The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 25, 2017

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Intellectuals as Castrators of Meaning: An Interview with Réne Girard
Giulio Meotti - 08/29/08

The following interview was translated by Paul N. Faraone and Christopher S. Morrissey from an interview by Giulio Meotti in Il Foglio (March 20, 2007). Reprinted with permission. It is featured in the current edition of Modern Age (50, no. 2; Spring 2008).

“After language, man is becoming deconstructed” : Eugenics is a form of human sacrifice : “Sexuality is the problem, not the solution” : The ruthless ideas of a great thinker

Despite being 84 years of age, René Girard has lost none of his nerve as a definitively radical thinker. He is working on a new essay about Karl von Clausewitz. The author of great contemporary works such as Violence and the Sacred and The Scapegoat, recently elected among the forty “immortals” of the Académie française, René Girard is, along with Claude Levi-Strauss, our greatest living anthropologist. In this interview with Il Foglio, Girard returns to that which defines “the great anthropological question of our time.”

He himself opens with a question:

“Can there be a realistic anthropology that precedes deconstruction? In other words, is it licit and still possible to affirm a universal truth about humankind? Structuralist and postmodern contemporary anthropology denies this access to the truth. The present school of thought is ‘the castration of meaning.’ But such ways of discussing mankind are dangerous.”

Girard comments on the “scandal” of religion as it originated in the epoch of neo-secularization:

“From the enlightenment onwards, religion was conceived as pure nonsense. Auguste Comte had a precise theory on the origin of truth, and his eighteenth century intellectualism is reminiscent of much that is in vogue today. Comte said there are three phases: religious, which is the most childlike; philosophical; and finally, scientific, the latter being the closest to the truth. Today, in public discourse, the aim is to define the ‘non-truth’ of religion, however indispensable religion is for the survival of the human race. No one asks what the function of religion is; only faith is spoken of (as in, ‘I have faith,’ or not). What is the consequence? The revolutionary theory of Charles Darwin once hoped to demonstrate the uselessness of a fifteen-thousand-year-old institution like religion. Today the demonstration is attempted in the form of genetic chaos research as enunciated by neo-Darwinism. If you listen to a scientist such as Richard Dawkins—an extremely violent thinker—you see religion as something delinquent.”

But religion has a function that goes beyond faith. Girard sums up the truthfulness of monotheism’s gift with one phrase (and then elaborates):

“‘The prohibition against human sacrifice.’ The modern world has decided that the prohibition is nonsense. Religion has returned to being conceived of as the costume of the good savage, a primitive state of ignorance under the stars. Religion, however, is necessary to suppress violence. Man is a unique species in the world: he is the only one who threatens his own existence with violence. Animals in sexual jealousy do not kill each other. Human beings do. Animals do not know vengeance, do not know the destruction of the sacrificial victim, which is a phenomenon tied to the mimetic nature of the applauding multitude.”

Unfortunately, today there is only one definition of violence, that of pure aggression:

“This is because one wants to render oneself innocent. Human violence, however, is the result of desire and imitation. Postmodernism is not able to speak of violence. Violence is placed in parentheses and its origin is simply ignored. And with it, the most important truth: that reality is in some measure knowable.”

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