The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus or Theologico-Political Treatise, written by the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, was one of the most controversial texts of. : Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Gephardt Edition ) Baruch Spinoza A Theologico-Political Treatise: Benedict de Spinoza Paperback. The political works. The tractatus theologico-politicus in part and the tractatus politicus in ct de Spinoza & A. G. Wernham – – Revue.

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At least in anglophone countries, Spinoza’s reputation as a political thinker is eclipsed by his reputation as a rationalist metaphysician. Nevertheless, Spinoza was a penetrating political theorist whose writings have enduring significance.

In his two political treatises, Spinoza advances a number of forceful and original arguments in defense of democratic governance, freedom of thought and expression, and the subordination of theolovico-politicus to the state. On the basis of his naturalistic metaphysics, Spinoza also tractatuw trenchant criticisms of ordinary conceptions of right and duty.

And his account of civil organization, grounded in psychological realism, stands as an important contribution to the development of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

In order to situate Spinoza’s political writings, I will provide a brief overview of the theologico-political context of the United Provinces, followed by a sketch of intellectual background to these works. Despite being perhaps the most tolerant country in early-modern Europe—a sanctuary for free tractatjs and members of religious minorities—the United Provinces were riven by religious conflict, as the Dutch sought to establish their identity after gaining independence from Spain.

The confessional rifts of the seventeenth century were certainly an important part of context in which Spinoza composed his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus [hereafter: The early part of the seventeenth century was marked by a religious schism that rapidly took on political significance.

The Arminians, or Remonstrants, defended religious toleration on the grounds that faith is expressed in theologico-pooiticus conscience of the individual, and so is not subject to the coercive power of the state.

The doctrinal and political views of the Remonstrants were opposed by the conservative Gomarists followers of Franciscus Psinozaor Counter-Remonstrants. For a theologioc-politicus over a decade roughly —the dispute raged on, expanding outward from Holland and Utrecht. Finally, ina national synod convened the Synod of Dort to define more clearly ttactatus public faith. The fallout from the Synod of Dort was disastrous for the tolerant Arminians.

The Advocate of the States of Holland, Johan Oldenbarnevelt, who staunchly defended the Remonstrants, was put to death.

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus – Wikiquote

And Arminians throughout the country were purged from town councils and universities Israelff. The second half of the century witnessed its own major theologkco-politicus dispute in the United Provinces. At the center, once again, were two theologians: Disputes between Cocceian and Voetians began over abstruse theological matters, but developed into a larger political and cultural affair.

The Voetians led the assault on the Cartesian philosophy being taught in the universities. They thought that the new science advocated by Descartes, with its mechanistic view of the material world, posed a threat to Christianity in a variety of ways Nadler—2 and — Spinoza’s philosophy was reviled not only by thdologico-politicus Voetians, but also by moderate Cocceian-Cartesians, who sought to distance themselves from radicals.

Spinoza was no stranger to religious persecution. As is well known, he was himself excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam in While Spinoza apparently endured the excommunication with characteristic equanimity, fellow Dutch apostate Jew, Uriel da Costa, was unable to bear the indignity of excommunication from the Amsterdam Jewish community.

In —when Spinoza was only eight years old—da Costa, who had denied the immortality of the soul and challenged the baruvh of the Torah theologico-politifus divine revelation, took his own life.

Da Costa’s suicide surely made a lasting impression on Spinoza, but it did not affect him as personally as did the treatment of his friend Adriaan Koerbagh at the hands of Dutch authorities in the years leading up to the publication of the TTP. In Koerbagh published two treatises that provoked the wrath of the Calvinist tractagus.

In the more scandalous of the two— Een Bloemhof van allerley lieflijkheyd A Flower Garden of all Kinds of Loveliness —Koerbagh ridiculed a barucy of traditional religious doctrines and practices, and, in the process, articulated his own religious and metaphysical views. Among the shocking views that he advanced were that Jesus is not divine, that God is identical with nature, that everything is necessitated spnoza the laws of nature the laws of Godand that miracles are impossible.


These are all positions that Spinoza consistently endorsed.

However, while Spinoza was famously cautious, Koerbagh was not, publishing the works in Dutch thereby making them accessible to the general literate public under his own name. Consequently, Koerbagh was tried and sentenced on charges of blasphemy. During his subsequent imprisonment under squalid conditions Koerbagh became ill, and he died soon thereafter in It is generally supposed that it was Koerbagh’s imprisonment and death above all else that precipitated the publication of the TTP Nadler Arminians and liberal republicans were dealt another major blow in In this so-called theologkco-politicus year rampjaarFrench troops, under the command of Louis XIV, invaded the United Provinces, capturing a number of Dutch cities Nadler Grand Pensionary chief statesman and legal advisor Johan de Witt shouldered much of the blame for this military embarrassment.

De Witt was the leader of the States of Holland for much of the republican rheologico-politicus that followed the death of Stadholder a quasi-monarchical position held by the House of Orange William II in Shortly afterward he and his brother, Cornelis, were brutally killed by a zealous mob.

This incident evoked uncommon anger in Spinoza, who was an admirer of de Witt and the republican ideals for which he stood. Spinoza’s Tractatus Politicus was composed in the aftermath of, and perhaps prompted by, the events of Spinoza’s political thought draws from a number of sources, both classical and modern. At some point in the mid’s around the time of his cheremor excommunication Spinoza began studying Latin with Franciscus Van den Enden.

Van den Enden was an ex-Jesuit and radical egalitarian with revolutionary tendencies. He was put to death in after having been found guilty of conspiring to depose Louis XIV in order to establish a free republic in Normandy.

Van dan Enden theologoco-politicus an anti-clerical democrat who appears to have profoundly influenced Spinoza. Whether or not this assessment is fair, it is clear that Spinoza’s thinking was nourished through his association with Van den Enden and the larger radical Cartesian circle in Amsterdam Nyden-Bullock Hobbes’ influence on Spinoza is unmistakable. We know that Spinoza read De Cive carefully and that it was among his possessions when he died in He might also have read Leviathanwhich appeared in Latin inas Spinoza was completing the TTP, although we do not know this for sure Sacksteder I will discuss Spinoza’s work in relationship to Hobbes’ in some detail below sections 2.

Here Theologico-popiticus want to mention the impact of Dutch Hobbesians on Spinoza.

Spinoza’s Political Philosophy

Hobbesian thought was introduced into Dutch political discourse by Lambert van Velthuysen, an anti-clerical, liberal physician Tuck ; Blom Velthuysen’s Dissertatio is an unabashed defense of Hobbes’ thought, in which the duty to preserve oneself is given pride of place esp.

However, because it remains unclear how much Pieter added and how much he profited off his studious younger brother, I will refer to these authors of these writings simply as the De la Courts, so as to avoid attribution problems. Indeed, De Witt is thought to have written two chapters in the second edition of their book Interest van Holland see Petry According to them, the aim of the state is to ensure that the interests of rulers are tied to the interests of the ruled, which is possible only if one adopts a series of institutional measures, such as the use of blind balloting, the removal of hereditary posts, and the rotation of offices.

Republics, they argued, will be marked by greater checks against self-interested legislation than monarchies see Blom Spinoza evidently studied these works carefully; his institutional recommendations in the Tractatus Politicus [hereafter: It was likely the writings of the De la Courts that impressed upon Spinoza the perspicacity of Niccolo Machiavelli. The notion of balancing the interests of competing parties was ultimately derived from Machiavelli see Haitsma Mulier— Spinoza’s Political Treatise is shot through with Machiavellian insights and recommendations.

Machiavellian realism pervades Spinoza’s political writings, playing a particularly large role in the constitutional theorizing of the TP. Spinoza, like Machiavelli, understood that prescriptions for improving the governance of a state can be offered only after one has a proper diagnosis of the problems and a proper grasp of human nature.

Three of the most striking and important claims of Spinoza’s Ethics are that 1 all things come to exist and act necessarily from the laws of God’s nature e. Collectively, these three claims entail that human behavior, like the behavior of everything else, is fully necessitated by, and explicable through, the immutable—and non-providential—laws of God or Nature. This forms a significant part of the metaphysical backdrop against which Spinoza develops his political theory.


For the sake of simplicity, I will call the view that is constituted by these three theses Spinoza’s naturalism. This naturalism led him to adopt radical views regarding the source and status of rights, obligations, and laws, distinguishing his work from other seventeenth-century political theorists. Spinoza’s naturalism excludes transcendental conceptions of God. Of course, on Spinoza’s account, God is not a transcendent legislator, God is nature itself.

Spinoza’s naturalism entails that all claims of entitlement deriving from God’s will are specious. This is a direct rebuke not only of defenders of the divine right of kings, but also of most accounts of natural rights as entitlements that were embraced by many seventeenth-century theorists.

Moreover, this naturalism also rules out dualistic views of nature according to which there is a normative order of things, or a way that things should be, that stands in contrast to the actual order of things. This view undermines the teleological assumptions that form the basis of natural law theory, whether Thomistic or Protestant.

Even those who wished to separate natural law from theology e.

According to this view, humans act contrary to nature when they act contrary to the psinoza of right reason. In both of these passages, Spinoza criticizes the assumption that man is governed by his own set of rational, normative laws, rather than the laws theologicl-politicus govern the rest of nature.

In short, by adopting the view that theoloyico-politicus is univocal and that man is governed by the same laws as everything else in nature, Spinoza rejects the natural law tradition Curley ; A. Garrett ; for contrasting views, see Kisner and Miller theologico-politicux And even if Spinoza’s naturalism is viewed as part of a larger naturalistic trend in Dutch political thought Blomhis disavowal of normative conceptions of nature and rejection of teleology indicates a clear break with tradition.

To appreciate the depth and significance of Spinoza’s naturalism, it will be helpful to compare his views on natural right and obligation to Hobbes’. One of the most notorious features of Spinoza’s political thought is his account of natural right.

He introduces this concept in TTP 16, where he boldly theologico-politcius. In claiming that the right of nature is coextensive with the power of nature and that the coextensivity of right and power applies mutatis mutandis to the individuals in nature, Spinoza is simply rejecting non-naturalism, rather than making a positive normative claim. In fact, I take it that the coextensivity thesis is not to be understood as offering a new normative standard; rather, it is intended as a denial of any transcendental standard of justice see Curley; Balibar To say that something is done by right in Spinoza’s sense is just to say that there is nothing in virtue of which that action can be theologico-politticus impermissible.

Spinoza’s Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Spinoza’s brazen denial theologco-politicus natural proscriptions on what one can do roused the ire of early readers e. Of course, Thomas Hobbes, Spinoza’s great barych, had made a similar claim. Indeed, Spinoza’s account of natural right is often taken as evidence that he is a Hobbesian. Hobbes’ account of natural right has been the subject of much interpretative dispute, in part because it seems to undergo a shift between his early political writings and Leviathan.

In other words, natural right is the liberty to do anything consistent with the natural law ibid. This includes the right to do anything that one judges to be necessary for one’s preservation 1.

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In short, as A. Specifically, it covers those actions that are not contrary to the law of nature.

In Leviathanhowever, Hobbes seems to advance an account of natural right that is apparently not bound by such normative constraints Ch. But while it may seem that in the later work Hobbes strips the concept of natural right of all normative content, even the view expressed in Leviathan may be seen to be at odds with a thoroughgoing naturalism.

To see this, consider Spinoza’s reply to his friend to Jarig Jelles, when asked what sets his views apart from Hobbes’:.

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