Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism

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Transaction Publishers, Jan 1, 1987 - History - 323 pages
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In this classic work the author undertakes to show how Spinoza's philosophical ideas, particularly his political ideas, were influenced by his underlying emotional responses to the conflicts of his time. It thus differs form most professional philosophical analyses of the philosophy of Spinoza. The author identifies and discusses three periods in the development of Spinoza's thought and shows how they were reactions to the religious, political and economic developments in the Netherlands at the time. In his first period, Spinoza reacted very strongly to the competitive capitalism of the Amsterdam Jews whose values were "so thoroughly pervaded by an economic ethics that decrees the stock exchange approached in dignity the decrees of God," and of the ruling classes of Amsterdam, and was led out only to give up his business activities but also to throw in his lot with the Utopian groups of the day. In his second period, Spinoza developed serious doubts about the practicality of such idealistic movements and became a "mature political partisan" of Dutch liberal republicanism. The collapse of republicanism and the victory of the royalist party brought further disillusionment. Having become more reserved concerning democratic processes, and having decided that "every form of government could be made consistent with the life of free men," Spinoza devoted his time and efforts to deciding what was essential to any form of government which would make such a life possible.

In his carefully crafted introduction to this new edition, Lewis Feuer responds to his critics, and reviews Spinoza's worldview in the light of the work of later scientists sympathetic to this own basic standpoint. He reviews Spinoza's arguments for the ethical and political contributions of the principle of determinism, and examines how these have guided, and at times frustrated, students and scholars of the social and physical sciences who have sought to understand and advance these disciplines.

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This book has been a touchstone of my lifelong study of Spinoza. It takes the great metaphysician's thought and places it in a social & political context. Spinoza was the first modern philosopher to make the comprehensive arguments for separating church and state and Feuer brilliantly explains the arguments and the historical background against which Spinoza came up with them.
I made extensive use of this book when researching and writing my book Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews From the Ghetto Led to Revolution and REnaissance and I recommend to all who are interested in the history of ideas and building their knowledge for the ongoing fight with the ultra-religious who want to bring religion back into the political space.

Selected pages


The Excommunication of Baruch Spinoza
The Jewish Community of Amsterdam
Why Spinoza Was Excommunicated
The Economic and Political Structure of Amsterdam Jewry
the Cases of Menasseh ben Israel and Uriel Acosta
How Spinoza Became a Liberal Republican
Spinozas Rejection of Jewish Authority
the Commercial Magnates and Rabbis Aboab and Morteira
the People as Mob
Spinoza Withdraws Again
Why Did the Liberal Republic Fall?
Theory of a Commercial Aristocracy
Constitution for the Dictatorship of the Commercial Aristocracy
The Impasse of Authoritarian Liberalism
Academic Freedom and Public Education
A Republican Conceives the Theory of Limited Monarchy

The Trial
Revolutionist in Mystic Withdrawal
Retreat Among the Religious Communists
Spinozas Mennonite Friends
Spinozas Meeting With an English Quaker Missionary
Spinozas Pantheism and the Radical Thought of the Seventeenth Century
Political Scientist in the Cause of Human Liberation
The Political Setting
The Birth of Liberalism
The Calvinist Party in the Netherlands
the Geometrical Method in Politics
Spinoza and the Mass of Mankind
the Guide to Action and the Apotheosis of Acquiescence
The Promise and Anguish of Democracy
Demonstration of the Futility of Revolution
What Is Democracy?
Manifesto for Freedom
To Preserve the Republic
Philosophic Liberal in a Reactionary Age
Free Men or Slaves?
A Free Mans Philosophy
The Ethics of the Free Man as a Critique of the Calvinist Ethics
The Mystic Rejection of Libertine Hedonism
Precursor to Freud
Intellectual Love of God and Intellectual Hatred
Spinozas Leap Beyond the Geometrical Method
the Failure of the Geometrical Method
Spinoza as a Left Cartesian
the Discovery of the Plurality of Attributes
Spinozas Panpsychism
a Masochist Projection
the Language of Artisans and Merchants
Linguistic Nonsense or Linguistic Transfiguration?

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Popular passages

Page 112 - Oh that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat! 'I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
Page 177 - The French people recognize the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul...
Page 18 - I thus perceived that I was in a state of great peril, and I compelled myself to seek with all my strength for a remedy, however uncertain it might be; as a sick man struggling with a deadly disease, when he sees that death will surely be upon him unless a remedy be found, is compelled to seek such a remedy with all his strength, inasmuch as his whole hope lies therein.
Page 308 - Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither pagan, nor Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth, because of his religion.
Page 303 - God of an existing circle are one and the same thing, which is manifested through different attributes; and, therefore, whether we think of nature under the attribute of extension, or under the attribute of thought, or under any other attribute whatever, we shall discover one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes; that is to say, in every case the same sequence of things.
Page 239 - An individual thing, or a thing which is finite and which has a determinate existence, cannot exist nor be determined to action unless it be determined to existence and action by another cause which is also finite and has a determinate existence...
Page 243 - Resolution, to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver'd so many things, almost in an equal number of words. They have exacted from all their members, a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear senses; a native easiness: bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness, as they can: and preferring the language of Artisans, Countrymen, and Merchants, before that, of Wits,...
Page 65 - For in this most flourishing state, and most splendid city, men of every, nation and religion live together in the greatest harmony, and ask no questions before trusting their goods to a fellow-citizen, save whether he be rich or poor, and whether he generally acts honestly, or the reverse.
Page 200 - It is the part of a wise man, I say, to refresh and invigorate himself with moderate and pleasant eating and drinking, with sweet scents and the beauty of green plants...
Page 209 - We see men sometimes so affected by one object, that although it is not present, they believe it to be before them; and if this happens to a man who is not asleep, we say that he is delirious or mad. Nor are those believed to be less mad who are inflamed by love, dreaming about nothing but a mistress or harlot day and night, for they excite our laughter.

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