November 24, 2007: Spinoza turns 375!

Baruch, you will rejoice at to know that the NRC Handelsblad — the Netherlands’ best daily paper — has a big article running in their magazine on Spinoza this week. He’s turning 375 in a few weeks (ok, that is a bit arbitrary, but still) and — you will love this — it is titled “Spinoza: The groeiende populariteit van de filosoof van tolerantie”. Or for our readers who don’t speak Dutch, “Spinoza: The growing popularity of the philosopher of tolerance”.

A big part of the article is taken up with portraits of Spinoza lovers — people like you and me! Then there is some interesting information:

  • Mention of a book I hadn’t heard of before in which apparently Spinoza plays the leading role: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man, 1650-1753 (published in 2006, written by Jonathan Israel). A worthy read, it seems.
  • A new theory about his excommunication: Spinoza had avoided the debts of his father on his death by appealing to Dutch law, rather than to Rabbinical law. Under Jewish law, he would have spent the rest of his life (probably) paying off some quite substantial debts. Not so under Dutch law. And so the Jewish community excommunicated him, according to Dutch historian Odette Vlessing. I’m not so convinced myself — I think the Spinoza biographer Nadler makes a convincing case that the kind of excommunication given to Spinoza was a truly extraordinary event — and something that clearly involved theological differences. But perhaps this was another item on the list of why it was so vicious.
  • Hmm. The article says Spinoza died of tuberculosis. That’s a new one. Rather dodgy assumption if you ask me.
  • As you know, Baruch, I visited Spinoza’s house in Rijnsburg back in October 2006, and found it rather run down. The Spinoza Society, which owns the house, did not have the required funds to renovate, so I did my part and put 20 euros in a box towards that goal. Good to know then that he Dutch government has now put aside 100,000 euros for the renovation of the house, and now plans are afoot to install a proper museum there. I can’t wait for the grand reopening!
  • Oh, and there are plans afoot to erect a statue of Spinoza in Amsterdam, and to have him become Amsterdam’s icon.

One thought on “November 24, 2007: Spinoza turns 375!”

  1. This is great news Bento, I like the idea of us being at the vanguard (or somewhere near the front anyway, of some larger social or philosophical movement! I have to say I like the Dutch more and more, the more I come in contact with them. They seem a very reasonable people.

    I don’t know about the theory of the bankruptcy being partially behind the excommunication — as you say, it was particularly vicious, and the Sephardim of the time seem to have been eminently practical, reasonable men. I am partial to the tuberculosis theory myself, I think it quite reasonable. What is your objection to it?

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