The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748)
Jean Jacques Burlamaqui
Of the right of judging the doctrines, taught in the state; of the care which the sovereign ought to take to form the manners of his subjects.
I. IN the enumeration of the essential parts of sovereignty, We have comprehended the right of judging of the doctrines, taught in the state, and particularly of every thing relating to religion. This is one of the most considerable prerogatives of the sovereign, which it behoves him to exert according to the rules of justice and prudence. Let us endeavour to show the necessity of this prerogative, to establish its foundations, and to point out its extent and boundaries.
II. The first duty of the sovereign ought to be to take all possible pains to form the hearts and minds of his people. In vain would it be for him to enact the best laws, and to prescribe rules of conduct in every thing relative to the good of society, if he did not moreover take proper measures to convince his people of the justice and necessity of those rules, and of As advantages naturally arising from the strict observance of them.
III. And indeed since the principle of all human actions is the will, and the acts of the will, depend on the ideas we form of good and evil, as well as of the rewards and punishments, which most follow those acts, so that every one is determined by his own judgment; it is evident, that the sovereign ought to take care, that his subjects be properly instructed from their infancy, in all those principles, which can form them to an honest and sober life, and in such doctrines, as are agreeable to the end and institution of society. This is the most effectual mean of inducing men to a ready and sure obedience, and of forming their manners. Without this the laws would not have a sufficient force to restrain the subject within the bounds of his duty. So long as men do not obey the laws from principle, their submission is precarious and uncertain; and they will be ever ready to withdraw their obedience, when they are persuaded they can do it with impunity.
IV. If therefore people’s manner of thinking, or the ideas and opinions commonly received, and to which they are accustomed, have so much influence on their conduct, and so strongly contribute either to the good or evil of the state; and if it be the duty of the sovereign to attend to this article, he ought to neglect nothing, that can contribute to the education of youth, to the advancement of the sciences, and to the progress of truth. If this be the case, we must needs grant him a right of judging of the doctrines publicly taught, and of prescribing all those, which may be opposite to the public good and tranquillity.
V. It belongs therefore to the sovereign alone to establish academies and public schools of all kinds, and to authorize the respective professors.. It is bis business to take care, that nothing be taught in them under any pretext, contrary to the fundamental maxims of natural law, to the principles of religion or good politics; in a word, nothing capable of producing impressions prejudicial to the happiness of the state.
VI. But sovereigns ought to be particularly delicate, as to the manner of using this prerogative, and not to exert it beyond its just bounds, but to use it only according to the rules of justice and prudence, otherwise great abuses will follow. Thus a particular point or article may be misapprehended, as detrimental to the state, while, in the main, it no way prejudices, but rather is advantageous to society; or princes, whether of their own accord, or at the instigation of wicked ministers, may erect inquisitions with respect to the most indifferent and even the truest opinions, especially in matters of religion.
VII. Supreme rulers cannot therefore be too much on their guard, against suffering themselves to he imposed on by wicked men, who under a pretext of public good and tranquillity seek only their own particular interests, and who use their utmost efforts to render opinions obnoxious, only with a view to ruin men of greater probity than themselves.
VIII. The advancement of the sciences and the progress of truth require, that a reasonable liberty should be granted to all those, who busy themselves in such laudable pursuits, and that we should not condemn a man as a criminal, merely because, on certain subjects, he has ideas different from those commonly received. Besides a diversity of ideas and opinions is so far from obstructing, that it rather facilitates the progress of truth; provided however that sovereigns take proper measures to oblige men of letters to keep within the bounds of moderation, and that just respect, which mankind owe to one another; and that they exert their authority in checking those, who grow too warm in their disputes, and break through alt rules of decency, so as to injure, calumniate, and render suspected, everyone, that is not in their way of thinking. We must admit, as an indubitable maxim, that truth is of itself very advantageous to mankind, and to society; that no true opinion is contrary to peace and good order; and that all those notions, which, of their nature, are subversive of good order, must certainly be false; otherwise we must assert, that peace and concord are repugnant to the laws of nature.