It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Turkish Take on Illich

We don't read Turkish, but based on some wanderings around the web, it appears that the man has a strong following in that part of the world. Here, for instance, is a lengthy blog article about Illich -- on a blog using the same Blogger template as ours, we're pleased to see!

And here is the Turkish edition of one of Illich's books. (A small prize for those who can figure out which of his books this is; no Google allowed.)

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In fact, here one can see eight editions of Illich in Turkish. And this is the Turkish Wikipedia page about Illich.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"The People's Priest"

A perceptive profile of Ivan Illich that argues for the relevance of his thinking today was published in February, 2010 at The American Conservative. The author is Chase Madar, a civil rights attorney whose most recent book is The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower. His conclusion:
Famous or forgotten, Ivan Illich remains relevant, for the Age of McNamara and Rostow is hardly over. Not long ago, Paul Wolfowitz was rewarded for his reckless, idealistic war-making with the leadership of the World Bank. If Illich opposed the ’60s gold rush of rich-country reformers to Latin America, what would he make of today’s militarized onslaught of reform and development? He would have had plenty to say about our benevolent conquest of Afghanistan, which many fervently believe to be a kind of Peace Corps/feminist/human-rights NGO empowerment zone, one that will soon just happen to have 110,000 soldiers in it -- and that’s not counting the mercenaries. The unaccountable power of aid groups in the sociopolitical fabric of Uganda, Bangladesh, and elsewhere would also have taxed Illich’s rich gifts for diatribe. Back in the industrialized world, the professions of education, healthcare, and law are being ruthlessly integrated into the corporate-service sector in which the bottom line is frequently the only line. One highly doubts that Illich would applaud any of these events—but are there opportunities amid the wreckage?

Why did Ivan Illich leave Puerto Rico?

The story about why he was ousted from Puerto Rico that Ivan Illich relates in a 1972 French TV interview with Jean Marie Domenach differs substantially from what he tells David Cayley in 1988, in the book Ivan Illich in Conversation.

In brief, the 1972 telling centers on Illich’s calling for the island commonwealth to spend more money on public education. In 1988, Illich talks of his running afoul of Church leaders when he criticizes them for getting involved in politics. Quite possible, both reasons contributed to his departure.

Here is the exchange from 1972:

Illich: Yes, I was a priest [in upper Manhattan]. I did my four years of work as a priest I suppose, but in the middle of a situation that’s very difficult to describe. But I had, I don’t know why, but I was reminded of the years playing hide-and-seek from Hitler, being declared a Jew from one moment to the next during the war. That’s how I ended up leaving; life took me to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico threw me out. Domenach: Threw you out. Illich: Yes. Domenach: The government? Illich: The government and the Church together because I was ridiculing the foolishness. Domenach: Foolishness. You mean the ostentatiousness. Illich: Yes, yes, yes. The incorporation, the charity through incorporation into the North American market. Domenach: So you came back to New York right away— Illich: No, no, no, no, no. A group of friends and I, we decided that we needed an independent base of operations, an independent intellectual republic. In Cuernavaca, we established this centre ...


Domenach: Why did they throw you out of Puerto Rico? Why was that? Illich: Because at that time, I was one of five members of the committee that directs all public education in Puerto Rico as well as the Rector of the Catholic university. I was insisting that the 42% of Puerto Rico’s national budget that went to education was not enough. I wanted more money for public education, because I believed that the private colleges, the Catholic colleges, were creating unfair competition by trying to become more prestigious and in doing so, reducing public schools to second-class education. I found myself at odds, whether with the liberal establishment or with the ecclesiastical, right-wing establishment. And, well, I’m a bit ashamed to speak of it now because later, the analysis of Latin America, where I travelled for a year going from Cuernavaca to Puerto Rico, I mean, Puerto Rico to Cuernavaca—

And here is what Illich tells Cayley some years later (p.87 in the book):

Illich: By 1959, I felt that I had done more or less what I wanted to do in PUerto Rico. I had established, at the Catholic University in Ponce, a major summer institute, which in fact ran on for twenty-five years, and I had created a few other very simply institutional bridges for people from Nueva York, which included in a Puerto Rican view, the barrio of Chicago. I felt very much attached to Puerto Rico. ….

But the time had come and a situation presented itself in which I felt that I had to intervene in a political way. The two Irish Catholic bishops, Bishop James Davis, a self-seeking, vain careerist in San Juan, and Bishop James McManus in Ponce, a well-meaning Irish turkey, had gotten themselves into politics by threatening excommunications for anybody who voted for a political party which didn’t proscribe the sale of condoms in the drugstores. And this was a month before the nomination of a Catholic, John Kennedy, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. It was not that I wanted to support Kennedy. But I felt that it was highly unsound to allow the religious issue to creep back into American politics, just because two American bishops had an absolute Catholic majority as their subjects At the same time, with the assistance of the papal nuncio responsible for the area, they had also sponsored the creation of a Christian Democratic-like party on the island. So I had to do something, since most people didn’t take it seriously and those who did would not intervene. I attracted to myself the full odium of exploding that situation. I knew that I was sacrificing any possibility of doing anything publicly in Puerto Rico for many years without being mixed up with the memories of that political intervention.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Spanish book cover

We believe this is the cover of a Spanish edition of Ivan Illich's book Medical Nemesis, as published in Barcelona by Seix Baral. Exactly when, we're not sure.


"The False Ideology of Schooling"

A 1970 essay by Ivan Illich, "The False Ideology of Schooling," is available for viewing on the Web at a site called, an eclectic library of periodicals, books, and other materials. The essay was published in The Saturday Review for Oct. 17. 1970, which the Unz site makes available in its entirety, here. The issue's cover story package is Revolution and Education in Latin America, and it includes two articles in addition to Illich's: "Cuba's Schools, Ten Years Later," and "Brazil, a Giant Begins to Stir."

A taste of the text:

The central issue of our time remains the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. This hard fact is often obscured by another apparently contradictory fact. In the rich countries, the poor have access to a quantity and quality of commodities beyond the dreams of Louis XIV, while many of the so-called developing countries enjoy much higher economic growth rates than those of industrialized countries at a similar stage of their own histories. From icebox to toilet and from antibiotic to television, conveniences Washington could not have imagined at Mount Vernon are found necessary in Harlem, just as Bolivar could not have foreseen the social polarization now inevitable in Caracas. But rising levels neither of minimum consumption in the rich countries nor of urban consumption in the poor countries can close the gap between rich and poor nations or between the rich and poor of any one nation. Modern poverty is a by-product of a world market catering to the ideologies of an industrial middle class. Modern poverty is built into an international community where demand is engineered through publicity to stimulate the production of standard commodities. In such a market, expectations are standardized and must always outrace marketable resources.


The cultural revolutionary must be distinguished from not only the political magician but also both the neo-Luddite and the promoter of intermediary technology. The former behaves as if either the noble savage could be restored to the throne or the Third World transformed into a reservation for him. He opposes the internal combustion engine rather than oppose its packaging into some product de- signed for exclusive use by the man who owns it. Thus, the Luddite blames the producer; the institutional revolutionary tries to reshape the design and distribution of the product. The Luddite blames the machine; the cultural revolutionary heightens awareness that it produces needless demands. The cultural revolutionary must also be distinguished from the promoter of intermediary technology who is often merely a superior tactician paving the road to totally manipulated consumption.

Let me illustrate what I mean by a cultural revolution within one major international institution, by taking as an example the institution that currently produces education. I mean, of course, obligatory schooling: full-time attendance of age-specific groups in a graded curriculum.

Latin America has decided to school itself into development. This decision results in the production of homemade inferiority. With every school that is built, another seed of institutional corruption is planted, and this is in the name of growth.

Schools affect individuals and characterize nations. Individuals merely get a bad deal; nations are irreversibly degraded when they build schools to help their citizens play at international competition. For the individual, school is always a gamble. The chances may be very slim, but everyone shoots for the same jackpot. Of course, as any professional gambler knows, it is the rich who win in the end, and the poor who get hooked. And if the poor man manages to stay in the game for a while, he will feel the pain even more sharply when he does lose, as he almost inevitably must. Primary school dropouts in a Latin American city find it increasingly difficult to get an indus- trial job.

