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Journal of Religion and Violence


published on May 27, 2015

Nathan Colborne
DOI: 10.5840/jrv20155268

The Reasonable Citizen/The Unreasonable Scapegoat

I argue here that the modern liberal state has not escaped the organized violence of the scapegoat mechanism as described by Rene Girard and that liberal theory, at least in its Rawlsian form, obscures this mechanism rather than repudiating it. The clearest example of this is Rawls’s attempt to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable comprehensive doctrines in order to exclude the latter from contributing to an overlapping consensus that, according to Rawls, is the basis of liberal political procedures. Girard’s account of the scapegoat mechanism can help us understand the underlying logic of this distinction and the political purpose it serves by giving a fuller explanation of what motivates liberal theory’s quest to constrain violence, by accounting better for the enduring attraction of Rawlsian political theory, and by more realistically outlining the dangers inherent in exposing the scapegoat mechanism.

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