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DUFF ABOUT SPINOZA

SHORT EXCERPTS FROM

Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza (1632-1677)
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SPINOZA'S POLITICAL AND ETHICAL PHILOSOPHY

BY ROBERT A. DUFF.

Spinoza's Political and Ethical Philosophy, by Robert A. Duff, 516 p., was first published in 1903 by James Maclehose and Sons, of Glasgow, and reprinted by Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, of New York, in 1970.

Excerpt from Chapter:
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

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From Chapter 1, Introduction:

It is a misfortune that Spinoza's Ethics and his political treatises have been so completely severed from one another, and that attention has been confined almost entirely to the former. Such a separation is to be deprecated quite as much in the interest of the Ethics as in that of the Politics. For to Spinoza these two sciences are almost as inter-dependent as they were to Aristotle. There is indeed this difference, that while Aristotle regards Ethics as part of Politics, Spinoza (see Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. 4) treats Politics as a part Ethics. Yet, starting from opposite sides, they converge upon essentially the same result. For while Aristotle maintains that a true conception of the nature and end of the State will lead to right regulation and development of the individual's rational nature, Spinoza asserts that a true apprehension by the individual of his own real welfare will produce and maintain an organization of society designed to foster wisdom, justice, and charity in those who constitute it. The one shows that a true State will permit and enable each man, or at least each freeman, to make the most and the best of himself, while the other works out the social and civil consequences that would follow if each man knew and sought his real good. Both, therefore, while they prove their thesis mainly from the one side, regard the moral life and the life of a political order as inseparable parts of the same whole. It is important then for a balanced view of Spinoza's Ethics to take account of the political treatises which were to him its natural sequel and complement. Many of the problems which force themselves upon a student of the former work find an answer only in the latter, such questions as the relation of the individual to society, the nature of rights, the function of law, the end and the conditions of government, the connection between moral character and civic patriotism, the arguments for free thought, free speech, and religious toleration, and the relation of Church and State.

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From Chapter 2, General Principles:

To say that Spinoza has only the conception of Substance but not that of Subject, Spirit, or System seems to be beside the point. It is no more than an assertion that Sub-stance is a better word than Sub-ject, an assertion which cannot be proved. Substance, as Spinoza uses it, is not the opposite of Spirit, for it includes within it all the immanent energies and activities, the spiritual functions, the interrelation or 'concatenation' of facts and events, which are the essence of Spirit; and it is material only in the sense that even matter is spiritual. If then Spinoza calls the unity and inter-connectedness of all existence a "Substance consisting of infinite attributes", he has as much right to call it Substance as another has to call it Subject. 'A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.' All that really matters is, whether, having called this Immanent Causality 'Substance' in a sense in which there can be no substance other than itself, he adheres to this conception of its nature, and works out his principle as fruitfully and suggestively as if he had used the other name. The proof of the cook's recipe is the eating of the pudding. The value of a philosopher's principle is just what he gets out of it, or what he thinks in and through it. What he calls it matters nothing if he makes it a key to our hearts and to the meaning of existence. For it is the system itself in its working-out and the connection of its parts which make the name by which it is known honourable or base. Pompey is as fine a name as Caesar if you take them apart from the actual lives which alone give them character.

What concerns us here then is to have Spinoza's system judged on its merits, or demerits, as a system, and not to have it prejudged by a gloss upon a phrase. For it is what he says, and not the words in which he says it, that are of interest in philosophy.

It should be noted then, that God, to Spinoza, is not a substance, or substance in our use of the term. He is "a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses an eternal and infinite essence" (Def. 6). But if we are ready to give to substance the meaning "that which exists in itself and is conceived through itself; that is to say, that the concept of which does not need the concept of another object from which it must be formed", as Spinoza gives it in Def. 3, then we may say that God is substance (not a substance), that is self-subsistence, or the whole which has nothing outside of itself, but within which all reality falls. In this sense nothing can be substantial except God, that is, God is the only self-contained, self-complete, and self-maintained being.

Spinoza does not dream of denying that finite things and beings are substances or substantial in our common use of the terms. The reality of the outer world and of the events, causes, relations, persons, and things in it, he never, so far as I know, questions. But his point is, none of these are self-contained, independent, self-subsistent. You must think a cause through its effect, and vice versa. It is not in itself but in another, and to understand it you must think it through that other. A man is not a self-complete whole. You must think him through his relations with other men. His beginning to exist and his ceasing to exist are not in himself but in other things. The nature of any man, or his essence, does not involve necessary existence. He can cease to live without any contradiction. And the reality which he does have is entirely within a whole of which he is himself only a part. But none of these statements can be made of that which is self-subsistent or "exists in itself and is conceived through itself". It can have no relation to anything else. It is real in a sense in which no finite object or being ever can be real. It is self-complete, self-caused (causa sui), for all causality is within it, and its essence does involve necessary and eternal existence, for all that exists can exist and maintain itself only within the whole.

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From Chapter 3, Man's Place in Nature:

Thus all parts of Nature are 'concatenated' with one another, inasmuch as they all express the immanent energy of the one principle of existence. How this 'coherence' and agreement of one part of Nature with the other parts, and with the whole, is to be explained in detail, Spinoza confesses himself to be ignorant (see Letter 32, formerly 15), but that there is, and must be, such coherence and agreement can, he holds, be conclusively proved. 'Universal Nature', that is to say Nature regarded as a concrete whole of cooperating parts, is to him an axiom of thought, which needs no demonstration, since it is the condition of all demonstration. To discover how part coheres with part is the task of experience and science. But the thought of such a unity is the condition of science itself, yea, even of the simplest experience.

This is the ground upon which Spinoza takes exception to the principle of Final Causality. From the negative point of view, he agrees with Bacon, that Final Causes are barren. But he pushes the principle further, and reaches a deeper positive than Bacon. For while he denies that things have been made for an end, the point of his argument is that all things have been made for one another, or that any particular object is relative to, and intelligible only through, the universal laws which make it, and keep it part of the whole. In refusing to admit that God acts with a view to any end, he adds 'any end other than himself'. That is to say, it is an external final cause which he denies, and he does so in order to make more assured the immanent causality which gives reality to all things. For God has nothing beyond himself at the realisation of which he may aim, and by which he may be moved to action. All determination with him must be self-determination.

Thus even finite objects have a Final Cause or end; but their final cause is not this or that particular purpose which they happen to serve, but their place in the universal system to which they belong. And this can be fully understood and expressed only by exhausting the relations of this part to every other part and to the whole. In Spinoza's language, the Final Cause of each thing is God, or the universal order of Nature. To Final Causality so understood, he not only has no objection, but regards it as the primary condition of being and of knowing. It was because no one in his time did so understand it, that he discards the phrase altogether, and chooses to express his own meaning by the phrase 'Immanent Causality'. He objects to the popular view mainly because it put man in place of God, and treated man's happiness, and even his confort, as the last aim of all existence. This meant an exaltation of a part into a whole, a Deification of human reason and even of human passions. And though Spinoza has often been criticised as holding this very position, there is no one who argues so frequently and strenuously against it. He finds such an arrogant anthropomorphism an insurmountable barrier to all rational enquiry, the source of all superstition, and the egoism which robs man of his true happiness and freedom.

Indeed so strongly is he impressed by the dangers, intellectual, moral, and religious, of giving any part of Nature - even man himself - that place which God alone, or the All-real, should have, that he declares man to be, as a substitute for God, no better than anything else. The difference between the infinite and the finite, or between the whole and any part, is so great that, in comparison with this distinction, the difference between one finite thing and another, is of little or no account. The world and man do not stand to one another in the relation of means and end. We cannot say with any truth that Man was made for the service of God, and Nature for the use and enjoyment of Man. God would in such a case be merely an ornamental figurehead, and Nature subject to human caprice. The universe, on the contrary, is a systematic whole, or a unity of necessary relations; and therefore one object may with as much, or, to be more correct, as little, right be claimed as its end or principle of explanation as another. This by no means implies, as we shall see immediately, that every object has the same value or reality as another, or that man does not differ in perfection from a stone. But it does imply, that where all things and beings are reciprocally dependent, we are not justified in taking one part of the system, even if it be the highest part, as the explanation of the rest. Existence is not an endless chain, but a closed circle, or a whole which lives in all its parts. To understand any part we must know its 'setting' in the whole.

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From Chapter 4, Natural Necessity and Freedom of Will:

The main principle to which Spinoza unswervingly holds is that Nature is a systematic whole, concatenated in all its parts. Nature, however, is not for him the physical world, but the whole of Reality. Being the whole of Reality, we cannot speak of it as the 'other' or the limit of God, but as the Nature of God, or what God is. Of Nature in this sense, i.e. as including all existence, the conscious and self-conscious, as well as the mechanical and the organic, man is and must be a part. His relation to this system is intrinsic, essential, permanent. Whatever qualities, endowments, attributes, he may have, cannot be in conflict with this necessary dependence. If he can exercise reason, will, moral choice, these must be consistent with the unity in which he stands with all the rest of Nature, and be subject to its universal laws.

