Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter four: On the Maintenance of Religion by Government against the Spirit of Inquiry - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
chapter four: On the Maintenance of Religion by Government against the Spirit of Inquiry - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
On the Maintenance of Religion by Government against the Spirit of Inquiry
However government intervenes in matters pertaining to religion, it does harm.
It does harm when it wants to shore up religion against the spirit of inquiry. For government cannot act on conviction; it does so only on the basis of interest. In granting its favors only to men with the approved opinions, what does it gain? It alienates those who own up to what they think, and are therefore at least frank. The others know how to use facile lies to elude its restrictions, which strike at the scrupulous and are powerless against those who are or become corrupt.
In any case, let me ask the people in government,  since this is always the problem requiring resolution when all is said and done: what are your ways of favoring an opinion? Do you entrust the important functions of the State solely to those holding it? If you do, those rebuffed will be angry about the favoritism. Will you have people write and speak for the opinion you are protecting? Others will write or speak in an opposite vein. Will you restrain freedom of writing, speech, eloquence, reason, even irony, or ranting? That will see you involved in new activities, no longer a matter of favoring or convincing, but of stifling and punishing. Do you think your laws can grasp all the nuances and adjust themselves proportionately? Will your repressive measures be light? People will defy them. They will merely embitter without intimidating people. Will they be severe? You will be seen as persecutors. Once you are on that fast and slippery slope, you will seek to stop in vain.
But what successes do you hope for from your persecutions themselves? No king, I think, was surrounded with more prestige than Louis XIV. Honor, vanity, fashion, that all-powerful thing, had assumed positions of obedience under his reign. He lent religion the support of his throne as well as of his example. He had dignity of manner and propriety of speech. His will, constant rather than brusque, steady rather than violent, and never appearing capricious, seemed to honor whatever was in his protection. He believed his soul’s salvation required the maintenance of religion in its most rigid practices, and he had persuaded his courtiers that the salvation of the king’s soul was of especial importance. Despite ever growing solicitude, however, plus the austerity of a long-established court and the recollection of fifty years of glory, even before his death, doubt slipped into people’s minds. We see among the records of the period intercepted letters, written by assiduous flatterers of Louis XIV, which according to Mme. de Maintenon were offensive both to God and the King. The King died. The philosophic current then swept away all the dikes. Intellectual activity made up for the constraint it had impatiently borne, and the result of long suppression was lack of belief pushed to excess.