Censorship and Civil Religion: Stand Firm Dutiful Man!

In an ideal world, man is driven by his morals, his conscious, and his sense of right. Yet, Jean-Jacques Rousseau acknowledges men are malleable and imperfect beings constantly changing. He knows that man can be corrupted and inclined to have selfish interests. It is in finding the necessary institutions for good that Rousseau proposes can perfect man and lead him in the best possible way forward. My problem is then two fold. First, Rousseau proclaims in On the Social Contract that the role of censorship is to determine how opinion needs a limitation so as to not corrupt man’s morals and manners (mores), but instead make them harmonious with public opinion. Then, once mores and public opinion are in accord, it allows for the general will of the people to be harmonious with the private will of the citizen. What the individual citizen deems a beneficial moral should also beneficial to the general will collectively. Rousseau continues that it is necessary to look at how those mores, supported by the general and private will, in turn work to create and promote a healthy civil religion. I will focus around understanding on how censorship limits opinion and aids the safeguard of mores the role of opinion, and the idea of mores, the general and private will. My final argument will then work to examine the role of religion and its relation to good mores in a working society. Censorship is not in this sense the destruction of opinion, or the burning of books, but rather the differentiation of whether an opinion deserves preservation because it supports positive mores for the benefit of the general will verses letting opinion get in the way of what is right. Rousseau says, “censorship maintains mores by preventing opinions

from becoming corrupt; by preserving their rectitude through wise application,” (Rousseau 124). It is this sense that the utility of censorship is to not become the ultimate authority over public opinion but instead draw attention to the public judgment so that citizens may become aware of opinions that are potentially harmful or detrimental to the mores of the general will. First, man is full of opinion. Opinion is an agency that can change his perception of right, and force man to act rather than let him choose and consent to a direction. Opinion concerns broadly based views that derive from both personal and public experience. Second, this opinion is powerful. It is the root to private life because it is based on both public and personal judgment and in its own sense determines the choice of people’s pleasures. As mentioned above, man is not perfect. Because of this, man may like what is good, but he can easily, and often, mistake his own judgment, or that of a third party, as to what he thinks is good for what he may actually just desire. Thus as Rousseau states, “the problem is to regulate this judgment,” (Rousseau 123) because out of judgment creates opinions that can potentially corrupt morals, traditions and manners. But then is there a positive place for public opinion and good mores? There can be, and as Rousseau states, “reform men’s opinions and their mores will purify themselves,” (Rousseau 123). Wise opinions lead to good mores. The idea of mores in society is a crucial part of order, yet mores are not written laws. In a word, the mores of a society are synonymous with the traditions of a society. In living by one’s own mores or the mores of a general will, man finds freedom. Both terms draw from the social customs and ways of acting that over time society has accepted as the way it is done. Editor Roger D. Masters mentions in his editorial notes of On the

Social Contract, that the word mores “means both the ‘morals’ and ‘manners’ of a society—that is, ‘customs’ from a moral as well as a descriptive point of view,” (Rousseau, 152). The conditions in which mores create agreement between private and general will is the shared moral freedom for both the citizen and the general will that arises out of following a self imposed law. Rousseau proclaims, “moral freedom, which alone makes man truly the master of himself. For the impulse of appetite alone is slavery, and obedience to the law one has prescribed for ones self is freedom,” (Rousseau 56). Here the impulse Rousseau refers to is the conforming to the desires of private will alone and becoming slave to others opinions. Where as living by the law set for the general will, not only serves to better the general will, but ideally the citizen himself as well because his mores are derived from a shared opinion with the general will to benefit from the same outcome. The general will is the idea formed to give a voice to the people of a society who have bound themselves together in order to better govern themselves. Rousseau states, Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. (Rousseau 53) The supreme direction of the general will is the creation of a single will through the private individuals unified into the whole. Each member still retains individual proprietorship in the eyes of the collective body, however, their private will should be identical with the general will. The general will is directed by the common interest of the people in the general will to the people in the general will. Rousseau states, The general will, to be truly such, should be general in its object as well as

in its essence; that it should come from all to apply to all; and that it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed toward any individual, determinate object. Because then, judging what is foreign to us we have no true principle of equity to guide us. (Rousseau 62) Is this good? Yes, because as Rousseau states, when the general will deviates and focuses on a single individual, it loses its overarching morality with the body of the people and justice is lost. It is the individual who gives up their inherent right and natural freedom towards their desires of which they are restricted by the strength of their own muscle that is lost; they renounce their life in the state of nature. However, the individual gains civil freedom by acknowledging that since everyone has given himself up to this general will, the general will can only act out of shared mores to benefit each and every person as citizens in the general will together. Where as the protection of the individual is true too, because as Rousseau states, “as soon as this multitude is thus united in a body, one cannot harm one of the members without attacking the body, and it is even less possible to harm the body without the members feeling the effects too,” (Rousseau 55). Therefore its is this shared justice that governs the citizens who make up the body. The private will on the other hand, is presented as the will of all, which is made up of a collection of different private interests. None of these interests have the same principles and the only agreement between two sets of interests would be against the third interest itself. Thus the general will is essential to creating a society that can act and work together for the common good of all where as the private will is subject to private interest, not bettering the whole but in fact undermining its progress and development as a morally good body politic. To recap, censorship is not the silencing of opinion. It is instead a voice necessary

