Are We Ready to Listen to René Girard?

The Philosopher Saw a World of Scapegoats and Persecutors. On His 100th Birthday, His Insights Into Human Nature Are as Relevant as Ever

Years ago at a conference, French theorist René Girard faced a tough question about his unconventional methods.

The Stanford professor’s research involved a close reading of archaic and classical texts from Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere—which is to say, a close reading of ancient stories.  In these stories, he discerned hidden patterns of rivalry, and how we use collective violence to end strife, an unending sequence throughout the long night of humanity.

“Given that we can’t entirely trust the veracity of ancient writings,” one academic asked him afterwards, “how would you measure …