Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, Volume 2: René Girard and Sacrifice in Life, Love and Literature 1623563062, 9781623563066

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Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, Volume 2: René Girard and Sacrifice in Life, Love and Literature
 1623563062, 9781623563066

Table of contents :
Half title
Foreword, Paul Dumouchel
1 Mimesis, Violence, and the Sacred: An Overview of the Thought of René Girard
Chris Fleming
Part One Politics
2 Abolition or Transformation? The Political Implications of René Girard’s Theory of Sacrifice
Wolfgang Palaver
3 Sacrifice in the Democratic Age: Rivalry and Crisis in Recent Australian Politics
Joel Hodge
4 Mimetic Theory and Hermeneutic Communism
Paolo Diego Bubbio
5 War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes
Sarah Drews Lucas
6 Scapegoating the Guilty: Girard and International Criminal Law
Nathan Kensey
Part Two
Cultural and Textual Analysis
7 The Scapegoating of Cheerleading and Cheerleaders
Emma A. Jane
8 “Things Hidden”: On Shame, Violence, and Concealment in Autobiography
Rosamund Dalziell
9 “That False Paradise”: Desire, Sacrifice, and the American Dream in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides
Carly Osborn
Part Three
10 Hearing the Cry of the Poor: René Girard and St. Augustine on the Psalms
Ann W. Astell
11 Sacrifice, Pagan and Christian
Robert J. Daly SJ
12 Living Faithfully “Where Danger Threatens”: Christian Discernment According to John Cassian and René Girard
Kevin Lenehan
Part Four
13 A Psychologist Venturing Across an Interdisciplinary Bridge to Mimetic Theory and Its Application
Marie R. Joyce
14 Internet Offenders as Girardian Scapegoats
Bruce A. Stevens
Part Five
Applied Mimetic Theory
15 A Girardian Reading of the Evagrian “Eight Kinds of Evil Thoughts”
Draško Dizdar
16 Forsaking Our Violent Ways: A Girardian Reflection on the Sermon on the Mount as a Path to a New Social Order
Peter Stork
17 Girard’s Interdividual Psychology Applied to Pastoral Leadership in Churches
Bruce Wilson
18 Ecclesial Roots of Clergy Sexual Abuse: A Girardian Reflection
Scott Cowdell
19 Practical Reflections on Nonviolent Atonement
Michael Hardin
Glossary of Key Girardian Terms
Further Reading

Citation preview

Violence, Desire, and the Sacred Volume 2

Violence, Desire, and the Sacred Volume 2 René Girard and Sacrifice in Life, Love, and Literature Edited by Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, and Joel Hodge

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK Bloomsbury is a registered trade mark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2014 © Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, Joel Hodge and Contributors, 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: 978-1-6235-6306-6 Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN

For René Girard

Contents Contributors Foreword, Paul Dumouchel Introduction 1

Mimesis, Violence, and the Sacred: An Overview of the Thought of René Girard  Chris Fleming

ix xiii xvii


Part One  Politics 2

Abolition or Transformation? The Political Implications of René Girard’s Theory of Sacrifice  Wolfgang Palaver


Sacrifice in the Democratic Age: Rivalry and Crisis in Recent Australian Politics  Joel Hodge



Mimetic Theory and Hermeneutic Communism  Paolo Diego Bubbio



War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes  Sarah Drews Lucas



Scapegoating the Guilty: Girard and International Criminal Law  Nathan Kensey



Part Two  Cultural and Textual Analysis 7

The Scapegoating of Cheerleading and Cheerleaders  Emma A. Jane


“Things Hidden”: On Shame, Violence, and Concealment in Autobiography  Rosamund Dalziell


“That False Paradise”: Desire, Sacrifice, and the American Dream in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides  Carly Osborn




Part Three  Theology 10 Hearing the Cry of the Poor: René Girard and St. Augustine on the Psalms  Ann W. Astell


viii Contents 11 Sacrifice, Pagan and Christian  Robert J. Daly SJ


12 Living Faithfully “Where Danger Threatens”: Christian Discernment According to John Cassian and René Girard  Kevin Lenehan


Part Four  Psychology 13 A Psychologist Venturing Across an Interdisciplinary Bridge to Mimetic Theory and Its Applications  Marie R. Joyce


14 Internet Offenders as Girardian Scapegoats  Bruce A. Stevens


Part Five  Applied Mimetic Theory 15 A Girardian Reading of the Evagrian “Eight Kinds of Evil Thoughts”  Draško Dizdar


16 Forsaking Our Violent Ways: A Girardian Reflection on the Sermon on the Mount as a Path to a New Social Order  Peter Stork


17 Girard’s Interdividual Psychology Applied to Pastoral Leadership in Churches  Bruce Wilson


18 Ecclesial Roots of Clergy Sexual Abuse: A Girardian Reflection  Scott Cowdell


19 Practical Reflections on Nonviolent Atonement  Michael Hardin


Glossary of Key Girardian Terms Further Reading Index

259 263 271

Contributors Ann W. Astell (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. She is the author of six books, including Joan of Arc and Sacrificial Authorship (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003) and Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 2006). She is also the editor or co-editor of six books, including Sacrifice, Scripture, and Substitution: Readings in Ancient Judaism and Christianity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011). Paolo Diego Bubbio (PhD, University of Turin, Italy) is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Il Sacrificio Intellettuale: René Girard e la Filosofia della Religione (Intellectual Sacrifice: René Girard and the Philosophy of Religion; Il Quadrante, 1999) and Il Sacrificio: a Ragione e il suo Altrove (Sacrifice: Reason and Its Other; Città Nuova, 2004), and the co-editor of two other books. Scott Cowdell (PhD, University of Queensland) is an Anglican priest, currently Associate Professor in the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre (PACT) at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia, and Canon Theologian of the Canberra–Goulburn Diocese. He is the author of seven books, most recently Abiding Faith: Christianity Beyond Certainty, Anxiety, and Violence (Cascade, 2009) and René Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013). He is also Founding President of the Australian Girard Seminar. Robert J. Daly SJ (Dr Theol, Julius Maximilians Universität, Würzburg) is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Boston College. Specializing in liturgical theology, his recent publications include Sacrifice Unveiled: The True Meaning of Christian Sacrifice (Continuum, 2009). Rosamund Dalziell (PhD, Australian National University) is an Associate Researcher in the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre (PACT) at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia. Her publications include Shameful Autobiographies: Shame in Contemporary Australian Autobiographies and Culture (Melbourne University Press, 1999). Draško Dizdar (PhD, University of Queensland) is Prior of Emmaus monastic community in Tasmania, Australia (affiliated with the ecumenical monastero di Bose,

x Contributors Italy). He has taught at the Australian Catholic University and is currently a theologian with the Tasmanian Catholic Education Office. His publications include Sheer Grace: Living the Mystery of God (Paulist, 2008). Paul Dumouchel (PhD, University of Waterloo, Canada) is Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He is co-author, with Jean-Pierre Dupuy, of L’Enfer des choses, René Girard et la logique de l’économie (Seuil, 1979), and author of Emotions: Essai sur le corps et le social (Les Empêcheurs de Penser en rond, 1999). He co-edited, with Jean-Pierre Dupuy, L’auto-organisation de la physique au politique (Seuil, 1983), and edited Violence and Truth: On the Work of René Girard (Stanford University Press, 1988). His latest books include Le sacrifice inutile: Essai sur la violence politique (Flammarion, 2011), Economia dell’invidia (Transeuropa, 2011), and The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays (Michigan State University Press, 2013). Chris Fleming (PhD, University of Western Sydney) is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and Founding Vice President of the Australian Girard Seminar. He is the author of René Girard: Violence and Mimesis (Polity, 2004). Michael Hardin (MDiv, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago) is Executive Director of Preaching Peace in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in theology at Charles Sturt University, Australia, working on René Girard and Karl Barth. He is the author of The Jesus Driven Life (JDL, 2010) and the co-editor of three books, including Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ (Eerdmans, 2007). Joel Hodge (PhD, University of Queensland) is Lecturer in the School of Theology at the Australian Catholic University (St Patrick’s Campus, Melbourne), and Founding Treasurer and Secretary of the Australian Girard Seminar. He is the author of Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor (Ashgate, 2012) and co-editor of Vatican II: Reception and Implementation in the Australian Church (Garratt, 2012). Emma A. Jane (PhD, University of New South Wales) is a Senior Lecturer in Media in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She is a journalist, broadcaster, and author of six books (published under the name “Emma Tom”), including Bali: Paradise Lost? (Pluto, 2009), and Something About Mary (Pluto, 2005). Her next book—co-authored with Chris Fleming—is on conspiracy theories.



Marie R. Joyce (PhD, University of Melbourne) is an Honorary Fellow in the School of Psychology at the Australian Catholic University (St Patrick’s Campus, Melbourne) and a clinical psychologist in private practice. Since the publication of Rational Emotive Therapy with Children and Adolescents: Theory, Treatment Strategies and Preventative Methods (Wiley and Sons, 1984) she has published in psychology, professional ethics, and interdisciplinary fields. Nathan Kensey (LLM, Australian National University) is a lawyer in the Office of International Law at the Attorney-General’s Department, Canberra, and a Tutor and occasional Lecturer in International Law at the Australian National University. Kevin Lenehan (PhD, STD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat (in rural Victoria, Australia), and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Catholic Theological College, within the MCD University of Divinity. He is the author of Standing Responsibly Between Silence and Speech: Revelation and Religion in the Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and René Girard (Peeters, 2011). Sarah Drews Lucas (MA[Phil], University of Sydney) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, Australia.  Her work is on models of agency in contemporary feminist philosophy. Carly Osborn (BA[Hons], University of Adelaide) is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Adelaide, Australia, whose dissertation applies Girardian theory to some late twentieth-century American novels investigating tragedy and the American Dream. She received the Raymund Schwager Memorial Award 2012 for best postgraduate paper at the international meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion. Wolfgang Palaver (PhD, University of Innsbruck) is Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He has published books and articles on religion and violence, Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, and René Girard. His René Girards mimetische Theorie (2nd edn, 2004) has just been translated as René Girard’s Mimetic Theory (Michigan State University Press, 2013). Bruce A. Stevens (PhD, Boston University) is an Anglican priest, and Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Canberra, Australia. He established Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology (his group private practice) and has assessed and treated hundreds of sexual offenders. He has published five books, most recently Happy Ever After? A Practical Guide to Relationship Counselling for Clinical Psychologists (Australian Academic Press, 2011), with Malise Arnstein.

xii Contributors Peter Stork (PhD, Australian Catholic University) is currently Honorary Research Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, Australian Catholic University, Canberra, following an international career in management consulting. His publications include Human Rights in Crisis: A Cultural Critique (VDM, 2007). Bruce Wilson (MA, University of Sydney) was Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst, in rural New South Wales, Australia, and now works in retirement as a “psychospiritual guide” for church and other leaders. His publications include The Human Journey: Christianity and Modern Consciousness (Albatross, 1980), Can God Survive in Australia? (Albatross, 1983), and Reasons of the Heart (Allen and Unwin, 1998).

Foreword How are violence, desire, and the sacred related? Is this just a random association or does anything really unite these themes? According to René Girard, sacrifice and scapegoating are the pivotal institutions and mechanisms through which violence, desire, and the sacred are inextricably linked—but what does this claim mean exactly and what does it entail? The chapters collected in this volume explore answers to these questions. They explore in particular the connection between scapegoating and two different meanings of sacrifice. That sacrifice embodies the relationship between violence and the sacred is in many ways obvious. That relationship is evident in the very institution of blood sacrifice, whether human or animal. To perform a sacrifice in this sense is to kill. It is also present in sacrifice understood as renunciation, as giving up something that is dear—to protect, to provide, or to honor someone or something that is deemed more important. Even when we are not dealing with the ultimate form of renunciation, the sacrifice of one’s life, violence is never far away. In many instances, either violence is what makes the renunciation necessary or it is the sacrifice itself that is understood as a form of self-directed violence. More generally, violent death, whether on the battlefield, during a rescue operation, or whenever the victim is in any way “on duty” is spontaneously interpreted or at least described as a sacrifice. What is not in any way obvious however is the nature of that relationship. How—in what way?—are violence and the sacred related? Nearly everyone has his or her own idea on the issue. Strangely enough, in spite of their apparent great diversity, these opinions usually boil down to whether the relation between violence and the sacred is to be commended or condemned. The evident relationship between them that is exemplified in sacrifice is judged as proof either of a profound collusion between violence and religion or of their radical difference. A major quality of the chapters in this volume is not only that they avoid this pitfall, but that they provide tools to deconstruct this false dichotomy. They provide insights into the understanding of a relationship that is obscure, precisely because it is so obvious. What is also not evident is the place of desire in between violence and the sacred. It is rather clear that there is a relationship between desire and violence—frustrated desire often leads to violence—or between desire and the sacred, which is often taken to be an expression of our highest desire. But what is the relation between violence, desire, and the sacred? Does desire play any role in the relation between violence and the sacred? According to Girard’s mimetic theory, desire is precisely what builds the consequence from violence to the sacred. This is not because desire is intrinsically violent nor because the sacred is the true object of our desire, but because desire is mimetic—because, that is to say, desire is according to the other.

xiv Foreword We neither autonomously elect the objects of our desires; nor are we determined by the objects themselves to desire whatever it is that we desire. Unable to desire by ourselves, we need others to know what we should desire. We look unto them to discover what or who constitutes a worthwhile object of desire; more precisely we take their desires as the models of our own. Desire in consequence, because it brings us to desire the same object others do, inevitably weaves us together into conflictive relationships. The profound interdependence between us to which mimetic desire bears witness should not however be simply viewed as a burden and a limit, for it is not only that we do not know what to desire without the other, but that we cannot desire without them. Our dependence on the other is what allows us to have goals, objectives, and projects—what allows us to be moved by desires and passions, which, according to Descartes, are the source of all that is good and bad in life.1 Mimesis—and this is central to Girard’s thought—entails that conflict and co­operation are not polar opposites, but profoundly linked to each other, that cooperation leads to conflict, and that conflict fosters cooperation. The interweaving of violence and desire, of conflict and cooperation, entails that violence is an ever present, fundamental problem that societies must resolve if they are to survive. Culture itself, according to Girard, is the fragile, and permanently threatened, solution to that problem. Of the complex relationship between conflict and cooperation, scapegoating and sacrifice are both privileged examples: scapegoating not only because it is a form of elementary cooperation—all against one is a way of being and acting together toward a common goal—but mainly because it is the original mechanism that gave rise to the more elaborate forms of cooperation that we call human culture. According to Girard, spontaneous unanimous scapegoating of a unique victim is the generative mechanism back to which all major human institutions can be traced. Sacrifice, in the form of blood sacrifice, re-enacts this in a modified form and commemorates the collective victimage out of which of human culture arises. Scapegoating was productive then, for it was not seen as scapegoating, and its ability to generate stable social orders in turn ensured that it was not perceived for what it was, but as a pious act of sacred violence. Scapegoating in the world in which we live has progressively become ineffective, and to the extent that it has, it has also become more and more visible. It is not that scapegoating does not take place anymore, or that it cannot, at least temporarily, divert violence from the heart of the community toward expendable victims, as many chapters in this volume clearly show, but that it has lost its ability to generate new cultural forms and to regenerate old ones. The scapegoat or sacrificial mechanism rests on a basic economy of violence: all against one provides violent reconciliation at a minimum cost. Its loss of efficiency also means that this economy of violence is failing. Thus the growing inefficiency of scapegoating and of all sacrificial institutions opens the possibility of more rather than less violence and victims, for it is the basic mechanism that until now protected us against our own violence that is breaking down. According to Girard, it is Christian revelation, more precisely the passion and death



of Christ, that brought about the demise of sacrificial institutions by making visible the scapegoating process that is at the heart of the sacred. Christ’s death however has also generally been conceived as a sacrifice. Girard first argued that such a description was misleading and should be abandoned. He later came to recognize that he had been mistaken in refusing to view Christ’s death as a sacrifice and added, somewhat obscurely, that “he [Girard] had been scapegoating sacrifice.” Many of the chapters in this volume explore the complex of issues related to these different practices and understandings of sacrifice. Sacrifice in its traditional form constitutes both an imitation and a celebration of the original scapegoating, and for that very reason hides the violence that is at the heart of the sacred. It presents violence as something different from what it is. Sacrifice transforms the violence that defines it into a noble act, perhaps regrettable, certainly dangerous, but absolutely necessary, and in this way it redeems the violence that characterizes it. This transformation of violence into a pious activity that puts us in contact with the transcendent realm of the sacred is clearly the case for blood sacrifice. It is however also often present in sacrifice understood under the category of renunciation, of which the sacrifice of one’s life constitutes the ultimate horizon. On the other hand, according to Girard, the sacrifice of Christ reveals the purely human, radically immanent violence that constitutes the sacred. Sacrifice as an imitation of the scapegoating process that produced the sacred maintains and strengthens sacrificial institutions. The sacrifice of Christ deconstructs these institutions and undermines their efficiency by revealing the violent scapegoating process that engenders the sacred for what it is. In both cases, sacrifice stands at the center of the relation between violence and the sacred, but that relation itself is in the two cases radically different. The fundamentally different relations between violence, desire, and the sacred that these two understandings of sacrifice entail is the space which this volume explores. In January 2013 I had the privilege of being invited to give a keynote address at the annual meeting of the Australian Girard Seminar and then the honor of being asked to write the foreword to this volume. This is the second volume with the title Violence, Desire, and the Sacred assembled by the Australian Girard Seminar and as such becomes the second volume in a new series of that same name that makes accessible to a wider, international public the work of this small but very dynamic group of scholars. Even though it was only recently founded, the Australian Girard Seminar, as the chapters in this volume clearly demonstrate, has already made some essential and very original contributions to the mimetic analysis of the modern world. Indeed, many of the contributions gathered in this volume address from a mimetic point of view various contemporary social and political issues, either in the church itself, in society at large, or in international relations, or question some of our basic cultural presuppositions, revealing the presence of real—because generally invisible— scapegoats. It is, I believe, characteristic not only of this volume, but of the work of the Australian Girard Seminar in general, to give central importance to the social relevance of mimetic theory for each and every one of us in our daily life. We can therefore only be grateful to the editors of this volume and to those responsible for this

xvi Foreword new series for having given us this new vehicle for the publication of Girardian studies and of mimetic analyses of contemporary life. Paul Dumouchel Ritsumeikan University

Note 1

René Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, article 212, 58–9, www.earlymodern [accessed September 13, 2013].

Introduction While seemingly anachronistic in an enlightened and individualistic age, sacrifice remains pervasive in human culture and consciousness. Perhaps more than any modern phenomenon, today’s wars have reminded people and nations of the importance and ostensible necessity of sacrifice, likewise its darker aspects in the reinforcement of group belonging and national identity at the expense of a hated “other.” Yet the pervasiveness of sacrifice is not limited to war; it is present in many aspects of our life, as this volume aims to show: from the everyday activities of our work, family life, and friendships, through to social dynamics, politics, literature, religion, and pop culture. René Girard (1923–), of the Académie française, has altered, perhaps more than any other modern scholar, the way in which sacrifice is understood. His theory of sacrifice, though debated, has drawn wide acclaim and reorientated the discussion about what sacrifice is and where it comes from. For Girard, sacrifice represents the violent heart of human culture and its effort to tame that violence—the homeopathic deployment of targeted violence needed to first establish human society and culture by holding socially destructive violence in check. Sacrifice thus represents the human project in a fundamental way, that is, to survive and thrive in relationship with each other and in terms of the almost uncontrollable and undefined desires that we have for more, in fact, for “being” itself. According to Girard, sacrifice is the ultimate means by which we manage our desires and order our relationships. In its primitive form, sacrifice unites conflictual and directionless human beings into a cohesive group. It does this by means of taking a life in exchange for the life of a group that would otherwise destroy itself in violent rivalry. Sacrifice, in other words, is founded on scapegoating: in the group uniting against one, yielding an unexpected and miraculous unity where strife and havoc had formerly threatened disaster. Sacrifice becomes the quintessential social act, hence the quintessential human act: Sacrifice is the violence that heals, unites, and reconciles, in opposition to the bad violence that corrupts, divides, disintegrates, undifferentiates. The view of sacrificial violence as a precious but dangerously unstable substance endowed with paradoxical properties is crucial to human culture.1

The power of this scapegoating sacrifice, for Girard, gives human groups such a surprising gift—the gift of order and stability—that they attribute its power to a supernatural agent. The startling peace and unanimity that emerges from sacrifice is not imagined to be something the group itself produced because this outcome seems so unaccountably powerful, giving the group something that it could not achieve for itself. The “supernatural agent” is none other than the sacrificial victim, who is elevated to the status of a god (or demon) in the eyes of the mob. In light of

xviii Introduction its stunning success, the act of sacrifice is refreshed thereafter in ritual homage to this victim-god, who showed his or her power to the group in the way that sacrificial scapegoating revealed a path to order. Ritualized sacrifice is thus institutionalized in human cultures, alongside myths that justify it, and laws of prohibition aimed at preventing the recurrence of violent social collapse. This ritual is not merely a mechanical imitation of the original violence, however, but represents a means to recreate the restorative unanimity of sacrifice, hence habituating the social group to the mimetic transcendence discovered through scapegoating. Yet, Girard’s journey into the meaning of sacrifice did not stop here. He himself underwent a major shift in understanding sacrifice over the course of his academic career, particularly through the influence of Fr. Raymund Schwager SJ. After arguing that scapegoating is at the heart of human culture, Girard further identified how the biblical tradition exposed this violence as unjust by telling the story of the innocent victim. Moreover, through his exchanges with Raymund Schwager, Girard eventually came to recognize another side to sacrifice: the side of loving self-giving that is particularly exemplified by Jesus Christ on the cross. Girard came to recognize that in a sense he had actually been scapegoating sacrifice itself, and hence only half understanding its meaning. In contrast to the violently sacrificial that takes from the other to acquire being and builds identity and unity by offering that other in sacrifice, loving sacrifice takes the form of a self-offering that gives of its self—and gives up its claim to the superiority and anteriority of its own desire—for the good of the other. In fact, this fuller understanding of sacrifice provided the ground for Girard to realize the full implications of his earlier work on the “romantic lie” and “novelistic truth”: that conversion toward relationship and unity with the other (rather than denying the dependence of our desire upon that of the other, according to the “romantic lie” of our own pristine, autonomous, anterior desire) revolves around loving sacrifice as the fundamental expression of the individual and the social. Exploring in more depth the implications of Girard’s groundbreaking mimetic theory for the understanding of sacrifice is the task of this volume, the second in a developing series emerging under the auspices of our Australian Girard Seminar, while enlisting the engagement of our many friends worldwide in the Colloquium on Violence and Religion. Girard has provided the outline and tools for a deeper understanding of sacrifice that must be carried forward into the different disciplines to bear full fruit. Carrying on the method and vision of Volume 1 of Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, which was subtitled Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines, the current volume undertakes its task with a decidedly interdisciplinary vision and intent: that the use and exchange of disciplinary expertise is necessary for future advances in human understanding, and that this exchange and dialogue can occur on the common anthropological ground provided by Girard.2 Girard himself leads the way in this interdisciplinary endeavor by ranging across, drawing on, and providing fresh insight into multiple disciplines, especially literary criticism, classics, sociology, anthropology, ethnology (and even some paleontology), theology, politics, and history both ancient and modern. Girard has developed his own wide-ranging expertise over four decades of constant exploration; not unsurprisingly



he has drawn criticism for disrespecting normal disciplinary boundaries—though he sees this expansive interdisciplinarity as a justified risk if deeper insights into human life, desire, religion, and culture are to be gained. The most notable contribution of this volume to Girardian studies is to bring distinct disciplines and scholars into dialogue—from politics, cultural studies, literary studies, theology, and psychology—in order to understand sacrifice in its different manifestations and influences. Some of these disciplines, such as politics, cultural studies, and psychology, were not represented in the first volume of Violence, Desire, and the Sacred. It is our special pleasure as editors to set aside a part of this volume for the practical applications of mimetic theory. One of the most commented-upon aspects of mimetic theory for those who have seen merit in it is how it helps them to understand their own identities, relationships, rivalries, desires, emotions, and actions in greater depth. In fact, any likely socio-historical impact of mimetic theory will only begin as we come to better understand and reform our own lives and relationships, particularly away from distorted desires and violence. These “applied” chapters range from understanding our own desires and thoughts, to effective pastoral leadership in churches and the systemic wellsprings of clergy sexual abuse, to peacemaking, to recasting the role of atonement theory in American culture. The volume has a straightforward layout, with each chapter falling into a distinct area, though many chapters have implications for other disciplines. All chapters are noteworthy, though there is an insight in one of them that we would particularly like to highlight, as it offers a foundation for this volume as a whole and has very significant implications for mimetic theory. As a leading Girardian political theologian, Wolfgang Palaver argues in his chapter, the dichotomy between violent and pacific, negative and positive sacrifice, must be deconstructed. The theoretical opposition of violent and pacific sacrifice, just like negative and positive mimesis, is true on one level, but it cannot be absolute. Positive and negative forms of sacrifice and mimesis are not equal and opposed, as if they are mimetic rivals fighting over a common object. To oppose them as such is to make them the basis for a new rivalry and so to scapegoat one or the other, as Nietzsche made the mistake of doing. It is important to emphasize that positive sacrifice is the form of sacrifice that by its character seeks transformation and conversion; negative, violent sacrifice feeds off and distorts good forms of sacrifice for destructive and selfish ends. Negative forms of sacrifice (which Girard defines in terms of scapegoating) are parasitical manifestations of an original and good sacrificial mode of human being. This original mode involves desiring according to the other for the purpose of giving the self to the other (even to the violent other) rather than acquiring the other’s being. This means that when positive and negative sacrifice confront each other (as they did on the cross between the violent mob and the forgiving victim), positive sacrifice does not oppose the negative as if it were a case of a violent rivalry intent on winning. Negative sacrifice is oppositional, whereas positive sacrifice is transformational and always open to self-giving and relationship. While negative sacrifice opposes and destroys, positive sacrifice reconciles and transforms. Thus, through this confrontation runs the possibility that distortions can be

xx Introduction transformed—that positive sacrifice can encompass, heal, and transform the violently sacrificial. This is neatly summed up by Dag Hammarskjöld in a quote from Palaver’s chapter: Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who “forgives” you—out of love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.3

The editors take this opportunity to thank the following people and organizations for their support: the authors, foreign and domestic, who have kindly contributed to this volume; Imitatio, and in particular the most helpful Lindy Fishburne, for the financial support that helped us in preparing the manuscript; Christopher Brennan, for his meticulous work in copy editing and indexing; Haaris Naqvi, for his interest and support at Continuum/Bloomsbury; and our colleagues and supporters in the Australian Girard Seminar. We are particularly grateful to veteran Girardian and philosopher Paul Dumouchel, who traveled from Japan to Sydney to address our January 2013 Conference of the Australian Girard Seminar, and who has kindly offered a foreword to this volume. Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, and Joel Hodge

Notes 1 2


René Girard, A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare (New Malden: Inigo Enterprises, 2000), 214. See “Introduction,” in Violence, Desire, and the Sacred: Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines, Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, and Joel Hodge (eds) (New York: Continuum, 2012), xiv–xix. Similar to that volume (no. 1), which emerged from the January 2011 conference of the Australian Girard Seminar, the current volume (no. 2) draws on material from the January 2012 conference, held in Melbourne. Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings (1964), trans. L. Sjöberg and W. H. Auden, Vintage Spiritual Classics (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 197.


Mimesis, Violence, and the Sacred: An Overview of the Thought of René Girard1 Chris Fleming

This chapter provides an overview of the thought of the French–American literary and cultural theorist René Girard, beginning with his theorization of “mimetic desire,” the explanatory hypothesis Girard employs to theorize interpersonal relations. Girard postulates that desire is pre-eminently imitative. Thence we turn to the “scapegoat” or “victimage” mechanism—Girard’s model for how cultural and religious formation takes place through the banishment or lynching of a victim. This event—or series of events— functions to initiate and sustain cultural stability. Finally, we consider the relationship between Judeo-Christian scripture and the scapegoat mechanism, considering Girard’s depiction of the Bible as representing a trenchant critique of “sacred violence.”

