Human rights in crisis: is there no answer to human violence? A cultural critique in conversation with Rene Girard and Raymund Schwager


Stork, Peter Robert. (2006). Human rights in crisis: is there no answer to human violence? A cultural critique in conversation with Rene Girard and Raymund Schwager [Thesis].
AuthorsStork, Peter Robert
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The study attempts to bring together the mimetic theory of René Girard and the theology of Raymund Schwager to address questions inherent in the contemporary notion of human rights. The impetus derives from the phenomenon of human violence, the universal presence of which points to a problematic that seems to defy conventional explanations and political solutions. In dialogue with Girard and Schwager, the project seeks to shed light on the causes not only of the apparent fragility of the human rights system, but also of the persistence with which large-scale human rights violations recur despite the proliferation of human rights norms. It argues that the human rights crisis is neither an accident nor a shortfall in techniques of implementation, but reflects the subconscious and collective structure of civilization. Following a description of the crisis, this investigation examines the nature of human violence, especially the contagious manner in which it works at the root of the crisis, offering understanding where conventional anthropological reflections fall short. The study argues with Girard that vengeance and retribution resonate deeply with the human psyche and easily evoke an archaic image of the divine. While this arouses moral protest in the post-modern mind, we meet here one of the fundamental issues mimetic theory elucidates, namely that it is on account of such an unconscious image of the 'sacred' that vengeful violence has remained for so long a determining element in human history. In a theological key, the study presents human mimesis as a divinely constituted structure that makes possible divine/human intimacy and reciprocity. However, this exalted capacity is perverted. Human sin casts God into the image of an envious rival which corrupts the personal and structural dimensions of human sociality of which the so-called 'human rights crisis' is but a contemporary manifestation.;What rules the social order is not the true image of God but a resentful human projection that deceptively demands victims in exchange for peace and security. Thus 'mimetic victimage' is the essential clue to the fallenness of nations and their institutions, including the institution of human rights, as well as to the fallenness of individuals in their profound alienation from God, from themselves and from one another. Nonetheless, mimesis is also a structure of hope and transcendent longing. So understood, it opens the way to a profound and practical appropriation of the meaning of Christ as the restoration of the image of God in humanity whereby rivalistic resentment, the epicenter of the human predicament, is undone through forgiveness. While there is an enabling aspect to violence when it restrains and coerces us for our benefit as we rightly fear the greater violence that might ensue in its absence, the study also argues that because mimetic human agents carry out the 'deed of the law', the human rights system cannot overcome the mimetic impulse. As a judicial system, human rights belong structurally to the same order as the system they seek to correct. This ambiguity takes on special significance in the 'age of annihilation'. For the first time in history limitless violence has become feasible through weapons capable of planetary destruction so that humanity not only faces its own complicity with violence, but also the relative powerlessness of the human rights project to keep its mimetic escalation in check. This raises the central question of the study.;If the institution of human rights cannot offer a rigorous critique of structural violence, let alone free humanity from complicity with it, where shall the world place its hope for a more humane future? It concludes that such a hope is not to be found in the proliferation of rights norms and their enforcement but in the transformation of human desire through the restoration of the true image of God as revealed in the Christ-event. This revelation judges as futile all attempts at human sociality that retain violence as their hidden core. Thus God's freedom granting action in history is both revelatory and 'political': in its prophetic stance against the powers of human sin and domination, it calls humanity to its true vocation to be the image of God grounded in a new pacific mimesis that resonates freely and unflinchingly with the self-giving love of God in Christ.

Keywordshuman rights; Rene Girard; Raymund Schwager
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates30 Apr 2006
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