Ivan Illich as An Esoteric Writer


 (Recently I send the Penn State Press a lengthy manuscript of a book about the life and thought of Ivan Illich. Because of its length, I had to cut a number of sections that I wrote after the main body of the text was already complete. They deal with subjects that I felt had been left out or inadequately treated. Aside from occasional blind references to the book from which they have been excised, I think they are well enough able to stand on their own to justify my presenting them here. This is one of those sections. It draws on, and, in places, overlaps with my review essay on Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy Between the LInes which I have also posted.)  

In his book The Prophet of Cuernavaca, historian Todd Hartch has argued that, in most of the writings Ivan Illich published after he withdrew from Church service in 1969, Illich dissimulated his true purpose.  “Most of his teaching and writing,” Hartch asserts, “had a hidden purpose.”  Hartch goes on to speak of “an encoded theology,” of his having “camouflaged his theology,” and of his use of “social and political critique as a sort of code.”  He argues further that this obscure motive resulted in a “lack of lucidity.  “Many of his friends and supporters longed for the day when he would produce a clear, direct and simple speech or text, but he never did.”  Some of them “lacked the theological background” to even “engage the religious side of his argument.”[1] 

Hartch’s understanding, in my opinion, is partial, obtuse and strangely blunted.  For example, the very authors Hartch uses to reproach and correct Illich – most notably Vincent Donovan and Lamin Sanneh – seem to me, on the contrary, to be in fairly exact consonance with Illich.  I have written, at length, about this elsewhere and will not go into it further here.[2]  But this does not mean, of course, that Hartch is entirely wrong.  He quotes Illich himself as saying, in a speech to the Thomas More Association in Chicago in 1970, that, “My only reason personally, intimately, for moving into analysis of the school was in order to provide an analysis for what really happened to the church.”[3]  Later, in conversation with me in 1988, he simplifies the same idea into what is almost a caricature.  “The key for what I have written in my life,” he says, lies in his attempt “to walk beneath the nose of God.”  If people want to understand Deschooling Society, he goes on, “let them look for Thomas Luckmann’s book The Invisible Religion, and they’ll see where it all began.  When he speaks about ‘church’ and ‘faith,’ I simply put in ‘school’ and ‘education’.”[4]  The advice to go back to Luckmann’s book is good – the two men came from a very similar Yugoslavian/Austrian background, and Luckmann’s work certainly influenced Illich – but the idea that Deschooling Society is simply a coded analysis of the Church, with the words mechanically altered, is, at best, a pointed joke, and, at worst, a red herring.  In the first place, as I have already pointed out, Deschooling Society is quite explicit both about the ritual and liturgical character of schooling, and about the fact that the school is “a World church”.  To confuse “equal educational opportunity” with “obligatory schooling,” Illich says, is “to confuse salvation with the Church.”[5] Indeed, the whole argument of the book that school must be “dis-established” implies that the compulsory school is a displaced church, which illegitimately claims privileges long since denied to other churches.   Readers may not have grasped the point, but this does not mean that the argument is coded.  Illich’s love for the church certainly provided what he calls the “intimate” reason for his analysis of schooling, but that does not at all mean that the only reason to analyze schooling is to shed light on the Church.   

My point here is that schooling warrants analysis as a contemporary religious ritual, and that’s what Illich provided.  Insofar as the school spells out what the church began – salvation by catechism; learning as a product of teaching; the institutional container confused with the content – analysis of schools may also shed light on the church.  But the school is where the action is for most people.  It’s the institution that represents the ideology of the “church militant” in its currently effective form.  To claim that Illich is doing something “coded” or “camouflaged” in examining hospitals and highways, schools and prisons is to fail grasp his idea that these are the actual outworkings of a Christian ideology, an ideology which can’t be understood without facing these institutions.  The Church can neither be understood nor changed without understanding these modern extensions of the church project.   Illich may have been more explicit in his late interviews with me, and in some of his late lectures, but, in my opinion,  he never, at any time, disguised or camouflaged “his hypothesis that modernity can be studied as an extension of church history.”[6]  If he indicated what is wrong with the church in showing what is wrong with the ideology of compulsory mass education, so much the better, but the fault in this ideology must  be recognized as a real and present emergency, not just as a cipher for the church.  Once it is understood that the school, as its extension, is the church, then the exposure of the church-like element in schooling, which was he task Illich explicitly set himself, becomes a crucial undertaking in itself.  There is no camouflage.  Illich is not doing hidden theology – he’s doing theology right out in the open, only on terms so new that most of his contemporaries couldn’t recognize what he was up to. 

This said, Hartch still raises a question about Illich’s mode of writing that I would like to consider.   Illich’s purposes may not be so hidden, camouflaged or coded as Hartch supposes, but this does rule out the possibility that they are still things going on “between the lines.”[7] Illich wrote, first of all, for occasions – there was no sense of a philosopher or a theologian building a system or expounding his thought for its own sake.  He called himself a pamphleteer, and, even when he produced original scholarship, as I think he did in his In the Vineyard of the Text with his analysis of the 12th century paleographic revolution that led to “the visible text,” he disclaimed any intention of making “a learned contribution,” saying rather that his purpose was to shed light on the contemporary transition from text to hyper-text.[8] Most of his books or essays were produced by a request, an invitation, or a sense of public emergency – in short, a call.  This is already a stringent restriction.  It doesn’t belie the powerful enthusiasm with which he wrote and taught, but it does imply a lifelong effort to discern what “the times” asked of him and to stick to that. 

In Illich’s book The Church, Change and Development, he begins with an “Author’s Note,” which takes the form of a letter to Jim Morton, then the director of the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission.  The Urban Training Center was an institution with which Illich had been closely connected – he speaks in his letter of “us at the UTC” – and Morton, later the dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, was a friend.  Illich tells Morton, in this letter, that each of the papers in the book was “meant for an audience…people into whose faces I could look.”  He goes on to express the hope that readers will understand that they are now holding a book of essays – he says “gropings” – that have been abstracted from these unique contexts and made deceptively permanent.  This was a lifelong preoccupation.  In our radio interviews in 1988, he speaks of what we are doing as “a public intercourse exhibition” and says that he is willing to display himself to strangers in front of the “keyhole” represented by my microphone only out of love for me.”[9]  Later he speaks of the radio documentaries I will eventually compose as “this mosaic we’re making out of stones broken from readings and writings which were set in a different context.”[10]   At the end of the 1997 interviews that make up the main text of The Rivers North of the Future, he is still marveling, ruefully, that “totally unknown people, perhaps after my death, will listen to these voices” and think to know us by our “digitalized utterance[s] without ever seeing “our faces or the changes in your smile or frown.”[11]   

