Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

10

The Origins of Modern Democratic
Republicanism

1. CLASSICAL REPUBLICANISM VERSUS
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICANISM

Freedom of thought, then, in both Spinoza and Bayle is rooted in a naturalistic philosophy centring around the liberty of the individual whose life is confined to the here and now. However, in Spinoza, unlike Bayle, freedom of thought is also expressly tied through freedom of expression to an anti-monarchical and antiaristocratic politics. In fact, Spinoza's political thought seeks to maximize individual liberty under the state by demonstrating, and emphasizing, the positive interaction between Man's individual and collective interests and the power of the sovereign, the state's true strength and stability, in his opinion, depending on the willingness of citizens to identify with, participate in, and support it.

The essential link between individual liberty and politics in Spinoza's philosophy is the idea that personal freedom, and satisfaction of individual desires, is greater or less, and the individual more or less secure, depending on the degree to which the state strives to maintain 'the common good', something which Spinoza argues is inherently more likely to be the case the more the state is broad based and democratic in character. Conversely, the more autocratic the state—though he regards pure monarchy as an impossible fantasy—the weaker it is. A concrete contemporary illustration of this, in practical terms, would be the contrast between the Dutch Republic where he lived and the neighbouring monarchy of Louis XIV. While the latter was styled an 'absolute' monarchy, the Dutch Republic was incomparably stronger in the sense that it could maintain a far larger army and navy in proportion to population—the States' army at the time he wrote his Tractatus politicus, for example, being around one third of the size of the French army despite the Dutch state having merely one tenth of France's population. The reason was precisely that decision-making in the Republic was broader based, and the common people more prosperous, enabling the United Provinces to raise considerably more in per capita revenue than France, and do so with less internal stress and fiscal resistance.

Accordingly, there is an inherent link between Spinoza's overall system and a type of democratic republicanism which crystallized in Holland in the late 1650s and

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