This summer, as it became evident that the global pandemic was exposing the weaknesses of many of our institutions, it seemed like an auspicious time to revisit the work of Ivan Illich. Of course, if you’ve been following the newsletter for any amount of time at all, you know that I think any time is an auspicious time to be reading Illich.
In any case, I decided to use the newsletter to organize an Illich reading group. As a part of that experiment, I reached out to the philosopher of technology Carl Mitcham to see if he might be willing to talk with me for a bit about Illich and his work. I thought that would be a great way to launch the group. Little did I know that I would soon find myself enveloped by the hospitality of Illich’s friends and collaborators, each person I spoke with offering to connect me with another in worldwide Illich diaspora.
It did not take me too long to realize that I had felicitously stumbled onto a rather unique opportunity to gather together an oral history of Ivan Illich’s life as told by his friends. Thus far I’ve posted my conversations with Carl Mitcham and the scholar and activist Gustavo Esteva, who has brought Illich’s work to bear in his labors with the indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico.
I have a few other conversations in the works, which I’ll be posting in the coming weeks and months. But today I’m happy to pass along my conversation with Gov. Jerry Brown.
Gov. Brown, best known, of course, for his four terms (1975-1983 and 2011-2019) as governor of California and his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, was a friend of Illich’s and a careful student of his work as well.
Brown also served as the mayor of Oakland from 1999-2007 and as the Attorney General of California from 2007-2011. Currently, he is a visiting professor at Berkley and chair of the California-China Climate Institute.
I first learned of Gov. Brown’s friendship with Illich a couple of years back when I stumbled upon the transcript of a talk-radio show, We the People, hosted by Brown on which Illich and Carl Mitcham were guests. It’s a wonderful conversation and I encourage you to read through it. The homepage of We the People’s website, which is still live, is a tribute to Illich written by Gov. Brown after Illich’s passing in December of 2002. Brown also wrote a letter to the New York Times taking issue, justly in my view, with the rather dismissive obit the paper ran for Illich.
My thanks to Gov. Brown for taking the time share his recollections of Illich’s life and work and to Evan Westrup for his help in making the conversation happen.
I hope you enjoy listening to the exchange. You can look forward to others like it over the next few months.