Saturday, September 08, 2007

Politics & Apocalypse - Robert Hamerton-Kelly

As Athos' post Cassandras -- Keep It Up brought on an avalanche of comments regarding Islam and Christianity I thought I would takes us back to an article (link here) by one of mimetic theory's authority, Robert Hamerton-Kelly summarizing a meeting held in Stanford the week of July 12, 2004. The object of the conference was "to discuss current affairs with Rene Girard in a leisurely and thorough way..." One of the organizers, Peter "Thiel believes that the event of 9/11 reveals that our Western political philosophy can no longer deal with our world of emerging global violence - 'the brute facts of September 11 demand re-examination of the foundations of modern politics.'"

I, Aramis, bring this paper to our attention for a number of reasons, but one is to challenge ourselves, as the paper did, to not get trapped in our Western political philosophy in trying to grope for meaning at what is happening in the world today. Granted, mimetic theory stretches our comfort zones and pushes our intellectual processes beyond the university sheepskin, but MT has tremendous powers to help our blurred comprehension see what is going out of focus as well as what is coming into to focus. Political philosophy is generally static and potentially burdensome, as the paper will bring out, though it has produced some great feats of intellectual and structural fruits, but in the end and on its own it will prove out to be barren.

Ironically, the sacred violence of jihadist Islam, which believes it is strengthening its sacral foundation, is in fact sawing at the branch on which the religion sits. Suicidal violence no longer confirms the fundamental distinction but rather erases it, and deals crippling blows to the system of good violence that is supposed to control bad violence. The violence that no longer heeds the distinction between life and death might indeed be fatal to the sacrificial mechanism, which like an ancient automobile is shaking itself to bits on rocky roads. The beginning of the apocalyptic end might be upon us, and a gigantic sacrificial crisis breaking out.
So mimetic theory leaves us with a vision of a long lasting, universal social and cultural structure of sacred violence, based on the working of the surrogate victim ruse, now re-entering the great sacrificial crisis of the original period and thus disintegrating into cultural and social confusion and more and more uncontrolled violence. The fact that Islam is the current vanguard of this crack up can be no surprise, since monotheism is the first and most effective blow against the pagan sacrificial order, and every great religion is great to the extent that it decodes its own mythology of sacred violence. In doing this, the great religions disclose the ruse and render it progressively ineffectual, thus weakening the traditional religious control of violence. Islam has reached a new extreme of this process and by destroying itself as a religion is ultimately saving itself as a faith, if indeed it is the true faith. If not it is simply destroying itself.

Islam in the throes of an advancing sacrificial crisis, indicated by the emergence in it of suicide as a virtue where it has traditionally been a sin, makes the world wait in vain for a representative and authoritative condemnation of murder by suicide. When will the leadership, however fragmented, emphatically and repeatedly announce that those who do such things are not Muslims but pagans and are going not to paradise but to hell? We wait in vain for such transparency and cannot shake the suspicion that Islam does not speak out because it affirms the violence of the sacred and is by mimetic standards nothing but a mode of pagan sacrifice, blaming the scapegoat and purchasing internal unity with the blood of the external enemy. This last, desperate attempt to make the mechanism work is already uniquely undermined by the suicidal, self-sacrificial erasure of the first distinction between the mob and the victim, between life and death. Where the mob kills itself for the sake of itself, the logic of the ruse has entered a stage of terminal decay, and sacrificial structure will soon be utterly unable to control violence. This is the sign that the latter days of the present world are upon us.

I do not mean that soon the stars will fall from the night sky and the moon be washed in blood, the dragon arise from the lake of fire and the wicked be tortured by God; no, I mean simply that the present global order is in a process of deep transformation and the outcome is uncertain. The old order is collapsing and sacrifice can no longer stop the crisis of disorder or hold it up. The USA with all its military power, which I regard as a prime instance of good violence, cannot bring order in Iraq, which is a sign of this historical stage of advanced sacrificial failure, an apocalypse indeed.
I have added the link to this article in our side panel under Mimetic Theory & Rene Girard to the list of other fine articles that we here at the Three Mass'keteers recommend that you check out.

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