Girard is well-acquainted with current events, particularly in his discussion of modern victimism. Our concern for victims, he proposes, is a stunning new development of civilization:
Since the High Middle Ages all the great human institutions have evolved in the same direction: more humane private and public law, penal legislation, judicial practice, the rights of individuals. …
When viewed in terms of the large picture, this social and cultural evolution goes always in the same direction, toward the mitigation of punishment, greater protection for potential victims. …
Every day we cross new thresholds. When a catastrophe occurs at some spot on the globe, the nations that are well off feel obligated to send aid or to participate in rescue operations.
You may say these gestures are more symbolic than real and reflect a concern for prestige. No doubt, but in what era before ours and under what skies has international mutual aid constituted a source of prestige for nations? (166)
What has caused this?
From one country to the other the sudden turns of fortune are different, but they cannot conceal the true origin of our modern concern for victims; it is quite obviously Christian.
Humanism and humanitarianism develop first on Christian soil. (163)
Nietzsche, that great enemy of Christianity,
to discredit the Jewish-Christian revelation, tries to show that its commitment to the side of victims stems from a paltry, miserable resentment.
Observing that the earliest Christians belonged primarily to the lower classes, he accuses them of sympathizing with victims so as to satisfy their resentment of the pagan aristocrats.
This is the famous “slave morality.” (173)
I’ll deal with the more general aspects of modern victimism in the next post. Here let me just say that there is a grain of truth in the Nietzsche’s critique.
The idea that under capitalism one cannot succeed without victimizing others is at the core of the PC movement. Of course, Mises saw all this more clearly in 1956 than most do even today:
In order to console himself and to restore his self-assertion, such a man is in search of a scapegoat. He tries to persuade himself that he failed through no fault of his own. He is at least as brilliant, efficient, and industrious as those who outshine him.
Unfortunately, this nefarious social order of ours does not accord the prizes to the most meritorious men; it crowns the dishonest, unscrupulous scoundrel, the swindler, the exploiter, the “rugged individualist.” What made himself fail was his honesty. He was too decent to resort to the base tricks to which his successful rivals owe their ascendancy.
As conditions are under capitalism, a man is forced to choose between virtue and poverty on the one hand, and vice and riches on the other. He, himself, thank God, chose the former alternative and rejected the latter.
This search for a scapegoat is an attitude of people living under the social order which treats everybody according to his contribution to the well-being of his fellow men and where thus everybody is the founder of his own fortune. In such a society each member whose ambitions have not been fully satisfied resents the fortune of all those who succeeded better.
The fool releases these feelings in slander and defamation. The more sophisticated do not indulge in personal calumny. They sublimate their hatred into a philosophy, the philosophy of anti-capitalism, in order to render inaudible the inner voice that tells them that their failure is entirely their own fault.
Their fanaticism in defending their critique of capitalism is precisely due to the fact that they are fighting their own awareness of its falsity. (Anticapitalistic Mentality, 11-12)
He continues this line of reasoning in his analysis of the phenomenon of detective stories:
Now this [detective story] reader is the frustrated man who did not attain the position which his ambition impelled him to aim at. As we said already, he is prepared to console himself by blaming the injustice of the capitalist system. He failed because he is honest and law-abiding. His luckier competitors succeeded on account of their improbity; they resorted to foul tricks which he, conscientious and stainless as he is, would never have thought of.
If people only knew how crooked these arrogant upstarts are! Unfortunately, their crimes remained hidden and they enjoy an undeserved reputation. But the day of judgment will come… (42)
It should be obvious that being outcompeted by a producer of a better mousetrap does not make one into a victim. Still earlier, Mises argues:
Marxism promises a Paradise on earth, a Land of Hearts’ Desire full of happiness and enjoyment, and — sweeter still to the losers in life’s game — humiliation of all who are stronger and better than the multitude.
Logic and reasoning, which might show the absurdity of such dreams of bliss and revenge, are to be thrust aside. (Socialism, 17)
Eric Hoffer, too, writes: “The ideal of self-advancement which the civilizing West offers to backward populations brings with it the plague of individual frustration. All the advantages brought by the West are ineffectual substitutes for the sheltering and soothing anonymity of a communal existence.” (True Believer, §33)
In short, as will soon become clear, modern victimism has opposed charity and natural law or grace and nature by falsely accusing the latter of oppression and injustice.