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Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre

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ISBN-13: 978-0870138775
ISBN-10: 0870138774
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Paperback, December 15, 2009
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About the Author

Ren� Girard is a member of the French Academy and Emeritus Professor at Stanford University. His books have been translated and acclaimed worldwide. He received the Modern Language Association's Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement in 2008.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Michigan State University Press (December 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0870138774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0870138775
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Sally K. Severino on February 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have long been interested in Rene Girard's mimetic theory. His discussion of it in this book is well worth the read. His theory emphasizes the role of imitation in our lives. Mimesis, he says, is the way we learn and acquire culture. It is also the basis of all human conflict in that, through mimesis, we desire what another has. To the extent that desiring what another has results in fighting over that possession, violence erupts. A way out of the violence is to join together against an outsider. This resolution of conflict through public sacrifice of a scapegoat, Girard contends, is the foundation of all archaic religions and civilizations. People unite against the scapegoat, the victim is sacrificed, and harmony is restored.
A scapegoat succeeds as long as people believe in its guilt. The problem today is that the ancient formula no longer works. Girard attributes this to Christianity. Since the crucifixion of Jesus, everyone knows that the victim is innocent.Paradoxically, the Passion freed both holiness and violence. In Girard's words, "Freed from sacrificial constraints, the human mind invented science, technology and all the best and worst of culture. Our civilization is the most creative and powerful ever known, but also the most fragile and threatened because it no longer has the safety rails of archaic religion. Without sacrifice in the broad sense, it could destroy itself if it does not take care, which clearly it is not doing."
My fascination with Girard's theory derives from my understanding of recent neuroscientific findings about human beings that are consistent with mimethic theory. These findings include:
Neuroanatomy - humans are created with mirror neurons and right brain hemispheres that can mediate mimesis.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Martin on March 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am neither a Christian nor a Girardian; however, I very much appreciate the insights of both. I have long been impressed with Girard's Christian anthropological understanding of human history but had wondered how (and indeed if) he could apply that understanding to our thoroughly secularized postmodern world. This book does just that. However, as a non-Christian, this book leads me to considerations that our author could never support. But first a word about Girard and his brilliant book.

Girard began his career with a theory of Mimetic Desire. Not only do we all desire, but we desire what others desire. This leads to conflict. The ancient world resolved this conflict through the mechanism of the scapegoat. One individual is publicly sacrificed so the community might live in (an always temporary) peace. But the Crucifixion ends all that. Today we all know that the scapegoats are innocent. ...So, why aren't we living in Paradise?

That is the tale that this book tells. In these conversations Girard maintains that Clausewitz glimpsed the 'demoniacal' evil of secular progress not as peace, but as war, not without end, but rather as war to the bitter end. - As in the end of us all. I have just recently purchased this and am quite impressed. I know that I was not alone in wondering if Girard could bring his understanding of ancient religious (or mythical) sacrifice, mimesis, violence, and Christianity into the modern world. This book does just that. In a nutshell, it was the Apocalypse itself that Clausewitz glimpsed in his study of modern war. Of course, later commentators paper this over. (Girard is thinking mostly of Raymond Aron and Liddell Hart here.) But it is just this 'Apocalyptic turn' of the Enlightenment project that Girard intends to 'shout to the mountaintops'.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Pierre Whalon on November 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
At last, this magisterial book is available in English. All readers who wish to understand the underlying causes of terrorist violence need to read this: military, clergy, philosophers, scholars of many stripes, and the Average Non-fiction Reader.

I wrote a review of the original French text, which I partially quote below (in English):

In Achever Clausewitz, Girard seeks to "finish" Clausewitz, an intentional double entendre. Clausewitz glimpsed in his thinking the possibility of wars of total annihilation, replacing the "wars in lace" (guerres en dentelle) of earlier times. The phrase "Messieurs les Anglais, tirez les premiers" ("Gentlemen of England, fire first") from the battle of Fontenoy in 1745 is the classic (if inexact) example of this codified and ritualized warfare. After the French Revolution with its masses of conscript soldiers, the restraints of the old system were gradually thrown off. The specter of a war of annihilation, without rhyme or reason, became apparent.

For Clausewitz, this absolute war is a theoretical possibility, though his treatise, which he re-worked several times while never completing it, argues that war can never actually get to that point. His notion of war is that of a duel (Zweikraft) akin to a wrestling match, and a war is a congeries of these "duels." For Girard, absolute war has now become a daily possibility, if not certainty, with the capacity we now possess to destroy the planet. The apocalyptic literature found in the New Testament especially is not predictive of the final cataclysm, he says. Rather, it is "Christianity predicting its own failure", he declares provocatively, "the only religion ever to do so.
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