Remembering Ivan Illich

Cultural critic Ivan Illich died in Bremen, Germany on December 2, 2002. He was 76. Since the 1970s, his arc of concerns had paralleled Whole Earth’s: tools as shapers of their users, individuals in the thrall of institutions, appropriately sized technology, "development" as a trap. He appeared frequently in Whole Earth 's pages.

His argument that institutions and technologies eventually consume their own purposes was highly influential on movements from homeschooling to church reform, small-scale technology, and medical self-care, but his analyses were always more radical. He recognized, for example, that homeschooling or self-care could themselves become simply different delivery systems for "education" or "health" when those are treated as commodities needed to fulfill self-generated needs.

Illich wrote less in his later years, partly because of a debilitating facial tumor for which—true to his beliefs—he never sought treatment, but also because his work became an ongoing conversation (a "conspiracy," in the sense of "breathing together") with friends around the world. His most lasting legacy may be his effect on the people he touched, and their effects on others. Seven of his friends graciously agreed to share memories with us. Their essays, condensed in the issue, appear here full and unedited.