Power: Roger Caillois pre­sented by Georges Bataille on Saturday, February 19, 1938

Roger Caillois prsented by Georges Bataille (Saturday, February 19, 1938) in The College of so­ci­ol­ogy (1937-1939), ed Denis Hollier, Minnesota, Minn: University of Minnesota Press. PP 125-137

First I must ex­cuse Caillois. He was to have made the pre­sen­ta­tion that I shall make to­day in his place. His health has made it nec­es­sary for him to give up tem­porar­ily any ac­tiv­ity, at least as far as cir­cum­stances per­mit. Just in the past few days I have been able to see him and pro­ject with him what he would have said if I had not had to re­place him. Frankly, it is dif­fi­cult for me purely and sim­ply to re­place Caillois and limit my­self to say­ing what would have seemed to him es­sen­tial. In fact, I am bound to con­tinue the de­vel­op­ment of what I have al­ready be­gun on the sub­ject of power. I am bound to re­late the es­sen­tial facts about power to the body of prin­ci­ples I have at­tempted to in­tro­duce here. If Caillois had spo­ken to­day, he would have de­tailed the facts at great length. After his pre­sen­ta­tion I would have been led to at­tempt con­nect­ing them to gen­eral ideas. Replacing Caillois, I shall limit my­self to sum­ma­riz­ing what is es­sen­tial of the facts, and, on the whole, what I shall say will be the com­men­tary on and an at­tempt at analy­sis of these facts. And nat­u­rally this en­deavor will be only a con­tin­u­a­tion of every­thing that I have al­ready de­vel­oped in my two pre­ced­ing pre­sen­ta­tions.

Therefore, at the out­set, I should re­call the es­sen­tials of these two pre­sen­ta­tions. Afterward I shall move on to the facts that have to do with power, and to con­clude, I shall at­tempt a gen­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

As I go back to what I have said, I shall not con­tent my­self, more­over, with re­peat­ing or sum­ma­riz­ing it. This time I shall try to give a pre­cise form to the state­ment of sev­eral fun­da­men­tal propo­si­tions, which up un­til now have not clearly emerged from the de­scrip­tion as a whole.

It is pos­si­ble to con­sider the con­glom­er­a­tion—town, city, or vil­lage—as the fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment of hu­man so­ci­ety. We shall soon see that con­glom­er­a­tions are able to join to­gether, form­ing uni­ties, even uni­ties that are vast. The con­glom­er­a­tion, in any case, is at the root of all em­pires some­what as the cell is at the root of every or­gan­ism—or also as in­di­vid­ual per­sons are at the root of every con­glom­er­a­tion. I chose the ex­am­ple of a French vil­lage in or­der to study the struc­ture of the hu­man con­glom­er­a­tion in its sim­plest form. But per­haps I did not in­sist enough on the fact that what was in ques­tion was a for­ma­tion that is not com­plete, that is not prim­i­tive, and more­over is ob­vi­ously de­gen­er­ate. The con­tem­po­rary French vil­lage is some­thing whose func­tion­ing is clogged, some­thing barely alive, even com­pared with the French vil­lage of a cen­tury ago. As it is, how­ever, the traces of a pow­er­ful overall move­ment” an­i­mat­ing the vil­lage pop­u­la­tion are still very eas­ily per­ceived there. This over­all move­ment is made up of two op­po­site forces, one cen­tripetal, the other cen­trifu­gal. The cen­ter is a church form­ing a sta­ble nu­cleus with a well-de­fined sa­cred char­ac­ter. The op­po­site forces are, more­over, com­posed in a very spe­cial way. There is an at­trac­tion to­ward a group of rit­ual ob­jects and acts, but the force of re­pul­sion in­creases as the force of at­trac­tion is ac­tive, with the re­sult that in­di­vid­u­als who are at­tracted are held within the power of the sa­cred cen­ter at a re­spect­ful dis­tance. The two forces are some­how func­tions of each other. The over­all move­ment that con­se­crates the con­glom­er­a­tion’s unity, more­over, is not con­stant. It takes place on reg­u­larly re­peat­ing dates and also each time some event oc­curs to mod­ify the es­tab­lished re­la­tions among those re­volv­ing around the cen­ter—birth, mar­riage, or death. Last time I in­sisted on the fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter of this move­ment, and I took ad­van­tage of the very sim­pli­fied char­ac­ter it pro­vides in some ex­am­ples close at hand in or­der to base a very gen­eral, hut still per­func­tory re­flec­tion on the facts.

Today, how­ever, I shall have to in­sist on thee ex­treme com­plex­ity pe­cu­liar to the overall move­ments” an­i­mat­ing hu­man com­mu­ni­ties. If things are so sim­ple in a vil­lage, it is be­cause a vil­lage no longer rep­re­sents a to­tal­ity. It is not up to the vil­lage to take on it­self the en­tirety of hu­man func­tions. Certain in­te­gra­tions nec­es­sary to the af­fec­tive ac­tiv­ity of so­ci­ety are pro­duced only in the cap­i­tal, which alone re­al­izes the ex­treme com­plex­ity of the move­ment. All that is nec­es­sary, how­ever, is to go back to a rel­a­tively re­cent pe­riod, one in which the mon­u­ments or ru­ins are still nu­mer­ous, to re­dis­cover the mem­ory of this com­plex­ity—at least in a num­ber of vil­lages where the church was dou­bled by a for­ti­fied cas­tle. In the Middle Ages, a sim­ple con­glom­er­a­tion could ac­tu­ally pos­sess al­most to­tal au­ton­omy, con­sti­tut­ing by it­self a com­plete pic­ture of so­cial life. The power was con­cen­trated in the per­son of the feu­dal lord, who struck coins, ren­dered jus­tice, and had an armed force at his dis­posal.

