Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview
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16

PUBLISHING A BANNED
PHILOSOPHY

i. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

It is often claimed Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus circulated in the Dutch Republic, despite the general hostility it encountered, more or less unhindered until the formal prohibition of 1674, and that in the early period after publication Holland's Pensionary, De Witt, personally intervened to prevent prohibition.1 De Witt was undoubtedly involved in the high-level deliberations about this unprecedentedly unsettling book. He certainly read it as part of his official responsibilities and several times discussed the problem of Spinoza with delegates from the North and South Holland synods. Reformed Church records show that delegates from both synods translated, filed, and submitted what were considered particularly offensive passages from the book to the city governments and States of Holland, and that this material was given personally to the Pensionary.2 Although there is no unequivocal proof, De Witt does indeed seem to have preferred not to proceed to a formal provincial ban on the Tractatus. It is a mistake, though, to deduce from this that he viewed the work in any way favourably or that it circulated freely until after his downfall in 1:672. In fact, it is incorrect to suppose that it was not until the formal prohibition of July 1674 that the printing, sale, and circulation of the Tractatus was suppressed.3

Under the terms of Holland's anti-Socinian legislation of 1653, the city governments had ample powers to inspect bookshops and sequestrate stocks of copies of works such as Meyer's Philosophia and Spinoza's Tractatus and, intermittently at least, plainly did so. Meyer's book was not expressly banned by decree in Holland (as distinct from Friesland and Utrecht) either until 1674, but was none the less prohibited in towns where stocks of copies went on sale.4 A clearly documented instance of early action

1 See, for instance, H. E. Allison, Benedict de Spinoza, 18; Rowan, John de Witt, 410; Gregory, 'introduction',
27; Japikse, 'Spinoza and De Witt', 13; Enno van Gelder, Getemperde vrijheid, 165–6, 176–85; Scruton, Spinoza,
12

2 ARH OSA 183 Acta North Holland Synod, Hoorn, 4 Aug. 1671 art. 40, p. 46 and ibid. vol. 184 Acta North
Holland Synod, Enkhuizen, Aug. 1672, art. 38, p. 37.

3Groot Placaat-Boeck, 111, 523–3:'Placaet tegens de Sociniaensche Boecken Leviathan en andere', The
Hague, 19 July 1674; Israel, 'Banning of Spinoza's Works', 3–3.

4 Israel, 'Banning of Spinoza's Works', 7–7.

-275-

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