This website uses cookies and includes Amazon affiliate links. By using this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy.

Who Can Be a Scapegoat?


A scapegoat is, in the original Hebrew sense, a goat symbolically burdened with the sins of the ancient Jewish people. By extension, it has come to mean any group or individual that innocently bears the blame of others. What kind of beings are candidates of scapegoats?

Image by Gerd Altmann + OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay modified by me

1. Power politics of center and periphery

The scapegoat is victimized when a community is faced with the increase in entropy, such as natural disasters, economic disorder and so on. When a social anxiety spreads over the community and it comes to a crisis of disorganization or a civil war, someone, pointing at an alien, says, It’s all his fault! and make a scapegoat of him. It doesn’t matter whether he is really to blame for the crisis or not. When all the members victimize him together, this togetherness restores the unity of the community.

Usually victimizers are located in the center and victims on the periphery of a community. Let’s compare center/periphery and top/bottom in original spatial images. Suppose A is on the top and B is at the bottom of a hierarchy. For A, B is at the bottom and for B, A is on the top. This means top/bottom is not a relative reversible relation. How about center/periphery? For A, A is a center and B is a periphery. For B, B is a center and A is a periphery. So long as it is based on egoism, the difference is relative and reversible. Which is the objective center (with a definite article) and which is a subjective center (with an indefinite article) that might belong to the periphery depends on the amount of capital.

Here it is important for a system theory to notice that center/periphery corresponds to system/environment. The scapegoat exclusion is necessary to reunify and maintain a system by distinguishing itself from its environment. An individual is a subjective center that selects itself on its judgment and excludes its own environment. As I showed the last issue, individuals are selected by selecting and locate themselves on the objective center/periphery structure.

A community finds its scapegoat sometimes inside and sometimes outside it. In the former case, the majority in power victimizes a powerless minority in a community. In the latter case, the community tries to turn the member’s dissatisfaction to the outside target. Unlike the former case, the latter case makes the whole community a center, but not always the objective center on the wider horizon. A leader of a minority race under the dominion of the Soviet Union, agitating his comrades, could say, It’s all Stalin’s fault! though this minority race group would remain the periphery of the Soviet Union. As such scapegoating is doomed to fail for lack of power, the victimizers must have superiority in number over the victims.

In a typical scapegoat persecution, the major center in power victimizes a powerless minor periphery, although, in most of societies, the minority in power exploits the majority. To explain this discrepancy, we need to classify the center into the core as the actually ruling classes and the semi-periphery (semi-core) as the actually ruled middle classes for the sake of analysis. The ruling classes are afraid the ruled classes stand together. So, following divide et impera policy, the ruling class divides the ruled class into the major middle class and the minor peripheral class and persecute the latter class as a scapegoat so that the former could feel that they are on the safer, normal and advantageous side and share the we-consciousness with the ruling class. Pariah in India or Eta in Japan is a typical example of the scapegoat class.

When the core goes corrupt and the semi-periphery gets conscious of exploitation, the center loses we-consciousness. Semi-periphery sometimes makes the scapegoat of the core. Owing to individual high capital, the core has more stable status than the periphery, but as the power depends on the sum of capital, the core is often overthrown, if it loses popular support of the majority, namely political capital.

2. The witch as a scapegoat

An often-cited example of scapegoat is the Witch-hunting in Medieval Europe. As the pre-Christian Europeans associate fertility with motherliness, they tend to worship maternal animistic religion. Against this tendency, Judaism-Christianity is paternal religion. Judaism was not paternal at first, but in order to differentiate them from the Oriental religion, Moses reformed the religion and made Judaism purely paternal religion. Based on Judaism, Christianity was also paternal and got over maternal animism. While Christianity was spreading all over Europe, it made a compromise with the natives by worshiping Maria on one hand and made the native goddesses witches on the other.

The English word witch is relative to wizard and French sorciere also means just magician. What is noteworthy is German Hexe, which derives from Hag or Hecke, meaning hedge. Hag is another English word for witch. Latin striga and Italian strega also derives from hedge. A witch is a woman who jumps over the hedge that distinguishes the center from the periphery.

A witch was believed to apply a special ointment to her body, fly in the air riding blooms and join the Sabbat. The ointment meant an aphrodisiac; the broomstick a penis; flying in the air orgasm; the Sabbat the sexual orgy.

They thought such Dionysian disorder resulted from witches transgressing the boundary of sexual norms. When the boundary between a system and its environment comes to fade, the system falls into crisis. Burning witches at the stake was a ritual necessary for the system to differentiate itself from its environment and re-create the order.

The medieval witch-hunt was most frequent when a drop in temperature caused a harvest failure. The ruling classes must accuse somebody of the starvation crisis so as to evade their responsibilities. The scapegoats that the medieval Christian power chose to make were the heathen magicians that were aliens and peripheral to it.

Some scapegoats were male but most of them were female. There are two reasons for it. First, a woman had a peripheral status those days. Second, sterile women were associated with a crop failure. That’s why they were the most likely candidates for witches.

Christianity had been a scapegoat before the Roman Empire authorized it. Once it seized power, it began to oppress heathenism. The witch trial came to an end in the late 18th century, when the People’s Revolution drove the religious classes from power. The center/periphery relation has been changing.