Taking this new as­pect of things into ac­count, I have been led to for­mu­late some gen­eral propo­si­tions, this time quite pre­cise and more com­plete.

A con­glom­er­a­tion pre­sents a spe­cific over­all move­ment around a nu­cleus- mo­bile or sta­ble, a com­plex of sa­cred places, ob­jects, per­sons, be­liefs, and prac­tices. If it pos­sesses au­ton­omy—as in prim­i­tive or feu­dal civ­i­liza­tions—it also pre­sents a move­ment of con­cen­tra­tion of power that is linked with the move­ment pro­duced around sa­cred things.

This all must seem very ob­scure. Initially it was very hard for me to rep­re­sent con­vinc­ingly the fun­da­men­tal and vi­tal an­i­ma­tion, which the sa­cred en­gen­ders through shock as it were. And now I am speak­ing of an­other kind of an­i­ma­tion linked—by what ob­scure con­nec­tions?—to the first. This other kind of an­i­ma­tion is the con­cen­tra­tion of power, and as to the na­ture of this power about which es­sen­tially I shall be speak­ing to­day, I have to first limit my­self to get­ting rid of the cur­rent in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Obviously I am ea­ger to jog­gle the ac­cepted truth, which has it that if the po­lice lock me up in prison it is be­cause they are stronger than I. It is power that cre­ates the force of the po­lice, not the po­lice who cre­ate power. Armed force with­out power, with­out the au­thor­ity that makes use of it, could never have any more mean­ing or ap­plic­a­bil­ity than the force of a vol­cano. But what then does this power mean—this power that we must ad­mit, no mat­ter how rev­o­lu­tion­ary and ca­pa­ble of chal­lenge we are, re­duces us to trem­bling be­fore it—be­cause, at a cer­tain point, of­fend­ing it means death.

A month ago now, in or­der to make my­self un­der­stood, I took a round­about way and sought to make those ef­fects pro­duced in the cen­ter of so­cial things per­cep­ti­ble by an­a­lyz­ing the ones pro­duced on the pe­riph­ery, like the con­ta­gious move­ment of laugh­ter. I am not en­tirely cer­tain that this method re­ally made me more in­tel­li­gi­ble up to this point, but I be­lieve in the virtue of per­sis­tence, and again to­day I shall take the same round­about way I did a month ago. I as­sume that a cer­tain num­ber of my pre­sent lis­ten­ers have seen (I think this goes back to 1936) a news­reel show­ing the un­veil­ing of a mon­u­ment to the English dead at Vimy. At the proper mo­ment President Lebrun ap­peared on the screen in his morn­ing coat and rushed head­long onto a plat­form from which he be­gan to shout stir­ring words. At that mo­ment most of the au­di­ence be­gan to laugh. I my­self could hear the un­re­strained laugh­ter that had taken hold of me spread through­out the rows of a movie the­ater. And I have heard that the same thing was re­peated else­where.

I do not think the fact that dead men were in­volved could have con­tributed in any­thing other than a sec­ondary man­ner to the ex­cite­ment thus man­i­fested in roars of laugh­ter. But—precisely—President Lebrun em­bod­ies this power that I have de­scribed as rep­re­sent­ing, at least if we take into ac­count the pas­sions ob­scurely urg­ing us on to ex­cess, a threat of death. I know that these ob­scure pas­sions are nor­mally held in check and even ban­ished from the realm of con­scious­ness. I know that what­ever the case, the threat of death rep­re­sented by power is also ban­ished from the realm of con­scious­ness. However, on the whole, power re­mains a si­mul­ta­ne­ously se­duc­tive and fear­ful re­al­ity for hu­man be­ings, and it is al­ways some­what dis­ap­point­ing for the or­di­nary men­tal­ity if the ex­ter­nal as­pect of power has noth­ing se­duc­tive or fear­ful about it. At the very least, such a dis­ap­point­ment is still com­pen­sa­tion for an­other sort of sat­is­fac­tion that may be re­garded as more es­timable. But if the ex­ter­nal as­pect goes as far as the ab­sence of dig­nity, if it of­fers no more than the awk­ward and empty solem­nity of some­one who has no di­rect ac­cess to great­ness—who must seek it out by some ar­ti­fi­cial means, in the same way as peo­ple who do not re­ally have power at their dis­posal but who are re­duced to ner­vously ap­ing great­ness—the fu­tile hoopla mak­ing its ap­pear­ance where mo­tion­less majesty is ex­pected no longer pro­vokes just dis­ap­point­ment: It pro­vokes hi­lar­ity. Those pre­sent—at least be­fore an im­age pro­jected on a screen em­pha­siz­ing ab­sur­di­ties and greatly mit­i­gat­ing any feel­ing of re­al­ity—those pre­sent no longer com­mu­ni­cate in the dou­ble move­ment of at­trac­tion and re­pul­sion that keeps a unan­i­mous ad­her­ence at a re­spect­ful dis­tance; rather they re­gain their com­mu­nion by laugh­ing with a sin­gle laugh­ter.

