Saturday, February 13, 2016

Get Thee Behind Me, Conscience

An editorial at National Review asks: "Why would Bush, Rubio, and Christie seem to so eagerly surrender to the prevailing winds of political correctness?" They ask consequent to the revelation during the New Hampshire debate that "Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio each embraced the idea that women should register with the selective service, making it possible for America to draft women into ground combat." The editors consider the idea "barbaric." They are right, but seem surprised at the candidates' behavior.

As others of them like Fiorina and Carson have said that they support homosexual civil unions, Marco Rubio has said that he would be willing to formally cooperate with evil by attending the gay wedding of a loved one. Rubio further surmises that same-sex orientation is something people are born with, though how he knows this is not explained. While making much on the campaign trail of the role that the Catholic faith plays in his life, he simultaneously bends a knee before the God of Equality, perceiving in the gesture no grounds for the charge that he might be serving two masters, nor betraying any awareness that the idol of Equality before which he bows is a creature of purely liberal construction. It is of course a false idol and, in its perversion of the natural order, demonic in its origin.

Many see the equivocation, and so probably do many who agree with him but are willing to abide the dissonance. Does Rubio see it? If so, why does he say these things to appease the false god? Well, I've got a theory.

It's not original, being derived from someone else's. A few months ago I posted an excerpt from Rene Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. In it he explains what he calls the phenomenon of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism employed by individuals, groups, and even entire societies to reconcile the inevitable conflicts that result from this desire. I haven't finished the book, and am thus insufficiently steeped in its thought to explain it competently or to conclude that it functions as some sort of "theory of everything" regarding mankind's seemingly endless conflicts, usually violent to one degree or another, or that the primary redemptive purpose of Christ was to bring an end to the sacrificial immolation of innocent victims. [You can read a brief introduction to the theory here.] It's certainly part of it, probably a very big part. At the least, I believe I see it at work in the political soul of Marco Rubio (who is merely an example; it's at work in the souls of millions of Americans).

The excerpt I posted concluded that, unlike, say, Nazism, which attempted to dispense with the "concern for victims" made most manifest in Christianity, what Girard calls "the other totalitarianism"
..takes over and “radicalizes” the concern for victims in order to paganize it. The powers and principalities want to be “revolutionary” now, and they reproach Christianity for not defending victims with enough ardor. In Christian history they see nothing but persecutions, acts of oppression, inquisitions...This other totalitarianism presents itself as the liberator of humanity. In trying to usurp the place of Christ, the powers imitate him in the way a mimetic rival imitates his model in order to defeat him. They denounce the Christian concern for victims as hypocritical and a pale imitation of the authentic crusade against oppression and persecution for which they would carry the banner themselves...Neo-paganism would like to turn the Ten Commandments and all of Judeo-Christian morality into some alleged intolerable violence, and indeed its primary objective is their complete abolition. Faithful observance of the moral law is perceived as complicity with the forces of persecution that are essentially religious...
What I think I'm seeing here is an inversion of the usual scapegoat scenario, in which the innocent victim was most often an individual, or small group of individuals - in any case, a minority on whom the blame for conflict can be set (like the Jews under Nazism), whom the populace can be persuaded to despise, and who will not be greatly missed if done away with. But in modernity, it seems a majority can also be made a scapegoat. Since the "other totalitarianism" does not dispense with the "concern for victims" but radicalizes it, the class of people now subject to scapegoating is not small, but a rather large cohort, the oppressor who was formerly accustomed to perpetrating the scapegoating. Marco Rubio, of Latin origin, is not of the white majority (whose scapegoating in modern times should be obvious to anyone). Of what majority is he, then? The Christian. It's about the worst thing you can be these days. Your history is a catalogue of offenses. You have persecuted Jews, witches, and heretics. You have oppressed women and lately declared war on them in your attempts to deny their sexual liberation through contraception and abortion. Your excessively ascetic moral canon oppresses the homosexual, the transgendered, the bi, the Cis, the Q and whatever letter of the alphabet has yet to be born. You have owned slaves. Never mind that the Christian conscience eventually freed them; only your sins will be remembered. And, above all, the guilt for these sins is collective, not individual.

Liberalism, like the serpent, reminds you of them daily while whispering mantras that upon first hearing sound reasonable, solutions to the world's problems: people should be equal, life should be fair. It is not right that some men live well and others in misery. After all, our country was born on that very principle, that all men are created equal (full stop). The serpent preaches the family of man (under the multi-cultural diversity regime) and the hope of heaven on earth. If a regicide here or there must needs come, or the heads of a few oppressors fall to the blade, it is only for the greater good. This is not entirely alien even to Christianity, which had to suffer the sacrificial death of its own God that the concern for victims be made fully manifest.

