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The Social Contract

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Book IV, Chapters 5-9

Book IV, Chapters 1-4

Book IV, Chapters 5-9, page 2

page 1 of 3


In certain cases, Rousseau recommends the establishment of an additional body called the "tribunate," whose business is to maintain a steady balance between sovereign and government and between government and people. It has no share in executive or legislative power, and is outside the constitution. Its only purpose is to defend and ensure the safety of the laws.

In rare cases, dictatorship may be necessary to save the state from collapse. The laws are inflexible, and there may be circumstances under which they must be suspended for the safety of all. A dictator does not represent the people or the laws; he acts in concert with the general will only to the extent that it is in the interests of all that the state should not collapse. Obviously dictatorship is volatile and can descend into tyranny, so dictators should only be appointed for a short term.

The censor's office acts as the spokesman for public opinion. Public opinion is closely related to public morality, which we have seen is in turn closely related to the laws. The censorial office sustains the laws and public morality by sustaining the integrity of public opinion.

Rousseau's final topic for discussion is the controversial issue of civil religion. In early societies, he suggests, the heads of each state were the gods that that state worshipped, each state believing that its gods were responsible for watching over its people. Christianity changed things by preaching the existence of a spiritual kingdom that is distinct from any earthly kingdom. Worshipping the Christian God does not necessarily ally one with any particular state, and people of all states may worship this same God. As a result, church and state cease to be identical and a tension arises between the two.

Rousseau distinguishes three different kinds of religion. First, there is the "religion of man," which is a personal religion, linking the individual to God. Rousseau admires this kind of religion (and indeed professed to practice it) but suggests that by itself, it will hurt the state. A pure Christian is interested only in spiritual and other-worldly blessings, and will happily endure hardships in this life for the sake of heavenly rewards. A healthy state needs citizens who will struggle and fight to make the state strong and safe.

Second, there is the "religion of the citizen," which is the official religion of the state, complete with dogmas and ceremonies. This religion combines the interests of church and state, teaching patriotism and a pious respect for the law. However, it also corrupts religion, by replacing true, sincere worship with official, dogmatic ceremony. It also breeds a violent intolerance of other nations.

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