rousseau religion civile.pdf

Download rousseau religion civile.pdf

Post on 04-Jun-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    Rousseau's Civil Religion Reconsidered

    Author(s): Diane FournySource: The French Review, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Mar., 1987), pp. 485-496Published by: American Association of Teachers of FrenchStable URL: 26/04/2010 10:34

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless

    you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you

    may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

    Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at

    Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed

    page of such transmission.

    JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of

    content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms

    of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

    American Association of Teachers of Frenchis collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend

    access to The French Review.
  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    THE FRENCHREVIEW,Vol. 60, No. 4, March 1987 Printed in U.S.A.

    Rousseau's Civil Religion ReconsideredbyDianeFourny

    RECENTWORK NROUSSEAUby scholars in fields other than literary studies orpolitical science has proven extremely fruitful in reexamining some of Rous-seau's more problematic texts.' One has only to consider J. Derrida's analysisof the Essai sur l'origine des langues to make this point clear.2Another contro-versial text, the chapter concerning De la religion civile of the Contrat socialcould also profit from new critical perspectives. As B. Baszko reminds us, thetemptation is great to dismiss Rousseau's enigmas to un ecrit de circonstancethat are best left explained through some sort of biographical filtering.3 Yet aconcept as important as civil religion deserves a better fate than being dismissedas abitter irony, an affolement or dangereux. 4In analyzing Rousseau's discussion of religion and government, his criticshave broken into disparate arguments precisely what Rousseau designed aswhole and insoluble.5 In many respects, we have not yet loosed ourselves fromthe legacy of eighteenth-century secularism and continue to be perplexed, ifnot altogether inhibited, by the idea of a republic in which Church and Statemight work in collusion. This is not to suggest that the chapter on De la religioncivile achieves logical consistency-far from it. Time and again, Rousseau quamoralist contradicts Rousseau qua political theorist. However, the fact that hemanaged to touch upon the rather obscure political functions of religion in thistext-the role religion plays in the organization and maintaining of socialorder-reveals a novel and profound insight into man's religious dimensionthat we have only come to know today through the work of anthropologists.This study of De la religion civile will attempt to trace the intellectual pathRousseau followed in formulating the notion of civil religion that led him tothe very limits of a theory of religion. In this respect, my study will draw uponthe work of a contemporary scholar, Rene Girard, whose theory (or hypothesis,as he calls it) which treats religion from the perspective of social order and theproblem of violence, will assist in determining Rousseau's move toward a theoryof religion.6 Girard's work can clarify three major problems that have so farimpeded our understanding of De la religion civile : 1) why the State necessi-tates the incorporation of religion (or a sacred dimension) in its foundingprinciples; 2) how Rousseau arrived at the idea of a tolerant civil religionwhich, in fact, paradoxically reintroduced and justified intolerance;and 3) whyRousseau rejected what he himself described as the perfect religion or theChristianity of the Gospels. A first part will be limited to a close reading of Dela religion civile in order to demonstrate that Rousseau's discussion of religion


  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    486 FRENCH REVIEWbegins and terminates with the problem of violence: its inception and manifes-tation in the context of political order. A second part will look at the text inlight of Girard's theory of religion and violence hopefully to clarify the ratherobscure dynamics of the notion of civil religion and why it serves as a conclusionto the Contratsocial.

    Apprehensive about the notion of State and Religion together in a politicalcontext, the modern reader of Rousseau's Contratmost likely prefers to viewcivil religion as a moral or practical expediency. (Most critics have positionedRousseau's civil religion between the parti devot and the coterie philoso-phique with Rousseau arguing in favor of and against certain opinions held byeach political camp.) A first reading does point to certain moral and practicalimplications that seem to underpin Rousseau's political argument. However,upon closer scrutiny, glaring and contradictory remarks surface in the textwhich negate the moral ustification of Rousseau's convictions. How are weto understand religion and the role it plays in the Contratsocial?De la religion civile is divided into three distinct parts. First, by means ofhistorical argument, Rousseau explains how government has never existedwithout religion nor religion without government.' His second point looks atthe various forms of religion to determine the most suitable kind for his State.(This discussion soon evolves into a lengthy and at times vehement refutationof Christianity.) The last and shortest of the arguments deals directly with thenotion of civil religion, briefly describing its principles, purpose, and application.From the discussion of these three points, Rousseau will talk around, and yetcontinue to avoid, the problem at hand: the justification of religion's role in therepublic's political organization. At one point he will assert categorically thatreligion resides at the very center of the social pact. At the same time, he willalso categorically insist upon the exclusion of certain religious forms (in partic-ular Christianity) from the social pact. The double play of inclusion andexpulsion of the sacred dimension points to one of the more curious and obscurefunctions of religion: the mechanism of scapegoating. Although the question ofknowing whether Rousseau consciously dealt with this mechanism cannot beanswered, he nevertheless stumbled upon the fundamental nature of religionas Law, as the organization of human violence into a coherent social unity.Rousseau begins by sketching the origins of human society, explaining thatreligion did not issue from the founding of some moral principle but was tiedrather to the problem of sovereignty. Speculating on this early society, Rousseauconstructs a social model of history made up of religion, government, and war.Inseparable from time immemorial, government and religion have been lockedin cyclical battles against violence (e.g., external warfare or internal-domes-tic-disobedience and persecution of the disobedient). Rousseau never clearlyexplains the dynamics or origin of this phenomenon. However, he does maketwo highly original points that deserve some attention.First, from the principle of the inseparability of government and religion,Rousseau derives the notion of social and political unity. Contrary to the

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    ROUSSEAU'SCIVILRELIGION 487Enlightenment's accusation that the history of religion shows nothing but theperpetration of violence, Rousseau suggests that the reverse is true: religionbrought about social harmony and order. He argues that religious wars wereunknown to man's early history since religion and government confined theirlaws and exercise of authority to specific cultural (national) boundaries:

    on mettaitDieua la tete de chaquesocietepolitique, l s'ensuivitqu'il y eut autantde Dieuxque de peuples ... chaqueEtatayantson cultepropreaussi bien que sonGouvernement,ne distinguaitpointses lois ... Le Dieu d'un peuplen'avaitaucundroitsur les autrespeuples.(460)Rousseau gives no explanation as to when or why violence between peopleinevitably breaks out. He merely conjectures that two foreign populations,almostalways enemies, attack each other at one point; two armies somehowcome to blows. Furthermore, Rousseau also argues against the accusation thatpolytheism or the presence of several competing gods, gave rise to rivalry andviolence among different cultural populations. Instead, Rousseau derivespolytheism from the already existing civil and foreign wars. Thus, Rousseau iscareful to explain that religion remains, if anything, the result and not the originof violence:

    Laguerreetant purementcivileetait toutce qu'ellepouvaitetre. Lesdepartementsdes Dieuxetaientpourainsi dire fixes parles bornes des nations.(337 [firstversionof the Contratocial])Chaquereligionetantdoncuniquementattacheeaux loixde l'Etatqui la prescrivait,il n'y avaitpointd'autremanierede convertirunpeuple quede l'asservir, i d'autresmissionnairesque les conqu&rants,t I'obligationde changerde culte etant la loides vaincus, l fallaitcommencerparvaincreavantd'en parler. 461)

    The religion and laws of a State are the organizing principles of its politicalorder. The disruption of political order can only result from external aggression( il fallait commencer par vaincre'): an act of aggression necessarily precedesthe act of indoctrination.In the Discours sur l'originede l'inegalite Rousseau had already suggested theState's potential (if not necessary) use of violence. He explained that reasonalone could not create and maintain sovereign authority. Authority also stoodupon its control and use of force. With the introduction of the sacred into thepolitical organization of society, State violence found its justification in thename of a divine will, and men were no longer accountable for the sovereignuse of violence they needed at times to inflict upon rebellious subjects:

    combien es Gouvernementshumainsavaientbesoind'une base plus solideque laseule raison,et combien il etait necessaireau repos publicque la volonte divineinterviintpourdonnera l'autorite ouveraineun caractereacreet inviolablequi6tatauxsujetsle funestedroit d'en disposer.Quandla religionn'aurait aitque ce bienauxhommes,c'enseraitassez pour qu'ilsdussenttous la cheriret I'adopter,memeavec ses abus puisqu'elleepargneencore plus de sang que le fanatisme n'en faitcouler.(186)

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    488 FRENCHREVIEWIn this manner, religion as an integral part of government, founded sovereignauthority, hence, helped to unify the State despite the State's abuse of force.The second point of interest Rousseau makes concerns a particular form ofviolence: religious intolerance. Rousseau suggests that this form of violenceemerged within a community as the result of 1) the intrusion of a foreignreligion within the State which persistently undermined the State's official ormajority eligion or 2) the persistent desire of a conquered people to keep itsnative religion. Rousseau gives some historical examples to substantiate hispoint: the Jews of Syria who refused to pay tribute to gods of another religionor the period during which Christianity was introduced to the Roman world:

    Jesus vint etablirsur la terre un royaume Spirituel;ce qui, s6parant e systemeth6ologiquedu systemepolitique, it quel'Etatcessad'etreun, et causa es divisionsintestines qui n'ont jamais cesse d'agiter les peuples chr6tiens ... [les paiens]regarderentoujours es Chretienscomme de vraisrebelles. 462)

    Rousseau seems quite clear on this point: the particularform of violence knownas religious persecution was not initially targeted against different religiousbeliefs because of their differences. Rather, it was directed against rebels orthose who threatened the political and social harmony of the communitybecause they insisted upon the incompatibility between their beliefs and thoseof the State. Even more sophisticated forms of religion (Rousseau means bythis, eighteenth-century Catholicism, English Protestantism, and Islam)conformto this basic principle of castigating any religious minority that introduces socialor political divisiveness within the community. Hence, in a unified State,political authority is indiscriminately represented by the Prince and the Clergy;the Prince maintaining authority through the monopoly of armed force, theClergy through the monopoly of rituals which, among other things, serve toexpel the religious (social) deviant: Lacommunion et l'ex-communication sontle pacte social du clerge, pacte avec lequel il sera toujours le maitre des peupleset des Rois ... Cette invention est un chef-d'oeuvre en politique (463).In his second argument, Rousseau turns his discussion to that of religiousforms in an attempt to isolate the most appropriate type of religion to beadopted by his hypothetical State. Since, in his opinion, Christianity falls intoone of the three major categories of religion, Rousseau will devote specialattention to it. In fact, Christianity becomes central to his discussion for variousreasons; in particular, Christianity threatens to reveal itself as the most appro-priate form to be adopted (from a strictly moral perspective) and thus erects aformidable stumbling block to Rousseau's concept of civil religion. Rousseauwill end his argument by excluding Christianity from the social pact, accusingthe Christian of antisocial tendencies.

    Religion is divided into three espieces however, one of these categories is sobizarre hat it falls outside what Rousseau considers to be religious norms.The first type, or the Religion of Man, is restricted to the very personal, interiorpractice-almost Protestant in nature-where the individual talks directly tothe divinity. Rousseau also calls this type the simple religion of the Gospels,

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    ROUSSEAU'S CIVIL RELIGION 489and later in the text, trueTheism ; the simple Religion of Man also representsfor Rousseau a naturaldivine law ( le droit divin naturel ). The Religion ofthe Citizen, meanwhile, stands for the public and ritualized practices of anentire community. It maintains that all other religions are barbarous, seditious,and heretical. Rousseau assigns this form the attribute of positive, since itsreligious practices include a sort of civil obedience or what he calls a droitdivin civil. The third religious form, identified as the Religion of the Priest, isone based on silence and withdrawal from the world. Examples of this type(according to Rousseau) are Roman Christianity and Buddhism. Because thesereligions establish the existence of two realms (spiritual and material), they endby establishing two sorts of governments and two sets of laws, leaders, and soforth. This invariably leads to a mixing of laws which in turn fragments man'sinner and outer (social) being. Having been demonstrated an unsociable act,the Religion of the Priest will be summarily discarded from the discussion.At this point, Rousseau's discussion seems to point to the author's desire touncover an original or natural state of religion. Having used the terms le droitdivin naturel to describe the Religion of Man, Rousseau seems to have isolatedthe form he seeks from which he may build his civil religion. However, heproceeds to deny this logical deduction and concludes instead that the Religionof the Citizen, in fact, represents the oldest form of religion: Telles furenttoutes les Religions des premiers peuples, auxquelles on peut donner le nom dedroit divin civil ou positif (464). In the Geneva manuscript, Rousseau empha-sizes this point further: Tellesetaient les Religions de tous les anciens peuplessans aucune exception (336). Rousseau writes that the Religion of the Citizenis the best form of religion for political society because it unites the notion of adivine being with the love of law and makes the nation the object of adoration.It teaches civil and religious obedience, in other words, teaches citizens thatduty to their country fulfills duty to God, to die for one's country is also to diea martyr.Has Rousseau then concluded that the Religion of the Citizen-this paganform of religious thinking and political organization-is the necessary form ofreligion that will achieve an optimum of political order? Contrary to thisargument, however, Rousseau abruptly changes directions a second time: headds that the Religion of the Citizen has deteriorated drastically and has nowproven itself contrary to State interests. The cause of this deteriorization can betraced to the errorsand lies and vain ceremonial that religion promulgates.The errors and lies seem to appear from nowhere and Rousseau's condem-nation of the Religion of the Citizen leaves one far from convinced:

