flock; but can any claim their exertions have sufficed?
Nor was it only with England and her white colonies
that Berkeley was concerned.
His benevolence spread
to all people of the earth, and especially to the
savage natives of America. At a time when these
savages are showing such a want of civic or spiritual
virtue; at a time, moreover, when the darker races
throughout the world are, with honourable exceptions,
a manifest disturbance and threat to Christian
civilization; at a time, finally, when in Berkeley’s
beloved Bermuda pound and piety are in contempt, we
can do no better than turn to Berkeley’s own excellent
recommendations for civilizing the savages of this
Thus we turn to A Proposal for the Better Supplying
of Churches in Our Foreign Plantations, and for
Converting the Savage Americans to Christianity, by
a College to be Erected in the Isle of Bermuda (1725).
Sartre on the constitution
and embodiment of evil
The scapegoat is a widespread, perhaps universal,
phenomenon in human societies. He may be a
black, a criminal, a Jew; he may be an individual
cast out by family or workteam: but he always
emerges out of and in relation to a social group.
He is a chosen victim: he fulfils a sdcially
constituted role. The scapegoat can only be understood in relation to a set of beliefs about the
nature of human beings and society.
In the West
the dominant ideology has been well articulated;
within it the scapegoat is constituted as essentially
evil – he is irredeemably bad because it is in his
nature to be so.
If we look critically at this ideology we shall
begin to see why the scapegoat is needed, why he
has to be evil and worthy of punishment, and how
these ideas relate to more fundamental beliefs.
It is my contention that the necessity for having
a scapegoat in this ideology is symptomatic of its
failure to give an adequate account of human nature
The account that I shall give derives from
Sartre, and part of my purpose in this article is
to draw attention to that section of his book on
Genet 2 which describes the initial constitution of
Genet as a scapegoat.
Sartre’s prose is difficult
to come to terms with, but it repays the effort.
Sartre emphaSises (I think rightly) the crucial
importance of the dominant ideology in mediating
between the individual and society, and in determining the ways in which the individual can understand
This article falls into four parts. Th~ first
two are expositions of Sartre’s analysis; (1) of
the case of Genet, and (2) of the place of the
scapegoat in the dominant ideology. Section (3)
is a reduction of Sartre’s account to ordinary
language showing how the ideology generates
commonly expressed prejudices about the scapegoat.
Section (4) is my re-constitution and extension of
the argument at a philosophical level, in terms
slightly different from those of Sartre.
Berkeley’s proposal was widely acclaimed, and
supported by Royalty and Parliament Charter, and was
to train people of the savage race, ‘to a life of
civility and religion’, that they might then go
among their kinfolk and spread the doctrine and
practice of Christian civil society. Their countrymen
would be less apt to suspect and readier to
embrace a doctrine recommended by neighbours
or relations, men of their own blood and
language, than if it were proposed by
foreigners, who would probably be thought to
have designs on the liberty or property of
(Berkeley, as we have perceived, was sensible of
the analogous role of the Popish hierarchy in
Ireland as a potentially civilizing influence on
The young Americans necessary for this purpose
may … be procured either by peacable methods
or by taking captive the children of our
••• young Americans, educated in an island at
some distance from their own country, will be
more easily kept under discipline .•. than on
the continent; where they might … run away
to their countrymen and return to their
brutal customs .••
Clearly, were such a policy to be energetically
practised in the territories over which we have
dominion or influence, it would render superfluous
the expensive and impolitic recommendations of Mr
Powell and his supporters.
It is unfortunate that in his otherwise excellent
little book on Berkeley (I hear echo that fine
Englishman John Austin), Mr Geoffrey Warnock should
have missed a fine opportunity to enlighten that
nation of which he is such an avid servant to the
contemporary spiritual and civil relevance of
Berkeley’s thought. The good bishop himself, after
all, makes perspicuous in his Preface that The
Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), to which the
modern reader is generally restricted, is pointed
1.The case of Genet
Sartre was involved in a case study of Jean Genet.
