Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization

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I know that smoking is dangerous for my health, but I keep doing it.


I have tried to stop a couple of times, but always failed. What most puzzles me in this troubled relationship is that, when I first began smoking, I did not like it.

Some people like their first cigarettes. I hated it. I guess, as a teenager, I did it only for the sociality of it.

Yet, for some reason, I kept doing it, until I got addicted. I smoke and I enjoy it. My relationship to Spinoza is analogous to the one I have with smoking.

A Theologico-Political Treatise (FULL Audiobook)

When I first read the Ethics , I hated it, as much as I hated my first cigarette. With all that God talk at the beginning, I found it poisoning. Why should a woman philosopher with feminist sympathies be reading this misogynistic dead white male? Why exert all that effort to read such a difficult book just to get out of it, at best, some metaphysical embellishment of sexist remarks? Perhaps simply in order to criticise the bias of the Western philosophical canon that his philosophy embodies? Reading Spinoza gave me, and still gives me, a headache: it is very hard to read on your own and I am not sure why I did it in the first place.

Indeed, like smoking, it was a social setting that sparked my addiction — a reading group on the Ethics when I was in graduate school. I joined simply because somebody told me that Spinoza had an interesting understanding of myth and imagination. But when I began reading the Ethics , I continually wondered whether it was worth the effort. Since then, however, I have gotten progressively addicted to it.

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Although I know that this is dangerous for my health, I keep reading and teaching Spinoza. And although I have tried to stop a couple of times, I have never managed to do so. I keep reading and enjoying him. Maybe Spinoza is not the link to Althusser, but rather a bridge to someplace further. And I am not sure I am done processing it yet.

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It has seemed to some e. This view is supported by the fact that virtually no mention of a social contract is made in the later treatise Wernham , 25; Matheron At the very least, this passage illustrates a break with the ultra-rational conception of the social contract that appears to lie behind some of the claims of the TTP.

They stand under the right or power of the sovereign, because they are held psychologically in its sway. But what exactly does it mean to deduce the foundations of the state from the nature of men? E IVP5dem. The state is thus an unintended, but salutary, outcome of the natural interplay of human passions. In this sense, the civil condition is a natural condition. However, Spinoza says precious little about the process of civil formation itself in the TP, making such an interpretation deeply underdetermined, at best. While one can, like Den Uyl ibid. Here his concern is just to delineate the general aim of the state on the basis of which he can give more fine-grained recommendations relative to regime forms see 4.

To grasp what Spinoza means here we must try to understand what he means by peace. It is one thing for a state to persist or to avoid the ravages of war, it is quite another for the state to flourish. Spinoza makes this point by way of an organic metaphor:. This is perhaps the central normative question of the TP see Steinberg ; Steinberg a. 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. 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. 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.

Spinoza’s Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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. 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.

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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.

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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. At issue in this debate is whether Spinoza was more of a collectivist or an individualist.

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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.