A reader comments:
Paging Girard. But of course this precisely how Trump functions. The immolation of the conservative evangelicals will be the catalyst for the immolation of liberal modernity itself.
I wondered how the Nashville Statement fit in with the eclipse and the hurricanes. Now I know.
He’s referring to the scapegoat theory of the late René Girard. Here is an explanation of the role the scapegoat plays in Girard’s broader theory (for an explanation of which, see here):
Q. What is scapegoating?
A. Scapegoating is an unusual phenomenon because we recognize it when we see it in others, but never in ourselves. Other people’s scapegoats appear to be innocent victims, falsely accused of wrongdoing, and that is indeed what they are. But our own scapegoats appear to us as guilty evildoers who deserve our hatred and the punishment we righteously mete out against them. We always see the innocence of other people’s scapegoats but never our own. That is why we are all always at risk of harming an innocent person or group without ever realizing it.
Q. How does a community benefit from scapegoating?
A. Scapegoating is the age-old way of finding relief from the internal conflict caused by mimetic rivalry. A scapegoat is blamed for the group’s disorder and when they are expelled or killed, peace returns. Here’s how it works: While the community is consumed with conflict, there are many small quarrels and conflicts, many accusations flying around. But when one person makes an accusation that is repeated and imitated, spreading like a contagion through the entire community, soon all are united behind the same accusation, against the same scapegoat. In this sense, Girard says that the scapegoat is arbitrarily chosen – why is this accusation imitated and not that one? Because it doesn’t matter, really. Any scapegoat will do because the goal is not to actually solve the problems that triggered the conflict, but to allow the group to discharge its resentment and hostility safely, in a way that unifies the community instead of destroying it.
Once there is unanimity against the scapegoat, the community forgets their own moral shortcomings and frustrations with each other. They now share a common cause—eliminate the one they now believe has caused all this trouble—which creates unity and social cohesion, for everyone except the scapegoat! Girard calls this “unanimity minus one” and is the shorthand formula for scapegoating. By the way, the ancient Hebrews were so suspicious of unanimity minus one, that if someone was accused of a crime and the verdict was unanimous, the accused was set free!
Q. What are the characteristics of a scapegoat?
A. The importance of the scapegoat is that it ends conflict due to mimetic rivalry by uniting others against it. For conflicted persons or groups to unite against a scapegoat, they must be able to identify personally to some extent with the scapegoat, but they must not identify so much that they rise to his defense. The scapegoat has certain traits that isolate him or her at the margins of society. He must have no family, friends or social connections who will argue on his behalf or seek to avenge his death. In this way, victimizing the scapegoat does not lead to social reprisals, which would escalate the conflict. History reveals the tendency of a majority in society to scapegoat a marginalized minority because of cultural, gender, physical and/or religious differences.
On the other hand, the scapegoat does not necessarily have to be weak. The main point is that the scapegoat is isolated with few defenders. Often a frenzied crowd can turn against powerful members of a society, such as a king, military general or president who can easily be blamed for all of society’s ills. A rebellion or coup then takes place.
Even more interesting, a scapegoat can actually be guilty of a crime and still function as a scapegoat. Scapegoating is not a question of innocence or guilt according to the law. If a community is establishing unity, discharging resentment, or concealing the true origins of their conflict by uniting against someone or some group, then it is a case of scapegoating whether or not the scapegoat is actually guilty of breaking the law. Because a scapegoat is a scapegoat by virtue of being innocent of the charge that they are the cause of the community’s problems. Guilty of a crime yet innocent of the community’s problems – that’s a real possibility when it comes to scapegoating.
Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.
The reader’s prediction, in part, is that Trump will attempt to restore order (or at least his perceived position) by making a Girardian scapegoat of Evangelicals who supported him. I’d say this is probably going to happen. It won’t be successful, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try it, and that doesn’t mean that the mob he wants to appease won’t accept the sacrifice. It will not restore him, though.
What the reader means by this sacrifice being the catalyst for the immolation of liberal modernity, I don’t know. I’m interested in learning.