This is a Girardian-influenced, engagingly written classic on the nature of violence and the hope for overcoming it in our conflict-ridden world. It is also a literary work, an often miraculous interplay between cultural documents and historical periods.
The director of the Florilogia Institute in Sonoma, Calif., uses literature, current events, and the Bible to argue that the efficacy of ritual violence in human affairs has been undermined by the Judaeo-Christian concern for the victim. Bailie proceeds from a traditional anthropological understanding of how cultures are held together by sacred violence: Periods of social chaos are often resolved by acts of definitive violence that, because they establish order, become sacred to a community's memory; and such definitive acts need to be reenacted from time to time by the ritual death of one or more scapegoats. The author argues that the effectiveness of this social mechanism has been gradually eroded, over the course of history, by an awakening empathy for the victim. In the first half of his book, he traces history from Aeschylus, who glosses over the sacrificial death of Iphigenia prior to the Trojan War, to US intervention in Somalia and the beating of Rodney King, observing that the status of victim has now become the seal of moral rectitude. The result, he claims, is a crisis of culture that has led to the increase, not the decrease, of violence - part of which, he asserts, is due to the evaporation of the Cold War's useful conventions. In the book's second half, Bailie shows how the Bible itself struggles with the concept of scapegoat, especially when Abraham's God rescinds the traditional demand for human sacrifice and when the Crucifixion becomes the vindication par excellence of the victim. Throughout, the author displays an awareness of the Western literary and philosophical tradition, and if his prose is at times obscure, it is brightened by exciting insights. Demanding but stimulating fare for those who believe that human events are ultimately responses to ideas and attitudes. (Kirkus Reviews)