The Wicker Man of the Pagan Celts
Gregory Copley has argued in his study of Un-Civilization (2014) that the global human arrangement, a creeping improvisation of the last three or four centuries, nowadays has outlived its ad hoc semi-functionality so that it totters on the verge of a radical spontaneous reconstruction whose survivors will have experienced it as nothing less than a catastrophe. Eric Cline, in his recent study of The Year Civilization Collapsed (2014), underscores the likelihood of such a calamity as the one that Copley predicts. Cline marshals the details of an archaeologically attestable prototype of “systems collapse” that occurred around the date 1177 BC when a vast swath of the civilized Eastern Mediterranean literally went up in flames, inaugurating a “dark age” that in some places lasted four hundred years. That it has happened increases the possibility that it might happen. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, like Copley and Cline, is a student of crises, but unlike them he is primarily a religious thinker, one who takes seriously the insights of the man whom he calls the Albert Einstein of Twentieth-Century social science, René Girard. Dupuy’s title, The Mark of the Sacred (2008; English, 2013), recalls the title of Girard’s seminal Violence and the Sacred (1966; English, 1972). In that work, Girard discovered, in myth, ritual, and tragic poetry, the signs of a “sacrificial crisis” ubiquitously and regularly afflicting archaic societies. In the sacrificial crisis, the social group suffers structural breakdown in rampant, violent mimesis or imitation that resolves itself through the production of an arbitrarily selected victim; the victim’s immolation then promotes him to godhead and generates the basic forms of culture.
One might think analogously of the basic architecture of the pyramid in relation to death-by-stoning: The former results from the latter, concealing the victim under an aesthetically pleasing form that dissimulates its own origin.
As Girard sees it, and as Dupuy reiterates, this “scapegoat mechanism” made humanity, but it also entrapped humanity in the closed epistemology, gory practice, and mendacious rhetoric, stomach-churning to inspect, of the sacred. In Girard’s argument, which Dupuy again adopts, people could not begin to escape the delusion of the sacred until the decisive event of Christ’s Passion, as recorded in the four Gospels. In The Mark of the Sacred, Dupuy explores the implications of this – to him – persuasive view. Those implications entail, among other things, a reassessment of existing normative models of economics, political theory, cognitive science, and, indeed, modernity’s total view of itself. The prideful, deforming error of modernity, as Dupuy demonstrates in a series of five topically various but logically closely-related chapters, is to believe fanatically in its own claim to be thoroughly and justifiably secular, thus licensing itself to reject everything that it categorizes as religious or irrational. In itself, Dupuy’s case is hardly unprecedented. Among others and as early as the beginning of the Nineteenth Century S. T. Coleridge and Joseph de Maistre identified the Revolution, that declaration of an absolute break with all tradition, as essentially religious, but as by no means an advance beyond the Christianity that it condemned. Yet Dupuy, assimilating Girard, takes this argument in new directions.