Wednesday 7 December 2016

Manent Mercredi #5: contra René Girard

From Le Regard Politique, my translation. (The English version of the work is Seeing Things Politically.)

If I might put it this way, Girard brings with him the apocalypse of social science, 'apocalypse' meaning, as you know, 'revelation'.

I'm not going to lay out, this isn't the place, the thought of Girard, but just some of his principles in order to explain my attitude to him. For Girard, human civilisation rests on the mechanism of the scapegoat: human beings, naturally prone to violence, to random violence, become reconciled by putting to death the scapegoat...Such is the violent origin, the violent root of every human civilisation, according to Girard.

Now, Christianity puts an end to this violent ritual of civilisation. for, according to Girard, it reveals the secret of the human world, the secret of human civilisation, the secret which all civilisations and religions before Christianity have failed to recognise: the victim is innocent....

I have always found this doctrine powerful, impressive, and at the same time, it has always seemed to me untenable and even dangerous. For naturally, one of its consequences, or one of the presuppositions of this doctrine, is that the human order has no substance or legitimacy of its own; in any case, the political order loses any substance and legitimacy because, if the basis of the truth of civilisation, of human society, is random violence and we are all the same, then there is no reason to distinguish between political societies, between political regimes, to recognise that any particular regime is nevertheless better than another, or that some cause is more just, even if only a little more just than another cause...

You are therefore led, in a situation where you make an equivalence between the enemy and us, to give preference to the enemy. It is this which I describe as the perverse tendency of a certain sort of Christianity with respect to politics. It transforms in an overly quick and unwise way the Christian claim that we are in a sense all sinners into a political claim destructive of any political morality: ultimately, between human causes, there is no difference in justice or in honour.



Manent's dislike of Girard lies in the way that Girard depoliticises politics. Rather than the difficult but important art of politics in exploring how to govern as well as possible in difficult and confusing circumstances, Girard substitutes a religious desire to cure politics.

As well as displaying Manent's usual suspicion of the drive to replace the political attitude by morality or spirituality, this also hints at the important role played in political thinking by respecting the existence of genuine and unresolvable tensions. There are better and worse uses of violence and better and worse objects of hostility: to wish these away is indulge in fantasy rather than to accept a lived tension between the demands of Christian revelation and human political reason, between politics and religion.

See also From “René Girard’s Lesson of Shadows” by Pierre Manent here.

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