete theoretical construction.zs Ivan lllich would. and potentially offering a conception of social reality which could be envied by those in more prosperous settings.. and just as feasible in the medieval. that Illich’s treatment of other social institutions is in any significant way different from his treatment of schooling. From will to have is free. Inc. p. 1974). 114. is based. lllich often notes that as increasing amounts are spent o n schooling (especially in Latin America). Rich and Poor in Christian Tradition (London: Burns Oates 8 Washbourne. lacopone da Todi wrote: He that has Poverty for Love Has for dominion peace. 111.” p. pp.

p. Assistant Secretary of Justice in the Government of Salvador Allende. 164. and has 33. The consequence of this development has been what lllich terms the “medicalization of life. coupled with an analysis which seeks t o demonstrate the impotence of most contemporary medical care. pp. but rather those of the corporate industrial society. 21-25. ~ ~ The post-Vatican II era has witnessed the emergence of a theologically sophisticated. no more clear or reassuring than are the two roads to technical maturity which he proposes.). 1975). that People will limit medical therapies because they will want to conserve their opportunity and power to heal Better health care will not depend on some new therapeutic standard. The theme of Illich’s most recent work. 36.~~ the admitted risk of over-simplifying Illich’s argument with respect t o energy. is that the ability of man to cope with pain. Ibid. NUMBER 4 . in practice. 163. 34. a greater role for social activism within and by the Church.36 A central feature of this process of “medicalization” is iatrogenesis. is the foundation of Illich’s call (here as elsewhere) for the re-establishment of the autonomy of the individual.”38 This new imperative. the war in Vietnam.”S3 His faith in this “sound judgement” is. Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health (London: Calder & Boyars. Energy and Equity. Ibid. which he sums up as: “Act so that the effect of your action is compatible with the permanence of genuine human life. ’will ’~~ mean. Among the suggestions offered by this group for the regeneration of the Church are a married clergy. has been very active in seeking solutions to social problems (poverty.. Often this group has been at the forefront of the liturgical reform in the Church. alas. 75.~ a r e . socially active minority in the Church. illnesses. and death . the disestablishment of the episcopal structure of the Church. 165. pp.. and the end of bureaucratically-managed and supported health care. rejection of celibacy.i n d ~ c e d .. The alternative proposed by lllich is that society must adopt an “extreme discipline” grounded in an acceptance of a new imperative. it seems t o me that his whole perspective is summed up in the quote with which his Energy and Equity begins: “El socialismo From ~ ~ this. 1. Ibid. 40.IVAN ILLICH’S SOCIALTHOUGHT 301 Illich’s solution to this unpleasant state of affairs is founded primarily on the return of decision-making power to “the sound judgement of the common rnan. Ivan Illich. ” conception of society. but on the level of willingness and competence to engage in s e l f . Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo. p.” has called for major changes in both the structure and orientation of the Church. it is a short step indeed to the medieval puede llegar solo en b i ~ i c l e t a . which is tied up in an unspecified way with an “ethical awakeni t ~ g . liberation from affluence and liberation from d e p e n d e n ~ e At . p. and side-effects which are p h y s i c i a n . Ibid.. and a re-examination of the permanence of ordination to the priesthood. ~ ~ This concept. 35. which refers to the diseases. generally referred to as either “radical Catholics” or the “Catholic left.. 37. Ibid. 11. This minority. 39. p. the ordination of women. p. 75-76. quoted in Illich.. p. 38. Medical Nemesis. etc.” a political process which serves to ensure continued reliance on both modern technology and the industrial mode of production which underlies it. Ibid.all integral parts of human life has been systematically expropriated by a maintenance service (the medical profession) which serves not the needs of the individual. VOLUME 30. impairment.