As those who have heard my pre­vi­ous pre­sen­ta­tions can see, I have just re­peated the two es­sen­tial themes I have al­ready de­vel­oped: the theme of the for­ma­tion at the cen­ter of a hu­man group of a nu­cleus of at­trac­tion and re­pul­sion, nd the theme of pe­riph­eral laugh­ter stim­u­lated by the con­tin­ual emis­sions of a pe­cific en­ergy, of sa­cred forces, which are made from the cen­tral nu­cleus.

All I shall do to­day is carry on with these themes, but for the first time I shall b able to at­tempt a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the over­all move­ment.

Having rein­tro­duced the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem I was ea­ger to pose, I shall now move to lay­ing out the facts, that is to say, spe­cific forms in which power ap­pears to us. Starting with these facts, these gen­eral forms, I shall latch onto an ex­am­ple that is much more ex­plicit than any other of the for­ma­tion of power, namely, the for­ma­tion of power con­structed on the ba­sis of the ig­no­min­ious cru­ci­fix­ion of Jesus. Then I shall re­turn to the mon­u­ment to the dead at Vimy in or­der to com­plete the cy­cle. I have al­ready widely used the terms left and right to de­fine a fun­da­men­tal op­po­si­tion be­tween the ig­no­ble and the no­ble, the im­pure and the pure. This time I shall at­tempt to de­scribe from be­gin­ning to end the dy­namic trans­for­ma­tion of left into right, then of right into left, mov­ing from the hor­ri­ble im­age of a tor­ture vic­tim to the majesty of popes and kings, then from the majesty of sov­er­eigns to the Vichy morn­ing coat.

But first of all, what are the com­mon forms in which what we call power ap­pears?

It is pos­si­ble to say that in the great ma­jor­ity of cases power ap­pears in­di­vid­u­al­ized, that is to say, em­bod­ied in a sin­gle per­son. The name king” is or­di­nar­ily given to this per­son, and it is pos­si­ble to main­tain this by tak­ing into ac­count the fact that cer­tain dif­fer­ences of name in a given area do not mean much.

So the name cae­sar, kaiser, or czar, af­ter hav­ing sig­ni­fied the Romans’ pho­bia for the term rex, ended up by sim­ply mean­ing the great king, or the king of kings—some­thing anal­o­gous to the Persian sha­han­shah. Similar el­e­ments, in any case, are found in the sov­er­eigns of every re­gion and every pe­riod.

On the whole, the king rep­re­sents a dy­namic con­cen­tra­tion of all the im­pulses so­cially an­i­mat­ing in­di­vid­u­als. He is some­how charged with all that is willed— im­per­son­ally—within so­ci­ety. Every hu­man com­mu­nity re­quires that the or­der of the world, the or­der of na­ture, be main­tained. Catastrophes must be averted and con­di­tions fa­vor­able for the hunt, for breed­ing stock, for har­vests, must be re­al­ized. But this re­quire­ment is not man­i­fested only as de­sire, it is also im­me­di­ately felt as an ef­fec­tive power. And this power to re­al­ize the com­mon de­sire is trans­ferred to the king, who be­comes solely re­spon­si­ble. The king, pre­cisely, is the guar­an­tor of the or­der of things: Hence, if things are dis­rupted, he must be in­crim­i­nated.

I shall not de­tail facts here. The eleven vol­umes of Frazer’s Golden Bough were de­voted to study­ing the pre­rog­a­tives of prim­i­tive kings and the taboos im­posed on them. It will suf­fice to re­call that Frazer took for his de­par­ture prac­tices re­lat­ing to the priest of Nemi and his rit­ual slay­ing. Frazer re­marked that the priest orig­i­nally was royal and that the mur­der could be linked to his be­ing so. He rec­og­nized that kings, in fact, could be put to death by their peo­ple and that the royal of­fice of­ten had been less to be en­vied than to be feared. Because the king is the ob­ject of a con­cen­tra­tion of col­lec­tive feel­ings, he is si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in­fact, the ob­ject of pre­cau­tions that are dis­trust­ful and very awk­ward for him. He is treated like a sa­cred thing, and sa­cred things have to be pro­tected from con­tacts by means of a great many par­a­lyz­ing pro­hi­bi­tions. And if it so hap­pens that this process ceases to be ef­fec­tive, if it hap­pens that the or­der of things is dis­rupted de­spite royal ac­tion, the king can be put to death and sac­ri­ficed as a scape-goat, charged with the sins that were in con­flict with the nor­mal course of na­ture. The re­pul­sion that, up un­til that point, had kept the sub­jects in a ver­i­ta­ble re­li­gious ter­ror is abruptly trans­formed into a mur­der­ous re­pul­sion.

The con­cen­tra­tion of feel­ings or re­ac­tions of the so­cial body onto one per­son ob­vi­ously must re­sult in an am­bigu­ous sit­u­a­tion, which is, more­over, anal­o­gous to the sit­u­a­tion of sa­cred things in gen­eral—ob­jects of at­trac­tion and re­pul­sion. Furthermore, it can take other forms than that of the rel­a­tively rare killing. To make up for his power, the king can even be stricken with some flaw: He may be im­po­tent, cas­trated, de­formed, or obese. Mythology and rit­ual bear wit­ness to this ten­dency. Today I shall merely re­fer you to the re­mark­able work on Uranus-Varuna by Dumezil.

In ac­tual fact, the crip­pled king—or, as they said in the Middle Ages the roi méhaigné — is a toned-down ver­sion of the king who is put to death. And the ton­ing down is em­pha­sized even more be­cause in the lat­ter case there is no ques­tion of real ac­tions or events. The im­per­sonal and un­con­scious de­sire of the sub­jects—the de­sire for the cas­tra­tion and im­po­tence of the king—seems to have been ex­pressed only in the form of purely sym­bolic rit­u­als and es­pe­cially in the form of myths, leg­ends—such as the myth of the cas­trated Uranus or the leg­end of the mu­ti­lated king, the roi méhaigné of the Breton ro­mances.

This overall so­cial move­ment” that an­i­mates a hu­man com­mu­nity is far from re­duc­ing in­di­vid­u­als or in­di­vid­ual in­ter­ests. It end­lessly tra­verses the mass that it forms, but each per­son, to the ex­tent that he is un­tra­versed by great move­ments ex­ter­nal to him­self, con­tin­ues to be­have as if alone, at­tend­ing to his own in­ter­ests. And, of course, the so­cial struc­ture is the re­sult of so­cial move­ment, of al­most con­stant so­cial con­vul­sion, but this re­sult is end­lessly al­tered and thwarted by the fact that each in­di­vid­ual tries to use it for his own profit. It is self-ev­i­dent that no one is in a bet­ter po­si­tion in this re­spect than the king. Or more pre­cisely, no­body is in a bet­ter po­si­tion than the per­son for whose ben­e­fit the so­cial con­cen­tra­tion is pro­duced. There are great enough ad­van­tages to such a sit­u­a­tion that op­por­tu­ni­ties arise to do away with the pos­si­bil­ity of such vi­o­lent draw­backs as be­ing killed. The par­a­lyz­ing taboos that could not be bro­ken, could, at least, slowly be neu­tral­ized and changed. But the per­sonal in­ter­est of the king could not work for the sole ben­e­fit of an in­di­vid­ual. Any change in the royal sit­u­a­tion nec­es­sar­ily was pro­duced for the ben­e­fit of the in­sti­tu­tion it­self. And, in fact, royal power as we know it cer­tainly seems to be the re­sult of this mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the im­me­di­ate so­cial move­ment. It sup­poses in the first place a con­cen­tra­tion around a per­son that is anal­o­gous to the con­cen­tra­tion pro­duced around sa­cred places, ob­jects, and ac­tions. Above all, it sup­poses that the per­son who had won a power that was orig­i­nally purely re­li­gious or magic had the po­ten­tial of form­ing around him a sec­ond con­cen­tra­tion, that of armed force, which is of an­other na­ture and much more sta­ble. Next time I shall speak of the army and its af­fec­tive struc­ture but for the time be­ing I must limit my­self to demon­strat­ing that mil­i­tary re­la­tions do not seem to im­ply the killing of a leader, un­doubt­edly be­cause the move­ments of mur­der­ous re­pul­sion are nor­mally di­verted against the en­emy. This merg­ing of mil­i­tary strength with re­li­gious strength was nec­es­sary to the con­sti­tu­tion of the sta­ble and reg­u­lat­ing power ex­er­cised by the king against so­ci­ety. For mil­i­tary strength alone means noth­ing: It means noth­ing in­so­far as it re­mains ex­ter­nal to the so­cial con­cen­tra­tion, ex­ter­nal to the overall move­ment” an­i­mat­ing the so­ci­ety it dom­i­nates but to which, at the same time, it be­longs. There is no ex­am­ple of a last­ing so­ci­ety in which an army and its leader were for­eign to the peo­ple in the same man­ner as the oc­cu­py­ing forces of an­other coun­try are in a colony.

Doubtless such mil­i­tary struc­tures could be found at the ori­gin of a royal power. Many in­sti­tu­tions rep­re­sent­ing the com­pos­ite type I have just de­scribed had an ori­gin that was clearly mil­i­tary: the leader of an army be­com­ing king. But it was im­por­tant that the leader of the army not be con­tent with his im­me­di­ate and ex­ter­nal power. A cae­sar was doomed to be­come a god, that is to say, to put him­self at the cen­ter of an over­all move­ment, of so­ci­ety’s re­li­gious con­cen­tra­tion.

I must now sum­ma­rize the facts I have just set forth and do so in a for­mu­la­tion amount­ing to a pre­cise de­f­i­n­i­tion of Power.

Power in a so­ci­ety would be dis­tinct from the pro­duc­tion of a re­li­gious force, from a sa­cred force con­cen­trated in one per­son. It would also be dis­tinct from the mil­i­tary strength of a leader.

Power would be the in­sti­tu­tional merg­ing of the sa­cred force and mil­i­tary strength in a sin­gle per­son who makes use of them for his own in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fit and only in that way for the ben­e­fit of the in­sti­tu­tion.

