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Role Of Government In Society Essay

1632 words - 7 pages

John Calvin and Jean Jacques Rousseau have strong and differing opinions about the role of government in society, which is evident in their writings. Both were Frenchmen living at different times in history. John Calvin was born in 1509, around the time of the Reformation (Hooker 1). Rousseau was born in 1712, about 200 years after Calvin, shortly before the time of the French Revolution (Chew 1). Social and political events shape people’s views, which is extremely evident in the lives of Calvin and Rousseau. Because John Calvin lived during the time of the reformation, where religion was such a driving issue, he was concerned with God’s view of government and distinguishing the role of ...view middle of the document...

Although the spiritual and civil governments are separate, they do have a connection to each other. Christians are subject to both civil and spiritual government because both are ordained by God (McMahon 1). Although some people may say that civil and spiritual governments are separate, Calvin points out that “they are not adverse to each other” (Institutes). While Christians are to live under spiritual law, “so long as we [Christians] live among men [they need] to foster and maintain the external worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the condition of the Church, to adapt our conduct to human society, to form our manners to civil justice, to conciliate us to each other, to cherish common peace and tranquility” (Institutes).
Besides distinguishing between two governments under God and showing their relationship to each other, Calvin also points out the three parts of civil government and their roles in society in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. According to Calvin, it is the job of the civil government to ensure “that the public quiet be not disturbed, that every man’s property be kept secure, that men may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may exist among Christians, and humanity among men” (Institutes). The civil government has a general role, but the three parts of government also play specific roles. The three parts of civil government are the Magistrate, the Law, and the People. The magistrate is “president and guardian of the laws.” The laws govern the people, and the people are government by the laws and obey the magistrate. The people are to obey the magistrate because he is “commissioned from God and invested with divine authority” (Institutes). God ordained civil government to give structure and order and rule over his people.
The times in which they lived affected Calvin and Rousseau’s overall views of people, God, and society, relating to government. While Calvin had a strong belief in God and his role in society, Rousseau only acknowledges the existence of a God, and he rejects the idea of a God that lives and works in the world (Discourse). In The Social Contract Rousseau admits that “all power comes from God” but seems to believe God simply created, and now he has no place in the world. Besides his belief in God in the world, Calvin also felt that humans are totally depraved, and therefore need structure and order (Hanko 1). According to Calvin, government is ordained by God. Rousseau’s view is completely contrary. Rousseau believes that humans are naturally good (Discourse 32), which would support his idea that they can rule themselves based on their own agreed upon laws.
While the reformation causes Calvin to be more concerned with Christian faith in government, the French Revolution causes Rousseau to take a very different approach in his writing The Social Contract. Before the French...

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