to give public opinions a boundary, and not let the bad opinions destroy constructive mores for the good of the general will. Opinions are everywhere and they are powerful. Man must be weary of how his morals are influenced by public opinion and judgment because just as wise opinions lead to good mores, bad opinions can obliterate good mores too. Mores themselves are morals and manners. It is then in the union of public opinion and good mores that ideally leads to moral freedom for both the general will and the citizen who share the same autonomy. Where as on the contrary private will is destructive in that it undermines the general will and the balanced equality that comes out of having a general will. What is left? Civil religion. Rousseau’s final chapter of On the Social Contract is on civil religion. In it he prescribes two essential types of religion that are most common in society: the religion of man, and the religion of the citizen. Each of these religions has its pros and cons for society. First, Rousseau defines the religion of man as “true theism and what may be called natural divine right,” (Rousseau 127). Here man’s belief is not bound to a specific doctrine, but instead to the spirit of the divine and man’s belief that the divine guides morality. Rousseau goes even further to acknowledge that in many ways, the religion of man is like that of Christianity because it recognizes all men as brothers. However, Christianity has one key flaw, yes the Christian man his does his duty to society, but his true conviction is not grounded on Earth, but rather in heaven. The product of his duty to society is not his concern, good or bad outcome, he does not care. So everyone must be Christian. But that does not work either because Christian men are naïve as it is their principle to love thy neighbor. One hypocrite and the Christian system is corrupt. Therefore a Christian state cannot exist because it is a contradiction in terms. The

Christian man is a man of servitude and dependence on God. On the contrary, free moral men in the state are bound by a unified will and do what is good for them by doing what is also good for the general will. On the other hand the religion of the citizen parallels the act of patriotism. For example Rousseau states that civil religion “combines the divine cult and love of the laws, and by making the homeland the object of the citizens’ prayers,” (Rousseau 128). Here the religion of the citizen is good because man’s love of country is like the source of his prayer and duty. Therefore state becomes the guardian God. As Rousseau proclaims, To die for one’s country is to be martyred, to violate the laws impious, and to subject a guilty man to public execration is to deliver him to the anger of the Gods. (Rousseau 128) This is the creed of the religion of the citizen. However the religion of the citizen has its negative side as well. By treating the state as the higher good, and to base man’s religious beliefs around it, he becomes susceptible to its will, making him overly trusting, superstitious of other points of view, and replaces divinity with blank ritual. But what then is the relationship between the state and its general will and a working civil religion? Remember that under the general will, each man is entirely free to act in his own accord as long as he acts under good mores and does not harm the body politic by private interest. Therefore Rousseau asserts that It matters greatly to the State that each citizen have a religion that causes him to love his duties; but the dogmas of that religion are of no interest either to the State or to its members; except insofar as these dogmas relate to morality, and to the duties that anyone who professes it I obliged to

fulfill towards others. (Rousseau 130) Civil religion is necessary for citizens to have a healthy love of duty as long as the principles of the religion stay separate from the general will. The principles themselves should be first based on good mores. Good mores, which in turn, promote freedom for the state and citizen. Rousseau asserts then that the dogmas of such a civil religion should not hinder that freedom. He proclaims, The existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent, foresighted, and providential divinity; the afterlife; the happiness of the just; the punishment of the wicked; the sanctity of the social contract and the laws. (Rousseau 131) Essentially, the means of a civil religion effect the general will though the love of duty but do not concern the general will as long as the principles of the religion treat the divinity, the afterlife, the just, wicked and the social contract and laws simply and correctly. The only negative aspect that Rousseau stresses is that civil religion cannot be intolerant because it would then become subject to opinion and public judgment itself. Thus in so far as Rousseau’s perspective on the man as a perfectible being, man is susceptible to both good and evil, opinion and corruption and must discern what practices will not hinder the good of society. As for the institutions themselves, Rousseau presents censorship as a means to highlight but not control bad public judgment and opinion to protect the mores of a society that are beneficial to the citizen and the state. He also proclaims that in this state, the presence of a civil religion is necessary to progress even though the specific means of the religion are not the concern of the general will as long as it adheres to good mores that lead to good dogmas and steer clear of that which can have

no place in society: intolerance.

Works Cited Rousseau, Jean-Jaques. On the Social Contract with the Geneva Manuscript and Political Economy. Ed. Roger D. Masters. Trans. Judith R. Masters. Boston, St. Martin’s Press, Inc. 1978.

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