“Deutsch’s interesting pamphlet on communication” 1

Early in 1951 (perhaps initiated already in 1950) McLuhan and Harold Innis exchanged letters in which an “interesting pamphlet on communication”1 by Karl Deutsch2 is mentioned. Apparently it had been obtained by McLuhan and then shared with Innis — Innis calls it “your pamphlet”. If both McLuhan and Innis had read the “pamphlet” by February 1951, it is evident that McLuhan must have acquired it in 1950 or, less probably, very early in 1951.

In his March 28, 1951, letter to Norbert Wiener (in the Wiener papers at MIT), McLuhan — apparently referring to the same paper — writes of his “recent encounter with Professor Deutsch’s discussion of communication and education”.

A note to McLuhan’s letter to Innis by the editors of his Letters3 inexplicably identifies this document as Deutsch’s ‘Communication in Self-Governing Organizations: Notes on Autonomy, Freedom and Authority in the Growth of Social Groups’, which he presented at a conference in September 1951 and first published in 1953.4 But this could not have been the Deutsch paper McLuhan and Innis were reading at the start of 1951 — the dates clearly don’t match up. But in this case, just what “pamphlet” was it that McLuhan shared with Innis?

McLuhan’s library at the University of Toronto contains two early articles by Deutsch: ‘Mechanism, Organism, and Society: Some Models in Natural and Social Science’, published in 19515 and ‘Communication Theory and Social Science’ published in 19526. The second could not have been in “pamphlet” (reprint?) form at the end of 1950, but it is just possible that the first was. However, a footnote to ‘Mechanism, Organism, and Society’ reads:

The substance of this paper was presented to the joint meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science at New York on December 30, 1949, and some passages have appeared in Goals for American Education, New York, Harper Brothers, 1950. (230n)

This note points to the most likely candidate for the pamphlet — Deutsch’s paper in Goals for American Education7, ‘Higher Education and the Unity of Knowledge: An Operational Approach to the History of Thought’.  This was a 1948 seminar presentation which was published in 1950. A reprint of this paper, from which passages were lifted for ‘Mechanism, Organism, and Society’ in 19518, could well have been in McLuhan’s hands at the end of 1950 and its title certainly accords with McLuhan’s description of it to Wiener as “Deutsch’s discussion of communication and education”. Furthermore, just such a reprint exists to this day in the Sigfried Giedion papers archived in the Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der Architektur (gta) in Zurich. 

Now Giedion and McLuhan had been in friendly correspondence since 1943 when they met in St Louis. In 1948 Giedion published Mechanism Takes Command, a book which decisively influenced McLuhan for the rest of his career and which he reviewed in The Hudson Review in 1949.9 Moreover, at just this time, Giedion was in touch with Deutsch and Wiener at MIT and would teach there with them in 1951. It therefore seems likely that McLuhan was sent a reprint of ”Higher Education and the Unity of Knowledge’, either directly by Giedion himself or through his agency, sometime in 1950. 

Another (perhaps complementary) possibility is that McLuhan may have been alerted to Deutsch’s work by his closest friend at this time, Bernard Muller-Thym.  Muller-Thym was a “leading business analyst” (GG 140) in New York with great interest in automation and corporate communications10, who later himself taught at MIT (from 1955 to 1966).11

A footnote (249n24) to Deutsch’s 1951 ‘Mechanism, Organism, and Society’ reads:

On the importance of flow patterns of information and decision in economic or political organization, see K. W. Deutsch, “Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and the Learning Process,” in Change and the Entrepreneur, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1949, p.29; and “A Note on the History of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Decision-Making,” Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, Vol. I., n.5, May 1949, pp. 12–16.

Deutsch’s work on “flow patterns of information” and entrepreneurship would certainly have caught the interested attention of Muller-Thym and his colleagues at McKinsey and Company. But few of them would have had the sort of background — as Muller-Thym did — to understand the wider context of Deutsch’s work. Indeed, Muller-Thym may even have known one of Deutsch’s first papers, ‘Medieval Unity and the Economic Conditions for an International Civilization’ (1944) which was printed, strangely enough, given Muller-Thym’s Toronto PhD in medieval studies, in The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science (10:1, 18-35). This was a periodical that was published in Toronto and that Harold Innis had helped to found in 1935 — just when Muller-Thym was doing his graduate work there.12 Futher, ‘medieval unity’ and ‘international civilization’ were important implications of Muller-Thym’s PhD thesis (which he was writing in 1935), On The Establishment of the University of Being.


