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Benedict de Spinoza - Tractatus Politicus

Benedict de Spinoza - Tractatus Politicus

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Published by: Aleksandar Simonovski on Nov 11, 2010
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BENEDICT DE SPINOZA'S POLITICAL TREATISE,WHEREIN IS DEMONSTRATED, HOW THE SOCIETY IN WHICH MONARCHICAL DOMINIONFINDS PLACE, AS ALSO THAT IN WHICH THE DOMINION IS ARISTOCRATIC, SHOULDBE ORDERED, SO AS NOT TO LAPSE INTO A TYRANNY, BUT TO PRESERVE INVIOLATETHE PEACE AND FREEDOM OF THE CITIZENS.[TRACTATUS POLITICUS.]Edited with an Introductionby R. H. M. ElwesTranslated by A. H. GossetPublished by G. Bell & SonLondon1883Rendered into HTML and Textby Jon Roland of the Constitution Society1998------------------------FROM THE EDITOR'S PREFACE TO THE POSTHUMOUS WORKS OF BENEDICT DE SPINOZA.OUR author composed the Political Treatise shortly before his death [in1677]. Its reasonings are exact, its style clear. Abandoning theopinions of many political writers, he most firmly propounds therein hisown judgment; and throughout draws his conclusions from his premisses.In the first five chapters, he treats of political science in general --in the sixth and seventh, of monarchy; in the eighth, ninth, and tenth,of aristocracy; lastly, the eleventh begins the subject of democraticgovernment. But his untimely death was the reason that he did not finishthis treatise, and that he did not deal with the subject of laws, norwith the various questions about politics, as may be seen from thefollowing "Letter of the Author to a Friend, which may properly beprefixed to this Political Treatise, and serve it for a Preface:" --"Dear Friend, -- Your welcome letter was delivered to me yesterday. Iheartily thank you for the kind interest you take in me. I would notmiss this opportunity, were I not engaged in something, which I thinkmore useful, and which, I believe, will please you more -- that is, inpreparing a Political Treatise, which I began some time since, upon youradvice. Of this treatise, six chapters are already finished. The firstcontains a kind of introduction to the actual work; the second treats ofnatural right; the third, of the right of supreme authorities. In thefourth, I inquire, what political matters are subject to the directionof supreme authorities; in the fifth, what is the ultimate and highestend which a society can contemplate; and, in the sixth, how a monarchyshould be ordered, so as not to lapse into a tyranny. I am at presentwriting the seventh chapter, wherein I make a regular demonstration ofall the heads of my preceding sixth chapter, concerning the ordering ofa well-regulated monarchy. I shall afterwards pass to the subjects ofaristocratic and popular dominion, and, lastly, to that of laws andother particular questions about politics. And so, farewell."The author's aim appears clearly from this letter; but being hindered byillness, and snatched away by death, he was unable, as the reader willfind for himself, to continue this work further than to the end of thesubject of aristocracy.
------------------------A POLITICAL TREATISE.CHAPTER I.INTRODUCTION.PHILOSOPHERS conceive of the passions which harass us as vices intowhich men fall by their own fault, and, therefore, generally deride,bewail, or blame them, or execrate them, if they wish to seem unusuallypious. And so they think they are doing something wonderful, andreaching the pinnacle of learning, when they are clever enough to bestowmanifold praise on such human nature, as is nowhere to be found, and tomake verbal attacks on that which, in fact, exists. For they conceive ofmen, not as they are, but as they themselves would like them to be.Whence it has come to pass that, instead of ethics, they have generallywritten satire, and that they have never conceived a theory of politics,which could be turned to use, but such as might be taken for a chimera,or might have been formed in Utopia, or in that golden age of the poetswhen, to be sure, there was least need of it. Accordingly, as in allsciences, which have a useful application, so especially in that ofpolitics, theory is supposed to be at variance with practice; and no menare esteemed less fit to direct public affairs than theorists orphilosophers.2. But statesmen, on the other hand, are suspected of plotting againstmankind, rather than consulting their interests, and are esteemed morecrafty than learned. No doubt nature has taught them, that vices willexist, while men do. And so, while they study to anticipate humanwickedness, and that by arts, which experience and long practice havetaught, and which men generally use under the guidance more of fear thanof reason, they are thought to be enemies of religion, especially bydivines, who believe that