Spinozas Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts)
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France and the Netherlands had participated in an uneasy alliance ever since the Franco-Dutch treaty of But always lurking in the background behind the professed amity were tensions over French ambitions toward the Spanish Netherlands. When, in the mids, a substantially weakened Spain began withdrawing its forces from its Flemish and Wallonian possessions, the King of France saw that the opportunity was ripe to make his move.
In addition to these territorial issues between the two nations, there was a low-level campaign of hostilities on the economic front. The French, concerned by the increasing share that Dutch exports — such as cloth, herring, tobacco, and sugar — were assuming in their market, imposed harsh tariffs on all foreign imports, which greatly antagonized Dutch producers and traders and had them clamoring for retaliatory measures.
The intense competi- tion between the recently founded French East and West Indies Companies and their more established Dutch counterparts served only to push the anger and resentment, not to mention the anxiety, of the Dutch public to the breaking point. Through a series of French alliances, by the Dutch found themselves surrounded by hostile states.
Louis seemed intent not just on taking the Spanish Netherlands but also in defeating the Dutch Republic itself and transforming it into a monarchy. De Witt believed that nothing could be gained by war, and all along argued against military intervention.
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His Orangist opponents, on the other hand, insisted on a strong response and clamored for the return of the Stadholder to take command of the armed forces. On the eve of the French invasion, they effectively won the debate and William III, now reaching his majority, was appointed Stadholder in Holland and other provinces.
Things did not go well for the Dutch in the early months of the war. As a consequence, De Witt was in serious trouble. Public sentiment was running strongly against him, as he was accused of military incompetence, financial improprieties, and even of plotting to hand the Republic over to its enemies so that he could rule it on their behalf.
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By June, after an assassination attempt, he had resigned the position of Grand Pensionary. Soon thereafter, his brother, Cornelis, was arrested, allegedly for plotting against the life of the Stadholder.
By the end of the day, they were dead, hung up and literally torn apart by the crowd. Spinoza was stunned and outraged by these acts of barbarity, perpetrated not by some roving band of thieves but by a crowd of ordinary citizens. Regents seen as sympathetic to the De Witts were replaced by individuals who were unequivocally Orangist and favorably disposed to the aims of the orthodox Calvinists. Seem- ingly overnight, political power became more centralized as it moved back from the towns and the provincial States to the Stadholder and the States General, over which William had great influence.
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Consequently, it became easier for the authorities to exercise a broader and more consistent control over what was said and done in the Republic. These changes in the political winds probably account for the fact that, after , Spinoza found himself once again the object of attack. Spinoza saw through their strategy. In February, , Spinoza was invited by Karl Ludwig, Elector of Palatine, one of the German imperial states, to take up a chair in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. Spinoza was flattered by the invita- tion, and gave it serious consideration. He was, however, reluctant to make such an extreme change in his living situation and to interrupt his work by taking on formal duties.
I do not know within what limits the freedom to philosophize must be confined if I am to avoid appearing to disturb the publicly established religion. For divisions arise not so much from an ardent devotion to religion as from the different dispositions of men, or through their love of contradiction that leads them to distort or to condemn all things, even those that are stated aright.
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Now since I have already experienced this while leading a private and solitary life, it would be much more to be feared after I have risen to this position of eminence. So you see, most Honorable Sir, that my reluctance is not due to the hope of some better fortune, but to my love of peace, which I believe I can enjoy in some measure if I refrain from lecturing in public. Letter That summer, Spinoza received another invitation, one that required him to make a trip behind enemy lines. While occupying the city, he sought to surround himself with intellectuals and courtiers and recreate the kind of salon atmosphere that he enjoyed back home in Chantilly.
His second-in-command, Jean-Baptiste Stouppe, wrote to Spinoza asking him to join the circle in Utrecht, and even offered to get him a pension from Louis if only Spinoza would dedicate one of his books to the French monarch. Spinoza declined the offer of a pension, but did accept the invitation to come to Utrecht. Thus, in July , he found himself traveling through dangerous and ravaged country to enter French-controlled territory. It was a trip that did not endear Spinoza to his Dutch compat- riots.
The whole affair only added to their suspicions about his loyalties, and he was now seen not only as blasphemer of religion but also a traitor. I am not guilty, and there are many people at the highest office who know well why I have gone to Utrecht. As soon as they make any noise at your door, I will go out to the people, even if they should deal with me as they did with the good De Witt brothers.