The following is that part’ of his account of
Genet’s early history which is relevant to the
Genet was born a bastard, abandoned by his
mother to the Assistance Publique (a state agency
for the care of orphans), and eventually given into
the foster care of a peasant family in the Morvan.
At about the age of ten he was caught stealing by
this family, and accused of being a thief. This
experience, or perhaps series of experiences, was
traumatic for Genet (though not repressed): it
particularly to those who are tainted with
marked a break, says Sartre, between his childhood
Scepticism, or want a demonstration of the
innocence and his subsequent consciousness of
Existence and Immateriality of God, or the
Natural Immortality of the Soul.
Stealing is a socially constituted act.
At a time when the sceptical cancer of materialist
presupposes the institution of private property, a
rationalism condemns humble piety, diligence, and
legal code, and an ethical system of relationships
respect with a virulence far in excess of that with
between people. A child, for example, may steal
which Berkeley contended while on earth, it is nothing ‘unintenticn~lly’ if h~ deliberately takes,and
short of m.onstrous that the import of his wise and
‘ keeps someth1ng belong1ng to another, but 1S unwide thought is not energetically promulgated by
aware of the social meaning of his act.
those teachers and I believe they are not few, who
Before the experience of being called a thief
consider their obligations to consist in more than
Genet took things in order to possess them.
the coy handing on of the saucy and subversive
took without asking so as to avoid the perpetual
scissors of sophistical skill.
gratitude which was expected of him, particularly
by his foster family. When he was caught, and
accused, Genet was made to realize the social
meaning of his act. To the peasant family which
held property in such high regard, this act was so
awful that it constituted Genet as a social being.
For the first time Genet came to have a ‘rightful’
place in society accepted both by others and by
himself – the place of a thief.
Since stealing is a socially constituted act,
it is not necessarily accompanied by any ‘inner
feeling’ of the sort which accompanies simple
picking up. Although Genet searched for some
internal feeling which would confirm him in the
social being he now recognised himself to have, he
failed to find it. Nevertheless, he became convinced of the reality of this self which had been
given to him by others, and equally convinced of
the unreality of his own inner feelings. 4 In short,
the self which was constituted for Genet by this
critical discovery was a self-for-others: thereafter his inner feelings were de-realized and he
lost the capacity for spontaneously translating
his feelings into action.
To say that Genet became constituted primarily
as a self-for-others is to overlook the full implications of this social process.
It is not merely
that Genet is identified as a person who has stolen
and is likely to steal again: he is recognised as
having a character – that of a thief. Thereafter
it is unimportant whether he steals or not: there
is no act by which he can shed the character he
has been given. 5
Just as the social meaning given to the act is
what constitutes the stealing, so the social role
given to the man is what constitutes the thief.
And of course Genet could no more discover within
himself the substantial reality of this self-forothers (which he was now convinced he had), than he
could recognise the act of stealing by its ‘inner
It was not possible for Genet to discover this character within himself, for the simple
reason that it was in no sense ‘within’. It could
not even c~me into being except in relation to,
and through the mediation of, another. 6
The result was that Genet found it impossible
to co-incide with what he regarded as his real
nature, i.e. that of a thief. When he managed to
‘look at himself from the outside’, to see himself
as another, then he could recognise his ‘real’
self. But he could not simultaneously feel himself
to be both the observer and the observed. He could
‘see’ his real nature from the outside, but when
‘inside’ he could not feel it to be real.
Genet thus became an utterly self-alienated
being. He had been given a ‘character’ by his
In ‘discovering’ this character
‘within’ him they had drawn upon commonly accepted
beliefs about the nature of human beings, and upon
the value system of the society of which they were
2. The place of the scapegoat
in the dominant ideology
At this point in his account Sartre asks – by what
strange cruelty did those decent peasants make Genet
their scapegoat? It is no part of Sartre’s purpose
to go into a depth analysis of the nexus of this
long-dead famil y 7; rather, this ,question serves to
indicate a shift in level from the individual to
the social. Genet now has to be seen as an Other
for~the peasants, as having specific meaning as a
social being in the small groupS. What follows is
Sartre’s critique of the ideology which enables
the peasants to constitute Genet as a scapegoat.
All action modifies that which is, in the name
of that which is not yet. Action breaks up
the old order; it is permanent revolution.
Construction entails an at least equal amount
Our societies are so unstable and so afraid
of change that they deny this negative moment
in our actions. Even the pJsitive, creative
moment in our actions is interpreted as mere
repetition, as maintenance of the status quo.
‘To do one’s duty’ becomes the social good:
the thoughtless performance of repetitious acts.
BUt, as Hegel says, spirit is anxiety,
horrifying anxiety. The origin of this anxiety
is negation. The negative moment of our acts
must therefore be denied.
The ‘right-thinking man’ cuts the negative
moment away from his freedom and casts it out.
Thus his freedom is cut into two halves.
The first half of his freedom remains within
him, and interprets the positive moment as
repetition. Good is identified with Being, with
what already is. Being is the measure of
perfection. ‘An existing regime is always
. more perfect than- one which does not exist’.
Change is understood as implying no destruction,
as passing to a higher perfection, more faithful to tradition. For the right-thinking man
to be alone is to be wrong: to isolate oneself
is to become finite, to will one’s own nothingness. ‘His dream is that history may end and
that there may come at last the time of happy
repetition within the great sleep’. Through
ignorance, omission, weakness (the vestiges of
his own nothingness) he might fail to get there:
and fear of this failure engenders stricter
obedience to the imperatives of the group.
The second, negative half of his freedom is
externalized, but does not leave him. Though
he acknowledges only the positive, the striving
after good, he cannot live in the paralysis of
Being: history does not stop. He cannot affirm
without denying, he cannot fix a limit without
envisaging what is beyond it, he cannot make
laws without being tempted to break them.
The decent man is thus the negation of negation. He defines himself by obedience, tradition and the automatism of Good. He gives the
name ‘temptation’ to ‘the live, vague, swarming
which is still himself’ , and projects it o~t- .
side of himself. He SUbstantiates it as Evil
– as pure negation and the rage to destroy.
And if he discovers trades of it within
himself, then it must have come from without
(since it isn’t his real self). It is the
intrusion of the willful Other.
Evil is a projection – even the basis and
aim of all projective activity. Each of us has
his own evil-doer: the man who presents to us
in broad daylight and objective form the
obscure temptations of our freedom. If you
want to get to know a decent man, look for the
vices he hates most in others. The evil-doer
exists because the good man invented him. In
fact, he cannot do without him.
The enemy in wartime is the evil-doer ~
excellence. For peacetime purposes society has
created professional evil-doers, who are carefully recruited. They must be bad by birth and
without hope of change. They must have no
reciprocal relationship with decent members of
the community (or, ‘They might think of us what
we think of them’). They must be sought amongst
the separated, the rejected, the unassimilable.
Candidates include the oppressed and exploited
in every category, the foreign workers, the
national and ethnic minorities: but these are
not the best recruits because they sometimes
become conscious of a group identity and begin
to reciprocate by personifying their oppressors
as evil. The best recruits are the utterly
wretched, those abandoned, isolated individuals
who are in no danger of uniting in any group
because nobody wants them.
Genet, the abandoned bastard, owned by the
Assistance Publique, was the perfect candidate
for the embodiment of evil.
It should now be clear that in Sartre’s account
of scapegoating there is an unbreakable connection
between the individual and the social levels namely the system of beliefs and values which I
have termed the dominant ideology. This ideology
has its origins in the need to maintain a
repressive political system.
It serves the status
quo by making metaphysical claims which deny the
fundamentally historical nature of man and society,
and obscure man’s capacity to initiate and participate in social change. The central tenet that
man is essentially a natural object serves a
definite political function: it leads to a doctrine
of human character which in the face of social
reality results in the good/evil dichotomy. At
the social level the doctrine must embody evil in
the person of a scapegoat in order to repress and
explain social changes which threaten the status
qu0 9 . At the level of the individual this doctrine
is self-alienating both for the good man and the
3. Reduction of Sartre’s argument
and the generation of prejudice
In the foregoing I have attempted to summarise
Sartre’s account of the Genet case and the general
argument upon which it rests. But although the
relevant sections of the book on Genet are both
lengthy and wordy, what is presented there is
really no more than a rough sketch for a general
analysis – the argument is loose and lacking in
detail. Moreover, the analysis seems to depend
upon the prior acceptance of Sartre’s Hegelian
metaphysics, without which the attack on the
dominant ideology seems unable to get off the ground.
In this section I shall reduce Sartre’s argument
to a ‘commonsense’ account of scapegoating which
neither explicitly assumes the Hegelian propositions
nor employs the terminology. I shall then use this
to show how the generation of commonly expressed
prejudices can be accounted for.
Like every other man the peasant in Genet’s
case is free to accept or reject, in whole or in
part, the social world he finds and its system of
If he accepts it, he exercises his freedom
no less than if he rejects it. His acceptance is
an act within history which constantly needs to be
repeated. No matter how many times he accepts it,
it is always open for him to reject it at some time
in the future.
Man is not a passive, inert object, but a social
being. He is a subject who cannot avoid acting.
All action modifies the present state of affairs,
and modifies it in the direction of a future state
which may be envisaged, but does not exist.
Strictly speaking, it is impossible to ‘maintain’
the status quo – it must constantly be recreated.
And true re-creation is impossible – it would
involve the cessation of historical process.
There is a constant process of change, just because
there is human action. The intended future state
may be seen as identical with the present; but in
practice it can never be quite like that. For
this reason, all action, whether intentional or
not, is a threat to the status quo; it may fail to
At the level of society there is a way of
dealing with this threat – that is, to deny that
it exists, at least as a general characteristic of
action. Of course, the threat cannot be totally
denied, and in any case the society must actively
be maintained. But what can happen is that the
threat implicit in all action can be displaced and
localized in only some actions – which can then be
subject to social control. The technique is one of
denying that all actions have both a destructive
and a constructive aspect, and assertina that some
are wholly destructive (or evil) , and others are
wholly constructive (or good), i.e. conservative of
the status quo.
This manoeuvre now gives us the basis for a
value system from which a whole range of social
attitudes and justifications can be derived. The
fact that these attitudes and justifications are
commonly encountered is evidence that there is a
,consistent ideology which is intelligible as a
response to the destructive threat.
Starting, then, from the belief that acts should
be regarded as wholly good or wholly bad, we can
argue as follows:
Anyone who performs destructive acts is a
threat to society and must be restrained.
In fact he must be punished, as an example
to others who might otherwise be tempted
into destructive acts. It is even better
if preventative action can be taken. So a
man who once reveals himself as capable of
such destructive acts – by committing his
first crime, say – must from then ori’be
carefully watched and guarded, and given
no quarter. And if we can identify in
advance (as surely we can) those who are
likely to become criminals, we can stop
them before they ever get the chance to begin
their destructive work. Any society is
justified in taking action to prevent its
own destruction, and to prevent the suffering of innocent people. And of course, the
groups from which the destructive elements
come are the aliens and traitors in our midst;
those who, though in our society are not of
it, who owe their allegiance elsewhere. -If, then, we are serious in wanting to
reform our society, in striving to return to
the good old days before the rot set in, we
must pull out crime by its roots and expel
the subtle agents who sow the seeds of economic
chaos. We must destroy criminals/anarchists/
This reactionary set of social attitudes we
would expect to find most predominantly in the
social class with the strongest interest in the
maintenance of the status quo. Typically it would
go together with a strain of thinking about personal
morality much more explicit in its reference to
the threat of change.