However.. 69. 78. lllich asserts that: Great changes must take place in the structure of the Catholic Church if it is to survive. 72-73. actually impedes the maintenance and spread of the Christian life in the world. 47. See also Francine d u Plessix Gray. would all provide evidence for a left-wing religious orientation. The bureaucratic maze that comprises most of the visible Church today.42 representing the ultra-conservative elements in the Mexican Church. The Church. 49. 7966-69 (Cuernavaca: CIDOC. his problems with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (which led to his resignation from the p r i e ~ t h o o d ) . Just such a position is argued by Joaquin Saenz y Arriaga. ~ ~ 41. In fact. 37. p. 42. Ibid. lllich himself comments that such radical alternatives in the Church are "neither sufficiently revolutionary to be worth while ( s i c ) ." rather than as "She")48 is the belief that the bureaucratic aspects of the Church are in fact dysfunctional. The first of these beliefs concerns Illich's conception of the ideal social role or function of the priest in modern society. 66. Mendez Arceo. Clerical technocracy is even further from the Gospel than priestly a r i s t o ~ r a c y . Divine Disobedience. Celebration of Awareness. See Ocampo V. 70. lllich asserts that "the ordination of secularly employed men may be one of the Church's great advances. It is even less appropriate to see His Vicar as the chief executive of a corporation than as a Byzantine king. . 84-85. Celebration of Awareness. moreover. 1970). Further. lllich is no more radical vis-a-vis the Church than he is with respect to education. pp. lllich argues that the only role a priest should play as priest is that of presiding over the celebration of the sacraments. pp. 306-14. 48. pp. No. also. p. 1970). 289.45 In fact. and so on. 1969). or medicine. FALL 1980 . as.. p. might well be efficiency. . Cuernavaca y e l progresmo religioso en Mexico. Many of his religious views."46 lllich proffers such a projection of the nature of the priesthood in the future as a result of two related beliefs. he suggests that the problems faced by the Church today with respect t o the role and nature of the priesthood might be solved by reconceptualizing the diaconate in such a way as to allow for the ordination of both married and secularly employed men. It would be easy t o place Illich in this camp. For the priest to perform other functions as priest is to "feign competence" where it does not really exist. Mexico "Entredicho" del Vatican0 a CIDOC.. p. moral guardian. in Illich's view. for a complete description of this conflict. religious educator. Change a n d Development (Chicago: Herder and Herder. energy. pp.302 EDUCATIONAL THEORY been the most active contingent of the Church in the opening of the MarxistChristian dialogue. counselor.44 lllich has discussed a number of these "great changes" in the Church in some detail. Illich."^^ Rather. Rather than seeing the priest as community leader. 44. nor sufficiently faithful to fundamental traditional position^. Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism (New York: Random House. Illich. Ibid. Illich. and where others are better able to serve. I believe that such changes will come about and. Joaquin Saenz y Arriaga. 45. perhaps. 82. Tarsicio (comp. 46. d u Plessix Gray. lllich sees the corporate structure of the Church as unacceptable for the achievement of what ought to be its aims: Principles of corporate government are not applicable to the Body of Christ. 43. p.). Celebration o f Awareness. Ivan Illich. Ibid. that they can now be visualized in terms consistent with the most radically traditional theology. For example.47 The second cornerstone of Illich's critique of the nature of contemporary Catholicism (the Church as "It. ~ and ' his close affiliation with the progressive Bishop of Cuernavaca. 75.

Further. Unam Sancturn. Middlesex: Penguin Books. 1968). at this point. It appears that with every social institution with which lllich grapples . but rather are. I think. as are his social and political attitudes. Trends in Medieval Political Thought (New York: Barnes & Noble. as the Church must be. 102. in a sense quite different from both mainstream Catholicism and that Catholicism which takes as a central tenet of its faith the “theology of liberation.” in Beryl Smalley (ed. To point out that he was trained as a priest would.whether it be energy. as enunciated in the preceding section. although true. A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages (Baltimore: Penguin Books. This is due.” IV. 1965). See Maurice Keen. Ibid. .). Etside Statu. it is also important to note that within the general rubric of Catholicism there are a vast range of very different social constructions of reality. . it nevertheless seems to me that Illich’s ideal is considerably more compatible and consistent with medieval social theory than was the actual medieval practice. in themselves. I would like to build upon the description of Illich’s social thought vis-a-vis religion. the hardest to reconcile with medieval notions of society. Ineffabilis Amor.D.51 Illich’s ideal conception of the role of the church in human society is. However. 51. lllich was encouraged by the Holy See to enter the Collegio d i Nobili 50. as well as in his earlier Clericis Laicos. medieval notions of the “just society. At this point.. NUMBER 4 . be far from an adequate description of what that means in Illich’s case.. in a way. to the role actually played by the Church in feudal Europe . 1965). to suggest the origins and emphases of Illich’s metaphysical leanings. and Ausculta Filii. It should be recalled that one of the major problems confronted by medieval social thinkers was reconciling the role played by the Church. The centrality of Roman Catholicism to Ivan Illich’s social thought has been much commented upon. and its role in effecting social change. 