Louis Ménard: Religions and Sociopolitical Structures

Following are excerpts from «Du Polythéisme hellénique» by Louis Ménard (Paris: Charpentier, 1863). Louis Ménard (1822-1901) was a French religious scholar, historian and chemist, socialist revolutionary and Hellenist. He took part in the February revolution of 1848 and discovered collodion. He was buried according to Hellenic custom. Translated by Stilian Korovilas.

The diversity of peoples results in the diversity of religions and languages. Linguists have classified languages ​​into families. In the same way, we could also define families of religions, which would correspond to the families of peoples. The primary unveiling, that is, the first impression of the totality of beings as a whole on the human psyche, is interpreted each time in a different way, depending on the particular understanding of each people. One can conceive of the universe as a machine, an organism, or as a symphony. The three great religions of antiquity corresponded to these three different kinds of worldviews. Monotheism sees in nature the manifestation of an external will. Pantheism conceives nature as a living unity, the driving force of itself. Polytheism sees in nature a totality of independent forces whose combined activities, however, produce universal harmony.

Societies construct themselves in the same way as their members understand the cosmic order, just as reality reflects the ideal. The monistic religions coincide with the various forms of autarchy, monarchy with monotheism and the priestly caste with pantheism. Polytheism, on the other hand, whose principle consists in the multiplicity of the first causes, finds its social manifestation in democracy.

Only the Greeks and Romans held firmly to genuine polytheism and nurtured the democratic institutions during the heyday of their history. It was only in the period of decline that the monistic teachings were able to gain a foothold in the field of politics as well as in religion.