Analysis of The Sign of The Cross by Rene Girard

This article was referred by a friend of mine and when I said I wasn’t sure that I understood the author’s premise / conclusions, my friend gave an incredible response that I am pleased to share with you:

Some background on where I think he is coming from.  For almost all of human history the standard state of affairs has been tyranny and poverty.  That’s the default.  Books that explore this are Walls, The Art Of Not Being Governed, and also author Richard Maybury.

In a few times and few places there has been such a thing as progress.  This takes place only under certain very rare conditions: private property rights, the rule of law, and liberty.

The historically sudden emergence of science and modern technology happened in western Europe.  Guns, Germs and Steel describes this.  Some books that explore reasons for this are The Discovery of Freedom  The Mainspring of Human Progress  The God Of The Machine  and The 5,000 Year Leap   We’re not talking so much about gunpowder, paper, and luxuries for a ruling class as about jet engines, women doctors and engineers, and a real middle class.  Now the economic progress of western society seems to have slowed or stopped.

So the primary point/observation/argument is why was there progress and why has it stopped?  It’s not so much about the necessary externalities of rule of law, private property, and freedom as about what is the necessary mindset of a population in order for these externalities to come about?

In most places, like Egypt or Africa, only two systems are possible.  Chaos or tyranny.  The populace doesn’t have a mindset that would support liberty.  (See Richard Maybury, Theodore Dalrymple).

I just finished a book by George Orwell about the Spanish civil war.  The factions were Franco’s fascists on one side, and a coalition of communists, socialists, and anarchists on the other.  Orwell commented that everyone knew the end of the war would bring a dictatorship.  They were all fighting to see who would control it.  Liberty was not perceived as an option.  Since the losing faction would be purged (rounded up, jailed, tortured, executed, etc) they were all motivated to fight very hard.

Rene Girard is not exactly arguing that monotheism of the Christian variety is a solution.  He is arguing that the values embodied in Christ are a necessary prerequisite for liberty, and that without those values and beliefs being accepted and supported within a society, liberty is not possible.

Our society was formed with internalized Christian belief.  Things like sharing, taking care of others, placing the source of authority outside of humanity, and even the belief that there is such a thing as external truth are all Christian ideas.  We are steeped in it.  We just know it.  We used to know why we knew these things but now we don’t.  With the advent of ethical relativism, deconstructionism, and modern philosophy the Christian basis of our liberty is being methodically destroyed as we head back to the norm of tyranny and poverty.

Freedom is necessary but not sufficient.  Give a tribal people freedom and they will re-organize themselves tribally.  If the people don’t believe in private property, without tyranny they will steal.  If we don’t believe in helping the needy or dependent they will die.

The link is a discussion about the most fundamental roots of freedom.  Hope that helps! -J.O.

The original article:

The Sign of the Cross