"Institutions create the needs and control their satisfaction, and, by so doing,
turn the human being and her or his creativity into objects"
Ivan Illich was born in Vienna in 1926, a child of a Catholic Croatian father and an Austrian Jewish mother.
He lived in Yugoslavia and Austria until the rise of xenophobia in the 1940's and the newly enforced austrian anti-semitic laws constrained his mother to flee with her children to Florence in 1942, after Illich's family estate was seized by the Nazis.
Once established in Italy, Illich studied histology and chemistry while actively supporting the Italian Resistance Movement. By the end of the World War II, Ivan entered the Pontifical Gregorian University of the Vatican where he learned philosophy and theology as well as Ancient Greek and Latin. He then decided to become a priest, despite Vatican wishing otherwise, and moved back to Austria to learn medieval history at Salzburg University.
In 1951, Illich left Europe for New York and promptly asked to become an assistant priest in a Puerto-Rican parish. At age 30, he was named vice rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico and established a center destined to teach priests about Latin-American culture. Illich's conflicts with superiors of his Church accumulated over the years and, in 1960, when two bishops condemned his will to legalise condom distribution, he resigned his post at the University and began traveling throughout South America by foot.
A year later, in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Illich founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC). From its creation to the middle of the 70's, the CIDOC was a gathering place for american and latino intellectuals interested in socio-economic issues.
It was, in Ivan Illich's words, "a free club for the search of surprise", equipped with artisan workshops, research centers, language courses and a prestigious library. This CIDOC was later to be highly criticized by the Catholic Church, and a CIA report will lead to Illich being called to Rome for questioning before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1969.
Illich replied to this by suspending himself volontarily from priesthood and publishing books, essays and giving speeches in different countries.
From 1971 and on, he committed himself to analyzing, dissecting and decrying the corruption of established institutions. His theories stemmed from his wariness of the Institutionalized Church (which he described as "a big enterprise who forms and employs professionals of faith only to assure its perpetuity") and the extrapolation of this vision to other institutions, such as schooling and medecine, which in his opinion tend to end up working in ways that reverse their original purpose. Dividing his time between Mexico, Germany and the United States as a visiting professor of Philosophy and Science at Penn State, Illich and his theories' main objective were to emphasize that institutions contributed to what he believed was a dehumanization of the people, by means of centralized control, bureaucratic accreditations and elitist ethno-centric views.
Ivan Illich, the forgotten philosopher, polyglot and social theorist, the anarchist priest who broke with the Church, died in 2002 in Bremen, Germany, due to a cancerous tumor he had been carrying for almost 20 years.
His writings, much like Illich himself, are challenging, abundant, and hard to classify. Below is a list of the few I selected.
Deschooling Society (1971)
Tools for Conviviality (1973)
Energy and Equity (1974)
Medical Nemesis (1975)
Toward a History of Needs (1978)
ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind (1988)
In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon (1993)
Corruption of Christianity (2000)