Technology and Totalitarianism

Technology and Totalitarianism

JPI 675
3 Credits

Concern over the totalitarian tendencies of technology is an overlooked theme in Catholic Social Teaching.  Paul VI worried in Octogesima Adveniens that the modern age might really be the “more accentuated sliding towards a new positivism: universalized technology as the dominant form of activity, as the overwhelming pattern of existence, even as a language, without the question of its meaning being really asked.”  Benedict XVI warned in Caritas in Veritate that technology threatens “to become an ideological power,” confining “us within an a priori that holds us back from encountering being and truth.”  “Were that to happen,” he says, “we would all know, evaluate, and make decisions about our life situations from within a technocratic cultural perspective to which we would belong structurally, without ever being able to discover a meaning not of our own making.”  Similar warnings abound can be found throughout the social magisterium.

Today those concerns seem warranted, as technological progress defines our collective raison d’etre, as technology intrudes ever more thoroughly into our lives, and as politics, medicine, biotechnology and digital technologies fuse into one post-political, technocratic order.  This course will seek to understand this phenomenon both in its contemporary manifestations and its underlying logic, exploring the nature and logic of both technology and totalitarianism and attempting to anticipate the future course of their joint development.  Readings will include excerpts from Catholic Social Teaching and selected writings from Thomas Hobbes, Francis Bacon, John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Augusto Del Noce, Yuval Noah Harari, and Shoshana Zuboff among others.

Selected Texts


Michael Hanby portrait

Michael Hanby

Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy of Science

Dr. Hanby is author of No God, No Science?: Theology, Cosmology, Biology (Wiley-Blackwell 2013) which reassesses the relationship between the doctrine of creation, Darwinian evolutionary biology, and science more generally. He is also author of Augustine and Modernity (Routledge 2003).

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