Rene Girard, scapegoats, and the next Holocaust

One of the most original thinkers of our time, Rene Girard, has an excellent article in First Things (one of the most important publications of our time), entitled “On War andApocalypse“.

He reviews his theory of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating, and then offers some related reflections on modern Islamism.  It is most thought-provoking, as RG often is.  And this is clearer than much of his writing (he is, after all, a Frenchman.)  I have long recommended his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning as the best expression of his theories.

The Comments discussion (something new for FT, I believe) is also quite interesting in places.  FT editor Joseph Bottums objects that “Girard’s wide-ranging vision of mimetic violence…has no strong political theory” for our pre-apolcalyptic era.  He is correct that RG articulates no such theory, and that it is an issue.

 Girard’s theory, coming from his anthropologer’s perspective, focuses on the Christian revelation that the sacrificial scapegoat is in fact innocent, and the sacrificers therefore guilty.   RG postulates the impact of such revelation on our individual progress (or lack of progress) towards the abandonment of various forms of human sacrifice.  In other words, his reading of Christianity is as a moral standard demanding that we all forego such sacrificing of victims.

 (As far as I can see, the New Testament itself offers “no strong political theory” based on this revelation either.) 

 If a political theory is to be constructed consistent with this revelation, it must base itself on our individual and collective obligation to take the side of the victim, to stand with the scapegoat in resistance to the sacrificers.  Our obligation is not merely to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God, but also…to do justly.

 It does appear that Girard has not directly addressed this yet. But this article (his first discussion of political jihad that I have seen) is a start. And it is none too soon.

 The worst scapegoating episode of all human history took place in the lifetime of many living today. Only sixty-four years ago, hate and ideology combined with technology to “sacrifice” six million Jews.  The Nazi “sacrificers” did indeed believe that the elimination of the Jews would solve the problems of their society.  And they came so close to total success that Europe is now one of the most “Jew-free” of continents.

 But today, sixty-four years later, Europe and the rest of the world (now, sadly, including our own country) are watching with only slight interest the preparations being made for the next round of the Holocaust.  Iran, the world’s oldest “Islamic Republic” and arguably the only truly Islamist-jihadist power, is developing the modern weaponry that will permit them to take care of the “problem” of Jews in the Middle East.  And thanks to the success of the “Zionist entity”, six million Jews are gathered together in an area the size of New Jersey, within mid-range flying distance of Iranian missiles.

 It is clear that the Muslim world, at least throughout its Arab and Iranian spheres, regards Israel as the source of all their problems.  Israeli democracy shames their primitive despotisms.  Israeli economic prosperity contrasts painfully with their poverty and underdevelopment (even where petro-dollars spring from the very soil, their economies are embarrassingly weak and unproductive.)  Israeli respect for human rights and human dignity offers endless humiliating contrasts.  Arab citizens of Israel are better off, in every material and political way, than the “citizens” of any of Israel’s neighbors.  And since 1947, the Muslim cry throughout the Middle East has been consistent: “Our problems (poverty, ignorance, despotism…) will not be solved until the Jews are pushed into the sea!”   This fits Girard’s (or anyone else’s) definition of a scapegoat scenario.

 Geo-political “realists” of course argue that a nuclear-armed Iran could be deterred from attacking Israel by the threat of retaliation.  This was true of the Soviets, they argue.  And it may be true of Iran, too, if the realists are correct in discounting the theology of radical jihad.  If Islamist terrorists really don’t believe their own rhetoric, and are simply trying to bluff their way to some position of regional hegemony, then maybe Shoah Two will be indefinitely postponed.  (See my Conversation with Frankie Sturm of the Truman Project here.)

 But this “realism” all depends on refusing to take the Islamist Jihad movement at its word. European and American “realists” can safely do so.  Israelis cannot.   In facing this imminent danger of another mass “sacrifice” of the Jews, Israel at least has its eyes wide open.  Unlike Isaac, they do not wonder “Where is the sacrifice for the altar?”  They know. 

 The question for Christians, and for all who recognize the scapegoat mechanism and its underlying injustice, is: Where do we stand?  Not with the scapegoaters, of course.  But are we content to stand on the sidelines, as spectators?  Or do we recognize our obligation to stand against the forces of human sacrifice?  Do we take our stand with the victim?

 Surely this question is one of the first for consideration of any “strong political theory” based on the Christian revelation.

4 Responses to “Rene Girard, scapegoats, and the next Holocaust”

  1. 1 FeFe September 2, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    There was only one option that was apparently unacceptable to Hitler: permanent peace.
    [Arafat anyone? Hamass, etc.]

    A veteran of World War I who had seen the tattered bodies of his fellow soldiers lying in the trenches, and who had been the victim of a poison gas attack himself, Hitler never recovered from the defeat. A proponent of social Darwinism, he defined politics as the “conduct and process of the historical struggle for the life of nations.” Without war, there was stagnation, and stagnation, Hitler believed, was tantamount to ruin. “Long live war — even if it lasts from two to eight years,” he proclaimed. A man who was so regaled by death and doom was incapable of promoting peace.
    [This brings visions of Farfur (script costume mouse killed by Jews as propaganda) and all the other youth programing the children in Gaza and i$lamistology nations watch. You too? It’s not like muslims add anything to science, innovation, technology, etc. so they only see their self worth or cultural relevance in their revisionist history, no? Therefore, force is all they export.]

    “I have never really endured such fear … If the French had been truly serious, it would have been the greatest possible political defeat for me,” Hitler later told a confidant.
    [Obama and all the self interested only think of political appeasement with enemies (Iran). Not until we have a politician speaking openly of political defeat of our enemies (Reagan), will we be safe and Israel shake the yolk of two-state suicide. Also, the 300 burning cars every weekend by French ‘youths’ (muslims) still doesn’t cover up the yellow streak down their back all these many years later.]

    A Triumph for Hitler
    Instead of the failure he feared, it was a triumph for Hitler — and what a triumph it was. The Germans celebrated their Führer like a messiah. In a new Reichstag election on March 29, 1936, which was only moderately manipulated, close to 99 percent of the electorate voted for the Nazi Party. Even Goebbels was surprised.
    [Who else recently has been likened to a messiah?]

    On March 11, the Nazis finally brought down the Austrian chancellor. That afternoon, after being bombarded by Hermann Göring with repeated threats of war in several telephone conversations, Schuschnigg resigned. The Wehrmacht marched into Austria the next day, without a single shot being fired.

    It was the result of gangster tactics, and yet the people applauded.
    [Chicago style politics. Fishy enough for]

    When Hitler crossed the border near his hometown of Braunau at about 4 p.m., the jubilant crowd was so thick that his motorcade was almost brought to a standstill. The masses on both sides of the street could hardly be subdued, as they shouted ecstatically “Heil Hitler” and “one people, one Reich, one Führer.”
    [Yes we can! Scapegoat those who oppose Obamaland.]

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