A Dutchman enters the debate

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) preferred reason to prejudice.

Mr. B. Spinoza of The Hague, Holland writes:

But if the greatest secret of monarchic rule, and its main interest, is to keep men deceived and to disguise in the false name of Religion the fear by which they must be held back, so that they will fight for slavery as much as they  would for freedom, and  think that it is not shameful, but a very honourable achievement, to give their life and blood so that one man may have a basis for boasting, nevertheless, in a free republic nothing more miserable can be imagined or attempted. For, it is completely against common freedom to fill the free judgement of each man with prejudices, or to enchain it in any way.

Not sure what he’s on about but, great quote anyway. Maybe the point Mr Spinoza is making is that if any one person or institution is held to be beyond criticism, and when rational argument is shouted down, then the outcome is tyranny.

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8 responses to “A Dutchman enters the debate

  • lichanos

    It is indeed a wonderful quotation! I think, however, his meaning is clear, and a bit different from what you say.

    But if the greatest secret of monarchic rule, and its main interest, is to keep men deceived and to disguise in the false name of Religion the fear by which they must be held back…

    It’s all right there. While monarchs rule by making the fear subjects feel at the thought of rebelling part of their general religious indoctrination – adding hellfire and damnation to the consequences – a free republic lets people judge and ‘rebel’ as they want.

    In later times, this would go under ‘false consciousness,’ ‘ideological indoctrination,’ and similar rubrics.

    Marx famously said that “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” which sounds as if it’s barking up the same tree, but a closer reading indicates that he felt religion assuaged the pain of living under capitalism as opium medicates physical pain – not that it imposed a hallucinatory false-consciousness.

    Here in the USA, some of us scratch our heads and wonder why people vote for the Republican party, a group with policies that are calculated to benefit 1% of the population? Sometimes I think that Calvinistic fatalism has something to do with it.

    • instantkaamos

      Thanks for the clarification lichanos,

      It’s something of a relief to return to the comparative rationality of the seventeenth century after the vortex of fear and anger into which this blog unwisely stumbled over the past few days. As for the question as to why non-millionaires vote for conservative parties (on both sides of the Pond), I think it is perhaps something about identifying with who you wish you were rather than who you really are. I am still waiting for the birth of the ‘Celebrity Party’ which would undoubtedly win by a landslide if it stood in a UK election.

      • instantkaamos

        Sorry, can I just throw in this gem from the Appendix to part 1 of the Ethics which I’m sure you already know?

        for they [those honoured as interpreters of Nature and the gods] know that if ignorance is taken away, then foolish wonder, the only means they have of arguing or defending their authority, is also taken away.

  • lichanos

    Thanks for the quote, which I did not know.

    As for the Celebrity Party, what a FANTASTIC idea, for a comedy skit, anyway. We sort of have that here at times, already.

    …something about identifying with who you wish you were rather than who you really are.

    The Republican ‘thinkers’ like to call themselves the Party of Aspirations. It does get at the nub of things, doesn’t it? Is it a denial of reality? Magical thinking? An inevitable product of a society in which the bottom of the rungs are immeasurably better off than at any time in history??

    …comparative rationality of the seventeenth century…

    Not my period, but weren’t there a few religious wars, Thirty Years War, etc. etc? Toulmin has a book – Cosmopolis? – in which he argues that the rationality of the 17th century philosophers – Descartes, et al – was a conscious reaction against the chaos and bloodshed of the religious wars.

    • Instant Kaamos

      There were one or two, plus the tail-end of the Inquisition, plus an environment which made Descartes not publish his book (on the World?) and Spinoza keep the Ethics back until after his death. But apart from the Inquisition, wars, repression of free speech and holding back of scientific progress, the seventeenth century did give rise to the birth of enlightenment thinking. And if you look back on the comments on my past two posts, you’ll see why I despair for enlightenment values in the twenty-first. I think the word for the society will live in should be “commediocracy” — rule by those who wield the unimpeachable power of humour.

      The Celebrity Party is already up and running in Britain. After having our first leader/X-Factor debates on TV, we now have a run off between Nick and Dave in the Big Brother House (aka 10 Downing Street).

      • lichanos

        …you’ll see why I despair for enlightenment values in the twenty-first.

        Yes, well I’m with you there. But maybe the crazy disconnect between life in the 17th century and the birth of the Enlightenment is telling us that one can always hope…

      • lichanos

        …comments on my past two posts…

        You mean the one’s on the cartoons? I skimmed a few, but I’m not sure what you refer to as there were so many. Did people express bigotted and anti-semitic opinions? Is that a surprise?

        I have to say that when I read your description of the one about soap, my initial reaction was to laugh. [I’m Jewish, but not involved with Jewish life in any significant way.] Yes, it’s horrendous taste, and really offensive in many ways…but I have to say, I think you oversimplify the humor. Linking the Holocaust to New-Age, commercial Eco-dogma is really sort of clever, but really sick too. I wouldn’t publish it in a paper of mine, but I don’t have one.

  • lichanos

    BTW, thanks for the pointer to the book on decision making. Skimming Chapter 14 online – looks very interesting!

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