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INDIFFERENCE AND ENVY: THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF MODERN ECONOMY Paul Dumouchel University ofQuébec-Montréal 1. Girard and economics René Girard himself has not written very much on economics, at least explicitly. Though his works are full ofinsights into and short remarks on the sacrificial origin of different economic phenomena or the way in which mimetic relations and commercial transactions are often intertwined and act upon each other.1 Unlike religion, psychology, psychoanalysis , literature and anthropology, the analysis of modem and traditional economies from the point ofview ofmimetic theory has never been carried out by Girard himself, but for the most part by other people, for example, in the French speaking world, which I know best, essentially by Michel Aglietta and André Orléan in La violence de la monnaie (1982) and by Jean-Pierre Dupuy and myself in L'enfer des choses (1979) and as well as others, such as, by Mark Anspach, Andrew Feenberg, P. Lantz, A. Orléan, G-H. de Radkowsky and Lucien Scubla in various works on economy, economic anthropology, or the place and role of money in literary texts.2 In a way, this is somewhat surprising since the relationship between mimetic and economic phenomena, at least in a broad sense, was seen quite early on. For example, soon after the original publication Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (1961) the French Marxist Lucien Goldman wrote in his Pour une sociologie du Roman (1964) that Girard's work was the most important book to read in order to understand 1 For example, Mensonge romantique (18-23); Des choses cachées (82-88). 2 See Anspach, Feenberg, Lantz, Orléan [passim], de Radkowski. 150Paul Dumouchel the effects of economic alienation on literature since Georg Lukács's Theory of the Novel (1920). Moreover in a footnote in Les origines du capitalisme (1971) Jean Baechler suggested that those wishing to understand the nature of the infinite desire for acquisition which capitalists economies have institutionalized should read Girard's book.3 Whatever the reason for Girard's relative disinterest in economic phenomena others have not been prevented from tackling this problem and it bears witness in a special way to the dynamism and intellectual power ofthe mimetic theory that its application to the field ofeconomics has essentially, ifnot entirely, been due to the work of others rather than to the efforts of René Girard himself. 2. The substantivist-formalist debate In the late 1 940's and early 1 950's a debate began that divided (and still divides) the community ofeconomists and ofanthropologists interested in economic phenomena. It concerns the nature ofeconomy and is generally referred to as the substantivist-formalist debate. It was first formulated in the works of the Austrian economist, Karl Polanyi.4 In The Great Transformation (1945), a book on the history ofthe formation and organization ofthe market economy in Europe from the late 1 8th to early 20th centuries, Polanyi already argued that the modem market economy was a rare historical accident. Furthermore Polanyi said, unlike what liberal and economic ideologies pretend, thatthere is nothingnatural aboutthe market. It does not correspond to any spontaneous human tendency to barter and exchange, and it does not arise by itself as soon as certain conditions are satisfied. Onthe contrary, modem markets have been put into place through sustained and voluntary state policies which consciously destroyed traditional solidarities, authorized the unlimited sale of land and labor and literally created the labor market, for example, in England through the Reform Bill of 1834 that repealed the existing Poor Laws which had prevented the free circulation of labor. The system formed by market economies, the balance of power among European states and the gold 3 Interestingly, 24 years later, in the second vastly enlarged edition of that work, Le capitalisme, (1995) the reference to Girard has disappeared though the text ofthe original work, which now constitutes the second part of the book, is otherwise reprinted in its integrity. 4 Actually Polanyi in The Livelihood ofMan (1977) sees the origin of the debate in Carl Mengers, Principles ofEconomics [1871]. Let us say then that it found its first modern formulation in the work of Polanyi. Indifference andEnvy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 149-160
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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