The “black page” in Spinoza’s Political Treatise has been much discussed and interpreted. These can be roughly divided into three groups: Approaches that see the “black page” as an extension of Spinoza’s theory of the passions and imagination; approaches that maintain that Spinoza excluded women from politics not because of their innate weaknesses but because of their social conditions; approaches that maintain that he excluded women because he saw them as weaker beings, but this contradicts his certain accounts, especially in (...) the Ethics. In this paper, I take the latter view. My contribution is to argue that this contradiction is not unique to the Ethics. I pursue my reading along two lines, one ontological and one political. In the first, I focus on the continuity between the Ethics and the Political Treatise and show that the “black page” is also inconsistent with the ontology and methodology of the Political Treatise itself. In the second, I argue that the exclusion of women also contradicts the concept of the political absolute developed in this last work, since this concept problematizes any kind of exclusion and provides for political stability the strategic principle of increasing the number of decision-makers as much as possible. (shrink)
In this paper I make four claims. First, there is an apparent contradiction in Spinoza’s theory of justice. On the one hand, in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), he argues that justice is entirely conventional and depends on the ruler’s decision. On the other hand, in the later and unpublished Tractatus Politicus (1677), he claims that man really is a social animal and that we can articulate ideal forms of justice on that basis. Second, to address this apparent inconsistency, we need (...) to look at Spinoza’s use of early modern scholastic metaphysics. Although he rejects scholastic natural law theory, he has adopted another concept from the scholastics that is crucial for his theory: the notion of a ‘being of reason’ (ens rationis). Third, if we consider justice as a kind of being of reason, then we can resolve the apparent contradiction in Spinoza’s approach. I shall argue that concepts of justice are imaginative ‘beings of reason.’ They are products of convention that are not derived from general features of the world but from a particular set of circumstances. Fourth, Spinoza’s social ontology of political concepts like justice has some distinct advantages for contemporary theory. This approach shows how we might be able to provide a framework to integrate politics and natural science without reducing one to the other. (shrink)
Despite the centrality of ideology critique in the works of Louis Althusser and his students, the Marxian concept of “appearance” as constitutive of the necessary obfuscation of social modes of exchange has not been sufficiently explicated. Furthermore, perceived incompatibility between ideology and commodity fetishism by this group of philosophers has amounted to a critical lacuna in the shape of a materialist theory of the valueform. This essay articulates the concept of appearance as framed by Gilles Deleuze’s concept of expression in (...) an attempt to foreground the structuring relations that immanently determine capital, appearance, and value. By carefully reformulating Marx’s value-form theory through the rationalist metaphysics of Baruch Spinoza, this essay endeavors to produce a value-form theory compatible with the Spinozist Marxist tradition. (shrink)
I propose a theory of popular power, according to which a political order manifests popular power to the extent it robustly maintains an egalitarian basic structure. There are two parts to the theory. First, the power of a political order lies in the basic structure's robust self-maintenance. Second, the popularity of the political order’s power lies in the equality of relations between the society's members. I will argue that this theory avoids the perverse consequences of some existing radical democratic theories (...) of popular power which focus on mass expression, either in plebiscites or in social movements, as popular power's canonical instances. In particular, my theory does not valourise momentary expression over durable effect, and it offers a ready framework for conceptualising the sometimes-oligarchic substructure of the supposedly canonical instances of popular power. I will show that this theory has strong precedents within a certain republican tradition of political philosophy. (shrink)
This article offers an entry into Spinoza's political philosophy for a popular audience. In it, I lay out what is–to me–most distinctive about his political philosophy: his deep disinterest in the question of the justifiability of political resistance.
In his Political Treatise, Spinoza repeatedly compares states to human beings. In this interpretation of the comparisons, I present a progressively more restrictive account of Spinoza’s views about the nature of human beings in the Ethics and show at each step how those views inform the account of states in the Political Treatise. Because, like human beings, states are individuals, they strive to persevere in existence. Because, like human beings, states are composed of parts that are individuals, states' parts also (...) strive to persevere in being. Finally, because in states, as in human beings, a change to the power of striving of a part can be at the same time a change to the whole that differs in kind, strong states can be bad for their citizens and states that serve their citizens well may nevertheless be weak. Spinoza’s principal project in the Political Treatise is to design states that are stable and good for their citizens. This account of the comparisons shows why that project is so difficult: one cannot design a good state simply by designing a stable state. (shrink)
According to a recent interpretive orthodoxy, Spinoza is a profoundly democratic theorist of state authority. I reject this orthodoxy. To be sure, for Spinoza, a political order succeeds in proportion as it harnesses the power of the people within it. However, Spinoza shows that political inclusion is only one possible strategy to this end; equally if not more useful is political exclusion, so long as it maintains what I call the depoliticised acquiescence of those excluded.
