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Violence and the Sacred


In this season of Advent, a special edition of Uncommon Knowledge.

Born on Christmas Day, 1923 in Avignon, René Girard is an historian, literary critic, philosopher, and anthropologist. Girard’s books, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages, include Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Violence and the Sacred, and I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning. Achever Clausewitz, Girard’s most recent volume, has just been published in the United States as Battling to the End. Those who have acknowledged an intellectual debt to Girard include figures as varied as the late Henri Cardinal de Lubac, one of the most important theologians of the last century; Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury; and Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France.

Girard, theologian Edward Oakes wrote not long ago, “is the direct opposite of that sad figure in George Eliot’s masterpiece Middlemarch, the Rev. Mr. Casaubon, who spent his whole adult life pathetically trying to complete a ‘Key to All Mythologies,’ a project that brought both him . . . to ruin. But Girard has pulled it off. . . . Here we do have a key to all mythologies.”

Today, the essential Girard — his views on the nature of desire and the sources of human conflict.

Man will always fight with his fellow man. They fight because they are both moving toward the same thing. And these things are never sufficient in number.

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