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  • Spain (1975/2017) from a Girardian Perspective
  • Ángel J. Barahona Plaza (bio)

The history of Spain in the 20th and 21st century provides us with many examples of mimetic rivalry: the permanent conflict between peoples who inhabit a common territory, seeking their identity through the affirmation of differences. In the never-ending reciprocities that occur throughout the decades, with ferocious feuding between the left and right wings, and disputes between nationalities, we appreciate how the Girardian theses shine some light on conflictive and at times bloody relationships that would be difficult to understand without the illuminating mimetic theory and the scapegoat mechanism.

Mimetic theory and the scapegoat mechanism, together with some of Girard's most innovative intuitions (passion for the obstacle, the envied–imitated, love–hate model, the méconnaissance, the triangularity, the internal and external measuring), constitute a critical apparatus that should be borne in mind in the plethora of attempts to explain the sociological, historical, and political–philosophical aspects of the Spanish conflicts among the so-called "nationalities." [End Page 137]


La Violencia y lo sagrado (Violence and the Sacred), published by Anagrama (1985), includes a curious story that serves to provide a framework for Girard's reception in the Spain of multiple nationalities. The debate on identity and nationalities in Spanish social life relating to the Basque Country and Catalonia has been among philosophers and politicians influenced in some measure by Girard, and these are worthy of mention. Jon Juaristi, Mario Onaindia, Fernando Savater, and Eugenio Trias are disparate authors of Spanish policy and philosophy who have benefited greatly from the reading of Girard in terms of, first, understanding and analyzing the peculiar situation of the Basque Country and Catalonia, and, second, proposing possible solutions for these circumstances, marked as they are by the growing political dominance of nationalism.

The first three of this group were highly impressed by Girard's work toward the end of the 1970s. Girard had a great impact on Juaristi1 in his understanding of the rising problem of nationalism in post-Franco Spain. In his memoirs entitled Cambio de destino (A Change of Destination) (Seix Barral, 2006), he tells us of how reading of René Girard led to the gradual, definitive disappearance of his commitments with Basque nationalism:

In 1979, and in a Bilbao bookshop—quite a rarity—I found a recently published book by Grasset, Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde (translated into Spanish, by the publishers Sígueme, El misterio de nuestro mundo [The mystery of our world]), which included a series of interviews by two psychiatrists, Oughourlian and Lefort, with a French Catholic intellectual whose name I had never heard of, René Girard. Reading it had a great impact on me that I took a long time to recover from. Everything [that Juaristi was experiencing] seemed to be explained right there: the mechanism of mimetic violence, the arbitrary choosing of scapegoats in situations of anomie, the appeasing and founding function of the sacrifices. It was as if that book had been waiting for me, as if it had been written for me.2

For his part, Mario Onaindía3 states in his memoirs entitled El aventurero cuerdo (Espasa, 2004), which narrate his life and intellectual trajectory, how decisive it was for him to discover Girard. The scenario in which Girard irrupted into his life was one of the meetings held in the Basque Region during the transition from Francoism to democracy. The stale Marxist discourse, in its multiple variations, was starting to shatter and to open up different routes to comprehension around it. At one of these meetings, explained Onaindía in his memoirs, Aranzadi proposed the idea of the scapegoat, theorized by Girard, as a tool for [End Page 138] understanding the mechanics of where Basque nationalism found itself. Like all nationalisms, although in this case in its most explicitly belligerent version, the Basque variant resorted, in its defense of an exclusive identity, to confrontation with a series of scapegoats in whose destruction was vested the possibility of congregating the forces dispersed in dozens of Pyrrhic battles and reunifying the diluted essences and lost unity of the mythified Arcadian...


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