Earlier this month, Ted Kaczyznski—the mathematician-turned-terrorist who murdered three people and left several others with lifelong injuries—died, apparently of suicide, in a federal prison. Stephen Hayward re-examines both Kaczynski’s 1995 “manifesto” and Alston Chase’s 2003 biography. To Hayward, Kaczynski’s “views on technology are neither original nor wholly ill-founded,” and owe much to such philosophers as Jacques Ellul, who was honored by Yad Vashem for helping to save French Jews during the Holocaust:
[Kaczynski] had even corresponded with Jacques Ellul, the French thinker who wrote one of the earliest critical analyses of the subject back in 1965, The Technological Society. Ellul, however, never became an anti-technology radical. To the contrary, by the 1970s Ellul had become an evangelical Christian, and largely discarded his early fixation on the evils of technology. But Kaczynski became a homicidal fanatic.
Kaczynski’s violent revolutionary ethos was generated not by leftism, but nihilism. The almost droll embrace of killing brings to light what is conspicuously missing from his manifesto: any sense of ethics or a ground of morality that would both foreclose violence, or offer a pathway to putting technology in perspective and finding meaning in life, as Ellul’s religion did for him. If asked, Kaczynski would say any ethical or moral code was impossible in our technocracy because the premises of modern science have proven that there is no objective ground for morality or meaning.
Chase notes that Kaczynski was raised an atheist by his liberal parents (his father committed suicide), and his brother, a Columbia graduate, was equally disaffected by American society. By the time Chase and Kaczynski arrived at Harvard, “the faculty had lost faith in the idea that morality was rational. . . . Although no one noticed, the religion of reason was giving way to something one could call the culture of despair. . . . He became a true believer in the scientific method and its philosophy, positivism, which allowed him to think that morality was meaningless.”
[E]ven though Kaczynski disdained environmentalists, his overall anti-technology, anti-Western civilization view does illuminate the innermost character of the environmental movement.