  1. McLuhan to Innis, March 14, 1951, Letters 222.  This was a reworked version of an earlier letter to Innis to which Innis replied on February 26, 1951 and in which he apologized for his late reply. See the editors’ note to McLuhan’s letter, Letters 220n1.
  2. Karl Wolfgang Deutsch, 1912-1992, taught at MIT 1943-1956, Yale 1956-1967 and Harvard  1967-1982.  McLuhan reviewed Deutsch’s 1963 book, The Nerves of Government: Models of Political Communication and Control, in The University of Toronto Law Journal, 16:1 (1965), pp. 226-228.
  3. Letters, 222n6
  4. In Freedom and Authority in Our Time, ed Lyman Bryson (1953).
  5. In Philosophy of Science 18:3, 230-252 (1951)
  6. In American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 22:3, 469–483 (1952)
  7. Goals for American Education, A Symposium, ed, L Bryson, L Finkelstein and R.M. MacIver, 1950; Deutsch’s paper (‘Higher Education and the Unity of Knowledge’) is located at pp 55-139.
  8. Verbatim passages also appear in ‘Some notes on research on the role of models in the natural and social sciences’ (reprinted as: ‘Toward a cybernetic model of man and society’ in Walter Buckley (ed), Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook, 1968), Synthese 7: 6-B, 506-533, 1948-1949.
  9. ‘Encyclopaedic Unities’, a review of Vision in Motion (László Moholy-Nagy) and Mechanism Takes Command (Sigfried Giedion), The Hudson Review 1:4, 599-602, 1949.
  10.  Muller-Thym’s work is discussed by McLuhan in ‘Effects of the Improvements of Communication Media’, 1960; ‘Inside the Five Sense Sensorium’, 1961; ‘The Electronic Age – The Age of Implosion’, 1962; GG, 140-141, 1962; and ‘We need a new picture of knowledge’, 1963. The concentration of these discussions in the early 1960s reflects the fact that Muller-Thym published a series of papers at this time on topics of great mutual interest to McLuhan and him: ‘New Directions for Organizational Practice’, in 50 years Progress in Management 1910-1960, 42-50, 1960; ‘Cultural and Social Changes’, in The Changing American Population, ed Hoke S. Simpson, 85-96, 1962; ‘The Real Meaning of Automation’, Management Review, June 1963, 40-47.  But Muller-Thym had long been McLuhan’s adviser both on scholasticism, particularly Thomas, and developments in business — a strange concoction Muller-Thym explained in this way: “I stopped philosophy to start a new life, he (Muller-Thym) once told me (Richard Kostelanetz), but later I realized that what I did reflected my earlier training. Indeed, he now regards the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, an encyclopedia of information and methods for handling it, as perhaps the best intellectual preparation for understanding the computer; and he once told me that after unraveling the previously unfathomable complexities of Meister Eckhart (in his PhD thesis), I got the feeling that I could penetrate any difficult mystery.” (Richard Kostelanetz, Master Minds, 1969, 159). Exchanges between Muller-Thym and McLuhan went back to their time together at St Louis University between 1937 and 1942 — when Muller-Thym became the best man at McLuhan’s wedding and the Godfather of his first child — so that when McLuhan recommended Peter Drucker’s books to his Jesuit friends, Walter Ong and Clement McNaspy, in a Christmas 1944 letter (Letters 166), this doubtless reflected advice he himself had first received from Muller-Thym. In his 1960 Report on Project of Understanding New Media McLuhan described his appreciation of Drucker and Muller-Thym as follows: “I make numerous trips to Management Training Centers, and (…) these visits coincide with frequent consultations with capable educators in these top management centers. (…) During this past year I have had a dozen sessions with Peter F. Drucker and Bernard J. Muller-Thym. Both of these men, who are considered the greatest management consultants in the world today, are former professors of philosophy. I find it much easier to talk about the meaning of media to such men than to educators. The reason is this: Drucker and Muller-Thym deal daily with management in the world’s largest business organizations. They are acutely aware of the effects of media, new and old, on decision-making in big business.”
  11. Since Deutsch remained at MIT until 1956, his and Muller-Thym’s time there slightly overlapped.
  12. It is possible there was some kind of connection between Innis and Deutsch independent of McLuhan. Innis would certainly have known of Deutsch’s 1944 paper in CJEPS on the interrelation of ideology and economics. It was exactly at this time, of course, that Innis himself was turning to the examination of this topic — communications, plural — as a key to universal history. Then, shortly before Innis’ death, Deutsch published a review of The Bias of Communication in CJEPS 18:3 (1952), 388-390. And two years later, in 1954, he again published in CJEPS — his important paper on ‘Game Theory and Politics: Some Problems of Application’ appeared in 20:1, 76-83.