This article is about the concept of a Christian republic as a governmental system. For Adin Ballou's social experiment that he called The Practical Christian Republic, see Hopedale Community. For the Mediæval concept of Christendom sometimes called the Christian Republic, see res publica christiana. For the Irish political party, see Poblacht Chríostúil.
In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke wrote that "there is absolutely no such thing, under the Gospel, as a Christian Commonwealth". By this he meant that political authority cannot be validly founded upon Christianity. Rousseau, in On The Social Contract (in book 4, chapter 8), echoed this, saying that "I am mistaken in saying 'a Christian republic'; the two words are mutually exclusive.". However, Rousseau's point was subtly different, in that he was asserting that a civic identity cannot be moulded out of Christianity.David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, acknowledges that there is a "genuine tension […] between Christianity and the political order" that Rousseau was acknowledging, arguing that "many Christians would, after all, agree with him that a 'Christian republic' is a contradiction in terms" and that the twain live "in an uneasy relationship in actual states, and social cohesion has often been bought at the price of Christian universalism".Robert Neelly Bellah has observed that most of the great republican theorists of the Western world have shared Rousseau's concerns about the mutually exclusive nature of republicanism and Christianity, from Machiavelli (more on which later) to Alexis de Tocqueville.
Rousseau's thesis is that the twain are incompatible because they make different demands upon the virtuous man. Christianity, according to Rousseau, demands submission (variously termed "servitude" or "slavery" by scholars of his work) to imposed authority and resignation, and requires focus upon the unworldly; whereas republicanism demands participation rather than submission, and requires focus upon the worldly. Rousseau's position on Christianity is not universally held. Indeed it was refuted by, amongst others, his friend Antoine-Jacques Roustan in a reply to the Social Contract.
Rousseau's thesis has a basis in the prior writings of Niccolò Machiavelli, whom Rousseau called a "bon citoyen et honnête homme" and who alongside Montesquieu was one of Rousseau's sources for republican philosophy. In his Discoursi Machiavelli observes that Christianity in practice has not met the ideals of its foundation, and that the resultant corruption leads, when mixed with secular political ideals, to something that is neither good religion nor good politics. Further, he argues, whilst Christianity does not preclude love for one's country, it does require citizens to endure damage to republican government, stating that the best civic virtue in regards to a republic is to show no mercy to the republic's enemies and to put to death or to enslave the inhabitants of an opposing city that has been defeated.
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