Mimesis: A theory of desire Beginning with the books Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure2 and Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky,3 Girard developed a new theory of desire based around the idea of imitation or “mimesis.”4 As Aristotle noted in Poetics,5 imitation is perhaps the single best defining characteristic of humanity, which distinguishes itself from the rest of the animal kingdom through its increased aptitude and propensity for imitation. From the acquisition of language and the development of regional accents, to the practices of religious discipleship and formal education, it is predominantly through imitation that we are able to learn and come to “inhabit” a culture. Girard suggests: “If human beings suddenly ceased imitating, all forms of culture would vanish.”6 Girard adds that desire is as dependent on imitation as other cultural phenomena, since we learn to desire both what and how others desire. Girard distinguishes between “appetites” and “needs” on the one hand and “desire” on the other. Where the former are constituted by the biological basis of life, and include such things as the basic requirement for food and water (rather than any particular kind of food or water), desire is more amorphous than appetites and far less easy to satisfy:


Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, Volume 2 Once his basic needs are satisfied (indeed, sometimes even before), man is subject to intense desires, though he may not know precisely for what. The reason is that he desires being, something he himself lacks and which some other person seems to possess.7

Thus, Girard argues that what we desire is always “mediated” or “modeled” to us by other people, who in turn have their desires mediated or modeled to them. Desire, in this sense, is contagious—it is capable of being “caught.” This jars with popular, Romantic ideas about individual human autonomy, which tend to suggest that desires are invariably the product of “inner,” subjective (rather than intersubjective) preferences. By claiming that desire is “mimetic,” Girard’s view of desire appears structurally—if not substantively—similar to Freud’s: it is most easily schematized by the triangle. Desire is not a single line of force that runs between the subject and the desired object, but is more properly figured as a triangle in which the real energy of desire is provided by the mediator, who renders an object desirable. This understanding figures desire as pre-eminently relational; that is, desire (like the Newtonian notion of “gravity”) resides not in any one object or person by itself, but rather is constituted in the relationships between people. In this respect at least, Girard’s thought remains firmly within the tradition of French psychoanalysis of the late twentieth century, which emphasized the radically social character of human psychology over the monadic, or individual, self.8 As Jacques Lacan states in Écrits: “It is in the specific reality of inter-human relations that psychology can locate its proper object and its method of investigation.”9 In Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, a collection of studies on the novels of Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Flaubert, and Proust, Girard argued that the theory of mimetic desire, despite his systematization, was not quite his invention. Rather, he identified its incipient logic in certain novels, detecting a comprehension of the mimetic or imitative nature of desire that he argued was on a par with, and often outflanked, the most perceptive of standard behaviorist or psychoanalytic approaches to human behavior. Here, literature has an epistemological value as powerful as, or more powerful than, its esthetic or ethical value. In Miguel de Cervantes’ seventeenth-century novel Don Quixote the hero announces his desire to be a perfect imitation of the legendary knight Amadis de Gaul: I want you to know, Sancho, that the famous Amadis of Gaul was one of the most perfect knight errants … Amadis was the pole, the star for brave and amorous knights and we others who light under the banner of love and chivalry should imitate him. Thus, my friend Sancho, I reckon that whoever imitates him best comes closest to perfect chivalry.10

The imitation of Amadis, so enthusiastically taken up by the hero, exerts heavy influences on Don Quixote’s judgment, his actions, and his emotions; it determines his romantic attachments, religious observances, and even his vision. Quixote hallucinates and transforms a quotidian Spanish countryside into a place of damsels in distress, lurking evil, and heroic knights. In turn, Quixote’s imitation of Amadis itself proves to

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be contagious: Sancho Panza, the simple farmer who is the hero’s companion and who imitates his master’s desires, suddenly wants to become governor of his own island and his daughter to become a duchess. The kind of mimetic desire at work in Don Quixote is what Girard describes as “externally mediated.” Here, the model/mediator of desire is removed—historically, ontologically, spiritually—from the desiring subject such that there is no realistic possibility for rivalry between the subject and the mediator concerning an object of desire. Don Quixote is as unlikely to become a rival of Amadis of Gaul as a Christian is to become a rival of Christ. But Girard also provides a description of a type of mimetic desire structured by “internal mediation”: a situation in which the subject’s and the model’s objects of desire overlap and become a matter of potential, and often actual, conflict. For example, in Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, the character Monsieur de Rênal decides to hire the tutor Julien Sorel on the basis that his rival, Monsieur Valenod, is thought to be planning to do the same. As it tums out, Valenod wasn’t planning this, but now that Sorel has been employed by Monsieur de Rênal, Valenod also attempts to hire him—although both men are, in actual fact, indifferent to the educational possibilities of tutoring and seem to care very little for the tutor himself. That this constitutes “internal mediation” is evidenced by the explicit rivalry between model and mediator, possible because both Valenod and Rênal occupy a similar social status and live in the same town during the same period in history. Unlike Quixote’s admiration for Amadis, the antagonists of The Red and the Black serve both as models for each other’s desire and, most notably, as obstacles to its consummation. Having identified this propensity for mimesis to increasingly generate internal mediation, and hence conflict, Girard pursued his inquiry into the new fields (for him) of cultural and social anthropology. By the time his third book, Violence and the Sacred, appeared in 1972, Girard had incorporated his notion of mimetic desire into a more general theory of cultural formation.

Violence and the Sacred: Scapegoating, myth, and texts of persecution One of the central insights of Girard’s early work was the notion that conflictual (internally mediated) desire moves in the direction of the effacement of differences between people: as rivalry intensifies, characteristics that previously distinguished individuals begin to erode and antagonists effectively become “doubles” of each other. This intensification of the mutual imitation of rival desires and actions produces a situation where the protagonists become progressively more obsessed with each other than with the putative object of their desire. They mirror each other in an attempt to differentiate themselves—to be the one to acquire the object of desire over the other—though such an intensification does nothing but eliminate differences. It is thus an ironic effect of rivalrous (internally mediated) desire that increasingly desperate


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attempts at differentiation work toward the effacement of all significant differences between people; for example, the more Rênal and Valenod attempt to outdo each other (in their quest for Julien), the more both come to resemble each other. This escalation of conflict and rivalry operating through the effacement of differences on a social scale is what Girard calls a “sacrificial crisis,” an intensification of violent activity that works—starting at a local level—progressively to undermine cultural order. For Girard, cultural order is simply a “regulated system of distinctions in which the differences among individuals are used to establish their ‘identity’ and their mutual relationships.”11 Logically, then, the sacrificial crisis, being essentially a “crisis of distinctions,”12 gradually undermines the identities of subjects and the social hierarchies that underwrite these: “Culture,” Girard asserts, “is … eclipsed as it becomes less differentiated.”13 But there is a problem with this scenario left simply as it is: if mimetic desire often moves in the direction of internal mediation, and if the pervasiveness of internally mediated desire invariably produces conflict and rivalry—the effacement of differences and the production of conflictual “doubling”—then humanity seems destined to endless cycles of violence and the erosion of social and cultural structures. Given that this is Girard’s contention, how then can one account for the development and maintenance of culture, and the continued operation of highly complex social institutions? Violence and the Sacred represents Girard’s first sustained attempt to consider this question in detail. Here, he argues that at the most intense moment of conflict, a violent resolution to the crisis will emerge; violence is itself invariably culture’s “answer” to disintegration and disorder: a directed act of violence functions to resolve violence at a general, diffuse level. Girard contends that ultimately we deal with conflict generated by mimetic contagion and progressive undifferentiation by means of fixing our attention on some marginalized figure or group, and, after attributing to them the cause of the tensions, moving to expel or lynch them. The communal response to the debilitating threat of social collapse tends towards the attribution of cause, and the resultant imputation of blame, to an unprotected, marginal “other”: the scapegoat. In a situation of heightened sensitivity to mimetic suggestion and burgeoning conflict, an accusatory gesture is all that is required to unite (and hence to reconcile) warring parties around a common enemy. Thus, what Girard calls the “scapegoat” or “victimage” mechanism names the seemingly perennial means of siphoning off the internal conflict generated by conflictual desire by means of the elimination or banishment of a surrogate victim. This victim (or group of victims), by absorbing the projection of hostilities, is turned into the “outsider” and carries blame for the social unrest; she or he is the victim whose expulsion or immolation temporarily restores harmony and peace to a community through the generation of an esprit de corps.14 However, the “scapegoat mechanism” itself ensures that finding the emissary victim is not done consciously; here, perhaps, one should speak of the victim as “appearing to” rather than “being found by” the mob. The mechanism can operate effectively only if people believe that the expulsion is strictly necessary and the victim is deserving of his or her fate:

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In order to be genuine, in order to exist as a social reality, as a stabilized viewpoint on some act of collective violence, scapegoating must remain nonconscious. The persecutors do not realize that they chose their victim for inadequate reasons, or perhaps for no reason at all, more or less at random.15

The act of scapegoating—the targeted use of violence to keep greater violence at bay— allows for the restoration of harmony and peace to a group, at least for a certain length of time. The scapegoat mechanism is central to Girard’s theory of religion, which, he maintains, legitimizes or sacralizes a certain social or cultural configuration. For Girard, the special function of particular kinds of religious ritual is to maintain the peace achieved through scapegoating by institutionalizing a repetition of it in sacrifice, at the same time that this repetition works to cover up its historical reality. For Girard, the textual form of this “covering up” is what he characterizes as “myth.”16 Girard points out that the lynching of a victim is very often an integral factor in the constitution of polities, especially as these are represented in myth. For instance, in the legend of the foundation of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus become engaged in a squabble. During the ensuing action Romulus kills Remus and in so doing establishes Rome and becomes its first king. The theme of “warring brothers” is a very common one in world myth; for Girard, this theme is a mythical representation of the mimetic doubling and undifferentiation brought about by the intensification of rivalrous mimesis.17 The ancient historian Livy’s recounting of this event is what Girard would classify as “myth”; yet for Girard, myth is neither simply a “falsehood,” nor the expression of some ineffable “truth.” Myth, in his sense, represents the trace of a real event, although the representation of the event itself has been disfigured in its recounting. Myths “are the retrospective transfiguration of sacrificial crises, the reinterpretation of these crises in the light of the cultural order that has arisen from them.”18 But although myths often attempt to “keep secret” the violence that lies at their origin, they invariably leave sufficient clues for detection by those who are sufficiently textually inquisitive. In this respect, Girard examines Guillaume de Machaut’s fourteenthcentury poem Judgement of the King of Navarre.19 Machaut’s text undoubtedly contains highly improbable, mythical elements: people are felled by rains of stones; there are heavenly signs in the sky; whole cities are demolished by lightning. He also claims that Christians died as a result of drinking water poisoned by Jews, who were duly revealed as evildoers by “heavenly signs” and then massacred. Girard asks what aspects of the poet’s account might be considered legitimate or believable. He suggests that, at first, most of Guillaume de Machaut’s text would seem highly suspect as a strictly factual, historical document. And yet even a present-day reader—one accustomed to regarding all referential elements of texts with suspicion—might suspect that actual events stand behind or beside the mythical elements. The “signs” in the sky, the hail of stones, the destruction of cities by lightning, or the manifest guilt of the Jews and their accomplices do not strike the reader as credible. And yet not all seemingly “incredulous” events are of the same order, or can be treated in exactly the same way. Behind these elements of the text lies a historical reality that, once discerned, the mythical elements


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do not conceal, but actually work to reveal. Girard argues that there is scant reason to disbelieve Guillaume’s reporting of a number of deaths, despite rejecting the meaning he attributes to them. Guillaume furnishes us with some details of a historical event despite not perceiving the event adequately himself; he attributes the plague to the Jews, while we would not question their innocence. For Girard, it is not simply the extant historical work on anti-Semitic persecution in the Middle Ages that allows us to discern the credulous from the less credulous in Judgement of the King of Navarre. We accept that the poisonings could not have taken place, in part because we know of no poison of that era capable of inflicting the degree of carnage reported; but we also suspect Guillaume’s account on the basis of his obvious hatred of the accused. And yet, as Girard states, “these two types of characteristics cannot be recognized without at least implicitly acknowledging that they interact with each other.”20 That is, if there really was an epidemic, then it might have worked to stir up latent persecutory tendencies. By the same token, such a persecution might be comprehensible if the accusations against the Jews were “proven” to be correct. The correlation of these two factors prompts Girard to discard the generally endorsed rule that a text be considered reliable only to the level of its most dubious element: If the text describes circumstances favourable to persecution, if it presents us with victims of the type that persecutors usually choose, and if, in addition, it represents these victims as guilty of the type of crimes which persecutors normally attribute to their victims, then it is very likely that the persecution is real.21

In the case of a text like Guillaume’s, if one attends to, and works to understand, the perspective of the persecutors, the obvious unreliability of their accusations against the scapegoats works to validate rather than undermine the informational value of the account, if only in terms of the violence that it depicts. The more spurious the accusations against the scapegoat, the more probable the mob violence reported; it is not simply the text’s inaccuracies that prompt Girard’s conclusion, but the very nature of those inaccuracies. This reading of social history would also apply to sixteenth-century witch hunts, the accounts of which present an interaction of probable and improbable elements that are highly suggestive of actual persecutions. In other words, it would be unwise to disbelieve the reality of the persecutions on the basis of unreliable claims directed against those so accused. Although everything in the accounts is rendered as fact, we believe only select elements, while our willingness to disregard those elements that we consider spurious has little or no effect on those we think are reliable. Again, it is even the case that certain kinds of distortion in the retelling of events make the reality of the persecution more certain: … the mind of a persecutor creates a certain type of illusion and the traces of his illusion confirm rather than invalidate the existence of a certain kind of event, the persecution itself in which the witch is put to death.22

The Judgement of the King of Navarre and the accounts of witch hunts are what Girard terms “texts of persecution”: accounts of actual violence that are characteristically,

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even predictably, distorted by virtue of being recounted from the perspective of the persecutors. Girard has also been interested in the way that these texts share certain key structural features with a variety of mythological and dramatic texts in which he identifies the same features (“stereotypes”) that characterize texts of persecution. These apparent homologies constitute evidence for Girard of the actual lynching of a scapegoat. In important respects, Girard’s work builds on that of Durkheim (1915) and shares many of its concerns. In the first instance, Girard, like Durkheim, rejects the liberalindividualist conception of society: the notion that the individual constitutes the most primitive unit of society, while community and the body politic are simply epiphen­ omena of individuals’ decisions. For both Girard and Durkheim, society is prior to the individual, rather than something that is reducible to the psychology of individual agents. Religion, in this purview, is neither primarily supernatural, involving divine irruptions into the normal workings of nature, nor mystical, involving divine irruptions in the soul of an individual. Rather, religion pertains to the workings of a social group, offering a symbolic representation of social laws and bonds. Girard has made vigorous criticisms of Durkheim’s work, but still sees him as the first significant theorist to take issue with Voltaire and the Enlightenment’s dismissal of religion; Voltaire was le premier à reagir vraiment contre cet escamotage sceptique du religieux. For Girard, the “Voltairean interpretation, which is still dominant, makes religion the widespread conspiracy of priests to take advantage of natural institutions.”23 Eschewing this option (that religion is essentially some kind of “trick” executed by a powerful minority), Girard, along with Durkheim, argues that religion is foundational and coeval with society, rather than something that happens “once it gets going”—something superimposed upon realities that are more fundamental. Girard supports Durkheim’s intuition of the “identity of the social and religious domains, which means, ultimately, the chronological precedence of religious expression over any sociological conception.”24 For Girard, like Durkheim, religion always exists, however disguised and transformed, at the foundations of every society; there is no culture without religion and no religion without sacrifice. But where Durkheim emphasized the socially unifying function of religion, Girard emphasizes its violence. Or, rather, Girard emphasizes the means by which violence functions to produce socially unifying effects via the victimage mechanism. As already touched upon, it is a process that works best—and, strictly, only ever works properly—when the beneficiaries of its effects are ignorant of its true workings. Girard’s emphasis on this social and violent nature of the “sacred” has led some to believe that his views of religion are entirely negative. This is not the case, however— far from it. Girard’s work, beginning with the publication of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, has increasingly engaged with properly theological questions concerning the Judeo-Christian scriptures and their impact on archaic religion and secular forms of violence.25


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Violence unveiled: The Judeo-Christian scriptures Certainly the most controversial of Girard’s theses explores the role of Hebrew scripture and the New Testament in the secularizing destabilization and deconstitution of communities and cultures founded on sacrificial violence. For Girard, what is distinctive about the Judeo-Christian scriptures, culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus, is that the mechanism of scapegoating is itself progressively unveiled. We can see that the significance of the Kingdom of God is completely clear. It is always a matter of bringing together the warring brothers, or putting an end to the mimetic crisis by a universal renunciation of violence.26

Girard believes that the Judeo-Christian scriptures represent an unequaled unveiling and trenchant critique of the victimage mechanism, substituting the promotion of an ethic of love and forgiveness that allows humanity to loosen its hold of the seemingly ineluctable necessity of scapegoating.27 Largely at odds with the intellectual climate in which his work initially developed, Girard has repeatedly argued that the Bible is unique in its disclosure of the victimage mechanism by virtue of its narrative identification of God with the victim. To be clear: Girard aims not to mitigate the atrocities of Christian (or Jewish) history, but to provide a critique of such practices from within. Although mythology is recounted by those who benefit from the scapegoat mechanism, Girard argues that the biblical perspective reflects the outsider perspective of a victim. For example, the psalms contain the first sustained outcries in world literature of the lone victim. This theme crystallizes in Job, whose exhortations to God reveal his persecution at the hands of his neighbors. The same theme is again taken up in the prophetic story of the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 52.13–53.12), who is scapegoated by his own people and does not resist; he is the “lamb led to the slaughter.” Finally, by taking the prophets’ denunciation of bloodshed and sacrifice and carrying it to its conclusion, Jesus institutes a social space in which all violence is abandoned (cf. Matt. 5.38–40). However, it is not simply his pronouncements but the whole drama of Christ’s life and death that has such destabilizing effects on the violent structures of culture. Caiaphas says to the Pharisees and the chief priests: “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation perish not” (Jn 11.50). By incorporating statements specifically addressed to the function of sacrifice for generating social cohesion, the Bible works as a textual force to reveal this mechanism “hidden since the foundation of the world” (Lk. 11.50) so that this knowledge (aletheia) might set us free. Girard acknowledges that he was by no means the first to sense the full historical significance of the empathy for victims that the gospel invokes. Nietzsche also recognized this and wrote extensively—perhaps obsessively—about it. The Christocentrism of Nietzsche’s philosophy has been underemphasized by contemporary European philosophers, perhaps now embarrassed by this preoccupation.28 Nietzsche even goes so far as to explicitly frame his later works in terms of a self-confessed “fundamental antithesis”: “Dionysus versus the crucified.” This antithesis is, again, predicated on

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the construal of Christianity as a religion fostering “active sympathy” or pity for the victim. In book four of The Will to Power, Nietzsche specifies the “two types”: Dionysus versus the crucified: there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom. It is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself. Its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilate. In the other case, suffering—the “Crucified as the innocent one”— counts as an objection to this life, as a formula for its condemnation … The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and reborn and return again from destruction.29

In relation to Girard’s work, the significance of Nietzsche’s “antithesis” is difficult to overemphasize. Dionysus is the wandering god, associated with wine, madness, and most importantly the destructive reconstitution of culture, often through military power. As a performative genre, Dionysian ritual is associated with the dismemberment of a sacrificial victim to appease the deity, in ritual repetition of what was believed to have happened to the god himself. Like Nietzsche, Max Weber, in Ancient Judaism, emphasizes repeatedly that the authors of the Bible take the side of the victim.30 And Eric Gans, distinguished Professor of French at the University of California Los Angeles, states: “Christianity’s impact on the West is a tribute to the power of its basic conception, which is the absolute centrality of the position of the victim.”31 Undoubtedly, Girard’s work continues (by other means) Simone Weil’s intuition that before offering a theory of God, a theology, the biblical tradition offers a theory of humanity, an anthropology.32 As such, Girard’s work sheds surprising light on those elements of biblical texts most often considered “mythical” or “fantastic” by the contemporary mind. For instance, in suggesting, as the Gospels do, that those involved in Jesus’ crucifixion were on the side of “Satan” is simply to render tangible, through personification, the power of rivalrous desire to engender accusation and violence. This is the nature and the extent of Satan’s reality. Consistent with this reading, the New Testament is continually at pains to indicate that evil has power only in so far as it is embodied in a particular person or group. Thus, the personification of Satan as rivalrous mimesis—as that which engenders accusation and violence—is necessitated by the way in which this power attaches itself to a victim at the epicenter of the scapegoat mechanism: they are viewed as a demon or devil. Further, Satan is a Hebrew word that means the “accuser”; the Christian revelation also speaks continually of Satan as the “father of lies” and the “murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8.44). That lie, suggests Dominique Barbé—with an insight that parallels Girard’s—consists precisely in covering over the violence that lies at the base of all societies.33 This construal makes sense of the biblical claim that Satan is both the archon, the ruler or prince of this world, and the arché, the origin of the spirit of murder that founds the earthly polis. The last stage in Girard’s work has involved a consideration of war—in particular the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s On War—in a book entitled Achever Clausewitz (“Completing Clausewitz”), appearing subsequently in English as


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Battling to the End.34 Girard contests Clausewitz’s idea that war, as the continuation of politics by other means, can be constrained by governments. Girard sees hints that Clausewitz himself began to think otherwise when, as a witness to Napoleonic Wars, he saw clearly the escalation of conflict that was beginning to haunt Europe. This “escalation to extremes” (Clausewitz) was finally brought to consummation in the horrific violence of the twentieth century’s escalating mimetic rivalries. These went unrestrained by any adequate scapegoat mechanism because the cultural diffusion of Judeo-Christianity’s exposure of that scapegoat mechanism has made it harder and harder to function effectively in restraining the escalation of conflict. Here again we see Girard’s anthropological appropriation of biblical language—in this case, the “apocalypse”—as a hermeneutic key for understanding our culturally turbulent contemporary world. Girard’s contention is not that the apocalypse represents a future divine judgment on the human race but, rather, the acknowledgment of humanity’s incapacity to limit its own violence, which now threatens to engulf the globe.

Conclusion: An epistemological postscript Girard’s body of work—both in its methods and in its conclusions—is largely out of step with current theoretical trends in the humanities and social sciences, and yet in itself it is hard to see this as a disrecommendation. Perhaps Girard’s greatest potential as a theorist of culture is the extent to which his work sheds welcome light on the vexing question of how and why violence seems central to many religious practices and expressions.35 As I have argued, Girard’s somewhat paradoxical formulation suggests that religion provides a mechanism for defusing and controlling violence through violence; it “contains” violence in both senses of the word: it deploys so-called “good,” sanctioned violence against “bad.” Yet with his insistence on the links between violence and cultural formation, Girard’s work also points to the continued presence of the “archaic”—the “primitive,” the violent, the “tribal”—in the so-called civilized, secular present. As might be expected, responses to Girard’s work have been mixed; where some critics see tendencies toward “reductionism,” advocates welcome its theoretical elegance and explanatory fruitfulness. Indeed, his work has prompted fierce criticism, but has also inspired the establishing of an academic journal (Contagion: The Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture), series of books, numerous associations, conferences, and symposia, and a considerable amount of interdisciplinary engagement among areas as diverse as economics, philosophy, psychology, theology, and musicology. Girard is, at the very least, a provocateur, someone whose theories hold out considerable generative scope and, commensurately, much need for further scrutiny and analysis.

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Notes An earlier, substantially different, version of this chapter appeared in Australian Religion Studies Review (Autumn 2002): 57–72. Thanks to Equinox Publishing for permission to reuse some material from the original essay. Thanks also to Mindy Sotiri, John Fleming, Scott Cowdell, and Joel Hodge—and to an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on that earlier draft of this chapter. 2 René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure (1961), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965). 3 René Girard, Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky (1963), trans. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad, 1997). 4 “Mimesis” is a Greek word meaning “imitation.” There are two primary reasons that Girard chooses to use the word “mimesis” rather than simply “imitation” in his discussion of desire: first, the latter term tends to imply that the desire is invariably conscious, rather than something that very often occurs below the level of awareness; and second, the word “mimesis” has conflictual valences that the word “imitation” does not bear out. 5 1448b, 4–10. 6 René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 7.   Although Girard’s statement concerning the importance of imitation in human development may seem hyperbolic, it has received strong, albeit indirect, corroboration from studies in cognitive and developmental psychology (A. Meltzoff, “Imitation of Facial and Manual Gestures by Human Neonates,” Science l9, no. 7 [1977]: 75–8; A. Meltzoff, “Infant Imitation after a 1-Week Delay: Long-Term Memory for Novel Acts and Multiple Stimuli,” Developmental Psychology 24, no. 4 [1988]: 470–6; A. Meltzoff, “Infant Imitation and Memory: Nine-Month-Olds in Immediate and Deferred Tests,” Child Development 59 [1988]: 217–25; and A. Meltzoff, “Imitation of Televised Models by Infants,” Child Development 59 [1988]: 1221–9) and cognitive science (V. Gallese and A. Goldman, “Mirror Neurons and the Simulation Theory of ‘Mind-Reading,’” in Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2 [1998]: 493; G. Rizzolatti and M. Arbib, “Language within Our Grasp,” in Trends in Neurosciences 21 [1988]: 188; and V. S. Ramachandran, “Mirror Neurons and Imitation Learning as the Great Driving Force behind the ‘Great Leap Forward’ in Human Evolution,”’edge69.htm1 [accessed October 10, 2012]).   Additionally, the role of imitation in the behavior of nonhuman animals has also been a repeatedly studied feature of contemporary ethology (F. DeWaal, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996], 19–20, 71–3). There are interesting resonances between Girard’s notion of “mimesis” and what psychoanalysts term “identification,” Judith Butler’s notion of the “performative citation” (Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity [New York: Routledge, 1990]), and Louis Althusser’s notion of “interpellation” (“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Towards an Investigation,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster [London: New Left Books, 1971])—all of which (broadly) figure corporeal 1


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or symbolic imitation as a key element of subject formation—but investigating these resonances is beyond the scope of the current chapter. Most recently, Scott Garrels has edited a fine collection on mimesis and science (Mimesis and Science: Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion [East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011]). 7 René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1972), trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 146. There are parallels here between Girard’s schema and Hegel’s distinction in The Phenomenology of Mind between “the sentiment of self ” (which is common to nonhuman animals) and “self-consciousness” (which is particular to humans). G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. I. B. Baillie (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967). 8 J. Butler, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections on Twentieth-Century France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). 9 J. Lacan, Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966), 73. 10 Quoted in Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 1. 11 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 49. 12 Ibid., 49. 13 René Girard, The Scapegoat (1982), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 14. 14 It is interesting to note that in the French and German languages the main words for “victim” (French, victime; German, Opfer) can also entail “sacrifice.” 15 René Girard, “Generative Scapegoating,” in Violent Origins: Walter Burkett, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly (ed.) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 78. 16 Girard’s choice of the myth of Oedipus for an analysis of scapegoating is strategic; he is here contesting the Freudian engagement with the same text (cf. S. Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols., (ed. and trans.) James Strachey, vol. 18, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego [London: Hogarth, 1953–66; 1955], 65–143; Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, vol. 19, The Ego and the Id [1961], l–66; Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 169–222; and Girard, Things Hidden, 352–92). The root of the Greek word for “myth,” muthos, is mu, which means “to keep secret” or “to close.” 17 René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), 22. For Girard’s discussion of Romulus and Remus, see The Scapegoat, 88–94. Cf. M. Serres, Rome: The Book of Foundations, trans. Felicia McCarren (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). 18 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 64. 19 Girard, The Scapegoat, 11–14. 20 Ibid., 6. 21 Ibid., 6–7. 22 Ibid., 11. 23 Girard, Things Hidden, 63. 24 Ibid., 82. 25 Cf. J. Alison, Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination (New York: Crossroad, 1996); J. Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998); G. Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad, 1995); S. Goodhart, Sacrificing Commentary:

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Reading the End of Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence: Paul’s Hermeneutic of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994); J. G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991); R. Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation: Toward a Biblical Doctrine of Redemption, trans. James G. Williams and Paul Haddon (New York: Crossroad, 1991); and R. Schwager, Must There be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, 2nd edn, trans. Maria L. Assad (New York: Crossroad, 1994). 26 Girard, Things Hidden, 197. 27 Cf. Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes (New York: Routledge, 2001), 30. 28 C. Fleming and J. O’Carroll, “Nietzsche, The Last Atheist,” in Violence, Desire and the Sacred: Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines, Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, and Joel Hodge (eds) (New York: Continuum, 2012), 226–50. 29 F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufman and R. J. Collingdale (New York: Vintage, 1967), 542–3/ §1052. Cf. F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, trans. R. J. Collingdale (London: Penguin, 1990), 127–31/ §§2–7. 30 M. Weber, Ancient Judaism, trans. H. H. Garth and D. Martindale (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952), 19–22, 86, 475–6, 492–5. 31 E. Gans, “The Victim as Subject: The Esthetico-Ethical System of Rousseau’s Réveries,” in Studies in Romanticism 21, no. 1 (1982): 3–31, at 4. 32 Cf. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 182. 33 D. Barbé, A Theology of Conflict (Maryknoll: Orbis, l989), 54. 34 René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (2007) (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010). 35 See M. Juergensmeyer, (ed.) Terrorism and Political Violence 3, no. 3 (1991), a special issue on violence and the sacred in the modern world.

Part One



Abolition or Transformation?The Political Implications of René Girard’s Theory of Sacrifice Wolfgang Palaver

John Lennon’s song “Imagine” from 1971, the unofficial hymn of the peace movement of that era, claims that peace demands the abolition of sacrifice, which so often goes together with nationalism and militarism. The following passage is central in this regard: Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace

“Nothing to kill or die for” comprises the modern anti-sacrificial attitude. Thirty years ago, when I became a pacifist and a conscientious objector, I roughly believed in a world described by this part of “Imagine.” I rejected sacrifice without being aware that in order to avoid sacrificing others I might be forced to sacrifice myself, to give up my own claims, even to risk my own life. The following reflections will again and again come back to this problem so elegantly overlooked by Lennon and many of his pacifist followers—including me.

