- Mimesis and Freedom
Editor’s note: Raymund Schwager (1935–2004) published the original German version of this text in 1985 (“Mimesis und Freiheit,” Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie , 365–76). He had already presented an English translation one year earlier at a symposium on Girard’s thinking in Provo, Utah. Fortunately, this translation has been preserved in the Innsbruck “Raymund Schwager-Archive” (RSA, I.17.a) and can, therefore, now be published for the first time. However, the translator is not known, so due credit cannot be given here. In preparation, this translation had to be revised, orthographic and other mistakes had to be corrected, and footnotes, which Schwager had put in the German but not in the English version, had to be added. Furthermore, departures from the German original text had to be noted. All such editorial footnotes are clearly distinguishable from Schwager’s own footnotes by the element “Ed.” at the beginning. This text’s references are to English editions of Girard’s works, while Schwager, in 1984–1985, only referred to French editions. James G. Williams, who encouraged this publication after several very fruitful discussions in the context of an Innsbruck research project on the Girard-Schwager-correspondence, kindly proofread the edited text.
Put in context, this text reflects some of Schwager’s major theological concerns. These specific concerns were essential for his correspondence with Girard and, from there, for the development of Girard’s thinking (for this, see my article in this issue of Contagion). After rereading the English manuscript seven years (!) after the Provo [End Page 29] symposium, Girard wrote enthusiastically: “Ce texte de Provo est génial d’un bout à l’autre, et pour la première fois la force de sa pensée m’atteint” (Girard to Schwager, October 31, 1991 [RSA, II.12a]).1 Hopefully, the readers of Contagion, theologians and nontheologians, will share in Girard’s amazement about the power of this text’s reasoning.—Mathias Moosbrugger
What is the origin of violence? Paul Dumouchel, in the journal Esprit, presented the view that Girard’s answer to this question is “complex and ambiguous,” that in fact he gives a double answer.2 On the one hand, he constantly appeals to people to recognize their full responsibility for violence and to turn away from it. In so doing, he ascribes to freedom a decisive role in the emergence of violence. On the other hand, he explains violence on the basis of mimesis and considers it a biological trait of the human species. By means of mimesis and the scapegoat mechanism, he also attempts to explain the evolution from animal to man. Thus he elevates violence to a necessary element of the process of nature. According to Dumouchel, Girard constantly confuses these two answers to the question about the origin of violence. He believes that Girard’s thinking therefore contradicts itself on a fundamental point, because the one answer assumes the decisive role of freedom, whereas the other excludes it.
Whether this criticism is justified, I will approach in a roundabout way,3 and I would like to begin by examining the problem of mimesis and freedom in the biblical texts. After all, since Girard himself is convinced that the ultimate truth about the dark world of violence was uncovered in the Judeo-Christian revelations, a basic question concerning this thinking must also be directed toward these texts. I turn first to the Old Testament and will then deal with some statements from the New Testament.
The first and foremost important commandment in Israel was: “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one Yahweh. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart”4 (Dt. 6:4). This commandment was repeatedly associated with the admonition not to go after strange gods. Yahweh is a god who tolerates no other gods. The commandment of love is associated with the idea of fear: “You must fear Yahweh your God, you must serve him, by his name you must swear. Do not follow5 other gods, gods of the peoples around you” (Dt. 6:13f; cf. 4:3; 8:19; 11:28; 13:3; 20:18; 28:14).6
Israel repeatedly broke...