This leads directly to the rejection, on the one hand, of the doctrine of faculties, and, on the other, of freedom of will as popularly understood. The first of these is assailed as exalting an abstract universal, or an ens rationis, into the position of a real existence, or a true universal. The reference of a particular idea to a general power of understanding, or of a particular volition to the Will, furnishes no better explanation than the reference of a stone to a general quality of stone-ness. In neither case are we enabled to understand the particular any better. While, therefore, we may use the terms will and understanding as general names for many particular volitions and ideas, we must remember that they are not causes of these particulars, and have no meaning apart from them. The causes are to be found in the relation of man to the objects which surround him.

(Spinoza often speaks of a 'facultas' of judging, a 'facultas' of thinking, etc., and also of the 'Will', the 'understanding', etc.; but what he is concerned about is to see that these terms are used simply as general names by which we may conveniently remember, imagine, or describe to ourselves or others a multitude of particular activities in man. To take them as 'verae causae' of these particular activities is to make the imagination do the work of Reason, or to save ourselves the trouble of acquiring knowledge of relations in their detail, by keeping a set of intellectual pigeon-holes where we may stow away facts under more or less appropriate titles.)

On the other hand, freedom of will as commonly conceived is no less inconsistent with a necessary order governed by universal laws. For such freedom is supposed to mean the power of acting without motive, or contrary to the strongest motive, the power of obeying or of disobeying Reason. It is, in short, the liberty of indifference, or of complete contingency. Against this, Spinoza argues repeatedly. In the first place, he holds it to be an impossible conception. It seems possible, only because we imagine man as a thing apart. If we understood man, we could not have such a conception. For, to understand him, we need to correlate his actions and volition with the other parts of the whole system to which he belongs. "In no Mind is there absolute or free will; but the Mind is determined to this or that volition by a cause, which has also been determined by another, and this again by another, and so on in infinitum (Ethics, Part 2, Prop. 48). "Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their actions, but ignorant of the causes of these actions." Thus, while men always do what they will, what they will does not depend simply upon themselves, but on the relation between their own power and the power of external causes. They always act in accordance with the laws of their nature, and for that reason think themselves free, just as a falling stone would if it could think, but they do not recognise that what determines their volition is beyond themselves. In the second place, such liberty of indifference would be of no value, even if it were possible. If we could not count upon motives having a certain effect upon men, if actions were wholly contigent, if the will were independent of all content, then human existence would be the sport of chance and accident, and this would be the most wretched of all conditions. It would not be possible to train men to a habit of virtue, and government would, upon such conditions, be an impossibility.

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From Chapter 5, Unity and Difference:

To sum up the main points of the argument in this chapter. We have seen that all things which exist are perfect. They have indeed no absolute or self-complete perfection; for such perfection belongs only to the whole system of existence, or the all-real. But they share in this perfection, in so far as they are parts, and necessary parts, of the whole. They have all the reality which parts can have, and they could only be other than they are were the whole order to which they belong different from what it is. Where nothing is contingent, or accidental, but all is determined necessarily according to the laws of God's nature, nothing can be imperfect. Thus it is not reverence, but the presumptuousness of ignorance, which leads men to speak of Nature missing her way, or of God's will being thwarted by forces, or persons, outside of him. How is this even conceivable, when the very existence of these forces, or persons, would have at once cease were it not for God's continuous activity? The actual being of things proves them to have all the reality which they can have, for this is just God's life and energy expressing itself in a definite and determinate way. And while we may imagine things to be more perfect, this is possible only because we refer them to abstract general classes, and do not grasp the actual essence of each thing as it is in and for God, or as it is linked to the universal order of Nature. Did we really know the thing as it is in itself, i.e. in the determinate mode in which it expresses God, we would not define it, as the logicians do, through genera and difference, but through the actual essence of the thing, that is through the necessary relationship in which it stands to everything else in virtue of its dependence on God. It is this 'actual essence' of the particular thing which gives it the reality and perfection it enjoys. Its peculiar place and function in the common order of existence is its perfection; but harmony with some class notion, which, by grasping together only common features of things, explains no particular existence, does not express the perfection of anything.

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From Chapter 6, Divine Determination:

Spinoza's argument, then, is, that in dealing with man we must regard the divine immanent activity which has constituted him what he is, and which maintains him in being, not as a force alien to human individuality, but as the essential condition of it, and the secret of that unquenchable impulse to pass ever from a less to a greater perfection, which all real individuality involves. Such necessitation as this, is not from without, but from within, not from foreign forces, but from our own nature. To regard it as hostile to the real nature, and free energies, of man is to confound self-determination with constraint. It is to treat the mind as an indeterminate somewhat, which is free to know, or not to know, free to think as it will under all conditions. But a mind which was free in this way would be no mind. It would have the power of knowing neither the world, nor itself, nor God. And as a mind which is not necessitated to know, has no real power, neither has it any true freedom, as real freedom is always potentia.

Thus the dependence of man upon God, while it is no less absolute than that of the stone, or the animal, is of a different nature, and expresses itself in other terms. For the nature of the dependence shows itself in the peculiar activities which constitute the nature of each thing. And as we saw in the last chapter, the nature of any animal is different from human nature; for God's power in man expresses itself not simply in sensation and nutrition, but in thought and desire, in consciousness and reason, in the knowledge and love of God, in the understanding of natural objects, and in the sense of a good in which all human beings may share. These functions of existence are peculiar to human nature, or to the power of God which manifests itself in man. Nothing else in nature can think itself, or things, or God; nothing else is stirred by ideas of things in the present, the past, or the future; nothing else is subject to the same emotions or passions, or enjoys the same power of controlling them; nothing else can conceive itself as eternal. These spiritual activities are sui generis. They do not need to be justified by reducing them to functions of matter, nor could they be thus justified. They stand in their own right, that is, in the right of that divine power which has given them might to be what they are. And they must be explained through themselves, through their own nature and constitution, or through the power which God has vested in them.

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From Chapter 7, Self-Preservation (The Conatus sese Conservandi) and the Good:

Spinoza accepts it as axiomatic that an individual does, under all circumstances, seek his own welfare and happiness, or what he conceives as such. If he ever renounce an apparent good, it can only be in the hope of thereby securing a greater good, or escaping a greater evil, in the future. All action, or forbearance from action, is the effort (conatus) of a man to realise himself. This law holds good of human nature universally, being no less valid of the saint than of the sinner, and exemplified equally by the altruist and the egoist. Self-renunciation, instead of being a virtue, is an impossibility. A man can no more desire what presents itself to him as, on the whole, the lesser of two goods, or the greater of two evils, than he can think a river with the properties of a tree. Thus, though there is a world of difference between the virtuous man and the vicious, the difference is not that the latter is more self-seeking than the former, or that he makes greater claims upon the world for satisfaction. Both alike are seeking what they regard as their happiness.

This impulse toward self-preservation and self-realisation, Spinoza, following the Stoics and other writers, calls the conatus sese conservandi. It is for him the essence of each thing and being. Everything strives to maintain itself in existence, and to resist whatever tends to lessen, or destroy, its being. Thus while each thing is necessarily part of a whole system, it is also a positive self-affirming unity, with its own peculiar life and activity. "For although each thing is determined by another particular thing to exist in a definite way, yet the force by which each thing continues in existence follows from the eternal necessity of God's nature" (Ethics, Part 2, Prop. 45, Schol.). Thus the existence of a thing cannot be terminated from within, since "each thing endeavours, as far as in it lies, to persevere in its own being" (ibid, Part 3, Prop. 6). Whatever threatens or destroys it, must come from without, as "the power of each thing, or the conatus by which, either alone, or along with other things, it does, or endeavours to do, anything, is nothing save the given or actual essence of the thing itself" (ibid, Part 3, Prop. 7, Dem.). It follows also that "the conatus by which each thing endeavours to continue in its own existence involves no definite but an indefinite time" (ibid, Part 3, Prop. 8); that is to say, the duration of its existence cannot be determined simply by considering the thing itself, and its own endeavour to maintain itself in being. To determine this, we must take into account at the same time the relations in which it stands to the other things which may affect its existence and its activity.

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From Chapter 8, Nature and Defects of the Passions:

Thus while Spinoza holds, that no one can desire anything, save that which he judges to be good for him, he does not hold that the individual always understands his own nature, or knows what is best for him. On the contrary, he is often deceived in his judgements, he often misses the satisfaction he seeks, or fails to seek what will afford him a true satisfaction. This implies that, even in the individual himself, there is some other conception of good, or advantage, than that which each passing desire affords. "The desire of living, excercising one's activities, etc., beate seu bene, is the very essence of the man, that is, the conatus by which each man endeavours to preserve his being" (Ethics, Part 4, Prop. 21, Dem.). Just because he is a man he has the power of setting before himself a conception of his true welfare. "A man could neither be nor be conceived if he had not the power of rejoicing in this summum bonum (ibid, Part 4, Prop. 36, Schol.). Through this consciousness of a perfect, or complete, good, he is able to resist some desires in the interest of a fuller realisation of himself. For "no one rejoices in blessedness, because he has bridled his emotions, but on the contrary the power of controlling one's inclinations springs from blessedness itself" (ibid, Part 5, Prop. 42, Dem.). For the same reason, he has the power of refusing to gratify the wish for a present pleasure, if the attainment of an abiding happiness in the future would thereby be precluded. And he even has the power of subordinating his personal likes, and dislikes, to considerations of social advantage.

