Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter three: On the Proliferation of Sects 5 - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter three: On the Proliferation of Sects 5 - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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On the Proliferation of Sects5
This proliferation of sects, which causes such panic, is the most salutary thing for religion. It ensures that religion does not lose its sensibility, to become a mere form, an almost mechanical habit, which combines with all the vices and sometimes with all the crimes.
When religion degenerates thus, it loses all its influence on morality. It makes its abode, so to speak, in a recess of the human mind, where it remains isolated from the rest of existence. In Italy we see mass happen before murder, confession follow it, penance absolve it, and the man, thus freed from guilt, meditating on new murders.
Nothing is simpler. To stop sects subdividing, man must be prevented from reflecting on religion. It is necessary then to prevent his taking any interest in it. It must be reduced to repeated symbols and practices observed. Everything becomes outer show, done unreflectingly, and soon, as a result, without interest or care. In all moral things reflection is the source of life; and freedom is the first and indispensable condition of all reflection.
Some Mongol peoples, whose religion enjoins frequent prayers, persuaded themselves that what pleased the gods in these prayers was that the air struck by the movement of the lips proved to them continuously that man was concerned with them. Consequently these people have invented little prayer wheels which, moving the air in a certain way, endlessly maintain the desired movement, and, while these wheels turn, each person, convinced the gods are satisfied, attends to his business or his pleasures without concern.6 Religion, in more than one European country, has often reminded me of the little wheels of the Mongol peoples.
 The proliferation of sects is advantageous to morality in a way which seems not to have been noted yet. All new sects tend to mark themselves off from those they are breaking with by a more scrupulous morality. Often, too, the sect which sees a new breakaway developing within itself, moved to praiseworthy imitation, does not wish to be stuck in this way behind the innovators. The advent of Protestantism undeniably reformed the morals of the Catholic clergy. If the government did not meddle with religion, the sects would proliferate forever. Each new congregation would seek to prove the goodness of its doctrines by the purity of its morals. Each abandoned one would want to defend itself with the same weapons. A blessed struggle would result in which success would be judged by a more austere morality. Morals would improve effortlessly out of a natural impulsion and honorable rivalry. This can be seen in America or even in Scotland, where tolerance is far from complete but where, nevertheless, Presbyterianism has split into numerous branches. Up until now, no doubt, the springing up of sects, far from being accompanied by these salutary effects, has mostly been marked by strife and misfortune. This is because government has got involved. Nature, like Ormuzd, had infused all things with the principle of good. Government, like Ahriman, came to place the principle of evil alongside.7
 In opposing the proliferation of sects, governments fail to recognize their own interests. When sects are very numerous in a country, they put mutual checks upon one another and free the government from having to bargain with any one of them in order to contain them. When there is a single dominant sect, the government needs to take countless steps in order to have nothing to fear from it. When there are only two or three, each large enough to threaten the others, there has to be surveillance, nonstop repression. A singular policy indeed! You say you want to keep the peace! So to that effect you prevent opinions from dividing in such a way as to split these fellows up into weak little groups, hardly noticeable, and you set up three or four large, hostile bodies face to face which, thanks to the care you take to keep them large and powerful, are ready to go on the attack at the first signal.
[5. ]Some of the advantages Constant observes in relation to the proliferation of sects had already been spotted by Adam Smith, Recherches sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations, new translation with notes and observations by Germain Garnier, Paris, H. Agasse, 1802, t. IV, pp. 203–212.
[6. ]Hofmann was not able to find out where Constant got his information on the prayer wheels, but his explanation is certainly wrong. M. Jean Eracle, curator of the Geneva Museum of Ethnography, has kindly furnished some information on the subject: “What is known in the West as a ‘prayer wheel’ and takes different forms and sizes belongs to Tantrist Buddhism, both in its Tibeto-Mongol and Sino-Japanese forms. The proper name of this object is ‘Wheel of the Law.’ Whoever makes it turn participates in the teaching of the Buddha who, according to the venerated expression, ‘set in motion the wheel of the law.’ The prayer wheel then has symbolic significance and is not a way of ‘praying without effort.’ Moreover, whoever works it generally recites sacred invocations at the same time. Thus one often sees pilgrims telling beads with one hand and making the wheel turn with the other. The wheel is thus like a thought condenser. Moreover, it links the body to the words of the invocations and to the devout thoughts of the person praying.” Extract from a letter from M. Jean Eracle to the editor.
[7. ][For a compendious discussion of these Persian (specifically Zoroastrian) deities, see David J. Levy, “‘The Good Religion’: Reflections on the History and Fate of Zoroastrianism,” in his The Measure of Man, Claridge, 1993, pp. 170–190. Translator’s note]