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Battling to the End

Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre

René Girard
Conversations with Benoît Chantre
Translated by Mary Baker
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Battling to the End
    Book Description:

    InBattling to the EndRené Girard engages Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Prussian military theoretician who wroteOn War. Clausewitz, who has been critiqued by military strategists, political scientists, and philosophers, famously postulated that "War is the continuation of politics by other means." He also seemed to believe that governments could constrain war.Clausewitz, a firsthand witness to the Napoleonic Wars, understood the nature of modern warfare. Far from controlling violence, politics follows in war's wake: the means of war have become its ends.René Girard shows us a Clausewitz who is a fascinated witness of history's acceleration. Haunted by the French-German conflict, Clausewitz clarifies more than anyone else the development that would ravage Europe.Battling to the Endpushes aside the taboo that prevents us from seeing that the apocalypse has begun. Human violence is escaping our control; today it threatens the entire planet.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-133-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Note on the Translation
    (pp. vii-viii)
    William A. Johnsen
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    René Girard

    This is a peculiar kind of book. It claims to be a study of Germany and French-German relations over the last two centuries. At the same time, it says things that have never before been said with the violence and clarity they require. Its subject is thepossibilityof an end to Europe, the Western world and the world as a whole. Today, this possibility has become real. This is an apocalyptic book.

    Until now, my entire work has been presented as a discussion of archaic religion through comparative anthropology. Its goal was to shed light on what is known...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Escalation to Extremes
    (pp. 1-26)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: René Girard, your work is based on literary criticism, the study of religion in archaic societies, and an anthropological rereading of the Gospels and the Jewish prophetic tradition. Nothing, in principle, destined you to become interested in the writings of a Prussian general who died in Berlin in 1831 amidst relative indifference. What sparked your interest in Carl von Clausewitz?

    René Girard: It happened relatively recently, through the discovery of an abridged American edition of his treatise,On War,and the sudden realization that the Prussian general, as you call him, had intuitions very similar to my own....

  6. CHAPTER 2 Clausewitz and Hegel
    (pp. 27-52)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: When you said that for Clausewitz Napoleon incarnated something other than the manifestation of Spirit in history, you suggested that Clausewitz was in opposition to Hegel, his exact contemporary. The worldwide rise of undifferentiation supports your thesis. It is a powerful intuition, so I would like us to go back to the triangle that links Napoleon as an ambivalent model to his two greatest interpreters, both of whom were at Jena in 1806 and died in Berlin in 1831.

    René Girard: You are asking me to take to its logical conclusion an intuition that came to me while...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Duel and Reciprocity
    (pp. 53-76)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: The discovery of the duel and the escalation to extremes has enabled you to anticipate what is at stake in our discussion: our ability to delay or even prevent catastrophe. Clausewitz himself seems to have been trying to do so. After having described the law of the trend to extremes, he tried to suggest a political definition of war. This is the only way we can make sense of the ending of Chapter 1 of his treatise, which closes with a definition of war as a blend of passions, calculation, and intelligence, “a remarkable trinity.”¹ This third and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Duel and the Sacred
    (pp. 77-108)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: Our discussion about Clausewitz sheds new light on another precept in the Gospels: “Love your enemies.” Once we have acknowledged that the Kingdom program has not been realized, this precept no longer means “make your enemies into friends,” which becomes the implicit rule of pacifism, but “respect rules of honor if you have to fight.” This is quite different. We can therefore see the distinction between a principle of adversariality and one of hostility. Hostility seeks to triumph over the opponent. By contrast, adversariality presupposes an honorable fight. Clearly, Clausewitz leans towards the former, and is drawn to...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Hölderlin’s Sorrow
    (pp. 109-136)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: When we dig a little deeper into the phenomenon of war as Clausewitz described it, we find that politics is part of violence, not violence part of politics. The institution of war did not elude violence, but tried to slow its escalation. We have seen that this institution no longer exists. Yet should we not keep trying to maintain this resistance?

    René Girard: Of course, but individual resistance to the escalation to extremes is essentially vain. The only way it might work is if it were collective, if all people stood “hand in hand,” as the song goes....

  10. CHAPTER 6 Clausewitz and Napoleon
    (pp. 137-156)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: In Clausewitz’s writings we have seen the twilight of a historical literature based on theexempla, even though he thought of himself as a little like Plato writingThe Republic, and would have liked to have been able to reform the Prussia that had resulted from the humiliation by Napoleon. His rational model nonetheless remained very abstract. Clausewitz’s real model was a historical figure, and he could not prevent himself from clinging to it. His conception of heroism suffered in consequence, since it was unable to resist this magnetism.

    René Girard: Indeed, we constantly see a mimetic model...

  11. CHAPTER 7 France and Germany
    (pp. 157-194)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: In the course of our discussion, Clausewitz has appeared to us as a writer who went beyond the boundaries of his discipline. His treatise relates to more than the military, and at times touches on literature and anthropology. The wayOn Warfocuses on Napoleon places us at the heart of the European problem: French-German relations. Stylistic questions, while they interested Clausewitz, did not prevent him from falling into what you call “romantic lies,” namely, unavowed imitation of a single model. We have thus situated Clausewitz in a history of desire, intensification of mimetism as the driving force...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Pope and the Emperor
    (pp. 195-210)
    Benoît Chantre and René Girard

    Benoît Chantre: In the realm of contingent wars in which we are immersed, there is thus an essential war: truth’s war against violence. You say that truth has flushed violence out. To use Clausewitz to criticize Hegel, and Hegel to criticize Clausewitz, is to get closer to apocalyptic reason and see that the person whose “successful career” we need to watch is not whom we thought. He is not the “god of war” or the “world spirit” admired at Jena, but a ghostly figure that has for a time been hidden by the empire’s darkness. I am of course thinking...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-218)

    If we follow our line of reasoning right to the end, if we take our analysis of a now global escalation to extremes to its logical conclusion, we have to consider the complete novelty of the situation since September 11, 2001. Terrorism has raised the level of violence up a notch again. This phenomenon is mimetic and opposes two crusades, two forms of fundamentalism. George W. Bush’s “just war” has revived that of Muhammad, which is more powerful because it is essentially religious. However, Islamism is only one symptom of a trend to violence that is much more global. It...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 219-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-237)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 238-238)