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Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2002 13:38:57 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Ivan Illich, 76, Philosopher Who Challenged Status Quo, Is Dead
Ivan Illich, 76, Philosopher Who Challenged Status Quo, Is Dead
New York Times
December 4, 2002
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Ivan Illich, a onetime Roman Catholic priest who, through a steady flow of
books and articles preached counterintuitive sociology to a disquieted
baby-boom generation, died on Monday at his home in Bremen, Germany. He was 76.
Celia Samerski, a student of his at the University of Bremen, said the
specific cause of death was not known. She said he also had a home in
Mr. Illich was perhaps best known for his 1971 book, "De-Schooling
Society," which protested mandatory public education and the
institutionalization of learning. Along with works like Paul Goodman's,
"Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society," published
in 1960, it provided grist for a society's growing ambivalence about
educational institutions and much else.
Mr. Illich was a priest who thought there were too many priests, a lifelong
educator who argued for the end of schools and an intellectual sniper from
a perch with a wide view. He argued that hospitals cause more sickness than
health, that people would save time if transportation were limited to
bicycles and that historians who rely on previously published material
His intellectual ordnance of anarchist panache, hatred of bureaucracy,
Jesuitic argumentation, deep reverence for the past and watered-down
Marxism, was applied to many targets, including relations between the
sexes. More often than not, his conclusions were startling: he thought life
was better for women in pre-modern times.
Critics often picked holes in his complex, verbose arguments, but not a few
hailed them as illuminating critiques of large problems. Anatole Broyard,
writing in The New York Times in 1971, said that his nitpicks were "like
criticizing the grammar of someone who has just delivered a speech that
gave us goose pimples."
But after his 1970's heyday, interest in Mr. Illich's ideas appeared to
wane. Speaking invitations declined, and even some that still came dripped
with nostalgia: Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland, who was called Governor
Moonbeam when he was governor of California and consorted with
out-of-the-box thinkers like R. Buckminster Fuller and Mr. Illich, invited
him to a conference in 2000.
By 1989, Mr. Broyard wrote in an article about winnowing books from his
library that he would "especially" discard Mr. Illich's works.
Mr. Illich was born on Sept. 4, 1926, in Vienna. He is survived by two
brothers, Micha, of Manhattan. and Sascha, of Nantucket, Mass.
His father, a civil engineer, descended from Dalmatian royalty. His mother
was a Sephardic Jew, and Ivan was expelled from a school in Vienna in 1941
because of her background. He went on to study in Florence and Rome and in
Salzburg, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the historian Arnold
Mr. Illich came to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in 1952
after being ordained as a priest in Rome. He particularly attended to the
needs of Puerto Ricans, helping establish an employment agency among other
things. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine in 1970, the Rev. John
Connolly, one of his colleagues, called him "their Babe Ruth."
The article said that early in his career as a priest, Father Illich began
to criticize the church for "its smugness, its bureaucracy and its
chauvinism." But his energy and intellect propelled him to the position of
vice rector of the Catholic University of Ponce in Puerto Rico. He was
forced out in 1960 for opposing the local bishop's forbidding of Catholics
to vote for a governor who advocated state-sponsored birth control.
After being recalled briefly to New York, he was assigned to Cuernavaca, a
small city 50 miles west of Mexico City where he established the
Intercultural Center for Documentation to teach priests and laymen who
wanted to become Latin American volunteers.
Mr. Illich's criticisms of church doctrine ranged beyond his advocacy of
birth control, and in 1969 he was branded "politically immoral" by the
Vatican and left the priesthood.
Among other things, he disagreed with the church policy of increasing the
number of priests in Latin America. He believed that the church could be
revived only by lay people, a populist view that he later applied first to
education and then to other institutions.
"Illich is not against schools or hospitals as such, but once a certain
threshold of institutionalization is reached, schools make people more
stupid, while hospitals make them sick," wrote Matthias Finger and Jose
Manuel Asu'n in "Adult Education at the Crossroads: Learning Our Way Out"
(Zed Books, 2001).
"And more generally, beyond a certain threshold of institutionalized
expertise, more experts are counterproductive ^× they produce the counter
effect of what they set out to achieve," they continued.
Mr. Illich's sweeping conclusions struck some readers as too sweeping, and
others as plain wrong. Peter Sparkman in The New York Times Book Review in
1971 criticized "De-Schooling Society" as not only "a mind-bending litany
of abstraction" but as a distraction from schools' all too real problems.
He called it "an exceedingly bad book written by an exceedingly good man."
But Mr. Illich relished surprise, and his ideas almost always did. "We must
have a sarcastic readiness for all surprises," he said in The New Yorker
interview, "including the ultimate surprise of death."
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