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Reflections on violence

Report of the Rencontres Lafayette 2017 with the video of the main speeches

Christophe Habas, the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France introduces the conference held on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at the godf headquarters in Paris on the theme "AUTOUR DE RENÉ GIRARD, DES FONDEMENTS DE LA VIOLENCE À LA FRATERNITÉ" (Around RENÉ GIRARD, FROM THE FOUNDATIONS OF VIOLENCE TO FRATERNITY); then will take the floor Jean-Pierre Servel, GM of the GLNF, Jacques SÉMELIN, professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, Dr Jean-Michel OUGHOURLIAN, friend of René Girard, Alain CHOURAQUI, Director of Research Emeritus at the CNRS and Philippe DELAROCHE, journalist and columnist. (GODF video)

Report of the Lafayette 2017 Meetings

For its 3rd edition, the Lafayette Meetings organized jointly by the GLNF and the GODF were once again a success. The theme chosen this year, "AUTOUR DE RENÉ GIRARD, DES FONDEMENTS DE LA VIOLENCE À LA FRATERNITÉ", was particularly topical.

Two speakers were responsible for addressing this topic :

  • Jacques SÉMELIN, professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and director of research at the CNRS assigned to the Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (CERI), has been teaching since 1999 at Sciences Po where he created a pioneering course on genocide and mass violence; as a researcher he was eagerly awaited to provide a somewhat critical analysis of Girardian thought.

  • Jean-Michel OUGHOURLIAN, after a career as a neuropsychiatrist, brought the knowledge of a prolonged friendly relationship with René Girard.

Two "great witnesses" had to give a personal touch :

  • Alain CHOURAQUI, Emeritus Director of Research at the CNRS, spoke with great authenticity about the rehabilitation of the Camp of Thousands, which has become the Camp of Thousands Memorial Centre.

  • Philippe DELAROCHE, journalist and columnist, brought the editorialist's viewpoint of a commentator a little distant from the subject.

The presentation of the conference by our grand master of GODF was brilliant as one could expect from Christophe Habas who always provides quality services; perhaps he could have reserved his talent for the conclusion in order not to deflate the subject because this introduction was in fact a real contribution.

René Girard's Thought Applied to Understanding the Legend of Hiram

At the origin of this "sacrificial" myth, which, for René Girard, is necessary for the cohesion of the group and its perpetuation, there is the mimetic desire, with its triangulation (the object of desire, the desiring and the mediator), which the author highlights in the process of the emergence of violence.

In the myth of Hiram, the object of desire is the "secret" that Hiram possesses, in the position of mediator; the desirers are the bad companions "possessed" by their mimetic desire of Hiram's "secret". The murder of Hiram, the central element of the legend, takes place as a ritual sacrifice magnified by Hiram's "reincarnation" into a new master.

René Girard's work, which complements other important works on group drives, helps us understand the importance of myths and their permanence in similar forms in different civilizations. It also makes it possible to observe the functioning of lodges and obediences, and in particular their historical quarrels!

But the Girardian thought also allows to "revisit" the importance of the wonderful challenge of this ideal of perfection that we call the Masonic ideal, an ideal in which violence is evacuated by the claim of the individuality of each in the chain of solidarity and the preventive treatment of violence through the practice of the rite.

Notes : Some works by René Girard, (1923 -20150)

  • Violence and the Sacred (1972)

  • The Sacrifice (2003)

  • From violence to divinity (2007)

Citations (sources)

The sacrifice (the ritual) mimically replays the crisis and its resolution, in order to ward off the return of this crisis.

The sacrificial victim is the first thing put in the place of another - the first symbol. The ritual repeats the original scene where the community came close to chaos; it thus vaccinates society against its own violence; culture will become possible.

Information on societal violence

La violence : la sensibilité sociale au phénomène, son expression particulière en milieu scolaire

La violence et la résolution de conflits chez des trafiquants de cocaïne

The prison world: violence in everyday life

In the society of the Old Regime, the judgment of crimes and misdemeanours was based on vexation, torture, banishment, forced labour and the death penalty: in a word, it was a matter of revenge and physical suffering for the power in place and society at the time!

With the Europe of the Enlightenment, it was imagined that the deprivation of freedom could have an effect of "education for citizenship" and prisons were invented!

More than three centuries later, with the inflation of penalties helping, we find ourselves in an ubuesque and detestable situation!

Those who are familiar with the prison world will agree how inhuman prison life is, and it is hard to imagine how our supposedly developed, humanistic, social (and so on) society has been able to invent such an aberrant system, for staff, inmates and families alike, to the point that when you go to these places you may wonder what planet you are talking about!

First of all, it should be noted that the sentencing system is so complicated that access to imprisonment is marked by an obvious social segregation: not everyone goes to prison.

Prison has thus become a school for crime, a banality in a path of delinquency, a place to live with its rules, its rites, its powers, its perversities. It is even possible to find there groups that function more or less esoterically!

Society is reassured by imagining that the perpetrators of crimes and misdemeanours are imprisoned, but it doesn't even imagine that it is anything else at all!

