Ideas from 'Tractatus Theologico-Politicus' by Baruch de Spinoza [1670], by Theme Structure

[found in 'Theological-Political Treatise' by Spinoza,Benedict de (ed/tr Israel,Jonathan) [CUP 2007,0-521-53097-0]].

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2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 4. Aims of Reason
Without reason and human help, human life is misery
                        Full Idea: Without mutual help and the cultivation of reason, human beings necessarily live in great misery.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.05)
                        A reaction: A clarion call from a great voice of the Enlightenment. I agree, but in 2017 the rest of western civilization seems to have given up on this ideal. I blame Adorno and Horkheimer.
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 1. Free Will / a. Nature of free will
People are only free if they are guided entirely by reason
                        Full Idea: The only genuinely free person is one who lives with his entire mind guided solely by reason.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.10)
                        A reaction: It strikes me as blatantly impossible to be entirely guided by reason. His point is that it is a subservience to reason which is entirely chosen. Why is that different from choosing to be entirely subservient to another person?
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 1. A People / c. A unified people
Peoples are created by individuals, not by nature, and only distinguished by language and law
                        Full Idea: Nature certainly does not create peoples, individuals do, and individuals are only separated into nations by differences of language, law and morality.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.26)
                        A reaction: Quite wrong, I think. How did languages evolve if there were not already distinct peoples? Do ants and bees only form into colonies by individual choice? All social contract theories seem to make Spinoza's assumption.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 4. Natural Rights / a. Natural rights
In nature everything has an absolute right to do anything it is capable of doing
                        Full Idea: Since the universal power of nature is only the power of all individual things together, it follows that each individual thing has the sovereign right to do everything it can do, or the right of each thing extends as far as its determined power extends.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.01)
                        A reaction: A typically ruthless Spinoza idea, very different from the rather ill-founded claims of Locke and Rousseau about the state of nature.
Natural rights are determined by desire and power, not by reason
                        Full Idea: Each person's natural right is determined not by sound reason but by desire and power. For it is not the case that all men are naturally determined to behave according to the rules and laws of reason
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.03)
                        A reaction: Locke would have been horrified by this. It looks like hopeless unfounded optimism to claim a natural right to anything. Doomed prey can struggle all it likes, but its right to do so seems irrelevant. Yet we see self-evident injustice all the time.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 4. Natural Rights / b. Alienating rights
In democracy we don't abandon our rights, but transfer them to the majority of us
                        Full Idea: In a democracy no one transfers their natural right to another in such a way that they are not thereafter consulted, but rather to the majority of the whole society of which they are part.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.11)
                        A reaction: At this time democracy means Athenian direct democracy. In representative democracy you are only consulted once every few years, and in between the government can ignore the people (as Rousseau pointed out).
No one, in giving up their power and right, ceases to be a human being
                        Full Idea: No one will ever be able to transfer his power and (consequently) his right to another person in such a way that he ceases to be a human being.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.01)
                        A reaction: Spinoza disdains natural rights, but this is a modest (and pretty uncontroversial) concession.
Everyone who gives up their rights must fear the recipients of them
                        Full Idea: People have never given up their right and transferred their power to another in such a way that they did not fear the very persons who received their right and power, and put the government at greater risk from its own citizens than from its enemies.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.01)
                        A reaction: I take this idea to be Rousseau's key motivation for the idea of the general will, because you are there supposed to be alienating your natural rights to yourself (sort of). In a democracy you alienate them partly to yourself.
The early Hebrews, following Moses, gave up their rights to God alone
                        Full Idea: The Hebrews being in this natural state, they resolved, on the advice of Moses in whom they all had the greatest trust, to transfer their right to no mortal man but rather to God alone.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.07)
                        A reaction: [He cites Exodus 24:7] He calls this the first Hebrew state, which seems to have depended heavily on Moses. Priests and prophets become crucial in this situation, and they may be in conflict about God's commands.
Forming a society meant following reason, and giving up dangerous appetites and mutual harm
                        Full Idea: People had to make a firm decision to decide everything by the sole dictates of reason (which no one dares contradict openly). They had to curb their appetites if it would hurt someone else, and not do to others what they did not want done to themselves.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.05)
                        A reaction: The last bit invokes the Golden Rule. Being in society does indeed meaning curbing appetites, such as envy and lust.
People only give up their rights, and keep promises, if they hope for some greater good
                        Full Idea: No one will give up his right to all things, and absolutely no one will keep his promises, except from fear of a greater ill or hope of a greater good.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.06)
                        A reaction: I think Locke and Rousseau would agree with this. It is hard to imagine doing anything other than in hope of a greater good. But what to do when your hopes are disappointed?
