Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Butlerian Jihad

The Butlerian Jihad is an epic turning point in the back-story of Frank Herbert's fictional Dune Universe. In a nutshell, thinking machines become powerful and threaten to enslave mankind. After the destruction of the machines, throughout the human worlds, the commandment "Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of Man's mind" holds sway. This is the reason that we don't see computers or "thinking machines" in the Dune novels or movies.

Although at first sight the jihad would appear to be named after Samuel Butler, whose novel Erewhon depicted a people who had eliminated machines for fear they would be out-evolved by them, Herbert's back-story named it after its instigator, Serena Butler.

This back-story has now been made into a series of novels by Herbert's literary heirs Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, who describe how Serena Butler and Xavier Harkonnen ignite a war that eventually liberates mankind from the grips of their mechanized overlords.

A subtler justification for the Butlerian Jihad is also found in the novels, mainly repeating Heidegger's thesis that the use of technology trains humans to think like machines. The problem is that machines are deterministic; thus, training people to be machines is self-limiting. Herbert seems to think that to be human is to be essentially 'open-ended', capable of undiscovered, indeterminate evolution.