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
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.]