René Girard Quotes
“The goal of religious thinking is exactly the same as that of technological research -- namely, practical action. Whenever man is truly concerned with obtaining concrete results, whenever he is hard pressed by reality, he abandons abstract speculation and reverts to a mode of response that becomes increasingly cautious and conservative as the forces he hopes to subdue, or at least to outrun, draw ever nearer.”
“Passive, submissive imitation does exist, but hatred of conformity and extreme individualism are no less imitative. Today they constitute a negative conformism that is more formidable than the positive version. More and more, it seems to me, modern individualism assumes the form of a desperate denial of the fact that, through mimetic desire, each of us seeks to impose his will upon his fellow man, whom he professes to love but more often despises.”
“Our world is filled with competition, frenzied ambition in every domain. Each of us is acquainted with the spirit of competition. This spirit is not a bad thing in and of itself. Its influence has long been felt in personal relations within the dominant classes. Subsequently it spread throughout the whole of society, to the point that today it has more or less openly triumphed in every part of the world. In Western nations, and above all in the United States, it animates not only economic and financial life, but scientific research and intellectual life as well. Despite the tension and the unrest it brings, these nations are inclined on the whole to congratulate themselves for having embraced the spirit of competition, for its positive effects are considerable. Not the least of these is the impressive wealth it has brought a large part of the population. No one, or almost no one, any longer thinks of forgoing rivalry, since it allows us to go on dreaming of a still more glittering and prosperous future than the recent past. Our world seems to us the most desirable one there ever was, especially when we compare it to life in nations that have not enjoyed the same prosperity.”
“The most powerful anti-Christian movement is the one that takes over and "radicalizes" the concern for victims in order to paganize it. The powers and principalities want to be “revolutionary” now, and they reproach Christianity for not defending victims with enough ardor. In Christian history they see nothing but persecutions, acts of oppression, inquisitions.
This other totalitarianism presents itself as the liberator of humanity. In trying to usurp the place of Christ, the powers imitate him in the way a mimetic rival imitates his model in order to defeat him. They denounce the Christian concern for victims as hypocritical and a pale imitation of the authentic crusade against oppression and persecution for which they would carry the banner themselves. In the symbolic language of the New Testament, we would say that in our world Satan, trying to make a new start and gain new triumphs, borrows the language of victims.
The Antichrist boasts of bringing to human beings the peace and tolerance that Christianity promised but has failed to deliver. Actually, what the radicalization of contemporary victimology produces is a return to all sorts of pagan practices: abortion, euthanasia, sexual undifferentiation, Roman circus games galore but without real victims, etc.
Neo-paganism would like to turn the Ten Commandments and all of Judeo-Christian morality into some alleged intolerable violence, and indeed its primary objective is their complete abolition. Faithful observance of the moral law is perceived as complicity with the forces of persecution that are essentially religious...
Neo-paganism locates happiness in the unlimited satisfaction of desires, which means the suppression of all prohibitions. This idea acquires a semblance of credibility in the limited domain of consumer goods, whose prodigious multiplication, thanks to technological progress, weakens certain mimetic rivalries. The weakening of mimetic rivalries confers an appearance of plausibility, but only that, on the stance that turns the moral law into an instrument of repression and persecution.”
“Religion, then, is far from "useless." It humanizes violence; it protects man from his own violence by taking it out of his hands, transforming it into a transcendent and ever-present danger to be kept in check by the appropriate rites appropriately observed and by a modest and prudent demeanor. Religious misinterpretation is a truly constructive force, for it purges man of the suspicions that would poison his existence if he were to remain conscious of the crisis as it actually took place.
To think religiously is to envision the city's destiny in terms of that violence whose mastery over man increases as man believes he has gained mastery over it. To think religiously (in the primitive sense) is to see violence as something superhuman, to be kept always at a distance and ultimately renounced. When the fearful adoration of this power begins to diminish and all distinctions begin to disappear, the ritual sacrifices lose their force; their potency is not longer recognized by the entire community. Each member tries to correct the situation individually, and none succeeds. The withering away of the transcendental influence means that there is no longer the slightest difference between a desire to save the city and unbridled ambition, between genuine piety and the desire to claim divine status for oneself. Everyone looks on a rival enterprise as evidence of blasphemous designs. Men set to quarreling about the gods, and their skepticism leads to a new sacrificial crisis that will appear - retrospectively, in the light of a new manifestation of unanimous violence - as a new act of divine intervention and divine revenge.
