Cover image for Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey By David Cayley

Ivan Illich

An Intellectual Journey

David Cayley


$44.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08812-9

$29.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09895-1
Coming in August

Available as an e-book

560 pages
7" × 10"

Ivan Illich: 21st-Century Perspectives

Ivan Illich

An Intellectual Journey

David Cayley

“Cayley’s book carries forward and, in many ways, completes the vision Illich had not the time in his relatively short life to fully elaborate and explain.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In the eighteen years since Ivan Illich’s death, David Cayley has been reflecting on the meaning of his friend and teacher’s life and work. Now, in Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey, he presents Illich’s body of thought, locating it in its own time and retrieving its relevance for ours.

Ivan Illich (1926–2002) was a revolutionary figure in the Roman Catholic Church and in the wider field of cultural criticism that began to take shape in the 1960s. His advocacy of a new, de-clericalized church and his opposition to American missionary programs in Latin America, which he saw as reactionary and imperialist, brought him into conflict with the Vatican and led him to withdraw from direct service to the church in 1969. His institutional critiques of the 1970s, from Deschooling Society to Medical Nemesis, promoted what he called institutional or cultural revolution. The last twenty years of his life were occupied with developing his theory of modernity as an extension of church history. Ranging over every phase of Illich’s career and meditating on each of his books, Cayley finds Illich to be as relevant today as ever and more likely to be understood, now that the many convergent crises he foresaw are in full public view and the church that rejected him is paralyzed in its “folkloric” shell.

Not a conventional biography, though attentive to how Illich lived, Cayley’s book is “continuing a conversation” with Illich that will engage anyone who is interested in theology, philosophy, history, and the Catholic Church.

“Cayley’s book carries forward and, in many ways, completes the vision Illich had not the time in his relatively short life to fully elaborate and explain.”
“I recently suggested to a thoughtful Catholic friend that he read Cayley’s biography as an introduction to Illich’s ideas. Encountering my friend a few weeks later, he thanked me, adding simply, ‘It has changed my life.’”
“This opus represents many, many evenings of intelligent, friendly, and finally life-changing dialogue that culminate in a near-symphonic quality. Cayley’s deep understanding and clear prose pull a complex, balanced harmony out of themes that to the casual reader of Illich could seem eclectic.”
“David Cayley, who conducted two lengthy radio interviews-turned-books with Illich (in 1988 and 2000) and had a decades-long friendship with him, has written a gripping and unconventional biography of this deeply unconventional man.”
Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey can itself be seen as an act of love, restoring Illich to his rightful place among the significant social and religious thinkers of our time.”
“Ivan Illich’s work offers us a much needed intellectual and spiritual balm in a time distinguished by the untidy dissolution of certainties. But such a balm is not purchased by cheap grace. It is costly; it requires a new visioning. David Cayley’s retrieval of this ‘vanishing clergyman’ offers a way forward in a darkening landscape.”
“A crucial contribution to Illich’s rediscovery.”
“After years of reading Illich, Cayley’s genealogy—richly documented and carefully argued—provides the definitive account of how to make sense of one of the last great polymaths and cultural critics.”
“Illich provides a vocabulary for identifying both the core assumptions underwriting these responses (from systems thinking to the imperatives of medically defined ‘life’) as well as challenging counterproductive interventions and their ‘well-intended’ justifications. For the contemporary legibility of his life and thought in this way - and innumerable ways for readers to discover – we owe a debt of gratitude to David Cayley.”
“Cayley convincingly illuminates how Illich’s thought developed and how it revolves around certain central insights: complementarity, the vernacular, incarnation, and a reading of history that sees the West as a deviation from the Gospel. In so doing, Cayley reconnects Illich with the work of important contemporary social theorists—Latour, Agamben, Milbank, and others—and shows how Illich anticipated their work in many ways.  This book is unique, much needed, and masterfully executed.”
“No other book yet published summarizes and synthesizes Illich’s life and thought at this length and in this detail. It is a much-needed intervention with sustained political, social, philosophical, and theological resonance. Cayley’s book should now form the starting point for all future critical conversation around Illich’s varied, generative, challenging, and often surprising ideas.”

David Cayley is a Canadian writer and broadcaster. He has produced and presented hundreds of radio documentaries, including two five-hour series with Ivan Illich, and published seven books, among them The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

Introduction: Ivan Illich as I Knew Him

Prologue: Early Life

1. Exile

2. Cuernavaca

3. Church

4. Deschooling Society

5. Illich as Revolutionary

6. Disabling Professions

7. Certainties

8. Gender

9. Embodiment/Disembodiment

10. “A Bulldozer Lurks in Every Computer”: On Reading, Writing, and Language

11. To Hell With Life

12. Corruptio Optimi Pessima

13. Apocalypse

14. Illich’s Way of Life

Epilogue: The Art of Suffering

Conclusion: An Intellectual Journey



Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction