Ivan Illich, the polyglot Austro-Croatian-Sephardic-Mexican-American philosopher and social theorist, died at the beginning of December last in Bremen, Germany. He had his hour of fame in the first half of the 1970s, when he appeared to be the most radical radical on the market, but afterwards went out of fashion and soon faded both from view and from the bookshops. Among the documents I found during a recent internet search was a plaintive request from an aging devotee for information about Illich’s current whereabouts and activities. The person asking for this information sounded distraught, like a blind man who had lost his guide dog.

Illich was valued during his comparatively short period of fame for the destructive possibilities of his criticisms of almost all the institutions of industrial society, capitalist or communist, in books such as Deschooling Society (1971) and Medical Nemesis (1975). Since there ...