ABSTRACT Genevieve Lloyd argues that when we follow Spinoza in understanding reason as a part of nature, we gain new insights into the human condition. Specifically, we gain a new political insight: we should respond to cultural difference with a pluralist ethos. This is because there is no pure universal reason; human minds find their reason shaped differently by their various embodied social contexts. Furthermore, we can use the resources of the imagination to bring this ethos about. In my response, (...) I offer a friendly challenge to Lloyd’s characterisation of the lessons of Spinoza’s philosophy. I argue that Lloyd’s Spinoza remains excessively unpolitical, even in the moment that he is brought to bear on contemporary politics. An unpluralistic attitude may well be rationally inferior, but is it really explained by insufficient or inappropriate imagination? To the contrary, a properly Spinozist account of reason must include an account of the concrete determinants of reason’s imperfect realisation in the world. In Spinoza’s own oeuvre, this is carried out through an ever-increasing—and ever more sociological—interest in the political structures within which individual reason flourishes or withers. (shrink)
In this article I provide a Spinozist perspective on popular power. It is written as a blog post for a popular audience, and draws on my book, Potentia: Hobbes and Spinoza on Power and Popular Politics (OUP: 2020).
Abstract: Reflecting on the practice of being a Spinoza scholar and Spinozist in Trump's Pandemic America, I argue that we can find consolation in Spinoza's insistent norm -- to understand rather than to blame, to banish free will as explanans so we can fully understand the explanandum. Just as Boethius reflected on human misunderstanding of luck, so Spinoza teaches that we need, in moments of despair, to look not to superstition, but to the recognition of the causal forces that yield (...) our triumphs and failures, and to understand them. While we are unmoored in the chaos of Trump's America, in the joyful expression of popular emancipatory power in the Black Lives Matters mass demonstrations and marches through American cities and suburbs, and the nightly horror of demonstrators murdered by police, I reach back to another moment of chaos with liberatory and nightmarish potential -- the years just after the U.S. Civil War described in Leaves of Grass. We can find Spinozist moments in Whitman's poem and philosophical memoir -- a kind of American Spinozism. As he travels among the horrors and the new possibilities of American life, Whitman insists on seeing and feeling the world as it is -- terrible, wonderful, in all its fleshy imperfection, while finding hope in these same flawed particulars. In 2020, Trump's America, Spinoza and Spinozism are not just relevant, are not just consolations in the Boethian sense, but they are essential epistemic survival tools for a world quite obviously in motion. (shrink)
How could a philosopher who insists on the exclusion of women from citizenship and state office by virtue of their insuperable weakness be an inspiration for feminism? The puzzles over Spinoza’s egalitarian credentials pose a problem particularly if one understands feminism primarily or exclusively as a demand for equality with men. When feminism is seen as a subcategory of Enlightenment commitments, one may choose to see Spinoza’s misogyny as superficial and as a betrayal of the radical potential of the egalitarianism (...) yielded by his metaphysics. But if feminism is not understood exclusively as one strand of late modern orthodoxy, we might better understand the surprising companionship of Spinoza and feminism. Indeed, Moira Gatens finds the heterodoxy of Spinoza’s thinking with respect to the ruling ideas today to be what is most valuable for feminism. Feminist Spinozism does not add to the chorus of praise for egalitarianism, secular politics, or the authority of reason in contrast to power. The Spinozist feminism pioneered by Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd finds resources precisely in Spinoza’s challenges to late modern common sense, including perhaps especially an ethics and politics grounded in the givenness of human equality. (shrink)
This paper develops the implications of Spinoza’s invocation in chapter 6 of the traditional analogy between the oikos and the polis. Careful attention to this analogy reveals a number of interesting features of Spinoza’s political theory. Spinoza challenges the perception that absolute monarchy offers greater respite from the intolerable anxiety of the state of nature than does democracy. He acknowledges that people associate monarchical rule with peace and stability, but asserts that it can too easily deform its subjects. Unchallenged monarchy (...) may be credited with a certain order, “but if slavery, barbarism, and desolation are to be called peace, there can be nothing more wretched for mankind than peace.” This is all familiar to friends of Spinoza, but what kind of democracy is the alternative to those monarchies that tend toward despotism? It is a form of association that, he suggests, resembles a bitterly quarrelsome but nevertheless virtuous family. Thus, he admits that democratic, or popular, rule is typically turbulent and disorderly, but urges his reader to view contentions and disputes as a kind of salutary discord that preserves rather than threatens virtue. (shrink)