    Restedoncla Religionde 1'Homme u le Christianisme, on pas celuide l'Evangile,qui en est tout-a-faitdifferent.Par cette Religionsainte, sublime, veritable,leshommes,enfantsdu memeDieu,se reconnaissentouspourfreres,et la societequiles unitne se dissoutpas memea la mort.(465)

    Rousseau thus returns to the firstreligious form which he had initially rejected(the Religion of Man) the discussion of which soon turns to Christianity. Lexical

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    490 FRENCHREVIEWequivalences are established using the Religion of Man, Christianity, trueTheism and the Religion of the Gospels interchangeably. All of these termsallude to a rather ill-defined set of principles encompassing such notions aschastity, love of fellow man and one's complete submission to God, duty, andlaw. No one would doubt Rousseau's sincere endorsement of such notions. HasRousseau found his ideal religious form from which to build a civil religion?Unexpectedly a new problem arises: this Religion of Man, having beentransformed into Christianity, is far too perfect and this very perfection turnsinto a major weakness. From a most unusual vantage point, Rousseau will arguethat Christianity proves to be inadequately tailored for State religion for thevery reason that it rejects the principle of violence which has been shown bythe author to lie at the heart of political order: Aforce d'etre parfaite [la societedes Chretiens] manquait de liaison; son vice destructeur serait dans sa perfectionmeme (465).In an imperfect world, this perfect religion which turns the other cheek alsoprevents its followers from reciprocating acts of aggression that threaten theState's integrity. Rousseau provides an example of violence from within thatwould threaten a Christian State:

    Pourque la societ6fiit paisibleet que l'harmoniese maintint, l faudraitque tousles Citoyens ansexception ussentegalementbons Chretiens:Mais,si malheureuse-ment il s'y trouve un seul ambitieux,un seul hypocrite,un Catilina,par exemple,un Cromwell,celui-latres serieusementaurabonmarchede ses pieux compatriotes.(464)On se feraitconsciencede chasser 'usurpateur;l faudrait roubler e repospublic;user de la violence, verserdu sang, tout cela s'accordemal avec la douceurduChretien. 466)

    If and when the Christian citizen would choose to confront his enemy, Rousseausuggests that his fighting zeal would be less than enthusiastic, ensuring hisarmy's defeat:Survient-ilquelqueguerreetrangere?LesCitoyensmarchent ans peine au combat,nul d'entre eux ne songe a fuir;ils font leur devoir mais sans passion popr la victoire;ils saventplutotmourirquevaincre.(466)

    In other words, Rousseau objects that in a community of one hundred perfectChristians one imperfect member is enough to ruin the perfection of all.8Christianity is only practicable in a perfect society and is obviously ill-fitted toour imperfect society because its followers renounce the political world ofviolence. Rousseau adds that a Christian republic is unimaginable, in fact, thewords Christian and republic contradict each other inasmuch as republican-ism requires an unaltering faith in its institutions which insure the sovereigntyand defense of the nation. Christianity, on the other hand, refuses to admit toviolence, be it for national defense or personal freedom:

    Maisje me trompeen disant une RepubliqueChretienne; hacun de ces deux mots

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    ROUSSEAU'SIVILRELIGION 491exclut I'autre.Les vraisChretienssont faits pouretreesclaves; ls le savent et n'ens'6meuventguere... D's que les Empereurs romains]urentchretiens,cette emu-lationne subsisteplus, et quandla croix eut chassel'aigle,toute la valeur romainedisparut. 467)

    Rousseau has come full circle having drawn our attention to existing similar-ities between Christianity and the Religion of the Priest; in other words, theChristian's ability to withdraw to an ivory tower of devotion, prayer andreflection. Either Rousseau's simultaneous praise and condemnation of Chris-tianity and the Religion of Man must be regarded as incomprehensible, or wemust admit that Rousseau intended all along to demonstrate that an interior,personal cult-in the context of political order-is entirely irrelevant, if notharmful, to matters of State. The reader must already suspect that Rousseau'scivil religion will assume a profession de foi far more politically engaged withthe world than might be expected.After having discussed the incompatibility of the three major religious forms,Rousseau can now move to the issue most dear to him: civil religion. He claimsto abandon political considerations at this point, only to study the legalconsiderations of religion. These considerations can be reduced to the follow-ing: 1) the State needs good men and faithful citizens; and 2) it is importar tomake these citizens love duty and therefore the notion of religion must beintroduced within the State. In order to build a strong citizenry, Rousseauargues, it is necessary to inculcate the population with a sure sentiment desociabilite. In other words, he regards it of fundamental importance to reinforcethe sense of community, ensconcing the citizen's duty to the State and to othersin a framework of social unity and harmony. Although Rousseau also claimshis notion of civil religion to be free of dogma, we must dismiss his words sincehe proceeds to introduce certain general rules hat represent a dogma of sorts.Perhaps disappointingly, Rousseau's civil religion reflects little more than certainalready established principles of natural religion: love of duty, belief in theexistence of a supreme being and in the existence of an afterlife.It would have been of major importance at this crucial moment in thediscussion had Rousseau indicated in more detail what he meant by duty. Tolove duty and respect the sanctity of law and the social pact can take on aninfinite number of meanings or interpretations. Perhaps he chose not to detailcivil religion's duties because these duties had already been defined in the firsttwo parts of his chapter-all of them linked in one way or another to the needto reciprocate violence. In other words, duty (which has been linked with thesentiment de sociabilite ) always appears within the context of social unity,this unity being maintained only through the use of force. It is within thecontext of Rousseau's reintegration of the problem of intolerance in his conceptof civil religion that the full import of duty becomes transparent.Rousseau believes (or tries to make us believe) that his civil religion envelopsmoral and dutiful citizens in an atmosphere of tolerance. Anyone can followwhatever religious practices or dogma he chooses or can hold any opinion heso desires as long as these beliefs, dogma or opinions do not conflict with his

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    492 FRENCH REVIEWduty and with State laws or articles concerning civil religion. Civil religion mustbe accepted before personal religion, the articles of the former being arbitrarilyfixed by sovereign authority. What Rousseau leaves unanswered, however, isthe margin of tolerance that defines the political and religious citizen from thepolitical or religious rebel. The tolerance Rousseau speaks of is that which isnaturally manifest among citizens who all agree to the principle of a Statereligion. Should disagreement or certain forms of deviance arise that couldcause disorder, the State is bound to check the spread of disruption by punishingthe seditieux. He who deviates from the principles of the social pact or thepractices of civil religion is either to be expelled from the State or put to death:Sans pouvoir obliger personne ' les croire, il peut bannir de l'Etat quiconquene les croit pas; il peut le bannir, non commeimpie, mais commeinsociable 468;italics added).Rousseau measures deviance by lackrather than an addition or intrusion; bya lack of one's political commitment and social participation rather than byone's differing, and potentially hostile, religious beliefs and practices. It is notthe tolerance of the overzealous believer that concerns Rousseau as much asthe intolerable presence of the underzealous: he who refuses to acknowledgeGod, law and the sovereignty of the social pact-the atheist on the one hand,and the Christian on the other who believes in a sovereign authority other thancivil authority. The latter practices what Rousseau calls theological intoleranceinadmissible in a republic where men rather than priests must rule:

    Partoutoi I'intoleranceh6ologiqueest admise, il est impossiblequ'elle n'ait pasquelqueeffet civil;et sitotqu'elleen a, le Souverainn'estplus Souverain,memeautemporel:des lors les Pretres sont les vrais maitres; es Rois ne sont que leursofficiers. 469)Rousseau's civil religion-a religion of tolerance-has been transformed intoits opposite since it cannot tolerate deviance.9 Rousseau has brought back hisargument to the one hundred percent religious and political unity found in theearly nations of his hypothetical and pagan past.10To have accomplished sucha perfect circle he has done the following: 1) he has completely confused (fused)the social and religious orders; and 2) since a violent threat against the State isalways already present, he has endorsed the principle of systematic expulsionin a move that can also be called scapegoating. Since this perfect unity seemsbased on an insurance or principle of expulsion, it will now be necessary tolook at this notion in greater detail in the context of the sacred, violence andorder.At this point, to discard Rousseau's chapter De la religion civile in the nameof an obviously grandiose contradiction that finds the purported idea of a civilreligion of tolerance turning into its opposite-that is, an intolerant religion-

    would be and has been all too easy. From the very first lines of the chapter inwhich Rousseau chose to confer a sacred dimension upon the question of theorigins of sovereignty, the attentive reader senses that the author has tried tosee beyond institutions in order to address the fundamental socializing processes

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    ROUSSEAU'S CIVIL RELIGION 493of man. Free of the already sophisticated institutions of eighteenth-centuryEuropean society, pagan society appears much closer to these fundamentalprocesses; that is, much closer to the origins already concealed by the civilizationof Rousseau's time.In pagan society, Rousseau identifies a unifying principle the application ofwhich attempts to protect society against itself and against others. The principleof State and Religion being complementary lies at the center of social orderwhen the latter is faced with the imminent threat of its disintegration bydomestic strife or foreign war. Rousseau argues that in former times, the seedsof violence were not sown by religion; rather, because men were almostalwaysenemies, religion served as a stopgate for the spread of internal or externalviolence-albeit by using violence itself to check this threat.Girardsuggests that pagan societies of the past and primitive societies todaysucceed in controlling the imminent danger of violence from breaking outwithin the community by institutionalizing violence: in other words, by directingit upon one member or victim. The mechanism of victimization or ritualsacrificeeffectively unites the community's potential to commit violence against what itsees as violence directed towards itself. Indeed, ritual sacrifice remains an actof violence, however, it is couched in a ritual of significance: its religiousdimension masks the very real violence being used to quell violence. Thereligious or sacred dimension also serves a social function and lies at the originof various institutions (rites, practices, laws, judicial system) that maintain thesocial order by controlling violence through a legal and limited use of it.12This all-too-brief summary of Girard's theory has been raised in order toemphasize the glaring presence of violence in Rousseau's discussion of civilreligion and how violence inevitably monopolizes the argument. At the heartof the matter, Rousseau asks how is the good citizen able to answer the threatof deviant activity within the community? How is the good citizen able toanswer the threat of war? Or in other words, the central question remains howthe dutiful citizen will reciprocate violence when threatened by it.Rousseau's condemnation of the seditieux who deserves nothing short ofexpulsion or death, recalls the primitive mechanism of ritual sacrifice analyzedby Girard; in other words, society should polarize on one point a maximum ofviolence and aggressive tendencies that will guarantee that violence does notcontaminate the entire community. Like a plague, violence must be acknowl-edged, however, it must also be contained and channeled. Ritual sacrifice (inthe case of Rousseau, capital punishment) regularly encourages a minimal useof violence to avoid a maximal outbreak of it. It is not that Rousseau deliberatelyformulated a theory of this mechanism, however, one could certainly speculatethat he intuited that judicial and legal systems of his time (and of our ownperiod) are no more than the rationalizationof these primitive mpulses. Behindthe civilizing process, the elementary forms still survive and the law of reprisalis now called State justice and law. In Rousseau, this law has furthermore beenlegitimated by the notion of civil religion.13Rousseau never really addresses the issue of judicial systems in this chapter.