Once you have given up your rights, there is no going back
                        Full Idea: If people had wanted to keep any right for themselves, they should have made this provision at the same time as they could have safely defended it.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.08)
                        A reaction: Spinoza is wonderful for grasping nettles. The other fans of social contracts seem blithely cheerful about how it is going to work out. But forming a society is like marriage - a risky commitment which could go horribly wrong.
25. Society / B. The State / 1. Purpose of a State
Society exists to extend human awareness
                        Full Idea: For Spinoza the purpose of society was the extension of human awareness.
                        From: report of Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670]) by Peter Watson - Ideas Ch.24
                        A reaction: I like that. Personally I think human understanding is the best aim our lives can have, but I am inclined to see this in rather individualistic terms (despairing of getting others interested in the project!).
The state aims to allow personal development, so its main purpose is freedom
                        Full Idea: It is the purpose of the state ...to allow people's minds and bodies to develop in their own way in security and enjoy the free use of reason ...Therefore the true purpose of the state is in fact freedom.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 20.06)
                        A reaction: The core of Spinoza's political thinking. This strikes me as being as close to communitarianism as to liberalism.
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / a. Sovereignty
Sovereignty must include the power to make people submit to it
                        Full Idea: Either there is no sovereignty nor any right over subjects, or else sovereignty must necessarily extend to everything that might be effective in inducing men to submit to it.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.02)
                        A reaction: In the seventeenth century this usually includes the death penalty. Refusal to submit may be fairly passive and harmless, so the issue must concern duties, rather than rights. Taxes, jury duty, calls to arms.
25. Society / B. The State / 5. Leaders / b. Monarchy
Kings tend to fight wars for glory, rather than for peace and liberty
                        Full Idea: As soon as the kings took control [of the Hebrews] the reason for going to war was no longer peace and liberty but rather glory,
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 18.05)
                        A reaction: As Spinoza was writing, Louis XIV had just invaded Holland, solely in quest of military glory. As soon as a leader like Napoleon discovers they are good at war, I assume that the thrill of glory takes over for them too.
Deposing a monarch is dangerous, because the people are used to royal authority
                        Full Idea: It is dangerous to depose a monarch, even if it is clear by every criterion that he is a tyrant. A people accustomed to royal authority and held in check only by it, will despise any lesser authority and hold it in contempt.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 18.07)
                        A reaction: He is obviously thinking of Charles I and Cromwell. I suspect that the respect for Cromwell in the 1650s was only as a great soldier. If the people miss royal authority, the correct response is probably 'get over it!'
Monarchs are always proud, and can't back down
                        Full Idea: Monarchical minds are always proud, and cannot back down without feelings of humiliation.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 18.05)
                        A reaction: This would seem to be a problem in all politicians. As I teacher I found that backing down was sometimes quite a smart move, but you can only do it occasionally.
25. Society / B. The State / 7. Changing the State / c. Revolution
Every state is more frightened of its own citizens than of external enemies
                        Full Idea: People have never succeeded in devising a form of government that was not in greater danger from its own citizens than from foreign foes, and which was not more fearful of the former than of the latter.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.04)
                        A reaction: The sort of lovely clear-headed and accurate observation for which we love Spinoza. Only very powerful despots can afford to ignore the threat from the people. Stalin was paranoid, but eventually murdered almost everyone who seemed a threat.
25. Society / B. The State / 8. Religion in Society
State and religious law can clash, so the state must make decisions about religion
                        Full Idea: No one would be obliged by law if he considered it against his faith, and everyone could claim licence to do anything. Since the law of the state would then be wholly violated, it follows that the right of deciding about religion belongs to the sovereign.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.21)
                        A reaction: This is an era when British puritans emigrate to America, because the state is not sufficiently tolerant. The needs of sovereignty and of religion can be very far apart. You can see those with great religious devotion not liking this idea.
25. Society / C. Political Doctrines / 5. Democracy / c. Direct democracy
Democracy is a legitimate gathering of people who do whatever they can do
                        Full Idea: Democracy is properly defined as a united gathering of people which collectively has the sovereign right to do all that it has the power to do.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.08)
                        A reaction: Representative democracy doesn't fit this definition. What 'unites' the people, and where do they get their sovereign right? If my neighbouring village votes to invade mine, I spurn their pathetic 'sovereign right'.
25. Society / C. Political Doctrines / 10. Theocracy
Allowing religious ministers any control of the state is bad for both parties
                        Full Idea: How pernicious it is both for religion and the state to allow ministers of things sacred to acquire the right to make decrees or handle the business of government.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 18.06 (1))
                        A reaction: Interesting that he holds it to be bad for the religion as well as the state. In Britain we have bishops in the House of Lords.
If religion is law, then piety is justice, impiety is crime, and non-believers must leave
                        Full Idea: [In the first Hebrew state] religious dogmas were not doctrines but rather laws and decrees, piety being regarded as justice and impiety as crime. Anyone who defected from this religion ceased to be a citizen.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.08)
                        A reaction: Presumably speeding offences count as impiety, and failing to pray is a crime. A critical question will be how far religious doubts must extend before one actually has to leave. Mere doctrinal differences, or full atheism?
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 1. Legal Rights / a. Basis of rights
The sovereignty has absolute power over citizens
                        Full Idea: No offence can be committed against subjects by sovereigns, since they are of right permitted to do all things., and therefore offences occur only between private persons obliged by law not to harm one another.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.14)
                        A reaction: This slightly alarming remark is the consequence of Spinoza's denial of natural rights. Nowadays we have international law to appeal to. Locke thinks revolution could be justified, but this implies the Spinoza does not?
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 2. Social Freedom / a. Slavery
Slavery is not just obedience, but acting only in the interests of the master
                        Full Idea: It is not acting on command in itself that makes someone a slave, but rather the reason for so acting. ...A slave is someone obliged to obey commands from a master which look only to the advantage of the master.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.10)
                        A reaction: So if I forcibly enslaved you, and then only commanded things which were for your own good, that would not be slavery? If the master feeds the slave, is that not part of the slavery? Most jobs might count as slavery by this account?
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 2. Social Freedom / b. Freedom of belief
Government is oppressive if opinions can be crimes, because people can't give them up
                        Full Idea: Government is bound to become extremely oppressive where dissident opinions which are within the domain of each individual, a right which no one can give up, are treated as a crime.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 18.06 (2))
                        A reaction: One might compare illicit desires, such as those of a paedophile, where it is a crime to act on them, but presumably they cannot be given up, so there is no point in legislating against the mere desires.
Without liberty of thought there is no trust in the state, and corruption follows
                        Full Idea: If liberty of thought is suppressed ...this would undemine the trust which is the first essential of a state; detestable flattery and deceit would flourish, giving rise to intrigues and every sort of honest behaviour.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 20.11)
                        A reaction: Spinoza specifically defends philosophy, as the epitome of freedom of thought.
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 2. Social Freedom / c. Free speech
Treason may be committed as much by words as by deeds
                        Full Idea: We cannot altogether deny that treason may be committed as much by words as by deeds.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 20.05)
                        A reaction: For example, betraying a major state secret. This is an important idea, for anyone who simplistically demands utter freedom of speech. There is also subversive speech, which is very hard to assess. Incitements can be crimes in Britain.
25. Society / D. Social Rights / 2. Social Freedom / e. Freedom of lifestyle
The freest state is a rational one, where people can submit themselves to reason
                        Full Idea: The freest state is that whose laws are founded on sound reason; for there each man can be free whenever he wishes, that is, he can live under the guidance of reason with his whole mind.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.10)
                        A reaction: I wonder if is not so much that the state is rational as that it is right. Freedom is submission to the truth. Rationality is only good because it arrives at truth. But is there a 'truth' about how a state should be run? Enlightenment optimism.
25. Society / E. State Functions / 2. The Law / b. Natural law
The order of nature does not prohibit anything, and allows whatever appetite produces
                        Full Idea: The order of nature, under which all human beings are born and for the most part live, prohibits nothing but what no one desires or no one can do; it does not prohibit strife or hatred or anger or anything at all that appetite foments.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 16.04)
                        A reaction: This is as vigorous a rejection of natural law as I have met with. It is hard to see on what grounds anyone could disagree, other than hopeful sentiment.
29. Religion / C. Monotheistic Religion / 1. Judaism
Hewbrews were very hostile to other states, who had not given up their rights to God
                        Full Idea: Having transferred their right to God, the Hebrews believed their kingdom was the kingdom of God, that they alone were the children of God, and that other nations were enemies of God, whom for that reason they regarded with extreme hostility.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670], 17.23)
                        A reaction: [He cites Psalm 139:21-2] So, according to Spinoza, they did not become the chosen people because they thought God had chosen then, but because they were the only state trying to align itself with God.
29. Religion / C. Monotheistic Religion / 4. Bible
The Bible has nothing in common with reasoning and philosophy
                        Full Idea: The Bible leaves reason absolutely free and has nothing in common with philosophy.
                        From: Baruch de Spinoza (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [1670])
                        A reaction: Hm. The Bible may not contain reasoning, but it contains the fruits of reasoning, and it is obviously possible for reasoning to contradict its message.