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The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays

The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays

Paul Dumouchel
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  • Book Info
    The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays
    Book Description:

    First published in French in 1979, "The Ambivalence of Scarcity" was a groundbreaking work on mimetic theory. Now expanded upon with new, specially written, and never-before-published conference texts and essays, this revised edition explores René Girard's philosophy in three sections: economy and economics, mimetic theory, and violence and politics in modern societies. The first section argues that though mimetic theory is in many ways critical of modern economic theory, this criticism can contribute to the enrichment of economic thinking. The second section explores the issues of nonviolence and misrecognition (méconnaissance), which have been at the center of many discussions of Girard's work. The final section proposes mimetic analyses of the violence typical of modern societies, from high school bullying to genocide and terrorist attacks. Politics, Dumouchel argues, is a violent means of protecting us from our own violent tendencies, and it can at times become the source of the very savagery from which it seeks to protect us. The book's conclusion analyzes the relationship between ethics and economics, opening new avenues of research and inviting further exploration. Dumouchel's introduction reflects on the importance of René Girard's work in relation to ongoing research, especially in social sciences and philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-417-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    The first essay, which gives this collection its title, is the English translation of my contribution toL’enfer des choses: René Girard et la logique de l’économie, which Jean-Pierre Dupuy and I published in 1979. “The Ambivalence of Scarcity” is an attempt to apply mimetic theory to modern economics and to economic phenomena, but also to explain why economic issues and economics as a discipline occupy such an important place in the modern world. The “ambivalence” in the title refers to the fact that in many social and economic discourses, both political and academic, scarcity plays, or can play, a...


    • The Ambivalence of Scarcity
      (pp. 3-96)

      Economists and thinkers in the liberal tradition, such as Hume, Locke, and Malthus, generally explain violence, vice, and misery by a single cause: scarcity. This idea is very frequent in modern economic and social thought. It can also be found in Marx; the way it is expressed is different, but the idea is the same. InThe German Ideology, Marx and Engels say that the development of productive forces is a condition sine qua non for the end of the class struggle and advent of worldwide communism, for “without itwantis merely made general, and withdestitutionthe struggle...

    • Indifference and Envy: Girard and the Anthropological Analysis of Modern Economy
      (pp. 97-108)

      René Girard himself has not written very much on economics, at least explicitly, though his works are full of insights into and short remarks on the sacrificial origin of different economic phenomena or the way in which mimetic relations and commercial transactions are often intertwined and act upon each other.¹ Unlike religion, psychology, psychoanalysis, literature, and anthropology, the analysis of modern and traditional economies from the point of view of mimetic theory has never been carried out by Girard himself, but for the most part by other people—for example, in the French-speaking world, which I know best, essentially by...

    • A Mimetic Rereading of Helmut Schoeck’s Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour
      (pp. 109-126)

      In spite of its title, Helmut Schoeck’sEnvy: A Theory of Social Behaviour¹ does not so much constitute atheory of envyproperly speaking as an attempt to establish what could be called the case for envy. In fact, Schoeck’s book contains very little about envy from a theoretical point of view. He does tell us something about the origin of envy, about its cause and function within society, but everything he has to say about these topics accounts for less than 10 percent of his more than 400-page book. For example, Schoeck tells us, as far as its origin...

    • Homo mimeticus as an Economic Agent
      (pp. 127-138)

      InL’enfer des choses: René Girard et la logique de l’économieJean-Pierre Dupuy and I presented a mimetic reading of the modern economy.¹ Our goal was to apply Girard’s approach to understand the rise and development of the modern capitalist economy. For my part, that endeavor took the form of an inquiry into the notion of scarcity, one of the fundamental concepts of modern economic science. Or perhaps rather than a fundamental concept of economic science, it would be better to define scarcity as the “state of affairs” that is considered necessary in order for economic activity to take place....


    • Mimetism and Autonomy
      (pp. 141-154)

      After what has just been said, I think all that there remains for me to do is to try to sew John the Baptist’s head back onto the autonomy of the social, and show how the autonomy of society is related to the theories about autonomy that have been presented to us since the beginning of this colloquium.¹

      Before anything else, however, we have to clarify what we mean by the “autonomy of the social.” This expression has at least three meanings, which we will discuss one after the other this afternoon and tomorrow. They are ordered like successive stages...

    • Violence and Nonviolence
      (pp. 155-170)

      The following is a revised version of an article that was originally meant to be published inAlternatives non-violentes(ANV). In March 1979, that journal organized a roundtable with René Girard and four activists from theMouvement alternatives non violentes(MAN) on the possibility of effective nonviolent action in the political arena.¹ In July 1979, the editors of the journal asked me to write an article, note, and critical reaction to the roundtable and to a postscript written by another MAN activist, F. X. Verschave. All of these texts were to appear in a special issue on Girard.²

      Though the...

    • Differences and Paradoxes: Reflections on Love and Violence in Girard’s Work
      (pp. 171-180)

      “Like violence, love abolishes differences,” says René Girard inThings Hidden since the Foundation of the World.¹ Yet, clearly, if both love and violence abolish differences, love does not do soin the same way asviolence. Girard says that “love makes no distinctions between beings.”² In contrast, violence and mimetic desire not only mark and seek to mark differences, but re-mark differences even where there are none. Moreover, there is at least one difference that love does not abolish: the difference between love and violence. At least we have to claim this under the threat of no longer being...