Men would not be able to shake loose the violence between them, to make of it a separate entity both sovereign and redemptory, without the surrogate victim. Also, violence itself offers a sort of respite, the fresh beginning of a cycle of ritual after a cycle of violence. Violence will come to an end only after it has had the last word and that word has been accepted as divine. The meaning of this word must remain hidden, the mechanism of unanimity remain concealed. For religion protects man as long as its ultimate foundations are not revealed. To drive the monster from its secret lair is to risk loosing it on mankind. To remove men's ignorance is only to risk exposing them to an even greater peril. The only barrier against human violence is raised on misconception. In fact, the sacrificial crisis is simply another form of that knowledge which grows grater as the reciprocal violence grows more intense but which never leads to the whole truth. It is the knowledge of violence, along with the violence itself, that the act of expulsion succeeds in shunting outside the realm of consciousness. From the very fact that it belies the overt mythological messages, tragic drama opens a vast abyss before the poet; but he always draws back at the last moment. He is exposed to a form of hubris more dangerous than any contracted by his characters; it has to do with a truth that is felt to be infinitely destructive, even if it is not fully understood - and its destructiveness is as obvious to ancient religious thought as it is to modern philosophers. Thus we are dealing with an interdiction that still applies to ourselves and that modern thought has not yet invalidated. The fact that this secret has been subjected to exceptional pressure in the play [Bacchae] must prompt the following lines:
May our thoughts never aspire to anything higher than laws! What does it cost man to acknowledge the full sovereignty of the gods? That which has always been held as true owes its strength to Nature.”
“The experience of death is going to get more and more painful, contrary to what many people believe. The forthcoming euthanasia will make it more rather than less painful because it will put the emphasis on personal decision in a way which was blissfully alien to the whole problem of dying in former times. It will make death even more subjectively intolerable, for people will feel responsible for their own deaths and morally obligated to rid their relatives of their unwanted presence. Euthanasia will further intensify all the problems its advocates think it will solve.”
“The revolutionaries thought they would be destroying vanity when they destroyed the privileges of the noble. But vanity is like a virulent cancer that spreads in a more serious form throughout the body just when one things it has been removed. Who is there left to imitate after the tyrant has been removed. 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.”
“3. The Greek pharmakoi, singular pharmakos, refers to victims who were ritually beaten, driven out of cities, and killed, for example, by being forced over the edge of a precipice. The word pharmakos, designating a person who is selected as a ritual victim, is related to pharmakon, which means both "remedy" and "poison," depending on the context. In the story of the horrible miracle of Apollonius, the beggar is a pharmakos, a kind of ritual victim. Apollonius points to him as the demon causing the plague (he is the source of pollution or poison), but his lynching restores the well being of Ephesus (he becomes the remedy for the crisis). — Trans. 4.”
- Date of birth: December 25, 1923
- Died: November 04, 2015
- Born: in Avignon , France.
- Description: René Girard is a French-born American historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy.
He was born in the southern French city of Avignon on Christmas day in 1923. Between 1943 and 1947, he studied in Paris at the École des Chartres, an institution for the training of archivists and historians, where he specialized in medieval history. In 1947 he went to Indiana University on a year’s fellowship and eventually made almost his entire career in the United States. He completed a PhD in history at Indiana University in 1950 but also began to teach literature, the field in which he would first make his reputation. He taught at Duke University and at Bryn Mawr before becoming a professor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In 1971 he went to the State University of New York at Buffalo for five years, returned to Johns Hopkins, and then finished his academic career at Stanford University where he taught between 1981 and his retirement in 1995.
Girard is the author of nearly thirty books, with his writings spanning many academic domains. Although the reception of his work is different in each of these areas, there is a growing body of secondary literature on his work and his influence on disciplines such as literary criticism, critical theory, anthropology, theology, psychology, mythology, sociology, economics, cultural studies, and philosophy.Girard’s fundamental ideas, which he has developed throughout his career and provide the foundation for his thinking, are that desire is mimetic (all of our desires are borrowed from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry), that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.
In 1990, friends and colleagues of Girard’s established the Colloquium on Violence and Religion to further research and discussion about the themes of Girard’s work. The Colloquium meets annually either in Europe or the United States.
René Girard died on November 4, 2015, at the age of 91 in Stanford.