In other words, power is what es­capes the tragedy re­quired by the overall move­ment” an­i­mat­ing hu­man com­mu­nity—but it es­capes tragedy specif­i­cally by di­vert­ing the forces re­quir­ing it to its own ben­e­fit.

Now when I come back to con­sid­er­ing the struc­ture of hu­man groups, no longer tak­ing as my ex­am­ple in­com­plete el­e­ments, such as a vil­lage in­te­grated into a mod­ern so­ci­ety, but a hu­man re­al­ity in its en­tirety, I am pre­pared to say that there is added to the nu­cleus of re­pul­sion and at­trac­tion that com­poses so­cial an­i­ma­tion a for­ma­tion that de­rives from it but is ex­ter­nal to it. This for­ma­tion is ca­pa­ble of di­vert­ing all en­ergy, all in­ter­nal dy­namism to its ben­e­fit, and, out­side, it is con­demned to in­dulge in any reg­u­la­tive, ad­min­is­tra­tive, or po­lice func­tion likely to en­sure its sta­bil­ity: con­demned not to de­velop, in fact, or even merely ex­ist, un­less it ex­er­cises a ma­te­r­ial dom­i­na­tion over the whole.

Here I shall make a sort of aside. I think I have been am­bigu­ous: It should be pos­si­ble to claim that I have just crit­i­cized what I call power, but it would not be im­pos­si­ble, how­ever, to as­sert that I have just spo­ken in praise of it. Discussions of this sort, fur­ther­more, are in dan­ger of in­tro­duc­ing many am­bi­gu­i­ties; in fact, it was pos­si­ble last time to take what I had said as a sort of apol­ogy for Christianity. In fact, I rep­re­sented churches as liv­ing re­al­i­ties—func­tional. As far as pos­si­ble, I should like to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ing of this sort. I do not be­lieve that last time I made any apol­ogy other than an apol­ogy for hu­man ex­is­tence. Now I know of no more rad­i­cal con­dem­na­tion of this ex­is­tence than Christianity. Besides, the facts that I set forth, the con­cen­tra­tion of a vil­lage around a sa­cred place, have noth­ing to do with Christianity; they are found every­where and it can even be as­serted that there is some­thing about them quite for­eign to the Christian spirit. It is fine that this spirit pen­e­trates and pro­foundly mod­i­fies them. They nonethe­less con­sti­tute the sur­vival, al­tered as it may be, of pa­gan­is­m’s free re­li­gious solem­nity into our times. I can only add, as far as power is con­cerned, a re­mark of the same sort: From be­gin­ning to end, on the whole, what I have to say can only have the value of an af­fir­ma­tion of ex­is­tence, and I mean that to be an af­fir­ma­tion of the overall move­ment” be­yond in­di­vid­ual in­ter­ests an­i­mat­ing it. Now the de­f­i­n­i­tion I have just given for power des­ig­nates it as a fa­tal al­ter­ation of this move­ment. Most of­ten there is a strug­gle be­tween the cre­ative dis­tur­bance of sa­cred forms and the con­ser­v­a­tive au­thor­ity of the mod­i­fi­ca­tion—of the alien­ation that orig­i­nally con­sti­tuted power. That does not im­ply hos­til­ity with re­gard to the pow­er­ful­ness em­a­nat­ing from in­ter­ac­tion of hu­man force but rather a pro­found aver­sion to­ward any­thing that takes this pow­er­ful­ness for pur­poses of con­ser­va­tion.

Having laid out all the facts, I am now pre­pared, af­ter this brief aside, to try fol­low­ing from be­gin­ning to end the for­ma­tion of a so­cial au­thor­ity, a power, so that it will be easy to grasp the senses in which it is still alive in us.

We know that in Rome, af­ter a long po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, af­ter in­ter­nal rifts of long du­ra­tion, the de facto power fell into the hands of the one gen­eral who suc­ceeded in ex­ter­mi­nat­ing the oth­ers. The tri­umph of Octavius put an end to par­ti­san strug­gle in much the same way as did the tri­umph of Mussolini or of Hitler. Now, in cer­tain re­spects, par­ti­san strug­gle rep­re­sents some­thing equiv­a­lent to that overall move­ment” that, in my opin­ion, con­sti­tutes so­cial life. Last time we saw that the terms right” and left” were found there with mean­ings sim­i­lar to those we can give them in speak­ing of the sa­cred. I shall have an op­por­tu­nity to come back to this char­ac­ter­is­tic of po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion. It is only of sec­ondary im­por­tance that po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion rep­re­sents a pre­car­i­ous form of move­ment and, for all that, al­most en­tirely de­cep­tive. In this case, as in the oth­ers, the for­ma­tion of power is al­ways pro­duced to the detri­ment of the overall move­ment” an­i­mat­ing the com­mu­nity. Whatever the ap­pear­ances, from then on Roman so­ci­ety had a re­duced ex­is­tence. The old re­li­gious forms were largely ex­hausted and un­able to profit from the need for in­ter­nal move­ment, which, un­der these con­di­tions, cre­ated a pro­found un­rest. The move­ment then re­formed it­self around myths of Christianity.

