Spinoza’s Political Theory and Her Understanding of Political PhilosophyJune 26, 2021
Spinoza’s political views rise on the basic concepts of his ethics and are in harmony with Hobbes’ political views.
Spinoza said that every human strives for survival (conatus) and this effort includes the concept of power. Naturally, strength and effort are both good. So to be strong is virtuous: whatever reduces the strength of body and mind is bad, whatever increases it is good. Accordingly, pain and sadness are bad, health and joy are good. “Nature does not demand anything contrary to nature because it demands that man love himself and strive for things that are beneficial to him, and make an effort that leads him to greater perfection.” (Thilly, 2007: 105)
These breakthroughs required by Conatus may seem selfish when considered in terms of a single individual. This is the state of nature, as Hobbes said. The natural conditions of the state of nature bring man to the point that the big fish swallows the small fish. However, in order to avoid the evils created by anarchy and chaos, people should choose to live with other people in an organized social order. Even if this comes at the expense of the natural right to do anything. (Copleston, 1996: 53). In this case, people come to the point of making a contract among themselves: they go to redefine the meanings of terms such as ‘right,’ ‘law,’ ‘just’ and ‘unjust,’ and they voluntarily step into social life. This is a necessary condition of reason for safety and survival, and people also need help and contributions from other people in order to improve themselves.
So unless the individual unites with others for a permanent society, his power and natural right will be in perpetual danger of being neutralized. Therefore, the social contract is inevitable. The social contract is based on the enlightened attitude of the individual to protect his own interests; In this way, the limitations of social life prevent the threats posed by the state of nature for the well-being of the individual.
The social contract between people is important for the continuation of man’s life on earth, as the natural state of man presents a view that justifies the saying that big fish eat small fish.
Thus, individuals surrender their natural rights to the sovereign power by contract. But it is impossible to delegate all power. Because there are some unchanging tendencies that come from human nature. For example, it is futile for the sovereign to command people not to love what is pleasurable. Apart from this, the governed must obey the orders of the ruler. However, due to the laws brought by the sovereign, conditions of law and unlawfulness may also arise. Situations such as injustice and submission were unthinkable without sovereignty. In the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza expresses his judgment that “the most rational state is the freest”. Because living freely shows the most perfect level of living under the guidance of reason, and such a way of life finds its best security in democracy. According to him, democracy is the most natural of all forms of government and the most compatible with individual freedom. In this administration, no one transfers his natural rights absolutely. He leaves only a part of them to the majority of the society of which he is a unit. Thus all men remain equal to one another as if they were in a state of nature. According to him, the basis and purpose of democracy is to avoid irrational desires and to bring people under the control of reason as much as possible; Only in this way can people live in peace and harmony.
In interstate relations, Spinoza again returns to the concept of power: States can of course enter into agreements with each other, but there is no authority to carry out such agreements. Therefore, interstate relations are ultimately governed by power and self-interest, not by law. An interstate contract is valid as long as its basis for preventing danger or providing benefit is in effect. And again, no person or group enters into an agreement unless there is a growing hope of good or fear of evil. According to Spinoza, this has been sufficiently demonstrated by experience. However, this discourse is valid within the conditions of Spinoza’s own time. Today, international law is highly developed; Relationships can be controlled or guaranteed by law and higher authorities apart from power and self-interest. However, it cannot be said that complete certainty can be achieved.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook