Butlerian Jihad

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This page is about the event Butlerian Jihad. For information on the book of the same name, which details it, see Dune: The 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 are created and are first used to serve man, but a 'jihad' occurs, purging the universe of all 'thinking machines' and thus the ban Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind is in place during all six original Dune novels. Frank Herbert does not give much detail on how he imagined this conflict, but there are several quotes and mentionigs, from which a number of interpretations can be made.

The original Dune novel states that the Jihad ended in human victory at the Battle of Corrin. The leader of the Jihad then renamed his royal house "House Corrino", and declared himself Emperor of the Known Universe. The Emperors of the Empire of a Million Worlds were all of House Corrino for the next 10,000 years, until the events of Dune and the ascension of Paul Atreides.

This back-story in the original Dune novels has now been made into a series of novels by Herbert's literary heirs Brian Herbert (son of Frank Herbert) and Kevin J. Anderson. They represent the Jihad as a struggle between humans and the thinking machines, which have become dominant over some of their original masters. The characters Serena Butler and Xavier Harkonnen ignite a war to liberate mankind from the grip of their mechanised overlords.

After the destruction of the intelligent machines throughout the human worlds, the commandment not to build a machine '... in the likeness of a human mind' holds sway. This is the reason that we don't see computers or "thinking machines" in the original Dune novels by Frank Herbert or the movie or the TV miniseries. This lack of computers leads to a return to feudalism and facilitates a need for humans to accomplish computer-like tasks and calculations, which leads to the creation of the Mentat order, the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit.

However, it seems mankind cannot do without new technology and as the centuries pass fringe worlds like Ix and Tleilax give birth to the technological powers of the Ixians and the Bene Tleilax. The Ixians produce mechanical technology which skirts the boundary of using "thinking" computer technology; while the Tleilaxu provide biological technology to replace the mechanical technology used before the Jihad.


The Butlerian Jihad is a useful plot device for Frank Herbert. By creating a universe which has rejected conscious machines and has reverted to a Feudal organisation, Herbert can focus on social and philosophical issues, rather than the technological. Consequently Herbert uses the Dune saga to comment about the human condition and makes direct and accurate parallels to current socio-political realities.

Although Herbert's back-story named it after its instigator, Jehanne Butler - renamed Serena Butler for the prequels - the name could very easily be a literary allusion to Samuel Butler, whose 1872 novel Erewhon depicted a people who had eliminated machines for fear they would be out-evolved by them.

From Erewhon, chapter 9,

"... about four hundred years previously, the state of mechanical knowledge was far beyond our own, and was advancing with prodigious rapidity, until one of the most learned professors of hypothetics wrote an extraordinary book (from which I propose to give extracts later on), proving that the machines were ultimately destined to supplant the race of man, and to become instinct with a vitality as different from, and superior to, that of animals, as animal to vegetable life. So convincing was his reasoning, or unreasoning, to this effect, that he carried the country with him and they made a clean sweep of all machinery that had not been in use for more than two hundred and seventy-one years (which period was arrived at after a series of compromises), and strictly forbade all further improvements and inventions"

Another, more subtle justification for the Butlerian Jihad is also found in Frank Herbert's original novels, specifically 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 seemed to think that to be human is to be essentially 'open-ended', capable of undiscovered, indeterminate evolution.