Illich, at least in aspiration, was an oralist who deprecated an “acoustic climate” in which “the spoken word” and its “place engendering power” is drowned out by the recorded, amplified and broadcast voice.  In a paper called “The Environmental Threat to the Survival of the Voice,” he says…  

For a quarter of a century, I have tried to avoid using a microphone, even when addressing a large audience.  I use it only when I’m on a panel, or when the architecture of the auditorium is so modern that it silences the naked voice.  I refuse to made into a loudspeaker.  I refuse to address people who are beyond the reach of my voice.  I refuse to address people who are put at an acoustic disadvantage during the question period because of my access to a microphone.  I refuse, because I treasure the balance between auditory and visual presence, and reject the phony intimacy which arises from the distant speaker’s overpowering “whisper.”[12] 

There is an element of bravado here – a hostile reader might even say hypocrisy – from a man whose reputation was built on the world-wide dissemination of his voice and image through modern media.  Illich could not have possibly intervened in “public discussion” in the way he did, nor entertained the hope he expressed in his writings of the 1970’s that a “political majority” could be assembled for his proposals to deschool, decelerate, and demedicalize, had he not been able to throw his voice far beyond its “naked” capability.  Still I take him seriously.  I have seen too many people fall under the mystifying spell of “the distant speaker’s overpowering whisper” not to.  As with so many of Illich’s provocations, I think he has to be seen as offering a way of thinking, which can potentially begin to change the balance between ethereal voices and actual ones, rather than a rule of conduct or a pat solution to a “problem.”  But I quote the passage here to point to his preference for the dialogic and interpersonal over the amplified and de-contextualized word.[13]  

In Plato’s critique of writing in Phaedrus, Socrates says, “Once a thing is put in writing, the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn’t know how to address the right people and not address the wrong.”[14]  This is the classic objection to writing as inert, frozen speech, abstracted from all occasions, and too easily made into an idol or oracle.  Illich, I think largely agreed with it, though perhaps he also recognized the force of the New Testament parable of the sower in which the word is broadcast widely even though it only occasionally falls into “good soil.”[15]  I can remember him once saying to my wife Jutta, with equal parts of gravity and playfulness, “Think of all the harm I did with my books” – a remark that may me think ruefully of all the times I was told that a radio broadcast of mine had said something quite different than what I had thought (and intended).   Written words, as Plato says, “drift all over” and their author cannot come to their aid when they are “ill-treated or abused.”  Illich had two responses to this difficulty.  One was the view that texts are only valuable and useful as starting points.  In his letter to Jim Morton, when he speaks of each essay as a deliverance to “people into whose faces I could look,” he goes on to say that each one “attempted to question the value of a context within which we think, rather than…to state and solve a puzzle .”  To successfully question a context of thought, he goes on, does not mean either that we have solved a problem or generated a definitive “new paradigm.”  Rather we have “open[ed] a horizon on which new paradigms for thought can appear.”  He compares this opening of new horizons to leav[ing] home on a pilgrimage,” and not “the pilgrimage of the West which leads over a travelled road to a famed sanctuary,” but rather the pilgrimage of the Christian East which does not know where the road might lead and the journey end.”  His second response was to compose his texts with extraordinary care and to write in a poetically condensed style that resisted easy misappropriation.  His sentences were intended as seeds, not as elements of a system.   

Another difficulty that Illich faced in writing, particularly after 1969, was that he addressed audiences in which most did not share his Christian faith.  Late in his life he was surprised one day in his class in Bremen to discover that almost none of those present could recognize the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” from the Lord’s Prayer – the prayer with which Jesus answered his disciples request that he “teach [them] to pray.”[16]  This was so striking that he actually took a survey and discovered that only seventeen of the two hundred people present were familiar with the prayer.[17]  But even from the beginning of his experiment in priesthood outside the Church, he set himself the task of making arguments intelligible to those who did not share his faith.  This is why I insist so vehemently that he did not have, as Hartch supposes, “a hidden purpose.”  He may have been, as his friend Lee Hoinacki said, “doing theology in a new way,” but this newness consisted in subjecting modern institutions to a theologically-informed analysis which recognized their liturgical, myth-making character, not in writing in ciphers accessible only to those who had sent away for the secret decoder ring.[18]  Nevertheless Illich’s attempt “to write as an historian curious about the undeniable historical consequences of Christian belief,” rather than as an apostle sharing his faith did impose certain restrictions on him. 

Once when Illich was staying with his friends Sajay Samuel and Samar Farage in State College, Pennsylvania, he received a visit from Islamic scholar William Chittick, also a friend.  During an evening’s conversation, Chittick asked Illich why he had not been listened to.   The question passed but, during the night, Illich later told Samuel, he woke up laughing.  If he had not been listened to anyway, then what had been the point of his conscientious effort to construct his arguments without reference to his faith.[19]  This was how he saw matters at a certain moment, and I do not at all want to deny that this was profound laughter, as Illich told Samuel it was – the divine humour is deep, and Illich more than once compared spiritual intuition to “getting” a joke.  But I think there is another way of looking at it.  Illich, in an early essay, called “The American Parish” criticized “the lack of missionary spirit” among his fellow Catholics.  “If Catholics every lose their concern for those who do not have God,” he wrote, “they lose also their charity.”[20] This couldn’t be clearer: charity demands that faith be shared.  I don’t think Illich ever thought otherwise.  But faith is only real insofar as it is enacted, and it can be enacted without being professed.  Real prophets are distinguished from false prophets “by their fruits,” Jesus says.[21] His faith, in this sense, was implicit in everything Illich did.  Part of the issue here is the prevalent picture of religions as exclusive clubs which provide “identity” to those who hold a membership card.  Religion is further understood to be a matter of belief i.e. it is sustained by an irrational conviction which must be kept out of the public sphere where evidence and rational argument supposedly obtain.   And religions, finally, are thought to be in competition, each prosecuting its truth claim against the incompatible truth claims of the other religions – a competition liable at any moment to degenerate into violence.  But Illich was not a very religious man – his friend Barbara Duden once joked, with me, that she had never known anyone less religious.  By religion, of course, she meant scrupulosity, ritualism, concern for doctrinal niceties, and hypocritical piety, not faith.  But she is right.  Illich had a remarkably open and ecumenical understanding of what it meant to practice Christian faith.  He once laid it out as follows: 

…the kingdom is a social reality at a transcendental level. Hence, it cannot be communicated except by means of a communitarian and fraternal form-of-life. Historically,
Jesus did so. And today I cannot do this but by means of communion of faith and messianic hope of a fraternal community. The transmission of faith is the result of testimony, and not of conceptual teaching; it is the result of the fulfillment of the kingdom in the heart of the witness with which the neophyte can identify; it is not the fruit of the intellectual conviction that can be attained by means of great doctrine. The Christian dogmas have the same role as the dogmas of Huineng or the Sufis; they are negations that exclude the intrusion of myth in the search of mystery.[22]

Doctrine here is given a crucial but still merely prophylactic and regulatory role.  The emphasis is on celebration and on personal encounter.  It is a real question, I think, whether such celebration must be called Christian in order to be Christian.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”[23]  Many people entered into communion with Ivan Illich without being able to make the same doctrinal affirmations that he did.  This was his very point, quoted above, about the blessing of living in a time when hope has no cosmological “scaffold”: it turns us towards one another.  