And everyone to put a discreet veil over his face so as not to see the unacceptable. However, Adeline Hazan, Controller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty since 2014, succeeding Jean-Marie Delarue, himself the first holder of the post created in 2008 on the initiative of Rachida Dati, must be recognized for her real willingness to find solutions.

If we look at a few simple cases :

  • What is the point of depriving a minor, a thief, a user of illicit drugs, a repeat thief, an elderly homicide victim, a mentally ill person, etc., of their liberty or imprisoning them as a preventive measure?

  • Don't we have different ways of "protecting" society from violence by terrorists or mafia groups than the current prison system?

Today, if it is accepted that any infringement of the common law deserves a penalty, a number of questions arise :

  • How can we accept that the penitentiary centres created to enforce republican law have become places where another law that is not very republican reigns: the law of silence!

  • Does deprivation of liberty deserve to be included among the sentences in the judicial arsenal?

  • And if so, in what specific cases and according to what modalities?

  • Can we not take stock of the inadequacy of the penitentiary system in today's world?

If we refer to the Masonic ideal, we cannot forget that we have confidence in the perfectibility of the human being and in his capacity for resilience; it is clear today that this cannot be done in the current framework of overpopulated cells, in places where it is the law of the strongest and the most resourceful that is imposed on all.

Helping a condemned man to regain a certain respectability by asking him to accept to pay "his debt" is possible on the condition of an accompaniment, a break with a pathogenic environment, and a reconstruction!

It also requires a clarification of the social practices that encourage delinquency by suggesting that impunity exists and that there is often a double standard!

It is a vast undertaking, which some of us know well, and which deserves realism, courage and imagination!

Collective violence: what to do?

Violence is one of the great characteristics of human activity.

Just as individual violence stems from mechanisms that have been well analysed, collective violence is a complex phenomenon that takes very different forms.

For the World Health Organization, "collective violence can be defined as: the instrumentalization of violence by people who identify themselves as members of a group - whether transient or with a more enduring identity - against another group or grouping of individuals, in order to achieve political, economic or social goals".

Four main groups of collective violence can be distinguished :

  • Institutional violence with police repression by authoritarian regimes, different forms of warfare and state terrorism manipulating factious groups,

  • Economic violence with, for example, reactions to the problem of work,

  • Crowd violence that often seems completely irrational,

  • The violence of opponents of all kinds demonstrating their discontent and possibly drifting towards indiscriminate terrorism.

Some may be tempted to distinguish :

  • Legitimate violence emanating from an authority that is exercised for the benefit of the community,

  • Illegitimate violence that seeks to impose illegitimate power.

We also sometimes hear about :

  • Useful violence that would have enabled positive developments in the consideration of human rights

  • And unnecessary violence that will not change the situations experienced.

For the Masonic ideal, and although many Freemasons have participated in episodes of collective violence, these are associated with the disorder of secular life and the symbolism of "chaos". It was, moreover, in the context of the violence and civil war in seventeenth century England that Freemasonry took shape and proved to be an important element in the renewal of social peace.

Unfortunately, Masonic influence has been and still is unable to prevent the regular resurgence of different forms of collective violence.

If the Masonic ideal advocates pacifism, dialogue and mutual respect, the fact remains that this same ideal supports the need for a just and enlightened authority that must be respected, because there can be no lasting peace without the existence of a reference that establishes and verifies the exercise of freedom accessible to all.

Today in Western countries, many examples of collective violence come from movements whose sources are dissatisfaction stemming from economic measures taken either by states or by companies in difficulty. It is as if the democratic time for debate on the credibility of such measures had been excluded from the social dialogue and that, at the time of their adoption, this "passing to action" was understood as an unacceptable injustice justifying the passing to action of collective violence.

The wisdom of the Masonic ideal can only advise the various leaders of the different levels of responsibility in our societies to never neglect the time for debate and information, which is indispensable to ensure, on the one hand, modifications to the initial projects and, on the other hand, the acceptance of the final decisions.

The current tendency to divide human societies into a group of experts to whom decision-making is reserved and a huge group of "ignorant consumers" inevitably leads to the outbreak of collective violence more or less orchestrated by those who seek only their corporate interests.

When we know that this is compounded by the fact that electoral events are often deviated into demagogic performances, we cannot be surprised to see our societies sink into incommunicability.

Violence and pacifism

It is commonplace to note the violence that interferes in relations between people, between groups and also between peoples. Whatever the period of history, this violence is a constant! The search for the cause of such violence is not always easy: the temptation is great to find the culprits and to evoke the reason for the inevitability of the spiral in order to explain the facts.

Although the Masonic ideal is a peaceful ideal, Freemasons themselves have often been involved in violent actions, whether within the framework of armies or as part of resistance actions.

It is classic to justify the use of force to reject the intolerable and to defend moral values that are in danger of being undermined.

The only way to avoid or minimise episodes of violence is to be able to anticipate by dealing with latent conflict situations. This presupposes a capacity for analysis and initiative on the part of those in charge so as to facilitate the handling of misunderstandings, risk factors and provocations.

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