Despite being 84 years of age, René Girard has lost none of his nerve as a definitively radical thinker. He is working on a new essay about Karl von Clausewitz. The author of great contemporary works such as Violence and the Sacred and The Scapegoat, recently elected among the forty “immortals” of the Académie française, René Girard is, along with Claude Levi-Strauss, our greatest living anthropologist. In this interview with Il Foglio, Girard returns to that which defines “the great anthropological question of our time.”
He himself opens with a question:
“Can there be a realistic anthropology that precedes deconstruction? In other words, is it licit and still possible to affirm a universal truth about humankind? Structuralist and postmodern contemporary anthropology denies this access to the truth. The present school of thought is ‘the castration of meaning.’ But such ways of discussing mankind are dangerous.”
Last fall, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) opened an investigation into the finances of six of the United States‘ most influential ministries. Lavish spending by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, and Eddie Long had caught the attention of the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Responding to reports that these ministers might be abusing their tax-exempt status, Grassley asked for detailed financial information about their credit card spending, luxury cars, and palatial vacation homes. A few promised to comply with the investigation; most did not.
Despite the controversies surrounding these ministers, there is no doubt that they have played influential roles in shaping the modern American charismatic movement. Their work, and that of a select number of charismatic allies, is the focus of Scott Billingsley’s fascinating book It’s a New Day. Billingsley, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, downplays the scandalous rumors dogging certain charismatic leaders and instead focuses on their contributions to American religion. According to Billingsley, charismatics’ recent mainstream success can be attributed to their promotion of female and African American evangelists, use of technology, exploitation of the megachurch trend, and strong leaders. In particular, he argues that modern charismatic leaders built on the civil rights and feminist movements by “taking socially and theologically liberal ideologies” about race and gender “and adapting them to fit the sensibilities of conservative evangelical audiences.”
Andrew J. Bacevich thinks our political system is busted. In The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, he argues that the country’s founding principle — freedom — has become confused with appetite, turning America’s traditional quest for liberty into an obsession with consumption, the never-ending search for more. To accommodate this hunger, pandering politicians have created an informal empire of supply, maintaining it through constant brush-fire wars. Yet the foreign-policy apparatus meant to manage that empire has grown hideously bloated and has led the nation into one disaster after another. The latest is Iraq: in Bacevich’s mind, the crystallization of all that’s gone wrong with the American system.
In the dog days of the George W. Bush era, as the fighting drags on in Afghanistan and Iraq and global food, energy and economic crises mount, this argument has huge intuitive appeal, and indeed Bacevich’s book has climbed the best-seller lists. The nation does seem to be in serious trouble. Figuring out how it got that way is important, and a root-and-branch rethink may be necessary to set things right.…