Between the sacrificial thinking of political Catholicism and the modern abolition of sacrifice The question of sacrifice addresses one of the most difficult problems of every theory of religion. There are at least two pitfalls of which we have to be aware, or we could easily fall into one of them. Let me first address the pitfall into which many traditional Catholic thinkers have fallen. Without distinguishing between pagan and biblical concepts at all, they strongly emphasize the necessity and inevitability of sacrifice,


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accepting also immediately the political consequences that follow from this point of view. A telling example is the tradition that developed from the Catholic reactionaries Joseph de Maistre and Juan Donoso Cortés, to the German law scholar Carl Schmitt. All three represent sacrificial thinking as an offspring of the scapegoat mechanism that René Girard discovered at the origin of human culture. Again and again, they affirm the age-old sacrificial logic that a few drops of blood may avoid streams of blood. According to Donoso Cortés, the following three things have to be believed: “That the effusion of blood is necessary, that there is a manner of shedding blood which is purificatory, and another mode which is condemnatory.”1 For de Maistre, everything depends on the spilling of blood: “We can say that blood is the manure of the plant we call genius.”2 According to de Maistre, the world is nothing but a huge sacrificial altar, and war—following this way of sacrificial thinking—is something divine: The earth cries out and asks for blood … Thus is carried out without cease, from maggot to man, the great law of violent destruction of living things. The entire world, continuously saturated with blood, is nothing but an immense altar where all that lives must be slaughtered without end, without measure, without slackening, until the devouring of all things, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death … War is therefore divine, in and of itself because it is a law of the world … War is divine in the mysterious glory which surrounds it, and in the no less inexplicable attraction which draws us to it.3

Similar thoughts about war were also expressed by Juan Donoso Cortés, who believed that the abolition of war would result in the destruction of the world. Both also strongly supported capital punishment, which is another offspring of the foundational murder. Like war, in their eyes the death penalty is necessary because it reduces violence inside a society and any abolition of it risks “a more bloody future”: “Blood will then gush forth from the rocks, and the earth will become a hell.”4 De Maistre shows his position on capital punishment in his celebration of the executioner, whom he views as the central figure of political order: All greatness, all power, all subordination rest on the executioner. He is the terror and the bond of human association. Remove this mysterious agent from the world, and in an instant order yields to chaos: thrones fall, society disappears.5

Those passages in the New Testament—such as Hebrews 9.22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”—that, due to their ambivalence, tend to obliterate the difference between the biblical perspective and archaic religiosity, play a central role in the writings of de Maistre and Donoso Cortés.6 But although our repugnance concerning the main theses of these two writers is understandable, we should be aware that these thinkers are not supporting war and capital punishment for completely immoral reasons. Like archaic religions, both want to foster cultural and political peace through the controlled and well-aimed use of violence. In the twentieth century, the German legal scholar Carl Schmitt developed his political theology in the footsteps of the Catholic reactionaries, de Maistre and Donoso Cortés. Like them, he justifies the sacrifices demanded by war. He sharply

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criticized pacifist liberalism that tried to create “a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics,” losing thereby also the strength to demand sacrifices:7 such a “pacified globe” does not recognize an antithesis “whereby men could be required to sacrifice life, authorized to shed blood, and kill other human beings.”8 Against such versions of Catholic understandings of sacrifice, the Reformation and the Enlightenment led to the modern abolition of sacrifice that characterizes our world today. In particular, liberalism is deeply influenced by its break with the sacrificial thinking stemming from the archaic world. One can recognize a line of anti-sacrificial thinking going from Thomas Hobbes to John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas in our time.9 According to Hobbes’ definition of the law of nature, it “is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his [a man’s] life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same.”10 The unilateral option of the Sermon on the Mount to risk one’s own life in tragic situations where there is no alternative between killing and being killed is against Hobbes’ understanding of natural law. The individual is not allowed to risk his own life, but has to look toward his own self-preservation, the highest obligation of this early version of liberalism. Modern versions of liberalism emphasize this anti-sacrificial stance even more. John Rawls, the most prominent representative of contemporary liberalism, dealt with the problem of sacrifice in his criticism of utilitarianism. Against utilitarian justifications of individual sacrifices for the sake of an increase of overall utility, Rawls emphasized the inviolability of the individual: Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many.11

Close to Hobbes, Rawls too rejects the idea of a unilateral self-sacrifice. Moreover, Habermas explains in several of his books that modern “rational morality puts its seal on the abolition of sacrifice.”12 Taking military duty, capital punishment, and the duty to pay taxes as his examples, he claims that the “normative core” of “Enlightenment culture” consists “in the abolition of a publicly demanded sacrificium as an element of morality.”13 Connected to a German discussion about a monument commemorating the Holocaust, Habermas again made clear that it is especially the connection between sacrifice and cults of war that explains his critical view of sacrifice. He especially criticizes the traditional “cult of sacrifice” that “still during my own youth, was devoted to the image of the heroic dead, of the supposedly voluntary sacrifice for the ‘higher’ good of the collective. The Enlightenment had good reasons for wanting to abolish sacrifice.”14


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René Girard’s theory of sacrifice Girard’s mimetic theory is especially helpful to critique those types of sacrificial thinking that I summarized in the first part of this chapter. According to Girard, archaic religion and culture stem from a foundational murder—the so-called scapegoat mechanism. Many different myths from a broad variety of cultures show traces of a primordial crisis—of a war of everyone against everyone—that turned into a state of peace and order by expelling or killing one member. These scapegoats became the gods of these archaic tribes because they were not only seen as the troublemakers that caused the crises but also as those beings that enabled the community to live in peace. The scapegoat mechanism—Girard also uses the term “victimage mechanism”—is the origin of archaic or pagan sacrifice.15 Sacrificial rites are, according to Girard, an imitation or repetition of the scapegoat mechanism. In order to strengthen the peace that followed the foundational murder the groups repeat consciously and in a controlled way what they seem to have experienced during the crises that led to the foundational murder. Wherever a cultural order is based on the sacrifice of single victims by the collective, we are facing a sacrificial culture stemming from the scapegoat mechanism. Girard refers to reactionary Christian thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre or Carl Schmitt to emphasize how their way of divinizing the social order is much closer to the sacrificial patterns of paganism than to genuine Christianity.16 These thinkers represent a distortion or mutilation of the biblical legacy. Contrary to thinkers such as de Maistre, Donoso Cortés, and Carl Schmitt, Girard emphasizes a fundamental difference between archaic religions rooted in the scapegoat mechanism on the one hand, and religions that stem from the biblical revelation on the other. Pagan religions side with the persecuting mob justifying the victimization of scapegoats. The biblical tradition, on the contrary, is characterized by its rehabilitation of persecuted victims. The story of Cain and Abel, the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22), penitential psalms, the dialogues in the book of Job, passages in the prophetic literature—especially the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Isa. 52–3)—and other texts, too, tell us about the Bible’s siding with victims, often with innocent victims of collective violence. The Passion of Christ shows convincingly how Christianity also sides with innocent victims of persecution. Girard early on emphasized the difference between archaic sacrifice and Christianity so much that in his earlier writings he vehemently rejected the use of the term “sacrifice” to describe Jesus’ laying down of his life on the cross.17 To distance himself from religious studies as they developed during the nineteenth century, with their identification of myth and the Bible, he avoided using the same term for the pagan sacrifice and for Jesus’ giving his life on the cross. At that time Girard understood the traditional Christian use of the term “sacrifice” as a relapse from the non-sacrificial position of the Gospels. He recognized such a distortion already in the New Testament, especially in the letter to the Hebrews, in which the death of Jesus is interpreted from the point of view of sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible.18 Girard referred especially to Hebrews 9.22–6 and 10.11–14. It is true that Hebrews sees Jesus’ death as the perfect and definitive sacrifice, avoiding therefore

Abolition or Transformation?


a relapse into an archaic understanding of it. But the singular non-sacrificial position of the Passion narratives was, according to Girard (at this stage of his thinking), lost in this part of the New Testament. Girard, however, did not maintain his initial and radical rejection of the term “sacrifice.” Similar to his critique of Catholic reactionaries, which sits alongside his rejection of the opposite political attitude (the divinization of social disorder and revolution), his long-time collaboration with Raymund Schwager, a Jesuit teaching dogmatics at the University of Innsbruck, led him to the conclusion that emphasizing the difference between archaic sacrifice and Christian self-giving love did not prevent him from falling prey to a humanistic and progressive illusion concerning his understanding of sacrifice. In an interview with Rebecca Adams, conducted in 1992, he very openly criticized his earlier position. He admitted that he was scapegoating Hebrews and also scapegoating the word “sacrifice,” really “trying to get rid of it.”19 Regarding his interpretation of Hebrews, he even went as far as to say that he was “completely wrong.”20 The most extensive treatment of Girard’s new approach on sacrifice can be found in his contribution to the Festschrift that was published on the occasion of Raymund Schwager’s sixtieth birthday, in 1995.21 Since the publication of that article he has repeatedly explained his changed attitude regarding sacrifice.22 Most important in this respect is the French volume from 2007 that comprises Girard’s first four books. In a long footnote he distances himself from his earlier position, and he also deletes a passage from Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World that became most questionable to him.23 How can we, then, summarize Girard’s new position on sacrifice? First, Girard maintains, of course, that the difference between “archaic sacrifices” and the “sacrifice of Christ” is so great that hardly anything greater can be conceived.24 In a recent interview Girard emphasized this difference despite the fact that he now uses the term “sacrifice” for both these attitudes: “No greater difference can be found: on the one hand, sacrifice as murder; on the other hand, sacrifice as the readiness to die in order not to participate in sacrifice as murder.”25 Girard holds to his view developed in his earlier work that there is a fundamental difference between myth and the Bible. But this important distinction does not have to be understood as a radical separation negating any connection between archaic religions and the Judeo-Christian revelation. According to Girard, there exists a “paradoxical unity of all that is religious” if we take the whole of human history into account.26 With this expression he is referring indirectly to an ontology of peace that is rooted in creation—that there is a good and basic disposition toward peace in humanity—and that has a formative influence on the archaic religions, too. Whoever rejects this unity—we modern people are tempted to deny it—easily turns toward scapegoating because, by occupying a seemingly innocent and pure position, one thinks oneself to be legitimated to condemn all archaic attempts to make peace. Modern massacres—the slaughter of indigenous people in Latin America legitimated by the rejection of human sacrifice is one telling example— are the result of this moralistic attitude of a corruptio optimi pessima, a corruption of the best always leading to the worst.27 Due to Schwager’s influence, Girard was able to avoid these pitfalls by understanding Christian redemption in a way that maintains


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its fundamental difference from, as well as its connection with, archaic sacrifice. According to Girard, Jesus’ substitutionary self-giving of his life has to be understood as a “divine re-employment of the scapegoat mechanism”: “God himself re-employs the scheme of the scapegoat at his own expense in order to subvert it.”28 It is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that overcomes pagan sacrifice. Girard’s emphasis on the paradoxical unity of all that is religious opens his theory toward an interreligious perspective because it no longer relies on an unbridgeable gap between Christianity and all other religions. It is also important to understand with Girard that we cannot easily put aside all violence that necessitates sacrifice. Violence—as long as it remains part of human relations—is either shifted on to someone else (the scapegoat mechanism) or it is overcome by someone ready to endure it (Christian self-giving). Again and again, Girard has referred to the biblical story about the judgment of Solomon (1 Ks 3.16–28) to explain his understanding of sacrifice. Throughout his work Girard has not changed his high estimation of this biblical passage.29 In it, two women quarrel about who is the true mother of a living child. After Solomon has decided to divide the child in two, the bad mother accepts his judgment and demands the death of the child. She represents the sacrificial spirit of the scapegoat mechanism. The good mother, on the other hand, sacrifices her rights to the child when she asks the king to spare the life of the child and give it to the other woman. She even risks her own life, since she could be accused of being a liar after she gives up her right to the child. In his earlier interpretations of this text, Girard suggested that one shouldn’t use the term “sacrifice” in relation to both of these mothers. He wanted to strengthen the difference between pagan sacrifice and Christian sacrifice. In his later work he talks about the danger that goes along with this view. He criticizes it for its illusory assumption that there exists some “neutral ground that is completely foreign to violence.”30 Archaic sacrifice and Christ’s sacrifice “are radically opposed to one another, and yet they are inseparable. There is no non-sacrificial space in between, from which everything could be described from a neutral viewpoint.”31 To claim that kind of neutral ground seeks to avoid even the smallest costs that may have to be paid to overcome violence. Because violence is rooted in mimetic rivalries between human beings it will not simply disappear without anyone being ready to sacrifice their own desires or a willingness to prefer suffering to violating someone else. Sacrifices in this sense are the only means to overcome pagan sacrifice. The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, whose work significantly influenced Girard’s theory, was able to express the difference between archaic sacrifices and Christian self-giving without relying at all on an illusory neutral ground: “The false God changes suffering into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.”32 The exodus from the world of archaic sacrifices is therefore not a complete break with the pagan world but its transformation. The existing amount of violence has to be transformed. From this perspective sacrificial Catholicism is not completely false but a starting point that has to be taken seriously, needing, of course, further clarifications and precise descriptions of the different types of sacrifice. Girard adopted such a view in his most recent book, Battling to the End,

Abolition or Transformation?


in which he discusses Madame de Staël’s Catholic understanding of sacrifice and its parallels with Joseph de Maistre. Regarding de Maistre’s understanding of sacrifice, Girard insists that: … the anthropology that was being sketched in this case was still in its infancy. It cannot grasp the revealing reversal of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. De Maistre’s work contains an aborted meditation on sacrificing the other and sacrificing oneself: the victims are innocent, but at the same time the sacrifices have to have an expiatory function. Nonetheless, it was on this romantic loam that anthropology took root, and a science of religion beyond theological speculation became possible.33

The importance of a transformation is underlined in this book with reference to Hölderlin, in whom Girard recognizes an important attempt to relate pagan and Christian sacrifices to each other.34 Girard’s turn toward a deeper understanding of the meaning of transformation brings him close again to Schwager’s dramatic theology, with its emphasis on the transformation of sacrifice.35

Dag Hammarskjöld’s understanding of sacrifice An illuminating example of a transformative approach toward sacrifice in the realm of politics, which is close to Girard’s later perspective, can be found in the spiritual diary Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. I assume that Hammarskjöld’s view of violence was at least as critical as it is true for probably most modern and enlightened people in the Western world. It was his dedication to create a more peaceful and less violent world that motivated him to understand his work as Secretary-General as a “selfless service to … humanity.”36 At the same time, however, his spiritual diary is so full of references to a religious understanding of sacrifice that one starts to doubt if Hammarskjöld can really be counted among modern, enlightened thinkers. Having the modern abolition of sacrifice in mind, I want to refer to one of Hammarskjöld’s more puzzling entries on sacrifice in his diary. A passage from 1957 refers to Greek mythology and the sacrifice of Oedipus, who gave his life to save Thebes: Oedipus, the son of a king, the winner of a throne, fortunate and innocent, is compelled to recognize the possibility and, in the end, the fact that he, too, is guilty, which makes it just that he should be sacrificed to save the city.37

Oedipus is, according to Girard, an archetype of a mythic scapegoat, whose expulsion should overcome the social crisis in Thebes.38 Was Hammarskjöld endorsing the age-old way of sacrifice (he himself calls it a “barbarian cult”39), neglecting the abolition of sacrifice by the Enlightenment? No, not at all. Everything depends on his understanding of sacrifice. In a meditation on the Passion of Christ according to the Gospel of John—especially the footwashing during the Last Supper—he emphasizes Jesus’ nonviolent “commitment to life.”40 Jesus


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is understood as the nonviolent “Lamb of God.” An important subsequent entry in Hammarskjöld’s diary underlines his emphasis on Jesus’ self-giving of his life lovingly for the sake of the others:41 Does he sacrifice himself for others, yet for his own sake—in megalomania? Or does he realize himself for the sake of the others? The difference is that between a monster and a man. “A new commandment I give unto you: that ye love one another.”42

There remains, however, the open and challenging question why Hammarskjöld did not abandon the notion of sacrifice completely. Let us compare his understanding of sacrifice with Lennon’s song “Imagine.” Again, Hammarskjöld does not part from Lennon in regard to the rejection of violence, as clearly expressed in the following entry in his diary: Acts of violence—Whether on a large or a small scale, the bitter paradox: the meaningfulness of death—and the meaninglessness of killing.43

He clearly prefers life-giving creation to destruction and turns this distinction into an important criterion regarding his own life: Do you create? Or destroy? That’s For your ordeal-by-fire to answer.44

Hammarskjöld also distances himself from all masochistic longings for death and suffering. One entry is especially telling in this regard: Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfilment.45

Every “pleasure-tinged death wish”—often going together with a “narcissistic masochism”—belongs to one of “two abysses” that have to be avoided.46 In one of his self-critical entries Hammarskjöld writes that even a heroic risking of one’s life may still result from “your solipsism, your greed for power, and your death-wish” if it is “not tamed by the yoke of human intimacy and warmed by its tenderness”:47 It is better for the health of the soul to make one man good than “to sacrifice oneself for mankind.”48

But as clearly as he rejects violent killings as well as a masochistic or power-greedy death wish, he also distances himself from an attitude that tries to avoid death or sacrifice by any means. Here he parts from a perspective like the one expressed in Lennon’s song because, for Hammarskjöld, we also have to avoid the second abyss, “the animal fear arising from the physical instinct for survival.”49 A concrete example from the world of peace politics can illustrate in what way sacrifices may become necessary. Following a proposal by the Canadian foreign minister Lester Pearson, Hammarskjöld helped to establish peacekeeping operations by the United Nations. Peacekeeping, as we know, may demand sacrifices. Since 1948,

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nearly 3,000 people have lost their lives engaged in peacekeeping operations for the United Nations.50 The most plausible example of the need for sacrifice in his diary can be found where Hammarskjöld addresses the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness has become very important in our contemporary world because our growing awareness of scapegoating and victimization easily contributes to an escalation of violence if our concern for victims is not accompanied by it.51 Forgiveness may demand sacrifices or substitutionary suffering, as is seen in the example of Jesus Christ. Violence can be overcome only by undergoing it, by the sacrifice of voluntary suffering.52 Hammarskjöld expresses the interrelation between forgiveness and sacrifice in one of the most illuminating passages in his diary: Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who “forgives” you—out of love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.53

With the “chain of causality” Hammarskjöld refers—at least indirectly—to the mythic connection between wrong and retribution as it stems from the scapegoat mechanism, which was overcome through Jesus’ forgiving and loving sacrifice on the cross.54 Until today the spirit of retribution has contributed largely to the escalation of conflicts in the realm of international politics, which can be overcome only by acts of forgiveness and the voluntary renunciation of claims and entitlements. As he was noting down this relation between forgiveness and sacrifice during Easter 1960, Hammarskjöld was most likely aware of the larger political implications of this important insight.55 Summarizing Hammarskjöld’s understanding of sacrifice, we can see that he parts from archaic sacrifice in the same way that the Judeo-Christian Bible has overcome archaic religions. This does not mean, however, that he thinks that violence can be avoided without any kind of sacrifice. Like Weil or Girard, he realized that sometimes we have to undergo violence or suffering in order to avoid perpetrating violence against others. Whoever thinks they can avoid such dilemmas forever easily risks justifying the sacrifice of others in a disguised form. This problem can be shown in those anti-sacrificial concepts of liberalism that I mentioned in the first part of this chapter. Hobbes is a good example to illustrate the sacrificial consequences of an anti-sacrificial liberalism. He is not only an early representative of liberal individualism but also a mentor of the absolutist, centralized state. What starts as an anti-sacrificial individualism ends as a sacrificial ideology of an absolutist state emasculating individuality. Moshe Halbertal rightly emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the modern state, referring also to its indirect connection with Hobbes’ philosophy: Humans never created a greater altar to Molech than the centralized state. The modern state’s hunger for human sacrifice is insatiable … The history of the modern state is in some ways a return of the repressed. In its demand for selfsacrifice, the centralized state manifests the vengeful eruption of the sacrificial desire that Hobbes everywhere attempted to marginalize.56


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Similarly, Jean-Pierre Dupuy has convincingly shown that John Rawls was finally not able to overcome sacrifice entirely.57 Rawls’ theory remains consistent only in so far as it excludes all those situations necessitating sacrifice. Contrary to Rawls, Habermas does not exclude tragic situations entirely and expresses his admiration for those people who follow the biblical command to love and who are willing to sacrifice for their neighbors in ways that cannot be demanded morally: “Supererogatory acts can be understood as attempts to counteract the effects of unjust suffering in cases of tragic complication or under barbarous living conditions that inspire our moral indignation.”58 Similarly, in his discussion in 2004 with Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI), Habermas maintained that every democracy relies on the sacrifices of its citizens, which, however, cannot be enforced by law but may only be suggested to them. A democracy relies on voluntary acts of sacrifice: In a democratic constitutional state, a legal obligation to vote would be just as alien as a legal requirement to display solidarity. All one can do is suggest to the citizens of a liberal society that they should be willing to get involved on behalf of fellow citizens whom they do not know and who remain anonymous to them and that they should accept sacrifices that promote common interests. This is why political virtues, even if they are only ‘levied’ in small coins, so to speak, are essential if a democracy is to exist.59

I began this chapter by quoting Lennon’s song to demonstrate that demanding that there should be nothing “to kill or die for” is, in an oversimplified form, wrong because it eliminates all the difficult and tragic situations we may face in our life. Weil was for a long time a pacifist herself. In one of her late reflections on this issue she emphasized in what way pacifism may turn into a danger. By this she addressed the second pitfall, or abyss, connected to sacrifice into which we may fall. It is not the pitfall where we could meet people like de Maistre or Schmitt, but it is, nevertheless, dangerous: Pacifism is only capable of causing harm when a confusion arises between two sorts of aversion: the aversion to kill, and the aversion to be killed. The former is honourable, but very weak; the latter, almost impossible to acknowledge, but very strong.60

Notes 1

2 3

Juan de Donoso Cortés, Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism: Considered in Their Fundamental Principles, trans. M. Vinton Goddard (Albany: Preserving Christian Publications, 1991), 284; cf. Wolfgang Palaver, “A Girardian Reading of Schmitt’s Political Theology,” Telos 93 (1992): 43–68, esp. 62–4. Joseph Marie Maistre, Considerations on France, trans. R. A. Lebrun, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 29. Quoted by David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of

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Warfare as We Know It (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 310–11; cf. René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (2007), trans. Mary Baker, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 84. 4 Donoso Cortés, Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, 292. 5 Quoted by Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 117. 6 Joseph de Maistre, Über das Opfer, trans. C. Langendorf (Wien: Karolinger, 1997), 36; Donoso Cortés, Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, 288. 7 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1932), trans. G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 35; cf. Wolfgang Palaver, “Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism,” Telos 102 (1995): 43–71. 8 Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 35. 9 Palaver, “Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism,” 43–7. 10 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), ch. 14, at 91. 11 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971) (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2005), 3–4. 12 Jürgen Habermas, Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics, trans. C. Cronin (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 34, translation corrected. 13 Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, trans. M. Pensky (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 101; cf. Jürgen Habermas, Time of Transitions (2001), trans. C. Cronin and M. Pensky (Malden, MA: Polity, 2006), 166. 14 Habermas, Time of Transitions, 46. 15 René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 95. 16 René Girard, The Girard Reader, James G. Williams (ed.) (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 203. 17 Girard, Things Hidden, 240–3. 18 Ibid., 227–31. 19 René Girard, with Rebecca Adams, “Violence, Difference, Sacrifice: A Conversation with René Girard,” Religion and Literature 25, no. 2 (1993): 11–33, at 29. 20 Ibid., 28. 21 René Girard, “Mimetische Theorie und Theologie,” in Vom Fluch und Segen der Sündenböcke. Raymund Schwager zum 60. Geburtstag, Józef Niewiadomski and Wolfgang Palaver (eds) (Thaur: Kulturverlag, 1995), 15–29. The French original of this article, “Théorie mimétique et théologie,” was later published in René Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2001), 63–82. 22 René Girard, De la violence à la divinité (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2007), 28, 1001; René Girard, with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origin of Culture (London: Continuum, 2007), 216–17; Gianni Vattimo, with René Girard, Christianity, Truth, and Weakening Faith: A Dialogue, trans. W. McCuaig (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 92–3. 23 Girard, De la violence à la divinité, 28, 998, 1001; cf. Girard, Things Hidden, 243. 24 René Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2001), 76. 25 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 215. 26 Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive, 79.


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27 Wolfgang Palaver, René Girards mimetische Theorie. Im Kontext kulturtheoretischer und gesellschaftspolitischer Fragen. 3 edn, Beiträge zur mimetischen Theorie (Münster: LIT, 2008), 296–9. 28 Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive, 80. 29 Girard, Things Hidden, 237–45; Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive, 77–80; Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 214–17. 30 Girard, Celui par qui le scandale arrive, 80. 31 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 216. 32 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (1947), trans. E. Crawford and M. v. d. Ruhr (London: Routledge, 2002), 72. 33 Girard, Battling to the End, 170–1. 34 Ibid., 120–30, 217. 35 Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation: Toward a Biblical Doctrine of Redemption (1990), trans. J. G. Williams and P. Haddon (New York: Crossroad, 1999); Józef Niewiadomski, “Transzendenz und Menschwerdung: Transformationskraft des Opfers im Fokus österlicher Augen,” in Das Opfer – aktuelle Kontroversen. Religions-politischer Diskurs im Kontext der mimetischen Theorie. Deutsch-Italienische Fachtagung der Guardini Stiftung in der Villa Vigoni, October 18–22, 1999, B. Dieckmann (ed.) (Münster: LIT, 2001), 293–306; Roman A. Siebenrock, Wolfgang Palaver, and Willibald Sandler, “Wandlung. Die christliche Eucharistiefeier als Transformation ‘der kotigen Wurzeln unserer Kultur.’ Eine Antwort auf Aleida Assmann,” in Aufgeklärte Apokalyptik: Religion, Gewalt und Frieden im Zeitalter der Globalisierung, W. Palaver, A. Exenberger, and K. Stöckl (eds) (Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2007), 279–320. 36 Bernhard Erling, A Reader’s Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Waymarks (1999) (St. Peter, MN: Gustavus Adolphus College, 2010), 281. 37 Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings (1964), trans. L. Sjöberg and W. H. Auden, Vintage Spiritual Classics (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 149. 38 René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1972), trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 68–88. 39 Hammarskjöld, Markings, 110. 40 Ibid., 68–9; translation corrected by Gustaf Aulén, Dag Hammarskjöld’s White Book: An Analysis of Markings (London: SPCK, 1970), 53; cf. Jos Huls, “Hammarskjöld’s Interpretation of the Bible,” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 66, no. 1 (2010): 1–7. 41 Cf. Aulén, Dag Hammarskjöld’s White Book, 52–5. 42 Hammarskjöld, Markings, 69. 43 Ibid., 121. 44 Ibid., 190; cf. Aulén, Dag Hammarskjöld’s White Book, 92. 45 Hammarskjöld, Markings, 159. 46 Ibid., 159. 47 Ibid., 133. 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid., 159. 50 See [accessed September 13, 2013]. 51 Wolfgang Palaver, “The Ambiguous Cachet of Victimhood: On Violence and Monotheism,” in The New Visibility of Religion: Studies in Religion and Cultural

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Hermeneutics, M. Hoelzl and G. Ward (eds) (London: Continuum, 2008), 68–87; Wolfgang Palaver, “The Ambiguous Cachet of Victimhood: Elias Canetti’s Religions of Lament and Abrahamic Monotheism,” Forum Bosnae 49 (2010): 19–31. 52 John Howard Yoder, The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009), 30–33. 53 Hammarskjöld, Markings, 197. 54 Aulén, Dag Hammarskjöld’s White Book, 86–8; cf. Hans Kelsen, “Causality and Retribution,” Philosophy of Science 8, no. 4 (1941): 533–56; René Girard, The Scapegoat (1982), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 102–28. 55 Erling, A Reader’s Guide to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Waymarks, 255. 56 Moshe Halbertal, On Sacrifice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 105–7. 57 Jean-Pierre Dupuy, “The Self-Deconstruction of the Liberal Order,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 2 (1995): 1–16, esp. 12–13. 58 Habermas, Justification and Application, 35. 59 Jürgen Habermas, with Joseph Ratzinger, The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, trans. B. McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006), 30. 60 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind (1949), trans. A. Wills (London: Routledge, 2002), 159; cf. Wolfgang Palaver, “Die Frage des Opfers im Spannungsfeld von West und Ost. René Girard, Simone Weil und Mahatma Gandhi über Gewalt und Gewaltfreiheit,” Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 132, no. 4 (2010): 462–81.


Sacrifice in the Democratic Age: Rivalry and Crisis in Recent Australian Politics Joel Hodge

In the post-communist era, political commentators in the West have noted the shrinking policy differences between the major political parties or blocs. Yet politics is becoming increasing polarized. René Girard provides insight into these dynamics by showing how distorted mimetic desire drives rivalry and crisis. This chapter explores Girard’s thought in reference to democratic political systems, and applies his analysis to a case study of recent political events in Australia in which a first-term prime minister was unexpectedly replaced, or sacrificed, by his own political party seemingly for electoral advantage. I show that, in the absence of a positive desire and vision for the common good, politics in Australia recently became increasingly driven by the shared desire for power, rather than belief or policy, creating the conditions for rivalry. As polarization increased, a socio-political crisis in which political action became consumed with the need for victory and the “lust for domination” (Augustine) resulted. The rise and exposure of negative forms of desire (in “internal mediation”) threatened the political body (the polis) because of extreme competition, resulting in a snowballing or “contagion” of mimetic desire that required resolution through expiation.

Girard on the democratic revolutions and the rise of internal mediation The so-called democratic revolutions in Western nations, and the associated cultural and social changes, mark a pivotal point in early modern history. For Girard, these revolutions reflect and embody an underlying change in social order and hierarchy. In particular, he argues that the democratic revolutions mark the point in which Western social hierarchies came no longer to be characterized by externally mediated desire. Girard argues that democratic societies are characterized by forms of desire that are internally mediated. This is based on his understanding of desire as mimetic.1 In internal mediation, there is little or no distance between the subject and model,


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so that each becomes the other’s model and potential rival.2 According to Girard, distance and difference between subjects of desire and their models, such as that cultivated by taboos and social hierarchies, ensure that the potential for conflict over shared objects of desire is lessened. Girard argues that violence and rivalry are not caused by differences between human beings, such as class-related differences. On the contrary, violence displays a lack of difference between desiring subjects and models—that there is nothing definitive that differentiates “me” from “you” and makes “me” better. For example, when the distance and distinction between the subject and model collapses in the pursuit of the same object, the two become undifferentiated from each other as “doubles” imitating each other’s desire, which usually results in conflict.3 This state of “undifferentiation” arises from “internal mediation” between the rivals, when the distance and social barriers between the subject and model are small or collapsed. Ordinarily, social barriers can prevent mimetic rivalry in which one seeks to acquire the object of desire from the other. These barriers establish differences that cultivate relationships of desire in what Girard calls “external mediation” (for example, the social distinctions between an aristocrat and a tenant farmer). External mediation is usually characterized by a one-directional relationship where the subject is influenced wholly or primarily by a model, and the model is unaware of or uninfluenced by the desire of the subject. Thus, the relationship remains external, as there is no actual or possible mimetic reciprocity between the subject and the model. According to Girard, the democratic revolutions caused the final breakdown of the aristocratic hierarchies and unleashed desire through internal mediation.4 The new democratic situation does not just mean universal suffrage in shared power and values, but, on its darker side, it means anyone can be in competition with anyone else: Who is there left to imitate after the “tyrant”? Henceforth men shall copy each other; idolatry of one person is replaced by hatred of a hundred thousand rivals. In Balzac’s opinion, too, there is no other god but envy for the modern crowd whose greed is no longer stemmed and held within acceptable limits by the monarch. Men will become gods for each other.5

Democracy, then, results in and relies on widespread competition in a manner previously unknown. This situation is possible because the revolutions of early modern Europe destroyed the central pillar of the pre-revolutionary class system: the divine right of absolute monarchs.6 Previously, with the rise of absolute monarchies, the divine right of monarchs had created a definitive distance from and victory over the aristocracy, building on the distance between the aristocrat and the serf/peasant. It meant that the monarch was at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, always to be imitated and never to be rivaled. The divine right acted as a taboo to prevent sacred violence and social breakdown: by making the monarch’s position subject to a supernatural taboo and license, the monarch was, in large part, removed from the rivalries of the aristocracy that could result in the monarch’s removal, scapegoating, or assassination. Yet, Girard states that, following the French Revolution, no one in France could “be privileged without knowing it.”7 The bourgeoisie and the “common people”

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could now desire and take what the king had, namely power and status. Thus, power and sovereignty became internally contestable and accessible.

