restricted access Violence and Resistance: Towards a Politics without a Scapegoat

For René Girard, the cause of violence is deeper than the competition and conflict over scarce goods but emerges from the very structure of desire and the social mechanism that has developed to deal with it. The scapegoat mechanism both prevents the violence of the self's desire from destroying the entire community and conceals its own operation from the society that practises it. For this reason, attempts to eliminate or restrain violence that fail to come to terms with this mechanism and the genuine problem it addresses simply institutionalize scapegoating and extend its scope, perpetuating the very violence they seek to end. Girard exposes the workings of the scapegoat mechanism deep within the self in an attempt to overcome the violence that continues to haunt modern politics. I argue that Girard's thought can be complemented by the development of a politics, not in the sense of policy recommendations or institutional analysis, but an account of the practices by which an "interdividual" might overcome the scapegoat mechanism through and in the midst of practices that might stimulate actual political engagement. In this regard, William Cavanaugh's account of an alternative politics to what he calls the "performance" of the modern state is a useful conversation partner for Girard. Cavanaugh develops an account of concrete practices that have the potential to transform desire in ways Girard shows the need for, but never describes in concrete terms. Cavanaugh also embeds this in a particular social context that avoids the abstraction and individualism that a purely theoretical focus may result in.