supreme authorities should handle publicaffairs in accordance with the same rules of piety, as bind a privateindividual. Yet there can be no doubt, that statesmen have written aboutpolitics far more happily than philosophers. For, as they had experiencefor their mistress, they taught nothing that was inconsistent withpractice.3. And, certainly, I am fully persuaded that experience has revealed allconceivable sorts of commonwealth, which are consistent with men'sliving in unity, and likewise the means by which the multitude may beguided or kept within fixed bounds. So that I do not believe that we canby meditation discover in this matter anything not yet tried andascertained, which shall be consistent with experience or practice. Formen are so situated, that they cannot live without some general law. Butgeneral laws and public affairs are ordained and managed by men of theutmost acuteness, or, if you like, of great cunning or craft. And so itis hardly credible, that we should be able to conceive of anythingserviceable to a general society, that occasion or chance has notoffered, or that men, intent upon their common affairs, and seekingtheir own safety, have not seen for themselves.4. Therefore, on applying my mind to politics, I have resolved todemonstrate by a certain and undoubted course of argument, or to deducefrom the very condition of human nature, not what is new and unheard of,but only such things as agree best with practice. And that I mightinvestigate the subject-matter of this science with the same freedom ofspirit as we generally use in mathematics, I have laboured carefully,
not to mock, lament, or execrate, but to understand human actions; andto this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger,envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not inthe light of vices of human nature, but as properties, just as pertinentto it, as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature ofthe atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary,and have fixed causes, by means of which we endeavour to understandtheir nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in viewing themaright, as in knowing such things as flatter the senses.5. For this is certain, and we have proved its truth in our Ethics, [1]that men are of necessity liable to passions, and so constituted as topity those who are ill, and envy those who are well off; and to be proneto vengeance more than to mercy: and moreover, that every individualwishes the rest to live after his own mind, and to approve what heapproves, and reject what he rejects. And so it comes to pass, that, asall are equally eager to be first, they fall to strife, and do theirutmost mutually to oppress one another; and he who comes out conqueroris more proud of the harm he has done to the other, than of the good hehas done to himself. And although all are persuaded, that religion, onthe contrary, teaches every man to love his neighbour as himself, thatis to defend another's right just as much as his own, yet we showed thatthis persuasion has too little power over the passions. It avails,indeed, in the hour of death, when disease has subdued the verypassions, and man lies inert, or in temples, where men hold no traffic,but least of all, where it is most needed, in the law-court or thepalace. We showed too, that reason can, indeed, do much to restrain andmoderate the passions, but we saw at the same time, that the road, whichreason herself points out, is very steep; [2] so that such as persuadethemselves, that the multitude or men distracted by politics can ever beinduced to live according to the bare dictate of reason, must bedreaming of the poetic golden age, or of a stage-play.6. A dominion then, whose well-being depends on any man's good faith,and whose affairs cannot be properly administered, unless those who areengaged in them will act honestly, will be very unstable. On thecontrary, to insure its permanence, its public affairs should be soordered, that those who administer them, whether guided by reason orpassion, cannot be led to act treacherously or basely. Nor does itmatter to the security of a dominion, in what spirit men are led torightly administer its affairs. For liberality of spirit, or courage, isa private virtue; but the virtue of a state is its security.7. Lastly, inasmuch as all men, whether barbarous or civilized,everywhere frame customs, and form some kind of civil state, we mustnot, therefore, look to proofs of reason for the causes and naturalbases of dominion, but derive them from the general nature or positionof mankind, as I mean to do in the next chapter.------1. Ethics, iv. 4, Coroll. iii. 31, note; 32, note.2. Ibid., v. 42, note.------------------------CHAPTER II.OF NATURAL RIGHT.

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