Jacques Ellul: A Hopeful Pessimist

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Jacques Ellul died on May 19. The Washington Post noted his passing in a few scant paragraphs. It went unnoticed here in Detroit. Sojourners could readily devote an issue to him—and did just that in June 1977, acknowledging a debt to his thought and witness. He tutored many of us in theology and social history.

Personally, I was introduced to Ellul’s writing as a seminarian through Dan Berrigan, who was then reading the signs of the time with the Book of Revelation in one hand and Jacques Ellul’s Presence of the Kingdom (1948) in the other. Presence was Ellul’s postwar manifesto—and nearly five decades later it still rings true with an uncanny discerning prescience.

Removed as a professor of law by the Vichy government in 1940, he spent World War II in the French Resistance, spiriting Jews to safety. His postwar take on the times? Hitler won the war. The Nazi spirit triumphed. The atom bomb was emblem of the necessary "fact," the apotheosis of technique—of means overwhelming and supplanting ends.

In this terrible dance of means which have been unleashed, no one knows where we are going, the end has been left behind. Humanity has set out at tremendous speed—to go nowhere....Everything that "succeeds," everything that is effective, everything in itself "efficient," is justified.

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Sojourners Magazine August 1994
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