Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter six: On the Axiom That the People Must Have a Religion - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter six: On the Axiom That the People Must Have a Religion - 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 Axiom That the People Must Have a Religion
Thus is established this axiom that the people must have a religion, an axiom which flatters the vanity of those who repeat it, because in repeating it, they separate themselves from this people for whom a religion is necessary.
 This axiom is false in itself, insofar as it implies that religion is more necessary for the working-class part of society than for the leisured and opulent classes. If religion is necessary, it is equally so for all men and for all levels of education. The crimes of the poor and uneducated are of a more violent and terrible character, but at the same time they are easier to detect and curb. The law encompasses them, recognizes them, and represses them, easily, because these crimes offend it in a direct way. The corruption of the upper classes is more nuanced and diversified. It slips away from positive laws, mocking their spirit as it eludes their letter, opposing them moreover with wealth, influence, and power. What bizarre reasoning! The poor man can do nothing. He is surrounded by obstacles, tied down by all manner of bonds. He has neither protectors nor supports. He can commit an isolated crime, but everything takes up arms against him as soon as he is in the wrong. He does not find in his judges, drawn always from a hostile class, any consideration for him, nor any chance of impunity in his connections, which are as powerless as he. His conduct never influences the general lot of the society he belongs to. And you want the mysterious protection of religion against him alone. The rich man, on the contrary, is judged by his peers and allies. The punishments they inflict on him always more or less rebound on them. Society lavishes support on him. All material and moral opportunities are his solely as a result of wealth. He can influence things far off. He can overthrow or corrupt. And this is the powerful and fortunate being you want to set free from the yoke which it seems to you indispensable to bring to bear heavily on a weak and helpless one.
I say all this within the standard hypothesis that religion is valuable above all in its reinforcing the penal laws. This is not my opinion, however. I place religion higher. I do not see it at all as a supplement to the gallows or the wheel. There is a common morality, based on calculation, interest, and security, which can, I think, at a pinch do without religion. It can do without it in the case of the rich man because he thinks, and in the case of the poor man because the law terrifies him, and besides, all his activities being laid out in advance, the habit of constant work produces the same result as reflection in his life. But woe betide the people who have only this common morality! It is for the creation of a more elevated  morality that religion seems desirable to me. I do not invoke it to repress gross crimes but to ennoble all the virtues.