June 15, 2011


The High Priest of Civic Religions (George J. Marlin, 6/15/11, Thge Catholic Thing)

Reversing the Christian story of the Fall, Rousseau argued that we are in our original state of nature inherently good – it is society that corrupts us. Social institutions, private property, wealth, luxuries, competition, social standing were unnatural and compelled men to be bad. He preferred communal living conditions that he believed were found in tribal life and ancient patriarchal families.

Assuming men would not willing return to their primitive state, Rousseau called for a new social contract whereby individuals – contrary to the sovereign freedom he accords them in other places in his work – would subordinate their rights and judgment to the needs and judgments of the entire community. The sovereign power would not be placed in one ruler but in the Volonté générale – the sacred and supreme General Will: “Let all surrender their will, their goods, their person, under the contract of the general will.” Despite his own self-indulgence and paeans to self-expressiveness, social virtue for Rousseau was, oddly, the conformity of particular wills with the General Will.

Under that scheme, each person would be both a citizen and a subject. The citizen participates in the supreme authority and the subject submits to the supreme authority of the General Will. The General Will delegates power to executives mandated to create harmony by social engineering that eliminates evil interests, biases, prejudices, and bad habits. Submitting to these decrees, Rousseau argued will preserve true freedom. Blind obedience “forces [man] to be free.”

There is no room for Catholicism in Rousseau’s society. We don’t need the help of Christ or his Church to lead a good life because each man “is the infallible judge of good and evil which renders man like unto God.” Of course, at the same time, the Rousseauvian state functions like a church of a different kind and limitless scope.

Seeking a celestial afterlife and not an earthly paradise renders Catholics unworthy of citizenship, according to Rousseau. Because of their divided loyalties, Catholics are evil agents undermining the state: “Whoever dares to say ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ ought to be driven from the state unless the state is the Church and the prince is the pontiff.”

Rousseau was the founder of an anti-Christian civic religion that substituted service to the state for service to God. And rejection of his civic religion was not to be tolerated:

There is then a purely civil profession of faith, of which the sovereign must fix the articles, not as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which it is impossible to be a faithful citizen or subject…. While the state can compel no one to believe them, it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an antisocial being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death.

Rousseau’s creed, which put moral and civic order in the hands of the infallible state, laid the groundwork for totalitarian rule. His earliest converts were the Jacobins who established a dictatorship in France ten years after his death.

The respective failures of the French model and success of the English are a simple function of Rousseau vs Calvin.

One of the most amusing refutations of Rousseau being William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach.

Rousseau & the Revolt Against Reason (Mary Ann Glendon, October 1999, First Things)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at June 15, 2011 5:13 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus