Spinoza and Politics

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* Book: Spinoza and Politics. Etienne Balibar.


Michel Bauwens:

The context of wanting to read this book, was my previous encounter with Empire of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt. As I went through a burnout in the years 1996 and become increasingly restless and unhappy with my business career, I wondered how to think about 'changing the world', and whether I should return to the marxism of my youth, which I had rejected 'emotionally' but never really rationally. As I was pondering whether to take that time consuming detour, Empire provided an elegant solution, since it has retained marxist premises, but processed them through the insights of the post-modern thinkers, and the many defeats of the progressive movements. Furthermore, it had a epic tone and power, and positive integrated the zeitgeist and the technological changes, rather than simply rejecting them as a big part of the left did in the late nineties.


One of the aims of this particular book, by a disciple of Althusser, is to understand the political importance of Spinoza to emancipatory thinking; the book itself is not an exciting read, perhaps due to the translation, but it is not without interest. What it does well is placing Spinoza in context. It doesn't focus on 'eternal truths' but sees his books as concrete political and historical interventions, through describing the play of forces in the Netherlands. Concretely, the struggles between the monarchists-Orangists and the bourgeois aristocracy, and on the other hand, between the Calvinists and a multitude ofother, sometimes radical movement. How, in such unstable times, conceive of a state form that would as stable and democratic as possible ?