Spinoza in French Philosophy Today

Article excerpt

Es gibt Kein andere Philosophie, als die Philosophie des Spinoza.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Every philosopher has two philosophies: his own and Spinoza's.

Henri Bergson

In the last few decades, French philosophers have been particularly interested in Spinoza's thought, to the point that it is possible to speak today of the emergence of a "French Spinozism," and even of a "French Spinozist school" that has accompanied the philosophical and political debates of the last thirty years.1 This "school," which is in no way official and does not pretend to be such, nevertheless has its founding fathers, its institutions, and an increasing output of publications. In large part thanks to this school, Spinoza is finally finding his place among the different rationalist systems of early modern philosophy (Descartes, Malebranche, Hobbes, Leibniz), and as his is a singular place, we have not yet finished evaluating his importance.

Long relegated to the margins of university philosophy programs and banned from official thought, the history of French Spinozism was at first that of an imposed silence, then that of an unclassifiable system of thought. The history of the reception of Spinoza's works bears witness to this. Pierre Bayle thought of a Spinozism before Spinoza, whose traits he found in Greek pagan thought and in the Orient; Hegel made Spinoza "the Oriental" into the very condition for philosophy; Bergson believed in the existence of a Spinozism without Spinoza as the eternal possibility of thought; Deleuze thought most often with Spinoza; and Negri finally brought together Spinoza's untimeliness with that of other "bad-boy" thinkers like Marx, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche. All of these authors considered Spinozism as a contemporary form of thought, seeing in it less a philosophy of the past than a thought that never quite managed to go away.

If we were to parody Bergson's way putting it, we could say that Spinoza gave rise to at least two histories of philosophy - one in which he belongs to the past and is ranked among the Cartesians with his attention turned toward the ancient theologies, one in which he is a member of the avant-garde, rebellious and subversive, polemicizing against the instituted order, resolutely turned towards a thought yet to be constructed. What is undeniable is that by making us better understand Spinoza in his own time, the French Spinozism of the last few years has also contributed to inserting him into our own time. It is almost as if his thought, taking on the image of an essentially posthumous work, has lost nothing of its a-topical and anachronistic dimension, which makes it be constantly out of step with his own time, so that it can finally deliver its message less to an already existing era than to the possibilities of a future yet to be defined.2

Now, after the announced deaths of God and man, after the proclaimed end of the grand foundational narratives of what we now habitually call modernity, after the end of metaphysics, of history, of art, of the book, a few philosophers (Lyotard and Derrida in France, Danto and Searle in the United States, Vattimo in Italy) has tried to piggy-back on Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger in order to be able to think the meaning of these closures in the era of globalization and of the global village. Consequently, there is nothing astonishing about Spinozism's radical anti-finalism finding a voice in the margins of post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-Freudianism, or postMarxism, all of which characterize themselves (sometimes in prophetic tones) as modes of the thought of the end and of the after-the-end. In one sense, then, there is nothing new under Spinoza's sun: contemporary French Spinozism only confirms and extends a history made of cyclical rebirths and eternal returns, which have announced and animated some of the great seasons of modern thought.3

The forceful return of Spinozism in France in the last fifty years nonetheless has its specific characteristics and its own reasons. …