One further aside here on religion: Simone Weil speaks of atheism as a “purification.” The term has multiple meanings in her thought.  She speaks first in the sense in which Meister Eckhart says, “I pray God to rid me of God” i.e. an achieved image of God is always already an idol.  Weil says… 

A case of contradictories which are true: God exists; God does not exist.  Where is the problem?  I am quite sure that there is a God in the sense that I am quite sure my love is not illusory.  I am quite sure that there is not a God in the sense that I am quite sure nothing real can be anything like what I am able to conceive when I pronounce this word.  But that which I cannot conceive is not an illusion.[24] 

This is from the perspective of the “believer” who must endlessly resist the action of what Weil calls “imagination which fills the void.”  From the perspective of the professed atheist, she says, “Of two men who have no experience of God, he who denies him is perhaps nearer to him than the other.” i.e. the believer who inherits Christianity as part of his mental and spiritual furniture may be farther from God from the atheist who tells the truth about his experience.   And finally she says that “religion insofar as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith.”  To “religion as…consolation,” one could also add religion as the handmaiden of political power, religion as the disguise for punitive emotions, religion as moral posturing etc.  This does not exhaust the question of religion, and I don’t want to pretend to have done so, but, insofar, as religion and faith stand opposed, the mass departure from religion in our time can be understood as a kind of purification.  The shadow of this move into a society that increasingly deems itself “spiritual but not religious” is the danger that faith will be buried in the rubble of a collapsing church. 

My point here is to encourage readers to look for faith, not explicit religion, in Illich’s work.  Notwithstanding his laugh on himself in the night, or his retrospective sense that he ought to have been explicit about his commitments, I think Illich’s work can be seen in the light of his attempt to “live today the ordinary life of tomorrow’s priest.”  This phrase comes from an essay in Celebration of Awareness, called “The Vanishing Clergyman.”   In it, he speaks tentatively.  “May we pray,” he asks, for “courageous priests…willing to risk misunderstanding and suspension,” for priests “who leave the Church in order to pioneer the church of the future?”  This essay was first drafted in 1959, ten years before the hostility and incomprehension of his superiors turned Illich into one of those pioneering priests.  Illich speaks of this new vocation as the expression of a radical “secularization” which is overtaking the church, but one might also speak, cautiously, about the emergence of a “post-religious” church.  In either case, there is an understanding that the modern constitution, in which religion occupies its own airtight compartment, has collapsed, and “Christianity” must return to the mountainsides, market places and dining rooms in which the Gospels locate it and be understood, if it is to be understood at all, simply as truth and not as some set-apart religious truth.  This, I think, is the context in which Illich is to be read as a Christian writer. 

The nature of “the kingdom,” Illich says, can only be “communicated…by means of a fraternal [and one might add, sororal] form-of-life.”  The church, insofar as it had confused its purpose as the guardian of a tradition and a mystery with its “visibility” as an institution, had substituted itself for the actual practice of this form-of-life.  Just as labour is alienated in its products, according to Marx, so salvation, as the practice of the kingdom right here, right now, was alienated in the Church.  (In an address given in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in 2009, Giorgio Agamben speaks of the Church’s “incessant deferral of the Last Judgment,” by which he means that the church has substituted administered salvation for messianic hope.[25])  The difficulty intensifies with the emergence of the metastasized churches and secular clerisies of “The Age of Disabling Professions,” as Illich once tried to name our time.[26]  The Incarnation reveals, according to Illich, that our highest possibility consists in our freedom to love and form Samaritan-like relationships.  This is the pearl of great price for which everything else can be given up.  (“…the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant…seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it.”[27])  Modern institutions block this possibility in various ways – above all, by substituting themselves for the good they promise.  It follows that Illich’s efforts to mock the pretensions and undermine the foundations of these institutions, etc. was missionary, even if it was not explicitly apologetic.  Institutions claim independence of individual persons – they will accomplish what charity demands punctually and reliably without reference to the personal dispositions of the people who staff the institutions. You will still have gained an “education,” even your schooling never exposes you to a single gifted teacher, and every question that is answered is a question you never asked.  Salvation is not just “confused” with the church – it becomes a product of the Church, a place you can’t get to by any other road.  The thing itself is obscured by its counterfeits, and so completely obscured that desire for the thing may be extinguished.  A majority leaves school, not just with a head full of knowledge that will be quickly forgotten because it answers no curiosity and therefore has no place to attach, but as confirmed anti-intellectuals who in future will resist and resent what was prematurely imposed on them.   

It seems to me a preeminently “Christian” task to criticize such institutions, not in order to inculcate Christianity, but in order to prevent people from being made immune to surprise.  What surprise can there be, where all roads are mapped, all predicaments provided for, all tasks assigned to the competent authorities, and all questions answered before they are asked?  And without the capacity for surprise, how can one be open to an event that occurs “as a surprise, remains a surprise and could not exist as anything else” – God’s Incarnation?   My point is that institutionalization, once its passes into “paradoxical counter-productivity” and begins to saturate social space, not only hides sin but blocks awareness of the presence of God.  It follows that Ilich’s iconoclastic task in his institutional critiques of the 1970’s was fully within the missionary purpose that he says is a desideratum of Christian charity.  (“If Catholics every lose their concern for those who do not have God, they lose also their charity.”[28])   This missionary purpose, in my opinion, never ceased to inform and govern Illich’s writing. 

I have argued that Illich writes under various constraints and determinations: as an oralist suspicious of writing’s unresponsive immobility; as a Christian iconoclast, bent on clearing away idols; and as a missionary who wants to make the good news audible by reducing the noise that currently drowns it out.  All these are implicit purposes that will be evident to readers according to their understanding and disposition.  I don’t want to write a reception history of Deschooling Society, but I think it is clear enough that the full scope of the work was appreciated by very few readers at the time.  If Illich was, as Hoinacki says, “doing theology in a new way,” then few initially recognized the genre.  But this does not argue an esoteric or hidden purpose so much as a novel one.  We have seen that Illich believed, at least for a time, that what he proposed during the later 1960’s and early 1970’s might have been accepted by a political majority: that deschooling, technological limits, reduced speeds and demedicalization were not only necessary by possible.  But one can see in retrospect that this was not true.  The times were wild and unsettled – there was a genuine leaning towards “making a new society, right now”[29] – but accounts of what exactly was ending, and, even more, of what was beginning were so various, so partial, and often so primitive that the consensus Illich briefly imagined was completely out of reach.  It’s reversing my field somewhat to say so, but this, in a funny way, argues that Illich’s most celebrated writings were, in fact, more esoteric than the people who thought they understood them at the time ever recognized.  It wasn’t necessarily Illich’s intention to address the future – “to hell with the future,,” isn’t much of a motto, if that’s your hope – but his arguments rested on foundations that are clearer today, at least to me, than they were fifty years ago.   

But is Illich an esoteric writer in any other pertinent sense?  The answer to that question, I think, depends on a clarification on the highly problematic term esoteric.  This word is the accepted term of art for writing that disguises some part of its purpose or hopes to be understood in different ways by different readers.  The trouble is that, for most contemporary readers, the word connotes something arcane, out of the way, and not worth bothering about.  Such is our commitment to plain speech, majority rule, and the ability of scientific and instrumental reason to illuminate all important questions, that the very word we use for writing that is in any way subtle, layered or indirect rules it out of bounds a priori.  One needs to remember therefore that what was formerly called esoteric writing dealt with the highest and most difficult questions and not with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – the example that has been used to parody scholasticism for hundreds of years.[30] 

In his 1952 book, Persecution and the Art of Writing, political theorist Leo Strauss argued that since philosophy lives by questioning and unmasking conventional wisdom, philosophers have always had to practice a defensive “art of writing” which hides the scandal and offense they would otherwise give to popular opinion.  Only in very recent times has the idea arisen that a harmony is possible between the ideal and the real, and that militant intellectuals have the vocation to realize this harmony.  (Marx gives the classic formulation in his Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”)   Strauss’s book, in time, scandalized the political left and became part of his reputation, in left-wing circles, as a sinister elitist, the godfather of neo-conservatism, and the inspiration for a conspiratorial band of “Straussians” bent on transforming American foreign policy.[31]  More recently, in a wonderfully lucid book called Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost Art of Esoteric Writing, American political thinker, Arthur Melzer, has revived, clarified and extended Strauss’s argument.  He argues, in brief, that it is impossible to understand the history of political thought without appreciating that from Plato’s time right through the end of the 18th century all philosophical writers wrote esoterically, though they may not have always called it that.   Erasmus, condemning the destructive effect of his contemporary Luther’s combativeness and intemperance, says mildly, “A prudent steward will husband the truth.”  Truth, Erasmus says, has “a bitter taste for most people” and will only subvert the accepted order of things to no good end when “poured out all at once,” as Luther has done in his “torrent of pamphlets.”[32] Plato, in one of his letters, considers the pleasing and tempting prospect of writing “a treatise…for the general public.”  “What finer achievement would there be,” he asks, “than to write a work of great benefit to all mankind and to bring the nature of things to light for all men?” But no, he concludes, this would not be good, for the result would be “to excite in some an unjustified contempt,” while others would be filled with “lofty and vain hopes.”[33] 

Melzer provides a compelling tapestry of quotations which show the argument of Plato and Erasmus to be the common opinion until the 18th century, when the question of human perfectibility moves from the religious into the political sphere, and opinion divides – to paraphrase Lincoln – as to how many of the people can be fooled for how much of the time.  One of the most interesting of these quotations is from Goethe.  Writing to a friend in 1811, he says: “I have always considered it an evil, indeed a disaster, which, in the second half of the previous century, gained more and more ground, that one no longer drew a distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric.[34]   From the time at which Goethe wrote one can trace a history in which distaste for the esoteric becomes steadily more visceral.  The idea that everybody should be exposed to everything at all times gathers speed until it culminates in the strange a-sociality of “social media” in which each one is their own broadcasting station.  The metaphor of enlightenment becomes literal in the seemingly irrresistible belief that progress consists in shining the light of publicity into every corner and relentlessly making the private public until the very distinction is in tatters.   

There remain holdouts among the poets and philosophers.  Jacques Derrida will still profess “a taste for the secret”; Emily Dickinson will still say, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”;  Robert Frost that “Heaven gives its glimpses only to those/ Not in position to look too close.; T.S. Eliot that “human kind cannot bear very much reality” [35]  But what I would like to point out here, before returning to the question of the genre in which Illich writes, is how very inept and outmoded the very distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric now seems.  This is not to say that there are not philosophers who dissimulate their purposes, or veil some elements of their doctrine, but only that this is the mere tip of the iceberg.  My essential point is that all writing is, to some extent esoteric writing.  This is most obviously true for people who can’t read at all, but it remains true even as one’s reading grows more sophisticated and discerning.  There is no one for whom some branch of literature, be it only the literature of quantum physics or Melanesian marriage customs, is not esoteric.  And there is another sense in which all writing is esoteric as well: all writing of any ambition is bound to be misunderstood, as any writer will tell you.  Its meaning is hidden whether the writer wishes it or not.  “That is not it all/ That is not what I meant at all,” T.S. Eliot writes in his “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”[36]  Illich’s joke about the harm he did with his books plays on the same idea: you may think you are calling, quite precisely and explicitly, for the disestablishment of compulsory schooling, but this will not prevent the majority of your readers from concluding that what you are against is schools as such, and not the extraordinary constitutional privilege they currently enjoy.  There is no frictionless transmission of meaning from one mind to another, and control, always partial, of potential misunderstanding will always be a great part of the writer’s art.  Erasmus’s reproach to Luther can be cited in support of esoteric writing, but he is not asking Luther to write in invisible ink, or even in veiled figures. He is asking him to be more prudent, more discreet, more reticent in order to limit the endless trouble he is stirring up with his belligerent “Here I stand, I can do no other” attitude. [37]  Esoteric doesn’t seem to me a helpful word for this elementary caution, especially now that the word is widely understood to refer to the practice of philosophers able to secretly instruct the initiated while at the same time mollifying the uninitiated.   

Written words, as Plato says, “drift all over the place,” never knowing where they are, powerless to correct the reader who misconstrues them.  Every word sets off a cascade of associations, which will necessarily differ from reader to reader.  One doesn’t have to contemplate the interference patterns created by these waves of association for long before it begins to seem miraculous that we understand each other at all.  In addition written language, simply by having been put in a fixed form, is reified – it becomes stupid, inert and unresponsive to its reader, an absence masquerading as a presence.  It was for this reason that Heidegger first suggested the practice, later deployed more extensively by Jacques Derrida, of writing “under erasure” i.e. crossing out a word so that it remains legible under the erasure, and in that way giving a graphic representation of the fact that every word belies itself.  This is why I say that willful and artful concealment of one’s full meaning, though it may sometimes occur, is neither the most interesting nor the most pertinent aspect of the question of writing as it presents itself today. 

