Imperium: notes on the thought of Spinoza

by | 19 Jun 2013


Cartesian cosmology

Cartesian cosmology

Note: readers should first study the key concepts Power (potentia) and Natural Right before proceeding.

A practical comprehension of Spinoza’s theory of natural right allows us to begin to use this conceptual tool to construct our world.  This is the essence of Spinoza’s ethico-political project: how to use the doctrine of natural right to construct machines that increase our power.  Consequently, when we come to the question of the organisation of society, virtuous law and politics amount to the endeavour to build-right augmenting machines, which Spinoza calls imperia.

Let us begin our brief survey with Spinoza’s definition of sovereignty in his Tractatus Politicus (“TP”) II[17]:

Hoc ius, quod multitudinis potentia definitur, imperium appellari solet. Atque hoc is absolute tenet, qui curam reipublicae ex communi consensu habet…

This right, which is defined by the power of the multitude, is usually called the imperium.  It is held absolutely by whoever has oversight of the republic by common consensus. (my trans.)

Spinoza thus settles upon the idea that the imperium is an expression of common power, that is, it is an expression of power of a group of individuals insofar only as they act as one.  Notice that according to a principle of superposition of powers we do not obtain a ‘new’ consciousness unless those powers determine the bodies on which they act to some existence.  It is therefore appropriate to define this mode.  We define:

An imperium is a singularity of projection which does not appear in the field of right as an origin prior to that projection.

In Spinozan terms of Extension, this amounts to saying that given any locality there is a transition occurring which is not due to difference of motion and rest at that point i.e. there is no individual in the sense of EIIP13 Lem.1.  From this we propose:

The principle of common right: every act of β1β2βn in union is a partial solution to the aggregate natures of each of β1, β2βn, and each such act expresses their common nature as an imperium.

More simply, when people determine to work together, they seem to posit a common power which is localisable in no One, and this seeming power is their common right.  Contrary to some interpretations, it is an ethical strength, not a weakness (see the forthcoming article on Multitude).

Now, given that the virtue of any number of humans is variable, it is likewise possible to posit a series of imperia, each of which express common right, that is, the common natures of each constituent, with greater reality.  It seems that a form of this principle is readily adopted by Marx in his chapter of Capital on Co-operation, though following John Bellers, he is keen to notice that combination of power also generates a “collective power” where 10 men straining to lift a ton is qualitatively not equivalent to 100 men each using a finger, an observation far beyond Spinoza’s frame of reference.1(1976:433) and for Bellers see n.5 ibid. It is this working hypothesis of a series of imperia, each with a common right appropriate to itself, which allows us to understand the flow of Spinoza’s Tractatus politicus, to which we now turn.

1. From substance to imperium

Gueroult famously established (1968) that Spinoza begins his derivation of the unique and infinite divine substance first by dividing existing and acting, and then constructing an infinite series of substances, each of which enacts a single infinite attribute.  He then resolves each such substance into a ‘One’ of sorts.  The subtlety of Spinoza’s move in part consists in the Socratic technique of granting one’s contemporaries the commonplaces of their conception of God and Nature, and drawing from these notions the true nature of things.  It is our conjecture that Spinoza deploys similar tactics in the Tractatus politicus, where he moves from a conception of a series of imperia, each with its common right and desire for security, towards one rational imperium which, if achievable at least in some degree, will ensure the longer endurance of the given civil society.2TPI(6)

2. The working definition of a state’s virtue as its security

Spinoza begins his construction of the imperium in his usual fashion with a definition, either directly, as in the Ethics, or by way of discussion of a common conception, as in TTPIV and here in TPI:

Freedom of spirit or strength of mind is the virtue of the private citizen: the virtue of a state is its security (TPI[6])

On first reading such a privileging of security seems to open the door not to freedom but bondage.  We take the view that this statement plays a similar role to Ethics Part I Def.6, where Spinoza defines God as an absolutely infinite entity, that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence.  The primary tactical purpose of both definitions appears to be Socratic, in that it posits a starting point with which Spinoza’s contemporaries would have largely agreed had they not known what was coming down the chain of reasons.  One of the most fascinating aspects of Spinoza studies is that whereas the sleight-of-hand Spinoza performs with the God concept is well known and comfortably accepted today as something quite shocking in the past, Spinoza’s reworking of the imperium is still shocking for us.  As Balibar contends,3(1997:1) it may even have been shocking for Spinoza too.  The claim that the virtue of the state is security is either read as in tune with the Realpolitik of our own times or as an apology for it.4Curley in Garrett (1996:315-342) Insofar as Spinoza’s treatise is understood as a kind of letter to the prince about statecraft, not unlike Seneca’s De Clementia, the above definition falls on the side of being rather attractive, though perhaps also to Spinoza in his troubled times it was likewise a call for envelopment.  Our point, however, is that this ‘hook’ of a definition should be treated with due caution, and that the flow of Spinoza’s argument leads us to quite a different understanding of this beginning.

3. The existence of a multiplicity of imperia

The introductory chapter of the TP ends with the following claim, which flows from the conception of union of bodies and their right:

Finally, since men everywhere, whether barbarian or civilised, enter into relationships with one another and set up some kind of civil order, one should not look for the causes and natural foundations of a state in the teachings of reason, but deduce them from the nature and conditions of humans in general. (TPI[7])

As Wernham notes,5(1958:265 n.5) the decision that the foundations of the imperium cannot be deduced from the precepts of reason appears to be an acknowledgement of the failure of social contract theory to account for the very thing that renders a contract binding (i.e. utility).  Rather, the statement not only introduces the following chapter’s discussion of natural right, but already makes the general claim that there exist numerous imperia, indeed as many at any moment as express the conditions or common nature of humans.  The addition of “conditions” alerts us to the fact that Spinoza, as TPI[6] has already made clear, is particularly concerned with the variations in virtue of humans which determines a difference of mutual condition and thus, juridically, a relative difference of natures which diminishes common right.  Spinoza is not saying that all humans form an imperium solely by being human; they must act in union also.  When powers or virtues are more alike, a mutual flow of essential consciousness is constituted which operates according to a summation of individual rights and discloses, at least in the common ecliptic, a union of appearance, rather than thinghood proper.  We are thus asked to imagine the world as a confused flow of arbitrary unions of utility and common endeavour, with a great disunity of purpose between these endeavours which just as much leads to a state of war as would the isolated existence of single conatuses according to the Hobbesian model of the state of nature.  As Spinoza says, his state of nature is immanent to the imperium.

4. The action of a multiplicity of natural rights

Having determined the existence of multiple unions of convenience, each one an imperium, Spinoza now holds forth on his natural right theory.  We have explored this theory of natural right in our article on this subject and so propose to summarise only the essential aspects at work.  The primary purpose of this discussion of natural right is to establish that each thing expresses the natural right of God or Nature, firstly as infinite rights expressed at local sources, secondly as finite rights within the general equilibrium, all of which combine up to the right of the whole of dynamic Nature itself.  The first experience of this world is the endeavour to persevere in one’s being as an existing thing, and derivatively to work according to one’s nature.  This endeavour is expressed foremost by the activity of every particular thing within the constraints of the whole.  Finite Nature must be understood, as we have shown, not as partitioned between individuals and groups of individuals, but as immanently summed across existence such that individual powers are coerced and constrained from their fullest actualisation (the formal being of acts).  At the finite level, the character of each individual right is thus as indefinite as its existence but for the existence and actions of each other thing.

5. The existence of a multiplicity of imperia, each with one right

In TPII[13-15] Spinoza now combines the two.  Firstly, by virtue of the principle of common right (see above), forces are united and the consequent right is in combination greater,6TPII(13) but this possibility of combination is diminished by a difference of virtue.7TPII(14) Secondly, Spinoza places such imperia in the context of the natural state as a whole, noting that the more humans that unite in this way, the more right they collectively possess, and can thus repel threats to their territories and body.  Further, the greater this combined right, the greater the number of threats (the right of “all”) that can be repelled.8TPII(15) In other words, there endeavours to exist a multiplicity of imperia, each expressing a combined single natural right which is formally indefinite but actually restrained.

6. The particularity of each imperium’s right

The right of each imperium may be considered as a certain species of event, that is, the aggregate act of each such combined body.  It is a partial solution to the common nature of the imperium’s constituents, yet, reliant as it is on these constituents being in act, this partial solution will only express that nature according to the combined virtue of its constituents.  One can see from our earlier combination of right that if we place a number of bodies in relation, sum across their rights (and any tools transforming them), then the effects of such combined right determine a projection towards a point which only has actually existing bodies as its source.  Even in the case of two bodies, as a third, less virtuous body is affected, the result of summation of powers is that at that moment this third body proceeds in a direction which does not appear to be due to either.  Descartes’ parallelogram rule for summing forces shows this.  Even with multiple bodies, this basic principle means that those effects which appear as due to one body are certainly due to all as all combined.  If we thus imagine our combined group of bodies acting in union, the global movement may be rationally determined to some centre which may or may not be located in any one of the bodies.  Indeed, it may be located outside of the group of bodies if their combined desire is towards something they do not possess.

Now, these sorts of ephemeral desires are the bane of passionate existence for Spinoza, and he spends much time decrying greed and lusts as precisely those sorts of desires which in combination can lead whole imperia astray.  These are the whims and fancies of the multitude which take on the geometrical form of a group of bodies endeavouring to attain what they imagine is their salvation.  Their problem is, however, that given that such passionate pursuits are grounded in imagination, the actions of the united body are of necessity contrary to that unity, and as we approach the limit case the union will tear itself apart.  This limit is but one extreme, the other being the limit of a city of the wise, and as with this latter, Spinoza regards them as more unlikely than not.  His interest is in actually existing states which do last at least a few years and thus evidence a degree of common purpose.  There is a spectrum of imperia, defined by natural right according to their virtue.  This spectrum provides the variable basis which allows us to consider the existence of multiple imperia, each with their own interests according to their determinate right, here understood as their combined ability to express the common nature of their constituent bodies.  In short Spinoza wishes to focus on cases where the actions of each body project with a certain degree of regularity this common centre of purpose which appears as union.

From all this we find we have little trouble understanding the infamous statement in TPII[16] that: “where men have common rights…[they] are all guided as if by one mind”.9The well-known “una veluti mente ducuntur The degree of virtue of the imperium determines the reality of this united mind where reality is understood as the intensity, clarity and distinctness of the effects of the common endeavour of the bodies in that imperium.  The more power those individuals express, the more their common natures are expressed together, and thus the more this common nature, this common notion of the human as Spinoza’s foremost ethical ens rationis, is expressed and projected into the world.   This being of reason, though it be virtuously affirmed, does not have being except in the limit.  By all means the imperium exists, but it is not a particular thing.  It is a mode; an effect of particular things.  It is also a mode of thought, and thus qua idea, it can be a tool which transforms an individual’s power of acting.  But the mode cannot cause this idea to enter an individual’s mind; rather, other individuals in act must cause it to so enter, whether by hearsay or simply by the existence of the effects of common right.  When we speak of imperium, the specific benefits to natural right it may be said to confer are properly derivative of the rights of its common constituents, and they alone.  The imperium appears as if it were one mind, when in fact it is the result of many acting in common.  Conversely, this common right, which the power of the multitude defines, is generally called the imperium (TPII[17]).  Notice (i) the explicit generative use of “defines” which Spinoza deploys, and (ii) the “generally called” (appellari solet) indicating that the imperia Spinoza is discussing have a questionable nomenclature.  We may be able to discern the reason in due course.

This being of reason forms the totem or anchor for a number of institutions which flow from the appearance of common consent.  Spinoza completes TPII by repeating what he has already shown in EIVP37 Sch.2, namely that justice, injustice, sin, blame, praise and merit, are all things which are constructed within the imperium.  At this stage Spinoza prefers to relate these concepts, which are engendered by civil laws, back to the common consent of the imperium.  It follows that the virtue ascribable to such laws and conceptions of justice are indexed to the virtue of the imperium, that is, their reality or power derives from the reality or power of the imperium such that all laws and related conceptions, though they contain the same signs, vary in their power according to the virtue of the imperium that expresses certain common natures.  While the augmentation of power is simple, and so does not specify a ‘true’ justice, its ability to augment the power of enduring and working assists the ability to express a formal essence through work, and, in the imperium, one’s common nature.  This provides an interesting argument for human rights, for the fluidity of the imperium notion, which simply requires human common endeavour, means that contrary to positivists’ view of the matter; the common endeavour of multiple individuals in various territories to uphold what they commonly consent to as human rights constitutes an imperium with a degree of reality in just the same way as a more classical territorial state.  Indeed, human rights may be seen as having the reality (the power) that they do, in spite of their lack of enforcement power, precisely because of the unity of the mind of the individuals involved, which expresses their common nature in a greater degree.  Save the concreteness of Spinoza’s conception of formal essence means that we must be alive to the mutability of the common that is expressed i.e. the material conditions of the coming to consciousness of right.  Spinoza at once raises the possibility of these arguments to the material plane, such that one could speak of an imperium of human rights, but in so doing is perfectly aware that on this ‘level-playing field’ of right, such an imperium is at the mercy of greater power, even if irrational.  There is no claim in Spinozism that a concept must attain its self-realisation, except in the case of the first.

7. Inconsistency of multiple imperia each expressing one particular right

In TPIII Spinoza now proceeds with what one might call a reductio ad bellum argument. In the Ethics he sought to show that multiple attributes must either have nothing in common or lack the very infinity that defined them, and that it must be the case that substance expresses an infinity of mutually exclusive attributes, or absurdity results.  This takes place firstly by a restriction on free thought and action to prevent disorder, which we discuss in this section, then by a counterargument that prevention of disorder is less feasible depending on the order the imperium pretends to impose.

Now, at the finite level of imperia, Spinoza reprises his working definition of the virtue of the imperium as security in order to establish the problematic relation that must subsist between the multiple imperia expressing with varying virtue their respective combined right. It must be remarked that while Spinoza seems now, in TPII[17], to have formally redefined the imperium as the potentia multitudinis, this continues in no way to contradict his general thesis that an imperium can spring up anywhere that two or more humans combine to perform work.  This is evident from the following discussion, where though a more ‘state-like’ imperium is now in play in the argument, with its corporate powers and common consent, Spinoza continues the state of nature into this imperium by allowing for dissent and riot as imperia within the same ‘sphere’.  Each such imperium expresses a certain degree of virtue according to the combination of the power of constituent rights, and as such expresses its constituent common nature as ‘humanity’.  In TPIII[11] Spinoza somewhat elides the looseness of union that characterises the city when he determines that as between imperia “the two imperia are in the same relation to one another as are two people in the state of Nature” subject to the exception that an imperium can take better precautions against subjugation.  Our interpretation of common right indicates why Spinoza treats the states of war and alliance (foedus) as oscillating in the way they do.  It is only insofar as the commonwealths pursue a common purpose – fear of loss or hope of gain – that they project a commonality of right around which the citizens mutually circulate.  As this purpose vanishes, so the commonality of projection vanishes in the minds of each, and the imperia pursue the next most advantageous purpose that constitutes themselves as imperium, and so, to the extent that these purposes divide the imperia, they are again in a state of war.

The Spinozan model thus has a tendency to collapse back into an explicit state of nature, and for groups of citizens across boundaries to form imperia as they see fit, but this somewhat overlooks the stress Spinoza is placing on the ‘nature’ of officiating imperia specifically.  By officiating we mean the civil order which is entrusted to offices.10Cf. Agamben’s acheology of the office in Opus Dei (2012). It is not the case that Spinoza is saying that notional transfers of natural right to officers occur, and that this constitutes an imperium, but rather that the “most charitable” role of the officer “is to safeguard peace and promote harmony” (TPIII[10]) which is most effectively achieved by fostering reason and easing the path to actualisation of the multitude’s common purpose (TPIII[7]).

This argument is conducted in the space that exists between the right of multitude considered collectively and the right of each individual.  The basic principle, self-evident for Spinoza, is that as this multitudinous right exceeds the individual’s right, so the latter is restrained from acting in a manner not permitted by the imperium.11TPIII(2), but already stated in TPII(16). It is here, however, that our causal analysis of eternity and its role in essential consciousness plays an important role and helps us re-balance the fatalism which dogs interpretations of the Tractatus politicus.  If we remember that to think in eternity is to appear to re-order the causal chain so that one, as it were, immediately completes to infinity one’s act, then we can understand the faith Spinoza places in reason over against an irrational imperium.  Thus the very first cause of being is eternal and remains after death, but also each act of intuition is eternal and incapable of being undone by finite power.  Even ideas of the second kind of cognition have a certain species of eternity which render them exemplary in the imperium.  It is with this rather Stoic armoury that Spinoza proceeds to bear the worst of the imperium and to establish just how far its expressed communal power extends.

Having established that the imperium cannot leave all matters of judgement up to private individuals, lest it dissolve almost immediately according to whim, Spinoza argues that in matters of common decree even the rational human must consider herself bound though she disagree with the rationality of that law.  One wonders whether in this Spinoza has not been inspired by Grotius, whose De veritate religionis christianae discusses the issue of higher and middle goods, or Stoic goods and indifferents.12(1755 {1627}) I, vii “Tum vero instituta quadam ita & homnibus communia, ut non tam naturae instinctui, aut evidenti rationis collectioni, quam perpetuae & vix paucis in locis per malitiam aut calamitatem interruptae traditioni, accepta ferri dabeant: qualis olim fuit victimarum in sacris mactatio, & nunc quoque pudor circa res Veneris, nuptiarum solemnia, & incestorum fuga”.  Compare Kant’s definition of marriage. Grotius’ Meletius offers an even more explicit consideration of indifferents, for it is here that we find a conception integral to Spinoza’s own view, namely that there could be only the ultimate good: Deo frui, sive beatitudo.13Meletius (13), quoted by Besselink in Blom & Winkel (2004:193). Against beatitude, both Grotius and Spinoza argue, all other deemed goods are in fact indifferent.  Where they differ, it is in Grotius’ voluntarism in determining that what may be metaphysically indifferent under natural law falls under custom so that according to mores things may be declared good or bad, and that these are done so, Grotius adds, because they may help in the attainment of the ultimate good.  Grotius’ list of such middle goods is wide, ranging from life and learning to wealth and honour, with middle bads ranging over shame and poverty.14Meletius (58), quoted in Besselink id. Spinoza places the stress of means to the ultimate good not on objects but on common life, on combined consciousness.  It is association which is the most useful thing, not wealth.  Every other good, save perhaps learning as reason, is relegated to the status of derivative of the middle good of association, itself indifferent with respect to beatitude.  With this demotion is taken the character of contingency and tradition, whereas common association is always good and is always to be sought in the state of nature.  Though Spinoza may not have intended it, there is room to argue that from the Grotian perspective the principle of association has become a natural law.  Our major point, however, is that we can see how Spinoza may regard rational laws in relation to middle goods and bads as attracting the Stoic ethical response they deserve – indifference from the perspective of the summum bonum.

Spinoza now turns and begins to dismantle the juridical structure of absolute determination of law, declaring that he has explained how far the power, and consequently the right, of the imperium extends.

8. The unification of imperia under one right: towards the imperium intuitivum

In TPIII[7-9] Spinoza links together his arguments with three points, which we reconstruct as follows.

(a) The human that thinks in eternity is in respect of those acts expressing the power of God or Nature.  Such acts are incontrovertible and completed in and for eternity.  Likewise the rational human acts according to a certain species of eternity in having adequate ideas.  Such a human, in respect of these acts is most powerful and has the most right and virtue, and bears the finite restraints of the state of nature and the passionate imperium with equanimity, for duration fades in their thought.  An imperium which harnessed such a human’s power would thus express this virtue and would derive its own endurance from that right.  That is, as with the human, the imperium expressing rational power would likewise be in greater possession of its right in the state of nature.15I.e. as against other imperia. TPIII concludes with a discussion of international politics and law. Remember that by endurance Spinoza ultimately means lack of restraint from expressing one’s nature; it is not remaining the same through time but the condition of experiencing no time whatsoever.  An imperium seeking security, that is, endurance, should endeavour to harness this virtue by creating the conditions in which all its bodies were able to attain such virtue.16TPIII(7)

(b) The imperium’s right is necessarily finite with respect to particular things:

  1. No one can be induced to give up their judgement, and that as such the rational human cannot be forced to deny reason at the imperium’s behest.  Spinoza may or may not see the contradiction with his claim that the rational should obey irrational laws, though, if he holds the Stoic/Grotian view of indifferents, this argument must distinguish between irrational laws about middle goods and bads, and irrational laws that threaten the aim of the imperium (that is, threaten the possibility of communal life as the means to the highest good).
  2. No one without hope or fear can be subjected to laws, for they either have no regard for threats and punishments, or they see no reason to love the political order (statum).

The interesting thing about both these points, though they appear to be aimed at the mad, criminal, and free thinkers, is that Spinoza is perfectly aware that his own Ethics characterises the wise human as someone exercising reason in both guises and being un-swayed, thanks to the power of the idea Dei, by hopes and fears. The more explicit argument, which flows from (a), is that the imperium must understand that its power will only extend into the judgements of the wise if those very judgements are acts of love for the imperium. Again the imperium must engage with reason or be doomed to have its right limited and its duration defined.17TPIII(8) Liberal interpreters may seize on a possible distinction between laws pertaining to middle goods and those pertaining to the highest aim of the imperium to argue that Spinoza thereby leaves a liberal space for free exchange which must be respected by all rational citizens. This misconstrues both the aims, range and criticality of communal life in Spinoza’s thought. So intrinsic is this conception to human endeavour, and so primary is it to the attainment of sufficient virtue, that communal life can in no way be limited to a public sphere. Every act must be subjected to the consideration of whether it furthers communal life. Thus every act must first be determined worthy of indifference, rather than being assumed or pre-determined as such.

(c) As if to hammer home the above two arguments, Spinoza asserts that the primary security risk for the imperium is its own constituents. Any decree which arouses general indignation will be subject to a conspiracy against it equal to the combined right of the conspirators. In other words, the imperium by its irrationality will have generated another imperium whose right may exceed its own and by which it will be replaced. To avoid this, the imperium must ensure that it tacks the closer to reason.18TPIII(9)

In the depths of this argument is an idea which should not surprise us: that the commonality of humans derives from their virtue and is expressed by their reason; the more virtuous, the more humans have in common and the more they seek mutual company; this mutual company forms an imperium which, so constituted by higher virtue, is more powerful and expresses their common nature in a greater way; but reason is united in the Infinite Understanding; so if two imperia exist which are virtuous in this order, they will each act in the same manner and seek each other’s company; they thus will form an imperium of combined natural rights, and so on until all humanity is thus combined in the state of fostering reason, though whether we can speak of humanity anymore is questionable for the reasons already discussed in the article on Power (Potentia). Spinoza thus recovers his argument for God or Nature’s uniqueness also on the politico-juridical plane of natural right.

Spinoza's seal

Spinoza’s seal

In view of the foregoing, we define:

The imperium intuitivum is an imperium constituted by particular things each of whose right approaches the limit of beatitude.

As we have already mentioned much earlier, Spinoza’s work is grounded in having established that existing thinking things necessarily have as their first idea this passage to the true infinite, albeit that they may not conceive the idea of this idea (we might say they have not risen to consciousness of their ownmost power). This means that each thinking thing is always already a citizen by right of the imperium intuitivum as Spinoza conceives it and as such Spinoza echoes the Pauline distinction drawn up from Roman law between the ius gentium now deriving conflictually from every temporal imperium, and one ius naturale (literally with Spinoza the right of the state of nature) which is at once immanent to and overarches every civilian law. For Spinoza’s treatment of Paul’s doctrine, cf. for example Chapter 4 of the Tractatus Theologico-politicus.

This formal idea of an imperium intuitivum grounds the practical argument that the most enduring imperium, the one that is the most secure, is in fact the one that most fosters rationality and thus approaches its own overcoming in the imperium intuitivum. This is the social transition in Spinozism. Just as the machine was raised to its infinite limit as the divine machine, now the city as social machine is raised to its limit as the infinite right-producing machine. This is, as considered between its constituents, at once cosmopolis and eternal and infinite intellect of God. As Spinoza writes in EVP40 Scholium:

…our mind, in so far as it understands, is an eternal mode of thinking, which is determined by another eternal mode of thinking, and that again by another, and so on to infinity, in such a way that they all constitute simultaneously the eternal and infinite intellect of God.

The citizens of the imperium intuitivum are sources of an infinite power which is determined by their relations inter se (cf. The Cartesian cosmological hypothesis illustrated above) in a manner which appears to confirm the ‘higher’ equilibrium of power at the level of the infinite machine, but, remember, which power is issuing forth transitions in the finite world of duration insofar as the formal essences of the imperium intuitivum are being expressed by appropriate relations in the finite level. To be clear, the finite imperia together constitute a general equilibrium of human relations expressing the aggregate of finite powers, but immanent to this there is a formal social plane occupied by one imperium intuitivum which is constituted by each person to the extent that they express the infinite potentia DeiHier ist die Rose, hier tanze. It is this difference between the infinite orders of imperia which makes ethics possible, insofar as natural right now derives also from infinite power and constitutes the means for fostering the citizen.

With the revelation of the immanence of the imperium intuitivum it would seem that Spinoza’s journey from divine power to the divine law has has attained its end in the rarefied aether of the cosmos. Yet the doctrine of power is but one critical moment of Spinoza’s metaphysical structure which it would be easy to raise out of its context. While the multitude, for example, may seem as a derivative of power (constituted by it), it woul be wrong to accept any form of subordination of multitude to power. The multitude as by its own nature something of equal generative moment within the system. Indeed, at the end of the Ethics, when beatitude is attained, close attention to the text indicated that a return to the world of the multitude is not only necessary, but constitutes a further, higher, step into ethical self-awarness, which could be summarised by the dictum “love thy swarming affects”. Einstein praised Spinoza for his unwavering faith in the good order of God’s laws, but in fact this is as nothing to Spinoza’s joyous faith in the ordered disorder of the multitude. Any full appreciation of the imperium must therefore account for the role of the multitude (and for that matter the civil law) within its legal-political structure.

Stephen Connelly’s thesis: Spinoza’s Theory of Natural Right: a doctrine of power and the legal order, and its mechanistic foundations will be defended at the University of London this July.

  • 1
    (1976:433) and for Bellers see n.5 ibid.
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
    Curley in Garrett (1996:315-342)
  • 5
    (1958:265 n.5)
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
    The well-known “una veluti mente ducuntur
  • 10
    Cf. Agamben’s acheology of the office in Opus Dei (2012).
  • 11
    TPIII(2), but already stated in TPII(16).
  • 12
    (1755 {1627}) I, vii “Tum vero instituta quadam ita & homnibus communia, ut non tam naturae instinctui, aut evidenti rationis collectioni, quam perpetuae & vix paucis in locis per malitiam aut calamitatem interruptae traditioni, accepta ferri dabeant: qualis olim fuit victimarum in sacris mactatio, & nunc quoque pudor circa res Veneris, nuptiarum solemnia, & incestorum fuga”.  Compare Kant’s definition of marriage.
  • 13
    Meletius (13), quoted by Besselink in Blom & Winkel (2004:193).
  • 14
    Meletius (58), quoted in Besselink id.
  • 15
    I.e. as against other imperia. TPIII concludes with a discussion of international politics and law.
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18


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