Volume 56

The Temptations of Scapegoating

by Daniel B. Yeager

In this Article, I examine four types of scapegoating which I designate (1) frame-ups, (2) axe-grindings, (3) patsies, and (4) reckonings. Each type is distinct from the original Levitical sense of the term whereby Aaron, by placing his hands on the head of a live goat and confessing the sins of the people of Israel, transfers the guilt of the people to the goat, which he promptly banishes to the desert. That Levitical sense of the term still has point within the fields of race, family psychology, and mass sociology, where scapegoating is identified as a process of “exter-nalizing” social harms.

Yet is it safe to say that few of the nearly 20,000 Westlaw references to scape-goating rely on this Levitical sense of the term. Instead, most point to more extended senses of the term, some too extended for my taste, as in “diversity juris-diction” or “double taxation” as scapegoating. Here, I attempt to present the first taxonomy of scapegoating in senses of the term that have been stretched over time, but stretched neither un-naturally nor all out of shape. My intention is to uncover the grammar of scapegoating, the close study of which may help us reach agreement on when and why scapegoating can tempt those sitting in judgment, thereby threatening to undermine principles of equality in punishment: of treating humans as ends in themselves.

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