Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Was Spinoza a populist? [Long read]

Philosophy News image
Recent studies of Spinoza’s political theory in a contemporary perspective often place it in one of two categories, depicting him either as a defender of individual free speech and liberal democracy or as a champion of radical democracy and collective popular power. For some, he is something like a liberal supporter of the equal individual rights of all citizens to express whatever is on their mind, an early defender of “free speech.” For others, he is more like a left-wing populist championing the power of the multitude against a state taken hostage by special interests. Either way, Spinoza is seen to give theoretical support to popular resistance to excessive state power. Either way, he potentially or actually provides fodder for populist positions, no matter whether the culpable elite is construed as an entrenched state apparatus surreptitiously seeking to curb individual freedoms (a so-called “deep state”) or as representatives of global corporate interests embedded within the structures of government (as in Negri and Hardt’s conception of “Empire.”)Much politically potent commentary has been produced on both sides of this divide. It all attempts—implicitly or explicitly—to enroll the philosopher in the service of whatever political project the authors wish to promote. Yet I think we will learn more from Spinoza if we let him address his own historical circumstances before asking him of what use his political theory may be to us in ours. And the fact is that neither US-style liberalism or libertarianism nor radical democracy was on the political menu anywhere in late seventeenth-century Europe when Spinoza wrote his texts. Moreover, nothing in his immediate political circumstances suggests that he would think that state power represented the principal threat to the freedom of citizens or the civil laws to be restrictions put on that freedom. Indeed, it is the contrary: those circumstances would rather make us expect him to defend state power as means to secure. . .

Continue reading . . .

News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

blog comments powered by Disqus