If we can imagine this view
put by a moralist sympathetic to it, it might
run as follows:
Change is disturbing: after all, it substitutes
the world we don’t know for the world we know.
And even if the world as we know it is not all
that wonderful, change demands efforts on our
part – we have to adapt, adjust, relearn. And
who’s to say we shall end up any better off
than we are now?
Changes in social standards, in values, in
moral rules, are particularly disturbing.
People no longer behave as you expect them to.
What was wrong yesterday they say is right today.
You don’t know where you are. Nobody knows the
difference between right and wrong any more.
The substitution of one moral rule for another
is bad enough: but to question any and every
moral rule, even to say that there are none, is
devastating. People with standards know where
they are. They know which acts are good and
which are bad; what you are allowed to do and
what you’re not; that you’ll be punished for
this and praised for that. You know a good man
when you meet him (he follows the rules), and
recognise a bad one (he breaks them). You know
how to teach your children the difference
between right and wrong. But above all,
following rules is simple. You don’t have to
worry about the total situation because it’s
irrelevant. You don’t have to go into the
psychological niceties of the criminal or
wrong-doer: whatever he says about his
intentions, what he did was wrong. And if a
good act has consequences which are not wholly
good, that’s just unfortunate, and no grounds
for changing the rules or dispensing with them.
But once you start blurring the distinctions
and saying that there’s some bad in good acts
and some good in bad ones, you make things
impossibly difficult, Instead of getting into
the habit of being good and abiding by the
rules, I’m now supposed to meditate on every
situation. And before I know where I am you’re
holding me responsible for effects of my actions
which I never foresaw. After all, I might only
have been doing my duty and now you want to
blame me for what happened. That’s just unreasonable.
No, if the rules are fixed I know what to do.
I can abide by them and go about with a clear
conscience and my head held high. If something goes wrong I’m not to blame: I’m in the
right and God’s o~y side.
And just look at the broader effects of the
decline in standards. If the country’s going
to the dogs, if morality and religion are under
attack, if the workers are always on strike and
the crime rate soars, it’s because somebody,
somewhere, isn’t following the rules. Worse,
somebody is deliberately breaking them and
And it’s probably a tightly
knit group of politically motivated men who
are trying to destroy our whole way of life.
Them and the aliens who just don’t know what
the rules are; or congenital criminals who are
so degenerate they don’t even what what a rule
is at all.
What has become apparent in these popular
accounts is that the dichotomy between the good
act and the bad allows the decent citizen to be
wholly good, a self-righteous man of principle.
He knows that he is capable of being bad and that
he has free will. He has temptations, and he
resists them. The evil that there is is caused
by others, who have temptations and do not resist:
he understands them well. They are weaklings
without moral fibre who deserve everything they
get; or they are demoniacal evil-doers who choose
the bad for preference. These latter are the
scapegoats, the Enemy, for whom no punishment is
bad enough. He doesn’t have to meet them to
know them: best to stay away and avoid contamination. They’re cunning, and conceal their evil
selves beneath a mild exterior. They may take-in
do-gooders, but not him.
4. Reconstitution of the argument
In this final section I shall use the reduced
argument of section (3) as a basis for re-constituting an explicitly philosophical account of scapegoating. I shall follow the general lines of
Sartre’s analysis but also extend it and modify
the Hegelian generalisations.
The human world, whether we regard it at the
level of the individual or the social group, is
essentially temporal. Change is of the order of
things, and human beings have to make efforts to
deal with it.
In any society there are groups whose interest
is to resist change. These are the groups which
benefit from the status quo, and which stand to
lose by any deviation from it. They therefore
attempt to preserve the status quo, and in doing
so evolve an ideology. In our society the
dominant ideology is one which attempts to deny
the essentially temporal nature of the human world.
