First semester of PhD in Political Science and International Relations absorbs me completely and I do not have time to write book reviews regularly. Therefore, today I am going to share with you a bit of my world instead.
Devotion and loyalty of citizens to the state have always been the subject of political philosophers’ concerns. They have seen love for one’s country as a power maintaining its unity. While the importance of the so-called civil religion is widely recognized, some thinkers have tried to reconcile the religion with politics so that people would stay devoted only to state authority. Others have offered more political idea about commitments to the state and community. I will focus on three outstanding philosophers: Rousseau (Social Contract), Montesquieu (The Spirit of Laws) and Hamilton, Madison Jay (The Federalist Papers).
According to Rousseau (p. 148), in republic everyone gives himself whole and entire to the state; everyone becomes indivisible part of the whole and the private needs are sacrificed for the common good. To keep individuals devoted to the common good, the civil religion is necessary because it maintains special union of all citizens. People always have short-sighted selfish perspectives and civil religion would be the power to limit them and would help to create the ideal citizen who thinks about the common good rather than his private needs. Further, civil religion is necessary to shape the identity of every individual, to change the thinking about himself as “I” to thinking as “we”. Only then the republic is preserved and prosperous.
In Book IV, chapter 8 of Social Contract Rousseau offers his ideas about civil religion. He recognized the historical importance of religion and the potential of it to establish the legitimacy of republic and strengthen the ties and loyalty for the state. According to the author, no state has ever been founded that did not have religion at its base (p. 223). First and foremost, Rousseau refers to pagan religions which actually were compatible with the state. Each state had its own cult and its own government, the gods were not distinguish from its laws, and the god of one people did not have power over other people (p. 220). Although he shows sympathy for paganism, he rejects it because it is historical anachronism.
However, the situation changed when Christianity established spiritual kingdom on earth and it spirit won everything (p. 222). The unity of the state ceased, the theological system was separated from the political system and people’s devotion to otherworldly kingdom became more important (p. 221). The perpetual conflict appeared about to whom people should be devoted, to the priest or the state ruler (p. 222). If priests usurp the power, the authority of the state might be at stake. To show Christianity’s incompatibility with the state, he refers to Mohamed who was able to tie together his political system with religion, which resulted in unity of the state and people (p. 222). Rousseau admits that the authentic Christianity of Gospel was religiously true but useless in political terms (p. 223). The republic needs fully devoted and loyal citizens but Christianity is incompatible with it because it detaches people from all earthy concerns and this is the greatest threat to social spirit. Instead of bringing people close to the state, it disengages people from worldly things and commitments. The lack of union bond has destructive power (p. 223). Christians cannot be perfect citizens because earth is not their real homeland and republic needs people who love their state (p. 224). In case of war, they fight but without passion because they believe the death will be the beginning of divine life, which is true victory for them. Furthermore, because the earthy life has little value for them, they are made to be slaves (p. 225).
Nevertheless, Rousseau stresses (p.223-4) that the religion where it has its own dogmas and rites prescribed by law, where it united people inside particular state territory it might be of usage for the state because it makes the homeland the object of its citizens’ admiration and the service to the state is a service to the god. To die for the country is a privilege, and breaking the law means being impious. However he saw the flaws in it such as making people intolerant and blood thirsty.
After discussing why Christianity is not compatible with the republic he elaborates on why civil religion is of great importance for the republic. Civil religion makes every citizen to love his duties. The author focuses on dogmas that are related to political needs: justice, punishment for crimes, sacredness of laws and social contract (p. 226). Further, the sentiment of sociability makes people a good citizens. He calls it “a purely civil profession of faith (p. 226). Other way speaking, the loyalty people have for their God, should be replaced by civil faith leading to unconditional devotion to the republic and common good.
However, while his idea of civil religion is appreciable and of great importance for the republic, he shows illiberal approach to atheists. The state cannot force people to follow particular faith but it can banish them from the state because they are not “sociable”, because they are unable to love the laws and justice and would not sacrifice their own life for common good (p. 226). One should consider the time when Rousseau lived and created the Social Contract. Atheists were perceived as bad citizens because they did not believe in ultimate divine punishment for their wrongdoings, therefore, they were perceived as not trustable and immoral. Rousseau’s words might be sticking for modern critics because he claimed that those who did not did not have love for the laws could be sentence to death (p. 226).
At the very end, Rousseau offers the most liberal and pluralist approach to religion. He says the thing that cannot be accepted in religious intolerance. The religious rights and civil rights are the same, they are inseparable. Religious intolerance will have the negative effect on civil rights, which leads to disruption of republican unity. Therefore, those who are tolerant deserve to be tolerated because they do duties of good citizens (p. 227). The most important message that Rousseau sends is that the religious toleration is a mean to minimize social divisions.
One might get the impression that Rousseau did not offer perfect vision of civil religion that is full civil devotion and love to the republic. He rather based the love for the country on the religious devotion. He was Christian himself and probably did not feel courageous enough to offer something that would completely break with religion.
Montesquieu offers a virtue as an ideal for republican citizenship. The virtue, the love for one’s country, that is the love for equality (p.16) is an outstanding account of civil religion. He says that this not a moral, not a Christian, but a political virtue, which allows republic to prosper. The honest man, who is a good citizen has a love for laws of his country and is driven by those laws (p. 17). The love requires sacrifices of individual interest for the sake of preferences of the public- the common good.
While the virtue is necessary in republic, it is not necessary in monarchical or despotic state because prince or despot hold the whole power and direct people. However, the popular state needs a virtue (p. 37-8). The virtue, like religion, is arduous and painful. It means self- renunciation for the sake of common good (p. 51). It gives the sense that the general good is everyone’s interest. The perseverance of republic depend on establishing the virtue and rooting it in the citizens (p. 51). Only love for the country can change the motivation of its citizens so that they will reject their passions, greed and ambitions. This is the way to preserve order and law will prevail. Common good must become sacred thing for the people. Patriotism might appear in any kind of state but in republic the citizen identified himself with whole community. A love of the republic is a love of equality that is why citizens must limit their desires to serve better to their country (p. 60). Montesquieu argues the love of equality and frugality must be previously established by law (p. 61). The equality must be created by the equal distribution of properties. A single man should not be allowed to possess more than other man (p. 62). If all citizens possess the same and have the same interests, it is easier for the people to have consideration for the common interest.
Finally, The Federalist Papers from the very beginning refer to tolerance as a way to maintain American federalist state. Hamilton in Paper No 1 (p. 3) refers to toleration and moderation. He says that there should be spirit of mutual toleration between political parties. He explains that nothing comes out good from resolving problems by “fire and sword” as it happens in religion. On the other hand, in Paper No 10 (p. 25), Madison stresses the danger coming from the factions in the state. Factions happen everywhere under different circumstances of civil society. One of the causes of the faction can be a zeal for different opinions concerning religion. So he understood that religion might cause conflicts and some groups might want to take over the power. Therefore, the great object of the government is to secure the public good and private rights against the faction and at the same time to preserve the spirit of a good government (p. 28). One of the ways to deal with factions would be existence of the same passions and interests in a majority. The situation that oppression would occur should be disabled. Neither moral not religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They do not work well to prevent injustice and violence of individuals. However, in republic small group of qualified people represent the rest of society. Their knowledge and wisdom make them do what is the best interest for the country. They have great patriotism and love of justice, and they are least likely to sacrifice the common good for temporary or partial considerations (p. 30).
Further, in Paper 10 Madison explains that the great social and religious diversity of the United States is a factor in diminishing the possibility of majority tyranny against minority groups. The greater the diversity of political interests or religious sects in a society, the lesser the possibility that a permanent majority would form a single interest or sect and use its power against minorities. In other words, that great diversity creates countervailing power against the possibility of a single established church that would dominate all other churches. He explains (p. 33) that religious sect might spread in particular state, however it does not pose a serious treat for the country because it cannot spread on large scale. It is important to note that they do not suggest United States of America as irreligious state but rather peaceful state with its rich religious diversity. This diversity and mutual tolerance can serve to unite people and help them to feel a sense of connection.
In Paper No 51 (p. 96-7) Madison emphasizes that security of both civil rights and religious rights must be the same because this is the fundamental of free and well prospered government. The only solution for peace and stability is the shared principle of justice and consideration for general good. All parties must be protected, the weaker as well as and more powerful.
Lastly, from Paper No 10 (p. 33) we can conclude that civil religion is the attachment to republic, being proud of being republican and having the zeal to cherish the spirit of federalist states. Therefore, civil religion does not mean to include one religion and exclude the other; it means the share system of beliefs and opinions about justice that will bind the people together. Civil religion in American terms won’t be based on particular religious truths and beliefs, but on public sentiment. Importantly enough, in Paper No 14 (p. 40), Madison highlights the unique and outstanding character of the federalist system. Americans should celebrate their union, creation of a new country, which highly values liberties and promotes people’s happiness. The American pursues “a new and more noble course” and nobody before accomplished such a things (p. 41). Moreover, through all papers authors refer to “the people of this country”, “united people”, “the people of America”, or “the people” which emphasizes the unity of republic and devotion to each other and the common good. The civil religion is mutual attachment that shapes the republic.
To summarize, Rousseau, Montesquieu and author of Federalist Papers had the same political aims. All of them wanted to create ideal state where citizens would enjoy equality and would be fully devoted to it because without love for the country the republic cannot exist. All of them argue that civil religion is of great importance for preservation of the republic. Equality, loyalty, tolerance and bonds between people make the republic more prosperous. Rousseau offered civil religion that makes utility of religious devotion, while Montesquieu created a more political virtue which motivates people to act towards common good. Lastly, Madison, Hamilton and Jay produced outstanding attachment to the great diversity, which bring people together.
Hamilton A, Madison J, Jay J (2012) The Federalist Paper. USA, Canada: Penguin Books.
Montesquieu CS (2001) The Spirit of Laws. Kitchener: Batoche Books.
Rousseau JJ (2009) On the Social Contract, or Principle of Political Right. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.