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    494 FRENCH REVIEWHe seems interested (at best) in one form of justice alone: the law of reprisal.When Rousseau's civil religion singled out the hypocrites, liars and seditieuxto the community, it found an easy and cheap target for society's collectiveviolence. When a prominent Rousseau scholar writes:

    Ce qui est plusgraveencore,a mon avis, c'est le chatimentque la cite de Rousseauinflige aux hypocrites,aux etourdis, aux instables. On lit, en effet, a la fin duchapitre ur la religioncivile: Que i quelqu'un,apresavoirreconnupubliquementces memes dogmes, se conduit comme ne les croyant pas, qu'il soit puni demort.. . CommentRousseaua-t-ilpu ecrireces lignes?14it is obvious that the fundamental argument for civil religion has been misun-derstood: that argument being to opt for a minimal use of violence directedagainst a seditious minority, opposed to the choice of anarchic or maximaloutbreak of violence of all against all. Derathe is perfectly correct above toconclude that Rousseau reunites man's religious dimension with his politicaldimension in order to insure the City's systematic unity. However, for thecommunity that assumes an already existing or virtual disintegration of itsunity-a threat Rousseau explicitly recognizes time and again-that samecommunity must insure itself with the means to deal with threats of violence.That insurance is explained, of course, by Rousseau's one hundred percenthomogeneous community which now stands, in fact, only ninety-nine percentunanimous-unanimous against the one, leseditieux, who polarizes the collec-tive aggression of the others.Rousseau's civil religion reveals itself the political solution to deal withdivision, violence and social order. It is a solution that resorts to the use orreciprocation of violence and has been given legal and sacred justifications. Itis purified of the blood it will forcibly shed. 5 Civil religion confers the sacreddimension upon State violence masking its real nature. In Rousseau's republic,there is no other possible solution.There exists no other solution save for an unequivocal denial of violence asimminent-the unequivocal and unanimous renunciation of violence altogetherby the entire community. This is, of course, what Rousseau saw as the Christiansolution and what he so adamantly argued against in the second part of thechapter. By refusing to enter the necessary economy of violence (that is, minimalviolence in order to avoid maximal violence), the Christian paradoxically andunwillingly favors maximal violence: the violence of Caligula. The Christiansare no part of and should remain excluded from the social pact. They threatenit and should therefore also face the collective and sacrifical violence, theexistence of which they deny since they identify themselves with the victim(the one out of a hundred) instead of with the executioner, or the other ninety-nine citizens.In conclusion, one might say that it is Christianity itself that undergoes sucha victimization in De la religion civile, and the question that begs for ananswer remains why Rousseau so vehemently rejected the perfectssolution orthe solution of the Christian. Certainly, Rousseau did not fail to recognize

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    ROUSSEAU'S CIVIL RELIGION 495affinities between the Christian's calling to turnthe other cheek in the face ofviolence, and the principle underlying the social pact that advocates the totalalienation of all of one's personal rights to the community. The Christian'srenunciation of his personal rights or desires in the name of a higher moral andsacred law parallels the Citizen's act of self-alienation in the name of son moicommun. Rousseau's civil religion not only reintroduced the necessity ofviolence within the body politic; it also took part in the process it was describing:the logics of exclusory violence appeared when the Christian solution threat-ened the integrity of the Contratsocial.Critics who read certain passages of the Contrat social as the dissolution ofgovernment or as a withdrawal of a people from political action, may be assuredthat under the guidance of the Legislator, Rousseau's government (backedmorally and legally by a civil religion) would be free to answer any and allthreats waged against it. Threatened to be absorbed by the Christian ideal, theContratsocial chose instead to enter the game of violence, effectively reproduc-ing the very principle of exclusion it established in De la religion civile.Rousseau designated its victim, the perfect Christian, and expelled him fromthe social pact along with the liars, the hypocrites and the seditieux.VASSAR COLLEGE

    Notes'See for example, M. Duchet, Anthropologieet histoire au siecle des lumieres (Paris: F. Maspero,1971).2 J. Derrida, De la grammatologie(Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1967). Also see by the same author,TheLinguistic Circle of Geneva, CriticalInquiry8.4 (1982): 675-92.3B. Baczko, Rousseau et l'imagination sociale: Du Contrat social aux Considerations sur legouvernementde Pologne, n Annales J.-J.Rousseau38 (1969-1971): 25-60.4 For comments critical of Rousseau's notion of civil religion see A. Schinz, La Pensee de J.-J.Rousseau (Paris: F. Alcan, 1929) 364-65; C.E. Vaughan, The Political Writings of J.-J.Rousseau, I(Cambridge, Eng.: The University Press, 1915) 86-95; R. Derathe, LaReligion civile selon Rous-seau, Annales J.-J.Rousseau 35 (1959-1962): 162. For additional discussions on civil religion, seeP.M. Masson, La Religion de J.-I. Rousseau, II (Paris: Hachette, 1916) 178-204; J. Launay, J.-J.

    Rousseau, ecrivain politique (Grenoble: A.C.E.R., 1971) 401-08; and H. Gildin, Rousseau's SocialContract.The Design of the Argument(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983) 180-91.' The only critic I have found who argues that Rousseau's religion is one based on a politics oftheology (or on a theology of politics) is S. Cotta in his excellent study, Theoriereligieuse et theoriepolitique chez Rousseau, Annales de Philosophie Politique (1965): 121-194.6 R. Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. R. Gregory (Baltimore: J. Hopkins University Press,1977).7 An earlier formulation of this idea, found in the Geneva Manuscript or first version of theContratsocial, is even more explicit: Sitotque les hommes vivent en societe il leur faut une Religionqui les y maintienne. Jamais peuple n'a subsiste ni ne subsistera sans Religion et si on ne lui endonnait point, de lui-meme il s'en ferait une ou serait bient6t detruit. In GEuvrescompletes de J.-J.Rousseau,III(Paris: Bibliotheque de La Pleiade, Gallimard, 1964) 336. (All quotations of Rousseau's

    works have been taken from this edition and volume of his completed works; all further referencesto the author's texts will be designated by page number only in parentheses).8Gildin has also pointed out Rousseau's firm conviction that the Christian State is impossibledue to the existence of the one imperfect seed planted in its community: [Rousseau's]discussion

  • 8/13/2019 rousseau religion civile.pdf


    496 FRENCH REVIEWof what a society of true Christians would be like was explicitly based on the false assumption thatsuch a society is humanly possible. Gildin, Rousseau's Social Contract 188.

    9 In the first version of De la religion civile, Rousseau writes: Nul apotre ou missionnairen'aura droit de venir taxer d'erreurune Religion qui sert de base a toutes les religions du monde etqui n'en condamne aucune. Et si quelqu'un vient precher son horrible intolerance, il sera puni sansdisputes contre lui. On le punira comme seditieux et rebelle aux loix, sauf a aller, s'il lui plait, narrerson martyre dans son pays. (342)

    0oP. Masson makes the following remarks about Rousseau's civil religion: L'Etat,pour vivre, abesoin d'un minimum de paganisme: il est a lui-meme son dieu; il veut etre le dieu de ceux qui lefont vivre: 'I1 n'y a que les passions humaines qui le conservent.' Sa prosperite et sa gloire ontbesoin d'ames ardentes, riches en concupiscences, apres a la lutte, desireuses de vaincre, solliciteespar toutes les grandeurs de chair que le chretien meprise. Une republique chr6tienne manquerait deforce autant que de desir; paralysee par son ideal, elle serait a la merci d'un ennemi sans scrupuleou d'un factieux. Masson, LaReligion 182.Girard, Violence20-58.

    12 Religion in its broadest sense, then, must be another term for that obscurity that surroundsman's efforts to defend himself by curative or preventative means against his own violence. It isthat enigmatic quality that pervades the judicial system when that system replaces sacrifice. Thisobscurity coincides with the, transcendental effectiveness of a violence that is holy, legal, andlegitimate successfully opposed to a violence that is unjust, illegal, and illegitimate. Girard,Violence23.13Girard, Violence 15-25.14 Derathe, LaReligion Civile 168.'5 From the perspective of Girard's theory, it seems more than curious that a Rousseau criticshould use terms belonging to the ethnologist's discourse, such as we find below in one of Gildin'scomments on civil religion: The impureadherants of pure religion may be better citizens becauseof their impuritythan pureadherants [Christians]of pure religion, if they could exist. The theoreticalincompatibility between the religion of man and the requirements of a political society is not apractical incompatibility. (My italics, Rousseau's Social Contract189).