I am an upright republican, and the welfare of the state is my goal. It seems highly unlikely, however, that Spinoza was in the employ of the Dutch government. These were the days of the Orangists, not the De Witts. Even if the Stadholder or the States were inclined to communicate with the French, they would not have entrusted so sensitive a task to someone they perceived as an enemy of the Republic. Spinoza was not, of course, an enemy of the Republic. All of his writing is directed toward the virtue and well-being not just of his fellow human beings, but also of the political society they composed and upon which they depended.
Each state, through its democratic culture and intellectual cosmo- politanism, nourished a philosopher who, once he turned his critical eye upon his own society and the lives led by others, would find himself the object of great ire. The manuscript of which he had been so protective as to allow only a select few to see it — and even then only on the condition that they not talk about it to others — was, it seemed, about to be revealed to the public.
He made the trip to Amsterdam toward the end of the month and handed a fair copy over to Rieuwertsz. It is unclear whether Spinoza was planning to withhold his name from the title page, as he had done with the Theological-Political Trea- tise. It is unlikely, however, that he any longer felt the need to take such precautions. Much had happened in the fifteen years since he began the work, particularly the five years since the appearance of the Treatise, and there would be very little mystery about who its author was.
Also, the political situation being what it was, there was very little to be gained at this point by anonymous publication. This strengthened the hand of the Orangists, and William and his supporters came down hard on those republicans who resisted his consolidation of powers. Whereas liberal regents and much of the merchant class wanted to end hostilities quickly and get back to the political and economic status quo ante, the Stadholder party insisted on continuing the war until France was finally defeated and taught a lesson.
With the Orangists having their way in most matters political and military, and the Voetians enjoying a similar ascendancy in the theological domain, the rules of the game had changed considerably since There was no reason to think that simply by publishing a treatise anonymously one would be saved from a fate like that of the more brazen Koerbagh. Despite the obvious risks he was taking, Spinoza felt confident and everything seemed to be on track during the summer of He stayed in Amsterdam for two weeks. But no sooner had Spinoza begun overseeing the production of his book than he abruptly stopped the printing.
Back in The Hague by early September, he explained to Oldenburg, who had been pressing Spinoza to make public his writings for a long time, the reasons for his decision ultimately not to publish the Ethics: While I was engaged in this business, a rumor became widespread that a certain book of mine about God was in the press, and that in it I endeavor to show that there is no God. This rumor found credence with many.
So certain theologians who may have started this rumor seized the oppor- tunity to complain of me before the Prince and the magistrates. Having gathered this from certain trustworthy men who also declared that the theologians were everywhere plotting against me, I decided to postpone the publication I had in hand until I should see how matters would turn out, intending to let you know what course I would then pursue.
But the situation seems to worsen day by day, and I am not sure what to do about it. The Reformed leaders in The Hague had already 31 Letter But this time their attack seemed more personal and ominous. More worrisome than the occa- sional broadside from the preachers, which he had come to expect, were, as his letter to Oldenburg indicates, the intimations that the secular authorities might, at the instigation of the theologians, be preparing to act once again. Spinoza was well served by his inform- ants regarding the less-than-friendly murmurings about the content of his forthcoming book.
From The Hague, Theodore Rijckius wrote to an influential friend on August 14 that there is talk among us that the author of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus is about to issue a book on God and the mind, one even more dangerous than the first. It will be the responsibility of you and those who, with you, are occupied with governing the Republic, to make sure that this book is not published. For it is incredible how much that man, who has striven to overthrow the principles of our most holy faith, has already harmed the Republic.
It would not appear in print until , when his friends brought out his previously unpublished writings in Latin and Dutch posthumous editions, the Opera posthuma and Nagelate Schriften.
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Throughout the years, as he moved from one place to the next, Spinoza continued to visit Amsterdam and, in turn, to receive visitors from his home town and elsewhere, including Oldenburg, De Vries, and Huygens. Among the guests in his lodgings in The Hague in was the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who was passing through the Netherlands on his way back to Germany after a sojourn of four years in Paris.
Tschirnhaus, in fact, had brought a manuscript copy of the Ethics with him when he came to Paris from Amsterdam, with explicit orders not to show it to anyone without first asking Spinoza.