    • Creation and Conversion in Girard
      (pp. 181-194)

      The question of creation and its relationship with mimesis in René Girard can be approached first through literary creation. Such an approach has a twofold advantage. First, it is faithful to Girard’s intellectual evolution, since he began his work with reflection on the relationships between mimetic desire and literary creation, specifically the novel, before turning toward anthropology and the question of cultural creation, in particular, religious creation. The second advantage, which is hidden in the first, is that it allows us to follow, at least a little, the evolution of the Girardian conception of mimesis.

      Indeed, in his first book,...

    • Mimetic Theory: Concepts and Models
      (pp. 195-208)

      René Girard is generally considered a writer with a doctrine, an author with sweeping theses of fundamental importance, such as, to name only a few, his theses on the origin and social function of violence, on the founding mechanism of human institutions, on the nature of the sacred, on the historical role of Christianity, and, finally, on the essence of human desire. This reading is not entirely incorrect, but I think it is incomplete. This is because these highly ambitious theses rest on a new conceptual apparatus that is, I believe, actually Girard’s major contribution to the human sciences. Yet...

    • “De la méconnaissance”
      (pp. 209-224)

      The idea ofméconnaissanceplays a major role in the work of René Girard. It is one of the central concepts of his mimetic theory.Méconnaissanceis at the heart of the mechanism that brings about the resolution to the mimetic crisis, and it is, according to him, a necessary condition for the success of this resolution. Because this self-regulating mechanism of violence is at the origin of human institutions,méconnaissanceremains present as a fundamental dimension of culture. There are, however, among those who are interested in mimetic theory numerous debates and disagreements concerningméconnaissance: What is it? What...


    • Hobbes: The Sovereignty Race
      (pp. 227-250)

      Bishop Bramhall suspected that a sordid story of murder lay upon the threshold of the Hobbesian contract. Whether this was rhetoric or intuition, Hobbes is certainly the social contract thinker closest to Girard. He is one of the rare philosophers who does not underestimate the role of violence in human affairs. He made society spring from a state of nature that is a state of war of all against all, and that state of war, insofar as it is revealing of certain features of human nature, determines the kind, form, and extent of political government. In Hobbes, there is no...

    • Ijime
      (pp. 251-258)

      In Japan, in particular in junior and senior high school, there is a violent phenomenon known in Japanese asijime, a term that could be translated as “bullying.” While the word may be culturally marked, the phenomenon it refers to is certainly universal. Bullying is a process through which a child becomes the victim of one or more of his or her classmates. A bully is a little brute, a person who pushes with his or her elbows, steps in front of others, and, generally, brutalizes his or her comrades for no reason, it seems, except because he or she...

    • From Scapegoat to God
      (pp. 259-274)

      How does the victim become god? According to Girard, it is through victimization, through the violence that is exerted against him or her that the victim is changed into a deity. That is the process through which violence is transmuted into the Sacred. It is the unanimous transfer of reciprocal enmity against a unique target that metamorphoses the scapegoat into an object of fear and veneration. Or at least so teachesViolence and the Sacred. But is this always the case? Is this epiphany of the victim a universal law of unanimous victimization? Does this extraordinary conversion of the cause...

    • Violence and Indifference
      (pp. 275-286)

      In a recent book,¹ Norman Geras suggests that we are bound by a contract of mutual indifference, but neither in the sense that such a contract took place in the past between members of our society nor in the sense that a contract of indifference is a hypothesis that can explain our behavior or a rational fiction that founds our rights. Rather, the contract would be in the sense that, given our way of acting toward one another, it can bemorally imputedto us. Geras’s point of departure is a simple factual observation, namely, of our general indifference to...

    • Mimetism and Genocides
      (pp. 287-300)

      At first sight, detailed descriptions of modern collective violence, especially political violence, such as pogroms, race riots, ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust and genocides, make these phenomena look very different from the mimetic crisis described in Girard’s theory. Indeed, almost all analyses of these forms of violence are consistent in that they acknowledge the importance of leaders, main political actors, specialists, and veritable agents of violence without whom the massacres would not have occurred and the events would have taken a completely different turn. Far from being spontaneous or the effect of contagion invading all of society, collective violence, according to...

    • Suicide Attacks: Military and Social Aspects
      (pp. 301-318)

      According to those who carry them out, suicide attacks result from a power imbalance. They are the weapons of the weak and the poor. Those who cannot afford the luxury of computer- and laser-guided smart bombs launched from high altitude instead send fighters ready to die carrying bombs to wherever they will have greatest impact.¹ From this point of view, suicide attacks are a second-best, a way of compensating for a technological and military disadvantage that is too great, a way of reestablishing a balance of power. In fact, this rebalancing supposes above all a shift in the location of...

    • Inside Out: Political Violence in the Age of Globalization
      (pp. 319-332)

      One characteristic of globalization that often goes unnoticed, perhaps because it is so evident, is that it has no outside. There is nowhere beyond, no place that can be viewed as an outer space, as a location that globalization has not reached. Globalization has no border that indicates that this is where it ends; rather, it closes upon itself like the globe whose shape it adopts. It is a house that you cannot leave. There is no other world that is further than, that is past globalization. There is no area where you can go that escapes its closure. Outside...

  8. Conclusion: Ethics, Economics, and the State
    (pp. 333-350)

    This book began with economics; it ends with politics. It opened with an analysis of scarcity as a means of protection against violence, while its last chapter is on political violence in the age of globalization. This end, however, brings us back to the beginning. As I have tried to argue elsewhere, modern politics as we have understood it since the seventeenth century, the theory and practice of the modern state as holder of the monopoly of legitimate violence, is rooted in the institution of scarcity,¹ which results from a transformation of the sacred initiated by Christian Revelation. The form...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 351-370)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 371-378)
  11. Index
    (pp. 379-383)