52. fundamental to his conception of social reality. or at least very compatible with. with the spiritual ideal it was in theory obligated (and indeed in practice claimed) to uphold. Walter Ullman.52 What I have tried to demonstrate thus far is that the connection between Illich’s ideal educational structures and medieval social theory is not unusual or out of place in Illich’s more general social thought. in history at the University of Salzburg where he wrote a dissertation on Toynbee. lllich suggests that innovative social action must be the responsibility of groups committed to radical humanism rather than to gospel authority. that the religious aspects of Illich’s social thought are not simply parallel to other equally relevant concerns. far more medieval than modern. pp. lllich is Catholic. then she perpetuates her inability to witness to that which is specific in her mission. pp. Ibid. medicine. This tension between the ideal of Christian universalism and papal secularism in the face of the rising authority of national monarchs is reflected in Boniface Vlll’s papal bull.50This is so because: If the Church uses the power basis she h a s . Due to his outstanding academic record.IVAN ILLICH’SSOCIAL THOUGHT 303 A final note with respect to Illich’s view of the contemporary Church concerns the different perspective on the social initiative of the Church as a religious institution.a role which we recall as one of far greater complexity and range than that envisioned for the Church by lllich. lllich earned master’s degrees in both theology and philosophy at the Gregorian University in Rome (not training to be scoffed at). I think. 110-13. Inc. 207-22. and I suspect that few would doubt its impact on his views. both at the local and the “international” levels.” His faith is. The Pelican History of Medieval Europe (Harmondswoflh. before obtaining a Ph. VOLUME 30. “The Political Thought of the Fourteenth-Century Civilians. p. It is important to stress. or religion his ideal of what ought to be is either derived from.

S h e .54 and must be eliminated. Second. where he served as assistant pastor in an Irish-Puerto Rican parish until 1956. The distinction between the Church as “She” and the Church as “It” is an important one in Illich’s thought. Quoted in du Plessix Gray. He co-founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentacion in Cuernavaca.304 EDUCATIONAL THEORY Ecclesiastici. for Illich. Rather. ~ ~ Despite his resignation. and aimed at preventing further embarrassment t o the Church as a consequence of the publicity which had come to surround him. Quoted in du Plessix Gray. Illich’s function as a priest is the scrupulous criticism of the Church-as-It for the sake of the C h u r ~ h . of course.a s . ~ ~ Illich. 302 above. he moved to New York in 1951. p.” This understanding further supports the view posited here that Illich’s social theory is basically in accord with that of the medieval period. in a broader and more complete way than is otherwise possible. lllich was granted. however. whose resignation from the priesthood was voluntary. the Mystical Body of Christ-as providing the basic force for social cohesion in the “good” human 53. In short. lllich had achieved the rank of Monsignor. Insofar as we understand his notion of the role of the Church. Illich’s view of the “just society. has expanded on Illich’s distinction: The Church-as-She is the mystery of God’s presence among us. with which he has been affiliated since 1960. functions i n much the same way as would any other convivial institution. Divine Disobedience.that is. as already noted. the right to maintain both his vow of celibacy and his daily obligation to say the breviary. and behavior. In both his religious thought and his social theory. FALL 1980 . 56. is especially so in the Church. which can be seen as representing the dialectic which lllich applied to other social institutions. The Church as an ideal. It is only by making the liturgy relevant and accessible that one makes it real. God’s presence i n human forms. Divine Disobedience. despite his relegation of both the Church and her priests t o an exclusively spiritual sphere. while at the same time mirroring that social theory in many important respects. lllich forcibly rejects the use of coercion and of coercive institutions and institutional arrangements. Illich’s conception of the “true” nature of Catholicism provides the basis for much of his social theory. These are hardly the signs of a man undergoing a crisis of faith. lllich explains his reasons for resigning. He then served as vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. Instead. lllich is an exceptionally well-trained. The Jesuit sociologist. self-conception. lllich argues that bureaucracy. in large part as a result of his interrogation in Rome. 312. where the most talented in the Church’s ranks are trained for careers in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. bright.quite the contrary. First. See p. he rejects ritual qua ritual everywhere. arguing that: It is canonically correct for a clergyman to divest himself of his faculties as soon as he becomes n o t o r i o ~ s . is not dissimilar to the more common division between Mystical Body and temporal institution. committed Roman Catholic. This distinction. 54. Joseph Fitzpatrick. save that lllich clearly expects it to play a primary and central role in the individual’s social relations. The Churchas-It is the scandal of incarnation. Before resigning from the priesthood i n 1969. the same as rejecting liturgical forms of worship . at his request. they demonstrate a remarkable perseverance of faith in the face of great adversity. See quote 48 in text. including religious ones. 289-90. pp. no less in the Church than in the school. which is undesirable in any social institution. One must use all the human power one has to expose the scandal in order that the presence of the Word can be perceived. 55. This is not. in every social institution. Third.56 nonetheless sees the Church . lllich rejects several elements of the status quo. we have also understood.

63. Divine Disobedience. Illich. side of Ivan Illich's faith is his frequent. "Critica a la liturgia de la ensehanza.IVAN ILLICH'S SOCIAL THOUGHT 305 community. 62. Unquestionably. to recast his vision of the world from the perspective of a poor mar1. pp.~4 57.60 The secularization of the Christian faith depends on the dedication to it on the part of Christians rooted in the Church. people placed their trust in certificates which guaranteed indulgence. d u Plessix Gray. 35-36. Rather than by either visible or invisible coercion. both a desirable and a feasible goal. Illich. 69-94. Illich's call. who acquires this education. colorful. as manifested in "The Vanishing Clergyman. 58. people place their trust in certificates which establish that they possess something called "edu~ation. 60. we know that simply reforming the liturgy is no guarantee of theological renovation. But it is enlightenment itself that is now being snuffed out in the schools. stressed by noting similar reforms.. 101. Inevitably their statements sound blasphemous to many churchmen. and generally entertaining use of religious metaphors to strengthen his arguments. but which also can hardly help but elicit a smile from his reader: Equal educational opportunity is. 64. 100. Illich. In our time of decadent civilization. far closer to the religious ideal which can be logically derived from medieval notions of society than was the religious reality of feudal Europe. NUMBER 4 . An interesting. p. His institutional critiques often make use of comparisons with the Church and society of the late Middle Ages: At the end of the Middle Ages. the educational process will gain from the deschooling of society even though this demand sounds to many schoolmen like treason to the enlightenment. "Critica a la liturgia de la ensefianza." p. Celebration of Awareness. than for a man. which have been experienced by the Church: Since Bonhoeffer contemporary theologians have pointed to the confusions now reigning between the Biblical message and institutionalized religion. as was noted earlier."~~ The need for reform is. Ibid. indeed. 59. The nature of Illich's ideal conception of the Church is perhaps closest to the rather ahistorical view of the primitive Christian church which is common today among certain Protestant sects. 36. Illich." p."57 is essentially a demand for a return to an early-style Christianity untainted by pomp and secular power [which] is similar in message to the romantic longings of the Underground This is. Illich. "Critica a la liturgia de la ensefianza.61 From the history of the Church. and so on. 293. In much the same way. pp. Illich. 15. and highly visible. VOLUME 30. p. Deschooiing Society. 61. the community is to be united and maintained by faith. on occasion. but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." p. the deschooling of education depends on the leadership of those brought up in the schools. 105. provide illustrations of points. p. Deschooling Society.62 lllich frequently uses ecclesiastic comparisons which serve not only to make his point. and problems with reforms. They point to the experience that Christian freedom and faith usually gain from secularization.

I could teach with deep relish a course in pre-conciliar theology. Quoted in d u Plessix Gray. Divine Disobedience. lllich himself recognizes this when he says: I am theologically profoundly conservative. Not only is this compatible with the medieval ideal. 273.306 EDUCATIONAL THEORY These religious metaphors. and dozens like them..65 65. p. . I would have liked to have lived in the Middle Ages. . one of the high points of man's spirit. show the extent to which his religious faith permeates Illich's life and thought. but it is actually quite close to the monastic ideal of the medieval era. FALL 1980 .