Adonis Diaries

“Be cautious of tyranny and superstitions”: Bento Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

Posted on: February 14, 2011

“Be cautious of tyranny and superstitions”: Bento Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

Baruch Spinoza wrote in the 17th century:

The right of public power emanates from the mass of citizens who are guided by the same ideas and desires.  It is the collective citizens who has the power to extend its potentials to the State body.  The right of every citizen is multiplied as two join forces:  This is the right of nature as the power of the weakest individual ruler among the citizens governs the strongest power of the collective citizens who endowed him with the requisite power.

States that govern citizens by fear tend to act for reducing vices instead of enhancing virtues.  Free men do not need rewards, stimulants, or marble statues to obeying laws coinciding with individual’s vital natural  rights for happiness and opportunities to live in dignity.”

Context of the period:

Bento Baruch Spinoza was born in current Netherlands (Holland), lived and died there.  Holland had acquired its independence: It kicked out the Spanish army, thwarted a British navy landing, and forced a French expeditionary army during Louis XIV to retreat.

At the age of 24, Bento was ex-communicated by the Sephardi Jews who had immigrated from Portugal to Amsterdam: He believed that God is a philosophical concept; when the body dies so does the spirit.   He had to live far from Amsterdam and earn a living, polishing lenses for microscopes, telescopes and corrective glasses.  Holland was the wealthiest nation in Europe and enjoyed the largest merchant navy.

Spinoza was the contemporary of the scientists Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Leibniz, Huygens… and the famous painters in Holland such as Vermeer, Velasquez, Van Ruysdael, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Emmanuel de Witte, Frans Hals, Jan Wynants, Judith Leyster, Georg Flegel, Peter de Hooch, Van Ostade, Albert Cuyp, Lambert Doomer…

The only published book for Spinoza while alive was “Principles of Descartes Philosophy, 1663″.  All his other works were published posthumous such as “Ethics” and “Theologico-Political Treaties”… He spoke Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, some French, Latin, and Hebrew.  He was annoyed that he could not read in English because of the many published manuscripts in that language.

“There are two founding principles:

1. Refusing tyranny and refuting superstitions. It is impossible for an individual to abandon his natural rights.  In order for a citizen to obey laws he must retain the legitimacy of keeping his power intact to resisting tyranny and defending his vital natural rights.”

“A happy individual has the right to fight all kinds of superstitions.  Only an envious person takes pleasure of my impotence and my sufferings.  There are no Gods or persons who consider tears of sufferings, crying of pains and humiliation, fears of everything in society and nature as virtues to hang on.  The greater is the joy, the greater the perfection of our passions.

2. Participate in what you love to do. This is my rule and my resolution: I will eat and drink in moderation of whatever pleases me.  I will partake in cultural activities that I like.  I will participate in games that I love to do and that do not harm others.”

Joy, sadness, and desires are the three main affects that drive all the other feelings and passions.  Nature is the same everywhere and it follows the same process regardless of what man want to change in it.

The wise man comprehends the universal rules and laws of nature and follows their virtues.  The power of an individual is limited and is superseded by external forces.  We don’t have an absolute will to adapt to what is beyond our power to act upon.  Our intelligence, the best part of ourself, will be fully satisfied and contented as it keeps within nature’s restrictions for drastic changes.  We cannot over indulge in eating or drinking without suffering their consequences.  Whatever we do within our power we can support equally well and our conscious is at peace because we acted within the range of our possibilities and nature’s limitations on us”.

“People are submitted to affections such as feeling of pity to those in misfortune; feeling envious of those happy… We tend to be more vengeful than compassionate or forgiving;  We want people to conform to our positions, approve what we like, and reject what we hate.  Consequently, we want to the first among all men.  The glory of the victor is to have vanquished his opponent rather than obtaining anything of value.”

“The strong State is capable of enhancing the hope for obtaining a larger good.  A nation is defined by the convergence of collective beliefs and shared desires.  A talented ruler gives the impression to the citizens that they are living according to their free will, that they can increase their wealth, and have opportunities to acceding to honors.

Erecting marble statues, lavishing honors and rewards to loyal citizens, and parading them as first among men will degrade their characters and performance by inflating their pride and driving them to laziness. Equality among citizens is reduced and so is common freedom and collective liberty.”

“Experience showed me that ordinary events are futile and vain; that what scare us in nature have nothing intrinsically good or bad:  It is mankind that created his set of values and there are no absolute values emanating from a supernatural power.  A free man thinks only of death and his wisdom is a meditation on life.  I resolute to searching for a real good that could be communicated to mankind and that could fill his soul of supreme happiness without necessarily altering his vital rights in life.”

It appears that later theories of “Social Contracts” would have seemed abstract bogus concepts to Spinoza.

Social Contracts are one-sided deals that bind only the “subjects” into laws that they were not asked to discuss; Social Contracts are easily revoked by the power-to-be without consulting the “citizens”.  It is the dynamic free interactions and communications in and among communities that define the legal frame for a State political regime.

Be cautious:  Do not suffocate your desire for a happy life; do not get caught up in the limitations and constraints of social-made prescriptions on how to live your life.

Be cautious: Conquer your freedom and get engaged building a free community; let your collective engagement elevates your society to higher levels of opportunities for joy. Learn what and who is subjugating your spirit to unnatural desires and behaviors

Be cautious: Know and master your passions, learn the imitation desires that are external and do not coincide with your own nature for physical and mental development; govern your life and increase your “life-capital”.

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February 2011

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