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ON THE RATIONALITY OF SACRIFICE1 Jean-Pierre Dupuy Ecolepolytechnique, Paris, andStanford University i; "came to be interested in John Rawls'sy4 Theory ofJustice—an active .interest which led me to become the publisher ofthe French version ofthat book—in part for the following, apparently anecdotal reason: 1)On the one hand, as early as the first lines ofhis book, Rawls makes it clear that his major target is the critique ofutilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the defendant, charged with vindicating sacrifice. As everyone knows, "justice does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum ofadvantages enjoyed by many (...) it denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others (Theory 3-4; my emphasis). 2)On the other hand, although the term "sacrifice" pops up again and again throughout the book, you may look up the index: it doesn't figure there. "Sacrifice" is not granted the dignity of a concept. I found that shocking and my curiosity was aroused. My own research is driven by a few anthropological convictions (see Dupuy, Le Sacrifice et l'envie). I am going to list them here, for the sake of clarity and honesty, without trying to vindicate them. The arguments I am going to present do not depend in the least on whether these convictions are valid or not; they should be assessed on their own merits. a) AU non-modern social and cultural institutions are rooted in the sacred. 1 I should like to thank John Rawls and the late Robert Nozick for their remarks on earlier versions of this paper. 24Jean-Pierre Dupuy b)Of the three dimensions of the sacred: myths, rituals, and prohibitions, the most fundamental is the ritual. c)The most primitive and fundamental ritual form is sacrifice. d)Sacrifice is the reenactment bythe social group ofa primordial event which took place spontaneously: a process of collective victimage which resulted in the murder of a member ofthe community. This elimination of a victim reestablished peace and order. There lies the origin ofthe sacred. The victim is taken to be the cause or the active principle both of the violent crisis and its violent resolution. It unites within itself opposite predicates: it is at the same time infinitely good and infinitely evil. It can only be of a divine nature. e)Christ's death on the cross is just one more occurrence of the primordial event. As far as facts are concerned, there is no difference between primitive religions and Christianity. The difference lies in interpretation . For the first time in the history of humankind, the story is told from the victim's viewpoint, not the persecutors.' The story (the Gospel) takes side with the victim and proclaims its innocence. When, in our modern languages, we say that the victim was scapegoated, we just say as much. f)Modern institutions embody a tension between two contradictory drives. On the one hand, the drive to resort to more ofthe same: the drive to scapegoating. On the other, the anti-sacrificial drive set in motion by the Christian Revelation. In totality or only partially, these points have been made by several anthropological traditions, in particular the French sociological school, with the works of Fustel de Coulanges, Durkheim and Mauss; and the British anthropological school, with Frazer and Robertson-Smith. Freud and the Belgo-British anthropologist Hocart gave them a new momentum and, more recently, René Girard has produced an impressive synthesis.2 As is well known, Nietzsche's philosophy relies on point e), for which the author of The Gay Science ("there are no facts, only interpretations") felt justified in bringing a radical indictment against Christianity, taken to be the morality ofthe slaves. In this light, Kantianism appears to be a secularized form of Christianity . ThequestionIwanttoraise is: towhatextentisthistrueofRawlsianism? 2 See, in particular, his Violence and the Sacred, and also The Scapegoat. On the Rationality ofSacrifice25 It might be retorted: these references to anthropology are irrelevant to modern political philosophy, and, at any rate, the word "sacrifice" has now acquired ameaning altogetherdisconnected from its alleged religious roots. I do not think the burden ofthe proof is on my...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 23-39
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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