Who Is René Girard? And Why Does Silicon Valley Care?

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

Although the literary theorist and anthropologist René Girard has many Silicon Valley disciples, surely the most notable of them is the German-born venture capitalist and founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel. A student of Girard’s while at Stanford in the late 1980s, Thiel would go on to report, in several interviews, and somewhat more sub-rosa in his 2014 book, From Zero to One, that Girard is his greatest intellectual inspiration. He is in the habit of recommending Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978) to others in the tech industry.

Girard has two big ideas, each intertwined with the other: the theory of mimesis, and the theory of the scapegoat. Michel Serres, another French theorist long resident at Stanford, and a strong advocate for Girard’s ideas, has described Girard as the “Darwin of the human sciences”, and has identified the mimetic theory as the relevant analog in the humanities of the Darwinian theory of natural selection.

For Girard, everything is imitation. Or rather, every human action that rises above “merely” biological appetite and that is experienced as desire for a given object, in fact is not a desire for that object itself, but a desire to have the object that somebody else already has.

More here.