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Natural and Unnatural Communities: Spinoza Beyond Hobbes
Aurelia Armstrong a a University of Queensland,

To cite this Article Armstrong, Aurelia(2009) 'Natural and Unnatural Communities: Spinoza Beyond Hobbes', British

Journal for the History of Philosophy, 17: 2, 279 — 305 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09608780902761687 URL:

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British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17(2) 2009: 279–305


Aurelia Armstrong

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. . . as long as human natural right is determined by the power of each single individual and is possessed by each alone, it is of no account and is notional rather than factual, since there is no assurance that it can be made good.1

ORIENTATION In Spinoza, the passage from the state of nature to civil society is not represented in terms of a rupture or discontinuity. Socialization does not occur, as it does in Hobbes, by virtue of the intervention of a juridical order opposed to Nature and transcendent to the passional, conflicted field of presocial interests which it organizes. Thinking against the grain of seventeenth-century rationalism Spinoza avoids presenting man’s passional nature as a difficulty to be overcome, regarding it instead as the very field of investigation upon which ethical and political theory must by founded. This naturalism is reflected in Spinoza’s deviation from Hobbesian contractarianism: there is, for Spinoza, no mediation of a contract required to socialize ‘anti-social’ individuals, no total transfer of natural rights creating an obligation imposing itself as an external norm, no obligating force of command at the origin of social relations, and no rational break with the passional order of Nature: in short, there is in Spinoza very little evidence of Hobbes’ ‘antagonistic solution’ to the problem of human sociability. This paper situates Spinoza’s account of the transition to civil society within the framework of his conception of human nature and the role the affects and imagination play in shaping individuals and social relations. For Spinoza, this transition is a process continuous with the exercise and collective development of natural rights or powers, including the natural power of reason. Conceiving of civil society in this manner, Spinoza
*I wish to thank Deborah Brown for helpful comments in formulating this paper. I am also grateful to Thomas Gibson and an anonymous reader for generous constructive criticisms. 1 Benedict Spinoza, Political Treatise in Spinoza: Complete Works, translated by S. Shirley (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002) 687. Henceforth TP.

British Journal for the History of Philosophy ISSN 0960-8788 print/ISSN 1469-3526 online ª 2009 BSHP DOI: 10.1080/09608780902761687

. however. 150. leaving instead the practical problem of how. therefore. and again. and suggest the price the view pays is that a society of rational beings not in need of a state is.280 AURELIA ARMSTRONG by-passes the abstract question presupposed by Hobbesian contractarianism. but the excess of the power of one above that of the other. 1968) 185. B.2 Hobbes’ characterization of the nature and operation of the power wielded by the sovereign state derives from his conception of the power of individuals in the natural state.’. Indeed. Hobbes must add a further postulate that because the power of one man resisteth and hindereth the effects of the power of another: power is simply no more. 8. edited by C. where there is no power able to over-awe them all’. For equal powers opposed. . that ‘men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deale of griefe) in keeping company. and to what extent. 1928. the problem of how to conceive of the nature and foundations of political society. the need for a synthesis of private powers by a mediating Power. consonant with the life of reason. ch. this definition does not suffice to explain Hobbes’ view of the irreducibly antagonistic character of human relations in the state of nature. .4 2 Thomas Hobbes. 4 Thomas Hobbes. the question of how harmonious social relations are possible. Leviathan. edited by Bernard Gert (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company. In Leviathan Hobbes defines the power of a man as ‘his present means to obtain some future apparent good’. I argue. 3 Hobbes. De Cive: Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society. Leviathan. on Spinoza’s view. however. the passivity. Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Hobbes and Spinoza: Power. In order to arrive at his conclusion that the pursuit by individuals of their own interests always leads them into conflict with others. they are in that condition which is called Warre . impotence and antagonisms characteristic of life in a state of nature can be transformed into activity. nor. destroy one another. the sovereign. Macpherson (Middlesex: Penguin Books. 1991) Pt I. Hobbes argues that ‘during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe. essentially unrealizable. that the utopian strand in Spinoza’s thought is in direct tension with the very naturalism that sets his view apart from the contractarianism of Hobbes. In Hobbes’ account the passage from the state of nature to the social state requires the voluntary transfer of every individual’s natural right to the profit of a third party. Sociability and the Constitution of Political Society Hobbes and Spinoza confront the same problem in their political theory.3 By itself. which institutes the conditions of possibility for harmonious relations between individuals or citizens.

6 Paul Patton. . SPINOZA’S REJECTION OF CONTRACTARIANISM In Chapter sixteen of the Theological-Political Treatise. 5 . by force. In other words. chs 1 and 2. or wiles. independent and isolated individual. there is no way for any man to secure himselfe. Leviathan. till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: And this is no more than his own conservation requireth . such augmentation of dominion over men. threatened from without by others whom it must. it ought to be allowed him.6 That may be so. ch. 1962). in Nietzsche. 2.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 281 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Only by gaining a margin of power over the power of others can individuals in the state of nature guarantee their continued preservation and success and satisfy their desires – the struggle for power and for resources being the two overriding aims of human life. that Hobbes appears to assume a quantitative essence common to all the means by which agents seek to attain their objectives. to master the persons of all men he can. ‘Politics and the concept of Power in Hobbes and Nietzsche’. See also Barry Hindess. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Clarendon Press. B. esp. 1993) 149.5 For this reason human life appears to Hobbes as a ‘perpetuall and restless desire of Power after power’ which gives rise at the inter-individual level to a ceaseless competitive struggle for more power or dominion over one another. One reason for this may lie with Hobbes’ atomic conception of the individual as a pre-constituted. as Anticipation. edited by Paul Patton (London and New York: Routledge. that is. so long. It is this one-dimensional conception of power which allows him to assume that an individual’s power is increased simply by accumulating or incorporating the existing powers of others. Feminism and Political Theory. the power of an individual to obtain what he wants is effectively equivalent to his ability to ‘master the persons of other men’. Macpherson. Discourses of Power: From Hobbes to Foucault. It is precisely by rejecting this conception of human beings in the state of nature that Spinoza is able to envisage an alternative to authoritarian models of government. being necessary to a man’s conservation. so reasonable. Paul Patton notes. see also C. A number of commentators have suggested that Hobbes’ pessimistic assessment of human relations in the natural state should be attributed to the quantitative and cumulative model of power which his arguments presuppose. MA: Blackwell. Spinoza takes up Hobbes’ theory of the social contract in his discussion of the foundations of See Hobbes. UK and Cambridge. 1996). 184–5: And from this diffidence of one another. master if it is not to be mastered by them. but the question remains as to why Hobbes privileges the quantitative model over other models that do not reduce all the means of enhancement of power to the capture and instrumental use of the power of others. for example. . therefore. (Oxford.

or has deprived him of the arms and means of self-defence or escape’) or through fear and favour (‘or has terrorized him. if by ‘absolute’ we understand an unlimited power in which all the power and right is on the side of the sovereign. . could Spinoza mean by a (partial) transfer of right or power? Spinoza’s response to this question can be extracted from his discussion of the ways in which an individual may be under the authority or power of another.8 The significance of this definition of right in the context of Spinoza’s challenge to Hobbes is evident from the implications of the second part of this statement: if there can be no complete transfer of right/power. and that the government has not been in greater danger from its citizens. 2002) 529. 8 TTP. consequently. Spinoza contends. the physical and intellectual capacities to do so. According to Spinoza. nor will there ever be a sovereign power that can do all it pleases’. then. ‘my natural right is determined by power alone’. have never transferred their right and surrendered their power to another so completely that they were not feared by those very persons who received their right and power.9 The very possibility of civil disobedience presupposes the impossibility of a total transfer of power. What. According to Spinoza. translated by S. and that there are no internal or external impediments preventing me from acting. as a function of a transfer of right. nor can there be any such thing as absolute sovereignty. inalienable. though deprived of their right. 10 TP. 536. Human beings. 686. 536. right must be defined in relation to power. It follows that ‘[n]obody can so completely transfer to another all his right. than from its external enemies. and consequently his power. or so attached the other to himself by benefit conferred that the man would rather please his benefactor than himself and live as the other would wish rather than at his own choosing’). From this assumption of the strict identity of right and power. he redefines the notion of right in such a way that it can no longer play the role attributed to it by Hobbes. as to cease to be a human being. Henceforth TTP. 9 TTP.10 These two modes of being under another’s authority correspond to the 7 Benedict Spinoza.282 AURELIA ARMSTRONG Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 the state. but is characteristic of his or her essence or nature: natural right is primary power (potentia) and. Theologico-Political Treatise in Spinoza: Complete Works. Although Spinoza describes the constitution of a sovereign power here with reference to the contractual mechanism. this may occur either as the result of force (‘One man has another in his power if he holds him in bonds.7 To say that I have the right to act in a certain way means that I have the desire to act. Shirley (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company. for power (and therefore right) is not an additional attribute or property of an individual. Spinoza concludes that a total transfer of rights is quite impossible.

1988) 307–30. 686.11 A transfer of right is enacted. on the active participation of its actual ‘possessor’. It is. the man remains in control of his own right.13 It is this essentially affective and corporeal process that Spinoza draws on in his articulation of the foundations. Studia Spinozana 1 (1985) 259–73 for a comprehensive discussion of the difference between Hobbes and Spinoza on the notion of a transfer of right. 698. ‘La Fonction Theorique de la Democratie chez Spinoza et Hobbes’. 1983) chs 2 and 3. because this ‘transfer’ of power is motivated by fear or hope. ‘by command of the sovereign power. edited by Edwin Curley and Pierre Moreau (New York and Leiden: E. then. 13 ´ See Alexandre Matheron. Even more importantly. ´ 1990) 258–70. the contract results in a monarchical system of government based on a law ‘whereby a people (multitudo) transfers its right to one council or one man’. On the contrary. translated by Michael Hardt. see also. for example. in fact. this cannot be understood in a juridical sense for it does not imply that transcendent transfer which results in an irreversible obligation on the part of the transferee. constitution and effective power of the sovereign or state. 12 11 . The slave ‘is one who has to obey his master’s commands which look only to the interests of him who commands’ whereas a subject is one who. State and Freedom (Assen: Van Gorcum. Sovereignty and the Power of the Multitude The term ‘contract’ appears only once in the Political Treatise coinciding with Spinoza’s specification of the transfer of right which constitutes the right/power of the (non-democratic) sovereign. Alexandre Matheron ‘Le probleme de ´ ´ ´ ´ l’evolution de Spinoza du Traite Theologico-Politique au Traite Politique’ in Spinoza: New Issues and Directions. a process by means of which a new (and only relatively irreversible or stable) relation of forces is established. 531. desires to act in the interests of another and thus puts their power at the disposal of the other. see. so too does the transfer itself – ‘When one or the other is removed. (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press. 1991) 108–19. thus. however. either through fear of retribution or hope of further benefits. see also Antonio Negri. acts for the common good. and Individu et Communaute chez Spinoza. 15 TP. The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics.15 With the introduction of the concept of the multitudo in this context TTP. Spinoza claims that an individual must. 14 ` For discussions of these issues. it cannot be irreversible: as soon as the fear and hope cease. Brill. What such a transfer signifies. Douglas Den Uyl Power. cannot be conceived on the model of Hobbes’ quantitative and ‘possessive’ model of power since it involves no alienation of power. and therefore for his own good also’. J. rather.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 283 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 difference between the slave and the subject. then. (Paris: Minuit. physically retain power in order to be able to act in the interests of another whose utilization of this power necessarily depends on the maintenance of the desire and.14 According to Spinoza. when an individual or group. TP.’12 When Spinoza speaks of a transfer of right.

687: ‘This right. Ideas: Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx. 1985) 15. Thus. from his desire to derive from Nature itself. the Anti-Orwell: The Fear of the Masses’. its own power (potestas) which could. Rather. ‘Spinoza. of the multitude that is guided ‘as though by a single mind’. this power must actually be conceived as an element of the power of the people as a whole. namely. the conditions for the growth of reason and of freedom. there must also be a power of the multitude.’ 18 As Spinoza explains in the TP. in Masses. to two terms – individuals and the state – and the relations between them. in the sense of an arithmetic sum but in the sense of a combination. not. hence as the ‘right of number’ (since jus ¼ potentia). which can only be adequately apprehended when related through the multitude which includes them both. which is defined by the power of a people [potentia multitudinis]. See also TP. for the development of the powers of individuals. thought explicitly as the power of the mass (potentia multitudinis). Both proceed from the same general concern. Spinoza considers individuals and the state as abstractions. one detailing the passage from individuality to community (the production of sociability). by definition. The multitude must thus be regarded as denoting a complex (social) body or unified collective entity. 17 TP. If there is a right of the multitude which it ‘transfers’. . Balibar makes this point.18 In order to explore the contours of this development in Spinoza’s thought. of course. arguing that in Spinoza’s work [n]atural right is now. Rather. 682: since all men everywhere. the political problem does not reduce. not merely an aggregate of distinct individual powers. one should not look for the causes and natural foundations of the state in the teachings of reason. 692. 16 Etienne Balibar.284 AURELIA ARMSTRONG the conceptual terrain that we have been exploring thus far is significantly transformed. in a straightforward sense. be located outside of any particular empirical configurations and relations of force. Classes. or rather. as it does in Hobbes. and the other concerned with the genesis of sovereignty and the state. in other words. for Spinoza. translated by James Swenson (New York and London: Routledge. the power of the government is a function of the power of the multitude itself. enter into relationships with one another and set up some kind of civil order. whether barbarian or civilized. then.17 An important implication of this is that the power that defines the right of government cannot be considered. its power. for the first time. but deduce them from the nature and conditions of men in general. and from the ‘general nature or position of mankind’. Spinoza’s challenge to Hobbes’ juridical view is thus posed through the development of two interrelated demonstrative chains.16 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 It should be clear that Spinoza’s social contract is not the Hobbesian one for there is already a kind of sovereign power ‘determined by the power of the people that is guided as though by a single mind’. as such. we need. is usually called sovereignty [imperium]. the conditions. an interaction of forces.

In making this move from the experience of a common fear to the irreducibility of the civil state Spinoza seems to be indicating – contra Hobbes – the possibility of providing a positive argument for the redundancy of a contract or artificial convention in order to ‘take’ individuals from the state of nature into the civil state. such as . it naturally follows that a people will unite and consent to be guided as if by one mind not at reason’s prompting but through some common emotion. are led more by passion than by reason. but predominantly in the passions. Now since fear of isolation is innate in all men inasmuch as in isolation no one has the strength to defend himself and acquire the necessities of life. they are cited as the primary cause of the constitution of the multitude. . to reconsider his claim that the construction of sociability does not require a voluntaristic break with nature. or desire to avenge some common injury. Passions are presented here as having a directly socializing function. What binds individuals together in the multitude is ‘a common hope. it follows that men by nature strive for a civil order. or common fear. Through the concept of a ‘state of nature’. but at the same time of community and sociability.19 The first point to note here is that the type of sociability that defines the multitude does not have its sources in reason. How is this unified collective power – the multitude – actually produced? How is the transition from the state of nature to the civil state possible without the intervention of a transcendent organizing power? Unsociable Sociability: The Constitution of the Multitude Spinoza’s first answer to these last questions is found in the following remark: Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Since men. To understand how the passions can play this unifying role in forming the network of individual powers that defines the multitude. 700–1. in other words. Hobbes illuminates his vision of life lived without those normative constraints and institutional 19 TP. In fact. a common hope. Once again. and it is impossible that men should ever utterly dissolve this order. In an extremely condensed formulation. as we have said. . not only as sources of unsociability and antagonism. . some common passion. or common fear.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 285 first. it is necessary to turn to the third part of the Ethics where the passions are treated. a preliminary contrast with Hobbes serves as an instructive point of departure. Spinoza links the universality of the fear of solitude to the claim that ‘men by nature strive for a civil order’ and can never ‘utterly dissolve this order’. or desire to avenge some common injury’.

escapes his pessimistic conclusions about inter-individual relations. Ethics in The Collected Works of Spinoza. is nothing but the desire for a thing which is generated in us from the fact that we imagine others like us to have the same desire. then (by P23) we shall be affected with an affect contrary to its affect. to enter into a covenant to relinquish their right to act as private persons.d. Since bodily affections are physical changes wrought by the impact of 20 Benedict Spinoza. Rather. translated by E. we are affected with a like affect. therefore.: This imitation of the affects. Consequently.’ ‘P’ plus an Arabic numeral for a proposition. but related to desire it is called emulation. in part. Thus. then the idea of the external body we imagine will involve an affection of our body like the affection of the external body. fear is the motive that prompts each individual. 1985) Pt III. which. from his elaboration of a mechanism of passional life which he calls ‘affective imitation’ (affectuum imitatio).e.’ ‘A’ for ‘Axiom. that is (by IIP16). Dem: the images of things are affections of the human body whose ideas represent external bodies as present to us (by IIP17S). Proposition 27.20 Affective imitation is an inevitable consequence of Spinoza’s metaphysics in which there is just one substance and the human mind is the idea of the body. Spinoza. For Hobbes. ‘Dem’ for ‘Demonstration’. separately. In EIIIP27. see P22S). when it is related to sadness is called pity (on which. eschews the atomistic individualism that informs Hobbes’ views and. His ability to do so can be seen to derive. whose ideas involve the nature of our body and at the same time the present nature of the external body. it cannot really be regarded as a shared or common passion. this imagination will express an affection of our body like this affect. we are thereby affected with a like affect. counteract the essentially divisive passions of men.: Princeton University Press. the idea of a ‘common’ passion understood as a form of social bond.286 AURELIA ARMSTRONG Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 frameworks that. thus. from the fact that we imagine a thing like us to be affected with an affect. Schol. When referring to the Ethics I will use the standard abbreviations in the main text: a Roman numeral to refer to the part. . q. The theme of affective imitation is introduced in EIII to account for the way in which resemblances that individuals perceive between themselves and others form the basis of imaginary identifications. on the other hand. Curley (Princeton NJ. But if we hate a thing like us. is hardly imaginable. ‘D’ for ‘Definition. as something that unites individuals. These identifications provide the basis for various kinds of common collective affection. not like it. in the social state. ‘Cor’ for ‘Corollary’. And so. to be affected with some affect. So if the nature of the external body is like the nature of our body. although fear afflicts everyone in Hobbes’ state of nature. if we imagine someone like us to be affected with some affect. ‘S’ for ‘Scholium’. toward which we have had no affect. Spinoza claims that: P27: If we imagine a thing like us.

In other words. . or the joy of having merited their praises. it gives birth to hatred towards its imagined causes and to a desire to destroy these causes. Spinoza and the Ethics (London and New York: Routledge. my effort to please others is determined by my desire to reproduce my own self-love which is ‘glory’. If. but are these affections under the attribute of thought and.’ Studia Spinozana.’. then. joy and sadness. Commenting on the connection between self-affirmation and affirmation of the other22 – and the interest that individuals have in promoting agreements with others with reference to the workings of selfesteem – Spinoza explains that ‘if someone has done something which he imagines affects others with joy. amounts to the same thing as loving myself through the mediation of the love they bear me. then. The dynamic of affective imitation gives rise in me to a desire to do that which I imagine pleases others and to refrain from doing that which I imagine is displeasing to them. on the other hand. the mind’s initial ideas of its body’s states include awareness of these affecting bodies (by EIIP16). . Common collective affections are born from the production and reinforcement of affects and desires through the imitation of those of others. In short. the mind’s initial ideas or imaginings are not a reflection of the body’s affections. the other’s interests and desires cannot be strictly separated from my own. For a discussion of this aspect of Spinoza’s thought see Genevieve Lloyd.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 287 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 other bodies. the other with whom I identify is affected with joy. For Spinoza. ‘The Materiality of Morals: Mind body and interests in Spinoza’s ‘‘Ethics’’. the more we shall exult at being esteemed . with joy and love for the sources of this joy and an increase in my power of acting. Thus. Because I am directly affected by what affects the other. bear some relationship to power. both individual and communal. 22 Here we can see Spinoza effectively unsettling the distinction between egoism and altruism as fixed alternatives. In this way I enhance my own joy or power of action and at the same time that of the other. 1996) 74–7. he will be affected with joy accompanied by the idea of himself as cause. moreover. consequently. To experience an affect is to experience either an increase or diminution of one’s power. or he will regard himself with joy’ (EIIIP30).23 To rejoice in the joy which I believe I have procured for others. which are defined at EIIIP9S and EPIIIP11S. 23 See also EIIIP34: ‘The greater the affect with which we imagine a thing we love to be affected toward us. Also relevant here is Michael Collier’s claim that if Spinoza’s individual is understood as inclusive of its relations. I will be similarly affected. what I seek in the striving to bring joy to others is approbation.21 Because sadness is a restraint and diminution of my power of acting. it is our whole psychophysical state which is modified as we interact with external bodies. 21 . it ceases to be possible to maintain a clear distinction between self-interest and the interests of others (Michael Collier. 7 (1991) 285–308). All affects. Spinoza acknowledges only three primary affects: desire. we cannot but affectively imitate others because to be affected by the affects of others with whom we identify just is to express a certain state of our body and mind like that of the affecting individual.

Drawing once again on the logic of affective imitation. This might involve. These causes of hatred are fundamentally differences in the way in which individuals imagine the objects they all desire. desires. for instance. if I were to succeed in redefining her relation to the goods we both desire in such a manner that the (new) relation would no longer pose a threat to my continued enjoyment of these goods. that others should love what he loves. want it. to approve what I approve. Spinoza defines ambition as the effort ‘to bring it about that everyone should approve his love and hate’ (EIIIP31S). however. will it. and live according to his temperament. that is. want to deprive her of the joy that the mutually desired object procures for her. and gives rise to a paralysing vacillation of mind for each individual: I want the other to ‘live after my own temperament’. acts only from impulse and is hateful – especially to those to whom other things are pleasing. but that when we imagine ‘his enjoyment of this thing as an obstacle to our own joy [we] strive to bring it about that he does not possess it’. and desire it’ (EIIIP9S) See Lloyd. from the same impulse. Spinoza and the Ethics.288 AURELIA ARMSTRONG According to Spinoza. modified or counteracted by the opinion (the loves and the hates) of others – it is possible to envisage a gradual convergence of individual appetites. however. this striving for glory is really ambition and it is the foundation of both sociability and unsociability. 74.26 How might this conflict of desires be resolved and my vacillation of mind counteracted? Perhaps it could be resolved if I were to succeed in making the other submit to my own value system. 24 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 . starting from a range of individual appetites and strivings. but at the same time I envy her her joy in the loved thing in so far as I imagine it to exclude my own. to have other men live according to their own temperament. Spinoza draws attention to certain causes of discord that permanently menace the production and the stability of such passional agreements. to love what I love. Spinoza describes how the other’s enjoyment of something leads us to love that thing and to desire to enjoy it. 26 See also EIVP37S1: He who strives.25 In the course of his analysis of the socialization of the passions. and the construction of common goods. opinions and values. strive eagerly. and who also. for her joy encourages my own. The particular example Spinoza offers in this context is that of jealousy where ‘we imagine that someone enjoys some thing that only one can possess’ (EIIIP32). only because of an affect. and so wish to deprive her of it. 25 As Spinoza argues ‘we judge something to be good because we strive for it. I do not. It is this ambivalence in my relation to the other which is the source of my vacillation of mind.24 Because our loves and our hates (our values of ‘good’ and ‘bad’) are to a large extent constituted through a process of affective imitation – being reinforced. therefore. directing attention to general See also EIIIP29S where Spinoza defines ambition as the ‘striving to do something (and also to omit from doing something) solely to please men’. This conflict of desires which arises when the loved object is imagined to admit of possession by only one person transforms ambition for glory into ambition for domination.

