In his quest for this-worldly wholeness, Rousseau desired to rid the body politic of contradictions. This meant he deplored the effect of Christianity in separating Caesar and God. Divided allegiances interrupted true communion of persons, he felt. In the ancient world of paganism, and in Muhammad’s religion, Rousseau wrote admiringly in The Social Contract, state and church constituted one powerful unity—the pantheistic impulse. He advocated a return to this ideal.
This was the ancient myth of the divine state born again. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily “Biblical Aspects of the Theme of Faith and Politics,” “man cannot do without the totality of hope.” If the horizon of hope extends no further than the sky above us, however, then to serve the state is to serve “God.” There are no other priests than magistrates, Rousseau noted, no other pontiff than the one who embodies the pure and unified democratic people. This made the state into the church and created a coercive political religion in the service of messianic purposes—as seen during the French Revolution.
But such exalted salvific goals can in reality be realized only beyond the sphere of political action, Pope Benedict XVI noted. That is why Rousseau’s pantheistic “mythological politics” made reasonable politics difficult or impossible. Reasonable politics in necessarily limited politics rooted in concrete, human reality. This requires honesty to “accept man’s limits,” Pope Benedict XVI said, and to do “man’s work within them.” True morality in politics is a compromise between different interests amid the messy realities of partisanship, not rigid adherence to one’s ideology of human regeneration. Overcoming the pantheistic desire for ultimate harmony in this world is an important step in the quest for political rationality.