Thus the good, conceived as that which satisfies desire, no account being taken of the worth of the desire, is gradually made to transform itself in the Ethics, into the 'true good', or 'the highest good', which makes man free by giving him the highest desires of which his nature is capable. This transformation is, in its essential features at least, a conscious development of thought on Spinoza's part, the end of which is present to him from the first. What he does, or at least aims at, is to show that if we begin with the conception that the end of all action is the satisfaction of an appetitus, we are driven on to recognise that our appetitus depends on that which we judge to be good for us as tending to maintain our existence, and finally, that the judgement of what will really secure this end, is one with the attainment of the end itself.

In this way, it is possible for Spinoza to maintain, as he does, both that all good is relative to and conditioned by the individual and his desires, and yet, that for each individual there is an absolute or supreme good, which he ought to seek, or a law which as a moral being he is obliged to have regard to. This latter is no less relative to human nature, and even to the individual man, than the former; but it is relative to the man, and his advangtage, as a whole, and not to one or more particular desires. It can be deduced from human nature, and is not a yoke imposed upon it from without. It is indeed but the conatus sese conservandi, which constitutes the essence of each man, come to an adequate consciousness of its own nature. Thus it is the ultimate relativity, or the supreme utile, through which conduct can be judged. An absolute law which is not thus relative to, and imposed by, a man's nature upon iself, Spinoza refuses even to admit as possible.

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From Chapter 9, The Place and Function of Reason:

Thus the virtus of man consists in the power of knowing himself, and knowing things, as they are in and through God. "The supreme end of the man who is led by Reason, that is to say, the summa cupiditas by which he seeks to control all other desires, is that which drives him on to gain an adequate knowledge of himself, and of all the objects which can come within the grasp of his intelligence" (Ethics, Part 4, Append., § 4). This is the conatus sese conservandi, or self-assertive impulse, in its highest form, and the only form in which it finds an embodiment adquate to it, or gives rise to true acquiescentia animi.

To say that the exercise of this virtus constitutes man's freedom, and that only in so far as he is virtuous is he free, is but drawing the inevitable conclusion from what has been said. For freedom means not only the liberty to be, and to realise oneself, but the power to do so. "Freedom is a virtus seu perfectio. Whatever therefore goes to prove a man's impotence cannot be referred to his freedom. Hence a man can certainly not be called free, because he is able not to exist, or because he is able not to make use of Reason; but only in so far as he has power to exist, and to act according to the laws of human nature. The more free then we consider a man to be, the less can we say of him, that he is able not to make use of Reason, and to choose evil rather than good" (Tractatus Politicus, Ch. 2, § 7). Freedom in fact is self-determination, or determination from the necessity of one's own nature alone, as distinguished from determination from without, which reveals the power of things, but our own subordination and weakness. And self-determination exists only when the self is known, and its true interest, or welfare, is made supreme. Thus "the man who makes Reason his guide differs from him who is led solely by affectus seu opinio in this, that the latter does, nolens volens, those things of which he is in the highest degree ignorant; while the former obeys none but himself, and does those things only which he knows to be of chief importance in life; indeed, it is for this reason that he chiefly desires them. Hence I call the former a slave, and the latter a freeman" (Ethics, Part 4, Prop. 66, Schol.).

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From Chapter 10, The Good as an Ideal Human Nature:

Thus the dependence of man upon things external to him does not of itself destroy the self-determination, or virtus, which is peculiar to him. On the contrary, without this relation neither his body nor his Mind would be able to exercise those distinctive activities in which the man's happiness is to be found. For while, as we have seen, "we suffer, in so far as we are a part of Nature which cannot be thought by itself apart from the other parts" (Ethics, Part 4, Prop. 2); yet "it cannot be that man is not a part of Nature, and that he can suffer no changes save those which can be understood through his own nature alone, and of which he is the adequate cause" (ibid, Part 4, Prop. 4). He cannot lift himself out of the common order to which he, along with all other things, belongs. And imperfect, and inadequate to himself, as he is, it would be no virtus, or power, in him if he could do so. Aptitude to affect, and be affected by, things outside of him, is essential to his nature's perfection; and while to affect is more of a virtus than to be affected, the latter can never be absent from any part of universal nature, and it will be less absent from man's existence than from any other.

If, then, the individual cannot make himself independent of what is external to him, nor remain unaffected by everything except his own self-determination, if such independence would even be impotence and not power, how can we still say that man's freedom consists in an essential activity of his soul, and that the end of all his endeavour is the preservation of his own being? Spinoza's answer is that man, in virtue of his Reason, has the power of regarding the affections which he receives from without (i.e. the affections which are passions, or passivities) as so much raw material, capable of being transmuted into actions or activities of his soul. He affects this transformation when he understands that by which he is affected, or sees the necessity of it; sees, that is to say, why it is what it is. For we can understand nothing without thereby adding to the strength of our own nature, or developing our own intelligence. What presented itself at first as alien to our freedom is really the means by which we attain and develop it. Nothing is alien to us, save that which we do not, or rather cannot, understand. "We do not know assuredly that anything is good or bad, save that which really develops our understanding, or which can prevent us from understanding" (ibid, Part 4, Prop. 27). What we understand is no longer something which affects us passively, but something which imparts to us more virtus or power, and enables us to enjoy greater freedom or self-determination.

Thus, it is not the necessity of a man's dependence upon what is without which prevents him exercising the functions that are distinctive of him, but his failure to apprehend this necessity. Such a failure means that he does not see wherein his real welfare is to be found, and that he is made the instrument to ends which are determined more by the nature of things external to him than by his own (Cf. ibid, Part 4, Prop 37, Schol. 1). If he understood what is other than himself he would see in it, not the limit of his freedom, but the means of expressing and expanding it. Or, to put it otherwise, Reason shows that not only is the individual's good something intrinsic, or immanent in his nature (and called for that reason virtus or goodness), but also that it is the individual's good, or goodness, only as it enables him to understand and assimilate what is without in other things and beings.

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From Chapter 11, The Good as the Principle of Sociality:

Spinoza has been blamed by almost every student of his Ethics for taking little or no account of the negative in morality. He seems not to admit that there is such a thing as sin or moral evil, a struggle to overcome temptation, a daily war to be waged, a law of the members warring against the law of the mind, a stern moral resolution to "rise on stepping stones of our dead selves to higher things". He seems to represent the moral problem as simply a problem in Mathematics, in the solution of which emotion would be out of place. For this view there is some foundation if we take the Ethics by itself. It is not quite true even of it, but it is practically correct. Yet it would be strange if Spinoza were blind to such an element in what most intensely interested him. And it would be still stranger, if he could have read St. Paul - who has influenced his moral theory more, perhaps, than any single writer - and missed his most insistent message. The misapprehension - for such I believe it to be - has arisen simply from separating two sides of life which, to Spinoza, were always joined, the ethical and the political. He does not set forth the nature and the conditions of moral progress in the Ethics, because that is not the special task of that book. Its aim is to determine (1) whether there is an end or ideal of human nature which is intrinsically good for each man, and necessarily a source of social harmony; and (2) if there is such a good, what is its nature? In the discussion of these problems the 'negative' has no proper place; for Spinoza contends that whatever be the use of pain, evil, sorrow, sin, disappointment, they are not, and cannot be, the end, or any part of the end, of man's conatus to be and to achieve. But, having considered and established the nature of the summum bonum for man, we have to deal next with the question, how can he attain this good, what process does it involve, what conditions of life does it require, what sort of education and discipline will be most likely to promote it, what weapons and means lie to our hand for the furtherance of it in ourselves and in others, and how can we make the most effective use of these? It is this set of questions which is purposely excluded from the Ethics so that they may be thoroughly discussed elsewhere. And they are discussed, partly in the Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, and mainly in the two Political Treatises. This is, to Spinoza, the very task of Politics, to conquer the negative and make it yield a higher positive, to make men will the good before they know it, to lead them through pain and tribulation if need be to that acquiescentia in the true and good, which is the end for man.

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From Chapter 12, The Jus Naturae (The Law of Nature):

For the sake of brevity and clearness, I shall first set down dogmatically the conclusions I have reached on this point, and shall afterwards endeavour to prove them in detail. To put the case negatively in the first instance, the Jus Naturae has to Spinoza no moral reference. Neither is it a social instinct, such as promts animals to go in herds, or men to live in families and tribes. Neither is it a divine, or religious, law to which men ought to conform. It holds true of man only in the sense in which it is true of everything else in the world. It is not a 'Law' or command at all.