All texts are esoteric because all true teachings are contradictory.  “Those who know do not tell/ Those who tell do not know,” says the Tao Te Ching, but the saying occurs in the midst of the book’s seeming attempt to tell what cannot be told.[38]  The Gospels evince the same problem, surprising as it may be to think of Jesus of Nazareth as a practitioner of what Melzer calls “philosophical esotericism”.   Jesus was, to begin with, an oralist.  Like Socrates, he committed none of his teachings to writing.  He was also careful what he said and where he said it.  He taught in stories, explaining to his disciples that “the secret of the kingdom” was granted to them while “to those who are outside everything comes in parables.”[39]  He warned against casting “pearls before swine” lest “they [the swine] turn and rend you.”[40]  After quizzing the disciples about who they thought he was, and receiving the answer from Peter that he is the Christ, he enjoined him to tell no one about it.[41]  Likewise when he was transfigured with Moses and Elijah, he warned Peter, James and John to keep the whole story to themselves.[42]  Later, the apostle Paul also adjusted his doctrine to his audience, telling the Corinthians that, at first, he fed them on milk because they were not yet ready for solid food.[43]  Examples could be multiplied, but it seems clear enough that there are abundant traces in the gospels of a teacher well aware of the dangers full disclosure might pose to himself and others.  There is also a contradiction between this esoteric practice, and the triumphalist strain in which trumpeting angels unfurl banners and shout the good news from the skies.  A similar contradiction exists between the prudent teacher who practices protective esotericism, and the anointed one whose death is inevitable and whose passion has been entirely foretold. (“All this happened,” Matthew says, “to fulfill the prophecies in scripture.”[44]) Arguably this tension continued in Christianity once it began to be formulated as a religion.  Earlier I quoted Simone Weil’s view that the Resurrection was a doctrine that ought to have put forward only with the greatest tact, discretion and reserve i.e. esoterically.  Instead it was shouted from the rooftops, though tellingly not in the Gospels themselves.  The Gospel of Mark, in its earliest redaction, ends with the women returning from the empty tomb in “trembling and astonishment” and saying “nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” All four Gospels make it clear that there is a connection between faith and the ability to perceive the risen Lord – he does not appear in the market, the Temple, or Pilate’s court – and, even when he condescends to let “doubting Thomas” feel the wound in his side, he makes it clear that it would have been better to have believed without such evidence.[45]  For Weil, the “theology of glory” which proclaimed the resurrection as a triumphant happy ending and a universal destiny was a travesty, a denaturing of the bitter truth of the crucifixion.  She affirmed the resurrection but only when hedged with the recognition of all the damage such an idea could do when treated as the sign of the Christian religion’s triumphant destiny i.e. made exoteric.  

I am trying to expand the idea of the esoteric here to include the need, particularly in writing that will “drift all over the place,” for tact, discretion, reserve and a sense of occasion.  My intention is not to salvage the word esoteric, but rather to prevent a larger discussion about the terms on which human beings are perfectible from being unduly narrowed by the unfortunate connotations of secrecy, conspiratorial elitism, or arcane subtlety that this word now carries.  In the meanwhile, I will continue to use it, in order to keep my presentation unified and join it to the view of Strauss and Melzer that the history of philosophy cannot be grasped without reference to esoteric writing.   Let me now try to make a link with Illich.  Illich claimed that the Incarnation, which he regarded as the supreme good, was accompanied by a proportionate danger which he dared, at the end of his life, to call anti-Christ: the danger that the unprecedented  freedom promised to a forgiven and redeemed humanity in the New Testament will be recoined by “those who organize Christianity” as “an entirely new kind of power.”[46]  Implied is the idea that this explosive Gospel ought to have been propagated only esoterically, i.e. only to those with “ears to hear” and only in the clear eyed recognition that a previously unthought and unimagined evil was its inevitable companion and complement. [47] In Illich’s way of putting it, “the Church had gone pregnant with an evil that would have found no nesting place in the old Testament.”[48]  Plato refrained from trying “to bring the nature of things to light for all men” because he thought it would either induce grandiosity and contempt or excite “lofty and vain hopes.”  How different is this from what Illich says happened when “those who organize Christianity” failed to show similar restraint?  

The early Church, Illich argues, knew that it was playing with fire.  That was why, he says, each community had prophets whose vocation was “to announce a mystery, which was that the final evil that would bring the world to an end was already present.  This evil was called Anti-Christ, and the Church was identified as the milieu in which it would nest.” I have already said that I can find little direct evidence in the New Testament for this claim, but I don’t think this matters much.  The point is that this ought to have been the infant Church’s posture, in Illich’s view.  And he is certainly right that such awareness, if it existed, had died out by the time the Church took the burden of the crumbling Roman empire on its shoulders.  It was replaced, Illich says, by what he calls “a brutal form of earnestness.”  And this earnestness was expressed not just in the loss of the idea of anti-Christ but also “in the progressive loss of the sense that the freedom for which Christ is our model and our witness is folly.”  Christianity, in becoming Christianity, lost its unworldliness, and, gradually, its ability to distinguish between what can be built, held and confidently announced, from what can only be waited for, celebrated and told, as Emily Dickinson says, “slant.”  

Illich argues that the history of the West can be summed up in the old proverb that “the corruption of the best is the worst.”  I understand his hypothesis in terms of the philosophy of complementarity that he lays out in his book Gender and in subsequent writings on the theme of “proportionality.”  A philosophy of complementarity holds, in brief, that everything in the world is defined by its opposite and has an inbuilt tendency to turn into its opposite if pushed to an extreme.   This is a principle of limitation – a way in which things check and limit each other in the social world, as they observably do in the natural world.  But it is also a principle of the imagination – it allows for a domain standing opposite to each one which can only be imagined.  And ultimately, Illich says in Gender, it is a foundational principle of metaphysics, as much as of physics.  We cannot know God directly, because God is not among the things that can be known directly, but we can recognize God analogically if we recognize an otherness in things that is always beyond our immediate reach – this is the gift of the other as other.   It is an implication of a philosophy of complementarity that written words can never set out the whole truth at once except by speaking in paradoxes and contradictions, like the Lord’s oscillating instruction in the Gospel to tell everyone/tell no one, or the Tao Te Ching’s claim, while telling, that “he who knows does not tell.”   

