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There are places in the text, however, when Spinoza seems to imply that we have obligations to the sovereign irrespective of our psychological or motivational state.

In some of these instances, a careful reading reveals that nothing of the sort is implied. Still, there are other places when he does imply that de facto obedience is neither necessary nor sufficient for establishing the legitimacy of a civil body. For instance, he claims that the sovereign alone has right over religious matters such as interpreting Scripture, excommunicating heretics, and making provisions for the poor TTP 19, - 40 , despite the fact that the church had, in fact, been exercising power in these matters.

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. It is tempting to suppose that he must have come to reject many of his earlier views. However, with the possible exception of his view of the social contract see 4. Rather, the TP is distinguished from the earlier treatise chiefly by its aims and rhetorical style. Whereas the TTP was an occasional piece, written for an audience of liberal Christian theologians to address the problems posed by officious Calvinist theocrats, the TP is concerned with the general organization of the state and was written for philosophers.

Balibar , The TP is a fitting sequel to the Ethics Matheron Whereas the Ethics reveals the path to individual freedom, the TP reveals the extent to which individual freedom depends on civil institutions Steinberg a. The work can be divided into three sections. In the first section roughly through Chapter 4 , Spinoza discusses the metaphysical basis of the state and the natural limits of state power. In the second section Chapter 5 , Spinoza lays out the general aims of the state.

And in the third section Chapter 6 to the end , Spinoza gives specific recommendations for how various regime forms—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—are to be constituted so as to satisfy the aims of the state as set out in section two. In the early chapters of the TP, Spinoza puts forth his naturalistic program, beginning with the premise that the state, like everything else, is a natural thing res naturalis , governed by the laws of nature see Bartuschat , 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.


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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.

Revisiting Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise Antonio Bento

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.


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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.

Book Review: Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics: The Theologico-Political Treatise

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. 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. 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.

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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.

A Theologico-Political Treatise

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. 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.

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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. 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.

The doctrine had its critics see e.

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Citations refer to the chapter, followed by page number e. Curley All Latin passages refer to Spinoza Opera , ed. Carl Gebhardt, 4 vols.