Christianity is a phe­nom­e­non whose com­plex­ity is per­fectly ap­par­ent: I shall just re­call here the struc­ture of so­cial power to which it has given rise, with­out imag­in­ing that I have ex­hausted its con­tent in this way. First of all Christianity put a high value on the pau­pers, the out­casts, and the un­clean. It set up a king in the per­son of Jesus, but this king as­so­ci­ated with the wretched. What is more, Jesus let him­self be treated like a crim­i­nal and re­duced to the con­di­tion of a tor­tured body, thus iden­ti­fy­ing him­self with the left and im­me­di­ately re­pul­sive form of the sa­cred. The myth em­pha­sizes the in­fa­mous na­ture of death on the cross by adding that he took on him­self the sins of the world, that is to say, the sum of hu­man ig­nominy. Nonetheless, the tor­ture in­stru­ment it­self al­ready bore the ti­tle king, the I. N.R.I., lesus Nazarenus Rex lu­dae­o­rum. The an­i­ma­tion was thus re­com­posed stalling from hor­ror, and as fast as it was com­posed, it be­came a cre­ator of force. What was re­pul­sive be­came the ob­ject of an ec­sta­tic se­duc­tion and gave use to the blos­som­ing of a ma­jes­tic glory. The cru­ci­fied went to sit at the right hand of his om­nipo­tent Father. Thus he united per­ma­nently in his per­son the pure and fear­some king with the ex­e­cuted king. But he took on him­self the very crime of ex­e­cut­ing the king. And this bizarre mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure was as­so­ci­ated with a rite of regi­cide, end­lessly re­peated by priests who iden­ti­fied them­selves with the vic­tim, liv­ing them­selves as ex­e­cuted kings, tak­ing in turn upon them­selves the crime of the whole world. At the same time all lim­its were pushed back be­fore this con­tin­ual cre­ation of pow­er­ful­ness. Christ merged, or more ex­actly, was now only one with a unique, om­nipo­tent, eter­nal God.

From then on power in the Roman world was di­vided. On the one hand, the em­peror was the ex­pres­sion of mil­i­tary force and con­tin­ued to form the to­tal­ity of power by re­ly­ing on the re­mains of vi­tal move­ment in the sa­cred forms of pa­gan­ism. But a cri­sis was de­vel­op­ing be­cause there was noth­ing there any­more ex­cept an in­escapable and dreary de facto power, and the un­der­ly­ing an­i­ma­tion of so­ci­ety was turn­ing away from this in or­der to con­sti­tute the purely re­li­gious and in- op­er­a­tive power of God.

From that time on the in­sti­tu­tional union of sa­cred force and mil­i­tary strength—those be­ing the terms I have used to de­fine power— re­quired an in­ti­mate as­so­ci­a­tion of the di­vine per­son and the im­pe­r­ial per­son that was pos­si­ble only af­ter Constantine. And, as al­ways, it im­plied the al­ter­ation and alien­ation of the free sa­cred ac­tiv­ity from which it took its force. The wretched, ex­cuded king took the robe of the Byzantine em­peror: The ig­no­min­ious vic­tim be­came a mil­i­tary and hi­er­atic sov­er­eign, and from then on it would have been pos­si­ble to ex­claim as Luther did: It is­n’t man but God who hangs, be­heads, uses a wheel to break men, slits their throats and makes war.” Now God was noth­ing more than the em­peror whose sa­cred robes he glo­ri­fied on the church walls, in the same way that the em­porer was, for his part, the im­age of God on earth.

The un­der­ly­ing du­al­ity of the specif­i­cally Christian sa­cred power and of power was not pos­si­ble ex­cept un­der con­di­tions ut­terly dif­fer­ent from those of ei­ther the Roman or Byzantine Empire. It is pos­si­ble only in the frame­work of Western civ­i­liza­tion, ow­ing to the pro­found di­vi­sion of the an­tag­o­nis­tic mil­i­tary forces, from the be­gin­ning char­ac­ter­is­tic of those re­gions of Europe es­cap­ing dom­i­na­tion by the Roman Empire, which had be­come the Byzantine Empire. The du­al­ity was ex­pressed in the Middle Ages by the terms spiritual power” and temporal power,” but the vo­cab­u­lary was ut­terly de­fi­cient and im­plied al­ready the evo­lu­tion that had the Roman pon­tiff be a sov­er­eign among oth­ers, strictly anal­o­gous to the oth­ers. This evo­lu­tion could have no other re­sult, in fact, than this institutional union of sa­cred force and mil­i­tary strength.” These are the terms, I re­peat, that I have used to de­fine power in gen­eral. But for all that, one should not un­der­es­ti­mate the un­der­ly­ing du­al­ity at the ba­sis of the civ­i­liza­tion that we are still liv­ing. This du­al­ity found its ex­pres­sion in the form of an ob­ses­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of killing the king. There is no doubt, in fact, that the im­age of the cru­ci­fied fig­ure dom­i­nates the West right up to our times, and even that it has no pos­si­ble com­pe­ti­tion. Certainly it has lost the force of its orig­i­nal mean­ing, but the du­al­ity has con­tin­ued in other forms. In any case, it is only in the past few years that the cru­ci­fied fig­ure has been threat­ened in Germany and in Italy by im­ages of power that ex­clude any idea of tragedy, any idea of killing the king. Moreover, the Italian fasces as it is seen on every lo­co­mo­tive’s belly is in this re­spect more charged with a pre­cise mean­ing than is the swastika. The lic­tor’s fasces in Rome was, in fact, the in­signia of mag­is­trates to the im­perium such as con­suls and prae­tors. It rep­re­sented es­sen­tially the mil­i­tary power that be­longed to these mag­is­trates and that hap­pened to be reg­u­larly linked to the specif­i­cally re­li­gious power of au­gury. It must be es­pe­cially em­pha­sized that the lic­tor’s ax was noth­ing but the in­stru­ment of be­head­ing. Consequently, the in­stru­ment for killing sub­jects is what is con­spic­u­ously op­posed to the im­age of the king who is tor­tured to death.