Representative democracy and the two-party system Across the West, then, nations and their governing classes came to terms with this new sociopolitical situation, characterized by a drive toward competition and equality, with an accompanying potential for conflict and violence. This drive was given a positive vision in the French democratic movement of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” While these positive values were important in defining a vision for the common good, historically they have been twisted by internal mediation, which turns the focus of the protagonists away from these values toward victory through rivalry and violence. This was exemplified in the French Revolution, in which positive values were twisted into widespread sacrificial violence against purported enemies (for example, the monarch and his supporters). Following the sacrificial violence that marked the beginnings of democratic systems, these systems developed rituals, hierarchies, and rules to cope with the new forms of desire and competition that left relationships increasingly undifferentiated. Based on Girard’s analysis, it could be argued that the democratic political system developed, alongside the widespread rise of capitalist economic structures and the selective use of nationalistic “total war,” to provide a way to channel social competition, especially through the differences established by the party-political system.8 In particular, Girard argues that the party struggle is the stabilizing element in modern democratic societies following the breakdown of previous social hierarchies.9 Modern democracies are usually characterized by a two-party or two-bloc system (grouped as “conservatives” and “liberals”). According to Girard, the party system is driven by and channels human desire and metaphysical rivalry under the veneer of conviction, as principle conforms itself to the dictates of rivalry and the shared desire for power. The parties mediate desire to each other, reacting to each other’s positions in order to gain what the other has (usually power).10 These rivalries for power create divisions between “us” and “them,” which in turn create identities and hierarchies. Political parties and politicians have value and belief systems, but these systems must be weighed against the pragmatic goal of attaining victory, which can re-form or limit these values and beliefs. This is why partisan positions change, even to the degree of acquiring previously abhorrent positions—euphemistically called “moving to the center” or “being pragmatic.” Victory through competition is the ordinary imperative for the democratic politician, though values and beliefs are important to the degree that they provide shared motivation and enable victory. Parties retain a foundation of purported values in order to maintain the support of their “base” (that is, the core group of support, for example, workers, or capitalists/employers), but they always seek to maximize their support, stretching their values and positions to gain as many voters as possible.


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It is important to note that Girard does not argue that principle is absent from politics. Principle is constitutive for a properly formed political system, but in the democratic system, principle is often subjected to rivalry (in which victory is the priority), rather than to a shared and cooperative form of desire. In particular, when “no concrete difference or positive value is involved” in politics, metaphysical rivalry—shown in how rivalry moves from an object of desire to mimetic fixation on the rival, who must be defeated for the sake of one’s identity defined over against the other—drives political conflict.11 This is because political actors do not desire power ontologically (that is, they are not pre-programmed to desire it); instead, they are driven by mimetic desires, which gravitate either to the common good (in which desire for the good can be held in common and debates can be had) or to victory (in which desire leads to conflict and structures the libido dominandi). Authentic principles can cause differences and competition, but once they turn into rivalry they follow a mimetic pattern, with greater polarization and increasing fixation on victory (in which the original object of desire is forgotten). Girard argues that modern democracies are particularly characterized by, and susceptible to, this pattern of rivalry.12 Genuine disagreements in civil society are exploited or exaggerated in modern democracies in the context of rivalry and the desire for power. The movement to extremes that characterizes mimetic rivalry is seen in particular in current US politics, where the major parties are especially polarized and find it difficult to compromise, except when a calculation is made that it would lower their chances of electoral victory (combined occasionally with a concern for the national or common good).13 The focus is really on the rival, rather than principle, cultivating a belief that one’s party is better or more deserving than the rival. The dominance of rivalry and internal mediation in democracies is exemplified by the shifting alliances of the protagonists. Girard argues that the novelist Stendhal reveals the situation most artfully in the recurring rivalry between Rênal and Valenod in The Red and the Black, which climaxes in the battle for mayor. Both men are initially on the same political side, but Rênal changes to the liberals in order to become mayor and defeat Valenod. This exemplifies, for Girard, how internal mediation has triumphed, channeled through and according to the democratic system. Principle conforms itself to the dictates of internal mediation, while the two-party system provides stability amidst the instability of shifting rivalries.14 Modern politics can be regarded as following a polarizing pattern exemplified in the way political parties have put greater effort into differentiating themselves from each other, particularly as rivalries for power intensify. What is referred to as differentiating the “brand” of the party, and the associated leaders and candidates, is an effort to address a recurring, and in some cases a worsening, crisis in modern democracies: the lack of differentiation between parties, with decreasing policy substance and difference, often resulting in the need to focus on petty scandals, issues, and squabbles performed for and encouraged by the media. Thus, some form of conviction—or at least the appearance of it—plays an important role in modern democratic politics in providing authentic debates and differences, as well as in hiding the underlying rivalries for power. Yet, when the rivalry for power moves to extremes—paralyzing

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the democratic system in competition rather than focusing on policy—and is exposed for its lack of conviction, there is a danger that it will be recognized by the electorate, who could also recognize their own complicity in it. A crisis can develop from this recognition in which the instability of negative mimesis is exposed (as has occurred in the Australian context). Elections are meant to avert these crises through a ritualized competition that controls and channels the desire and contestation for power through a form of collective catharsis that results in winners and losers. It produces the idols of electoral victory and the hierarchies of the party and government. It relies on the effectiveness of scapegoat narratives and the myth that immanent power and victory are existentially satisfying, and on positive norms, drawn particularly from civil society and the calculations of the political actors, to maintain political rivalry within peaceable limits. Despite the order given by partisan democratic systems, they are constantly threatened by the extremes of rivalry. Girard’s analysis sheds particular light on how democracies function as they descend into political crises—something that I will explore in the remainder of this chapter in reference to recent political events in Australia.

Rivalry, crisis, and scapegoating in the Australian political system The Australian political system has undergone a crisis since the former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was unexpectedly forced to resign in 2010 by his own political party, the Labor Party, seemingly due to the fear of a forthcoming election loss. The unprecedented resignation of a first-term prime minister was precipitated by Rudd’s loss of conviction in relation to his electoral promises (especially in relation to climate change policy) and by his resulting fall in the polls. Despite Rudd’s replacement, the Labor Party’s position arguably did not improve; in fact, the whole political system descended into a crisis. I argue that this crisis was caused by the rivalrous nature of politics, and its associated dynamics and logic, dominating political concerns and its being revealed to the electorate by the brutal replacement of Rudd. It came to be believed that the major parties, particularly the Labor Party, were primarily concerned with electoral victory and power, rather than with offering any positive vision for the common good. Moreover, the electorate came to be sympathetic to Rudd as a victim of his own party. Intraparty and interparty rivalries intensified following his removal, resulting in a political crisis. The sequence of events in 2010 exposed the politics of rivalry typical in modern democracies and showed how the absence of authentic principle or policy, even acting as a veneer for rivalry, causes a crisis. Previously, in 2007, the second longest-serving prime minister in Australia’s history, John Howard, and his conservative Liberal-National Coalition lost the federal election decisively to Rudd’s Labor Party. Yet, after beginning his term in office as one of the most popular prime ministers, on June 24, 2010, Rudd resigned


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from the prime ministership because of the certainty that he would otherwise be removed from his position in favor of his deputy, Julia Gillard, by the vote of his parliamentary party.15 There are a number of reasons that have been given for Rudd’s removal. His successor, Julia Gillard (Australia’s first female prime minister), repeatedly remarked that it was necessary to change leaders because she believed that a “good Government was losing its way.”16 This was a euphemism for there being a number of areas in which the government had made mistakes and in relation to which it was being viewed negatively, such as climate change policy, taxation, and bureaucratic and economic management, particularly following some heat-related deaths of insulation installers that had occurred during the implementation of a subsidized roof-insulation scheme. Yet, the former Finance Minister in the Rudd government, Lindsay Tanner, called this justification a “figleaf to cover concerns about opinion poll results.”17 Similarly, others argue Rudd was removed because the opinion polls had changed substantially, particularly after he abandoned legislation for a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) and in the aftermath of a clumsy attempt to institute a new Resource Super Profits Tax (to capitalize on Australia’s record mining boom).18 With an election to be held by the end of 2010, there was a grave fear in the Labor Party that Rudd had fallen from his high levels of support to a position where he could not recover to win the election. Labor’s position in the polls had fallen after Rudd made the strategic decision to postpone his most important policy initiative—on climate change—because of electoral concerns. This gives evidence for Girard’s argument that principles in democracy are subjected to the dictates of rivalry and victory, while the electorate relies on the belief in or veneer of positive values.19 Furthermore, the public campaign, led by the mining companies, against the resources tax seemed to reveal an inability to negotiate over principle on the part of Rudd and his opponents, leading to an intractable rivalry. Mining is one of Australia’s most lucrative industries, and its buoyancy helped Australia to weather the global financial crisis (GFC) better than nearly every other Western country. Hence this campaign produced much fear that Australia’s economy would be damaged by the tax. Rudd himself was not effective in countering this campaign in the media, which the Liberal-National Coalition in Opposition supported it in principle. Behind the scenes Rudd was accused of not dialoguing well with the industry. Gillard was later able to negotiate a settlement to the dispute, demonstrating how compromise can be used to avert losing a battle and how principle can be salvaged as rivalry subsides. Another major reason given for Rudd’s demise was his internal management of the party and Government, which was claimed to have been dictatorial, aggressive, and frenetic. It has been claimed that Rudd had only a small number of ministers and advisors making the major decisions (for example, the so-called Gang of Four, which, apart from Rudd, included Gillard, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and Lindsay Tanner). Moreover, Rudd had been seen to be an aggressive micromanager who had alienated both his parliamentary colleagues and a frustrated, overworked public service. The well-known journalist David Marr wrote an investigative essay on Rudd’s

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character and leadership style that left many with the perception that Rudd was a rude, controlling, and arrogant leader primarily concerned with media perception.20 This situation had been compounded by the fact that Rudd was not aligned with any internal party faction on which he could rely for support. This left him particularly vulnerable when his and the party’s popularity in the polls dropped. Tanner, who left politics at the 2010 election, counters some of the criticism of Rudd’s leadership style by arguing that some of it emerged from coping with and successfully guiding the Australian economy through the GFC.21 He accepts some of the criticisms leveled at the management of Rudd and the Government, but he denies that this management style was to blame for Rudd’s downfall.22 Instead, he points to the imperatives of the electoral cycle and the concern about an electoral loss, combined with fear of media pressure.23 Even those who disagree with Tanner that Rudd’s style was to blame agree that the electoral cycle was predominant in political calculations. According to Barry Cohen, a former Labor minister, [the Labor] caucus was prepared to overlook his appalling rudeness, his egomania, his vindictiveness and his dictatorial control of caucus and cabinet in the expectation he would give them a second term. That all changed when the polls indicated that support for Rudd had dissipated. He was now a loser. Enter Gillard.24

Moreover, Cohen argues that Rudd had accumulated so many internal party enemies who resented him that any sign of weakness would be exploited to be rid of him.25 Thus, as Rudd’s position weakened popularly, he became vulnerable to being blamed and sacrificed. The logic was essentially rivalistic, in terms of seeking to guarantee electoral victory, and mob-like, in terms of the crystallization of resentment and ambitious desire for Rudd’s position. The exposure of the logic of internal mediation in such a brazen and unprecedented manner shocked the Australian public and plunged the body politic into crisis. Rudd’s emotional resignation speech was greeted with much sympathy from the electorate and commentariat, who began to see him as having been made a victim. Despite his mistakes, many did not feel that Rudd had deserved to be targeted and “dumped” by his own party. Though Rudd was not politically innocent, the crystallization of forces against him resembled the scapegoat mechanism, which the public were not given sufficient time or reason to support. As Girard might argue, the biblical instincts of Western society were awakened at this moment for the victim. These instincts were assisted by a pre-existing affection for Rudd, whose celebrity status and charisma were reawakened in the public’s eye. Even though commentators such as Cohen might lament that “there is no shortage of Rudd believers, many of them prominent citizens, who have sprung to his defense to portray him as a victim ‘assassinated’ by a duplicitous Julia Gillard, backed by Labor powerbrokers,”26 the perception remained that Rudd was scapegoated by his party for poor poll performances for the benefit of the party, not the public. Cohen’s own rationalization supports this perception: it was Rudd’s falling popularity that allowed the Labor Party to move against him. This popularity was reawakened in scapegoating Rudd, which gave him a new public platform.


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Another factor that led to Rudd’s fall in the polls was a change in the leadership of the conservative opposition from Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott. This leadership change brought a more aggressive opposition that stridently opposed Rudd’s policies, particularly on climate change. While the urbane Turnbull was broadly supportive of Rudd’s climate change policies, the more hard-line Abbott opposed them, arguing that they would place unnecessary burdens on industry and ordinary working people. This change of leadership, along with the Greens’ opposition in the Senate,27 meant that Rudd could not pass his climate change measures in the Parliament. Abbott also strongly opposed the mineral resources tax, arguing that it would hurt Australia’s economy. In this way, Abbott was able to revive his party’s poor poll position by taking a more adversarial stance against the Government, encouraging the perception that there was no compromise over principle: When Tony Abbott became leader of the Liberal Party by just one vote in December 2009 he saved the Liberal Party and non-Labor cause nationally from annihilation … Being critical and, as some complain, being negative, is a necessary part of the job description of an Opposition leader and the prime role of any Opposition. Abbott understood these roles. And at the 2010 election he almost pulled off a stunning victory, coming within a whisker of The Lodge.28

Thus, it seemed that Rudd had lost his policy convictions and his concern for the electorate in favor of selfish electoral priorities. An interesting contrast can be made between Rudd and his conservative predecessor, John Howard, in their first terms as prime minister. While Rudd postponed action on one of his most important issues (climate change), Howard called an election after less than two years in office to pursue taxation reform in the face of an obstinate Parliament. Though its majority was greatly reduced, the Howard Government was re-elected. Conviction at the right moment in politics is advantageous. In contrast, Rudd postponed action on climate change, which he had called the “great moral challenge of our generation,” in the face of an obstinate Parliament.29 While support for climate change action cut across partisan lines in 2007, the situation had changed by 2009, when electoral advantage could be gained by opposing it. Rudd’s first failed attempt to pass legislation came just after Abbott had become Opposition leader; Turnbull had been ready to allow passage of the legislation in some form.30 Moreover, the Greens rejected the legislation because they claimed it was too compromised and ineffective. Rudd was perhaps not unjustified in then postponing the legislation (after it had previously failed twice), yet the perception was that Rudd had lost his conviction over the issue in the context of an upcoming election. Interestingly, it was to be later revealed that Rudd was not alone in his decision, with Gillard and others supposedly advising him to defer the CPRS. Thus, in 2010, the extreme nature of partisan politics had been exposed to the Australian electorate. The rivals, who had shared a mimetic desire for power, became fixated on each other, with the Rudd/Gillard rivalry continuing up until 2013. Moreover, the rivalry between Gillard and Abbott, who had previously been friendly opponents before becoming leaders,31 intensified. Nevertheless, the fixation on the Rudd/Gillard rivalry has gone on to dominate politics inside and outside the Labor

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Party for three years. The exposure of the logic of internal mediation, particularly as many were suffering economically and were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Government, provoked a crisis in the political sphere. The logic of internal mediation was not only exposed as operating between the political parties—an operation that would be expected to some degree, though moderated and justified by partisan policy differences—but as operating within the parties themselves. Rudd himself had allowed this logic to be exposed in his postponement of the climate change legislation, showing that (while he clearly held beliefs) his power was primarily based on his position in the polls and his ability to win elections (rather than on policy, internal party management, and traditional factional alliances). Like any mimetic crowd phenomenon, this popularity quickly turned to blame from inside and outside his party as policies and events went against him. The real foundation of his power—to win elections—was exposed when he was replaced in the fear of electoral defeat. The language that has been used to describe Rudd’s fall from power is also revealing of this mimetic social crisis. It has been popularly remarked that Rudd was “knifed” or “beheaded” by Gillard in a “bloodless coup,” evoking images of an unexpected and disloyal act by Rudd’s deputy, who became the leader of a mob against Rudd.32 Furthermore, it has been commonly remarked that Gillard was supported by the “faceless men” of the Labor Party (for example, party factional leaders, trade union bosses) who had plotted Rudd’s demise for electoral and personal advantage. In this way, the hidden mob that targeted Rudd was negatively labeled in the public mind, particularly by the Opposition, in order to smear the Labor Party as selfish and rivalistic. Moreover, the speed with which the party moved against Rudd was surprising (events occurred over less than a day and a night, with little prior public warning), leaving the perception that Rudd had been “knifed” in the night by “faceless men.” The electorate’s shock was worsened by Gillard and her leadership team’s slowness and ineffectiveness in explaining Rudd’s replacement. They hesitated, seemingly because they did not wish to focus on the ugly events of Rudd’s replacement and risk a public fight with Rudd, which would have only heightened the perception of politics as rivalrous. Despite the arguments that could be made for Gillard’s actions, her lack of rationalization left the electorate with the impression that Rudd’s “dumping” was an example of brutal politics: of the rivalry for power gone to its extreme in seeking victory. Instead of taking the opportunity to provide a veneer of conviction for her actions and win public endorsement for Rudd’s scapegoating, the vacuum was filled with sympathy for Rudd as victim. This situation was exploited by the Opposition, who attacked Gillard and her “faceless men,” and by Rudd’s supporters who leaked damaging information to discredit Gillard (whose supporters began to do likewise against Rudd). Thus, instead of resolving Labor’s issues with the electorate, Rudd’s removal provoked a crisis in which partisan rivalries intensified. As is typical of mimetic rivalries, each side increasingly resembled each other by hurling insults and seeking victory. Because of this inability to explain her actions, Gillard was identified as a victimizer, which gave justification for her, in turn, to be targeted and victimized. Because “the


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defence of victims has become holy” and “absolute,” according to Girard, the last legitimate justification for persecution in the modern world is to “persecute persecutors.”33 This mentality exploits and twists the biblical revelation of the victim—that the victim of mob violence is innocent—to reconstruct the scapegoat mechanism against those who have been exposed by the revelation, namely, the persecutors. It is this mentality that went on to undermine Gillard in the public’s view: she had been tainted by being exposed as a rivalrous persecutor. This led to accusations against Gillard herself. Moreover, Rudd and his supporters subsequently used the sympathy for him as victim to destabilize the Government’s re-election campaign, in particular by the public appearances he made. His innocence as a victim of the party came to be transformed, to some degree, into moral innocence; Rudd’s previous mistakes were forgiven by the public who were mimetically attracted in support of him and against his persecutors. Eventually, Gillard was forced to compromise with Rudd—in a rivalistic calculation—and seemingly promised him a ministerial position if the Government were to be re-elected. Nevertheless, the Opposition continued to target Gillard as untrustworthy and power-hungry, exploiting popular sentiment. The mimetic desire for power shocked the Australian electorate because, in particular, it had revealed how internal mediation infects politics. The fear of this negative mimesis coming to dominate political life, for which the Opposition tried to blame Gillard, had been accompanied by a related fear that the electorate was complicit in it. In other words, in acquiescing to and participating in the partisan game by supporting parties through the rituals of media and electoral competition, the public had been unwittingly complicit in the rivalry for power (or purposefully in denial). Thus, the electorate began to recognize how it also had been motivated by a partisan desire for victory, much like the politicians, though a desire perhaps tempered for some with genuine belief in a political agenda. Furthermore, the electorate confronted the lack of a historically effective mechanism to resolve internal mediation because in modern times scapegoating has lost its power to galvanize unanimity. Elections can try to resolve the crisis, but as the Australian experience showed in 2010, they provide little satisfaction when the system is completely polarized, lacking any serious policy substance. The purpose of an election—to provide a cathartic competition in determining winners and losers, with principle to rationalize it—was virtually lost, as much of the focus of the politicians was on the competition for power rather than on national identity or the common good, while no effective scapegoat could be found (though Gillard and Rudd were both targeted). The 2010 electoral result was a “hung parliament,” with Labor and the Coalition having an equal number of seats in the House of Representatives.34 After two weeks of frantic negotiations (and much media and public angst), the Australian Greens and three of the independent Members of Parliament decided to support the Gillard-led Labor Party to form a government.35 During this time, the Greens and the independents came under much criticism and attack, particularly for the delay in making a decision. Because the election had failed to produce the expected result—the catharsis from determining a victor and a loser—the media looked to divert anxiety and lay blame. The Greens were particularly accused of benefiting from Rudd’s demise

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and blamed for the political crisis and electoral result. They had captured the vote of an electorate aggrieved with the lack of action on climate change, though the Greens had, in part, caused Rudd’s fall by voting against his climate change legislation in Parliament because they had seen such legislation as not going far enough. Likewise, the two right-wing independents were excoriated by the political right as turncoats for supporting a Labor Government.36 Although this chapter has only briefly examined the events of 2010, it demonstrates that Girard’s analysis of democratic systems has merit. Democracy readily becomes beholden to the great force of internally mediated desire, leading to rivalries and crises. The democratic system, as a sacrificial structure, tries to manage internal mediation through its own rituals and sacrifices (of losers or scapegoats), with different degrees of success. Yet, in no longer being structured by aristocratic hierarchies, democratic societies can also nourish political communities and civil society groups with positive mimesis and value. It is this positive mimesis that is required for a democratic system—such as that in Australia—to function properly. In this way, a sacrifice by rival protagonists is required to end a crisis—either an act of self-giving that relinquishes selfish desire in favor of the good of the whole (such as Gillard seems to have done for her party and nation during the 2013 election), or a final victorious or destructive act that ends an exhausting rivalry which had become a source of general social disorder. Ultimately, transformative political actors and civil society groups are the hope for a renewed polis that can convert itself into a cooperative enterprise based on gratuitous desire for the common good rather than on a selfish desire for power or victory.

Notes René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure (1961), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), 4. 2 Ibid., 119. 3 René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 12. 4 Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 121. 5 Ibid., 119. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid., 128. 8 Ibid., 131; René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (2007), trans. Mary Baker, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 9. 9 Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 131. 10 Ibid., 125–6. 11 Ibid., 137. 12 Ibid. 13 Cf. Girard, Battling to the End, 11–14. 14 Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 131. 1


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15 The majority party in the Lower House of Federal Parliament can vote to replace a prime minister at any time. 16 Joe Kelly and Christian Kerr, “Rudd Government Was Losing Its Way, Says New PM Gillard,” The Australian, June 24, 2010, politics/rudd-government-was-losing-its-his-way-says-new-pm-gillard/storye6frgczf-1225883730154 [accessed September 13, 2013]. 17 Paul Kelly, “Trashing of Kevin Rudd Only Damages Labor, Says Lindsay Tanner,” The Australian, September 26, 2012, trashing-of-kevin-rudd-only-damages-labor-says-lindsay-tanner/storyfn59niix-1226481418631 [accessed September 13, 2013]. 18 Stephen Mills and Rodney Tiffen, “Opinion Polls and the Media in Australia,” in Opinion Polls and the Media: Reflecting and Shaping Public Opinion, Christina HoltzBacha and Jesper Strömbäck (eds) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 167–8; Maxine McKew, Tales from the Political Trenches (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2012). Cf. Bill Shorten, “The Gillard Coup, Q&A, ABC TV,” ABC, June 28, 2010, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 19 Peter van Onselen, “Politics Trumps a Moral Challenge,” The Australian, April 29, 2010, story-e6frg6z6-1225859592923 [accessed September 13, 2013]. 20 David Marr, “Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd,” Quarterly Essay 38 (Melbourne: Black, 2010). 21 Lindsay Tanner, Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy (Melbourne: Scribe, 2012); Phillip Coorey, “Rudd was Beheaded, and it was All for Nothing, Tanner Laments,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2011, rudd-was-beheaded-and-it-was-all-for-nothing-tanner-laments-20110429-1e0th. html [accessed September 13, 2013].; Joe Kelly and Dennis Shanahan, “Kevin Rudd Favourites Back Lindsay Tanner,” The Australian, September 27, 2012, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 22 Kelly, “Trashing of Kevin Rudd.” 23 Coorey, “Rudd was Beheaded.” 24 Barry Cohen, “No One Assassinated Rudd, He Simply Topped Himself,” The Australian, July 27, 2010, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid. 27 Based on the Westminster system, Australia’s Federal Parliament is bicameral. The Senate is the Upper House of Australia’s Federal Parliament. 28 Scott Prasser, “Never Mind the Leadership, What About the Opposition?,” The Conversation, March 22, 2013, [accessed September 13, 2013]. Note: the Lodge is the prime minister’s official Canberra residence. Abbott led the conservative opposition to electoral victory against a reinstated Rudd in September 2013. 29 Paul Kelly, “Green Light on the Hill Is Hard to Miss,” The Australian, April 4, 2007, [accessed September 13, 2013].

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30 “Kevin Rudd,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, topic/1345480/Kevin-Rudd [accessed September 13, 2013]. 31 For example, they both appeared in a regular TV segment debating with each other on quite friendly terms. 32 Emma Rodgers, “Gillard Ousts Rudd in Bloodless Coup,” ABC News Online, June 24, 2010, [accessed September 13, 2013]; Coorey, “Rudd Was Beheaded”; Rhys Muldoon, “A Coup By Any Other Name: Kevin Rudd,” The Monthly, March 2012, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 33 René Girard, with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (New York: Continuum, 2007), 258. Cf. René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), 161–6 and 177–81. 34 This is the Lower House of Parliament, in which governments are formed by a majority of its members. 35 This decision reflected historic rivalries and policy compromises, such as Gillard’s changing her position on climate change to gain the Greens’ support. 36 My gratitude to Anne Lanyon for her insight into the Greens’ situation, and to others who discussed this chapter in an earlier version at the conference of the Australian Girard Seminar in 2012. My appreciation also to Scott Cowdell for his assistance.


Mimetic Theory and Hermeneutic Communism Paolo Diego Bubbio

In the last fifteen years, René Girard has engaged in a dialogue with the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo. Vattimo is famous for a philosophical approach named pensiero debole (weak thought). “Weak thought” is basically concerned with arguing for philosophical anti-foundationalism: drawing on the philosophy of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Gadamer, Vattimo advocates the rejection of metaphysics and a reinterpretation of truth as the opening of horizons. Vattimo has explained that he came to recognize a “completion” of Heidegger in Girard by reading “the weakening of Being as its sole form of manifesting itself beyond metaphysical oblivion” as “an analogon of the dissolution of the violence of the sacred.”1 On this common ground, they have reached similar (although not identical) conclusions about Christianity and secularism, agreeing on the thesis that the process of secularization is a long-term and ongoing effect of the Gospels. In 2011, Vattimo authored, together with his student Santiago Zabala, a book entitled Hermeneutic Communism.2 Vattimo and Zabala argue that communism, once it is separated from its metaphysical foundations (such as an abiding faith in the immutable laws of history), is not only compatible with, but is even the logical political implication of, the anti-foundationalist stance drawn from the hermeneutic thought of Heidegger, Derrida, and Rorty. To what extent is mimetic theory compatible with hermeneutic communism? From an analysis of Hermeneutic Communism, it is possible to identify three main (interconnected) characteristics of Vattimo and Zabala’s political proposal. The first is a critique of capitalism, which is deprecated, on substantially ethical grounds, as generating unacceptable inequalities, and regarded as collapsing at various levels— economic, technological, and political. The second characteristic of their political proposal is the weakened nature of the suggested form of communism: a communism that motivates a resistance to capitalism’s inequalities yet intervenes against violence and authoritarianism by emphasizing the interpretive nature of truth. This leads to the third characteristic—that is, the affirmation of the interpretive nature of truth, as opposed to a dogmatic and realist account of truth, so that while the former represents a philosophical expression of capitalism, communism is regarded as the natural political expression of the latter.


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I argue that as far as the first characteristic (the critique of capitalism) is concerned, Girard’s mimetic theory and Vattimo and Zabala’s hermeneutic communism are compatible. I then argue that the second characteristic (the weakened form of communism advanced by Vattimo and Zabala) is not in principle incompatible with mimetic theory, although some remarks by Girard need to be taken into account. These remarks pave the way for an analysis of the third characteristic; and in the context of this analysis I argue that the issue of the interpretive nature of truth, while it might be regarded as expressing a fundamental incompatibility between mimetic theory and hermeneutic communism, might also be considered the starting point for further inquiries aimed at considering the two theories as complementing each other.

