Hi, thanks for looking at our blog. There are 2 of us running it. We preferred to stay anonymous but no more; now if you want to give Baruch a job he’ll tell you who he is so you’ll know where to send the money. UB started as the only live Spinozist blog on the internet. However we ran out of things to say about Spinoza and instead started writing about markets, finance, technology and whatever takes our fancy. We’ll freely admit it has very little in the end to do with Spinoza. Despite this, we still love Spinoza, and wish more people did too.

The name of our website comes from an important event in Spinoza’s life. Johan and Cornelius de Witt were the political leaders who oversaw the great Golden Age of the Holland of Rembrandt, of Vermeer, of the great scientific and commercial achievements of the Dutch Republic. They were lynched by a panicked mob in The Hague in 1672, who blamed the brothers for the invasion of the tyrannical and decidedly non-Spinozist Louis XIV. They were literally torn to bits.

The bodies of the De Witt brothers
The bodies of the De Witt brothers. Attributed to Jan de Baen. Oil on canvas, c. 1672-1675. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Spinoza had long known that his and his friends’ freedom to philosophise was due to the unique climate of political and religious tolerance the De Witts had created in the Netherlands.  Known to be a preternaturally calm person, the occasion of the murders was the only time we know of when Spinoza got really, really angry. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, the soon-to-be famous German philosopher came to visit 4 years after the murders. He wrote:

I have spent several hours with Spinoza, after dinner. He said to me that, on the day of the massacres of the De Witts, he wanted to go out at night and post a placard near the site of the massacres reading ultimi barbarorum. But his host locked the house to keep him from going out, for he would be exposed to being torn to pieces.

Ultimi barbarorum is difficult to translate; English lacks a proper vocative case. We can best think of it as “O ultimate barbarians,” or “you are the greatest of barbarians”.

So, I am “Baruch”, and my dear collaborator is “Bento”. We started Ultimibarbarorum.com because we needed a venue to rant about the stuff we didn’t agree with that was going on in like 2007. Iraq wars, hypocritical politics and the like. This was our online placard. No More! we said. We will expose you, horrible Barbarians. But non-one cared. So we started writing posts about Apple and got lots of hits that way.

Baruch, aka Benedictus, or Bento de Spinoza is one of the most important philosophers of the modern world, but not as well known as much lesser figures (like that fool Leibnitz). He is important because he made it possible for us to be modern, or at least described a way we could make sense of a world where the stultifying writ of public religion or absolute monarchy no longer held. He is the great philosopher of liberty. Locke, Burke, Jefferson, Rousseau and Mill are all thought of as key shapers of modern political thought, but before all of them there was Spinoza. His were the shoulders on which they sat to see more clearly. We owe him our open societies, our liberty to criticize, and the freedom to discover and experiment; the keys to our current prosperity.

After his death, Spinoza’s ideas percolated through western society like a virulent meme, influencing educated minds across Europe, and eventually reaching North America, where they achieved their greatest flowering. In their private writings, both Franklin, Jefferson and their peers show themselves to be heavily in Spinoza’s debt. They took the then-astonishing step of founding a Republic based on principles of Reason as characterised by Spinoza, with freedom of religion and thought as its very centre.

Some words of explanation for what you will find here.

  • The function of posts tagged “Barbarians” are to point fingers at people who we consider would have been cheerful members of the mob who did in the De Witts. Enemies of the philosophy of liberty. Best marginalised and ridiculed.
  • Stupid Cartesians” are those who should know better; educated, they are likely to have been led to water but have decided not to drink. Like the Cartesians of Spinoza’s time, they are ostensibly clever. However they are not wise. They are liable to stand with the forces of barbarism against Spinozists and “Fellow Collegiants”.
  • Fellow Collegiants” are our fellow-travellers, Spinozist running dogs, if you like. They are named after groups of religious dissidents who used to meet in private houses in the Holland of Spinoza’s time, and from which many of Spinoza’s early followers were drawn. They may come at the same problems from different angles, they may be moderately religious, conservative or radical, but they nevertheless come to the same conclusions. Still not quite “one of us”, they are nevertheless our friends.
  • Lens Grinding” posts are to do with practical matters. Spinoza financed his philosophising via polishing and finishing high-precision optical lenses for the scientists of his time. It was demanding work, physically and intellectually. Some think the glass dust eventually killed him, affecting his lungs. Meantime Spinoza became almost as familiar with then-extant scientific theories of optics as he was with theology and philosophy. Baruch studies financial markets and tries to turn a penny investing in them. He likes to write about them too, and thinks them a valuable testing-bed for theories about rationality. “So much data,” as Benoit Mandelbrot said. No-one really knows what Bento does.
  • Philosophising” is exactly that. We are not so gifted as to be able to construct a radically new view of man’s place in the world, but we try, in our extremely limited way, to further the work of Spinoza and relate it to the modern world and subsequent discoveries in nature.
  • What would Spinoza do?” posts reflect our anguish when the facts don’t fit the theories.
  • Eurovision” posts concern the Eurovision song contest. Deal with it.