Friday, February 3, 2017

Rene Girard on the False Promise of Modernity

Great novelists, however, such as Stendhal, Proust, and Dostoyevsky, show the truly negative nature of the modern project: “In the eyes of the novelist, modem man suffers, not because he refuses to become fully and totally aware of his autonomy, but because that awareness, whether real or illusory, is for him intolerable.”[1] But they also show that modern man is very good at deceiving himself. He sees that the promise of autonomous fullness is not realized in himself, but he continually finds others in whom he suspects it is being fulfilled:
Each individual discovers in the solitude of his consciousness that the promise is false but no one is able to universalize his experience. The promise remains true for Others. Each one believes that he alone is excluded from the divine inheritance and takes pains to hide this misfortune. Original sin is no longer the truth about all men as in a religious universe but rather each individual’s secret…[2]
The contrast between the pre-modern “religious universe,” and modernity is important. In more Christian times, it could be recognized that the emptiness and misery of man were the products of original sin, and thus common to all, but in the age of secular humanism the experience of nothingness is a shameful secret. We can see here a reason for the infinity of desire that Girard does not make fully explicit: desire (especially in its modern form) is the desire to be God. God is therefore the ultimate rival, and desire includes an implicit hatred of God.



1. René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1965), 159

2. Ibid., 57.


Source: Edmund Waldstein, "Desire, Deicide, and Atonement: René Girard and St. Thomas Aquinas," Sancrucensis blog, May 12, 2016, accessed February 2, 2017, 

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