or loved. In Chapter IV of the Political Treatise.28 This interweaving of sociable and unsociable passions in the state of nature results in a general state of fear and uncertainty: ‘When all alike want this (others to live according to their own temperament). on Spinoza’s view. not simply from individual calculations of self-interest.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 289 (or common) properties of the loved thing. Although the attempt to redefine the other’s relation to a common object of desire involves a (tyrannical) imposition of my loves and hates.’ 28 This is one of Matheron’s principal theses in Individu et Communaute´ chez Spinoza. in isolation. be regarded as forming a single network. it appears that the same mechanism of affective imitation which assures sociability simultaneously engenders unsociability. These two groups of inter-individual passions. Spinoza is able to develop an analysis of this transition as a purely natural process whose constitutive force derives. that from the same property of human nature from which it follows that men are compassionate. to despoil them. Spinoza argues that the commonwealth’s power to preserve itself depends on its maintenance of the causes of fear and reverence in the multitude: failing to foster these causes by proceeding to ‘to slaughter subjects. to those properties which could be appreciated by others without challenging my own ‘possession’ of the object. and when all wish to be praised. for example. individuals are immediately affected by the affects of others. It is this fear that Spinoza points to as the source of the transition to civil society. 172. therefore. under these conditions. To imagine such a course is illuminating because it demonstrates something important about Spinoza’s analysis of the different forms of ambition. Spinoza generally invokes the idea of indignation when explaining the causes of the dissolution of the state. must. but since. to ravish maidens and the like turns fear into indignation. then. they hate one another’ (EIIIP31S). and consequently the civil order into a condition of war’. it also follows that the same men are envious and ambitious. the harm done to particular individuals by the tyrant will tend to provoke indignation in others who identify with them. Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 . by all. there would be no danger of revolution. pity and ambition for glory. As Matheron has argued. can only be expressed in the effort to constrain the other to adopt my system of values. 29 TP. a desire which. and envy and ambition to dominate. 27 See EIIIP32S: ‘We see. If each individual. they are alike an obstacle to one another. for example.27 Thus. By utilizing the principle of affective imitation which shows how fear can become a common collective affection. but from the immanent and dynamic interplay of sociable and unsociable passions in the state of nature. See. it nevertheless proceeds from a desire to please and to be approved of by others.29 Matheron argues that in this explication of the causes of revolution. Spinoza relies crucially on the notion of indignation or ‘hate towards someone who has done evil to another’ (EIIIDAffXX and EIIIP27C1). feared the tyrant without thinking of the harm done to others. 697.

On this account. and potential revolution against the perpetrators of violence. the advantage of the term ‘multitude’ is that it carries less conceptual baggage than terms such as ‘the people’ or ‘the masses’. come to their aid. 31 ` ´ ´ ´ ´ Matheron. and the subjects by the ensemble of all individuals considered as victims. attitudes. prompting them to come to their aid against the aggressors. and holds sovereignty. 687: ‘This right.31 What we need to do in order to comprehend this. individuals. beliefs and values – which acts to promote ‘sociable’ behaviour and discourage ‘unsociable’ behaviour.30 Matheron claims that precisely the same logic can be used to explain the causes of the production of the state – ‘indignation engenders the state in exactly the same way that it causes revolutions’. My translation. eventually. in the production of a consensual and collective imagination and determination of a common good (and bad) – expressed in the form of shared customs. I render multitudo as ‘multitude’ in line with the practice adopted by a number of recent European commentators. 264. albeit in an informal way. is to replace the initial solitude of each in the face of the tyrant by the solitude of the state of nature. Spinoza et la politique (Paris: PUF. 30 . in the natural state. Spinoza’s claim that what distinguishes the civil from the natural state is not. This seems to me questionable. the term ‘multitude’ has somewhat pejorative connotations. 33 See TP. whether from fear of eliciting the disapprobation of the multitude (from ambition for glory) or from the motive of utility (from reason) – or. acts of aggression towards individuals engender indignation in others who identify with them. Others. sociability appears as the combined effect of the rational rule of reciprocal utility and of the unstable passional bonds arising from our imaginary relations to others. As I see it. who identify with the (now aggrieved) aggressors.’ Shirley renders multitudo as ‘people’ on the grounds that.290 AURELIA ARMSTRONG thus engendering a collective hatred. ‘Le probleme de l’evolution de Spinoza du Traite Theologico-Politique au Traite Politique’.32 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Thus. then. the cessation of natural rights in the former. ibid. from a mixture of the two – would be disinclined to behave in a way that might risk provoking the counter-action of the (more powerful) majority. In any case. that is. and thereby bringing them into conflict with these aggressors. as in Hobbes. he suggests. My translation.33 We can understand. 1985) 102 on hate as a (contradictory) ‘social bond’. and this process is repeated numerous times resulting. is usually called sovereignty. the tyrant by the ensemble of individuals as aggressors. in English. To the extent that the behaviour of individuals is effectively regulated by these common norms – norms which are sustained by the collective power of the multitude or the combined powers of all individuals – the multitude exists as a (democratic) imperium. which is defined by the power of a people. ‘for in a state of Nature and in a See Etienne Balibar. 32 Matheron. rather. 264.

34 The Imaginary Foundations of the State In his hypothetical recreation of the foundations of the Hebrew theocracy. and all have the same ground of security. they all shared equally in the government of the state’. the importance of this account of the foundations of the Hebrew theocracy lies in Spinoza’s analysis of the interdependence of the two founding covenants. to obey God absolutely in all his commands’. in short. in fact. 539. in their ignorance of natural causes. 690. . Rather. however. 36 TTP. to receive and interpret his laws. Their fear of approaching ‘God’ directly prompts them to make a second covenant with Moses. but precisely because of its imaginary quality – because what is instituted in this way is still only the formal idea of the law rather than a system of binding rules for conduct – this original political organization is entirely unsustainable: it can only be 34 35 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 TP. the same way of life’. The first covenant with God can be understood as the imaginary institution of democracy through the imaginary displacement of the Hebrew’s collective sovereignty.36 As a people grown accustomed to slavery. For our purposes. ‘the main difference between the two conditions is this. TTP. equally and with one voice. In this account of the genesis of the state’s legislative power and juridical functions he again emphasizes the foundational role played by the affects and imagination. abrogating the first one by transferring their right to interpret God’s decrees to Moses. although they are without laws and state. after their liberation from bondage under the Egyptians. the Jews are nevertheless connected to one another through their common collective hatred (for their oppressors) and love toward their imagined liberator whom they. Spinoza outlines the relation between society and the state. With the assumption of sovereignty by Moses the form of government becomes effectively monarchical. that in the civil order all men fear the same things. In the Theological-Political Treatise Spinoza describes how the Jews. the Jews do not at this stage have the capacities necessary to enable them to frame a wise code of laws and to keep the sovereign power vested in their own hands.35 Spinoza suggests that this theocratic covenant amounts to the institution of a democratic form of political organization since. the Hebrews agree to make a covenant with him and ‘[w]ithout much hesitation they all promised.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 291 civil order alike man acts from the laws of his own nature and has regard for his own advantage’. call ‘God’. the Hebrews retain sovereignty: ‘all had an equal right to consult God. find themselves bound by no laws and by the right of no other nation. Imagining their liberation to be the result of God’s providential intervention on their behalf. 540. However.

What founds the authority of the civil law is the illusion of the law’s transcendence. On the issue of the ‘efficacy of the imagination in founding the rule of law’. in Studia Spinozana 1 (1985) 129. What actually organizes collective power is the constitutive power of the collective imagination.292 AURELIA ARMSTRONG Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 made viable and stable through the effective legislation of Moses. that is. or to the form of subjection that these representations introduce into history. What is particularly significant in Spinoza’s account of this process of production is his view of the double foundation of the law and the state. In other words. In an inversion of Hobbes’ position.37 Thus. without making history the contrary of nature. it is the power of the imagination of the Hebrew multitude that institutes the authority of the state and its effective power by representing the law as the decree of a transcendent power. however. Here Spinoza presents sovereignty and the state as products of the collective. Spinoza completely demystifies the relation between society and state. he presents the state as a stabilizing and structuring power produced from within the play of power relations 37 Etienne Balibar. Moses reoccupies the place of God that was created through the initial displacement or projection of their collective power. state and law do not actually have a transcendent or supernatural origin. it is not divine right that is the actual source of Moses’ authority. on Spinoza’s account. My translation. religious imagination of the Jewish multitude. Balibar makes the following suggestion. By the same token. political authority is an effect produced and maintained within the religious imagination of the multitude. In other words. With this analysis of the natural causes of the institution and functioning of the state. as engendered from within the imaginary processes operating in the state of nature itself. Moses’ authority over the Hebrew nation derives from his (perceived) position as the sole rightful interpreter and promulgator of the divine law – from the fact that he is thought to be the mediator of God’s commands to the people. Although the genesis of state and law is explicable as an entirely natural process whose constitutive force derives from the desire of the multitude to preserve itself. In the imagination of the Hebrews. (1985) ‘Jus – Pactum – Lex: Sur la constitution du sujet dans le Traite´ The´ologico-politique’. Spinoza shows how the power of the state to elicit obedience to laws can also be ascribed to the manner in which the imagination tends to produce fictions – like the fiction of a God-King as the ruler of nature – in order to explain natural events in the absence of an adequate understanding of their true causes. He explains that Spinoza refers the institution of the [sovereign as a third party] to the effect of transcendence implied in religious representations. the establishment of a quasi-monarchy under Moses’ rule is only possible on the basis of the prior covenant with God. . since the religious imagination is a totally natural power. Rather.

38 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 To put this point slightly differently. Spinoza argues. and the attempt to control everything by laws – menaces that minimum of individual power which is the active. they cannot be made to obey a law that they do not perceive to agree with or to further their interests. the violence exercised against individuals must necessarily return against the state itself. such laws are quite ineffective.39 The danger courted by a state which suppresses individual liberty is only conceivable. .SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 293 operative in society. for such violence inflames the 38 39 TTP. A state which tyrannizes – Spinoza mentions particularly the outlawing of freedom of thought and speech. and their purpose is to provoke honourable men rather than to restrain the wicked. from wanting to be free from fear. Because Spinoza does not define the state in terms of its legitimacy – so that obedience to the law is not construed as a function of obligation. Furthermore. to love one who has done him harm. . See. 536. constitutive element of its own power and thereby threatens its own existence. because Spinoza conceives of the state as a power to govern (potestas) that operates within the immanent horizon of (power) relations which it regulates. This has important implications. it follows that laws enacted against men’s beliefs are directed not against villains but against men of good character. for example. for Spinoza. . Since. be vain to command a subject to hate one to whom he is in indebted for some service. Since the state is not a power that transcends civil society. it must itself be regarded as dependent for both its existence and its continued efficacy on the preservation of the (combined) power (potentia) of individuals. or from numerous similar things that necessarily follow from the laws of human nature. 569–70 (emphasis added): Granted that human nature is thus constituted. however. individuals retain their natural rights within the state and therefore continue to act in accordance with that which they perceive to be useful to them. THE LIMITS OF THE STATE: FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND SPEECH When characterized in this way state power appears to have an inbuilt limit. for those who are convinced of the validity of beliefs that are condemned by law will not be able to obey the law . . intolerance of religious diversity. governors and governed alike. Nor can they be enforced without great danger to the state. particularly as regards Spinoza’s view of the extent and limits of state power. to refrain from taking offence at insults. It would. as a duty to obey – the only possible test of the ‘validity’ of a law must reside in its being actually regulative of behaviour. TTP. on the basis of Spinoza’s presentation of the multitude as an interaction of the powers of state and individuals.

. TP. be regarded as an advocate of a ‘right of the strongest’ or might ¼ right theory of state power. If the combined power or potentia of 40 41 TP. Spinoza’s Philosophy of Law (The Hague: Mouton. and it is in this sense we can say that a commonwealth does wrong when it does something contrary to the dictates of reason. the tyrannical exercise of state power does in fact threaten the state since it risks provoking the counter violence of the multitude. or suffers to be done. antagonistic passions of the social body and thus turns the multitude into a potent revolutionary and ungovernable force. a state which relies on mere force acts contrarily to reason. this is not at all essential and. 536. 697: a commonwealth does wrong when it does. entail that subjects will respect and fear their commonwealth. As a positive counterpart to the claim that the state cannot completely absorb the individuality of its members. Spinoza asserts that the power of individuals as it is exercised in free thought and free expression of opinion ‘not only . . . 1971) 52.40 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Spinoza cannot. but also that it must be granted if these are to be preserved’. 44 TTP.42 Clearly. and we then say that it does wrong in the sense in which philosophers or doctors say that Nature does wrong. 572. 43 TTP.44 Here we see the consistent application and development of the principle that underpinned Spinoza’s criticisms of tyrannical governments. 697. that societies based on a power of this kind are destabilized by their own principle. in Spinoza’s view force must be guided by reason if it is to become power’. as Gail Belaief notes. On the contrary. I suggested above that Spinoza’s arguments against tyranny relied on showing the ‘contradiction’ involved in the attempt to reduce the powers of individuals to that point at which they would cease to be a potential source of resistance to state power.41 For Spinoza. and to the right of the sovereign. certain conditions that.294 AURELIA ARMSTRONG hostile. while the absence of these conditions entails the annulment of that fear and respect and together with this. on Spinoza’s account. things that can cause its own downfall. the destruction of the commonwealth. to piety. 42 See.43 Against a Hobbesian conception of state power which makes it inseparable from domination – albeit legitimate domination – Spinoza argues that although power may historically have taken the form of domination. There are. while ‘in Hobbes’ view there is no distinction between force and power with respect to the sovereign. Spinoza declares. can be granted without detriment to public peace. Gail Belaief. furthermore. if operative. therefore. but only in the sense that reason dictates the avoidance of actions that lead to the weakening or destruction of a body’s power. for example.

of the sovereign’s power to govern – it cannot be threatened without at the same time giving rise to revolutionary sentiments which threaten to dissolve the state itself. TP. and consequently the more oppressive the regime. That is to say. Spinoza argues that in order to conserve itself the state must not only preserve the powers of those subject to it. that the concession to individuals of a maximal liberty of thought and opinion is a necessary condition for both the continued authority of the state and for the stability of the commonwealth as a whole. It is one thing. What Spinoza proposes here is a related but stronger claim. and if sovereigns are to retain full control and not be forced to surrender to agitators. . For we have shown that in a democracy (which comes closest to the natural state) all the citizens undertake to act. 570–1. Spinoza develops the connection between this liberty and the conservation and power of the state in the following terms: Therefore. by decision made in common. I believe. but not to reason and judge. The implications of this claim are. between the right/power to govern and the best form of government. By the same token. namely. but must also permit the free expression and development of these powers. the further their distance from the most natural state. since all men cannot think alike. another thing to rule in the best way and to direct public affairs in the best way’. 699. meanwhile retaining the authority to repeal the same when they see a better alternative. ‘to rule and take charge of public affairs by right. they agree that a proposal supported by a majority of votes shall have the force of a decree. While the right of the state is simply its actual power to preserve itself – in particular its capacity to maintain obedience to the laws of the commonwealth – Spinoza suggests that the most powerful or ‘absolute’ state is one that is supported not merely by ‘formal assent’ but by the ‘conviction’ 45 46 TTP. poorly grasped when interpreted simply in terms of what it is physically impossible for the state to constrain beyond a certain point. it is imperative to grant freedom of judgment and to govern men in such a way that the different and conflicting views they openly proclaim do not debar them from living together in peace.45 In this passage Spinoza makes an implicit distinction between the authority of government and the capacity of a government to retain a firm hold on authority. This system of government is undoubtedly the best and its disadvantages are fewer because it is in closest accord with human nature. Spinoza writes in the Political Treatise.46 This distinction is linked here to the different modalities of desire that dispose individuals to obedience. if honesty is to be prized rather than obsequiousness.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 295 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 individuals is the real constitutive force of the sovereign’s right – that is. Thus the less freedom of judgment is conceded to men.

51 Spinoza defines desire as ‘the very essence of man. then the power of the state is reduced.49 In other words. 702. that the different modalities of desire from which states draw their force make a difference to the quality of the power of the states themselves.50 To make the connection somewhat clearer between freedom of thought and speech and the sovereignty of the state. therefore. he says quoting Seneca. He insists. Indeed. The more cause a state has to fear the multitude. but only to be passively sustained by the citizens.48 In Spinoza’s view a state comes closest to being absolute when it is most fully in possession of its right. therefore. to do something’ (EIIIDAff. from any given affection of it. the state least vulnerable to contestation of its authority and to the conflicts and seditions that threaten the unity and. that it is only when this freedom is granted that harmonious living is possible. TP. 48 47 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 . it might be useful to recall that. 537. the (combined) powers of individuals in so far as this power is determined as desire for this authority. it is not to act TTP. that the peace and unity necessary to the preservation and stability of the commonwealth can be assured. tyrannical governments. a dynamic constitutive process entailing the continuous ‘transfer’ of individual powers to the public power. sovereignty is a collective production.296 AURELIA ARMSTRONG of those under its authority. Spinoza draws a further consequence. 50 TTP.III). Spinoza thinks that if this freedom is curtailed. Certainly. that is.51 Consequently. To act at the bidding of an external authority in this way is to be more passive than active. Thus. for Spinoza. 530. the very form of existence of the social body. a state comes closest to being absolute when it is most fully sustained by the active participation or ‘conviction’ of the individuals whose combined powers constitute its own power. From the observation that the desires of individuals are the actual source of the continued authority of the state. 725. the most absolute state is the least internally divided one. the relations of force that characterize the existence of any particular political association can only be relatively stable since they subsist only so long as the desires that sustain them are also maintained. the less absolute it is. insofar as it is determined. ‘can never last long’. 49 See TP. Spinoza posits a direct connection between the encouragement of a mode of obedience that has the character of conviction and the granting by governments of the freedom of thought and speech.47 The importance accorded by Spinoza to the motives for obedience to the law is linked to his observation that a state is always in greater danger from its own citizens than from external enemies. namely. The motor force in both the formation and preservation of state power and authority is. A state that elicits the obedience of citizens by relying predominantly on desires born of passions – fear of punishment for infringing the law and hope of rewards for obeying it – cannot be said to be actively. furthermore. for ‘he who wholeheartedly resolves to obey another in all his commands is fully under another’s dominion’.

concerned only not to incur capital or other punishment. For peace is not just the absence of war. see Moira Gatens. the relations between rulers and ruled are governed by reciprocal fear and. but a virtue which comes from strength of mind. for obedience (Section 19. Spinoza adds further on in the Political Treatise. insofar as it is related to man. Power and Corporeality. 57 See EIVD8: By virtue and power I understand the same thing. Indeed. In Spinoza’s words: A commonwealth whose subjects are deterred from taking up arms only through fear should be said to be not at war rather than to be enjoying peace. they inevitably rejoice at misfortune or injury to their ruler even when this involves their own considerable misfortune. 54 TTP.54 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 For Spinoza. Anyway. of man. 55 TP. (London and New York: Routledge. peace of this kind is founded on the virtue. marked by a fundamental instability. What they especially lack is that quality of peace which is the real content of a commonwealth’s security and the true aim of the state. consists ‘in the union or harmony of minds’. A commonwealth in which subjects are constrained by mere force and which thus relies mainly on the passivity of these subjects differs but little from a state of nature.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 52 297 so much as to be acted upon. is the very essence or nature. it is not merely freedom from fear and violence. 1996) 116. taking no account of the usefulness and the necessity of the action to be done. rather. Chapter 2) is the steadfast will to carry out orders enjoined by the general decree of the commonwealth. and they wish every ill on him. they are doing what they are most opposed to doing. 56 TP. . a commonwealth whose peace depends on the sluggish spirit of its subjects who are led like sheep to learn simply to be slaves can more properly be called a desert than a commonwealth.56 While the attainment of such peace is impossible without the elimination of violence. 699. 438. This practice of obedience is a 52 On this issue. thus. Spinoza contends that For as long as men act only from fear. and bring this about when they can.55 Genuine peace.57 It is established only when citizens actively obey the common laws by virtue of a ‘steadfast will to carry out orders enjoined by the general decree of the commonwealth’. that is (byIIIP7). Imaginary Bodies: Ethics.53 Under such conditions. virtue. which can be understood through the laws of his nature alone. power and reason of citizens. insofar as he has the power of bringing about certain things. 699. 701. political associations of this kind are little more than gatherings of slaves. 53 TP.

The principal benefit to the state of the free expression and communication of opinions is that it facilitates the growth of reason which would enable individuals to understand how the laws. 59 See also TTP. In this context. But we act only insofar as we understand (by IIIP3). (EIVP73Dem. Therefore. living. have greater scope for increasing their own powers. but insofar as he strives to preserve his being from the dictate of reason. and doing this (by P22C) from the foundation of seeking one’s own advantage. insofar as he strives to live freely. a man who is guided by reason desires. Obedience to the law which flows from an understanding of the necessity of the laws and the state would be action in the strong sense. When individuals act in this way their behaviour is said to accord with the dictate of reason. The connection between the enhancement of the powers of citizens and the degree of unity and harmony of the social body – which together determine the quality of peace enjoyed by a commonwealth – is clarified in the detail of Spinoza’s defence of freedom of thought and speech. that is. that is. he desires to live according to the common decision of the state. Spinoza argues that the state must allow free expression of the diversity of individual opinions and the free communication of these opinions while at the same time restricting actions which abrogate the laws which sustain the common life. as conditions of communal life.58 As Spinoza explains in the Ethics: a man who is guided by reason is not led to obey by fear. . The permissive attitude towards the freedom of thought and opinion is an extension of this organization of collective power in the sense that it opens up a space in which individuals are able actively to develop their own powers of thinking and understanding through the spread and debate of ideas.298 AURELIA ARMSTRONG Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 mode of life and type of sociability characterized by a ‘union or harmony of minds’. in order to live more freely. Therefore.)59 58 See EIVP24Dem: Acting absolutely from virtue is nothing but acting from the laws of our own nature (by D8). to keep the common laws of the state. Consequently. and preserving one’s being by the guidance of reason. acting from virtue is nothing else in us but acting. the prohibition against certain actions appears as a positive rule for the preservation of the powers of citizens since it is the means by which encounters are organized so that individuals are less at risk of being acted on purely fortuitously and. therefore. desires to maintain the principle of common life and common advantage. action which follows from the foundation of seeking their own advantage. relate to their own striving for self-preservation. A political association which promoted such understanding would thereby increase the chances of rational decision-making processes within the commonwealth. 428. since an individual who acts on the basis of such understanding (of necessity) is determined more by his or her own power than by the power of external causes.

concludes that Spinoza’s political thinking must be regarded as ‘divided against itself’ in respect of this problem. ‘who is guided by reason is more free in a state. In other words. on Spinoza’s view. 1958) 103. Etienne Balibar. since when individuals live under the guidance of reason they more freely and constantly keep the laws of the state because they understand these laws as conditions for the maintenance of a common life and. and (against ‘holism’) that the sovereignty or power of the State is not reduced. but enlarged. the right of the supreme authority can be seen to increase in direct proportion to the development of the power and reason of individuals. the (combined) power of individuals and the power of the state are different modalities of the Lewis Feuer.62 Balibar and Antonio Negri see Spinoza’s circumvention of this abstract opposition in the realm of his political analyses as made possible by his willingness to think in terms of the multitude rather than in terms of individuals and the state. where he obeys only himself’ (EIVP73). where he lives according to a common decision. by the constitution of a State or Civil Society. Spinoza is very careful not to confuse the independence enjoyed by the free or rational individual with the independence attached to the state of solitude.60 Etienne Balibar diagnoses the problem here as an inability to grasp an alternative that ‘practically escapes the basic antinomies of metaphysics and ethics which arise from ontological dualism’. as conditions for the pursuit of their own advantage. for one. than in solitude. 61 60 . Lewis Feuer. for Spinoza.61 According to Balibar. In short. Spinoza claims. the multitude is a concept that includes both state and citizens. but enlarged by the growing autonomy of the citizens (especially by their freedom of thought and expression). especially liberal.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 299 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 It is clear from the preceding discussion that Spinoza does not oppose the strengthening of individual power and the increase of the power of the state. when confronted with this affirmation of the interdependence of the authority (and absoluteness) of the state and the autonomy of individuals. 8. 1997) 8. It is not surprising that. ‘From Individuality to Transindividuality’. one’s freedom. An individual. being dependent on the power of the state can be a means to increase one’s own capacity to act. To be subject to the authority of the state does not in itself make a free individual into a slave since. Spinoza presents the increase of state power and the increase of individual powers as fundamentally interrelated and mutually interdependent processes. commentators have accused Spinoza of serious confusion and inconsistency. 62 Balibar. Mededelingen vanwege het Spinozahuis (Delft: Eburon. I have suggested that. that is. therefore. ‘From Individuality to Transindividuality’. a great many. Spinoza argues (against ‘individualism’) that the autonomy or power of the individual is not reduced. Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism (Boston: Beacon Press. By the same token.

567. Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 FREEDOM AND UTOPIA According to the arguments sketched above. Gatens.63 Commenting on this passage. asocial individualism to universal harmony. without harm to himself and to others. 688. 65 TP. The reading defended here suggests that this transition is better conceived as a passage from imaginatively grounded associations in which peaceful co-existence and conformity to prescribed laws are established by appealing to passive emotions. politics may act as a bridge to the active. Is not obedience to just laws a rational act? To answer this 63 64 TTP. but on the contrary to free every man from fear so that he may live in security as far as is possible. . therefore. To take the multitude as the primary object of Spinoza’s political thought is to depart from the standard account of social transition in Spinoza as a passage from atomic. the purpose of the state to transform men from rational beings into beasts or puppets. that is so that he may best preserve his own natural right to exist and to act. 116. . in the interests of the state to foster the conditions for the development of reason and freedom. to use their reason without restraint . to more rational forms of community in which harmonious social relations and law-abiding behaviour are the result of an increasingly adequate understanding of the link between the individual’s own good and the common good. Although the power and stability of the state are a function of its ability to maintain obedience to the laws of the commonwealth. I repeat. its power is maximized when obedience follows from the rational rather than passionate desires of citizens.’65 Exactly why this should be so is prima facie puzzling. Imaginary Bodies. freedom. but rather to enable them to develop their mental and physical faculties in safety. Moira Gatens observes that the ‘contrast between obedience and knowledge is certainly one way in which we could distinguish between an association of human beings founded on fear and a community of rational beings’. .64 In stressing the distinction between obedience and knowledge in this context. in reality. Spinoza’s characterization of the ultimate purpose of the state in the TheologicalPolitical Treatise seems strongly to support this conclusion: [The state’s] ultimate purpose is not exercise dominion nor to restrain men by fear and deprive them of independence. it would be incorrect to call the life of reason ‘‘obedience’’. It is not.300 AURELIA ARMSTRONG same collective power of the multitude. It is. Thus the purpose of the state is. Gatens is echoing Spinoza’s claim that ‘since human freedom is the greater as a man is more able to be guided by reason and control his appetites.

This definition of a fully fledged democracy evokes an ideal of a community in which the relations of command and obedience have been definitively overcome – the state as law giver. by oaths and by benefits received. but by the common enterprise of knowledge. as dispenser of rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience. The figure of democracy would thus refer to the existence of a substantially unanimous and free multitude. where in characterizing an ideal democracy66 Spinoza explains the incompatibility of freedom and obedience: [s]ince obedience consists in carrying out orders simply by reason of the authority of a ruler. In such a community the people would remain equally free whether laws were multiplied or diminished. This problem can be brought into focus by situating the contrast between obedience and freedom in the context of the relation between the passions.67 ‘Democracy’. In terms of the definition of democracy as the ‘rationalization’ of the social body. An association constituted in this manner would be a community of rational beings. 439. he induced the people to obey the . The exteriority of the law as command has given way to a citizenry capable of ruling itself directly and entirely under the guidance of reason. see TTP. since it would act not from another’s bidding but from its own consent. 68 On this point. 531. but to bind them by a covenant. it follows that this has no place in a community where sovereignty is vested in all the citizens. let us turn to the typology of law outlined in the TheologicalPolitical Treatise. It thus poses a serious problem for Spinoza in his own terms. has withered away in the fulfilment of its end. if obedience is taken to entail subjection to the idea of the law as an imperative issued by a superior. the distinction between 66 67 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 See TTP. a multitude that had successfully mastered its own passions through greater understanding of the origins of divisive and competitive passions. This vision of a democratic utopia suggests just the kind of rational break with the passional and imaginary order of nature that Spinoza explicitly repudiates. 515: Moses’ aim was not to convince the Israelites by reasoned argument. is a success term.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 301 question. not by the externality of the law and command. but the realization of a definitive end. the disappearance of obedience could be read as the complete elimination of ignorance. it is clearly caught up in the economy of imaginary life. It does not represent the rational reformation of motives for obedience to the law or the growth of activity and joy in the direction of freedom and reason. and laws are sanctioned by common consent. as defined here.68 Thus. imagination and the passions. external power. Individual members of a free multitude would be restrained only by a love of liberty and bound together. imagination and reason. TTP. Certainly.

70 This manner of reading Spinoza certainly contradicts the approach adopted here. To make this equation. serving both as the telos of history and the normative principle by which we might pass judgment on the real. It would put Spinoza on the side of those philosophers who ‘shower extravagant praise on a human nature that nowhere exists’ and ‘conceive men not as they are. while exhorting them thereto by promise of rewards. which explicitly rejects such normative language. primitive imaginative forms of sociality. To be consistent with Spinoza’s naturalism. not to impart knowledge. Brill. rather than transcending or breaking with. These are all means to promote obedience.69 To read the figure of democracy in this way. thereby contradicting Spinoza’s insistence on our status as a ‘part of nature’. the difficulty posed by the concept of democracy as the realization of reason’s goal – the constitution of a community of rational beings – is that it introduces a rupture between nature and human institutions.302 AURELIA ARMSTRONG obedience and freedom here could be mapped onto the distinction between the life of imagination and that of reason. peace and harmony directly express the rational activity of individuals. Can we interpret the idea of a ‘community of rational beings’ in a way that is consistent with this conception of immanent transformation? The notion of a community of rational beings or democracy evokes an ideal form of sociality in which peace and harmony follow from the rational recognition of a shared human nature. 70 See on this point Manfred Walther’s review of Negri’s The Savage Anomaly: ‘Negri on Spinoza’s Political and Legal Philosophy’. the process of rationally reforming the imaginary foundations of community must be conceived as building on and transforming. 680. would make Spinoza a philosopher of a revolutionary emancipation. is to interpret the achievement of freedom and rationality as the eradication or transcendence of passional and imaginary life. The utopian ideal of democracy would thus stand in a relation of transcendence to ‘what is’. I have suggested that Spinoza’s political thought provides us with a means of thinking human freedom and flourishing as continuous with the practical political project of organizing the conditions of collective life so that individuals are affected in ways that enable them to increase their powers. 69 TP. as the promise of a future liberation. but as they would like them to be’. edited by Edwin Curley and Pierre Moreau (Leiden and New York: E. rather than resulting from the regulation of behaviour by laws that restrict behaviour as a means to make individuals agree. But if it were possible for the multitude to free itself entirely from passivity – if the community of rational beings were a realizable goal – then surely it would reconstitute the human order as an imperium in imperio. in Spinoza: Issues and Directions. Introduction. however. while in the latter peaceful co-existence is Law under threat of punishment. Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 . between what is and what ought to be. To think of democracy as a final order – as the pure realization of reason’s ideal – is to think in utopian terms that run counter to the spirit of the Spinozist project. J. 1990) 291–2. In more general terms. In the former case.

and peculiar to. to participate in a common way of life and enjoy 71 See Gilles Deleuze Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. The idea of a passive increase of the power of acting that is evoked here has already been established by Spinoza in his account of how we come to form the adequate ideas that comprise reason. he says. and is not a passion except insofar as the man’s power of acting is not increased to the point where he conceived himself and his actions adequately. (EIVP59D) Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 Here. Adequate political and social institutions ensure that the relations between individuals are more likely to be cooperative and mutually beneficial and. In an important passage in the Ethics. So if a man affected with Joy were led to such a great perfection that he conceived himself and his actions adequately. 1990) 276. this organization of collective life nevertheless enhances the powers of individuals. only be said to accord with rather than to express reason. material circumstances in the development of our powers of thinking and acting. he would be capable – indeed more capable – of the same actions to which he is now determined from affects which are passions. that individuals are more likely to experience joyful passions and to act on the basis of desires born of joy. The importance of this claim is that it suggests that favourable external circumstances and influences. its idea will also be adequate in the mind. Spinoza indicates that there is only a small gap separating joyful passions from adequate activity.71 That is. At EIIP39. Joy. The less universal represent ‘a similarity of composition . Our capacities for adequate thought and action are enhanced when our interactions with others are so organized that joyful passions dominate over sad passions. may nevertheless increase our powers of thinking and acting. bringing us to the brink of adequate understanding and action. (for it consists in this. the human body and certain external bodies by which the human body is usually affected. Although cooperation and harmony in this latter case do not follow from an adequate understanding of one’s true advantage and can. thus. Spinoza observes that: P39: If something is common to. in relation to which we are passive.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 303 achieved passively by forcing individuals to agree and be compatible. Spinoza explains the link between joyful passive affections and reason. that a man’s power of acting is increased or aided). where he argues that Spinoza distinguishes between more and less universal common notions. Cor: From this it follows that the mind is the more capable of perceiving many things adequately as its body has many things in common with other bodies. translated by Martin Joughin New York: Zone Books. Spinoza here acknowledges the role played by external. agrees with reason. therefore. and is equally in the part and in the whole.

is to construe freedom as liberation from dependence on external forces. In the Ethics Spinoza appeals to a ‘model of human nature’ which. Moses can. leads to the acceptance of Moses’ authority and the institution of the Mosaic Law. but in this instance passivity and dependence appear as enabling conditions for the preservation and strengthening of collective power. Therefore. To understand democracy as denoting a future state of activity and independence – the pure realization of reason’s goal – beyond the constraints and passivity of social and political life. be abstractly opposed to freedom or activity. Recall how the Hebrew multitude’s desire to preserve itself. On the contrary. the Hebrews’ desire for political community can only be realized through the mediation of Moses and the legislative power he enacts. passive. the Hebrews are effectively subjected to a form of coercive rule with respect to which they are. they are more complexly related. the degree of activity and independence we enjoy depends on more or less supportive interactions and favourable external influences. Deleuze regards these common notions as the most useful. given their incapacity to govern themselves. It is true that. Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 . For Spinoza. To conclude. There are no ends in Nature. be regarded as the immanent. Dependence and constraint should not.304 AURELIA ARMSTRONG harmonious relations with others who ‘agree with our nature’ (EIVAppVII) is to be affected in ways that increase our capacities to think and act adequately. which we misconstrue as final causes whereas in fact they indicate only the state of our appetites and desires (EIApp). it is wrong to construe such an organization of collective life as simply a hindrance to or a mere limitation of the natural powers of individuals. Spinoza recognizes its utility in ethics and politics. since they are the first we have the chance to form. let us briefly consider the democratic ideal of collective liberation in terms of this complex relationship between passive and active power. therefore. while the state relies on passive means – on the externality of the law and constraint – to enforce peace and agreement. by definition. according to Michael Rosenthal. subjection to the law is. Although this law takes the form of a restrictive code seemingly at odds with the rational development of individual conatus. once collective right is ‘transferred’ to Moses. We act on account of ends. that is. ‘each of which creates a standard on the basis of which value judgements between bodies that directly agree. prohibition and constraint can function as positive rules for the preservation and development of individual and collective power. in Spinoza’s terms. is an example of a broader category of exemplary ideas. Although this type of teleological thinking entails a perfectionism and finalism that misrepresents the natural order. and this from their own viewpoint’. This teleological formulation immediately alerts us to the fact that. in fact. we are dealing with a fiction. causative instrument for the formation of the Hebrew state. In other words. given their present capacities. as we saw clearly in the case of the constitution of the Hebrew theocracy. therefore. combined with its incapacity for self-rule. the only way in which the Hebrews are able to preserve and develop collective power.

vol. Spinoza tells us. and that he should be able to undergo no changes except those which can be understood through his own nature alone. 73 Freedom cannot. they would come to realize their necessary dependence on the larger (social and natural) wholes of which they are a part. is the true kernel of this idea. for Spinoza. the tension with naturalism disappears. Since this collective transition to greater activity or freedom is impossible without (good) laws and institutions which neutralize the damaging effects of the passions and so facilitate the development of active power. or the mutual interdependence of the process of individual and collective power enhancement. obedience and cooperative behaviour. able to acquire a more adequate understanding of themselves and their situation. by definition. that is. Were some individuals. No. If we understand democracy as a regulative ideal. immanent instrument for the preservation and expansion of individual and collective right. however. which is inadequately conceived as an external end towards which it strives. 2. they create a common standard of value that can serve as a reference point for legal and normative constraints. and thus allows for judgements of relative perfection and imperfection in terms of the degree of conformity to that ideal end. University of Queensland 72 Michael A. by virtue of this passive increase of their powers. What would be retained. the state too must be affirmed as the necessary. ‘that a man should not be a part of Nature. passive with respect to this fictitious ideal. Our ontological status as finite modes makes exposure to external affection an irreducible feature of existence. which consists in the affirmation of the link between my own advantage and the advantage of others. a model or exemplar serves to define a common end towards which things should tend. ‘Why Spinoza Chose the Hebrews: The Exemplary Function of Prophecy in the Theological-Political Treatise’ (History of Political Thought. Yet. The social and political value of such fictional models is clear. In acting as a standard of perfection. Freedom is only incompatible with those forms of dependence that we do not adequately understand. The multitude is. and of which he is the adequate cause’ (EIVP4). by encouraging a positive identification with the social whole that promotes respect for the law. XVIII. An exemplar thus functions as a regulative ideal on the basis of which universal values can be established and by reference to which norms of right conduct can be prescribed.73 This understanding would eliminate the imaginary component in the idea of democracy – the representation of freedom as a (future) state of independence and pure activity beyond social and political life. It is impossible.SPINOZA BEYOND HOBBES 72 305 Downloaded By: [Instituto de Investig Filosoficas] At: 03:22 5 February 2010 can be made’. as the imaginary representation and projection of the multitude’s desire for freedom and social harmony. be realized in a state of independence from external forces. and they orient citizen’s desires for their own advantage towards the collective good. Summer 1997) 215. passive. and with respect to which we are. this fiction effectively contributes to creating the conditions for a real enhancement of individual and collective power. Rosenthal. therefore. .

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