Esotericism can therefore be understood as an aspect of complementarity.  And, when so understood, the question of whether philosopher’s have secret doctrines becomes relatively trivial. The important thing is that some philosophers, at least, know the difference between heaven and earth, between what can be said and what cannot be said, between what the old Sufi story I cited early calls the container and content.  I would say that they understand contradiction, which is also an aspect of complementarity.  “Contradictions,” Simone Weil says, …are the criterion of the real,” the way we know that what we are confronting is not imaginary.  The cross, with its horizontal and vertical arms joined and opposed, is its symbol.  “All true good, Weil goes on “carries with it conditions which are contradictory.”  These contradictions cannot be resolved, but they can be accepted, contemplated and transcended.[49]  The virtues are often in contradiction: prudence and courage, or equanimity and justice, pull against each other.  At the highest level God is felt, Nicolas of Cusa says, as complex of opposites (coincidntia oppositorum), in which justice strains against mercy, provident care against impartiality.  Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, portrays God, at one moment as responsive concern – “everyone who asks receives” – and, at another, as serene indifference – “he makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust.” [50]  I think Illich substantially agrees with Weil, whatever distaste he may have felt for her Platonism, her masochism, her severity or whatever it was he disliked about her.  The fateful history in which the Gospel is turned “inside out” and people become, in effect, immune to their own salvation is a prime instance of contradiction or complementarity.  The Gospel itself contains this contradiction in the form of the antithetical injunctions to tell everyone and to tell no one.  The Gospel must be proclaimed/ the Gospel cannot be proclaimed is a paradox of the same kind as Weil’s “God exists/God does not exist.”[51]  Illich’s answer, always, is awareness.  Anti-Christ, in his account, is a name for awareness of the evil that must, of necessity, accompany and shadow the Incarnation.  One cannot relativize boundaries, as the Samaritan does, without endangering boundaries.  One cannot exceed the law without invoking the possibility that this excess will one day be normalized and legalized.  Corruptio optimi pessima.  But one can be aware of the possibility, and, in being aware of it, renounce it.  One can recognize limit and contradiction and, beyond them, Nemesis.  One can, as Illich says, be a fool who makes the impossible possible by not denying that it is impossible.  “Brutal earnestness” is only avoided by this dance of awareness, this attentiveness to limit, this knowledge that heaven can be, as Frost says, “glimpsed” but never grasped.  (Frost’s line is wonderfully ambiguous: it might mean that Heaven is an illusion available only to those who don’t have the misfortune of getting “too close” and, thereby, discovering the prosaic truth of the matter, or it might mean that “glimpses” are all we can know of Heaven.) 

So is Illich an esoteric writer?  Well he’s certainly full of unresolved contradictions.  He’s a mandarin and an anarchist, superbly proud and utterly humble, a critical intellectual and a prayerful pilgrim, a man of tradition and “a pioneer of the church of the future,” someone deferential to properly constituted authority and an advocate of “finding out for oneself.”  I won’t try to document these antinomies here, but evidence for all of them can be found throughout this book.  A vivid memory, for me, was meeting Illich at the Toronto airport in 1970, when he came to address a teach-in my friends and I had organized.  Canada’s prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, whom Illich already knew, had just declared martial law in Canada in response to the kidnapping by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) of the British trade consul and the Minister of Labour for the province of Quebec.  Almost everyone I knew was appalled by Trudeau’s action and had demonstrated against it.  I expressed this opposition to Illich, confident that the man I thought of as a “radical,” like me, would agree.  Instead he astonished me with a whole-hearted defence of Trudeau’s draconian policy, saying that Trudeau had been wise to apply sudden and excessive force rather than temporizing with the FLQ’s terrorism – a view that seems much more plausible to me today than it did in 1970.  Illich, seeing my discomfiture, went on to say that he was much more conservative than might appear from the vogue he was then enjoying in “progressive” circles.  (It would be a stretch to say Illich ever got much of a hearing with the New Left, insofar as it saw itself as fomenting political revolution, and therefore thought of Illich’s “institutional revolution” as “reformism,” or, worse, an apology for cutbacks in government services, but he was certainly, for a time, the darling of the devotees of cultural revolution.)  This was when he joked with me that he appeared radical, only because his orthodoxy was so antique, so total and so unfamiliar as to seem avant-garde - a harbinger of the movement that John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward and their friends, a generation later, would call “radical orthodoxy.”  Illich, when he was interviewed by Doug Lummis during the 1980’s, said that the only political labels that fitted him even partially were anarchist and what his friend Paul Goodman had called “neolithic conservatism.”[52]   

The contradictions I have mentioned confused and sometimes dismayed many of Illich’s contemporaries.  The feminists of Berkeley thought they were being bullied by a European maître à penser, when he lectured on gender there in 1982.   Francine du Plessix Gray, in her 1970 profile of Illich for The New Yorker, thought she detected in Illich’s opposition to  development “the aristocrat’s sentimental attachment – recalling Tolstoy’s – for cultures of poverty untainted by bourgeois aspiration.”[53]  Liberation theologians were put off by his insistence that the Church must remain outside politics, even while “taking the moral stance which corresponds to the vocation implied in the  Gospel.”[54]  Political radicals who were drawn to CIDOC disliked Illich’s emphasis on what he called “le bon ton …our basically correct behavior.”  “I believe in good manners,” he told du Plessix Gray, “in playing [by] the rules of the game.”[55]  Canadian scholar activist Ursula Franklin, though an admirer, thought that he “pontificated on things in which he had no participation.”  “I could identify with Illich,” she said to me once, “but I have no idea whether Illich could identify with me.”[56]  Neil Postman thought him “a mystic…a utopian…and an authoritarian.[57]  Postman claimed that deschooling was a utopia, presented as if it were a practical policy proposal, while remaining, as something that had never existed and could never exist, “invulnerable to criticism.”[58]  Tod Hartch, as we have seen, thinks he was writing a veiled theology that even his closest associates didn’t really understand.  When he died newspapers around the world printed obituaries in which he appeared, variously, as everything from a holy man to a “renowned sociologist,” a “culture critic” to a “liberation theologian.  I concluded, in my introduction to The Rivers North of the Future, that these obituaries, in their variety, showed that “the world had lost not only a brilliant intellectual but also a fabulous rumour.[59]  

These contradiction are also peppered through his writings.  Readers may sometimes wonder, once they have gotten over the fireworks, what genre they are reading.  The inept names used by the obituary writers testify to this confusion.  What confuses perhaps is the variety of his effects – he can be aphoristic, poetical, and even sarcastic, in his more polemical passages, but he can also be somewhat scholastic, in the proper sense of the medieval schoolmen who wrote in formally set out articles, questions, objections, answers etc.  Speaking of his studies of Aquinas in Jacques Maritain’s seminar in Rome in the later 1940’s, when Illich was at the Gregorian University and Maritain was the French ambassador to the Vatican, Illich told me that in Maritain’s company he “discovered Thomas as a magnificent shell.”[60]  In another place, he speaks of how Maritain’s “Gothic approach” to the texts of St. Thomas “laid the Thomistic foundation of his entire perceptual mode.”  By Gothic he specifies, “narrow, precise and extraordinarily illuminating.”[61]  I take this seriously.  The terms – shell, mode, approach – relate to form more than content, and I think there is a scaffolding of pre-modern Catholic theology in Illich.  It doesn’t derive only from Aquinas, by any means.  Less scholastic authors like Aelred of Riveaulx and Hugh of St. Victor are equally important – in Hugh’s case, perhaps more important, though it’s hard to argue that anything is more important than “the foundation of [one’s] entire perceptual mode.”  One sees this in the schematic and propositional character of many of Illich’s writings.  Subjects are broken down into clear analytical subsets.  In Tools for Conviviality, Illich first sets out the “five dimensions on which the balance of life depends, and then proceeds to the “three formidable obstacles” that stand in the way of a recovery of this balance.  Objections are anticipated and answered.  

