Philosophies concerning modern political thoughts encompass a broad spectrum of fields including religion, justice, liberty, power, politics, government and law. Ever since society and government were incepted, questions pertaining to political awareness frequented the thinking minds – what makes a government act legally, what is the role of power in the functioning of society, how far important are individual rights and freedom, how does religion influence political issues and so on. Political philosophy can be viewed as a set of complex methodologies that strive to bridge the gap between theoretical perspectives and practical ones.
Since politics, or any area related to it, does not function independently, political philosophers have always focused on preparing the groundwork of their studies on the basis of practical implementations. The role of the ideal has always been sidelined in discussions on political philosophies. Among many eminent thinkers who have contributed to the study and research on political thoughts, three names stand out as truly enlightening – Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. This paper is going to critically examine the proper role of religion in the domain of politics.
The approach would be to compare and contrast the key elements surrounding modern political insights as found in Rousseau’s The Social Contract and Hobbes’ Leviathan. “Since the citizens are all equal by the social contract, what everyone should do can be prescribed by everyone. ” (Wootton 512) These words echo the recurring thought process of Rousseau, one of the most influential political philosophers ever, in his famous doctrine The Social Contract. Ever since its publication, this book has been the source of rigorous debates and arguments.
Even in the modern scenario of the United States, it has continued to stir widespread controversies regarding the basic premise of administrative functioning in dealing with political interference in matters of religious beliefs and practices. Rousseau’s The Social Contract helps interpreting the first amendment declaration that Congress should take a neutral stance by neither promoting religious practices nor discouraging it: “We should not, with Warburton, conclude from this that politics and religion have among us a common object, but that, in the first periods of nation, the one is used as an instrument for the other.
” (Rousseau 28) Moreover, by approaching the topic from a social purview of freedom and rights, Rousseau makes it clear that the administrative machinery of a modern nation deliberately keeps people ignorant about the importance of earning their civil rights, which is acquired by birth.
Speaking of ‘Civil Religion’, the author argues that once the nation-building process is done with, it is difficult to remain faithful to any singular sect, for “Two peoples that were strangers the one to the other, and almost always enemies, could not long recognise the same master:” (Rousseau 88) The utopian and somewhat ironic concept of legitimate political authority, according to Rousseau, comes from an implied social contract which is mutually agreed upon by all the citizens of a given state territory: “…it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience.
” (Rousseau 6) Now what logically occurs in our minds is the role of government in ensuring a proper and legal functioning of the society for the welfare of the commoners. As argued by Rousseau, “…an arbitrary government would be legitimate only if every new generation were able to accept or reject it, and in that case the government would cease to be arbitrary. ” (Rousseau et al. 55) From the perspective of administrative benefits, the ideal form of ruling body can be monarchy.
But at the same time, a monarchic body defies all the traits of a sovereign social setup in which every citizen is encouraged to take part for the actualization of common good: “I understand by this word, not merely an aristocracy or a democracy, but generally any government directed by the general will, which is the law. ” (Rousseau 97) Rousseau’s analytical yet flexible viewpoints on various governmental setups including democracy, aristocracy and monarchy help establishing a working formula for the most stable form of government.
In the light of this analogy, one can argue that religious solidarity of a nation state acts directly upon its political beliefs. This holds true for the simple logic that a sovereign political format tends to be religiously volatile for its accommodation of diverse religious sects. But a monarchy or aristocracy is generally built on a demographic comprising of a single religious group.
The theoretical claims that Rousseau makes in The Social Contract are further elaborated, along with relevant insertions from the works of other thinkers, by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan. This philosophical masterpiece closely examines political treatises of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Locke, Kant and Rawls. Following the publication of The Social Contract, a theory named “the social contract” emerged. Hobbes was the pioneering figure in explicating this theory by providing justifications for political ideologies.
Like Rousseau, Hobbes too argues that the intangible concept of religion has more to do with that of the divine than with people’s government: “And this Feare of things invisible, is the naturall Seed of that, which every one in himself calleth Religion; and in them that worship, or feare that Power otherwise than they do, Superstition. ” (Hobbes et al. 75) If anything, religion should be used sparingly and purposefully to provide direction to society, much like the “Gods commandment”, with the intention to infix peace, charity and obedience: “So that the Religion…, is a part of humane Politiques;” (Hobbes et al.
79) He compares a state to a human body and concludes that a commonwealth state is nothing but a huge human form represented by its citizens: “For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man;” (Hobbes 9) Hobbes’ preoccupation with realistic and executable methodologies is apparent from the beginning of Leviathan as he attributes every aspect of human nature to materialistic principles.
Commenting on the inherent nature of human beings, Hobbes makes the observation that “every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be Unjust. ” (Hobbes 90) What makes Leviathan an intriguing doctrine for modern political thoughts is its accuracy and directness of remarks: “…in all times, Kings, and Persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies” (Hobbes 90). The subsequent turmoil and destruction can only be appeased through establishing the Leviathan by means of social contract.
It can be argued that Hobbes’ political theory disseminates the principles of Rousseau to a great extent. The nature of coexistence of religion and politics has changed a lot following the compromising stance adopted at the cost of spiritual fulfillment. What emerges from the comparative study of both the authors is that it is somewhat detrimental to suggest religious intervention in public affairs, especially in an age of reason and rapidly altering social customs marked by lack of tolerance in general.