Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
– Joseph Goebbels
We would like to think that modern societies like ours have outgrown barbaric customs like human sacrifice. Sure, we still engage in scapegoating and figuratively sacrifice people on the altar of public opinion, but we don’t actually kill people in hopes of placating the gods and restoring order. Or do we?
Some scholars believe we do. Following the thought of the late philosopher Rene Girard, they argue that human sacrifice is still with us today in the form of capital punishment (and incarceration – a removal from society). Girard believed that human sacrifice arose in response to what he called a “sacrificial crisis.” The original sacrificial crisis – the greatest threat to early societies – was escalating cycles of violence and retribution. The solution was to redirect the vengeance away from each other and, in violent unanimity, toward a scapegoat or class of scapegoats. Once established, this pattern was memorialized in myth and ritual, applied preemptively as human sacrifice, and carried out in response to any other crisis that threatened society.