(Absolute) capitalism The first aspect of Vattimo and Zabala’s political proposal is a critique of capitalism. A system of “inequality, exclusion, famine, and economic oppression,”3 capitalism violently oppresses the weak and the poor, and—they argue—it uses liberalism (a metaphysical system that sees the only substance in the power of the individual) as its justification. Additionally, while the capitalist market is supposed to assure a prosperous economy, “the 2008 economic crisis demonstrated not only the extent to which states depend on financial markets but also their interest in the conservation of such a system,”4 that is, a system of inequality and oppression. Is this reading of capitalism compatible with Girard’s mimetic theory? Girard has never provided a systematic critique of capitalism, but several remarks scattered through his writings indicate his position. A meaningful indication is already present in Girard’s masterwork, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, where he argues: … the real founders of capitalism … are the monkeys. All that capitalism, or rather the liberal society that allows capitalism to flourish, does, is to give mimetic phenomena a freer rein and to direct them into economic and technological channels … The value of an object grows in proportion to the resistance met with in acquiring it.5

Everyone who is familiar with the basics of mimetic theory would easily realize that this judgment is consistent with Girard’s thought in general, and it is the logical consequence of its premises. In fact, mimetic theory tells us that we desire an object only because that object is desired by somebody else (the mediator of desire), and that the more difficult it is to get an object, the more valuable it appears, as the resistance will be (mistakenly) interpreted by the desiring subject as a sign indicating the fundamental importance of that object in order to get that “something” they feel devoid of, and with which the owner of the desired object seems equipped. The hominization process, although only complete with the birth of symbolic intelligence due to the primal sacrificial expulsion, begins when a proto-human starts to feel inferior and

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lacking and thus imitates the desires of another: it is in this sense that monkeys are the real founders of capitalism. Of course, achieving fulfillment via acquisition of objects is an illusion (it cannot provide any real satisfaction), but an illusion so powerful that it permeates the totality of human life. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that human beings have expressed a system of production that has its drive in the laws of supply and demand, as this is merely the economic translation of mimetic dynamics. Furthermore, liberalism is regarded by Girard as the political system that is established because “it allows capitalism to flourish.” Both capitalism (as economic theory) and liberalism (as its corresponding political theory) are marked by a focus on the “I” and its independence; this is something that Vattimo and Zabala emphasize in their critique of capitalism, and there is no doubt that Girard would agree, as he has often indicated the mystifying nature of the romantic myth of the independence of the I. Capitalism is also the expression of economic violence.6 It has been said that capitalism is the economic translation of mimeticism; if this is true, then the presence of violence is not surprising, as mimetic relationships inevitably lead to violence. Lucien Goldmann’s idea that “relations between people and things, and among people themselves, were ‘replaced by a mediatized and degraded relation: the relation with purely quantitative exchange values’”7 is still a romantic idea, of which the political standpoint that criticizes contemporary financial capitalism—by invoking the return to a more “human” capitalism concerned with the real economy rather than with financial products—is a less sophisticated version. Exchange has never been “qualitative,” but always “quantitative”; and, Girard comments: “this feature has been aggravated by capitalist practices. We exchange goods so as not to exchange blows, but trading goods always contains a memory of trading blows.”8 Like a ritual, the capitalist market channels violence, but for this very reason it is also an expression of that violence: it is the extension of reciprocal violence by economic means. And we know that even the most perfect technique cannot control violence forever, and that sooner or later it will overflow. Another expression that Girard uses to refer to this phenomenon is the “tendency toward extremes,” which is one of the central notions of Girard’s recent work, Battling to the End. Here the escalation to extremes is explored through the analysis of war advanced by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. From Clausewitz, Girard draws the distinction between “absolute war” and “real war.” “Real war,” Girard explains, is “different from absolute war because it takes into account the dimensions of space and time: location, climate, various ‘frictions’, fatigue, etc.”9 Modern wars tend to reduce, or even eliminate, these constraints, and as a consequence we “escalate to extremes,” getting closer to “absolute war.” Similarly, we might argue, historical capitalism has been somehow mitigated by spatiotemporal constraints that have prevented it from being “absolute capitalism.” The globalized financial capitalism of present times is increasingly removing those constraints, and therefore it is getting closer to its prototypical version: absolute capitalism. From this angle, the global financial crisis that started in 2008 can be conceived as a further step toward the escalation to extremes: “the apocalypse is nothing more than an abstraction made real, reality made consistent with its concept.”10 What we are witnessing is not a degeneration of capitalism: it is its accomplishment, real capitalism made consistent with its concept. Economic violence


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and political violence are not two separate phenomena, but two aspects of the same sacrificial crisis.11 The reference to politics is not marginal in this context, as Girard seems to be fully aware of the ambiguous relationship between capitalism and liberal democracy, which, since the Cold War, has usually been presented as mutual dependence, implying that there can be neither (liberal) democracy without capitalism, nor capitalism without (liberal) democracy. However, the end of the Cold War has made this opposition more problematic, and the ambiguities it hides more evident. “When we invoke our democratic principles,” Girard asks, “are we talking about things like equality and elections, or are we talking about capitalism, consumption, free trade and so on?”12 Such a distinction is important here, because while democracy is based on the “ultimate version of identity,” that is, the Jewish and Christian notion of “fraternity,”13 “capitalism, consumption, free trade and so on” are expressions of mimetic victimage. Therefore, while (real) democracy should be encouraged, capitalism should be demystified as an expression of the mimetic system. We might therefore conclude that, as far as the first aspect of Vattimo and Zabala’s political proposal, namely, the critique of capitalism, is concerned, Girard’s mimetic theory is compatible with hermeneutic communism. Of course, being critical of capitalism does not imply an endorsement of communism; more fundamentally, it does not (necessarily) mean to claim that capitalism must be overthrown—a problematic claim because, if capitalism is, in its essence, the economic translation of mimeticism, and if mimeticism is what constitutes us as humans (and therefore cannot be eliminated), how might it be possible to hope for its overcoming? I will come back to this issue in the final section; now, it is appropriate to explore the compatibility of mimetic theory with the second aspect of Vattimo and Zabala’s political proposal: weakened communism.

(Weakened) communism Girard’s thought has sometimes been regarded as politically conservative. Partially this is due to the importance he attributes to the texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition, an attitude that in some academic contexts is in itself sufficient to be called conservative. But beyond this, it is undeniable that when Girard mentions “communism” or “Marxism,” this usually happens in the context of some critical remarks. Girard is critical of communism in so far as he identifies it as one of those “ideologies of ressentiment” that provide us with new scapegoats, such as the father and the law for Freudianism, or the bourgeoisie and capitalists for Marxism. More specifically, Girard is critical of communism because he sees in it a form of humanism. Humanism is usually defined as a philosophical and ethical perspective that emphasizes the value of human beings, generally preferring a rationalist or empiricist approach over established doctrine or religious faith. As such, humanism has, in Girard’s view, an ambiguous nature. On one hand, it is “the legacy of Christianity,”14 in so far as it affirms the value of human life, condemns the violent sacred, and prefers anthropological

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explanation over superstitious sacrificial narratives. On the other hand, humanism (in Girard’s account) dismisses Christianity as a religious superstition and, by looking for the divinity within humanity, prefers “horizontal transcendence” over “vertical transcendence,” thus worsening the mimetic crisis.15 The (violent) sacred does not disappear; it is only brought back to earth without being demystified. As Girard writes: “The humanists’ skepticism seems to be the ultimate criticism of religion yet, in reality, it is its heir and, like all heirs, is only too interested in the perpetuation of the capital to be inherited not to respect it secretly.”16 In their anxiety to affirm fraternity, some of the humanists, such as Feuerbach, did not realize that the deification of humanity leads to more rather than to less violence, and that, in this, they “laid the groundwork for a disrespect of truth.”17 Therefore, Marxism is indeed a transformation of Christianity,18 and communism is still a humanism, but it is, in Girard’s words, “a bogus humanism, the last and most incredibly foolish form.”19 The explanation that Girard adds to this definition is a bit simplistic, and yet it is indicative of his thought: “The communists had wanted to organize the world so that there wouldn’t be any more poor people, and the capitalists had said that the poor were insignificant. The capitalists have prevailed.”20 From here, we can deduce two things. The first is that Girard does not disapprove of communism for its intentions or agenda, but mainly for its extreme naïvety: we live in a mimetic world, and in a mimetic world the poor are irrelevant, as the Underground Man is irrelevant in Dostoevsky’s novel Notes from Underground. In both cases—economic irrelevance and psychological irrelevance—what appears clearly is that, in a mimetic world, only the powerful ones—those who have enough “mass”21—can win. This also explains Girard’s claims that, in a capitalist world, the poor are “insignificant.” The second thing that can be deduced is that in Girard’s view communism, properly speaking, “did not exist.”22 Historical communism, especially in its Soviet “incarnation,” showed a “money-grubbing side”: “it could not have,” Girard argues, “any historical reality.”23 Some countries of the Eastern European Soviet bloc showed some understanding of it when they coined the term, which was destined to become popular, “real socialism,” implying that their policies represented what was realistically feasible, even if they did not conform to the Marxist concept of socialism. To draw a parallel with the argument we borrowed from Girard’s analysis of Clausewitz to describe the current situation of capitalism, we might say that communism was never made consistent with its concept, and eventually it resulted “in terror.”24 On the grounds of this brief analysis, it might seem difficult to argue for the compatibility between mimetic theory and any political theory that refers to itself as “communism.” However, the entire critical analysis carried out by Girard is based on the specific assumption that communism is a form of humanism, something that, in Girard’s view, brings some positive connotations, but mainly negative connotations, which are the ones that determine its final failure. Thus, before hastily concluding that there is no room for any compatibility, we should at least ask: to what extent is Vattimo and Zabala’s hermeneutic communism a form of humanism?


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Hermeneutic communism explicitly stands on behalf of the poor. Interestingly, Vattimo and Zabala refer to the expression “history of the winners,” coined by Walter Benjamin. The history of the winners is the traditional history “of the oppressors,” which Benjamin contrasts with the history “of the defeated” or “oppressed.”25 This idea fits with the Girardian distinction between the narrative of the scapegoaters (“the lie of the persecutors”) and the alternative narrative of the scapegoat (“the truth of the victim”). From this angle, hermeneutic communism is certainly a form of humanism in so far as it is a legacy of Christianity, affirms the value of human life against capitalist exploitation, and prefers a history sympathetic to the poor and the weak over the sacrificial history of the persecutors. In Girard’s view, the other characteristic of humanism is the preference for “horizontal transcendence” over “vertical transcendence.” The drive of humanism is still the violent sacred, which is “brought back to earth,” thus determining a worsening of the ontological sickness. From this angle, it would be difficult to argue that Vattimo and Zabala’s communism is a humanism (according to Girard’s definition), precisely because it is hermeneutic. The very first sentence of Vattimo and Zabala’s book reads: “If Marxist philosophers until now have failed to change the world, it isn’t because their political approach was wrong, but rather because it was framed within the metaphysical tradition.”26 Traditional communism was framed within the metaphysical tradition because of its positivist legacy, which is indeed “humanist” according to Girard’s terminology: it is an approach that, in its ambition to get rid of the “vertical” sacred, eventually built up a new sacred within humanity. Thus it ended by providing new scapegoats (capitalists, the bourgeoisie, etc.) and by becoming violent. It is here that Heidegger’s lesson becomes important for Vattimo and Zabala: when Heidegger argues that the history of Western thought has mistakenly articulated Being as a kind of ultimate entity (idea, substance, will to power—victory of the proletariat) and in this way forgotten Being as such, he is rejecting an idea of metaphysics that, in the context of mimetic theory, might well be identified with “deviated transcendence.” Vattimo himself made this connection between mimetic theory and Heidegger’s position in one of his writings, arguing that: The analogy between these two theories becomes evident if we consider that what motivates Heidegger’s rejection of metaphysics is not a theoretical reason, as if metaphysics were a false description of Being for which we had to substitute a more adequate one. Heidegger’s rejection of metaphysics … is motivated by the violence by which it reduces Being—and particularly human existence—to measurable objectivity and rationalized mechanisms.27

Consistently, Vattimo and Zabala’s hermeneutic communism is presented as a deconstruction of the sacred, which is the reason why, to the question “what brings together communism and hermeneutics?” Vattimo and Zabala answer “the dissolution of metaphysics.”28 The weakened communism proposed by Vattimo and Zabala implies a rejection of both the violence of metaphysics and physical violence, as is evident from their refusal to consider revolution as a feasible political strategy.

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Therefore, mimetic theory and hermeneutic communism agree on a criticism of traditional communism as being “too positivist.” However, the “scientific pretext”29 of traditional communism represents only half of Girard’s critique. Communism was a bogus humanism, in Girard’s view, not only because it was “too positivist” (in the sense that its pretense of providing a scientific account of a political strategy turned communism into the modern version of a myth, with new scapegoats and persecutors), but also because it was not positivist enough, in so far as in its naïvety it suggested the elimination of rivalry that grounds capitalism, thus failing to acknowledge that rivalry is a natural implication of distorted mimesis. Here we appreciate the distance that separates the two positions and that seems to make them irreconcilable. On one hand, mimetic theory seems to suggest that capitalism cannot be overcome (are not the monkeys “the real founders of capitalism” after all?). On the other hand, hermeneutic communism is critical of realism, a position that seems to represent the basic epistemological framework of Girard’s mimetic theory (at least in so far as it considers the mimetic nature of human beings as a real and natural fact, rather than as a matter of interpretation). The next section will therefore be devoted to an analysis of this issue in order to understand whether the two theories are effectively in this respect as irreconcilable as they prima facie appear to be.

“A change must occur”: Truth and conversion A fundamental aspect of Vattimo and Zabala’s hermeneutic communism is its anti­realism. “Metaphysical realism,”30 defined as “the simple analysis and conservation of facts,”31 is regarded by Vattimo and Zabala as the philosophical side of a “politics of description,” whose essential theoretical features are “the violence of truth, the conservative nature of realism, and the winner’s history.”32 Truth is violent, they argue, because “it can easily become an imposition on our own existence” and “it implies an imposed description whose acceptance is assumed.”33 Realism is conservative, because its descriptive attitude (the “peaceful neutrality of metaphysics”34) implies a conservation of the status quo that resists any will to change. Lastly, realism implies a reference to that “winner’s history” that neglects the poor and the weak, that is, the “victims of the politics of descriptions.”35 All of this seems to be in stark contrast to mimetic theory, which Girard even labels, quite provocatively, as a kind of “naïve realism.”36 Mimetic theory presupposes a “realist” approach, Girard argues, in so far as it assumes it is possible to distinguish between “the lies of the persecutors,” which always try to justify the search for a scapegoat, and “the truth of the victim.” This also explains why Girard is so critical of relativism; and the philosophical hermeneutics advanced by Vattimo and Zabala might indeed appear guilty of relativism since, in its rejection of truth, it might be seen as perpetuating “the status quo,” prolonging “the occulting of the scapegoat,” and making us “effective accomplices of the persecutors.”37 “The true science of man,” Girard continues, “is never indifferent.”38 Interestingly enough, Vattimo and Zabala


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consider the neutrality of realism as justifying the oppression of victims, whereas Girard considers antirealist approaches, such as relativism, as guilty of the same justifying attitude. What is going on here? We should not forget that one of the characteristic aspects of Girard’s mimetic theory is the idea that the ability to distinguish between the lies of the persecutors and the truth of the victim is made possible by the revelation of the Gospels. Therefore, Girard supports a strong idea of truth.39 Conversely, Vattimo and Zabala seem critical of any use of the word “truth,” including the evangelical one (“The truth will make you free,” Jn 8.32). The confrontation between these two views might evoke the Johannine episode in which Jesus says to Pilate: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” and Pilate retorts: “What is truth?” (Jn 18.37–8). However, the issue is more complex than this evocative image suggests, and the core of it is, in my view, the question whether the position expressed by Vattimo and Zabala is really a relativistic one. Here I can advance only a suggestion, namely, that Vattimo’s position, especially as it emerges from previous exchanges with Girard, rather than being defined as relativistic (entailing that all perspectives are equally valid), might be better seen as a form of perspectivism (implying that no way of seeing the world can be taken as definitely true). But even if it were considered a form of perspectivism, Vattimo’s position would still not be compatible with mimetic theory: for Girard, there is a way of seeing the world that can be taken as definitely true. However, Vattimo’s perspectivism is often implemented by an ethical preference for the weak and the poor. Vattimo and Zabala express a clear preference for hermeneutic communism over capitalism, and this preference is expressed not because hermeneutic communism is regarded as “truer” than capitalism, but because it is considered as more able to guarantee justice and well-being for humankind. Significantly, Girard notes that Vattimo’s slogan, “There are only interpretations” (a quote from Nietzsche), is often practically disregarded by Vattimo himself: faced with a choice between the “truth of the victim” and “the lies of the persecutors,” Vattimo would not claim that all interpretations are equally valid, but would stand firmly for the truth of the victim—not in the name of veritas, but in the name of caritas.40 When it comes to a practical attitude to the poor and the weak (“victims,” in the context of mimetic theory), Girard and Vattimo-Zabala are less distant than expected. This, however, does not solve potential disagreement on the concrete possibility of overcoming capitalism. In fact, in the context of mimetic theory, this possibility seems problematic: given that mimeticism is what constitutes us as humans, and therefore cannot be eliminated, how might it be possible to hope for the overcoming of capitalism? This is a specific case of a more general problem, namely, the possibility of overcoming mimeticism. Humans cannot disown their mimetic nature, because this is precisely what makes them human. Consistently, the Gospels do not preach an ethics of spontaneity and do not expect humans to give up imitation; rather, they recommend imitating the only model that cannot change into a fascinating rival. And this unique model is Christ because, thanks to his divine nature, he is not bound by chains of desire and violence and does not compete with those who imitate him, but

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returns mimesis with love. Furthermore, the Gospels encourage humans to imitate Christ’s desire to refuse every negative imitation. Therefore, the only way to overcome mimeticism is through a process of conversion. The prototype of this experience is the religious conversion; however, in a world which, as Oughourlian points out, “is secretly governed by the gospel revolution and reflects the extraordinary concrete character of this revolution,” conversion does not necessarily need to be religious in content. As Girard maintains, “Even in the investigation of nature … the great minds who have effected the most decisive intellectual breakthroughs have always apparently passed from one mental universe to another.”41 It might be argued that, as capitalism is a consequence of human mimetic nature, the only way to overcome it would be through a process of conversion, which would not disown mimeticism, but would reorient it toward vertical transcendence. In other words, the overcoming of capitalism might occur not through collective political action, but only through a vast number of personal conversions. Ideally, these conversions should take the form of a religious conversion to Christianity—but not necessarily. As early as in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, Girard presents conversion as an existential change (the renunciation of metaphysical desire) that allows the establishment of a different perspective, from which both the self and reality can be interpreted differently. Girard writes: Repudiation of the mediator implies renunciation of divinity, and this means renouncing pride … In renouncing divinity the hero renounces slavery. Every level of his existence is inverted, all the effects of metaphysical desire are replaced by contrary effects.42

Does this have anything to do with Vattimo and Zabala’s hermeneutic communism? I believe it does. A perspectival account of truth implies renunciation of the idea that the world can be examined by the subject objectively, that is, from an alleged God’s-eye point of view. In the context of mimetic theory, persecutors claim to look at reality objectively, that is, from the point of view of God, a point of view which must be absolute. The scapegoating event is presented by persecutors from a “detached” and “objective” perspective, but, as Girard reminds us, the myth of detachment is “the greatest myth of all.”43 Conversely, the truth of the victim is perspectival, because it contrasts the “absolute” account of persecutors with an “alternative” point of view, a discordant voice.44 Therefore, conversion implies a “renunciation of divinity,” which is not dissimilar to the renunciation of the idea of absolute truth (the God’s-eye view), which Vattimo and Zabala maintain as fundamental in their political project. This switch of perspective (from the God’s-eye view to a perspectival truth of the victim) might even been taken as grounding, I suggest, their account of “weakened communism.” Their reading of Marx’s claim that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” seems to go in that direction, as it is taken as “evoking how, for interpretation to work, a change must occur.”45 To summarize: a personal experience of conversion leads to a “renunciation of divinity,” which in turn, leads to embracing a perspective more sympathetic to victims; and the whole of these personal conversions might result in a radical change in society,


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politics, and the economic system.46 To the extent that these elements are common to both mimetic theory and hermeneutic communism, the two theories can be considered as not incompatible. It would not be appropriate to push for the compatibility of these two theories more than this. Furthermore, these reflections are not meant to underplay the distance that separates them, especially in relation to politics. Conversion, conceived as the rejection of violence and the reorienting of mimeticism, is the strategy indicated by Girard; however, Girard does not suggest what consequences a collective and broad conversion of humankind might have on politics.47 Nevertheless, considering the premises of mimetic theory, it does not seem implausible to argue that a broad conversion would lead to an overcoming of capitalism and to a fairer distribution of resources. On the other hand, the elaboration of “hermeneutic communism” is only in its initial stages of development, and much could be done to elaborate it further. As a conclusion, I think that, despite these limits and reservations, there is room for a fruitful dialogue between mimetic theory and philosophical hermeneutics, even on a political level. Both Girard and Vattimo agree, from different perspectives, on a central point: that the way the global economy and society are currently organized is no longer sustainable—a reality for which the current global financial crisis offers dramatic evidence. Vattimo and Zabala refer to economists’ “blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy,”48 and Girard refers to the “heads of state, bankers, and soldiers who claim to be saving us when in fact they are plunging us deeper into devastation each day.”49 This situation urges us to do something. Vattimo and Zabala, paraphrasing Heidegger, claim that “only communism can save us,” and suggest we regard communism as “the horizon of any possible liberation for the human being.”50 This claim will surely attract significant disagreement from scholars, and mimetic theory scholars will not be an exception. Still, I think they would agree that, to liberate humankind from devastation and apocalypse, a political and social engagement is needed—and this is definitely something that cannot be done from an armchair.

Notes 1

2 3 4

Gianni Vattimo, “Heidegger and Girard: Kénosis and the End of Metaphysics,” in Gianni Vattimo and René Girard, Christianity, Truth, and Weakening Faith: A Dialogue, Pierpaolo Antonello (ed.), trans. W. McCuaig (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 85. For a critical reading of Vattimo’s parallel between the “natural sacred” in Girard’s thought and the violence of metaphysics, see Matthew Edward Harris, “Metaphysics, Violence and the ‘Natural Sacred’ in Gianni Vattimo’s Philosophy,” Humanicus 8 (2013). Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011). Ibid., 49. This expression is a quote from Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1996), chap. 3, “Existence Is Interpretation.” Vattimo and Zalaba, Hermeneutic Communism, 58.

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René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 295. 6 See L’Enfer des choses: René Girard et la logique de l’économie (Paris: Seuil, 1979). Another “Girardian” critique of capitalism is included in Britton Johnston, “Temples of Debt: Capitalism as a Sacred/Sacrificial System,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, Antwerp, Belgium, June 2001, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 7 René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (2007), trans. Mary Baker, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 59. Girard refers to Lucien Goldmann, Towards a Sociology of the Novel, trans. A. Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1975), 7. 8 Girard, Battling to the End, 59. 9 Ibid., 11. 10 Ibid., 19. 11 Cf. ibid., 20. Marx’s claim that a class struggle always ends “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” might be interpreted in a mimetic sense—after all, every sacrificial crisis is always destined to end either in a reconstitution of the community, or in the common ruin of community members. Cf. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. Samuel Moore (London: Verso, 2012), 35. 12 René Girard, “Apocalyptic Thinking after 9/11,” interview by Robert Doran, SubStance 37, no. 1 (2008): 20–32, at 22. 13 Girard, Battling to the End, 45. 14 Girard, “Apocalyptic Thinking,” 28. 15 Girard calls this increasing preference for horizontal transcendence “the ontological sickness.” Cf. René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure (1961), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), 97. 16 René Girard, Job, the Victim of His People (1985), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 38. 17 René Girard and James Williams, “The Anthropology of the Cross: A Conversation with René Girard,” in René Girard, The Girard Reader, James G. Williams (ed.) (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 261–88, at 274. 18 Ibid. 19 Girard, “Apocalyptic Thinking,” 28. 20 Ibid. 21 Cf. Jean-Michel Oughourlian, The Genesis of Desire, trans. E. Webb (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), ch. 3. 22 Girard, Battling to the End, 116. 23 Ibid. 24 Girard, “Apocalyptic Thinking,” 28. 25 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 40. See Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, H. Eiland and M. W. Jennings (eds), vol. 4, 1938–1940 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2003), 391. 26 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 1. 27 Vattimo, “Heidegger and Girard,” 81. 5


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28 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 3. 29 Ibid., 115. 30 Ibid., 137. 31 Ibid., 14. 32 Ibid., 16. 33 Ibid., 18. 34 Ibid., 23. 35 Ibid., 16. 36 Girard, Job, 34. 37 Ibid., 107. 38 Ibid. 39 See Grant Kaplan, “An Interview with René Girard,” First Things, November 6, 2008, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 40 If nobody has access to the “truth,” then I have to “listen to others”: “We don’t reach agreement when we have discovered the truth, we say we have discovered the truth when we reach agreement. In other words, charity takes the place of truth.” Gianni Vattimo, A Farewell to Truth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), ch. 2, “The Future of Religion,” section 3, “For a Nonreligious Christianity.” 41 Girard, Things Hidden, 401. Kirwan comments: “The content of the conversion is the same: a radical change of perspective.” Michael Kirwan, Discovering Girard (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004), 81. 42 Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 294. 43 Ibid., 111. See also Girard, Things Hidden, 277: “the very detachment of the person who contemplates the warring brothers from the heights of his wisdom is an illusion.” Cf. Eugene Webb, The Self Between: From Freud to the New Social Psychology of France (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993), 192. 44 Someone might object that the truth of the victim is empirically true for Girard. However, this is just half of the story. Truth is incarnated in Christ, that is, God who becomes victim and accepts all human limitations. In Christ, God’s being of love reveals true being and human negative mimesis. True being, then, is to become part of God’s being in conversion. (I am grateful to Joel Hodge for drawing my attention to this point.) 45 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 4. 46 Jun seems to suggest something similar when he argues that Girardian theory advocates “a series of on-going tactical interventions that resist sacrificial violence” and that “such interventions, if sufficiently widespread, would inevitably generate new forms of human social organization.” Nathan Jun, “Toward a Girardian Politics,” Studies in Social and Political Thought 14 (Fall 2007): 22–42, at 38. 47 Some indications have been suggested by mimetic theory scholars, but Girard has rarely commented on them. See Wolfgang Palaver, “Political Implications of the Mimetic Theory,” in Wolfgang Palaver, Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, trans. Gabriel Borrud (East Lansing: Michigan University Press, 2013), 275–96. 48 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 60; they quote Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?,” New York Times, September 6, 2009. 49 René Girard, “On War and Apocalypse,” First Things 195 (August–September 2009): 17–22, at 18–19. 50 Vattimo and Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism, 111.


War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes Sarah Drews Lucas

Since its inception in 2001, the United States of America’s “war on terror” has been couched in religious terminology.1 The Christian Evangelical movement, which has increased in both size and fervor over the past three decades, often propagates an ideology of the righteousness of US violence. Many in the United States and around the world find the Evangelical movement’s unyielding certainty to be problematic.2 To better understand the source of this type of conviction, we look to the theory of René Girard. Over the course of his body of work and especially in his most recent book, Battling to the End, Girard presents a useful framework for understanding the significance of the religious rhetoric used by the politically powerful Christian right in the United States. The “war on terror” as preached in apocalyptic terms by US Evangelicals is ideological rather than logical. As we shall see, Evangelical apocalypse is not equivalent to Girardian apocalypse, defined as the unveiling of the arbitrary nature of human violence. The two uses of the term actually oppose one another: one obfuscates, the other reveals. This chapter argues that the militant ideology (we can also call it mythology) of Evangelicalism’s insistence upon US exceptionalism—as seen in the language of the megachurches, attempts by religious soldiers to Christianize the military, and the “faith-based” presidency of George W. Bush—represents, in Girardian terms, religion’s failing attempt to re-sacralize violence.3 The follies of contemporary Evangelicalism in this regard are thrown into sharp relief by Girard’s prophetic analysis of its illegitimacy. Girard argues that Christianity has revealed that violence can never be “sacred,” but there are a number of politically powerful Christians in the United States who fail to appreciate this essential insight. The Evangelical reading of violence plays into the hands of the broader secular mythology of US exceptionalism, which also allows US citizens to ignore the Christian “apocalypse” described by Girard. Comparing Girardian Christianity to US Evangelical Christianity thus presents us with two opposing theologies. The juxtaposition of these two theologies allows us both to expose the religious right’s untenable dependence on an idea of righteous violence and to theorize a new framework for theological discourse on war, one that recognizes the revelation of all violence as illegitimate and profane.


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Mimetic theory Girard’s theory, which he has continued to develop over the past fifty years, argues that Christianity demythologizes religion. Christianity, through its vindication of the scapegoat, reveals that violence is always arbitrary—that it can never be sacred. Girard has long argued that the mimetic nature of desire historically sets members of a society in conflict with one another. As two members of society come into competition over the same object, each member’s desire comes to mirror the other’s until the two desiring bodies become a rivalrous double. Conflictual mimetic desire between such doubles is contagious; desire always breeds more desire. Thus, mimesis leads to widespread rivalry, in which individual members of society become indistinguishable from one another: every member is identical in the acquisitive and rivalrous character of desire. Girard calls this widespread mimetic confusion, which he explores in depth in his first major work, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, the crisis of undifferentiation.4 He argues that once it reaches a certain point, mimetic rivalry can only escalate. Without violence, there is no way to quell escalating mimesis, which is itself thinly veiled violence. In archaic religion, the crisis of undifferentiation is averted by the transference of mimetic violence on to a scapegoat, a person (or group of people) who is seen as responsible for the social tension. The generative scapegoating mechanism allows a social group to “sanctify” its violence: in transferring the violent impulse toward other members of the group onto an innocent victim, a social group is able to hide the “true” (mimetic) nature of that violence from itself. As Michael Kirwan puts it: The crisis is resolved by a realignment of the aggression, “all against one.” A problem which arose because of mimetic interaction is resolved in the same way: by one person, then another, and finally the whole group pointing a finger at the alleged cause of the disturbance. The group is then unified once more in the action of expelling or destroying the victim. Or the group finds an external focus for its aggression, an “enemy without” who similarly unites them.5

Once the scapegoat is expelled or destroyed, the group experiences a feeling of social harmony that “comes to be attributed in a mysterious way to the expelled victim, who thus acquires a ‘sacred’ numinosity.”6 Violence acted out in this cathartic turn is perceived as sacred violence. The events of sacred violence are then preserved and justified in myth. Religious ritual re-enacts the process of scapegoating and sanctifying the victim, thus institutionalizing a method for containing the escalation of mimesis.7 Christianity, with its focus on the innocence of the victim, turns the scapegoating mechanism upside down. For Girard, Jesus’ crucifixion is the unique historical “unveiling” of the meaning of violence—the revelation that all violence is, in fact, profane. The Gospels, according to Girard, are the only texts that reveal the arbitrary nature of scapegoating and the innocence of every ritual victim. The consequences of this revelation constitute what Girard refers to as the paradox of human history: Christ simultaneously frees humanity from the cycle of sacrificial violence and deprives

War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes


humanity of its ability to sacralize violence through ritual and myth.8 As Gil Bailie puts it in his oft-cited treatise Violence Unveiled: Unveiled violence is apocalyptic violence precisely because, once shorn of its religious and historical justifications, it cannot sufficiently distinguish itself from the counter-violence it opposes. Without benefit of religious and cultural privilege, violence simply does what unveiled violence always does: it incites more violence.9

The demythologizing of archaic religion—the recognition that violence against the scapegoat is unfounded and unfair—has led to an unleashing of “meaningless,” desacralized violence. The only way to control the escalation of this violence, according to Girard, is to imitate Christ—a difficult and rarely well-executed task.10 It is from this point in his theory that Girard begins in Battling to the End. We live in an age of apocalypse, he argues, one in which it is imperative that we consider the implications of Christian revelation. Humanity has entered into a crisis of distinctions on a global scale. According to Girard, the truth revealed by Christ has for the last 2,000 years been in the process of demythologizing all religion. As he sums it up: “The Revelation deprives people of religion.”11 People everywhere have come to realize that violence can never be sacred—only to find that they are subsequently unable to escape their own violence and are thus always and uncomfortably aware of the victims of that violence. Girard explains that awareness of and empathy for the victim has been the driving force of much humanist and Enlightenment philosophy. Humanity has tried in various ways to stave off all-consuming violence: it has made laws, abided by rules of war, and had compassion for the victim. But, in the end, these projects of modernity have failed to instill in humanity a full-fledged recognition and renunciation of its own violence and thus also failed to quell escalating mimesis. Battling to the End elaborates on this thesis through an investigation of modern warfare as seen through the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian general whom Girard claims intuited the inevitability of the escalation to extremes in his famous military treatise On War (1832).12 Clausewitz’s conception of warfare is essentially based on the logic of the duel. He believed that warfare, though mediated by politics, was “primordial violence” acted out between enemies who exactly resemble one another in their antipathy. His account of the rivalry between France and Germany is ever underpinned by the recognition of the sameness of these two armies. In some places in the text, Clausewitz’s admiration for and envy of Napoleon even serve as an explicit schematic of mimetic desire. In the end, however, Clausewitz insisted that wars could be controlled by the nations who fought them rather than following his line of reasoning to what Girard sees as its logical end: war cannot be controlled because it is the site of the apocalyptic escalation to extremes. Girard feels that he must pick up where Clausewitz left off: To acknowledge this truth is to complete what Clausewitz was unable, or did not want, to finish: it is to say that the escalation to extremes is the appearance that the truth now takes when it shows itself to humanity.13


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Real warfare is, in effect, defunct: the rules that once made engagement on the battlefield sacred have long been effaced by the horrible revelation of the true nature of violence. We are left with absolute war in which violence is incapable of producing anything other than violence. Thus, Girard presents us with a set of tools for understanding contemporary claims about both war and religion. For Girard, religion is the myth that violence can be sacred—as he puts it: “Sin consists in thinking that something good could come from violence.”14 War, on the other hand, is the inevitable outcome of mythical thinking. Religion in the United States propagates this myth: everywhere in fundamentalist Christianity we see an inversion of Girardian Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the rise in fundamentalism among US Christians is accompanied by an increase in the use of militant language. We now turn to an examination of absolute war and apocalypse as put forth by Evangelical Christians, all the while keeping in mind the Girardian definitions of these terms.

Evangelical apocalypse “Evangelical,” “conservative,” “right-wing,” “radical,” “Pentecostal,” “fundamentalist,” “providentialist,” and “pre-millennialist” are adjectives that have been applied to various sects of Christianity in the United States.15 Common characteristics of these groups are literal interpretation of the Bible, US exceptionalism, an anticipation of the apocalypse in the form of spiritual war with an actual enemy, and an emphasis on individual salvation. In a 2004 poll, up to forty percent of US citizens identified themselves as “Evangelical,” according to these criteria.16 This new variant of religion could be seen as an attempt to find refuge in archaic religion. As Girard describes it: “ideology has replaced mythology, but the mechanisms are similar.”17 The truth of the Bible, for Girard, does not lie in a strictly literal interpretation of the Gospels. On the contrary, the revelatory power of those texts lies in their unveiling of the symbolic mechanisms of violence and the sacred. The nationalistic ideology that legitimizes the war on terror is very closely related to the Evangelical mythology that calls for an explicit re-sacralization of violence—but Christians have a special responsibility toward demythologizing. Girard’s critique in Battling to the End is largely of secular political rhetoric that masks the revelation of violence as profane. However, it seems to me that religious rhetoric along these lines is more wrongheaded because it makes the insights of Girardian Christianity that much more difficult to access. Evangelical Christianity flourishes throughout the United States in churches which hold large congregations, often referred to as “megachurches.” Many of these churches use overtly militant language. Pastors rely heavily on “the rhetoric of war and the demands of a warrior God who promises blood and vengeance.”18 In 2005, an expert on religious subcultures, Jeff Sharlet, profiled Pastor Ted Haggard and the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, then the most powerful of US megachurches, for Harper’s Magazine.19 According to Sharlet, Haggard, while he was head pastor at

War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes


New Life, was an influential spiritual advisor to President Bush; the two men spoke on a weekly basis. This contact is not insignificant, especially considering the kind of sermon likely to be heard by New Life’s congregation of 14,000. Haggard often referred to the values of pre-emptive and “ferocious” war, and is quoted as saying: “I teach a strong ideology of the use of power, of military might as a public service.”20 During the homily at his own son’s wedding, Haggard intoned: “The Christian home is to be in a constant state of war. Massive warfare!”21 Sharlet responds to this extremism with prescient words that are not out of place in our Girardian analysis: The language of the Christian right was, I realized, hardening, collapsing. “Spiritual war,” a metaphor as old as the Gospels, has been invoked for the sake of power before … But the imagination of the Christian right has failed, and its language has become all-encompassing, mapped across not just theology but also emotions; across not just the Church but the entire world.22

The language used by Evangelical Christians is the language of absolute war. The church largely seems to lack the imagination to decipher the Gospels’ metaphors of violence unveiled, and it is thus trapped within the defunct idiom of righteous violence. It’s not unusual for the use of extremely violent language of this ilk to increase one’s status among conservative US citizens in high places. Take the example of General William Boykin, who was promoted to Deputy Undersecretary of Defense even after saying about his involvement in military action in Somalia: “I knew my God was bigger than his [Somali warlord Osman Atto’s]. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.”23 Boykin has gone on to express his view that the United States is a “Christian nation engaged in a holy war.”24 Such calls to arms represent desperate attempts to re-sacralize violence, in Girardian terms, and they have not fallen on deaf ears. The desire to believe in a righteous cause in the service of a righteous God is especially strong in the US armed forces. In another important exposé, Jeff Sharlet chronicles proselytizing within the US military by a “small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers.”25 This presence is becoming more powerful and more extreme in bases both at home and abroad, using tactics such as: … forced Christian prayer in Iraq and at home; combat deaths made occasions for evangelical sermons by senior officers; Christian apocalypse video games distributed to the troops; mandatory briefings on the correlation of the war to the Book of Revelation; exorcisms designed to drive out “unclean spirits” from military property; beatings of atheist troops that are winked at by the chain of command.26

Here is evidence of an army influenced by the false mythology of Evangelical apocalypse. Ideological extremism abounds in an attempt to disguise the essential profanity of US violence; but ultimately, an Evangelical army can neither re-sacralize its own violence nor return to traditional rules of war. One need only mention the Guantanamo Bay detention center or drone strikes to draw attention to US actions beyond traditional rules of war. The US army instead


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engages in indeterminate, unproductive conflict—violence that is incapable of either producing anything positive or recognizing its own ineffectiveness. The US soldier does not fight for a particular cause in a war that may be won or lost; he is instead a warrior who fights perpetually with no end in sight. The journalist Robert Fisk alludes to this shift in the ethos of the US military in his book The Age of the Warrior: “The Warrior Creed” allows no end to any conflict except total destruction of the “enemy”. It allows no defeat … and does not allow one ever to stop fighting, lending itself to the idea of “the long war”. It says nothing about following orders, it says nothing about obeying laws or showing restraint.27

Fisk insists that this warrior attitude signifies a fundamental difference in the identity of the soldier. His concern about the implications of this paradigm shift echoes exactly Girard’s enumeration of the consequences of “absolute war.” The US military is increasingly defined by its Evangelicalism, its use of apocalyptic language, and its inability to abide by traditional models of warfare. As Girard puts it: A striking example of the blindness is the quagmire in Iraq that the Americans will be able to escape only in a catastrophic manner, with the resulting stream of dead bodies and the unending succession of murders. The loss of the rules of war leaves us facing the terrible alternative between attacking and defending, aggression and response to aggression, which are one and the same thing.28

The use of apocalyptic language to justify violence was a hallmark of the presidency of George W. Bush, the only president in US history to identify himself as an Evangelical Christian.29 At the heart of Bush’s war on terror was an absolute certainty that US action was determined “by the hand of a just and faithful God.”30 Bush called for an extreme patriotism, a “with us or against us” ethos throughout the United States and the world; he thus propagated the myth of sanctified, righteous US violence perpetrated on an evil enemy.31 The mounting extremism of his ideology was the obverse of the mounting extremism in other parts of the world—violent language begets more violent language. In the words of one journalist: This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. That they can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them.32

In Girardian terms, Bush’s utter conviction was the result of a perverse mythologizing. The hallmark of the crisis of undifferentiation is the frantic invention of difference between self and other when, in fact, there is none. Recognition of a shared humanity had no place in the Bush Administration’s logic of war. Its “with us or against us” model led to widespread, long-term engagement far beyond the pale of traditional warfare. Girard describes the United States’ escalation to extremes: Today we are heading toward a form of war so radical that it is impossible to talk about it without making it sound hyper-tragic or hyper-comical, so unlimited

War on Terror: The Escalation to Extremes


that it can no longer be taken seriously. Bush is a caricature of the warmongering violence of which Americans are capable outside of the framework of any political reason, and Bin Laden and his imitators respond in an equally “sovereign” manner.33

Girard’s reading of apocalypse In Girardian terms, Western civilization has failed to recognize the true nature of violence even after the Christian revelation of the innocence of the victim, and so warfare is now defined by the catastrophic escalation to extremes, within which the laws of warfare are obsolete. Terror (whether in the form of a drone strike or a suicide bombing), rather than archaic ritualized violence, is the new archetype of violence— ubiquitous, random, chaotic. The “enemy” in the war on terror remains a phantom because the enemy is indistinguishable from the self. The redoubling of Evangelical efforts to demonize Islam has been a result of this mimetic escalation. Moreover, the same sort of demonization is a part of the rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalists.34 It is no coincidence that the response to this undifferentiation often takes the form of a return to superstitious religion. The only way to avert total destruction in this environment of absolute war, for Girard, is through the positive imitation of Christ’s recognition of the profanity of the mimetic violence within each of us. As Girard puts it: “Christ took away humanity’s sacrificial crutches and left us before a terrible choice: either believe in violence, or not; Christianity is non-belief.”35 By this criterion, the religion of many US Evangelicals is not Christianity; rather, it is an improvised mythology attempting to explain the effects of uncontrollably escalating violence. Scapegoating, positing difference where there is none, and using religious language to justify violence all represent attempts to mend humanity’s sacrificial crutches. But where does this configuration of mythological religion leave “non-believers”? The escalation to extremes and the war on terror continue, though we have left the Bush years behind. Obama’s America has not seen a decline in mythical thinking about global warfare. On the contrary, if Bush and the US religious right have re-inscribed the religious mythology of sacred violence, Obama has re-inscribed the secular mythology of modernity, in which Christ’s revelation of the profanity of all violence is drowned out by a combination of individualism, rationalism, and nihilism.36 Attempts to frame warfare according to traditional secular models fall short of recognizing that mimetic rivalry is the engine of the global war on terror. A model for escalation in the war on terror must take into account the intractable spread of violence for its own sake; violence is no longer understandable as a political back-and-forth, but must instead be read as a metaphysical condition, infecting and affecting us all.37 If Battling to the End is any indication, Girard is deeply skeptical of the capacity of positive mimesis among Christian “non-believers” to put an end to absolute war, even after its absurdity has been unveiled. Those who are in power, according to Girard, cannot transcend the (il)logic of absolute war or turn the rising tide of violence.38


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For Girard, a meaningful reading of the war on terror must be theological. The theology of a church in the grip of archaic views of violence only stands in the way of Girard’s theological framework, which assures us that ritual violence is obsolete. Unless the imitation of Christ’s renunciation of violence is taken up by everyone, there will be nothing to halt the escalation of mimetic violence. Indeed, this violent escalation is the meaning of history. And conversion, in the form of recognition and renunciation of the true nature of violence, is our only hope for the future: The apocalypse does not announce the end of the world; it creates hope. If we suddenly see reality, we do not experience the absolute despair of an unthinking modernity, but rediscover a world where things have meaning.39

What Girard gives us is a unique theological framework for theorizing peace.40 There is no choice, for Girard, between violence and nonviolence; the escalation to extremes is well underway. There is, however, a choice as to how we perceive violence. We can try to “reveil” violence by falling into the archaic trap of thinking that something good can come of it. Or we can recognize that all violence is actually the irruption of mimetic rivalry between humans, and can never be sacred. We are all infected with violence, but we each have the capacity to cultivate a habit of renunciation in the face of violence. There is no escaping the danger created by the escalation to extremes, but there is, in facing this danger, an indomitable hope.41

Notes 1

2 3

4 5

The Obama Administration replaced “war on terror” with “Overseas Contingency Operation” in 2009, but this was widely agreed to be a shift in name only. See, for example, Al Kane and Scott Wilson, “Global War on Terror Is Given a New Name,” Washington Post, March 25, 2009; Andrew Bacevich, “Endless War: A Recipe for Four-Star Arrogance,” Washington Post, June 27, 2010; and former CIA chief Michael Hayden’s lecture “Law, Policy, and the War on al-Qaida: An Emerging Consensus?” at the Gerald B. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, September 7, 2012, [accessed September 13, 2013]. I do not propose to give anything like a comprehensive overview of Evangelical Christianity in the United States. My purpose is to set up a counterframework to Girard’s in order to compare two different theological readings of violence. There is evidence that this Evangelical attempt to re-sacralize violence is, in fact, failing. The political power of the religious right has waned since the end of the Bush years, but it has by no means disappeared. See John Dickerson, “The Decline of Evangelical America,” New York Times, December 15, 2012; and John Merritt, “The Religious Right Turns 33: What Have We Learned?,” Atlantic, June 8, 2012. See René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure (1961), trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965). Michael Kirwan, Discovering Girard (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2005), 38.

6 7

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Ibid., 39. See René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987); and René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1972), trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1977). For an in-depth summary of mimetic theory and the scapegoating mechanism, see Kirwan, Discovering Girard. 8 René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre (2007), trans. Mary Baker (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010), 63. 9 Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled (New York: Crossroad, 2001), 15. 10 Girard, Battling to the End, 132. 11 Ibid., 198. 12 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, (ed. and trans.) Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984). 13 Girard, Battling to the End, 105. 14 Ibid., 109. 15 In the interest of clarity and continuity, I have chosen to use “Evangelical” throughout most of this discussion because it is the term used most often in scholarship and the media. 16 Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (New York: Viking, 2006), 206. 17 Girard, Battling to the End, 53. 18 Chris Hedges, American Fascists (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007), 228. 19 In 2006 the pastor of New Life, Ted Haggard, was forced to leave the church due to a scandal involving a homosexual prostitute. See “Pastor Dismissed for ‘Sexually Immoral Conduct,’” New York Times, November 5, 2006. 20 Jeff Sharlet, “Soldiers for Christ,” Harper’s Magazine, May 2005, 45. 21 Ibid., 54. 22 Ibid. 23 Hedges, American Fascists, 57. 24 Ibid., 58. 25 Jeff Sharlet, “Jesus Killed Mohammed,” Harper’s Magazine, May 2009, 32. See also Jeff Sharlet, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2010). 26 Sharlet, “Jesus Killed Mohammed,” 38. 27 Robert Fisk, The Age of the Warrior (London: HarperCollins, 2008), 284. 28 Girard, Battling to the End, 67. 29 Carin Robinson and Clyde Wilcox, “The Faith of George W. Bush: The Personal, Practical, and Political,” in Religion and the American Presidency, Mark Rozell and Whitney Gleaves (eds) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 215. 30 Jackson Lears, “How a War Became a Crusade,” New York Times, March 11, 2003. 31 Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004, 3. 32 Ibid., 1. 33 Girard, Battling to the End, 69. 34 “now we peddle the myth that elected Islamist parties are subterfuge al-Qa’idas, that—deep down—the Islamic world really is in an eternal ‘clash of civilisations’ with us, that we must fear them, hate them. And so the war goes on … is there


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some dark, unspoken knowledge shared by both us and al-Qa’ida? That we both, in our souls, want the war to go on.” Robert Fisk, “War on Terror is the West’s New Religion,” Independent, February 24, 2013. 35 Girard, Battling to the End, 21. 36 Ibid., xiii. 37 Indeed, the war on terror eschews conventional definitions of escalation. See John Stone, “Escalation and the War on Terror,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 5 (October 2012): 639–61. 38 Girard, Battling to the End, 199. 39 Ibid., xiii; emphasis in the original. 40 Theologians are currently in search of just such a framework. See Shelley Rambo, “Changing the Conversation: Theologizing War in the Twenty-First Century,” Theology Today 69, no. 4 (2013): 441–62. 41 Girard quotes Hölderlin: “But where danger threatens/That which saves from it also grows.” Battling to the End, xvii.


Scapegoating the Guilty: Girard and International Criminal Law Nathan Kensey

On June 27, 2011, Muammar Gaddafi was indicted for crimes against humanity by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Four months later Gaddafi was killed soon after his capture by rebel forces in Sirte, Libya. The circumstances of Gaddafi’s death at the hands of a mob appear to be starkly at odds with an alternative fate of prosecution before the ICC. However, a Girardian analysis of the international criminal justice system leads us to question whether Gaddafi’s death in Sirte can be satisfactorily differentiated in substance from punishment under the Rome Statute, the international treaty that provides for the existence and jurisdiction of the ICC .1

Girard’s mimetic theory and judicial systems For Girard, sacrifice operates to subdue mimetic violence that has reached a point of crisis,2 and to prevent further violence.3 The sacrifice occurs at the point at which the mimetic crisis threatens to engulf society as more persons engage in acts of vengeance toward each other. At this moment, society will spontaneously identify a surrogate victim, the scapegoat, on which to focus its violence and to blame the crisis in order to avoid destruction. The scapegoat may be an individual or a minority, and is “chosen” on the basis that the individual or minority is “other” or capable of being differentiated from the whole.4 The scapegoat must be incapable of causing further violence to the society in the face of the scapegoating.5 If not, the attempt to scapegoat will constitute an act of vengeance that will perpetuate the cycle of violence. The scapegoat is then expelled from the society (the sacrifice itself). The tension created by the mimetic crisis is simultaneously relieved at the moment of expulsion, and peace returns.6 The innocence of the scapegoat, in the sense that they were in fact not responsible for the mimetic crisis, must remain hidden.7 Therefore, we may identify an act of Girardian scapegoating by: (1) the choosing of an individual, or minority, scapegoat who is needed to alleviate a mimetic crisis, and who is unable to retaliate; (2) the accusation of crimes for which the scapegoat is not—at least not wholly—accountable, to resolve


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the crisis; and (3) an act of scapegoating (infliction of punishment) done in an environment of, or in an attempt to create, unanimity. Girard has spent little time defining the role of law and justice in respect of sacrificial violence.8 He describes how the role of sacrifice is diminished in societies that develop judicial systems.9 A judicial system acts to avoid mimetic crises from occurring by preventing acts of vengeance between persons, and therefore also the escalation of mimetic violence by way of criminal sanction. Thus, a judicial system is, in a certain sense, a preventive mechanism as it seeks to deter and prevent the escalation of mimetic rivalries through the establishment of taboos (that is, criminal offenses), whereas an act of sacrifice in the form of the scapegoat mechanism is curative in nature (that is, the crisis has already crystallized and is being abated). However, a judicial system does not replace sacrifice. A judicial system acts to circumvent the necessity of the scapegoat mechanism by removing from the individual (or collective) the freedom to spontaneously commit an act of vengeance and giving that right to a sovereign authority, traditionally the state.10 A judicial system therefore must constitute an independent authority that can effectively take upon itself the responsibility to commit a final act of vengeance,11 and in doing so constrain individuals against committing such acts so as to avoid the escalation of violence.12 This can be differentiated from an act of scapegoating where the unanimous condemnation of the victim is necessary; the only unanimity required in criminal justice is that of the court. However, Girard is at pains to emphasize that the authority of a judicial system hides the fact that what is in fact occurring “in the guise of abstract justice” is legitimized vengeance.13 Thus the unanimity of a court itself against a victim is established, and this acts as a catalyst (an accusing finger) for the wider community to unanimously scapegoat an accused.14 A judicial system ultimately conceals the problem of vengeance and therefore is at risk of being incorporated in it.15

International criminal law and Girard’s mimetic theory A central feature of criminal justice is an act of violence16 against an offender by a legitimate authority through imprisonment, corporal or capital punishment, or some other lesser sanction.17 The question for our purposes, and from a Girardian perspective, is whether the actions of the international criminal justice system against accused persons represent (1) acts of scapegoating, (2) acts of preventive violence such as may be taken by a judicial system as defined by Girard, or (3) acts that constitute a form of vengeance constituting part of a larger mimetic crisis. The last possibility largely turns on historical events, as opposed to questions of purpose within the international criminal justice framework, and will therefore not form a major part of this chapter.18 Girard argues that while sacrifice of the scapegoat constitutes the basis for society, the mechanism of scapegoating has now been revealed. The implication is that the mechanism cannot ultimately succeed if people are aware of it and of its arbitrary attribution of guilt to the victim. Girard asserts that the scapegoat is not necessarily innocent of any offense (that is, he or she may not be morally or legally innocent), but

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the victim is structurally innocent because the mob persecutes the victim motivated by its own mimetic crisis and exaggerates or attributes guilt according to the dimensions of this crisis.19 Furthermore, Girard indicates that the collapse of religion, which is built on the expulsion of the original scapegoat, can be attributed to society’s growing consciousness of victims manifest in the emergence of an increasingly robust system of human rights that defends victims against persecution.20 However, this does not prevent the need for or recourse to sacrifice in societies not fully cognizant of the central issue of mimetic violence and in which mimetic crises still occur. The world remains “tinged” with sacrifice and the mechanism will continually reappear until such time as humanity as a whole recognizes that the source of violence is in our distorted mimetic desire and renounces this distortion.21 What this situation means is that, in an age increasingly aware of the innocence of victims, though still in need of sacrifices to stop mimetic crises, only those guilty of persecution themselves may be safely persecuted or scapegoated.22 In other words, the scapegoat mechanism distorts the awareness of the innocent victim to make it a new cause for persecution—the only effective one left to the modern world.23 It is, therefore, important to survey modern institutions, such as the international criminal justice system, in an attempt to identify “tinges” of the scapegoat mechanism at work in, for example, international criminal law, particularly to identify whether it legitimates the persecution of persecutors.

International criminal law as sovereign: Independent and constraining Independence The independence of international tribunals has regularly been brought into question. The independence of the International Military Tribunals in Nuremberg and the Far East have often been criticized on the basis of their creation by the victorious powers in 1945.24 Similarly, the independence of the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have been criticized on the basis that they were created by the United Nations Security Council.25 The question here is whether a body exercising an executive function, such as the Security Council, can validly create a judicial body,26 especially where the relationship between the executive and judicial bodies is unclear at an international level (unlike the clear instances of separation found within many modern national constitutional structures).27 On a broader level, it may be asked whether international criminal tribunals have any real choice in prosecution at all. Douglas posits that “in the wake of traumatic history the decision to prosecute may not be a choice at all: it may be an imperative born of the scars left on an outraged collective consciousness.”28 An imperative to prosecute or convict, whether due to the force of collective outrage, the influence


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of great powers, or the tenuous position of the international judiciary, bring the independence of the international criminal justice system into question.

Power to constrain Article 2(1) of the Charter of the United Nations enshrines the sovereign equality of states. There is no unifying sovereign authority over all states.29 This is particularly clear in respect of international criminal law. Until the establishment of the ICC, the authority of an international criminal tribunal to constrain the actions of offenders was severely limited by the fact that all previous tribunals had been established after the fact. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were created after the respective criminal acts. It is therefore difficult to conceive how these, as systems of international criminal justice, could have the constraining quality necessary for the operation of a Girardian-style judicial system. The argument against the constraining capacity of international criminal tribunals is further strengthened by the argument that the law itself has been applied ex post facto.30 The development of international criminal law has led to the ICC’s having standing jurisdiction to investigate and try three international crimes: crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. Further, it is possible that the court will have jurisdiction to try the crime of aggression from 2017.31 However, the capacity of the court to investigate or try an offense is critically hampered in a way foreign to domestic criminal courts: in the case of the ICC, an external body (the Security Council) may defer any investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor.32 The court is also able to investigate or try only those offenses where state parties that also have jurisdiction over the alleged offenses are unable or unwilling to investigate them or have done so and decided not to prosecute.33 These provisions give considerable scope for states to avoid the jurisdiction of the court and to undermine its capacity to effectively constrain individuals. This does not deny that the emergence of international criminal justice has encouraged the development of a stronger, implicit rejection of these offenses by the international community. But whether international criminal justice in fact operates as an effective restraint is open to question.34

International criminal law and taking the place of the victim The next criterion for consideration is whether international criminal justice replaces the victim and is capable of delivering a final act of vengeance, such that others are restrained from committing acts of mimetic violence. In the domestic context, a judicial system, as the sovereign authority, takes the role of the victim as the deliverer of vengeance in a way that is proportional and final. Does the international criminal justice system therefore commit an act of violence against a person convicted of an

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international crime as a final act of vengeance to the exclusion of others? Or is it in fact the act of a victim and therefore perpetuating the mimetic cycle? A close relationship between the system of international criminal justice and victims may be seen in the case of Adolf Eichmann.35 The prosecution of Eichmann was conducted by Gideon Hausner, Attorney-General of Israel, under the close observation of Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The case was heard before the District Court of Jerusalem.36 Eichmann was charged with crimes against the Jewish people.37 Only two witnesses at the trial were non-Jewish.38 Hausner claimed that he was acting on behalf of six million fellow accusers—those killed during the Holocaust.39 Whilst these circumstances do not necessarily prove that the court identified itself amongst the victims, the history of the nation under which the court was constituted is intimately tied to the offenses of which Eichmann was accused. We may also identify the presence of the victim in an international criminal tribunal in the case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court disqualified Judge Geoffrey Robertson from hearing a case against the Revolutionary United Front on the basis that Robertson had effectively prejudged the case in his book Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice,40 and that he had an inherent interest in upholding the guilt of the accused lest his book be brought into question.41 Robertson had closely associated himself with the plight of victims of international crime but saw no threat to his independence as a judge.42 Fletcher and Ohlin point out that the foundational principle of ending impunity in the Rome Statute (preambular paragraph 5) points to a greater emphasis on the importance of victims’ rights than in a domestic criminal system.43 While the sophisticated structures of the ICC point to an understanding that the court must transcend the rivalry between victim and perpetrator, the role of victims in international criminal justice is unsettled and the increasing emphasis on victims within the international criminal justice process has the potential to compromise the right or ability of the defendant to conduct an adequate defense.44 It is arguable that the system of international criminal justice lacks the requisite level of independence and constraining ability to effectively prevent the escalation of mimetic violence. There are also indications of a relationship between the victim and the machinery of international criminal justice. We will now examine whether the international criminal justice system may be construed as operating more in accordance with Girard’s scapegoat mechanism than as a common criminal judicial system.

The scapegoat mechanism and international criminal law The individual scapegoat The preamble to the Rome Statute proclaims a determination to put an end to impunity. However, the fact remains that international criminal justice is often selective in who is judged.45 While general international law has historically aimed at


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punishments of a collective nature (such as sanctions or reparations), international criminal law focuses on individuals.46 It is arguable that, at its very genesis, international criminal justice was taught a harsh lesson about the consequences of attempting to punish the collective. Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles, which provided the terms of Germany’s defeat at the end of the First World War, provided that a tribunal be established to “publicly arraign William II of Hohenzollern, formerly German Emperor, for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties.”47 However, the Kaiser was not ultimately subject to trial, being granted asylum in the Netherlands.48 Regardless, Germany as a state was required to pay the Allies reparation for damage to the civilian population and its property.49 The total payable amounted to 132,000 million gold marks.50 The terms of the Versailles Treaty, including those of mandatory disarmament, are commonly cited as providing the conditions for the rise of National Socialism in Germany and, ultimately, the Second World War.51 Since 1919 international criminal law has focused on the guilt of individuals or groups of individuals.52 Soon after Muammar Gaddafi’s death, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch stated that: “It can’t be that everyone who supported Gaddafi should be made pariahs in the future; there must be some way of bringing the country together.”53 Fletcher posits that only justice at the individual level will yield peace and security at the collective level.54 Thus, in seeking to avoid corporate punishment (which perpetuates mimetic violence), international criminal justice focuses on individuals for prosecution, which allows for a more thorough process of adjudication but also opens up the possibility that accused persons will take on the guilt of a collective. For example, a Dutch judge in the Far East International Military Tribunal, Bert Röling, commented that the military tribunals made it easier for the world to come to terms with the populations of the defeated axis as a whole as the prosecutions distinguished the guilty leaders from the supposedly deceived population.55 Nevertheless, Article 25(3)(d) of the Rome Statute provides for the responsibility of groups of persons acting with a common purpose. Thus, international criminal law in its most developed form focuses on discrete groups who are alleged to have been involved in a common criminal purpose.56 However, the exclusivity of the ICC, which is directed at the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, means that the ICC can only ever focus on small groups whose actions are, by definition, of concern to the rest of the world. The Rome Statute seeks only to ensure the prosecution of those accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern, and even then only those in positions of command or authority are traditionally prosecuted.57 The ascent of individual international criminal accountability arguably takes the focus away from collective responsibility58 and permits the collective to accept a lesser accountability, particularly in areas of collective violence such as genocide and war crimes.59 The importance of the individual scapegoat is also a practical reality in Girard’s theory. A weak individual or minority cannot retaliate, thus allowing the collective to focus its wrath without fear of retaliation.60 Bass argues that liberal states (those most likely to support international criminal justice) are rarely likely to commit to action

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against international criminals if it is at the risk of their own forces.61 It is perhaps a truism of international criminal justice that it is victors’ justice on their terms.