Both society and individuals are presented as
static and unchanging in essence. Any deviation
from this stasis is then understood as abnormal
and unnatural – and bad. Adherence to this stasis
is natural and good. The ideology results in the
paradox of the individual or group which is
‘naturally’ bad – the scapegoats. The paradox is
inevitable, and the scapegoats are necessary to
the doctrine. In terms of the doctrine they are
the only blot on society, the source of all evil
(those forces which threaten the stasis); and with
their elimination the status quo will achieve
In our society the dominant ideology has recourse
to two manoeuvres in maintaining its doctrine of
stasis. One is the reification of the person; the
other the reification of society itself. In each
case the reification involves interpreting the
human phenomenon on the analogy of a supposedly
atemporal natural object. Natural scientific
theory has obviously been of crucial importance in
providing this atemporal model.
At the level,of the individual person, reification involves substantiation; that is, the person
is understood as an object within nature .(a substance), having a fixed character (essence), which
‘contains’ certain characteristics (properties).
These characteristics are potentialities for
action (behaviour), and ideally all action ~p explained as following strictly from the essential
character of the person. This model breaks down
at the point where it creates the ‘problem’ of
Free Will. The problem is insoluble within the
terms of the model, because the essentially temporal
freedom which human beings have becomes anomalous
within the atemporal context of the natural substance. More sophisticated versions of the doctrine
have therefore to introduce mysterious notions of
‘character development’ in order to put time back
into an atemporal essence.
The only way of establishing the ‘atemporal’
character of an individual human being (or the
atemporal essence of an individual natural object
for that matter), is by reference to the history
of that individual. The history (to use Sartre’s
terminology) must be totalized, that is, summed up
in such a way as to reveal its supposedly most
characteristic features. In fact there is no way
of distilling ‘characteristics’ out of a history,
except in relation to some pre-established criteria
(as, for example, a set of moral rules, or the
ability to perform a certain act, etc).
The difference between the individual human being
and the individual natural object, is that the
human being is capable of totalizing his own history,
and of taking a stance towards it. In particular,
having totalized his ‘character’ out of his history,
he can either assume it and act in accordance with
it in the future, or he can reject it and in future
Within the terms of this doctrine of reification
the~ individual person can be brought to view himself, even to experience himself some of the time,
as a natural object. Both types of self-interpretation involve suspending or suppressing aspects of
his own self-experience, and cannot be maintained
constantly and indefinitely. It is, however,
possible (though difficult – and only at the cost
of isolation) to sustain an understanding of others
as merely natural objects. But most commonly the
doctrine of reification is made acceptable by
splitting my own experience of myself and certain
known others off from what I ‘know’ to be true
about men in general. My experience is labelled
‘subjective’ and either rejected or accorded
inferior status as a means of access to reality.
My knowledge, which I share with others, is labelled
‘objective’, and held to be either the only true,
or at least the superior, means of access to
reality. Again, the doctrine of reification produces a crop of problems which are insoluble in
terms of the model – in fact it creates a whole
new problem area, the ‘problem’ of knowledge. (It
was not accidental that epistemology emerged as a,
if not the, central discipline of philosophy
immediately after the formulation of the Natural
Philosophy of the scientific revolution).
But it is at the level of society, rather than
that of the individual, that reification can be
more completely sustained, and more powerfully used.
At this level it is society itself which is interpreted on the model of the atemporal natural
object. The supposed essential characteristics are
of course much more difficult to identify than in
the case of the individual person, but they are
also much less important to the ideology. The
characteristics are not potentialities for change,
but static aspects of some eternal present which
can be ‘seen’ in much the same way that the s~ruc
tUre and texture of a leaf can be seen. It is
usually assumed that anyone who is of the society
is as familiar with its characteristics as the
gardener is with those of the leaf – so there is
not much point in talking about them.
“Britain” means nothing to you, if you don’t know
what I mean by “our way of life”, then you’re
obviously not one of us’).
The importance of the model at the level of
society is that it provides the basis for a clear
system of values. The status quo is natural,
characteristic and good. All actions which conserve and maintain the status quo are normal and
good; all actions which threaten to disturb or
disrupt the status quo are abnormal and bad.
The model of course denies the fundamental temporality of all social praxis and process, but it
must reintroduce time into this atemporal stasis,
if only to explain away the awkward fact that the
status quo has not always existed – there was a
period of history before the present. It does
this by interpreting the past as the natural process
by which the implicit (and mysteriously preexistent) characteristics emerge.
(cf. the Whig
interpretation of History). The present was
always on its way. And of course, anything which
hastened the emergence of the present status quo
was progressive and a Good Thing, anything which
retarded it was regressive and a Bad Thing.
The characterisation of the status quo involves
a totalization out of the history of the society.
As with the totalization of the ‘character’of a
person, it is only possible to do this by means of
some criterion: in this case the criterion is
stasis. And as in the case of the individual, it
is always possible for man to take a stance
(indeed he must take a stance) in relation to this
totalization. He can either accept it, and work to
maintain it; or reject it, and work to change it.
Any attempt to bring about change threatens the
status quo. If the reified model of society were
in fact valid, this attempt could not represent a
real threat – it would be doomed to failure. The
model allows only inevitable social process: social
praxis is impossible. Thus the fact that attempts
at change are treated as real threats reveals the
breakdown of the model at the social level, in
the same way that the free will problem reveals its
breakdown at the level of the person. There is no
need to find a scapegoat if the status quo is in
fact good, and there is no danger of it being
The ideology which reifies society generates a
value system which is reduced to a set of behavioural
rules and institutionalized in a legal system. It
is good to obey the law, and bad to break it. This
value system is crucially important as the mediator
between the SOCial and the individual level. It
enables the defence of the status quo to be organized, and to be internalized even by those individuals who suffer under the present system.
Irrespective of who commits it and why, theft is
not only imprudent but morally bad.
A fixed set of behavioural rules is intelligible
and appropriate if we are dealing with natural objects. (‘.Don’t s1;-rikea light to look for the gas
leak’). But the inappropriateness of behavioural
rules for dealing with human experience is revealed
by their frequent obscurity (you can’t observe a
theft; as you can observe a lightning flash), and
the problem of applicabi~ity (was it murder, manslaughter or accidental death?). It is because
crimes are only socially constituted acts that it
is possible for me not to know that I am committing
a crime. In fact, in order to see myself as
committing a crime, I must not only see myself as
a self-for-others, but I must suppress my selfexperience to the extent that I can see myself as
a self-for-any-other. 10 That is, I must internalize the dominant ideology so that it can determine
my self-experience, at least on some occasion.
Sartre is wrong in supposing that this is the same
as experiencing myself as self-for-Another, where
this is a particular other person: but this is only
a specific consequence of his failure to deal
adequately with any genuine I-Thou relationship.
We have now run up against the problem of the
incommensurability of my (subjective) experience
with (objective) behaviour. It is not my experience which is problematic, but my ‘behaviour’.
To understand myself as the sort of entity which
can ‘behave’, as an object in the natural world,
I must go through the alienating procedure of
To summarize what I have said. The dominant
ideology of our SOCiety serves the interest of the
ruling class by incterpreting as natural objects
with an essentially atemporal character both
society and individuals. This denies the fundamental historicity of human existence. In terms
of the static model social change is unnatural and
dangerous – as are people who try to bring it about.
The model provides the basis for a value system,
expressed in a set of rules and internalized by
individuals in such a way that even the oppressed
work ~o maintain the status quo.
These dOctrines generate a number of classic
problems which are totally insoluble in terms of
the model. More accurately, they do not accord
with human beings’ experience of their own temporality and freedan.