Spinoza rarely refers to art. However, there are extensive resources for a Spinozist aesthetics in his discussion of health in the Ethics and of social affects in his political works. There have been recently been a few essays linking Spinoza and art, but this essay additionally fuses Spinoza’s politics to an affective aesthetics. Spinoza’s statements that art makes us healthier (Ethics 4p54Sch; Emendation section 17) form the foundation of an aesthetics. In Spinoza’s definition, “health” is caused by external objects that (...) maintain our power to act in a variety of ways. Humans need such objects because our complex bodies constantly lose or consume many parts necessary to our overall functioning. Notably, Spinoza defines humans’ bodies through this complexity (2p13Sch), so health as maintenance of complexity is a distinctly human endeavor. Further, while art is not the only healthy activity, I argue that art is a particularly potent cure, which explains Spinoza’s otherwise opaque comment that music can cure melancholy (by which he meant a near-total inability to act, akin to death). Rather than only causing frivolous pleasures, art may be as essential to human flourishing as are other human beings in general; other people are “most useful” because of the variety of actions they make possible (4p35Cor & Sch1). Art’s production of a dizzying variety of affects is likewise most useful for health. -/- Having established how art in general affects the individual, I then explain the role of artists in shaping social groups. Artists use vivid and highly charged affective techniques, as do political sovereigns and religious prophets (TTP chapters 1-2 & 15-16). However, sovereigns and prophets are concerned exclusively with “morality,” defined by Spinoza as the use of affects (primarily based on fear and hope) to produce “obedience” in the generic multitude or people at large. An artist, however, rarely causes affects in the whole nation, affecting instead only a smaller niche or “sub-genre” of people. The affects produced in this group are also not identical to those used by sovereigns, since artists do not primarily deploy sad affects of hope and fear but instead use a wide variety of joyful affects. Further, in Spinoza’s analysis of ceremonies (TTP chapter 5), we see how small groups exposed to repeated ceremonies or social practices eventually develop new strengths which they lacked before. Repeated exposure to shared aesthetic “ceremonies” (e.g., live music performances) of the same sub-genre will over time create the capacity of new powers in the sub-genre of people, which distinguishes them from the masses. Spinoza says sovereigns forge a “second nature” for the generic people through affects; we can then affirm that smaller groups exposed to a distinct sub-genre of art can acquire a new “third nature” which will contain unique powers extending beyond healthy maintenance of their existing bodies. That is, art in general is necessary to flourish and remain whole (maintaining health), but it can also occasionally expand what one is to unforeseen heights (through specific artistic sub-genres). (shrink)
The problem of forgiveness may rightly be regarded as a perennial philosophical problem. But of what sort? Introducing his 1973 contribution to the discussion, entitled simply "Forgiveness"—an essay that remains the standard reference for contemporary discussions of the problem, especially in the Anglo-American philosophical community—Aurel Kolnai writes that while the ethical nature of the problem is indisputable, he intends his argument "to be chiefly logical in nature: the central question I wish to discuss is … whether, and if so in (...) what manner, [forgiveness] is logically possible at all."1 The problem, as Kolnai develops it in the first two sections of his essay, is that forgiveness seems to be either... (shrink)
Balibar presents Spinoza as a profound critic of " the anthropomorphic illusion. " Spinoza famously derides the tendency of humans to project their own imagined traits and tendencies onto the rest of nature. The anthropomorphic illusion yields a gross overestimation our own agency. I argue in this essay that the flip side of this illusion is our refusal to extend certain properties we reserve exclusively to ourselves. The result is that we disregard the power of social and political institutions because (...) they do not resemble us. The anthropomorphic illusion therefore causes us both to overestimate our power as singular individuals and to underestimate the power of social and political institutions. If we understand ourselves and institutions as " transindividuals " rather than on the illusory model of substantial individuality, it is unproblematic to attribute individuality to collective powers, like the commonwealth, and makes better sense of how we are determined by external forces. (shrink)
The concept of imperium is central to Spinoza's political philosophy. Imperium denotes authority to rule, or sovereignty. By extension, it also denotes the political order structured by that sovereignty, or in other words, the state. Spinoza argues that reason recommends that we live in a state, and indeed, humans are hardly ever outside a state. But what is the source and scope of the sovereignty under which we live? In some sense, it is linked to popular power, but how precisely, (...) and how is this popular grounding to be reconciled with the absolutist elements in Spinoza's texts? Against prominent liberal and radical democratic interpretations, I argue that Spinoza's insistence on linking imperium to the power of the people amounts to a normative attitude towards politics in which the formal features of a political system are less significant than the concrete everyday functioning of that system. Furthermore, I argue that its good functioning is importantly a product of an institutional order which does not simply defer to human individuality or to the primordial multitude, but instead, actively shapes them. While it may be worthwhile railing against monarchy and aristocracy and demanding liberal or radical democracy, the prior and more important challenge is to increase the robustness and resilience of the multitude within whatever form of state presents itself, through boring, meticulous, and incremental institutional design. For Spinoza, it is a robust and resilient political order that truly merits being called absolute. (shrink)