If there is any mystery in Rubio's behavior, it lies only in the fact that a man who calls himself a practicing Roman Catholic would allow even a drop of this venom to enter his bloodstream, whence it drifts with the current until lodging in the heart. By whatever means it got there, Rubio feels the guilt, that abhorrence of being labeled the oppressor, or even the agent of hurt feelings. And, relatively speaking, he is one of the better ones, remaining solid (as far as I know) in defense of the unborn while fellow guilt-ridden Catholic Jeb Bush has been discovered making exceptions for abortion (rape, incest, life of the mother). Nevertheless, it is an interesting phenomenon that liberalism can make scapegoats of a majority and, worse, so efficiently corrupt the minds of millions that it persuades even the apparently intelligent among them, like Marco Rubio, to participate in the scapegoating of his own conscience.

TS says:

February 13, 2016 at 8:12 am (Edit)

Very thought provoking and sobering post Bill. I’ve always thought of the bowing to political correctness an urge to reassure voters that you’re “with it”, hip, but it could easily be a scapegoating phenomenon. Which is why so many conservatives change when they get to DC.

When I saw the NR editorial I thought they were calling Israel barbaric, but it seems that the role of women in combat there is exaggerated:

William Luse says:

February 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm (Edit)

I’ve always thought of the bowing to political correctness an urge to reassure voters that you’re “with it”, hip, but it could easily be a scapegoating phenomenon

It’s both. Can’t have one without the other. The radicalized concern for victims compels us to get ‘with it’ in order to escape the label of oppressor, which is a sort of victimization in itself. A vicious circle.

Thanks for the link. I too have seen several articles demonstrating that the propagandists’ use of the IDF as a prototype for integrating females into combat is a gross distortion.

C.A. Sebacher says:

February 20, 2016 at 7:16 pm (Edit)

From Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard on how the modern “liberation” of mimetic desire works out:

“The expansion of human potential that [the revolutionaries] expect from the final, complete liberation of desire never turns out to be the triumph they expect. Either the liberated desire is channelled into competitive directions that, though enormously creative, are ultimately disappointing, or it simply ends up in sterile conflict and anarchic confusion, with a corresponding increase in the sense of anguish. There is good reason for this.

Modern people still fondly imagine that their discomfort and unease is a product of the strait-jacket that religious taboos, cultural prohibitions, and, in our day, even the legal forms of protection guaranteed by the judiciary system place upon desire. They think that once this confinement is over, desire will be able to blossom forth; it’s wonderful innocence will finally be able to bear fruit.

None of this comes true. To the extent that desire does away with the external obstacles that traditional society ingeniously established to keep it from spreading, the structural obstacle that coincides with the effects of mimesis–the living obstacle of the model that is automatically transformed into a rival–can very advantageously, or rather disadvantageously, take the place of the prohibition that no longer works. Men lose the kind of obstacle that is inert and passive, but at the same time beneficent and equal for all–the obstacle that for this reason could never really become humiliating or incapacitating. In place of this obstacle established by religious prohibition, they have to reckon increasingly with the kind of obstacle that is active, mobile and fierce–the model metamorphosed into a rival, interested in personally crossing them and well-equipped to do so.

The more people think that they are realizing the Utopias dreamed up by their desire–in other words, the more they embrace ideologies of liberation–the more they will in fact be working to reinforce the competitive world that is stifling them. But they do not realize their mistake; and continue to systematically confuse the type of external obstacle represented by the prohibition and the internal obstacle formed by the mimetic partner. They are like the fogs who became discontented with the King Log sent to them by Jupiter and, by importuning the gods with their cries of protest, obtained more and more satisfaction. The best method of chastising mankind is to give people all that they want on all occasions.

At the very moment when the last prohibitions are being forgotten, there are still any number of intellectuals who continue to refer to them as if they were more and more crippling. Alternatively, they replace the myth of the prohibition with one that evokes an omnipotent and omniscient ‘power’ that can be seen as yet another mythic transposition of the strategies of mimesis.


