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"The Crowd Is Untruth": A Comparison of Kierkegaard and Girard Charles K. Bellinger University of Virginia The purpose ofthis essay is to provide an introductory comparison of the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and René Girard. To my knowledge, a substantial secondary article or book has not been written on this subject.1 Girard's writings themselves contain only a handful of references to Kierkegaard.2 This deficiency is unfortunate, since, as I hope to show in the following pages, these two authors do share common insights into the psychology ofviolence. Girard's writings usually take the form of a scientific analysis of historical data. He is attempting to frame a theory of culture which takes into account all of the data which he has encountered. It would seem that Kierkegaard's mode of thought is very different, since he is primarily concerned with the meaning of personal existence before God. But 1 Eugene Webb's Philosophers of Consciousness and The Self Between contain discussions ofKierkegaard and Girard, but they are basically parallel sections which do not include a focused comparison of the two authors. David McCracken's The Scandal ofthe Gospels makes reference to Girard and contains a chapter on Kierkegaard, but it also lacks an extended comparison. 2 See Girard 1984, 58; 1986, 173; 1988, 26-7. In his Foreword to Robert HamertonKelly (xi), Girard says, "Mimetic theory is too realistic and commonsensical to be confused with one more nihilistic stepchild ofGerman idealism. And yet, unlike the positivistic social sciences, it is not blind to paradox; it can articulate the intricacies of human relations just as effectively as a Kierkegaard or a Dostoievsky." 104Charles K Bellinger Kierkegaard was in his own way and in his own time a kind of social scientist. He engaged in an extended "anthropological contemplation" (1967-1978, 1:37), in which he attempted to map out the territory of the human spirit. Girard's thought, for its part, occasionally steps outside ofthe methodological atheism of the scientific guild to speak in theological terms. Thus in both realms, the scientific and the theological, there is the possibility of fruitful dialogue between these two authors. I am assuming that the readers ofthis essay are more familiar with the writings of Girard than with the writings of Kierkegaard. My procedure will therefore involve listing certain key concepts in Girard's thought, such as mimetic desire, envy, the social crisis, etc., followed by a search for parallel ideas in Kierkegaard. IfGirard were claiming complete originality for his interpretation of culture, my findings would show that he was in many respects foreshadowed by Kierkegaard. But, of course, he is not claiming this. He claims only to be restating and organizing insights which have already been achieved by great novelists and the Bible. I would argue that Kierkegaard is rightly seen as one of the great "novelists" who sees human culture clearly and penetratingly. It is not a coincidence that Kierkegaard's thought, like Girard's, is rooted in an interpretation ofthe Bible. After this initial survey ofsimilarities between Kierkegaard and Girard, I will outline a few possible differences between their approaches. This will lead to comments on the way in which Kierkegaard's thought can be used as a basis for understanding the motives which underlie political violence. Consequently Kierkegaard's thought can be coordinated with Girard's in such a way that the thought ofeach author is strengthened by the contribution of the other. Mimetic desire Mimetic desire is the main starting point for Girard's theory of personality and culture. Human beings have a basic feeling ofexistential lack that leads them to look to a model who seems to possess a greater fullness of being. The desires of the model are imitated in the hope of acquiring a similar fullness ofbeing. In Girard's words: When modem theorists envisage man as a being who knows what he wants, or who at least possesses an "unconscious" that knows for him, they may simply have failed to perceive the domain in which human uncertainty is most extreme. Once his Kierkegaard and Girard105 basic needs are satisfied (indeed, sometimes even before), man is subject to intense desires, though he may not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 103-119
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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