The Gift Revisited: Marcel Mauss on War, Debt and the Politics of Nations

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This article offers a new interpretation of The Gift written by Marcel Mauss. It provides a contextual interpretation of the formation of Mauss' thinking about the international relations in the question of German reparations paid to the Allies. The article starts by showing the intellectual origins of the concept of "reparations" in the "solidarist" and socialist movements in which Marcel Mauss, Charles Gide and Leon Blum participated. Then, it shows that Mauss, just before The Gift was first published, argued in favor of granting to Germany a moratorium on its payments of reparations in 1924 and giving back part of their war debt to the Germans. At last in The Gift, Mauss constructs a normative model of international relations which explains why and how nations honor their debts by circulating gifts which are paid back after some indeterminate amount of time. Thus The Gift can be conceived as a juridical attempt to establish a legal precident, especially in German legal culture, that gifts are paid back by counter-gifte, particularly if the rituals and the discontinuous temporality of gift-giving practices are respected.

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  • 01/02/2019
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