I do not think that we should mince our words. We must refuse all the scapegoats that Freud and Freudianism have offered to us: the father, the law, etc. We must refuse the scapegoats that Marx offers: the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, etc. We must refuse the scapegoats that Nietzsche offers: slave morality, the resentment of others and so on. All of modernism in its classic stage–with Marx, Nietzsche and Freud in the forefront–merely offers us scapegoats. But if individually every one of these thinkers is delaying the full revelation, their collective effect can only prepare for its coming; they prepare the way for the omnipresent victim, who has already been delayed from time immemorial by sacrificial processes that are now becoming exhausted, since they appear to be more and more transparent and less and less effective–and are proportionately more and more to be feared in the domains of politics and sociology. To make these processes effective once again, people are tempted to multiply the innocent victims, to kill all the enemies of the nation or the class, to stamp out what remains of religion or the family as the origins of all forms of ‘repression’, and to sing the praises of murder and madness as the only true forces of ‘liberation’.”

William Luse says:

February 21, 2016 at 1:22 am (Edit)

Thanks, C.A. I wish Girard would give specific examples. When he refers to “sacrificial processes that are now becoming exhausted,” is he talking about, say, the holy sacrifice of the mass? Or something else? I do see liberalism’s trajectory somewhat as follows: despite the “radicalized concern for victims,” the left will have to ultimately dispense with it in order to rid us of the non-favored groups, mainly Christians. It is an irony – liberalism’s compulsion to devour its own children – that they will never appreciate.

Re the last paragraph before the ellipses: “At the very moment when the last prohibitions are being forgotten, there are still any number of intellectuals who continue to refer to them as if they were more and more crippling.”

This I can make sense of. For example, you will have noticed that at a moment in history when it seems that racism as a widespread, institutional phenomenon has virtually disappeared, a new and more virulent protest movement arises to scream that Black Lives Matter. It occurred to me last year that the racial grievance industry will never go away. Ever. Liberalism cannot let go of its victim classes – women, illegal immigrants, the sexually disoriented – without losing its reason for existence. Even if the last Christian vestige is wiped out, even if no real victims exist, they will have to be invented, since human desire – if not channeled toward virtue – is a bottomless, yawning, hungry abyss with monsters at the bottom. I hope you pray for your country every day.

C.A. Sebacher says:

February 25, 2016 at 5:56 am (Edit)

Girard offers an example:

N.B. “a repugnant little pleasure machine.”

I’m tempted to scapegoat that Hanna in the comments.

C.A. Sebacher says:

February 27, 2016 at 7:44 pm (Edit)

“For Girard, the Cross proclaims the innocence of the victim and, in doing so, disables the mechanism by which all cultures had previously maintained peace – the unanimous murder of a victim whose death restores order and so reveals the victim as a god. Sacrifices and prohibitions instituted in the name of this victim/god are the substance, according to Girard, of all archaic religions. But this mechanism is gradually demystified in the Hebrew scriptures and then decisively unveiled in the New Testament, when God himself becomes the sacrifice – the last sacrifice because Christ’s voluntary and blameless submission exposes the terrifying trick by which Satan had formerly kept the peace and maintained his kingdom by allowing communities to disown, project and contain their own violence. This exposure initiates the apocalyptic logic that history will follow wherever the Gospel is introduced. Deprived of effective sacrifices, people face a choice: accept what Jesus calls the kingdom of heaven as the inspiration for their earthly existence or try to restore the effectiveness of sacrifice by ramping up the number of victims. He described this new situation bluntly in an interview with me:

‘The Apocalypse is not some invention. If we are without sacrifices, either we’re going to love each other or we’re going to die. We have no more protection against our own violence. Therefore, we are confronted with a choice: either we’re going to follow the rules of the Kingdom of God or the situation is going to get infinitely worse.’”

Leftist collectivities have been “ramping up the number of victims” for a hundred years, their thirst insatiate:

I pray for the children. Damn the adults.

William Luse says:

March 3, 2016 at 6:23 am (Edit)

That’s a good excerpt. I’ll read the links soon. Dealing with a death in the family right now.

