Having previously suggested that Spinoza, wheel-lock pistol to elaborately coiffured head, would have reluctantly endorsed Fred Thompson for the GOP nomination purely on the basis that he could not be as exquisitely bad as the other candidates, I, Baruch, take it back. After having watched some of the latest debate between the contenders, I believe Spinoza could have endorsed Ron Paul with, if not enthusiasm, a certain respect, and without having to hold his nose.
There is no change to my belief that Rudy Guiliani would have made Spinoza’s skin crawl, and he would have been merely coldly polite to the others.
In fact it seems there’s a groundswell of libertarian and conservative Republicans in favour of the Goldwater-like Paul after his performance in the last GOP debate. Among those wingnut weblogs which retain some power of independent thought there is engagement rather than instant dismissal. Those who have donated higher brain function to the ConIntern and retained only their hypothalamus, are of course trying — in some cases in the teeth of fierce resistance — to hold the line. Andrew Sullivan (who seems to be leading the pro-Paul insurgents) thinks this is because they are frightened of him. In addition, the WSJ has nothing to say about it, a sure sign the ConIntern are worried.
So that’s who I think Spinoza would have liked. Let’s leave party politics aside for now, I have a bigger problem: in this “endorsement” I am still committing the sin of “Imagining Spinoza”. All this is more about foreign policy than anything else. What would a Spinozist foreign policy be like?
It’s not a subject treated with much interest in the Ethics, and the Theological Political Treatise, where you would imagine his fullest account of it might be found, is silent on the subject too. In his life he brushed against the edges of foriegn policy when he went to visit the Prince of Condé, we know he saw the domestic consequences of a failed foreign policy with the murder of the de Wits. But these instances are few and far between. It may be that in his time, most foreign and diplomatic policy was still at least partly dynastic; there was an absence of ethics, no pretence that Louis XIV was acting in the best interest of the Netherlands when he invaded, for instance. Foreign policy was presented purely as the prerogative of kings, or described as religiously ordained actions, and was in most part a naked power grab. No discusion of ethical niceties could be relevant, as no one ever bothered to pretend they were doing anything ethical, so it was likelz not a subject for an ethicist. It is fairly likely that Spinoza just didn’t care.
Now of course things are different; we are interconnected. We espouse values abroad which we think of as universal, whether they are political or religious in nature. A Spinozist discussion of foreign policy would be necessary, were he writing today. I think it would have 3 main characteristics:
- supremely cautious(“Caute!”), therefore likely to avoid open ended committments and risky expeditions
- non-interventionism would also follow from Spinoza’s rather elitist perspective. He believed that the masses were not ready for his teaching during his lifetime. Spinozan precepts can only be inferred through Reason, and can only convince through reasoned argument with reasonable people, a small percentage of any population. Spreading these values to other countries at the point of a sword would be ludicrous. Furthermore, as the start and ending points of his philosophy of ethics were individuals, ventures that would put lives of individuals at risk would be strongly discouraged except when no other recourse was available to defend the democratic ideals. In this case Spinozans would fight like tigers with little thought of their own safety (like the ultimi barbarorum episode itself)
- supremely internationalist. Spinozan ideas are universal. Indeed at the time there was a clear understanding that thinkers, scientists and philosophers stood off to one side at times of conflict, that they formed their own international fellowship. French, German, English and Dutch writers would correspond with each other and visit when in passing even while their countries fought one another. They would also correspond in the single international language of thought and science, Latin
We can also see that at least these 1st 2 characteristics were strongly present in the foreign policy of the early United States, (apart from the regrettable episode of the war of 1812), and the ideas written in the Federalist papers. This is not surprising if you take the stance that the originators of the US constitution were all overt or covert, direct or indirect Spinozists.
As long as I am imagining Spinoza, though, there remains the possibility that I might be wrong, that Spinoza might have been a neo-con, insofar as a messianic internationalism might have outweighed his non-interventionist tendencies and prediliction for caution. Maybe I am reading far, far too much into the little I as yet know of Spinoza himself. Bento, do you think Spinoza would have been a neo-con?