(The Illich essay is listed towards the bottom of this table of contents page. To download a copy of the essay in PDF format, the following actions seem to be necessary: First, click on the PDF tag associated with the Illich essay's title; a new page will appear showing four pages the magazine, which you can scroll through vertically. Only the first three of these pages are part of Illich's essay. Now, click on the words "Full Page" to bring up a new window, at the Google Docs site. [This may require being signed into a Google account, which we happened to have done previously.] There, you will see the same four pages again along with, at upper right, a button marked 'Download original.' Click that button and you'll be shown the pages in standard PDF, ready to save.

Unfortunately, Illich's piece jumps to page 68, outside of these four initial pages, and retrieving that last page requires a similar sequence: Back at the table of contents, click on the PDF link associated with the listing "Asking the Right Questions … pp. 66-70." Again, a new page pops up and now, click on "Full Page" there. A Google Docs page will appear showing a scrolling set of magazine pages, from p. 66 to p.71; click on 'Download original' button up top and again, you'll see the pages in standard PDF, ready to save.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Holt's 'Escape from Childhood,' back in print

A book called Escape from Childhood, The Needs and Rights of Children, written by the late John Holt, has been republished for the first time in 20 years. Controversial but well-received when originally published in 1974, the book argues that children should have all the rights that adults enjoy: the right to vote, work for wages, travel, choose their own guardians, learn what they want when they want, and more. Holt, who was close to Ivan Illich and who is seen as a major figure in the home-schooling/unschooling movement, also explores the fairly recent social construction of the very category "child."

The book has been re-published by HoltGWS, in Medford, Mass. It's available in paperback ($8.99) and in electronic format ($2.99) from; wholesalers may order from (One book merchant selling through Amazon is asking precisely $491.42 for a pristine first edition of this book in hardback.)


Writes one slightly spelling-challenged reader at Amazon:

"This is my favorite book of the many Holt has written. It does not cover any aspects of learning/educational issues as do his other books. Instead it addresses the matter of looking at children as whole individuals who should be treated respectably, as any adult would want to be.

"Our culture too readily encourages parents, and adults in general, to use their voice in a excessively authorative manner which only serves to bully and demean children. No one would want to be spoken to or treated in such a condensending manner. This book will open your eyes to the damage we are doing to our beloved kids when we accept the cultural standard way of parenting. Highly recommended!"

Like Holt, Illich drew on the work of Phillipe Aries (1914-1984), a medievalist and historian of the family and childhood. In the book Ivan Illich in Conversation, David Cayley draws Illich out on Aries:

CAYLEY: In your book, Gender, you say that you could not have written either that book or Deschooling Society without the work of Philippe Aries.

ILLICH: It is through Aries that I was introduced to the historicity of the notion of "the child," and that in this sense it is a modern construct. I probably fell for Aries because I had always disliked it when the children of my friends would take the attitude "I'm a child and you must pay attention to me." Since I was fifteen, I had refused to notice or to enter into any kind of intercourse with such a person. Some of my friends, better friends, family friends, have considered me all my life a brute. But an interesting thing has happened a number of times. When these kids had difficulties with their parents, they suddenly appeared on my doorstep - at age fourteen or fifteen. In two cases, they came to another continent, seeking refuge. My intuition is that one of the most evil things our modern society does is produce children in this specifically modern sense. As a young man, I decided that I wouldn't do that. That was the reason I decided at age twelve not to marry.

CAYLEY: To stay with childhood for a moment - does identifying it as a specifically modern idea invalidate it? Is it not also in some sense an advance?