C.A. Sebacher says:

March 18, 2016 at 7:49 pm (Edit)

Bill, here’s what’s happening:

“If men turn down the peace that Jesus offers them–a peace which is not derived from violence and that, by virtue of this fact, passes human understanding, the effect of the gospel revelation will be made manifest through violence, through a sacrificial and cultural crisis whose radical effect must be unprecedented since there is no longer any sacralized victim to stand in the way of its consequences. [Pagan cultures resolve mimetic crises by scapegoating, by murdering some poor fellow who's appointed guilty and who achieves sacred status because the ritual murder does the trick. The Christian revelation shows the victim innocent and thus disables the 'victimage mechanism'. What have we when we have no working victimage mechanism and no Christ? That's just what we have.] The failure of the Kingdom, from the viewpoint of the gospels, does not amount to the failure of the mission Jesus undertakes, but it does amount to the inevitable abandonment of the direct and easy way, which would be for all to accept the principles of conduct that he has stated. It is now necessary to turn to the indirect way, the one that has to bypass the consent of all mankind and instead pass through the Crucifixion and the Apocalypse. To sum up: the revelation is not impeded by the obstinate attachment to violence that the majority of men demonstrate since from now on this violence has become its own enemy and will end by destroying itself. The Kingdom of Satan, more than ever divided against itself, will be able to stand no longer. The only difference is that by remaining faithful to violence and taking its side, however little they may be aware of the fact, men have deferred the revelation once again and compelled it to take the terrible path of incalculable violence. It is upon men and men alone that responsibility falls for the tragic and catastrophic nature of the changes humanity is about to witness.”

Rieff’s “deconversion” of the West (“We are experiencing a gigantic intellectual expulsion of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition,” notes Girard) results in the Kafkaesque rejection of all meaning and is surely the final turning away (from Orwell’s “common decency” if you like) that necessitates the Apocalypse.

What more do you need to see, Bill, to see that the Apocalypse is not some old Jewish superstition?

We’ve entered the final mimetic crisis. It may well go on for several hundred years.

Or there may be a tipping-point in the offing.

Drink up and enjoy the show.

It’s fascinating!

And it’s all to the good.

William Luse says:

March 18, 2016 at 11:35 pm (Edit)

Drink up and enjoy the show.

I can’t. Too many innocents (the victims) will have a role to play, and not a happy one.

It may well go on for several hundred years.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. I’m not up for 10 years of resurgent barbarity, let alone several hundred. Why does the arc of the Good News have to find its fulfillment in catastrophe? Why are many called, but few chosen? Why – after the proclamation of the Kingdom – has the counsel to love thy neighbor as thyself not spread over the globe triumphant after being preached in all corners of the earth? How can any culture hear this story of God’s love for us and not recognize it as the longing of every human heart? Worse, how can they hear it, accept it, build entire societies upon its foundation, then weary of it and throw it over a cliff? How evil can we be? It’s all quite depressing.

William Luse says:

March 19, 2016 at 12:47 am (Edit)

I read the Cayley article. Illich fascinates with his contention that modern governmental entities’ perceived role as providers – as administrators of love with the power to command it – is a perversion of the parable of the Good Samaritan. And this line from Cayley himself: “The ability to disguise sin defines Anti-Christ.”

Pingback: Apocalypse now, I mean soon, well, eventually | Things Catholic (Edit)

C.A. Sebacher says:

March 19, 2016 at 8:46 pm (Edit)

“Hell begins when the heaven of childhood gives way to mimetic rivalry.”

Bill, Girard’s reading of the virgin birth might interest you:

“Everything that is born of the world and of the ‘flesh’, as the prologue to John’s gospel puts it, is tainted by violence and ends up by reverting to violence. Every man is the brother of Cain, who was the first to bear the mark of this original violence.

In innumerable episodes of mythological birth, the god copulates with a mortal woman in order to give birth to a hero. Stories of this kind always involve more than a hint of violence. Zeus bears down on Semele, the mother of Dionysus, like a beast of prey upon its victim, and in effect strikes her with lightning. The birth of the gods is always a kind of rape. In every case we rediscover various structural features [of the mimetic principle]. These monstrous couplings between men, gods, and beasts are in close correspondence with the phenomenon of reciprocal violence and its method of working itself out. The orgasm that appeases the god is a metaphor for collective violence…

No relationship of violence exists between those who take part in the virgin birth: the Angel, the Virgin, and the Almighty. No one here is playing the role of mimetic antagonist, no one becomes the fascinating obstacle that one is tempted to remove or shatter by violence.”

In the conception of our Lord the complete absence of mimetic violence, that is to say in plain English the complete absence of the sexual element, namely (“the Prince of this world–in other words, the mimetic principle” -A Theatre of Envy p. 230) Satan.

Girard’s case for chastity.

Eliot was wrong. We end with a bang.

