Eric GansCorresponding author

René Girard and the Deferral of Violence

23/2 – Fall 2018, pages 155-170
Date of online publication: 30 October 2019
Date of publication: 30 October 2019


René Girard’s anthropology goes beyond Durkheim and Freud in seek- ing knowledge in literary, mythical, and religious texts. Girard’s primary intuition is that human culture originated in response to the danger of violent mimetic crises among increasingly intelligent hominins, whose imitation of each other’s desires led to conflict. These crises were resolved by the mechanism of emissary murder: the proto-human community came to focus its aggression on a single scapegoat whose unanimous lynching, by “miraculously” bringing peace, led to its ritual rep- etition in sacrifice. Because this theory fails to found the signs of human language and worship on the deferral of spontaneous action, Girard can only attribute the internal peace necessary to the human community to the exhaustion of violent aggression. Instead, generative anthropology proposes that, beginning from the premise that the need to control internecine violence was the source of the human, an appropriative gesture toward an object of common desire, deferred out of fear of violence, becomes understood as a sign of the object’s sacred/interdicted status, after which it can be peacefully divided among the group. Following this originary event, the sacred/signifying universe of language and religion gradually comes to include the totality of human activity.


Cite this article

Gans, Eric. “René Girard and Deferral of Violence.” Forum Philosophicum 23, no. 2 (2018): 155–70. doi: 10.35765/forphil.2018.2302.09.