That this formal style never, in my view, becomes pedantic is a tribute to Illich’s wit.  By wit, I mean sense of humour, certainly, but also something more – the ability to make sentences that escape or contain their own contradictions, sentences that retain all that there are not able to say as an aura, sentences that are condensed, balanced, limited and accurate.  It is a tribute also to Illich’s clairvoyant power of observation.  My wife Jutta, on first reading Gender, put down the book and asked me, in a tone of real astonishment, “How does he know these things?”  Then, on reflection, she answered herself, “He’s like a bird cocking his head this way and that to take everything in.”  His colleague and friend, Sajay Samuel, said of Gender that, from its pages, he could “see his grandmother’s house” in south India.  Illich himself recalled, sitting under the table at his grandparent’s house in Vienna, drinking in the conversation.  He sensed what was going on in his times in a way that went beyond the usual pathways of sociological analysis or “cultural criticism.”  Carl Jung supposed that each one’s encounter with the world is mediated by four functions: thinking/feeling/intuiting/sensing.[62]  I find relatively equal and balanced attention to all four in Illich’s work.  He can be, as I said, clairvoyant, leaping intuitively beyond what would seem to be the facts at hand.  But, he is at the same time a surgically precise thinker; and he never neglects the sensory and the affective dimensions of his subject.  All this creates a literary presentation that is sui generis

The best way to understand Illich, in my opinion, is as an apophatic thinker.  The word comes from Greek – apo, other than, and phanai, speak – and is used mainly in theology to refer to an approach to the divine that proceeds by negation, by saying what God is not.  Illich’s friend Lee Hoinacki was the first, I think, to locate Illich in the tradition of apophatic theology.  John McKnight, another friend of Illich’s, remembered him as saying that he wanted to engage in proscription, not prescription – terms which exactly reproduced the distinction between apophatic and cataphatic, i.e affirmative, theology.[63] Illich is not interested in describing an imagined future society or in telling people how to get to it.  He is interested in creating conditions in which the presence of God can be expressed and experience in a convivial, communal and celebratory form of life.  He did not need to invent this form of life – it was a mandate from the One who fully revealed the nature of God.  Nor did he need to teach people how to make culture.  What he felt he needed to do was to demolish the idols that he felt were dis-abling self-reliance and preventing people from making satisfying lives together.   

I believe that all of Illich’s work can be read in this light.  Each is an attempt to clear away obstacles, whether it is the school’s interference with the ability to find out for oneself, the medical system’s interference with my ability to die my own death, or technology’s replacement of vital human capacities.  Salvation is an individual matter, something no one else can anticipate, accomplish or even understand – it belongs to what Illich calls the “total otherness” which we confront in one another.[64]  One can only denounce the ideas, institutions, and techniques that interpose themselves between individuals and their salvation.  (I know salvation is a problematic word here, but I don’t think it would help if I substituted enlightenment or some other equally dubious and compromised term.  What I mean by it, roughly speaking, is what bears on the unique existence which it is mine to express and fulfill.)  The few prerogatives on which Illich insists - “to choose whom I will love and where I will love,” to seek surprises, to watch for the Lord’s passing, and listen for the voice of “him who speaks”[65] – all refer to this individual salvation – to my ability to recognize and respond to what calls to me, and might “appear arbitrary from everybody else’s point of view”[66]  All Illich could do as a writer was to denounce the conditions inhibiting salvation, in the sense I specified above, and foster the conditions favourable to it.   

I hope that, by a rather circuitous route, I have made clear what I object to in Hartch’s idea of a hidden or camouflaged theology.  I believe with Hoinacki that Illich is rather “doing theology in a new way,” a way so new that most could not recognize it as theology, and so different that Illich himself did not think that it should be called theology – his forthright declaration “I am no theologian” should make it clear enough.[67]  This, however, does not mean that he was not exercising his priesthood and “pioneer[ing] the church of the future.”  To take just one example, he says that “the ritual of schooling” casts “a spell” on those who become believers in this ritual.  Those who fall under this spell become the devotees of a religion.  One can awaken to the abundance and availability of the world God has created and revealed only by “breaking the spell,” the purpose of all Illich’s critiques.  This is an eminently evangelical undertaking, whether or not it is called a practice of theology.  There is nothing secretive about it. 

I have answered the question of whether Illich is an esoteric writer with a yes and a no.  He is esoteric, insofar as he is discreet, understands the pitfalls of written words, shapes his discourses to the occasions that present themselves, avoids all prescription, and limits himself to denouncing what prevents people from realizing their various and mysterious vocations.  Otherwise, I think his purpose is plain enough in retrospect.  He wanted to expose the tragedy of Christianity as it is enacted in the many modern institutions that interpose themselves between individuals and their salvation.

[1] Todd Hartch, The Prophet of Cuernavaca: Ivan Illich and the Crisis of the West, Oxford, 2015. p. 145 ff.

[2] http://www.davidcayley.com/blog?category=Todd+Hartch

[3] Hartch, op. cit., p. 147

[4] David Cayley, Ivan Illich in Conversation, Anansi, 1992, p. 242

[5] DS, p. 18

[6] Ivan Illich/David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future, Anansi, 2005, p. 169

[7] Arthur Melzer uses this expression as part of the title of his book, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost Art of Esoteric Writing  (University of Chicago Press, 2014)  His book helped me to think about the question of esoteric writing, and I have reviewed it here: http://www.davidcayley.com/blog?category=Philosophy+Between+Lines.  I rely on Melzer’s book in what follows and sometimes repeat whole passages from my review.

[8] This theme is addressed at length in my chapter on language.

[9] Ivan Illich in Conversation, op. cit., p. 161

[10] Ibid., p. 235

[11] The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., p. 171

[12] This paper, written in 1990, which I have in typescript, has not yet been published in English, and, unusually, does not appear to be available on the web.  Illich describes it as “the continuation of a period of gregarious rumination in the company of Mother Jerome, OSB, and Valentina Borremans.”

[13] Interpersonal, I know, is a badly damaged word, hard to separate from the idea that there exists a trainable technique of  “interpersonal communication”.  When Illich used this word with me – because, like me, he could think of no alternative – he said he did so only cautiously and reluctantly. (See The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., p. 191)

[14] Phaedrus 275e in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntingdon Cairns, Pantheon (Bollingen Series LXXI), 1961,  p 521

[15] Luke 8:4ff.  The story appears in all three synoptic Gospels.  John Durham Peters, in a book called Speaking Into the Air (Chicago, 1999) has suggested that a Platonic preference for dialogue has sometimes overshadowed and undermined the value of the “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” dissemination of the word that Jesus seems to endorse in his parable.

[16] Luke 11:1ff.

[17] The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., pp. 130-131

[18] Hoinack’s claim that Illich is “doing theology in a new way” was made in my radio series, “Part Moon, Part Travelling Salesman: Conversations with Ivan Illich,” page 32 in the transcript, which is here: http://www.davidcayley.com/transcripts/  More on secret decoder rings here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_decoder_ring

[19] Sajay Samuel told me the story.

[20] Ivan Illich, “The American Parish,” Integrity, June 1955.  (reprinted in The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings: 1955-1985, Penn State Press, 2018.)

[21] Matthew 7:16

[22] Ivan Illich, The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings: 1955-1985, op. cit., p. 87

[23] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

[24] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952, p. 103; subsequent quotes are from the same section of this book.

[25] The Church and the Kingdom, op cit., p. 40

[26] Disabling Professions, op. cit., p. 11

[27] Matthew 13: 45-46 (KJV)

[28] See note lxxx above.

[29] Ivan Illich in Conversation, op. cit., p. 213

[30] This figure goes back at least four hundred years.   In An exposition with notes vpon the first Epistle to the Thessalonians (1619), English divine William Sclater (1575-1626) claimed that scholastic philosophers occupied themselves with such pointless questions as whether angels "did occupie a place; and so, whether many might be in one place at one time; and how many might sit on a Needles point; and six hundred such like needlesse points."  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F

[31] In Canada Shadia Drury, a professor of Political Science at the University of Regina, has led the charge with Leo Strauss and the American Right (Palgrave Macmillan 1999), portraying Strauss as an advocate of “perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power.”  Among American critics, Nicolas Xenos goes so far as to find in Strauss’s teaching a nucleus of “pure fascism.”  (This charge is quoted in Strauss’s Wikipedia entry.)   I have always considered these charges against a retiring professor of philosophy, and the supposed influence of his students – the Straussians” – somewhat overblown.

[32] Melzer, op. cit., p. 270 

[33] Seventh Letter, 341, d,e, in Plato, op. cit., p. 1589

[34] Goethe to Franz Passow, Oct. 20, 1811, cited in Melzer, op. cit., p. xxi

[35] Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, Polity 2001 (first published in Italian as Il Gusto del Segreto, 1997);  Dickinson’s wonderful poem is worth quoting in full: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant —/ Success in Circuit lies/ Too bright for our infirm Delight/ The Truth's superb surprise/ As Lightning to the Children eased/ With explanation kind/ The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind¾” (The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998); Robert Frost, “A Passing Glimpse,” Selected Poems, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1963; Four Quartets, op. cit., p. 4 

[36]  Collected Poems, op. cit., p. 17

[37] Luther is said to have concluded his defence of his ideas before the Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 with these words.  Some dispute the words themselves, but not the combative attitude they represent. 

[38] The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu, translated by Witter Bynner, Capricorn Books, 1962 (first edition 1944), Part 56, p. 60.   This is far and away my favourite version of the Tao Te Ching and has been a vade mecum ever since I first discovered it as an undergraduate in the early 1960’s. 

[39] Mark 4:11

[40] Mathew 7:6

[41] Mark 8: 27-30

[42] Luke 9: 2-10

[43] 1 Corinthians 3:2

[44] Matthew 26:56 – “All this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  This formula recurs many times as an explanation of why things happen as they do.

[45] John 20: 24-29

[46] The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., p. 47

[47] Mark 4:9 – “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  The expression is found at various other place in the Synoptic [Matthew, Mark, Luke] Gospels as well.

[48] The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., p. 59

[49] Gravity and Grace, op. cit., p. 89

[50] Matthew 7:8, 5:45

[51] Gravity and Grace, op. cit. p. 103

[52] The Lummis interview is unpublished; Paul Goodman, The New Reformation: Notes of A Neolithic Conservative, PM Press, 2010 (first edition 1970).

[53] Francine du Plessix Gray, Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism, Knopf, 1970, p. 288

[54] Ivan Illich in Conversation, op. cit., p. 103; Illich says this after telling me that he had resigned his official position, as advisor to Cardinal Suenens, one of the four moderators of the Second Vatican Council, which sat from 1962 to 1965, after the Council failed to unequivocally condemn nuclear weapons.  To have done so, as Illich urged, would have “corresponded to the vocation implied in the Gospel.”  The crucial distinction is between a moral stance and a partisan political one.  

[55] Gray, op. cit., p. 274

[56]  Ursula Franklin, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto and a lifelong peace activist, was a friend and sometime colleague at Ideas, the CBC radio program where I worked.   She admired Illich, and once came to tea, bringing muffins, when he was staying with me.  I am quoting from a private conversation in which she expressed her reservation about what she saw as Illich’s patrician, above-the-fray political style.

[57] Neil Postman, “My Ivan Illich Problem,” in After Deschooling, What? ed. Alan Gerntner, Colin Greer, Frank Riessman, Harper and Row, 1973, p. 137, 141, 143

[58] ibid., p. 141

[59] The Rivers North of the Future, op. cit., p. 28

[60] Ivan Illich in Conversation, op. cit., p. 152

[61] Ibid., p. 150

[62]  Jung refers to this scheme throughout his work.  He developed it first, as I recall, in Two Essays in Analytical Psychology.

[63] The Challenges of Ivan Illich, ed. Carl Mitcham and Lee Hoinacki, SUNY, 2001, p. 1; “Part Moon, Part Travelling Salesman: Conversations with Ivan Illich,” CBC Transcript, p. 31.  The transcript is here: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/542c2af8e4b00b7cfca08972/t/58ffc9a55016e102f4cf8010/1493158442475/Part+Moon_3.pdf

[64] “Today’s Educational Enterprise viewed by the dropout, in the light of the Gospel,” p. 13, available here: http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1988_Educational.html

[65] Ivan Illich in Conversation, op. cit., p. 243

[66] The Rovers North of the Future, op. cit. p. 52

[67] Ibid., p. 121