The doctrine of the scapegoat becomes necessary
in this ideology, in order to explain why the
theoretically perfect society is not in fact perfect, and to avoid pressure for social change.
Since the imperfections cannot be characteristic
of the society, they must be due to elements which
are in the society but essentially alien to it.
Since these alien individuals are bad in their
essential character, it is not necessary to establish their responsibility for any specific act.
The elimination of these aliens will free the
essentially perfect society of its only contamination.
In the case of Genet the peasant morality already embodies the value system of the static
society. It only remains for him to be constituted
as essentially evil on the basis of an act which
threatens the institution of private property.
Genet has internalized the peasant morality, so
once the social meaning of his act is revealed to
him he accepts that he is essentially evil. This
self-for-others which he takes to be his real self
does not accord with his self-experience. He is
caught in the trap of mystification and self-alien·ation. Since he accepts both the morality and the
reality criteria of the society, his guilt is inescapable. He is the perfect scapegoat.
I am grateful to members of the philosophy
section of the Middlesex Polytechnic for comments
on an earlier draft.
Saint Genet, p.33ff, in the Mentor edition.
Laing and Cooper, who have otherwise drawn much
inspiration from this book, have completely
failed to appreciate this mediating function of
the ideology between the individual and society,
and the way in which it relates to a critique
The comparison with Laing and Cooper’s schizoprenics is obvious.
This ascription of character is analogous to
Descartes’ substantiation of the ‘cogito’ in
Continued on page 33
merely existent and hence dead objectivity •••
capital itself becomes a process. Labour is the
yeast thrown into it, which starts it fermenting ••• •
In short, Mepham’s Althusser is a mass of confusions. On the one hand he believes in the’ autonomy
of ‘political prac.tice· (and therefore to the’
trivialitr [at best] of ‘theoretical practice’),
of there being no need to bring theory to the class
from outside. And on the other hand he wants theory
to be able to point the way to correct political
practice. He accuses Geras of ‘humanism’ while
adopting much more ‘humanistic’ (in a bad sense)
positions than Geras. He accuses Geras of using
concepts which encourage class collaboration, when
it is preCisely his own and not Geras’s concepts
which do this. Finally, he both misunderstands
the difference between the historic dynamiC of
capitalism’s development and the moment in history
at which the proletariat seizes power, and is
totally confused over the nature of the agency or
subject of change in each case.
Continued from page 27
the Meditations. From’I think’ he passes
easily via ‘I am a thinking thing’ to ‘I am a
substance whose essence ~s to think’. Similarly,
from ‘Genet steals’ the good peasants derived
‘Genet is a thief’: and the precise meaning of
this for them was, ‘Genet is a substance whose
essence is to steal’. In this way the act is
generalized into the propensity to steal, and
substantiated in Genet: and the essence (or
character) so constituted can then be used to
explain the act.
Sartre makes no distinction between self-forAnother (i.e. some particular other person) and
self-for-any-other. See below, page
Unlike Laing and Cooper, Sartre is not interested
in this type of analysis – and in any case he
knows virtually nothing about this particular
Again, Sartre conflates self-for-Another with
self-for-any-other. The foster parents are
therefore treated as no more than the representatives of French peasantry (of even French
SOCiety) to Genet. Sartre assumes that an
alienated relationship existed between Genet
and his foster parents prior to the act of
In fact, because it is founded upon inaccurate
analysis of the nature of historical change,
the ideology prevents the most effective
preventative action from being taken.
• .H<ljor <lrticles concernil1X Vietll<lll/, tbe cOlltell/porol')'
family, inflation ,1Ild tbe fisc,,1 crisis, tbe :meric<lll left
• Re-examin<ltions of tbe work of Lenill, Grolmsci,
• Continuing and wide-ranging diSCIIssiOll of tbe stroltegy
and direction for building <l soci"list movement in tbe
United States tod<lY
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JACQUES RANCItRE teaches at the University of
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