Putting the matter positively, the Jus Naturae is (1) in each and every case a potentia, or power, or set of powers, vested in some particular thing or person. (2) It is thus not a Law but a right, a claim upon the world, a right over the world (jus in naturam), not only in the abstract, but as a concrete power of enforcing the claim. (3) It is in each and every instance the power of God, or a divine power, and divine right, expressing itself in, and through, that particular object or being. (4) The nature of the jus depends on, or is displayed, in each instance, by the peculiar powers, capacities, energies, or distinctive life which resides in that particular existence. The Jus Naturae of a man and of a stone are alike rights, or powers, conferred on them by God, but they are not the same rights or powers; they do not work in the same way, nor are they capable of the same unfolding. (5) Some existences have more right, i.e. divine right (for all right is ultimately divine right, or power) than others; and they have this larger right just because they have more of God's power dwelling in them. A man has larger rights over a lion than the lion can have over him, because the man is stronger than the lion, stronger not in brute force (which is the lowest and weakest kind of strength) but in intelligence, will, the power of uniting with others, the power of making weapons of offence and defence, and even the power which superior cunning and strategy give.

(6) For the same reason a Society, whether organised into a State, or in the embryonic condition of a tribe or a clan, has rights over the individual man; and the rights which he may enjoy in and through such a Society are the rights belonging to and maintained by such a larger 'unit of existence', not rights which are inherent in him as an individual man, or even as, directly, a son of God. (7) A Society, or the organised Society which we call a State, has the highest 'divine right' which yet exists in the world. It has this, because it fosters and develops new 'powers' in man which would not otherwise come into existence. It makes man moral, or at least furnishes the conditions necessary for morality, for religion, for intellectual development, for new ties and bonds of interest and advantage which bind men more and more closely together. The State is the strongest thing which God has yet made, because the 'powers' here mentioned, morality, religion, science, industrial co-operation, are the strongest forces the world knows, and they owe their unfolding to the fostering care of an organised Society. (8) Each State is strong and stable as it works for and through these powers, and maintains that kind of peace and concord among its citizens which consists "not in the absence of war but in the union and concord of souls". It is a State, and has security for its own permanence, in precisely the same degree in which it rules for, and in, righteousness. (9) In so far as it does this, it is the Kingdom of God established on the earth, with sacred rights and privileges which cannot be called in question by any man or body of men; and it may by divine right use all and every means to give to "the teachings of right reason", to "Justice and Love", the force of Law, and the supremacy which they ought to, and can, have over appretite and envy and hatred.

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From Chapter 13, The Status Naturalis and the Natural Man:

Spinoza then has no sympathy with the view that war is contrary to Nature, either universal Nature or human nature, or contrary to God's will. If it were thus contrary, it would be, not bad or troublesome - which it is - but impossible, as impossible for man as it is for the sun and the moon. Not only is it not contrary to nature; it is nature which prompts it, gives men the means to wage it, and awards their respective prizes to the winners and the losers. War has its place and function in man's life. There is a Jus Belli as well as a Jus Pacis. No government, however strong, can abolish this background of human existence. For here is a 'right' mightier than any State's laws. Civil laws stand only while, and in so far as, they take away the reasons for war. Oppressive rule brings its own nemesis in this form. And the state of war, while it is a very uncomfortable state, is more comfortable than some states of peace. Nay, war is, in the last rsort, the weapon by which man's divine nature as necessarily social takes revenge upon all human institutions, and officials, that, not recognising for what they exist, would do it outrage.

Thus while the status naturalis is a state of war, it is still a social state of life. But it is the first and lowest form of social life, because it embodies as yet no fixed and definite order of conduct, no laws, or settled customs, or habits of action, no rule of what ought and ought not to be done, and no force - even if there were a rule - to make any particular kind of conduct more desirable for men than the opposite. Spinoza's point is: Suppose a condition of Society in which there was no State, and no outward law, or social expectation, with force behind it, what then? He makes this supposition, in order to bring out the advantages which man owes to a Civil order of existence, or (putting it negatively) the needs and necessities which drive him on to create and maintain such an order. We cannot understand how divine is the function which this highest of all instruments fulfils in our life, until we try to think out what human existence would be without it. Every other sort of creature in the world has to live out its term of being without it, for none of them has been endowed with the power to devise and uphold such a common system of law.

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From Chapter 14, God's Laws and Human Laws:

That is to say, the laws of the civil and moral order are peculiar to each nation or tribe, created by it, and in turn creating it, giving it its distinctive work, and place, and value in the world. These are divine; and they can be truly called God's commands, if you remember that they are his commands only as unfolding themselves through the will or passions of the people, or through the wisdom or imaginative insight of a great man; and that they are thus always accomodated, or adapted, to the particular circumstances of that people. The Hebrews, as Spinoza puts it [Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. 17], with that Eastern indifference to all middle causes, which made them ascribe everything directly to God, calling the thunder his voice, the clouds his messengers, the high trees trees of God, the giants (in spite of their bad character) sons of God; also called all wise men, and men of vivid imaginaion and poetic fire, prophets or seers. A great statesman like Moses was to them God's lawgiver. Nothing, and especially nothing unusual, happened to them, which was not directly God's work. And all this is true, when conceived as the Eastern mind conceived it. Man's wisdom comes from God. A people's laws are God's laws for it. A prophet is God's messenger and speaks with God's authority. All nature is his voice, for he is the life and soul of all that is.

But, with our Western insularity, we have taken poetry and made it prose, taken religion and made it theology, taken a truth and made it a lie. We now speak of God's wisdom and man's wisdom, of what God does for us and of what we do for ourselves, of where God's help comes in, of Nature and God, of the wind and how God tempers it, of man violating or keeping God's laws as he pleases, of doing our duty by God, or giving one day in seven to God, etc. This whole attitude of spirit Spinoza regards as not only irreligious and profane, but as an utter misreading of the religion of his race, and of God's message to them. Moses' wise and great legislation was just God's wisdom in him. Isaiah's message to the people was God's fire in him. The Hebrews saw that a man's wisdom is not his own, but God's; that all 'vision' is from the Lord; that the prophet and the sweet singer as well as the winds and the waves and the locusts are his messengers. There is no doubt a distinction between the way in which one thing comes to us, and that in which we gain another. A moral or political principle of conduct is not, cannot be, given us in the way in which the rain and the summer-heat are. But the distinction is not, that in the former case we do something for ourselves, while in the latter God does something for us. All the difference Spinoza will admit, is a difference in God's way of revealing himself to us and caring for us. The one is the inner help or providence of God, working as human thought and desire - the most perfect and real working the world presents to us - while the other is the outer help or providence of God. There is nothing which is ours, or Nature's, and not his. All phrases which imply this, such as 'merely human wisdom', the depreciation of Reason, "God's greatest gift and the divine light in man" (ibid, Ch. 15), the contrast between revealed religion and other kinds of religion (as if, says Spinoza, all religion were not revealed by God to man), the contrast between virtuous character and soundness in the faith, between the State as a secular, irreligious institution 'which neither fears God nor regards man' and the Church which is God's peculiar dwelling-place, between the products of human genius and skill and the inspiration of God in man, all these phrases, and many more, are to him a proof that, strong though the Western mind is in other directions, it has no genius for religion. It has not only taken all its religion from the East, but it has so changed what it has taken, that those to whom first it was a vision and an ecstasy, would hardly recognise it in its new dress. We save ourselves from being too religious by urging the claims of personality to some recognition. But the personality which we have apart from, or against God, can have no higher value than ignorance.

Spinoza's great principle then is, that there is nothing secular in the universe, nothing common or unclean, nothing that does reveal and express God. And the application of this principle which concerns us here is, that all legislation, and legislator's wisdom, and the willingness and power of the people to obey and maintain civil and moral law, is from the Lord. Hence the peculiar nature of each political organisation which makes it 'fit' that particular nation as a well-made suit of clothes does a man, is as really a divine ordination of human affairs, as if God had given each nation a written code by direct gift. Nay, what he has done is more divine. The code 'fits' just because he has given men the power, and implanted within them the necessity, of thinking out, and willing, and enforcing those conditions of existence which, under their peculiar circumstances, seem best adapted for achieving for them a secure and harmonious common life.

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From Chapter 15, The Fundamental Laws of Human Nature:

Thus the natural emotions and activities of men, even when they express themselves in envy, avarice, hatred, or crime, are, in a very real sense, God-given, or divine, powers. And the man who laughs at them - even at their fruits - mocks them, is indignant at them, or hates them, is mocking God from whom they come. In saying this, Spinoza is by no menas blind to the fact that these expressions of human capacity are the bane of our existence, and constitute its wretchedness and sin, its shame and horror. And this truth will receive the amplest recognition immediately. But the point which he is here elaborating, to which he attached the utmost importance and to which he ever unwearedly returns, is a truth that is prior to, and deeper even than this one, viz. that we cannot understand why these, and not the opposite emotions, are the curse of man's existence, and still less can we know how to improve, or remove, this condition of things, unless we understand the nature of the bad emotions (as well as the nature of the good ones), and the causes from which they arise. That they have causes, and causes no less certain and inevitable in their operation than those which (in another sphere of being) make the sun and stars to move in their orbits, is a principle on which Spinoza stakes his reputation.

I am aware indeed that this is not the view usually taken of Spinoza's doctrine of evil. He is commonly represented as holding that all evil is pure negation, or absence of being, with no reality. Now, of course, if all badness is pure privation or unreality, it is not difficult to show that it is a non-entity, and cannot either lift up its head against the good, or be tranformed in the good. But if the view just mentioned is Spinoza's, it is strange that he should deny both of these conclusions which follow from it. It is still stranger, that he should be so resolute to find the causes of evil, causes which ex hypothesi cannot exist, since there cannot be a cause of what has no reality. But what is fatal to this view of his teaching is, that all the passages adduced in support of it are, when read in the connection in which they stand, not only capable of a quite different interpretation, but cannot possibly, if they mean anything, mean this. These statements will be justified in detail in the next chapter.

Spinoza's contention, then, is, that even the bad emotions of men display the divinity of human nature; and that it is just because they do so, that they are not final but curable. If, on the other hand, you cut the connexion, and make the wickedness of men unnatural, or inhuman, or inherent in man's nature from the first, you cut away the very possibility of morals, religion, or social life altogether. If the possibility - and the actuality - of being wicked, and lawless, and envious, is not a divine power, or virtus, in man, neither is the possibility and actuality of goodness and obedience and love. For the same essential energies are at work in the one case as in the other.

[...]

But it is also to be noted that if the knowledge and love of God is the last and highest end of man's endeavour, it is so, only because it comes as the fruit of a long struggle of man with man, of passion with passion, and of man with nature; and because it has gained the power which only such a struggle can give. For though a reader of the Ethics might carry away from that work the impression that the 'intellectual love of God' was simply the result of a process of reasoning, this is far from Spinoza's meaning. Even at the close of the Ethics itself, he tells us that the way of blessedness, which he has just been describing, is a very arduous one, and that the inherent difficulty of the task will render it always a high achievement possible only for the few. And in both the Political Treatises he is occupied mainly in showing, (1) that the conatus of self-preservation does, in almost all individuals, express itself in a lower and less adequate form; (2) that this is not the ban of man's existence, but the necessity through which he attains to freedom, and the assurance that deliverance is possible from it; (3) that the higher, and wholly adequate, good can be reached only by finding it to be already working in the lower; (4) that if we would lead men to know and love the best, we must make that best evolve itself out of what now seems to them their good, and utilise in the higher interest the impulses, ideas, and emotions which really move them - however inadequate, mistaken, or bad we may think them to be; and (5) that as thus used, i.e. in the interest of the highest good of man's life and for its furtherance, none of these weapons, even though they be fear and avarice and ambition, are other than sacred - consecrated, like steel and iron and the shedding of blood, by the Holy War in which they are employed.

If, then, we are to understand the labour and pang through which morality and religion become, and are revealed as, God's highest or perfect law for human life, we must be prepared to see that God speaks in, and through, man, in many ways which are not directly moral or religious at all. Morality and religion are the fruit of human existence, but not its root. They presuppose both for their beginning and throughout their continuance, primary conditions or laws of thinking, of desire, of love, of self-interest, of emotion. In this apparently dead soil they flourish; without it they would never be known. Withdraw it from them, and they die. Fail to recognise it, or attempt to violate the conditions it imposes, and your morality, religion, and civil law are but the idle wind which no man regardeth. Morals, religion, and State-legislation are binding and effective as, and only as, they have regard to, embody, and give a larger scope and exercise to, those still deeper impulses which prompt, yea necessitate, each man to do and be, and get for himself what is, according to his own free judgement, the best for himself. None of these higher interests ever can break, or tamper with the threads that bind it in continuity with these primary and ever-conscious conatus of human life - save at the price of its own impotence. For these are at once the strength and power of all sound morality, true religion, and well-conceived political relations; and also the divine nemesis which works not from without but from within, to make evil, superstition, and injustice inevitably overreach themselves.

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From Chapter 16, The Problem of Evil:

All human action expresses, we have seen, power or energy in the individual man. This power is ultimately God's power, for as no human being is self-created, and "his essence does not necessarily involve his existence", all capacities in him are derived directly, or indirectly, from God. To whatever ends, moral or inmoral, the individual directs his energies, these energies are God-given and God-sustained. The power which enables the thief to ply his craft successfully is a divine gift no less than the power of the honest man to follow his calling. The power of Nero to slay his mother (see Letter 23, formerly 36) was a God-given power. The power in a man's arm, which enables him to strike another in his anger, is a divine gift to him. And in whatever direction a man's talents are employed, they are as powers equally real, equally positive, and even equally perfect. Human skill is no less evident in picking a lock than in making one. Mental power is no less displayed in telling lies consistently, than in telling the truth. And the dauntless courage and tumultuous eloquence of St. Paul were no less a divine and unique power, in the days when he helped to murder and imprison men "of whom the world was not worthy", than they where when he became proud to preach the faith which once he despised and persecuted.

Spinoza's first point then is, that all actions, inasmuch as they all involve powers, are divine energies, and energies which can be discerned as present no less in inmoral, than in moral conduct. This, as we shall see, is far from involving that from a divine point of view goodness is no more real or desirable than badness: on the contrary, it is the first step toward the proof that the very opposite is the case. But what Spinoza is most earnest about at the moment is, that we should recognise human activity in every guise, whether we approve of its guise or not, as so much capital, or raw material, which God has given to man. A bad action is not, as an activity, any less real than a good one. And the fact that the activity has taken a bad form, is no reason for calling it bad, or unreal, or false, or illusory. To admit freely and fully that the powers of every man, however debased or criminal the ends to which they are directed, are the divine power in him, real, positive, and perfect, is the indispensable condition of all knowledge of the true nature of evil.

Thus a bad action is not to Spinoza an unreality, or a mere negation. It is, in respect of the natural power involved in it, as positive, or real, as any other. Hatred calls out energies of soul no less strong than love. Hence, from this point of view, the one may be as real as the other. And as God does not impose moral rules upon men from without and does not determine them to be good or bad, but only to be men, and to act according to the laws of human nature, i.e. to become good or bad through their own thought and desire, we may even say that for God, or through God, there is nothing bad.

This, however, simply means that the distinction and opposition between the good and the evil falls entirely within human life; and that it exists for God, only in so far as he gives man the power to create, to recognise, and to enforce this distinction, through the reason and will which are his peculiar endowment. No power that man has from God is in itself bad or imperfect. Nor can it ever become so. It may be used well or ill, employed for holy or for unholy ends, but in neither case does it cease to be a virtus or potentia, and to have the perfectio of its origin. Only on this basis can morality arise. And, as the distinction between good and evil is a moral distinction, it does not, and cannot, apply to these fundamental powers themselves. They cannot be good or bad, virtuous or vicious, perfect or imperfect, real or unreal. They ever maintain themselves as a divine gift in the individual; and nothing that he does can make them unreal or evil.

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From Chapter 17, The Lumen Naturale, or The Idea of God in Man:

In a previous chapter we say that God does not directly or immediately give moral laws to men. For moral laws, like political laws, are, by their very nature, capable of being either observed or violated. A moral law, or a civil law, which cannot be disobeyed is a contradiction in terms. But it is also a contradiction in terms that God should have imposed a law on man's nature which that nature is quite able to violate. All God's laws are eternal truths, and quite inviolable by the object or being on which they are imposed. As we saw, the laws imposed on a thing or being by God are just the nature, the power, or distinctive qualities of that thing. Hence, a man would only violate God's law for him if he could change himself into something else, e.g. into a horse, or a piece of metal, which does not act according to the laws of human nature. And this he cannot do.

Yet morality, as we showed in the last chapter, is not an accident of human existence. It is, in some sense, imbedded in human nature. The necessity for it, and for religion - Spinoza always treats Religio and Pietas (morality) as inseparable - is the deepest craving in man's being. Without this, man would no more be, than he would be without the power of eating, or without the power of thought. The necessity of being a moral being as distinguished from a non-moral one, is a necessity which no one makes, but one which he finds.

If, then, God has not put it within any man's power to be a moral, or a non-moral, being at his own option, but only to be, as a moral being, good or bad, why does Spinoza object to say that moral laws are the laws which God has, like a king, or legislator, or judge, laid down for men's guidance, and to which he has annexed certain rewards for the obedient, and penalties for the disobedient? He objects, because such a mode of speaking confuses two distinct ways in which God "gives gifts to men", and until we understand precisely how God gives man moral rules, and impels him to oberve them, it is a very dangerous confusion of ideas, fertile in insoluble problems, and harmful to the moral life itself. When we do understand the way in which God really makes men good, there is no more objection to speaking of the moral laws as God's commands, and of men obeying and disobeying them, than there is to the use of any other popular phrase, such as, the sun is not shining today, or, this pen will not write, when we understand the facts which these expressions indicate. But until we have grasped the real state of the case, such popular statements are entirely misleading, if taken as literal and accurate statements of truth, taken, it should be added, as they were never meant to be taken.

In what way, then, does man become moral, and in what sense is morality a divine gift? In the same way as man becomes rational, and in the same sense as Reason or Thought is a divine gift to every man, though (or, shall we say, because) it imposes upon him infinite labour and pain to understand what 'spirit he is of'. Indeed, morality is just one of the forms in which human thought, i.e. God's thought in man, necessarily expresses itself. It is, therefore, subject to the same laws, it passes through the same succession of stages, it defines itself in the same gradual way in a more complete life, and it devises instruments more delicate and more complex as its task grows upon it, in precisely the same way as human thought does, in its effort to make itself at home in the world. For morality is just man trying to understand himself and his fellows, and how they can get the most out of one another. And moral rules are simply attempts to discover, and to define, the footing on which men will live together in the greatest harmony, that is, the footing on which each will most feel that he is doing the best for himself, or attaining the most complete life open to him.

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From Chapter 18, The Social and the Civil Condition:

Spinoza's point is, that if men had been so constituted that such a direct appeal to the individual's reason as the moral teacher makes, or to his conscience as the preacher makes, was sufficient to produce belief in right and just conduct as their good, then the State with its laws, sanctions, penalties would never have come into existence, or could not continue in existence, since the work it is called into existence to do would already be done. Force will lose the moral sanction which it has in the hands of the State, when morality comes to its own in men, but not till then. For force is a moral instrument, when it subserves a moral end, and this it does do as wielded by the organised common life. It will cease to be a moral intrument, only when men are moral without it, that is, when they will be good because it is good, and not because some external penalty has been attached to the willing of the bad.

The end of the State is, to Spinoza, to make men free, that is to say, to make them live according to Reason. But the State can do this only by laying down certain courses of conduct and enforcing them. The individual may 'consent to the law that it is good', that is, good for him as well as for others, or he may not. In either case, he must obey, or submit to the penalties that disobedience brings. For the State can take account only of outward actions, and their conformity or non-conformity to the type of action which it strives to make universal. Hence, the individual who is not enlightened enough, that is, sufficiently moral, to recognise the goodness of the end for which the law, and also the State, exists, feels the law a yoke or burden imposed upon him, not for his own good, but for the benefit of someone else, either ruler or fellow-citizen.

This is why the law is regarded as a taskmaster, a government of one's life from without, something which one has to obey. If each were moral enough, or, what is the same thing, rational enough, to recognise that the law and the State were simply aiming at making him do, by outward inducements, that which, if he understood his own happiness, he would be most eager to do without any outward inducement, he would cease to speak of obeying the law, and of must, and of obligation, and he would speak, instead, of liberty, happiness, and the love of man. But, until this comes about, law and obligation and force must keep their hold over him, for they are the guardian of the better life for all except those who love the law, and keep it not from fear of its penalties, but from devotion to its end. For those who have not reached this stage of libertas animi, of which after all the libertas civilis is but a foreshadowing, the State and the law, duty, imperative, obligation, obedience, are the moral end. As yet, they cannot see beyond this, nor will the good for its own sake, but in obeying the law they will be a good better than the law itself, though the full reason or cause of their obedience is not yet distinctly known to them. In obeying the law, and even in being made to obey it, they participate in that very end or good for which all laws exist.

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From Chapter 19, Necessity and Origin of the State:

Spinoza's argument then is, that there is nothing in the nature of morality, religion, or reason which requires us to dispense with, or enables us to do without, the State or Civil Order. Nay, in each of them there is much that makes the State an absolute necessity. For, without settled laws and rules of conduct, without command and penalty, morality, religion, and reason would either not be at all, or would be only as a vague and ineffectual effort. There could be no sure progress, no unfolding and maintaining of better thought, better volition, better forms of conduct. What makes strenuous moral and intellectual and religious endeavour possible, and gives it the confidence which is more than half the struggle, is just the fact that new attainments are won in virtue of old achievements, nay, not only won but kept, and that every attainment is secured forever through a stable and permanent organisation of human life. Each individual thus has at his free disposal, in the form of law, custom, rules of conduct, education, religion, etc., a store of wisdom, prudence, energy, caution, discipline, direction, which infinitely exceeds what he could otherwise attain. He may no doubt call this priceless wealth of human labour and genius a limit upon his freedom, a yoke of tradition, and alien law, but by doing so he simply shows how ignorant he is of the content of his true happiness and freedom. And though he may call his best friend his enemy, and may violate the laws, his friend simply, in such a case, has all the more compassion on his ignorance and folly, and pays him the more assiduous attention.

The State then is the creation of human thought working in and through individuals. It is a necessity, but a necessity of thought. And the necessity of the thought is in its content, that is, in the positive advantages which a Civil Order can bring to human beings as contrasted with the discomfort, loss, and impotence which they would endure in its absence. In this sense organised Society is natural, a necessary product - like language, or tools, or music, or clothes, or houses - of human thought and volition, or of that self-preserving impulse which is always the effort to 'better' oneself.

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From Chapter 20, The Nature of Government:

A sovereign's power then is his function in the community over which he rules. He is strong and safe if he understands the nature of his task in life, while he is weak, inconstant, and easily overthrown if he does not. No power or will in heaven or on earth can change this divine law. This is the very nature of sovereignity, and neither subjects nor ruler can sever the necessary connection of cause and effect. You can no more have a supreme authority who cannot keep order and peace within the State, than you can have a bit of glass with the properties of a tree. Thus when men transfer their right and power to a State, they do so for the sake of the higher and better kind of existence they will thereby secure. If this end is not attained, the transfer is ipso facto at any and every moment null and void. "The existence of a State depends on certain conditions. If these conditiones are maintained, so also are the reverence and the fear of the subjects towards the State, while if these conditions are destroyed, so also are the reverence and the fear of the subjects, and when reverence and fear are lost, so likewise is the State. The State therefore is bound, if it would be a law and an end to itself (sui juris) to maintain the causes of fear and reverence, otherwise it ceases to be a State. For it is impossible for the man, or the men, who have the chief place in the community, to flaunt their drunkenness and profligacy in public, to play the fool, openly to violate and contemn the laws made by themselves, and at the same time to maintain their sacred majesty, as it is impossible at once to be and not to be. Or again, if they slaughter and plunder their subjects, ravish virgins and so on, they inevitably change the fear of their subjects into indignation. That is to say, they turn the status civilis (whose end is peace) into a state of hostility" (Tractatus Politicus, IV, 4). "The laws and the causes of fear and reverence which the State is bound in its own interest to maintain are determined not by Civil Law, but by the Jus Naturale, seeing that they can be vindicated, not by Civil Law or Right, but by the right of war (Jus Belli)" (ibid, IV, 5). That is to say, the State rests on, and Civil Law is effective as it is based upon and appeals to, the fear and reverence of the subjects.

Neither the State nor civil law creates these conditions of human concord, but each is strong and stable as it is quick to discover and make use of them. While the sovereignity, or Civil Code which assumes that all things are possible to it, that Civil Law is the ultimate and only law of human life, that it may do with impunity whatever it pleases, and constitutes the good and the bad, the lawful and the unlawful, at its own unfettered discretion, simply shows how absolutely weak and helpless it is in presence of the task to which the world has called it. No doubt a man always has the power to use his razor as a pen-knife, but the man who thinks this a real power and freedom does not know the distinctive virtue of either, and acts as only a fool would. In the same way, a State which would live and flourish must recognise, first of all, that all things are not possible to it, if it would remain a State. It has been brought into existence to give all who live within it a happier, more secure, more peaceful, and noble kind of life, than they could possibily have without it. If it does this, no power on earth can harm it - if it does not, no power on earth can maintain it. For "no man makes a compact, and no one is bound by his promises, except from the hope of some good, or the apprehension of some evil, which will thence ensue. If this foundation be taken away, the compact automatically is at an end." "No compact can have any validity except in virtue of its advantageousness (utilitas). If this be taken away, the agreement is straightway at an end, and is of no effect." For utilitas "is the life and soul (robur et vita) of all human actions."

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From Chapter 21, The State as One Mind:

What Spinoza wishes to bring out is, that while all right has its origin in individual men who can be social in whatever ways they judge best for them, yet if they judge Civil Rights to be the best form in which they can enjoy and defend their existence, they cannot have this kind of Right without the State, and they cannot have the State without ipso facto extinguishing the right of the individual as an individual. He who appeals to Natural Rights in a Community with settled laws, the State is bound to treat as an enemy, and to defend its citizens against him by any and every means. He who wills to live under a settled political order, and enjoy its advantages of secure life and safe possession and enjoyment of property, and will at the same time to claim the right to call his property, or even his life, his own, and not the State's, is trying to overthrow the State itself. There can be no half-and-half arrangement here, no question of the State and the individual man entering into partnership, and making a fair divide. The State must have everything, or it will not exist at all. There is no doubt another, and equally important, side to this which will occupy our attention directly. But this is the first point. You need not live within a State if you can do better for yourself apart from it. But if you wish to enjoy the security and peace and property and settled order and family ties which it alone makes possible, then you have no longer any right to claim the power to do with your own property what you please, to live your own life as you please, to bring up your children as you please, to marry or dissolve your marriage at your own option, to carry on your labour or industry in whatever way seems best to you. Every right you have is now a Civil or State-given Right. It belongs to you only as the community thinks it best for the common welfare that you should possess it, and it ceases to belong to you whenever the community judges it no longer best for the public interest that you should have it. If men have private property in a Community, they have it only, and so long, and under such conditions, as the Community judges that such private possession and use most contribute to the strength and security of the whole civil order.

The idea that a man has a natural right to possess, and dispose of, his property as he pleases, is a fond and foolish delusion. (1) Because there would be no property at all, nothing that a man could call his own, without the security and laws of the State. (2) No State ever has, or can, consistently with its own existence, recognise any such right. If it makes property safe and secure for the individual, it also determines what rights he shall have to possess and enjoy it, what he may and may not do with it, on what conditions it shall and shall not be lawful for him to transfer it to others. (3) The simple fact that every State has the inalienable right of unlimited taxation, and of judging what the public necessities require, is a standing testimony to the primary axiom of politics that all property is public property, and that a citizen is simply a trustee. If private property is a better institution than common property, it is only as the State does, by entrusting its property under well-defined conditions to the energies and the care of private citizens, get more benefit than it would by trusting it to a few specially-appointed officials. That is, it can only be better because the State in this way enlists the interest, capacity, enterprise, and industry of all its citizens, and thereby makes a much better use of its patrimony and get much higher returns in the one way than it would in the other. But neither in theory nor in practice is there in a State any private property which is not the property of the State. (4) If it be true that "all that man hath will he give for his life", this of itself disposes of all natural rights within a civil community. For the right to regulate and, if need be, to sacrifice its citizens' lives, is a right which no State can renounce without committing suicide. It may send a man to be killed in battle; it may force every one of its citizens to become soldiers, and take the same risk; it may arrest any man and condemn him to death for acting contrary to its will; it may confiscate all his possessions and put him to death. These are its rights, its functions, its duties. They are the things which it was called into the world to do. And if it does not do them, but makes every man the owner of his own life and possessions, and the judge of his own conduct, instead of thereby giving him freedom, it sends him back to that wretched insecurity and barbarism and strife from which he wanted to find, in and through the State, a way of escape.

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From Chapter 22, The Nature and Function of Law:

First of all, law is not a moral teacher, because it takes account only of outward actions. Its aim is to maintain a certain type of conduct, and if it is to succeed in this, it cannot at the same time either recognise that an action of an opposite type yet had a good moral motive to justify it, nor examine into all actions that do conform to its demands and allow them varying degrees of merit according to the moral value of the aim that inspired the individual in each case. It must treat all who do the kind of action it requires as good citizens, whether the motive which leads them to do it be the highest or the lowest, and it must treat all who act contrary to its commands as bad citizens who deserve punishment, even if the motive from which they acted was the noblest possible. In Spinoza's language all that the State can do is to make men "obedient", that is to say, it can lead them to prefer certain actions to others from some motive or other, but it cannot make them "live wisely", that is do the actions from a sense of the intrinsic excellence which caused such a type of conduct to be the law. So strongly does Spinoza feel this, that he sometimes speaks as if it did not matter at all from what motive men yield obedience to the laws of the State, if only they do obey.

His meaning is, that while the motive is of supreme value as being the real nature of the act, or the act in its full nature, yet this is a thing which the State has no sure way of estimating, and if it attempt this, it will not only fail to accomplish it, but will also, in trying to do what it is unfit to do, neglect the proper business for which it was called into existence. Its proper business is to enforce a certain kind of action, and repress the opposite kind. If it does this well, it does its whole duty, and thereby makes it possible for other influences which can lead men by tenderness, by kindness, by simplicity and sincerity and purity of heart, to get a scope and a secury of tenure which enable them also to do the finer and more spiritual work which the State wants done for its own welfare, but for the accomplishment of which civil law is not the fit instrument. The State's direct and immediate duty is to see that men act in certain ways, and to take no account of the moral goodness or badness of the end for the sake of which they individually will so to act. It can safely be thus blind to the moral element in the act, because men can not be constantly doing a certain type of action without catching in greater or less measure the spirit or motive from which is should be done. The man who acts is also a man who thinks, and to lead men by some inducement or other to constantly perform a certain kind of action is the surest way yet discovered of leading them gradually to do the act because of its own inherent excellence or worth. Law can make men do a good act before they do it for the sake of its goodness, and it does not need to press the motive to the front, because it is a necessity of the individual's own nature as a thinking being, that the more frequently the act is done by him the more will the true and full reason why it is intrinsically good, and therefore commanded, become evident to him and operative within him.

Thus the State and its laws, while they should, and can, pay no regard to the directly moral aspect of conduct, can and do put a premium upon moral goodness and upon all the influences that directly aim at this. For, by maintaining secure conditions of life, and by encouraging one kind of action, and discouraging another, they furnish the moralist and the educationist with the conditions which are essential if their work is to be possible, and the fruit of it permanent. Law is not a moral teacher, and obedience to law is not a moral motive, but if either of these are absent there would be no moral teaching and no moral motives at all. The discovery of the true nature of the good, and the will which wills this for its own sake, are not the beginning but the end of moral evolution, and morality was a 'law' long before it was a life.

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From Chapter 23, Value of a Good Constitution:

The first point to be noted is, that "nations are distinguished from one another solely in respect of the type of society and of the peculiar laws under which they live and are governed" (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Ch. 3). In each State "regulations of conduct adapted to the nature of the place, and the genius of the people, are to be devised, for the thing which has to be mainly kept in view is that the subjects be led to do their duty with good-will and not under the compulsion of the law" (Tractatus Politicus, X, 4). This is why Spinoza regards it as a sure symptom of weakness and degeneracy in a community when the people, and especially the upper classes, begin to be ashamed of their own ancestry and national customs, and to ape those of another nation. For such servile imitation is a sign that the unity and strength which alone enable a State to maintain for itself a distinctive place in the world, are fast disappearing. If the peculiar laws and customs which constitute the genius, or soul, of its existence once begin to be despised, the outward semblance of life and individuality will not long continue. For if law and custom no longer hold the society together from within, the whole world will combine to dismember it from without. It is safe from outward assault only while it is the life-blood and inspiration of its citizens' existence.

Spinoza works out this ideal when he shows that the political organisation of each community (forma imperii) is so indigenous to that community, so much the peculiar product of its own circumstances and history, that it cannot be destroyed, or even greatly changed, without the dissolution of the State itself. It is on this ground that he takes exception to all Utopias or ideal States. They have not passed through the 'fiery trial' of practical life. They do not embody a people's thought, will, and aspiration. They are always abstract, and take little account of what really makes a nation's political contitution 'fit' it so well. They assume that there is one type of excellence to which all constitutions should conform.

But this is the very opposite of the truth. A nation's political constitution is not a rule of conduct which it can adopt and discard as it pleases. It is the product of its own life and conditions. It embodies the insight of its wisest men, and it has moulded the people's habits of thought, feeling, and action into conformity with itself. Hence to cut it away is to cut away the root which gives unity and strength to all the parts. And to exchange it for another is to attempt to improve the plant by giving it the root of another plant. A good constitution is always an integral part of the nation's endeavour, for its goodness must (in accordance with the principles we have already discussed) consist simply in the place which it has secured in the hearts of its citizens. In this case no less than in the case of moral good, goodness is relative to the particular for which it is good. A constitution is not a good one for a people, unless they are already prepared to understand and appreciate the kind of life which it seeks to maintain. While it may be a good one for it, although it is, as compared with the constitutions of other nations, very simple and undeveloped.

Thus any great or sudden change in these fundamental or constitutional provisions is to be deprecated alike in the interest of the ruler and in that of his subjects, since nothing is more fatal to that mutual confidence which is the essence of all efficient government than insecurity and instability in these constitutive ideas.

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From Chapter 24, Nature and Conditions of a State's Security:

What he contends for, therefore, is that a State can be so constituted that the monarch will always seek the common welfare, and that the subjects will always be loyal to its laws. In this way, it will no longer de dependent on the fidelity of any one man, since the better organised it is, the less power will any man have apart from the whole order of life, and the distinctive institutions which are the common soul or will of the community. If any one seek to overthrow, or act disloyally by, that national life, he will be made at once to realise that his attempt is foredoomed to failure, and that he stands to gain nothing, and risks the loss of everything, by acting in this way. Thus, while no political order can secure that the ruler shall choose the interest of his people above his own, it can secure that that conatus sese conservandi, or impulse to seek one's highest and most enduring satisfaction, which is the essence of a king no less than of a peasant, shall gain no power or happiness save in and through those ends which are for the abiding welfare of all the members of the State. And such a secure order of life will necessarily at the same bring to the citizens those blessings, advantages, comforts, and means of progress which are the content and reality of all civil obedience and patriotism.

The chief political principles requisite for producing this sense of common interest between ruler and people, Spinoza works out with some care. For while the common interest is always really present, this being in fact the 'eternal truth' of all civil sovereignty, yet men are very to slow to understand it, and they can learn to understand it at all only by a gradual process. All political arrangements may be said to have this single end in view, namely, to teach all who are within the State, 'by line upon line and precept upon precept', that weakness, discomfort, unhappiness, or crime of any class in the State casts its baneful influence upon every other, while the welfare and highest activity of any part is also the life and strength of the whole. All political arragements that compel men to recognise this - whether the interest which men themselves seek be a wide or a narrow one, or, in Spinoza's language, whether they are led by Reason or by passion - are good and desirable. Of course, the detail of such arragements must be relative to a particular nation, and its conditions, and stage of development. But certain general ideas can, Spinoza holds, be laid down which are effective and valuable in the case of every free or civilised nation.

These are: (1) that the State should be the source of all civil rights, and should have at its disposal all the nation's resources, that it may maintain its independence against all aggression either from without or from within; (2) that the natural rights which men give up, as individuals, should return to them with richer content and greater security in virtue of their citizenship; (3) that the State should openly sanction what it cannot prevent, namely freedom of thought, of speech, and of religious belief; (4) that the fundamental laws and institutions of the State should be zealously guarded by a special tribunal, and provision made for checking automatically any violations of these 'laws of national health'; (5) that the rights and duties of both rulers and subjects should be well conceived, well defined, and well enforced; (6) that peace and not war should be made the direct interest of every one in the State; (7) that the citizens should be all be on a footing of equality.

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From Chapter 25, The Autonomy of the State:

But it has now to be noted that the very same principle which makes civil and moral rules absolutely binding and obligatory upon each individual man makes them not to be binding upon States or organised bodies of men. These civil and moral rules are laws laid down by the State for 'persuading and enabling' each citizen to make the best of himself and his powers, that is, they are the laws of health, or of harmony, which govern the relations of citizens with one another when these citizens are most helpful and mutually serviceable. But they are not the laws of health, or of highest efficiency, for States, either in their relations with other States or in their relations with their own citizens.

This follows from the general principle which Spinoza has already developed and illustrated in other connections, namely, that the laws of a thing's existence, or the laws to which it is subject, are not something imposed on, or other than, the nature of that thing, but just the nature of the thing. If the natures of two things are different in their ways of "affecting and being affected", this simply means that the laws by which they are regulated or determined are different. It is as impossible to have two objects different in their nature governed by the same laws as it is to have a circle with the property of a triangle. A different thing necessarily has different laws of health, efficiency, and vigour.

Now the State is, as we have just seen, very different from a single man. Its powers are immensely greater, its causes of weakness, fear, inconstancy, imperfect knowledge, envy, hatred, malice are immensely less than his. The days of its years are, as compared with his, eternal. Its will is steadfast, its courage and resource almost unlimited. If, then, the State is 'the individual written large', the writing is very large indeed, very firm and very lasting. But differences of nature so great and so deep are not possible without a difference between the laws of national unity, power, and efficiency, and the laws of individual well-being, for these laws are just a different name for, or a fuller understanding of, the nature, qualities, capacities, energies characteristic of the individual and the State respectively.

It is for this reason that Spinoza is so ready to recognise and adopt as the 'eternal truth' of the State the leading principle which Machiavelli had already unfolded in The Prince - that most perplexingly fascinating of all modern books - namely, that the civil rules and moral laws which are binding upon a citizen in private life are not binding upon a State in its dealings with other States or with its own citizens, and that rulers, therefore, are not bound in their public activities to pay regard to these rules and laws except in so far as the welfare of the State will be thereby furthered. Spinoza adopts this not as a matter of policy or public diplomacy, but as a truth which follows from the same principle as has given morality so strong and firm a hold on human life, and has made Justice amd Love the ruling powers in the world. That is to say, he seeks to show that the law of self-preservation is not merely the supreme and only law which the State can recognise as the rule by which its affairs should be conducted, but also that this is quite consistent with maintaining morality and religion as the supreme and absolute rule of every man's conduct in his relations with other men. If the State were an individual man, it would be absolutely bound, if it wished to make the most of its life or to attain the highest efficiency, to act according to the dictates of morality as the individual now is. But as it is not an individual man, and is in many most important respects very unlike an individual, it cannot, if it wishes to attain its own highest efficiency or prosperity, act by those rules which are the condition of, or relative to, a very different nature's well-being, and it is therefore not bound to, and cannot (consistently with remaining a good State), act according to these rules.

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From Chapter 26, Freedom of Thought, Speech, and Religion:

To the absolute power which the best State will enjoy there is an obvious exception. The State cannot make men think, speak, or hold what religious beliefs it pleases. It has no power to do this, and therefore it has no right to attempt it; for whatever it attempts without having also the power to effect it is a sign of its weakness, impotence, or incapacity, and of its ignorance of its proper function and work. We have already seen that the State can take cognisance of actions only, not of thoughts, motives, or opinions, and that it can enforce only outward conformity of conduct, although the ultimate end of this enforcement of conformity is to make men follow certain courses of action because they are intrinsically good. But this ultimate end of all law, law cannot enforce, because its way of acting is not capable of accomplishing this directly and immediately.

Thus civil law must, if it is to do its work to most purpose, recognise the conditions of its own efficiency, and not try to do what it is not able to do. For every abortive and unsuccessful exercise of its (nominal) rights makes it less worthy of respect and obedience, and brings its decrees the more into disrepute and contempt. Men necessarily despise both the law-giver and his laws, if they find that he does not know what is, and is not, possible for him. Every inefficient law made or enacted by a ruler is a proof that the same 'taint' is to be found, in some degree, in all his other laws, and so it inevitably weakens the authority, right, and power which he would otherwise have enjoyed. We have already considered in previous chapters some of the conditions of government and law. But another condition or 'limit' which is of the utmost importance is that which comes from the inalienable power, which is vested in every man, of thinking or forming a judgment for himself about truth and falsehood, about his own welfare, and about his relation to God. This is a power which the State cannot take over, nor can the individual transfer it either to the whole community or to another man, even if he wished to do this. No more in the status civilis than in the status naturalis can a man think according to the dictation of another. Thus there are some powers in the individual which cannot be transferred, but which necessarily remain vested in him, however absolute the authority and right of the State of which he is a citizen.

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From Chapter 27, The State's Relation to Morality and Religion:

But there is a complementary truth which Spinoza contends for, namely, that morality and religion have also an outward exercise or cultus, and that in this respect they not only are amenable to State control, but ought to be controlled by the State in the interest of the good life itself. A man may love God and his neighbour with his whole soul, yet ought he to act towards his neighbour in such ways only, and serve God through such ceremonies only, as are most conducive to the peace, welfare, and prosperity of the State of which he is a member? Spinoza holds that not only ought all outward embodiments of goodness and of piety to be accomodated or adapted to the maintenance of a settled order of life, but also that this has always been the case wherever the life of any nation has been stable and enduring. The harmony of social existence demands that there shall be one authority with supreme power and right to control and direct all actions. This does not mean of course that it ought to settle when each man shall go to bed or dine, but only that the general lines of human endeavour shall be definitely laid down, and be well maintained, and that nothing inconsistent with them shall be done with impunity or with profit to the offender.

Thus while thought and belief are, and must always remain, sui juris, or an inalienable function of the individual, action never can thus be an individual right. The State ought to direct or sanction or permit all conduct whatsoever, and ought not to recognise any authority other than its own for determining what men ought and ought not to do. If it do recognise any other authority within its borders as the director and guide of its citizens' lives, it thereby abdicates its position, and instead of the self-government which it should, in the best interests of all its members, secure and exercise, it becomes a subordinate and a slave.

It is from this point of view that Spinoza rejects the claim of any infallible church to determine what actions are, and are not, lawful and pious. Such an imperium in imperio is fatal to all harmonius life and united action within the community. It makes the citizens divide their allegiance between a civil and a sacred authority, and it renders civil power precarious, and almost inevitably tyrannical and arbitrary. If men are to enjoy a common life of mutual help and trust, there can only be one supreme rule for all conduct, for dual authority is the sure source of discord, strife, and weakness. Thus the actions in and through which goodness and piety are to express themselves must be those which conduce to, or at least are not at variance with, the unity, authority, and autonomy of the State.

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From Chapter 28, Forms of State - Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy:

One man cannot be anything but a nominal ruler of a people, and so every Monarch, called to the office of sovereign, straightway seeks out for himself officers, ministers, or favourites who enable him to rule, and really share the sovereignity with him [...] Thus a nominal Monarchy is really a secret Aristocracy, but a bad form of Aristocracy just because it is not openly such. While an aristocracy which rests on class privilege is a not a real aristocracy or government by the best men in the State at all. And a democracy may exist where the ruling class is much fewer in number than those who are ruled, if they rule in virtue of their birth, rank or wealth, and not in virtue of their wisdom. Spinoza believes that Aristocratic rule (in the sense of rule vested in the best or wisest men the community) is the highest form of rule, and that, could it be kept true to its idea or ideal, it would be the one actual form of rule. But this is just the difficulty. Those who already rule in an aristocratic State do, if they are set to choose others as colleagues on the ground of their fitness or of their being the best men, somehow generally come to the conclusion that the 'best' men are to be found "among the rich, or among their own blood-relations, or amongst their friends" [...] Thus while a true Aristocracy is the best form of rule, in the sense that the State and all its citizens will be most properous when the wisest and best men within it are in power, a nominal aristocracy of wealth or rank or birth may be the worst of all forms of rule, the most calamitous to the State and the citizens alike. And it is because a close corporation, or privileged class, inevitably loses touch with the real problem for the solution of which it exists, and thus fails to discharge the function for the sake of which it enjoys place and power, that a democratic State is at once a more stable, a more efficient, and more beneficient form of political order than either a monarchical or an aristocratic one.

to more about Spinoza (separate page)

to Immortality in Spinoza (separate page)

to Conatus in Spinoza (separate page)

to Substance Monism in Spinoza (separate page)

to full list of relevant excerpts


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