The innocence of the scapegoat Girard’s theory of scapegoating was originally built on his identification of victims of sacrificial violence in foundational myths, and the revelation that these stories attempt to obscure the innocence of the victim. In some cases, the scapegoat’s innocence may be obvious to the modern eye—for example, the stoning of a blind beggar for having allegedly brought a plague on the people of Ephesus in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana.62 At other times, the innocence of the scapegoat is more carefully hidden and does not preclude the scapegoat from having committed transgressions. For example, Girard discusses at length the story of Oedipus, whose exile Girard claims “has nothing to do with any heinous sin” but is the result of the mob’s need to find a scapegoat in the midst of a crisis (the plague).63 International criminal law has been accused of imitating this tendency to persecute individuals for crimes for which the person is not entirely guilty.64 Although, as indicated above, the modern world has a heightened sensitivity to “victims,” the modern scapegoat cannot be randomly chosen as in the case of Apollonius; the scapegoat must be objectively identifiable as “criminal” (that is, as a persecutor of some sort), assisted by our modern technological ability to engage in individual investigation. There was an undisputable prima facie case against those tried with offenses at Nuremberg; however, even at the time there was a concern that the process instigated by the Allies was focused on a small group of select individuals to the calculated exclusion of others. Only one industrialist—Gustav Krupp—was tried at Nuremberg. The central importance of industry in waging aggressive war was obvious to the Allies in both 1919 and 1945 by the imposition of measures to hobble Germany economically.65 Justice Robert Jackson lobbied for the inclusion of further industrialists in the dock at Nuremberg but was overruled.66 There was even argument about the inclusion of Albert Speer, Minister for Armaments in Germany from 1942, amongst the accused on the grounds that his role had been largely administrative.67 Despite the culpability of these men in effectively arming Germany, it is tempting to conclude that the Allies saw in them the ability to rebuild Germany68 and, in turn, to avoid a repeat of the consequences of Versailles. The Eichmann trial also presents us with a possible scapegoat saddled with the guilt of many others. Very little evidence of the Holocaust was presented at Nuremberg.69 Nazi Germany’s actions against the Jewish people were largely bound up in the charge of crimes against peace.70 It is arguable that the trial of Eichmann was the opportunity for the Jewish people, as the State of Israel, to put the Holocaust on trial in the person of Eichmann. Arendt comments that the clarity of the facts of Eichmann’s involvement in the “Final Solution,” as a mid-level bureaucrat, were never in dispute, but they fell short of what the prosecution may have wished he had done.71 Thus, Eichmann’s culpability was seemingly exaggerated in the public mindset to blame someone for the horrendous crimes of the Holocaust.


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Furthermore, for the scapegoat mechanism to operate, the scapegoat must be guilty to the exclusion of others—otherwise unanimity cannot be achieved. According to Arendt, the trial of Eichmann operated to acquit those of the Jewish community who in one way or another contributed to the crimes of the Nazi regime.72 This appears as a subtle theme in other international criminal trials. Röling indicates that for General Macarthur, Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Forces in Japan, an important aim of the Far East International Military Tribunal was the exoneration of the US military for the failure to anticipate and counter the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.73 The question might also be asked whether the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by the United Nations Security Council, which is populated by the states who were most capable of intervening in the Rwandan genocide, was not in part an attempt to assuage their own guilt for failing to intervene to prevent the genocide. Tied up with the problem of the innocence of the scapegoat or the guilt of the collective is the issue of truth. The identification of the “innocence” of the scapegoat reveals the mob’s need for an individual or minority to whom the scapegoat mechanism will apply. Thus, the attribution of guilt to a victim is constantly in doubt in the modern world because of its use by the mob. The individual is necessary for the outlet of violence, but that violence may only be released simultaneously with the exculpation of the collective for the crisis that the “guilt” of the victim enables. For this reason, there is much discourse about the place in international criminal law of history and the role of providing a definitive account of events. From the Nuremberg Tribunal through to the ICC there has existed a tension between an international tribunal’s task of providing judgment of the accused and developing a truthful narrative of the respective crisis.74 Arendt argues that to accept the role of historian detracts from the court’s role in justice.75 Alternatively, it is argued that the role of international tribunals as teacher is an important “salve to traumatic history.”76 The implication is that this “salve” is to be applied to all of those who have been hurt by the mimetic crisis, which echoes Girard’s claim that the scapegoat is expelled in order to create peace. Further, in some cases, the appearance of truth can aid in the scapegoating because the truth, which the justice system supposedly establishes, can be used to scapegoat the persecutors. In other words, persecution is established by a supposedly—in the eyes of the public— neutral arbiter who justifies the public or court (on behalf of the public) in scapegoating a persecutor.

Unanimity through international criminal law The ultimate aim of the scapegoat mechanism is the calming of mimetic tension by the creation of unanimity of the collective against the individual. The language of international criminal law is heavily laden with language that identifies a conflict between the individual and the world at large. The offense of crimes against humanity, first prosecuted under Article 6(c) of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal Charter and since repeatedly codified

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domestically and internationally, invokes the sense that these are crimes that affect every person. The International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia were both established upon a determination under Article 39 of the United Nations Charter that the offenses that they sought to address constituted threats to international peace and security, not just to the states in which, or close to which, the crimes occurred.77 The preamble of the Rome Statute as well talks of the “conscience of humanity” and the “well-being of the world.” During the Eichmann trial, proceedings were paused for two minutes of silence on the occasion of Yom Hazikkaron, commemorating those who died in the war for independence.78 We might identify a unifying aim in the State of Israel against the individual as it continued to struggle for its very existence. It is arguable that international criminal law, even in its earliest manifestations, has mustered the collective against the individual. Pirates, possibly the first “international criminals,” are considered hostis humani generis (enemies of humankind).79 Burgess suggests that the ancient conception that pirates waged war against the world may be extended to the modern-day terrorist.80 This creation of outsiders works to build the international community itself.81 This contrasts with Todorov’s view when he says that “the foul beast is not in some remote place outside of us: it is within us.”82 We obscure the violence within us (mimetic violence) by focusing on a created, external threat (the pirate, the scapegoat).

Conclusion Brierly describes international law as a “primitive” system.83 We may argue that the scapegoat mechanism, as the foundation of primitive society and religion in Girard’s theory, is more representative of international criminal law than the modern system of domestic criminal justice. The “exemplary” nature of sentences handed down by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia have also been described as “premodern.”84 Gregor Noll, in applying a Girardian critique to the international law on the use of force, identifies a “paucity” in the law that implicitly allows for the use of force for the purpose of unifying the international community.85 In effect the international law of the use of force is silent when it comes to states using force for a unifying purpose. This silence is telling because, as Girard points out, those complicit in the scapegoat mechanism cannot be aware that they are scapegoating—there cannot be an institutional framework that justifies scapegoating, for to be conscious of the scapegoat is to recognize the scapegoat’s innocence and, consequently, one’s own guilt.86 Noll argues that the lack of positive law, which works to legitimize the use of force for unitive purposes, achieves the obscurity that Girard argues is necessary for the working of the scapegoat mechanism.87 Similarly, Lars Östman identifies Pilate as relinquishing Jesus from the secular judicial sphere for the sake of peace.88 Pilate could find no charge against Jesus under Roman law and therefore a “state of exception” existed. This analysis may account for the approach to senior Nazi party figures favored


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by many British and Russian officials, which was to declare those persons “outlaw” and therefore subject to summary execution as the existing system of international justice was simply not capable of addressing their offenses.89 However, in a world conscious of the rights of peoples and the rule of law, to act outside the realm of the accepted legal order was, and continues to be, fraught (as exemplified by the strained attempts of the United States and its coalition partners to justify in legal terms the 2003 invasion of Iraq). Girard states that the scapegoat mechanism will constantly try to reinstate itself.90 Is the emergence of international criminal law and the creation of sophisticated legal frameworks to facilitate it, in some cases, an unconscious attempt to reinstate the scapegoat mechanism and to shroud it with legal legitimacy? International criminal law, through the process of internationalization from the post-Second World War International Military Tribunals through to the ICC, has undeniably grown in independence and authority. But is it still without the sovereign authority to consistently constrain persons, groups, and states from acts of violence, without reference to politics? It acts in substance only after the worst has happened. These deficiencies in the system of international criminal justice leave it open to being co-opted as a tool of the scapegoat mechanism. The identification of elements of international criminal law as a vehicle for scapegoating should not detract from the fact that the rise of international criminal justice has contributed to a global awareness of atrocity, and has contributed to an end to impunity for the primary instigators of international crimes. However, this increase in international consciousness should not blind us to the possibility that international criminal justice, and those who are subject to its processes, can be co-opted for purposes other than the blind and impartial application of justice. At its best, international criminal law splits its focus between prosecution and reconciliation, and, in doing so, seeks to halt further violence through encouraging the renunciation of violence.91 But on the whole, where it is decided to implement a criminal process in tandem with a process of reconciliation, the prosecution of the individual, in a unitive act by the collective, is more compelling.92

Notes 1 2

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, done at Rome, July 17, 1998. For an explanation of Girard’s theory of mimesis, see Chris Fleming’s chapter in the present volume. 3 René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1972), trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 14. 4 René Girard, with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (New York: Continuum, 2007), 66. 5 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 18. 6 James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong (New York: Crossroad, 1998), 18. 7 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 84. 8 The majority of Girard’s consideration of the place of law and justice in sacrificial

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violence and scapegoating is found in his foundational work, Violence and the Sacred. 9 Ibid., 18. 10 Ibid., 15, 21. 11 However, this should not obscure the fact that we observe in the development of contemporary judicial systems a broadening of purpose, including a search for a kind of recompense for injustice (which can be vengeful or rehabilitative, or a mixture). 12 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 17, 21. 13 Ibid., 21, 22. 14 Article 74(3) of the Rome Statute provides that: “The judges shall attempt to achieve unanimity in their decision, failing which the decision shall be taken by a majority of the judges,” thus representing a further fracturing of the scapegoat mechanism, and its inability to operate fully in an age conscious of victims. 15 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 18. 16 Note that the application of violence through the judicial system, unlike the violence of the mob, is controlled and limited to certain acts. 17 This is notwithstanding the emergence of reconciliatory and restorative systems. These aspects of contemporary justice will be addressed later in this chapter. 18 However, this possibility certainly arises in the context of international criminal justice. The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC has recently raised the possibility that the killing of Gaddafi may have been a war crime (possibly within the jurisdiction of the court). From a Girardian perspective, the situation may be interpreted as a continuing escalation of violence from Gaddafi to the rebel forces to the ICC. The question is whether a determination of the issue by the ICC would perpetuate violence, halt any further violence by way of its authority, or create unanimity (either in Libya or perhaps even internationally) through prosecution of those accused of killing Gaddafi. 19 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 257–8. 20 Ibid., 256–7. 21 René Girard, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 182, 196. 22 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 257–8. 23 Ibid. 24 Danilo Zolo, “The Iraqi Special Tribunal,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 2 (2004): 313, 317. 25 Ibid., 313. 26 Aaron Fichtelberg, “Democratic Legitimacy and the International Criminal Court,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 4 (2006): 765, 783. 27 Ruth Mackenzie and Philippe Sands, “International Courts and Tribunals and the Independence of the International Judge,” Harvard International Law Journal 44 (2003): 271, 283. 28 Lawrence Douglas, The Memory of Judgment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 261. 29 Gerry Simpson, Law, War and Crime (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 15. 30 Marko Milanovic, “Is the Rome Statute Binding on Individuals? (And Why We Should Care),” Journal of International Criminal Justice 9 (2011): 25, 36.

78 31 32 33 34

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Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, and 15bis of the Rome Statute. Ibid., Article 16. Ibid., Article 17(a) and (b). Payam Akhavan, “Can International Criminal Justice Prevent Future Atrocities?,” American Journal of International Law 85 (2001): 7, 13. 35 The Attorney-General of the Government of Israel v. Adolf, the son of Karl Adolf, Eichmann, Criminal Case No. 40/61, Israel, District Court of Jerusalem, December 12, 1961, International Law Reports 36 (1961). 36 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 2006), 4. 37 Section 1(a)(1) of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710–1950 and Section 23 of the Criminal Law Ordinance, 1936. 38 Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, 129. 39 Simpson, Law, War and Crime, 42. 40 Geoffrey Robertson, Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice (London: Penguin, 2006), ch. 5, “War Law.” 41 International Center for Transitional Justice, The Special Court for Sierra Leone Under Scrutiny (2006): 19–20. 42 An application was also made for the recusal of Justice Renate Winter on the basis of her involvement with the United Nations Children’s Fund; however, the application was dismissed. See Prosecutor v. Sam Hinga Norman—Decision on the motion to recuse Judge Winter from the deliberation in the preliminary motion on the recruitment of child soldiers—Case No. SCSL-2004-14 [2004] SCSL 17 (May 28, 2004). It should be noted that Rule 34 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence provide comprehensive grounds for an application to disqualify a judge of the ICC. 43 G. Fletcher and J. Ohlin, “Reclaiming Fundamental Principles of Criminal Law in the Darfur Case,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 3 (2005): 539. 44 Mina Rauschenbach and Damien Scalia, “Victims and International Criminal Justice: A Vexed Question?,” International Review of the Red Cross (2008): 441, 449–50. 45 Simpson, Law, War and Crime, 16. 46 Fletcher and Ohlin, “Reclaiming Fundamental Principles,” 542. 47 Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany, and Protocol [Treaty of Versailles], done at Versailles, June 28, 1919, Article 227. 48 Simpson, Law, War and Crime, 40. 49 Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany, 1919, Article 232. 50 J. A. S. Grenville, The Collins History of the World (Lincoln: HarperCollins, 1998), 127. 51 Ibid., 198. 52 Note also the failure of the International Law Commission to include original Article 19(1) of the International Law Commission Draft Articles on State Responsibility (1996), which would have provided that: “An internationally wrongful act which results from the breach by a State of an international obligation so essential for the protection of fundamental interests of the international community that its breach is recognized as a crime by that community as a whole constitutes an international crime.” 53 Dan Williams, interview, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio, AM,

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November 2, 2011; transcript available at s3354570.htm [accessed September 13, 2013]. 54 Fletcher and Ohlin, “Reclaiming Fundamental Principles,” 543. 55 B. V. A. Röling and Antonio Cassese, The Tokyo Trial and Beyond: Reflections of a Peacemonger (Cambridge: Polity, 1993), 89. 56 Fletcher and Ohlin, “Reclaiming Fundamental Principles,” 547. 57 The list of persons currently subject to arrest or prosecution before the ICC is exclusive to ministers, army commanders, or high-level government officials. 58 Kenneth Anderson, “The Rise of International Criminal Law: Intended and Unintended Consequences,” European Journal of International Law 20 (2009): 331, 347. 59 Neil Boister, “The Application of Collective and Comprehensive Criminal Responsibility for Aggression at the Tokyo International Military Tribunal,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 8 (2010): 425, 447. 60 Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, 18. 61 Gary Jonathan Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 8. 62 René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), 49–50. 63 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 73. 64 Simpson, War, Law and Crime, 131. 65 Potsdam Agreement, Article 12.B, which provided for economic principles: “In order to eliminate Germany’s war potential”; and the Versailles Treaty, Part X, which provided for restrictions on Germany’s trade and economic rights in respect of other states. 66 Matthew Lippman, “War Crimes Trials of German Industrialists: The ‘Other’ Schindlers,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal 9 (1995): 173, 177. 67 R. Overy, “The Nuremberg Trials: International Law in the Making,” in From Nuremberg to The Hague: The Future of International Criminal Justice, Philippe Sands (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11. 68 Lippman (ed.), “War Crimes Trials of German Industrialists,” 267. 69 Overy, “The Nuremberg Trials,” 27. 70 Simpson, War, Law and Crime, 50. 71 Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, 90. 72 Ibid., 124. 73 Röling and Cassese, The Tokyo Trial and Beyond, 81. 74 Cherie Booth, “Prospects and Issues for the International Criminal Court: Lessons from Yugoslavia and Rwanda,” in From Nuremberg to the Hague: The Future of International Criminal Justice, Philippe Sands (ed.) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 157, 183. 75 Douglas, The Memory of Judgment, 2. 76 Ibid. 77 United Nations Security Council Resolution 955 (1994), S/RES/955 (1994), November 8, 1994, preambular paragraph 5, and United Nations Security Resolution 827 (1993), S/RES/827 (1993), May 25, 1993, preambular paragraph 4. 78 Douglas, The Memory of Judgment, 159. 79 Simpson, Law, War and Crime, 161–2. 80 Douglas R. Burgess Jr., “Hostis Humani Generi: Piracy, Terrorism and a New


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International Law,” University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review 13 (2006): 293, 308. 81 Simpson, Law, War and Crime, 175. 82 Tzvetan Todorov, “Memory as a Remedy for Evil,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 7 (2009): 447, 461. 83 J. L. Brierly, The Law of Nations: An Introduction to the International Law of Peace, 6th edn. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 73. 84 Danilo Zolo, “Peace Through Criminal Law?,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 2 (2004): 727, 731–2. 85 Gregor Noll, “The Miracle of Generative Violence? René Girard and the Use of Force in International Law,” Leiden Journal of International Law 21 (2008): 563, 564. 86 Girard, Evolution and Conversion, 84. 87 Noll, “The Miracle of Generative Violence?,” 571. 88 Lars Östman, “The Sacrificial Crises: Law and Violence,” Contagion 14 (2007): 24. 89 Simpson, War, Law and Crime, 61, 169. 90 Girard, Things Hidden, 196. 91 Todorov, “Memory as a Remedy for Evil,” 455. 92 Ralph Henham, “The Philosophical Foundations of International Sentencing,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 1 (2003): 64, 68–9.

Part Two

Cultural and Textual Analysis


The Scapegoating of Cheerleading and Cheerleaders Emma A. Jane1

As part of my research for this chapter, I consulted that Universal Mother of Erudition, Google, to search for scholarly texts that examined the sport of cheerleading from a Girardian perspective.2 Apart from a lone, L-plate journal article I had written as a PhD student, there was a grand total of not-a-single-thing. As we will see, the lack of a substantial vesica piscis in this particular Venn diagram is a shame for the large international community of Girardians, and for that far smaller squad of thinkers who have turned their attention to cheerleading. It does, however, seem to bolster Girard’s case that it is possible to participate in genuine scapegoating only if we are not conscious that we are doing so.3 The various persecutions of cheerleaders provide good evidence that despite modernity’s wear and tear on the “efficiency” of the surrogate victimage mechanism, despite the fact that victims and oppressed minorities have never been so visible, and despite the academy’s tendency to intellectually champion the rights of mass, sub-, and co-cultures of all denominations, scapegoating can still involve dynamics that are, in principle, as opaque as they ever were. As the case study of cheerleading reveals, these processes of victimization often remain obscure not only to average civilians—to Jane and Joe Scapegoater, as it were—but also to those scholars who might normally consider themselves experts at identifying, theorizing about, and critiquing anything resembling the ritual sacrifice of a nubile. Over the course of this chapter, I will explain how the work of Girard is helpful to cheerleading-related scholarship because it assists in making sense of the fact that cheerleaders are simultaneously fetishized and vilified by an astounding array of ostensibly disparate social groups. Feminists, scholars, religious leaders, social conservatives, cultural elites, sports administrators, sports fans, mainstream media commentators, members of the general public, cosmopolites of the cybersphere … all make energetic—and sometimes identically worded—claims about cheerleaders’ numerous “sins.” At last count, these included being irredeemably debauched, irretrievably delinquent, and—regardless of the transgression with which they are supposedly associated—always to blame for whatever social or moral ills befall us. Given that one of the signal characteristics of new media ecosystems is a proliferation of dissenting voices, the mass consensus about cheerleaders’ villainy is extraordinary.


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The standard response to cheerleading, which ranges from dismissive ridicule at one end of the spectrum to out-and-out loathing at the other, seems oddly standardized. Cheerleaders are depicted in new and mainstream media narratives as any combination of: frivolous, talentless, inane, vain, trashy, promiscuous, exhibitionist, overly commodified, and agents of Americanization. These reactions are accompanied by a startling degree of sexual—and other sorts of—fetishization in the news media, in popular culture, and in pornography. The trope of the “hot, dumb cheerleader” is ubiquitous. As such, the experience of cheerleaders is helpful to Girardian scholarship because it provides a powerful example of surrogate victimage in late modernity. Further, it reveals the key role of the media in contemporary scapegoating given that discourse is both the location of much twenty-first-century sacrifice and its weapon of choice. The scapegoating of cheerleaders also offers rich reflective possibilities for Girardians because the faux case against cheerleaders is so irresistible that even the academy has accepted its “logic” almost entirely without question. Thus while this chapter begins by examining the vilification and fetishization of cheerleaders via a Girardian hermeneutic, it ends by exploring the consequences of the fact that the necessarily delusive nature of the surrogate victimage mechanism may continue to fool not only the collectively murderous and misrecognizing masses, but also those thinkers who consider themselves immune from the collective hallucinations used to justify metaphorical lynchings. This, in turn, raises some interesting questions about the extent to which we are able to opt out of misrecognizing, nonvolitional, and mechanistic human action via an act of intellectual will, and opt in to all-seeing, all-victim-spotting consciousness, agency, and enlightenment. It also shows that a little unveiling of violence—like a little knowledge—can be a dangerous thing.

Historical précis Before canvassing the aforementioned themes, I will provide a brief rundown on cheerleading’s history and contemporary manifestations. This is to offer some context for the discussion that follows, and also because, in my experience, most people have very little idea about what cheerleading actually involves. Cheerleading as it exists in the early twenty-first century is very different from the activity that first emerged in the elite domain of US university football fields in the late 1800s. The sport is said to have been born on November 6, 1869, at a Princeton and Rutgers intercollegiate football game when a group of spectators spontaneously broke into a “rocket cheer” borrowed from a civil war regiment.4 Cheering during games continued as an informal, sporadic activity but, as intercollegiate football became increasingly popular, so too did the need for organized displays of institutional identity and loyalty. By the 1890s, some colleges had a formally designated “cheer leader,” also known as a “rooter king,” “yell leader,” “yell king,” “yell master,” or “yell marshall.”5 As an idealized activity for privileged males, early cheerleading practice epitomized many attributes representing normative masculinity such as athleticism and leadership. As such, male

The Scapegoating of Cheerleading and Cheerleaders


cheerleaders during the late 1800s and early 1900s were regarded as a respected and respectable breed—influential student leaders who could set good social and academic examples. During the early twentieth century, cheerleading spread into elementary and secondary schools and community-based youth sports programs, and girls began participating in collegiate cheering in small numbers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Objections to female cheerleading at this time included concerns that schoolgirls were incapable of performing the requisite acrobatic stunts and might develop harsh voices, unladylike, “smart alecky” conduct, and conceit.6 By the 1940s, however, coeducational cheer squads could be found in universities and high schools. In fact, the story of women becoming cheerleaders closely parallels the story of women becoming workers during World War II. Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela Jean Bettis write: “In both cases men left their jobs to become soldiers and inadvertently opened doors that previously had been closed to women. When men returned from the war, they fought to regain their ‘rightful’ place in the worksite and on the cheerleading squads.”7 Despite the postwar banning of girls from teams in several colleges and high schools, cheerleading became increasingly feminized in the 1950s. It was eventually seen as an approved athletic outlet for “respectable” young ladies and used by school administrators to reinforce desirable social traits among female students.8 This continuing feminization of cheerleading led to concerns, in the 1960s, that the dominance of girls was at the expense of “athletically inclined boys, who would be a real asset.”9 Interestingly enough, there is now little awareness of cheerleading’s macho origins. Mainstream commentators usually express surprise or shock at the existence of male cheerleaders—especially the rare occurrence of all-male squads. In fact, when pictures of President George W. Bush performing as a cheerleader at Phillips Academy circulated on the web, outraged Republicans “decried the claims as a bogus attempt to usurp the president’s manhood.”10 It is hard to know whether these offended conservatives would have been heartened, or further dismayed, to learn that the list of celebrities, public figures, and former US presidents who used to be cheerleaders is actually very extensive. At last count it included: Halle Berry, Renée Zellweger, Paula Abdul, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kirstie Alley, Faye Dunaway, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cheryl Ladd, Jack Lemmon, Jerry Lewis, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Martin, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd, Dinah Shore, Carly Simon, Meryl Streep, Cheryl Tiegs, Lily Tomlin, Raquel Welch, Ronald Reagan, Gloria Steinem, and Aaron Spelling. Over its century-and-a-half of existence, cheerleading has gone through two dramatic and significant changes—both of which help explain the vulnerability of its contemporary practitioners to being used as scapegoats. The first, as discussed, is its metamorphosis from an elite and exclusively masculine endeavor into an overwhelmingly feminine practice. The second relates to the split that occurred in cheerleading in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and the subsequent emergence of two distinctly different cheerleading forms: competitive and professional. Competitive cheerleading has its roots in those early male rah-rah squads that led crowds in cheers and performed simple stunts. In contrast to the stagnating participation rates in pursuits such as football and basketball, competitive cheerleading currently stands as one of America’s


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fastest growing sports.11 In 2007, there were about 4 million cheerleaders in the United States, and the associated training, uniform, and equipment industries were worth about $2 billion.12 Cheerleading has not been as successful a US cultural export as jazz and McDonalds,13 but international interest in competitive cheerleading has risen dramatically in recent years. The International Cheer Union, for example, currently represents more than 70 nations and 3.5 million athletes.14 Contrary to the common media depiction of cheerleaders as talentless, competitive cheerleading is an athletic activity involving high-level tumbling and stunting comparable to elite gymnastics. In fact, some advocates are lobbying for its inclusion in future Olympic Games. Other commentators describe competitive cheerleading as an extreme sport on a par with motocross, skateboarding, and skydiving. The high degree of difficulty involved in this type of cheerleading helps explain dramatic rises in cheerleading-related injuries. A 2011 report by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that cheerleading accounted for approximately two-thirds of the catastrophic injuries to American high school and college girls from 1982 to 2011.15 There were 128 fatal, disabling, or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with 83 occurring in cheerleading and only 9 occurring in gymnastics, the next most dangerous sport.16 The report concluded that the increasing emphasis on stunts in cheerleading was a “major factor” in the dramatic rise in the rate of catastrophic injury among female athletes in the United States from 1 per year to an average of 8.9 per year.17 Popular discourse mocks the idea that cheerleading could be dangerous. One blogger, for instance, writes: A recent study showed that female cheerleading is the most dangerous female sport. Really? Do they pull a hamstring from kicking so high? Are those heavy pom-poms pulling shoulders out of their sockets? Or throwing out their backs from the backseat gymnastics after the big game?18

There is good evidence, however, that derogatory discourse dismissing the idea that cheerleading could be dangerous is itself contributing to the physical risks involved in the activity. The high injury rates associated with cheerleading are likely linked to the sport’s “hodgepodge” of regulatory bodies,19 as well as its astounding dearth of safety rules. This situation is due to many nations’ failure to formally recognize cheerleading as a sport—a move that would offer participants a modicum of respect, as well as the indulgence of a competitive environment less likely to leave them in wheelchairs. For the most part, however, cheerleading is simply not taken seriously enough to bother regulating. Such forms of passive sacrifice20 or sacrifice by neglect are perfect for contemporary scapegoating as they put such a “civilized” distance between the victimizers and the victimized. It is telling that feminists, in particular, have strongly resisted recognizing cheerleading as a sport. US writer and former professional basketball player Mariah Burton Nelson represents the view of many feminists on the issue when she insists cheerleaders do not even warrant the descriptor “athlete”: “Cheerleaders are not athletes as long as they wear short skirts outside in the winter,” she writes snippily … “hardly appropriate athletic attire.”21

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While critics such as Nelson tend to collapse all types of cheerleading into one, professional cheerleading is actually very different from the competitive variety. Designed from the outset as a subsidiary of professional sport, this genre of cheerleading was shaped by the mass entertainment and promotional demands of the sports media complex.22 Professional cheerleaders began working with US football teams as early as the 1950s and 1960s, but it was the Dallas Cowboys who received the most attention for using attractive female dancers to foster fan support for new football teams. High-kicking girls with tall boots, short skirts, and big hair are now a regular fixture on the sidelines of professional sports matches around the world—a trend that has been controversial and has prompted concerns among the commentariat that the dancers are too sexy and are stealing the limelight from footballers. Much contemporary commentary continues to merge all types of cheerleaders into a single objectionable species, framing them as being both overly intrusive on the “main game,” as well as having too little to do with it. “Cheerleaders have no more impact on the game than the night janitorial staff,” reads one editorial in Sports Illustrated.23 Another US writer dismisses cheerleading as “a side salad to the main course of tackling and touchdowns,”24 while the Guardian suggests competitive cheerleading is “analogous to English soccer hooliganism carrying on in the absence of any soccer.”25 Running parallel to these constructions of cheerleaders as pointless and irrelevant garnish—little more than human parsley—are media narratives that make the case that cheerleaders pose a grave threat to both players and audience members. In his autobiography, former New York Giants football player Michael Strahan says: “The cheerleaders are a huge, huge distraction. They aren’t there just to distract the fans, they’re used as a weapon against us.”26 The Seattle Times, meanwhile, notes a 2007 US NFL memo sent to the league’s thirty-two teams, warning them to control their cheerleaders: There’s growing concern that some home teams are using these ladies for a competitive advantage, telling them to warm up in front of the opponents, hoping their beauty will steer players away from their pregame preparation.27

Narratives about the fearful, sirenesque sexual dangers posed by cheerleaders help explain the common—and vigorously enforced—requirement that professional cheerleaders not “fraternize” with male members of football teams. There are many cases of cheerleaders being disciplined or sacked for breaking fraternization rules in various international sporting domains. In 1985, the Houston Oilers football team dismissed three of its “Derrick Dolls” cheerleaders for fraternization when the latter inadvertently attended a party where some players were present.28 In 2006, three members of Australia’s Wests Tigers Kittens cheersquad were sacked for attending a player’s twenty-first birthday, even though they had received invitations.29 This rigid policing of social domains, unusual in most other comparable contexts (in the West, at least), is redolent of the self-assertion of the sacred in so-called secular space: cheerleaders are like shamans whose appearance must be strictly regulated to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the social order. Another common motif, particularly in the Australian news media, is to blame


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cheerleaders for footballer sex scandals—and these are sex scandals in which cheerleaders are not even involved. In the wake of an Australian group sex furor involving footballers and a nineteen-year-old (non-cheerleading) waitress, an Australian broadsheet newspaper quoted a high-profile marketing professional blaming cheerleaders for propagating this “type of behaviour.”30 In the same story, Australia’s Federal Minister for the Status of Women applauded a club that had banned cheerleaders, while another prominent Australian feminist said that, even though she would not go so far as to call for the banning of cheerleaders, she did not think it was “a good idea to have a lot of young women dancing around half-naked in front of a lot of footballers.”31 Such comments represent a common theme in media narratives in that it is cheerleading— rather than attitudes toward and discourse framing cheerleading—that is regarded as problematic and as requiring punitive regulation or outright extinguishing. We can see, therefore, that a large proportion of cheerleading-related discourse exhibits a mechanistic, all-encompassing, and essentialist negativity—often in combination with a particularly repellent lecherousness. Consider Marty Beckerman, a US “humorist” whose professions of an all-encompassing contempt for cheerleading have become a linchpin of his career. Beckerman is notorious for asking a thirteen-yearold female cheerleader how it felt to be “a urine stain on the toilet seat of America.”32 He is also the author of a collection of journalistic non-fiction called Death to All Cheerleaders: One Adolescent Journalist’s Cheerful Diatribe Against Teenage Plasticity, in which he dismisses cheerleaders as a “race of loose bimbos with the brain capacity of squirrel feces.”33 In 2006, he told the Guardian newspaper: If a daughter of mine wanted to be a cheerleader I would boil her alive. But not ’till I killed her, just until I killed her dreams. But if it was my son I’d drag him behind my truck ’till he died.34

It is telling that, despite deriding the female high school cheerleaders he interviews for his book, Beckerman still expresses a strong interest in having sexual relations with them. “I wonder if I can nail that dumb bitch,” he ruminates about one.35 Here we see the way that—so long as one’s attack is directed at a cheerleader—the usual social mores regarding the expression of sexual interest in and aggression toward schoolaged children no longer apply. It is certainly difficult to imagine such comments being judged appropriate or humorous if a similarly popular writer were to publish them in equivalent mainstream media contexts and if they were directed instead toward schoolgirl track and field athletes or basketballers. While it is true that Beckerman’s writing sits squarely within the genre of hyperbolic “shock” humor, it is equally true that this example of lascivious, cheerleader-targeted vitriol is symptomatic of a much larger phenomenon. Time and again cheerleaders are “lynched” in sexualized discourse that implies—or states outright—that far from being victims deserving of empathy, they are, in fact, just asking for it.

