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Spinoza addresses this question by way of offering institutional recommendations for each regime type. To see how Spinoza provides a general response to the question of how peace or civic agreement is promoted, we must bear in mind that the relation of agreement comes in degrees see Blom ; Steinberg A society of free men would be a perfect union EIVP67— However, the free man exists only as an ideal; all actual men are imperfectly rational.

Spinoza and the politics of renaturalization

The concern of the state is to bring it about that the actual relationships between people most closely approximate the ideal society of free men. That is, the aim of the state is to make irrational, selfish men as rational and virtuous as possible. Civil rationality is the product of a republican set of institutions that encourage broad participation, public deliberation, and the adoption of a variety of accountability-promoting mechanisms.

A rationally organized state will not only promote the common good, in so doing it will also strengthen the civic commitment of its citizens; this is one key way in which the state contributes to the reorientation of the affects of its citizens and increases the level of agreement between citizens, the product of which is harmony or peace Steinberg ; Steinberg a. Given that the fundamental aim of the state is peace, the question that Spinoza seeks to address in chapters 6 and 7 of the Political Treatise is how a monarchy is to be organized so as to be maximally peaceful.

He begins by repeating the claim that men are largely irrational and selfish. And since the passions of common men must be regulated, it is tempting to suppose, as Hobbes does, that heavy-handed governance is required.

Hasana Sharp, Author at The Philosophical Salon

This is because the King is likely to look after his advantage alone, neglecting the general welfare, which will ultimately result in the weakening of the civitas. In order to overcome this condition, it is essential for there to be constitutional checks on the behavior of the monarch. For instance, Spinoza writes that in a properly constituted state:. Ultimately, a model monarchy will be a constitutional monarchy that will strongly resemble a democracy. Spinoza discusses two types of aristocracy and the best forms of each.

Will Durant---The Philosophy of Spinoza

The first is a centralized aristocracy that appears to have been modeled on the Venetian Republic McShea , ; Haitsma Mulier The second is a decentralized aristocracy, in which sovereignty is held by several cities. Spinoza argues, in proto-Madisonian fashion, that the council of patricians must be sizable so as to reduce the potential for factionalism e.

Absoluteness thus indicates a norm very much like peace, the cardinal civil norm; so to say that one regime form is more absolute than another amounts to declaring its superiority. While Spinoza clearly indicates that aristocracies are, on the whole and in most cases, superior to monarchies, a more interesting and somewhat more vexed question is how aristocracies compare with democracies.

Feuer and Melamed However, this advantage is offset by the biased, self-serving practices of most patricians ibid. And since Spinoza claims that democracy is the most absolute form of regime e. Ultimately, though, Spinoza is less interested in rank-ordering regimes than he is in determining how each regime-type must be organized in order to maximize freedom and the common good. Spinoza had barely begun writing the first of what would likely have been two chapters on democracy when he died on February 21, His conception of democracy includes any system of popular governance in which the governing members acquire the right to participate by virtue of their civil status rather than by election.

This conception of democracy is broad enough to include even variants of timocracy. What is particularly interesting is how Spinoza defends these democratic features, since this gives us insight into how democracies are to be defended in general. In the TTP Spinoza seems to provides both principled and instrumental arguments in favor of democracy. In the TP, Spinoza focuses exclusively on the instrumental defense, highlighting what has recently been called the epistemic advantage of democracy, i.

Becoming cat

At issue in this debate is whether Spinoza was more of a collectivist or an individualist. Some of the strongest evidence in support of the conception of the state as an individual comes from the so-called physical digression between IIP13 and IIP14, where Spinoza directly discusses individuality. Here, once again, Spinoza delineates a picture of composite, higher-order individuals, opening up the possibility of viewing the state itself as an individual. Others who have espoused this view include Meinecke and Blom This interpretation has been challenged in a number of ways. The problem with this objection is that there is no reason to suppose that all individuals are characterized by complete integration of parts.

Matheron, for instance, describes the state as complex individual whose parts are only integrated to a limited degree , It is perfectly consistent to recognize the discrete individuality of humans while allowing that, under certain conditions of association, individuals can simultaneously be members of larger units. One can be both a collectivist and an individualist. If we assume that all individuals are singular things for a helpful discussion of the relationship between these concepts, see D.

Garrett , then the fact that states can ostensibly be destroyed by their parts i. This is a forceful objection. Specifically, Spinoza could explain cases of apparent civil self-destruction by maintaining that they occur only at the hands of poorly-integrated individuals who stand, at least to some degree, outside of the body politic.

A third challenge to the collectivist interpretation is that if the state is an individual, it should have a mind of its own. This is consistent with the claim, noted above, that integration into a larger union is itself a matter of degree. Ultimately, it seems to me that far less hinges on the success or failure of the collectivist interpretation than has been assumed by its opponents. The primary concern expressed by critics like Den Uyl and Barbone seems to be that Spinoza not be understood as treating the state as an individual with its own interests that might trump the interests of its constituents.

Isaiah Berlin condemned Spinoza along with other positive liberty theorists precisely because he took Spinoza to be reifying the state and putting state interests above individual interests But even if the state is an individual, it does not follow that its interests would supersede the interests of its citizens.


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In short, the collectivist can embrace the normative primacy of the individual human being. If this is allowed, the matter of whether the state is a literal or merely metaphorical individual seems to matter far less than many scholars have supposed.

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Further complicating the assessment is the fact that Spinoza and Spinozism remained a bugbear throughout Europe for much of the late 17 th and 18 th centuries, during which time Spinozism was widely associated with atheism. However, the TTP was read, discussed, and condemned in the decades following its publication.

The critical reception tended to focus on the perceived anti-religious features of the work—for instance, the refutation of miracles and the denial of the divine origin of the Pentateuch—but the naturalistic account of right and law and the arguments for the freedom to philosophize also provoked debate.


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The doctrine had its critics see e. Citations refer to the chapter, followed by page number e. Curley All Latin passages refer to Spinoza Opera , ed. Carl Gebhardt, 4 vols. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, I wish to thank Michael Rosenthal, Steven B. Smith, and an anonymous reviewer for many helpful comments and suggestions. Historical Background 1. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 3.

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The Tractatus Politicus 4. He introduces this concept in TTP 16, where he boldly writes: By the right and order of nature I merely mean the rules determining the nature of each individual thing by which we conceive it is determined naturally to exist and to behave in a certain way. For example fish are determined by nature to swim and big fish to eat little ones, and therefore it is by sovereign natural right that fish have possession of the water and that big fish eat small fish. For it is certain that nature, considered wholly in itself, has a sovereign right to do everything that it can do, i.

TTP 16, ; cf. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus As indicated above, throughout the seventeenth century the United Provinces were torn apart by disputes concerning, among other things, the political authority of the church. The Tractatus Politicus One might wonder why Spinoza, having published the TTP in , spent the last years of his life until his death in working on a second political treatise that covers some of the same ground as the first. Spinoza makes this point by way of an organic metaphor: So when we say that the best state is one where men pass their lives in harmony, I am speaking of human life, which is characterized not just by the circulation of the blood and other features common to animals, but especially by reason, the true virtue and life of the mind.

A rationally organized state will not only promote the common good, in so doing it will also strengthen the civic commitment of its citizens; this is one key way in which the state contributes to the reorientation of the affects of its citizens and increases the level of agreement between citizens, the product of which is harmony or peace Steinberg ; Steinberg a 4. For instance, Spinoza writes that in a properly constituted state: The king…whether motivated by fear of the people or by his desire to win over the greater part of an armed populace, or whether he is led by nobility of spirit to have regard to the public interest, will always ratify the opinion that is supported by most votes-i.

Machiavelli, Niccolo, , The Prince , Trans. Russell Price, Ed. Spinoza, Benedictus de.

Spinoza Opera. Carl Gebhardt. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Press. Mendelssohn, Moses, , Jerusalem , Trans. The Political Works. Oxford: Clarendon Press. The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. Princeton, N. A Spinoza Reader. Edwin Curley.


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The Letters. Samuel Shirley. Indianapolis: Hackett. Political Treatise. Theological-Political Treatise. Jonathan Israel. Michael Silverthorne and Jonathan Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Olli I. Koistinen and John I. Samuel Shirley, Indianapolis: Hackett. Peter Snowdon, London: Verso. Amsterdam: Holland University Press, 89— Kenneth F.

Negri was one among hundreds of militants arrested in the country in a sweeping campaign of state repression executed with the full support of the Communist Party. In the face of defeat, some activists looked for new tools for orienting themselves in a landscape radically altered by the irruption of new political subjectivities —precarious workers, proletarian youth, women, and a myriad of counter cultural groups.

Negri was not alone in the pursuit of a materialist Spinozism. Louis Althusser, on his part, wrote very little on Dutch philosopher but famously argued that his seminar Reading Capital was more indebted to Spinoza than structuralism. This interpretation has some far reaching implications for politics.