Notecard: On kings and sacrifices

"The truth is that Girard has always operated in a strange middle space, halfway between an academic and the kind of person who used to send long typewritten screeds to his local paper about the true age of the pyramids. Yet Girard is worth taking seriously: not in his more modest moments, but precisely at his most crankish. Converting him into a mainstream thinker would end up tearing out much of what made him worthwhile. All of his most startling insights are also slightly mad: that politics is human sacrifice by other means. That art and culture were born from torture. That the cruellest episodes in history occurred because your innermost desires are not really so internal, and everything about you is taken from someone else. And until we recognize this deadly drive, those episodes are always capable of repeating themselves.

Consider Girard’s account of the origins of political power. If so much of history is the history of the mob, where did kings come from? Girard concludes that they must have once been designated sacrifices. Leaders have a numinous aura; they are separated from the rest of society; they resolve conflict. Eventually we stopped sacrificing our kings—but if you sometimes feel like you want to tear politicians to shreds with your bare hands, it’s because that was their original purpose."

from Overwhelming and Collective Murder: The grand, gruesome theories of René Girard by Sam Kriss via Harper's Magazine
"Besides its contractual character, another characteristic feature of Sulawesi kingship was that rulers were perceived as outsiders to the community – typically by virtue of foreign and/or divine origin, sometimes perhaps also as a result of sickness or physical abnormality. Stranger-kingship enhanced the effectiveness of the social contract by making the ruler easier for his people to discipline or depose if necessary, and harder for them to envy or hate, as well as more objective and impartial in his own dealings with them. These points are illustrated using historical and anthropological data from various parts of Sulawesi, particularly the Bugis kingdoms of the southwest peninsula, the island sultanates of Buton and Banggai off the east coast, and the chiefdoms of Gorontalo and Buol in the north."

from Kings and Covenants: Stranger-kings and social contract in Sulawesi by David Henley and Ian Caldwell

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