The Scapegoating of Cheerleading and Cheerleaders


The banal guilt of cheerleaders This is a fitting juncture to move on to what can be referred to as the unexceptional—or banal—guilt of cheerleaders. We know that, when considering surrogate victimage, it is not necessary to establish that a scapegoat is innocent—only that they are not uniquely or exceptionally guilty. The moral reprehensibility of medieval witch hunts isn’t predicated on the assertion that “witches” never told lies, exaggerated, or jaywalked, but that their persecution as a social group wasn’t in any way commensurate with their unexceptional moral foibles. As such, there is no a priori imperative to establish a “lived reality” of cheerleading against which to judge the faithfulness of vitriolic cheerleading representations. That said, it is still useful to note that imaginings of the cheerleader as hypersexual, degenerate, corruptive, and disruptive to key feminist, sporting, and religious ideals and so on, are underdetermined by any empirical reality but are rather, primarily, the constructs of scapegoaters. Neither of the two dominant manifestations of cheerleading—competitive cheerleading and professional cheerleading—are inherently outlandish (or at least not more inherently outlandish than any other organized physical activity). Reduced to the sum of their parts, contemporary competitive female cheerleaders are unremarkable in sporting contexts. The athletic skills they require and the routines they perform bear many similarities to those of Olympic gymnasts, and their uniforms are not unlike those worn in relatively controversy-free sports such as netball. (In fact, often they are more substantial than those donned by competitors of either gender in triathlons.) Professional sideline cheerleaders, meanwhile, are similarly commonplace when parsed to their esthetic and athletic ones and zeros. Their apparel, dance steps, and conspicuous smiles mirror those of countless musical chorus lines, and while it’s true that their outfits leave little to the imagination, the same observation can be made about the clinging singlets and flaring short shorts worn by Australian Rules footballers. The point to be drawn from all this is that the most intriguing aspect to cheerleaders is not who they are or what they do but how they are singled out and persecuted in discourse. Criticism of cheerleaders ranges from passing put-downs, to what can only be described as antilocution or hate speech. Many of these texts express both fascination and aversion; lasciviousness and claims to moral superiority; a fetishistic fixation and the insistence that cheerleaders are unworthy of any attention at all. The disavowal and performative contradiction involved in this obsessive disregard is, to put it somewhat paradoxically, so ordinary that it is extraordinary. Furthermore, the propositional content expressed by much anti-cheerleading discourse is surprisingly immune to counterevidence and is surprisingly capable of incorporating seeming disconfirmation into its rhetoric. Thus the feminist who criticizes professional cheerleading for being unathletic also condemns stunt “flyers” at the tops of competitive cheerleading pyramids for being tossed about like “purely decorative objects,”36 and the male readers who learn that a cheerleader is a molecular neuroscience researcher make lewd suggestions that she must be “into the Double Helix position” and might accept a warm “donor sample.”37 Cheerleaders are castigated for: being unathletic


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and engaging in the wrong type of athleticism; being too sexually attractive and too unsightly; attracting too much attention and not enough; putting themselves in danger and being dangerous; and being overly powerful and offensively trivial. Although there’s little point in arguing for a strict equivalence between the primitive sacred and the species of victimage being discussed here, the parallels between the bipolar attributions made of cheerleaders and the paradoxical properties of the scapegoat-god are certainly worth signaling.

Cheerleaders in theory That an otherwise unremarkable feminine athletic endeavor provokes such intense cultural anxiety and sexual obsession makes cheerleading a singularly revealing object of study. Yet it is all but ignored in scholarly literature. In the six years I have spent researching cheerleading-related discourse, I have grown accustomed to seeing a certain facial expression when I tell my colleagues that I have been studying cheerleaders. Cheerleaders? they say—with what seems like a combination of surprise, amusement, ridicule, and perhaps a little bit of titillation. Cheerleaders? Initially, I found these responses disconcerting. Eventually, however, I decided that the odd reactions I was receiving to my cheerleading research were precisely the reason cheerleading research needed to be done. They were diagnostic not of a quality control problem with my work, but of the fact that, in this particular case of scapegoating, many scholars were not dispassionately detached in objective ivory towers but complicit with the undifferentiated mob. There are only two significant, full-length texts on the subject of cheerleading, both of which focus on cheerleading’s social and cultural history rather than the way it circulates as a sign.38 There are also a handful of (predominantly US) journal articles and student dissertations, but most of these are located in the fields of education or health, and usually have a narrow, empirical focus. For the most part, however, it seems the dominant view among intellectuals is that cheerleading is trivial and undeserving of serious consideration. Certainly those few scholars who have turned their attention to cheerleading report a disdainful or otherwise negative reaction from peers.39 A particularly extreme anti-cheerleading reaction from an academic is reported in a 2006 feature story in the Guardian. This describes a British sport and gender sociologist nearly choking on her popcorn before yelling “Urk! What is this? What the [f***] are they doing?” when confronted by the sight of cheerleaders at a US soccer game.40 It is revealing that, in an academic era in which “low” cultural forms are so often the subject of inquiry, the domain of cheerleading is still regarded as untenably subterranean.

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A Girardian perspective It is natural at this point is to ask: Why is it so? Why are so many social groups with so many ostensibly different agendas singing from the same anti-cheerleading hymn sheet? And what is it about cheerleaders that makes them so suited for ritualistic persecution? One important explanation lies in the very Girardian fact that cheerleaders hold an ambiguous or liminal social status in which they are both marginal and internal to a community. This is particularly true in the United States, the nation where cheerleading was born and bred. The punishment that the United States levies on its young, female pom-pom-bearers can therefore be seen as being the type a parent might inflict on a wayward teen in order to protect the well-being of the rest of the family. “We did our best to raise you correctly as a nice, masculine, and elite activity,” metaphorical parent America might say to its supposedly delinquent cheerleading offspring. “But then you had to go and get all feminized and sexualized and popular with the riffraff … Clearly you must now suffer the consequences.” To put it in more scholarly terms: cheerleaders are internal enough to Western culture—proximate enough to its problems—to make it an easy move for community members to attach these ills to them in causal narratives, yet they are not regarded as integral enough to the community to have supporters who might engage in “a reciprocal act of revenge,”41 thus risking a “continuation of that very phenomenon from which surrogate victimage is ostensibly able to provide relief.”42 It is telling, therefore, that—outside of the cheerleading community itself—there are virtually no cheerleaders for cheerleading. For the most part, there is no paraclete—no advocate, defendant, or witness for the accused. As we’ve seen, even feminists—the usual gatekeepers who protect the public sphere from mediated misogyny—are often enthusiastic participants in the generation of anti-cheerleading venom. Modern moral crusaders—commentators normally situated at the other end of the political spectrum from feminists—also accuse cheerleaders of being part of a corrupting raunch culture, often in rhetoric identical to that deployed by feminists. Thus the condemnation generated by groups traditionally associated with female oppression and the condemnation generated by feminism intersect in an ideological pincer movement that leaves young women involved in activities such as cheerleading cornered, largely without allies, and exquisitely vulnerable to being scapegoated. Cheerleaders are also susceptible to en masse community wrath because they make such excellent surrogates. Their liminal status—positioned somewhere between the sex worker and the athlete—means they are an ideal stand-in culprit for a startling range of concerns. They are used as voodoo dolls for the attempted exorcism of all manner of unsettling ideas, including agitations relating to raunch culture, youth culture, consumer culture, mass culture, feminine sexuality, the commodification of sport … and the list goes on. Another dimension of this theme of surrogacy or substitution is the way that cheerleading-related vitriol offers its authors a “loophole” when negotiating contemporary norms about what is and is not permissible to say about young women and, to a lesser extent, children and the working class, in public. We


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can see, therefore, that so long as a denunciation is framed as being first and foremost about cheerleading, critics are not only exculpated but applauded. Thus Beckerman is not ostracized but elevated to the status of “big man on campus” when he boasts of wanting to subject underaged school girls to a supposedly hilarious combination of sex and torture. In such cases, the cheerleader is a whipping girl who is forced to endure punishment on behalf of those females it is no longer “politically correct” to fetishize and/or vilify. While the blatant derogation of sex workers is regarded as socially unacceptable in the mainstream media, for example, discourse with “slutshaming” themes is an approved move when it is aimed at cheerleaders. “I’m not saying all cheerleaders are whores,” writes one commentator on the Deadspin sports website, “I’m saying most of them are.”43 Such comments also speak of the tenacity and adaptability of discourses that lasciviously derogate women for alleged promiscuity, which is, of course, a much older discursive tradition. Like other surrogate victims, the “scapegoatability” of cheerleaders lies not so much in what they are or what they do, but in the ease with which they can be represented and misrepresented as being “extremely harmful to the whole of society”44—in this case, miniskirted omni-toxoids. Here it is interesting to note that cheerleaders do wield significant social and cultural force, not least because they are ascribed such power in the way they are constructed discursively. In this sense, cheerleaders have more in common with those scapegoats drawn from regal domains than those who are social pariahs. Girard’s explanation about this counterintuitive phenomenon is that: … extreme characteristics ultimately attract collective destruction at some time or another, extremes not just of wealth or poverty, but also of success and failure, beauty and ugliness, vice and virtue, the ability to please and to displease … Crowds commonly turn on those who originally held exceptional power over them.45

To further understand this dynamic, consider the way that the cheerleader reflects mimetic contagion back to the crowd—an experience the crowd may enjoy in terms of the stimulation, but may also be repulsed by or resent. This is likely to be true if the crowd recognizes that it is partly under the power of the cheerleader, and it resents this influence because it suggests metaphysical lack. As such, cheerleaders are much like contemporary popular culture’s version of the royal figure—the celebrity—in that they are both feared and revered, with communal perceptions seesawing rapidly from exaltation to abhorrence. As with widely derided starlets such as Paris Hilton, the popularity and cultural power of cheerleaders helps vitriol producers justify their attacks as being courageous and righteous—“the holy revolt of the oppressed.”46 Rather than being seen as victims, therefore, cheerleaders are viewed—as Chris Fleming puts it in relationship to scapegoats more generally—“as victimizers par excellence.”47 This perverse reversal of the identity of the villain in the scapegoating process is achieved by distorting and exaggerating scapegoats’ supposed crimes. Fleming notes that persecutors often attribute to their victims “remarkable—indeed, often supernatural—capacities that [imbue the latter’s] malevolence with extraordinary

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malignancy.”48 In the case of cheerleading, we can see that the collective female cheerleader that emerges from the convergence of vitriolic texts (and subtexts) in the media and popular culture is certainly a figure of great threat. She is figured as being responsible for: every adolescent hurt and rejection; the triumph of mass, trash culture; the corruption of children; and the destruction of the purity and glory of sport. Irredeemably pornographic, she is every bad thing a young woman has ever done and will ever do. As such, punishing her is not discrimination or mistreatment. It is justified, necessary, and unavoidable. It is fighting back.

The sacrifice of cheerleaders So, what happens next? Now everyone agrees that cheerleaders are guilty of firstdegree everything, how are they punished? How are they sacrificed, given that the literal slaughter of humans as a disavowed social prophylactic is no longer au fait in polite society? As we have seen, the savaging of cheerleaders’ reputations and representations occurs in media texts such as the ones mentioned earlier by Beckerman. It also occurs in—and via—pornography. Cheerleaders are a staple of heterosexual Western porn, and are sexualized and sexually commodified at much higher rates than girls and women involved in other sporting pursuits. Consider the infamy of Debbie Does Dallas, an X-rated, cheerleading-themed movie from 1978 that remains an international bestseller and is considered “classic” pornography. Of the fifty bestselling X-rated videos and DVDs in Australia in 2003, two were cheerleading-related titles.49 None of the other forty-eight films on this list involved women’s sport. Google cross-searches, meanwhile, reveal that a large volume of internet pornography contains some cheerleading content (especially considering the infinite number of other contexts that could be mined for pornographic inspiration). If we accept Girard’s contention that human desire and antagonism is constitutionally imitative, then the internet alone can be seen as offering millions of X-rated micro-lessons in how to lust after and pornographically persecute cheerleaders.50 While it is difficult to endorse the radical, anti-pornography feminist argument that all pornography is rape or a form of violence against women, much cheerleadingthemed pornography does involve forms of exploitation, humiliation, degradation, and/or coercion. As such, it is punitive for cheerleaders on several levels. First, there are the acts perpetrated on images and representations of cheerleaders in individual pornographic texts. (We are reminded here of the use of effigies in scapegoating as exemplified by the case of the English-American social activist Thomas Paine who, along with the Pope, was repeatedly burned in effigy in Europe in the 1790s.51) Second, there is the fact that the heavy reliance on cheerleading imagery in pornography leaves real-life cheerleaders open to the social contempt, discrimination, and scorn that is still poured on those women associated with the sex industry. In this vicious—and highly effective—feedback loop, cheerleaders are hypersexualized outrageously and then punished for being so outrageously hypersexual.


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An especially cogent example of this dynamic can be found in the “The Promiscuous Cheerleader” legend that is popular on US university campuses. The story involves a cheerleader who has sexual relations with an athletic team before having to have a biologically unfeasible amount of semen pumped from her stomach in hospital. Two US sociologists who studied twenty-nine versions of “The Promiscuous Cheerleader” legend collected from Minnesota college students note the way the cheerleader “is punished for her moral transgression by becoming ill” while the football players receive no punishment at all.52 Once again, the suffering endured by cheerleaders in this instance relates to the negative stereotypes and hypersexualization involved within texts such as “The Promiscuous Cheerleader,” as well as the negative stereotypes and hypersexualization that results from their circulation. There are parallels here with what Girard calls a “text of persecution” in The Scapegoat: a mythical account of cultural disorder righted, told from the perspective of the persecutor.53 Even if it is true, as Girard maintains, that the archetypal double valence of the sacred victim is no longer with us in its pure form, we can certainly see traces of it in what amounts to one of the most diagnostic areas of modern culture: the urban legend. Moreover, like the fictional cheerleader in “The Promiscuous Cheerleader,” it is nonfictional cheerleaders—not those who pimp and persecute their discursive representations—who are framed as guilty and dissolute, and are therefore made to “pay.” Among other things, this illustrates one of the key characteristics of the way surrogate victimage works in contemporary, “civilized” society in that violence is denied and/or deferred via not just any old language but via a particularly powerful type of language in the form of the fast-moving media text. The internet is particularly conducive to sacrificial crises produced by mimetic desire and mimetic antagonism. The proliferation of snares for the desiring subject—including desire for identity and the longing to belong—allows for a nigh-infinite malleability of identifications and denunciations of attempts to contrive cultural order and to situate oneself within it via a neat and nasty list of Goodies and Baddies. Contrary to the—currently very popular—notion of the wisdom of cyber crowds, Jaron Lanier argues that the design and culture of online environments facilitates “groupthink” and aggressive “moblike” behavior.54 He goes on to configure a very Girardian “standard sequence of troll invocation” in which warring individuals establish a pecking order and make peace, before goading each other into increasingly intense hatred of nonmembers: “A pack emerges, and either you are with it or against it. If you join the pack then you join the collective ritual hatred.”55 Lanier condemns the “mob-beckoning ridicule” so prevalent on the internet partly because of his concern that the aggression, pack mentality, and sadism evident in online cultures might escalate and manifest in literal acts of violence. Yet he confesses to engaging in such strategies himself: “I … become relieved when someone else in an on-line exchange is getting pounded or humiliated,” he writes, “because that means I’m safe for the moment.”56 The fact that there is no neat resolution of the sacrificial crisis associated with cheerleading is another hallmark of the way scapegoating operates—and fails to operate—today. The victimization of cheerleaders does not climax in a discrete outburst of collective violence and human sacrifice followed by the sudden restoration

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of cultural and social order. Instead what emerges is the sort of “failing antibiotic”57 model of scapegoating that Girard has identified as being more common after the biblical revelation. The impulse to project blame on to a scapegoat remains strong, yet the sacrificial aspects of the mechanism do not operate as “cleanly” and “effectively” as they might have done in the past. This is partly because many violent impulses are directed toward or channeled through representations and effigies that can never be completely extinguished, but exist in a state of constant resurrection. Consider the fictional cheerleading protagonist in one of the “Sample ‘Play’ Scenes” offered by Dolcett Enterprises (an online club that doth protest far too much that it is not a “snuff site”).58 By the end of Dolcett Enterprises’ 4000-word short story called “The Cheerleader,” an uppity high school girl has been kidnapped, raped, skinned, and finally murdered in a meat locker. Return to the top of the web page, however, and this cheerleader is alive once again as superior, unobtainable, alpha girlish, and ressentiment-producing as ever. While some scapegoaters may draw pleasure from the opportunity to punish representations of the desired and despised cheerleader again and again, the inevitable textual immortality of their victims pose an inescapable provocation that must greatly diminish any social tranquility available in their sacrifice. Another contemporary trend inhibiting the smooth operation of the victimage mechanism is the difficulty—if not the impossibility—of achieving mass consensus in our emphatically and irrevocably mediated society. Consider, as just one example, the mainstream media convention of telling both sides of a story (because apparently there are only ever two). Conflict—either real or fabricated—is what keeps business-orientated media models in business. To mangle Voltaire: if dissenting voices do not exist, it is necessary to invent them—to a daily deadline if necessary. In a broader social sense, there is also the tolerance—indeed the expectation—that victims, underdogs and their advocates will “talk back” in defense of themselves. Even in the unusual case of cheerleaders, where most people agree that the sport is bad and should be eliminated or curtailed, it is possible to locate a subgroup of media texts that portray the activity in a more positive manner. So, to cut a long Girardian story short: we find ourselves living in an era in which violence is desacralized, victims are not only seen but heard loudly putting their cases on the evening news, and no one can agree on whether or not consensus is dead. The surrogate victimage mechanism no longer slides neatly from one stage to the next. Instead what we see is the Girardian version of a perpetual motion machine in which mimetic desire and antagonism, scapegoating and sacrifice, and social unity do not proceed in an orderly fashion but occur chaotically in partial and overlapping forms. One upside of this situation is that a degree of psychosocial relief is available to the community without anyone literally being slaughtered. Condemning a group such as cheerleaders is something the entire family (in a sociological sense) can enjoy and bond over. But just because contemporary sacrificial victims may live through the scapegoating process does not mean they emerge from it unscathed. While much of the lynching of cheerleaders is metaphorical and discursive, the many variations of anti-cheerleading discourse converge to create


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effects that are extradiscursive, and that result in a number of significant disadvantages for the activity and its participants. We have seen the way the convergence and cumulative force of the relentless derision and sexualization of cheerleading creates pain and suffering for its practitioners: from reputational deficit, at one end of the spectrum, to a greater risk of catastrophic injury, at the other. The unanswered question is why this pain, suffering, and exploitation is so rarely acknowledged; why the victimized parties in this instance are so widely regarded as the villains. Given that a proliferation of diverse views is one of the key characteristics of modern life, it is no surprise that one of the many things we cannot reach consensus about is who is a victim and who is not. This is especially true, given the considerable advantages that can accrue to those who are seen as having been hardly done by. (Politicians, in particular, fight viciously in snarling overdog fashion to prove they are, in fact, the underdogs.) The many empathy activisms, cottage industries, and pride groups flourishing around the idea of the victim also have the paradoxical effect of making some victims awfully difficult to identify. Like obscenity, we may think we know a victim when we see one. But one of the reasons cheerleaders suffer such comprehensive vilification is because they don’t look like what we’ve come to consider the “classic” victim—not to Jane and Joe Scapegoater and not to those of us in the academy who, as it turns out, are part of the Jane and Joe scapegoating crowd, too. Maybe victimage has become a more subtle affair. More likely it was always so. As Girard has pointed out, structurally speaking, we do not see our own scapegoats, only those of others. Indeed, the reason Girard uses the term “mechanism” with respect to surrogate victimage is because scapegoating is “a generative principle which works unconsciously in culture and society.”59 Furthermore, given that the unveiling, repudiation, and critique of violence is historically progressive, some victims and unjust victimizations will emerge from the consensus-less fog only with the benefit of hindsight. Until recently, jokes about niggers, tykes, and wops were considered, if not part of polite conversation, then at least part of the currency of everyday discourse. As such, hurtful cheerleading gags, stereotypes, and vitriol may eventually become as unacceptable as “playful” racism. For the time being, however, it is worth noting that while it might seem easy and inconsequential to say something dismissive or sleazy about a girl with pom-poms, these casual comments can accumulate and wield considerable scapegoating-related force. After all, a single executioner wielding a dagger is not the only perpetrator of an act of sacrificial violence. Those community members who testify to a victim’s exceptional guilt, who watch on, or who ignore what they see are also complicit.60 Of scapegoating, Girard’s argument is that we can be “guilty, yet not completely responsible.”61 The lure of participating in victimage, however seemingly trivial this participation may seem, is most powerful at those moments when we consider our mockery enlightened and our crimes victimless. To conclude, we can see that the scapegoating of cheerleaders and cheerleading offers several broader insights into the changing nature of victimage—and the identifying of victimage—in the highly mediated twenty-first century. First, it reveals that the unveiling of contemporary violence can require identifying victims and sacrificial

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processes that look very different from those from past eras. In contemporary Western culture we are unlikely to witness too many witches burning on stakes, pharmakoi falling from cliffs, or virgins being sliced and diced on pyramids. But follow the trails of internet bile, nasty jokes, and derogatory media stereotypes, and we may well find a contemporary scapegoat whose sacrifice-related suffering is substantial if not terminal. The scapegoating of cheerleaders and cheerleading can also serve as a cautionary tale for Girardian scholars because it shows how easily—and unknowingly—we can slip from analyzing victimage to inadvertently participating in it. As inquisitors of culture it is always tempting to consider ourselves above the fray of our objects of analyses: as external observers rather than participants in the processes about which we quantify, qualify, and theorize. But while we attribute to ourselves a godlike power of transcendence of the cultural contexts that we inhabit, our actual predicament is more likely to resemble that of the Philosophy Master in Molière’s The Bourgeois Gentleman, whose attempts to adjudicate an ostensibly vulgar dispute between the Dancing Master and the Fencing Master result in a physical brawl between all of them.62 The inconvenient (and intellectually humbling) truth is that culture itself is a text in travail, moving uncertainly between victimage and the uncovering of victimage. As such, there is always the risk that the desacralization of violence in any particular historical moment will lead to an intellectual self-satisfaction that imperils the historical process of revelation itself. Instead of unveiling violence and its victims, the exact reverse is likely to occur. This is especially true if a scholar assumes that embracing theories of demystification means the actual task of demystification—the heavy lifting—is already complete. Like human consciousness itself, intellectual endeavor oscillates uneasily between immanence and strivings toward transcendence: immersion in the fixations, anxieties, and resentments of our era, and strivings to escape the gravitational pull that our cultural atmosphere exerts on us. This is not stated to provide us with an occasion for extended self-flagellation (self-immolation offering no more preferable an ethical precedent than other-immolation, despite the superficial and transient sense of nobility it might provide). Rather, the emergence of a previously invisible victim or victimary group into consciousness allows us to continue the anthropological analysis that Girard, in an important sense, initiated.

Notes 1 2 3 4 5

Many thanks to Chris Fleming for helpful input for this chapter. Scholarly readers can rest assured that databases other than the Undergraduate’s Friend were also consulted. Cited in Markus Müller, “Interview with René Girard,” Anthropoetics 2 (June 1996), [accessed February 14, 2013]. Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela Jean Bettis, Cheerleader! An American Icon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 11. Mary Ellen Hanson, Go! Fight! Win! Cheerleading in American Culture (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1995), 11.


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6 Ibid. 7 Adams and Bettis, Cheerleader! An American Icon, 76–7. 8 Amy Lynn Moritz, “Real Athletes Wear Glitter: Articulating a Third Wave Sensibility through Cheerleading, Femininity and Athletics” (unpublished thesis, Faculty of the Graduate School, State University of New York, 2006), 10. 9 Charles T. Hatton and Robert W. Hatton, “The Sideline Show,” Journal of the National Association for Women Deans, Administrators, and Counselors 42 (Fall 1978): 23–8, at 27, cited in Hanson, Go! Fight! Win!, 27. 10 Jodie Polutele, “A League of Their Own,” Sunday Magazine, March 18, 2007. 11 Kate Torgovnick, Cheer! Three Teams on a Quest for College Cheerleading’s Ultimate Prize (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), xiv. 12 Ibid. 13 Adams and Bettis, Cheerleader! An American Icon, 10. 14 The International Cheer Union, “What Is the ICU?,” AboutUs [accessed February 7, 2013]. 15 Frederick O. Mueller and Robert C. Cantu, Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 29th Annual Report, Fall 1982–Spring 2011 (National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 2011), 49, [accessed February 14, 2013]. 16 Ibid., 89. 17 Ibid., 26. 18 The Cynical Optimist Blog; “Cheerleading the Most Dangerous Female Sport?,” blog entry by Atilla Kowalski, June 27, 2009, cheerleading-most-dangerous-female.html [accessed September 13, 2013]. 19 Moritz, “Real Athletes Wear Glitter,” 26. 20 While there is some metaphorical displacement involved in naming the phenomenon here “sacrifice,” we will soon see that this use is not inappropriate, nor the displacement so far that the term is merely a trope. 21 Cited in Moritz, “Real Athletes Wear Glitter,” 19. 22 Hanson, Go! Fight! Win!, 49. 23 The comment was made by Rick Reilly, a journalist for Sports Illustrated, and cited in Adams and Bettis, Cheerleader! An American Icon, 2. 24 Angela Busch, “Purple Pep,” Star Tribune, October 5, 2009, lifestyle/63322557.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiU9PmP:QiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU [accessed September 13, 2013]. 25 Steven Wells, “ Cheerleading: A Sport in Crisis,” Guardian, March 15, 2006, [accessed September 13, 2013]. 26 Michael Strahan, Inside the Helmet: Life as a Sunday Afternoon Warrior (New York: Gotham Books, 2007), 96. 27 Jim Bates, “Blessed Be Cheerleaders for They Will Be Vilified,” Seattle Times, id=2003930535&zsection_id=2003225857&slug=brewer07&date=20071007 [accessed October 8, 2007]. 28 Hanson, Go! Fight! Win!, 70–1. 29 Barry Toohey, “Cheergirls Sacked for Going to Benji’s Party—Girls Broke Rules by Fraternising with Players,” Sunday Telegraph, April 9, 2006. 30 The marketing professional quoted was Ro Markson, a public relations and

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marketing expert, and chief executive of Mark Communications. She was quoted in Matthew Benns, “Calls for Cheerleaders to Be Banned from League,” Sydney Morning Herald, May 17, 2009, calls-for-cheerleaders-to-be-banned-from-league/2009/05/16/1242335930888. html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1 [accessed September 13, 2013]. 31 Eva Cox, a prominent Australian feminist and former chairwoman of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, quoted in ibid. 32 Cited in Rebecca Traister, “Meaningless Sex! Rampant Drug Use! Teen Debauchery!,” Salon, March 3, 2004,