I’m on Ch. 8 of Girard’s book, and I am still having trouble understanding the connection between the “founding murder” and human civilization.

Girard suggests that “collective violence is the founding mechanism of sovereign states.” (95) This is entirely true; the state is the first most crucial invention of man. It’s what enabled the transformation of violence from “all against all” to “all / the state against one / a single victim.” With time, this violence became more and more rationalized.

But there is more to it: the “sign of Cain is the sign of civilization. It is the sign of the murderer protected by God.” (85) Perhaps the violence of the state is somehow tamed. It comes along with protections of the criminal, even one who has committed murder, such as due process, separation of powers, jury trial, the various rights of the accused, and so on.

I mean that in our primitive past it was possible for a person to point the finger at some miserable wretch or misfit and say, “You know why there is a plague / bad harvest / defeat in a battle / whatever? He is responsible. Kill him, and the curse will be lifted.” Presumably, we moderns don’t do this sort of thing, at least not consciously.

How irritating therefore that the author has not distinguished between just and unjust violence, between punishment duly allotted / well-deserved and mere blind fiery vengeance, or between lawful and unlawful sacrifices.

For example, people are “sacrificed” for the sake of society all the time, and rightly so.

Businessman Smith produces mousetraps. Jones invents a better mousetrap and puts Smith out of business. Smith’s welfare is sacrificed on the altar of consumer sovereignty, greatest good for the greatest number, and economic progress.

A judge is informed that the crime rate in his city has risen. He decides to throw the book at the next condemned criminal in order to deter future crime. The judge has and uses discretion, such as 2-8 years in jail lawfully; he imposes the maximum punishment on the next hapless unfortunate thief in order to bring about a socially valuable end. The end of lower crime rate justifies the means of extra suffering of the criminal.

A Catholic priest refuses to baptize an illegitimate child. The reason is not to punish the children but to discourage illegitimacy. If parents know that the Church will not baptize their children unless the parents are married, then this presents a potentially weighty incentive for them, indeed, to marry. The children who are not baptized are thereby sacrificed for the sake of society — or for the sake of order and propriety.

It cannot then be the essence of injustice that a “group” kills an “individual,” because a group can kill an individual justly, and at the same time an individual can harm society unjustly.

To imitate C.S. Lewis, it is no virtuous act not to sacrifice a man to the gods if you think that the gods do not exist. It’s an advance in scientific knowledge than nature gods do not exist, and an advance in religious doctrine that demon-gods do not need to be appeased, but it’s not a moral advance. Imagine a dark fantasy world explicitly ruled by bloodthirsty demons. Perhaps the practice of human sacrifice would be the only way for humanity to survive.

Perhaps the idea that human sacrifice was stopped upon the Incarnation has to do with the specific mission of each person of the Trinity. The Father concerns Himself with the entire world; the Holy Spirit with the union of humanity through love; and the Son, with each individual. Thus, the Incarnation changed the cosmic order of things by imparting enormous dignity and value to each individual person, whose eternal destiny now can no longer be arbitrarily sacrificed for any temporal end. Even then, however, God might lawfully exercise providence so as to trade off human happiness interpersonally.


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