Spinoza’s ‘multitude’, while a key concept of his political philosophy, allows us to better understand Spinoza’s work both in its historical context and as a systematic unity. In this piece, I will propose that we understand Spinoza’s concept of the ‘multitude’ in the context of the development of his political thought, in particular his reading and interpretation of Thomas Hobbes, for whom ‘multitude’ was indeed a technical term. I will show that Spinoza develops his own notion of multitude as an (...) interpretive extension of Hobbes’s concept. Spinoza’s notion of ‘multitude’ is shaped by the new answers he gives to the Hobbesian questions about the human power, human emotion and the metaphysical-political questions of how individuals can become a whole, or a state. (shrink)
Although Spinoza’s words about intuition, also called “the third kind of knowledge,” remain among the most difﬁcult to grasp, I argue that he succeeds in providing an account of its distinctive character. Moreover, the special place that intuition holds in Spinoza’s philosophy is grounded not in its epistemological distinctiveness, but in its ethical promise. I will not go as far as one commentator to claim that the epistemological distinction is negligible (Malinowski-Charles 2003),but I do argue that its privileged place in (...) Spinoza’s system belongs primarily to its ethical importance, by which I mean that intuition’s value is prized by virtue of the agency it confers upon those who enjoy it. Spinoza often notes that what distinguishes the “wise man” is that he is more powerful, able to do more. That is,the wise and free person with whose description the Ethics culminates is set apart not, ﬁrst and foremost, by virtue of possessing a scientiﬁc account of the true cosmological order. The Ethics is perhaps called an ethics, rather than a treatise on metaphysics or knowledge, because it concludes with a demonstration of how one comes to be able to do what is best and to live a more joyful life. Intuitive science is essential to the characterization of the power to think and live well. (shrink)
Against the common understanding that the Ethics promotes a "radical anti-emotion program," I claim that Spinoza describes an immanent transformation of love from a form of madness to an expression of wisdom. Love as madness produces the affects that another tradition unites in the seven deadly sins, such as lust, gluttony, envy, greed, and pride. Spinoza, however, never condemns these affects as such. Within each affect one can find its "correct use" (E5p10schol), which enables us to love and to live (...) otherwise. As we come to understand our beloveds as determinate expressions both of nature's power and of our own ability to persevere in being, we find conditions for our liberation within these most burdensome of passions. More specifically, as we diminish our tendency to imagine what we love in terms of its finitude and susceptibility to loss, we are determined to love and to know both others and ourselves by the joyful passions. Ultimately, Spinoza's portrait of love suggests ways of life that generate the satisfaction of our possessive desire with the collective and inclusive love of, certainly, the eternal and immutable thing, but also the eternal and immutable in things, in each other, and above all, in ourselves. In other words, Spinoza's economics of love and possession point up the desire to appropriate our own power in and of community, and in of nature. (shrink)
In asserting that the desire to possess what we cannot exclusively and permanently have lies at the root of human misery, Spinoza's Ethics discloses a problem that requires a political response. Although the final part of the Ethics appears to be the least practical of Spinoza's writings, it nonetheless foregrounds the tangible problem of our desire for possession, our desire to have what gives us joy. Moreover, it proposes a remedial practice by means of which this problematic desire might generate (...) satisfaction and strength rather than frustration and suffering. The "remedy for the affects" demands a reorientation of one's possessive desire corollary to the fundamentally affective and affirmative understanding of justice propounded in Spinoza's political writings. The cure for the possessive lovesickness portrayed in the Ethics, I aim to show, entails institutions of justice insofar as they operate upon our proprietary desires. (shrink)
In this paper I pursue this question of the nature of a possible relationship between imagination and the force/violence particular to human law throughSpinoza's analysis of the prophetic imagination in the Tractatus-Theologico Politic us. My principal concern is to trace the relationship between the history and laws of the Hebrew nation and Spinoza's analysis of the imagination of Moses.
ONE OF THE MOST VEXING AND PERSISTENT ISSUES among students of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus is the question of the work’s intended audience. Determining the audience of the TTP is critical not only for judging the work’s tone but also for assessing its purpose and scope. Despite the importance of this issue, Spinoza offers little help in resolving the question of his intended audience. Indeed, after outlining the argument of the work in the preface, he playfully dodges the question of audience.
This book is a philosophical enquiry into the educational consequences of Spinoza’s political theory. Spinoza’s political theory is of particular interest for educational thought as it brings together the normative aims of his ethical theory with his realistic depiction of human psychology and the ramifications of this for successful political governance. As such, the book aims to introduce the reader to Spinoza’s original vision of civic education, as a project that ultimately aims at the ethical flourishing of individuals, while being (...) carefully tailored and adjusted to the natural limitations of human reason. This author-meets-critics includes scholars in philosophy, education and Spinoza studies. (shrink)