• Giovanni Gentile

The State and Religion

Updated: Jan 27

Pp. 149-152 Gentile, Giovanni. Genesis and Structure of Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1966.

The Essential Connection Between the Two Terms

There is no State that does not concern itself in one way or another, positively or negatively, with religion, oscillating between theocracy and a State religion on the one hand, and complete separation of church and State in an agnostic pseudo-liberal democracy on the other. Even this latter attitude is polemical in a way that is inconsistent with its pretended agnosticism. No State can ignore the religion of its people, any more than it can be indifferent about their customs, or their moral attitudes, or anything else so closely connected with their political life. The reason for this necessary connection between the State and religion must be sought in the very nature of the former. The purpose of the State is to achieve peace, and the rule of law which is its outward manifestation; or in other words, it seeks to achieve unity in the popular consciousness because of its immanent tendency to realize the will of the people. But the will of the people is the universal will of man; and the universal will of man is religion, or more precisely it contains religion. The will is self-concept; and as such it is religion both in the moment of subjective immediacy (the divine spark that we all feel within us) and again in the moment of objective immediacy when reality seems complete seems complete and leaves no place for man, who therefore bows the knee before it and adores it. So, that the State could not be the fulfillment of man’s humanity if it did not contain religion. A completely secular consciousness, or a completely secular State, is a figment of the imagination

Religio instrumentum regni

Religion, then is not a cunning invention of politicians, it is not an instrument of government. Campanella was right in his opposition to Machiavellianism considered as a work of the devil, or as Achitophelism. The religion of the State is not something external to its ethical will, but rather the constitutive element of it. And if, in order to represent successfully the perfect antinomy of the State, we pretend to recognize a Church that is subservient to its earthly ends, we can indeed make use of the fiction as a trap for the credulous, but only up to a point. Then, when our deceit is discovered, this art of political trickery becomes worthless. For a religion that is merely a useful tool for purposes quite extrinsic to its nature is no religion. And anyone who wishes to obtain from religion the power that it can in fact bestow must above all else respect it as religion; he must hold it in high honor, believe it in himself, and in short take it seriously for what it is-just as when one wants to cure a disease by using a drug, one must begin by getting hold of the right drug. Neither religion no any other form of spiritual life can ever have a merely instrumental value, since this would be inconsistent with its character as an end in itself, and with the freedom and infinity of all spiritual activity....

The Immanence of Religion in the State

...The truth is that consciousness is always an organic whole. And religion, like art and morality, is never completely absent from it, whatever from it takes. If politics were deprived of all religious import it would become an artificial, brute mechanical activity lacking all spiritual inspiration; there are signs of this in the political career of any person or group dominated by a spirit that Is poorly endowed with religious feeling. For whenever the human spirit is not whole and healthy, whenever its nature is not clearly expressed in the fullness of its life, it is infected by this sort of impotence. This impotence is apparent for example in the words of an insincere man, a pedant of any kind, who does not say, because, as a result of his education and his artificial way of life, he no longer knows how to express the feelings that he shares with all other men; or in the actions of a man who has no sure aims but only daydreams. A daydream is a failure of will caused by weakness of character; strength of character involves wholehearted commitment to action…

This religious sense is a moment of the self-concept, an element of the will and therefore morality. Thus, religion is not properly something to be added to morality; it is immanent in it and without it there could be no morality. Nor could there be any State.