Now I am able to go back to the over­all pic­ture in a rather schematic man­ner. At the cen­ter of hu­man tur­moil is the crime that en­gen­ders those sa­cred things that are of the left and un­touch­able. These im­pure sa­cred things them­selves give rise to a fear­ful force that is also sa­cred, but right and glo­ri­ous: But this force per­son­i­fied is again sub­jected to the threat of crime. For the crime’s re­cur­rence is nec­es­sary to the in­tense move­ment pro­duc­ing it­self at the cen­ter of hu­man groups. It is the crime that es­sen­tially con­sti­tutes the tragic act, and it is self ev­i­dent that some day or other it draws the crim­i­nal him­self, the vi­o­lent one, into death. Two op­po­site an­swers have been given to the ques­tion, so charged with all of hu­man an­guish, re­sult­ing from this strange sit­u­a­tion. Both of these an­swers if given on the sym­bolic level, and, at least for the whole it is enough that it be so. Tragedy of­fers hu­man be­ings the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the crim­i­nal who kills the king: Christianity of­fers iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the vic­tim, the slain king. The Christian so­lu­tion up un­til now has pre­vailed. But all this move­ment takes place in a world that thwarts it. Power is con­sti­tuted above and be­yond this tur­moil, which it turns to its own profit and, to the ex­tent that the tur­moil seems to be longer use­ful to it, strives to par­a­lyze it by rais­ing the threat of the ex­e­cu­tion­er’s ax against the threat of crime, Power is the only force that blindly seeks to elim­i­nate the earth’s crime whereas all re­li­gious forms are in some way drenched in it.

But as power finds its source in bring­ing sa­cred things into play, it is weak­ened as a di­rect re­sult of its ten­dency to empty sa­cred things of their crim­i­nal con­tent. It con­se­quently fa­vors the ra­tio­nal­ism that kills it and, bit by bit, loses the force to as­sume the si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­li­gious and mil­i­tary as­pect es­sen­tial to. Faded and at­ten­u­ate forms then ap­pear that rep­re­sent a re­turn to a prim­i­tive sit­u­a­tion — ex­cept for the in­ten­sity that has dis­ap­peared. The crime, the killing of the king re­sults in a tragic emis­sion of sa­cred force. But it is no longer pos­si­ble in this man­ner to achieve any­thing more than equally force­ful comic emis­sions. The sov­er­eign is no longer put to death but rather is dis­guised as a wretched lord and, more­over, is per­son­ally de­prived of force. There is no longer the es­sen­tial fall from liv­ing king to dead king; there is only degra­da­tion—the emis­sion of en­ergy that can take form only in pe­riph­eral laugh­ter where it in­ter­venes like a strange tick­ling, turn­ing a state of sim­ple, open, and com­mu­nica­tive ex­u­ber­ance into an ex­plo­sive dis­charge.

This sit­u­a­tion in turn, for very gen­eral rea­sons, en­gen­ders dis­con­tent. The dom­i­nant class, as a re­sult of the weak­ness of power, has lost the ca­pac­ity to use for its own profit the di­ver­sion of the cen­tral so­cial forces that per­mit­ted the ap­pro­pri­a­tion of wealth. It there­fore is smit­ten with an ir­re­sistible nos­tal­gia for that power that per­mits set­tling the or­der of things to its own ad­van­tage. But, be­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously too im­me­di­ately in­ter­ested and too cow­ardly, it is in­ca­pable of re­gen­er­at­ing this through the crim­i­nal cre­ation of sa­cred forces. It has re­course, there­fore, to im­me­di­ate vi­o­lence, to the con­sti­tu­tion of a new force of a mil­i­tary sort that it links to what­ever re­mains of the sa­cred forces, par­tic­u­larly the sa­cred forces that are di­rectly con­nected with power, such as the fa­ther­land.

Then it cre­ates the sit­u­a­tion in which we now find our­selves and that I shall not seek to de­fine in a pre­cise man­ner un­til a lit­tle later. I must, in fact, stop here to­day. Moreover, be­fore get­ting to es­tab­lish the prob­lems posed for us and their pos­si­ble so­lu­tion, I shall have to at­tempt a de­tailed analy­sis of the forms that at the pre­sent time, as al­ways, are op­posed to any move­ment, namely, the mil­i­tary forms; then an analy­sis of the sec­ondary dy­namic forms that have al­ways in­tro­duced the pos­si­bil­ity of re­ac­ti­vat­ing the so­cial tragedy. In this way I shall once again reen­ter the do­main Caillois has re­served for him­self, namely the do­main of se­cret so­ci­eties (or if one wishes, elec­tive com­mu­ni­ties) that I have just re­ferred to in speak­ing of dy­namic forms, and con­se­quently bor­row­ing an ex­pres­sion of Dumezil’s that is a strik­ingly apt de­scrip­tion. Caillois, I might add, is to give me be­fore­hand a writ­ten pa­per that I shall read when the time comes, and to which I shall add only a com­men­tary con­nect­ing the facts to the body of ideas I am pre­sent­ing here.

These notes are from Hollier (.ed) The College of Sociology

[This time it is not be­cause he did not write it out, but rather be­cause ill­ness made him in­ter­rupt his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ac­tiv­i­ties of the College, that we do not have the text by Caillois that is an­nounced in the pro­gram. Bataille spoke in his place. And, as he men­tions, to the ex­tent that it was pos­si­ble, he spoke ac¬cord­ing to Caillois’s in­struc­tions. Many of the points tack­led in this lec­ture are to be found in L’Homme et Ie sacre, which Caillois was writ­ing dur­ing the pe­riod the College was ac­tive; it ap¬peared dur­ing the sum­mer of 1939. Chapter 3 of this work (“Le Sacre de re¬spect: the­o­rie des in­ter­dits”) groups the analy­ses as they re­late to the prob­lem of power (see, es­pe­cially, the sec­tions: La Genese du pou­voir, Le Fait du pou­voir, don­nee im­me­di­ate,” Caractere sacre du pou­voir”). This chap­ter is the first panel of a dip­tych where it con­trasts with chap­ter 4, Le Sacre de trans¬gres­sion: the­o­rie de la fete, which Caillois will read be­fore the College about a year later, on May 2, 1939.

In the NRF of October 1937, Caillois pub­lished a note on Leon Blum, who had re­signed in June. Blum had pub­lished un­der the ti­tle L’Exercice du pou­voir, the col­lec­tion of texts he had writ­ten and de­liv­ered as pres­i­dent of the Council of the Popular Front. What fol­lows is taken from this note: *7 take the lib­erty of speak­ing, writes Caillois, about the con­cep­tion of power that ap­pears in the writ­ings of Leon Blum; I take the lib­erty of crit­i­ciz­ing it in­de­pen­dently from the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances in which this con­cep­tion was tested and this power ex¬er­cised. Power, in ef­fect, whether ex­er­cised or sub­mit­ted to, is a kind of imme¬di­ate con­scious data, to­ward which a be­ing has an el­e­men­tary re­ac­tion of at­trac­tion or re­pul­sion. Furthermore, the analy­sis of so­cial phe­nom­ena demon­strates that power nec­es­sar­ily be­longs to the do­main of the sa­cred. The power of one be­ing over oth­ers sets up a re­la­tion­ship among them that can­not be re­duced to the pure forms of con­tract. It draws its power from the very essence of the so­cial phe­nom­e­non and man­i­fests its im­per­a­tive as­pect with no in­ter­me­di­ary or loss of en­ergy, it also seems as if power were im­preg­nated with the sa­cred, or were, rather, its very source, so much so that one hes­i­tates to choose which term de­fines the other. The world of power is in­deed tragedy’s world; there it is im­pos­si­ble to go back on any act once it is com­mit­ted. Saint-Just (who was the first to as­sert that one does not rule in­no­cently, while mak­ing a king’s head fall with this maxim) also made a rare and im­placa­ble use of power. After the Sylla of Montesquieu’s di­a­logue, Saint-Just’s use of power pro­vided the most bril­liant les­son to be con­tem­plated in these mat­ters. Leon Blum does not have this pon­tif­i­cal con­cep­tion of power. It is clear that, for Blum, le­gal­ity is the ba­sis of power. It is to be feared, rather, that it is power that is the ba­sis of le­gal­ity. All power is se­vere; it is al­most de­stroyed and cer­tainly sapped if it is not abused when­ever deemed nec­es­sary. The co­ercer has a ter­ri­ble and, in a sense, in­ex­pi­able re­spon­si­bil­ity. But ei­ther you take it or you leave it; when co­er­cion must be­ex­erted, when or­der must be born, even re­spect for the law is null and void.”

Bataille’s elab­o­ra­tions will not re­spect point for point Caillois’s view on power as for­mu­lated in this note. Particularly, where Caillois iden­ti­fies power with tragedy, Bataille once again dis­tin­guishes them from each other. He op­poses the power that kills and the power that dies, the lic­tor’s ax that makes unity rule with a peremp­tory, cut­ting ges­ture and the cross that prop­a­gates a tragic com­mu­nion of heartrend­ing agony. The mil­i­tary struc­ture of power ex­ports the works of death, the re­li­gious struc­ture takes them on it­self in or­der to ex­pi­ate the au­thor­ity with which it is cloaked. But in this Christian type of re­li­gious struc­ture, Bataille re­verses the con­se­crated iden­ti­fi­ca­tions: Now one must iden­tify no longer with Christ but with his ex­e­cu­tion­ers, not with the king who dies but with the regi­cide. It is by means of this dis­place­ment that re­li­gion be­comes tragedy and piety is con­verted into shaman­is­tic en­ergy.]