Family Quarrels and Mental Harmony: Spinoza's Oikos-Polis Analogy

In Spinoza's Political Treatise: A Critical Guide. pp. 93-110 (2018)
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Abstract

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.

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Hasana Sharp
McGill University

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