C.A. Sebacher says:

April 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm (Edit)

When you get a chance, you ought to read what follows for orientation or

“More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.” -Rene Girard

From “Rusty” Reno’s essay linked below:

“In The Ethics of Rhetoric, Richard Weaver observed that certain words enter into public discourse surrounded with a plentitude of authority. They function as ‘god terms’ that organize and sanctify our cultural and political outlooks. By Rieff’s analysis, whether for good or ill, we cannot do without god terms. They are the truths that we serve rather than question, the imperatives we honor with obedience—or with disciplining self-accusations of guilt when we transgress. ‘Culture,’ writes Rieff in a transformation of Clauswitzian wisdom, ‘is a continuation of war by other—normative—means.’ On the fields of battle both social and psychological, god terms command. They draft the young into their service, fashioning personality into a weapon in the great ongoing struggle for world rule.

[Bill: I keep trying to tell you, pleonexia is the interpretive key.]

God terms must have a Moses, a voice that transliterates sacred order into a social order. The practices of transliteration constitute what Rieff calls the ‘aesthetics of authority.’ Traditional cultural practices— childrearing, education, politics, manners, literary and artistic taste, and more—are expressions, reinforcements, and illuminations of sacred order. From which hand to grasp the fork and knife to whether the majority ought to rule, the aesthetics of authority governs, and our imaginations are stamped and our souls fashioned along one or another axis of good and evil, beautiful and ugly, true and false. In this way, human life is brought into conformity with god terms. This process of transliteration constitutes everything we call culture. Its disruptions and failures as well as its continuities and successes are what provide the light and shadow of cooperation, conflict, and conscience that make the human animal a social being.

… In what Rieff calls the ‘first world’ of ancient, pagan culture, the world was crisscrossed by potencies both higher and lower than humanity, and cultural elites read the sacred order to produce strategies of managed equilibrium in a cosmos governed by fate. Against this ‘first world’ emerged the ‘second world’ of monotheism. A more aggressive and ambitious stance evolved, recruiting warriors of faith who set out to bring all things captive to the transcendent and undivided authority of the divine. The great monuments of Western culture, both orthodox and heterodox, sought to read God’s commandments ever more deeply into social and personal life. Protestant and Catholic fought over god terms, but they fought both about and out of loyalty to the sacred order.

The struggle that preoccupies Rieff in My Life Among the Deathworks is not, however, the great, timeless cultural project of transliterating the sacred order into social order. No longer fighting over which god terms to obey and how to obey them, we are now living through a Kulturkampf, a culture war that is sociological rather than theological. For the first time in human history, cultural elites now insist that we can flourish without sacred authority. Their goal is revolutionary—and by Rieff’s account, utterly unprecedented. ‘A culture of civility that is separated from sacred order has not been tried before,’ he warns. Like patients without hope of normal methods of cure, we are being dosed with untested medicines [!]. The age-old pain of life lived under the necessities of either first-world fate or second-world faith is now medicated by new anti-god terms that promise to help us to live for the sake…of life itself.”

It’s over, Bill.


“Puritanical and tyrannical as our ancestors may have been, their religious and ethical principles could be disregarded with impunity, and indeed they were and we can see the result. We are really on our own. The gods we give ourselves are self-generated in the sense that they depend entirely on our mimetic desire [!]. We thus re-invent masters more ferocious than the God of the most jansenist Christianity. As soon as we violate [any third culture imperative/PC commandment], we suffer all the tortures of hell and we find ourselves under a redoubled obligation [of PC penance], a deprivation more severe than any religion has ever imposed upon its adepts.


There is great irony in the fact that the modern process of stamping out religion produces countless caricatures of it. We are often told that our problems are due to our inability to shake off our religious tradition but this is not true. They are rooted in the debacle [downfall, collapse, disaster] of that tradition, which is necessarily followed by the reappearance in modern garb of more ancient and ferocious divinities rooted in the mimetic process.

[God Almighty.]

The neopaganism of our time…could recreate unanimity only through collective scapegoating, which cannot really occur, fortunately, in our world, because our notion of the human person, even degraded into radical individualism, prevents the reestablishment of a community founded on unanimous violence.”

Gentle Girard’s wrong just there, I think. For a good while now we’ve been sliding on the grease of illimitable erotic violence towards just such a community.

I think we’re just about there.

William Luse says:

April 2, 2016 at 3:11 am (Edit)

Although the violence may not yet be “unanimous,” we can point to contemporary examples that come close, events like the Baltimore and Ferguson riots and the spaghetti spines of university administrators who cater to their incessantly aggrieved student snowflakes. The lack of unanimity may be partly due to the fact that the government (at all levels) does so much of the heavy lifting.

So yes, I think Girard’s probably wrong while I hope that he isn’t.

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