ILLICH: It's just that with all advances, the greater they are, the more they are an extreme form of privilege. We are sitting here and having this conversation together because I was, at one glance, so impressed by the feeling between you and your children, whom you have kept out of school. Now for them, the fact that you have abandoned the idea of childhood in order to take these kids who live in a world of childhood fully seriously as kids is an extraordinary advantage. But this is not a model. This is something to be emulated, not imitated. It's the spark of uniqueness that must be cherished.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Ivan Illich, Postmodernism, and the Eco-Crisis"

An essay from 1994 titled 'Ivan Illich, Postmodernism, and the Eco-Crisis: Reintroducing a "Wild" Discourse' and written by David A. Gabbard, has shown up on the Web, right here. (This website appears to be written in Turkish.) The essay originally appeared in a journal called Educational Theory.

Gabbard currently is on the faculty of East Carolina University. He is author of a 1993 book called Silencing Ivan Illich, A Foucauldian Analysis of an Intellectual Repression.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Illich, Energy, and Workfare

In March, a British publication called OpenDemocracy ran articles by two writers -- Aaron Peters and Tony Curzon Price -- concerning the idea of workfare, a scheme that calls for individuals to work at wage-less jobs in return for government social benefits. Evidently, workfare is being discussed across Europe right now in light of various nations' adoption of austerity measures, which have thrown millions of people out of work.

Peters and Price are specifically concerned with the prospects for work in a world that depends increasingly on automation and thus will have fewer and fewer paid jobs to provide. How can the government create jobs? Might nuclear power provide low-cost energy that would help spur industrial growth? And so forth.

Responding to this debate, a third writer, Neil Comley, published a piece that deftly uses Ivan Illich's "Energy & Equity" essay to argue a radical alternative:

The choice as I see it seems to be stark (though not a miserable one). Do we wish to live in a society where we are all autonomously free and equal, where we have choices as to how we wish to live, albeit with democratic control on high energy consumption and technological innovation, less automated labour, and fewer material goods in general? Or would we rather live in an unequal, unfree – and ultimately inhuman society where choice is regimented, limited and prescribed and where a minority have ever more - and innovative - material goods, personal services and leisure opportunities, predicated ultimately on automated labour and cheap energy; a world in which some provide cheap labour, and those are not even that fortunate are propped up by workfare?

Sunday, June 16, 2013


We are pleased, today, to share with readers our transcription of a talk Ivan Illich gave in 1971 or 1972, evidently in New York. It is an apparently off-the-cuff ramble through his thinking at that moment, with Deschooling Society having been published and read widely and the ideas that would soon appear in Tools for Conviviality still being formulated.

A friend provided us with a recording of this talk with the title "Overgrowth," and that, indeed, is its main theme -- the "cancerous" overgrowth of institutions and "our toolkit," as Illich calls it. He analyzes this unbalance along six dimensions: pollution, monopoly, addiction, polarization, lawlessness, and dysfunctionality.

He starts off, though, by discussing schooling, and he pushes his argument well beyond what he had laid out in Deschooling Society. Many people discussing that book, at least as seen on the Web these days, fail to recognize that Illich's analysis of education continued to deepen well after the book's publication in 1970. It wasn't long before he'd come to realize, with help from discussing things with Wolfgang Sachs and other students, that as compulsory school was losing its legitimacy, the educational establishment, or industry, was scrambling to find other ways of plying its services -- of keeping itself in business, essentially. As he states here, his fear was that "more subtle ways of education can be financed and become acceptable. For instance, teachers can escape the classroom and bother us like mosquitos all during our lifetimes, just as doctors now can tell us all day long what we have to do." By 1976, Illich had co-authored a book titled Imprisoned in the Global Classroom.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conversation with Sajay Samuel - "Rehoming Society: Ivan Illich & the Vernacular"

A couple of years ago, we noted that a man named Dougald Hine, associated with a British organization called The Dark Mountain Project, had interviewed Sajay Samuel about "the vernacular." A recording of their conversation remains available at the Dark Mountain site, for listening on the Web or for downloading in MP3 format.

Now, it has come to our attention that a transcript of the conversation is available, as well, right here, at Hine's own website. The title is "Rehoming Society: Ivan Illich & the Vernacular." Some of Sajay's words have not been written down with complete accuracy, a brief listen reveals, but the gist of his utterances remains intact.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.