Tag: Spinoza

Conatus: political being and Spinoza

Key Concept Part I – The nature and significance of the conatus Spinoza’s ‘conatus’ is a signal concept of his thought and one which appears as an axiom of modern treatments, particularly those of a political nature. Famously, the conatus doctrine provides: Each thing insofar as it is in itself, endeavours to persevere in its…

Interpretation: notes on the thought of Spinoza

Key Concept A surfeit of sense Interpretation might initially be defined as the art of finding the situs of that which refuses to be localisable. One may slice up the commodity into its tiniest parts and never find its value, for the value is intermixed totally. So the sense of the word, which is a…

Imperium: notes on the thought of Spinoza

Cartesian cosmology

Key Concept 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…

Natural right: notes on the thought of Spinoza

From Diderot's Encyclopaedie

Key Concept Note: readers should first study the key concept Power (potentia) before proceeding. When students (res)trained in law approach Spinoza’s theory of natural right (ius naturale) they face precisely the formidable terminological barrier which Spinoza endeavours to teach us how to break through.  It is the same barrier which the student of mathematics encounters when…

Power (potentia): notes on the thought of Spinoza


Key ConceptIn this article I will focus exclusively on Spinoza’s theory of power (potentia) which forms a key element of his theories of natural right and imperium. For the legal theoretical importance of potentia in the areas, see the forthcoming articles NATURAL RIGHT and IMPERIUM, and for the relation to capacity (power) see the forthcoming…

The Politics of Spinozism – Composition and Communication (Part 2 of 2)


Étienne Balibar approaches Spinoza as a thinker of interaction, of the constitutive character of relations. Spinoza’s question, in Balibar’s view, is the following: ‘What is the mode of reciprocal action that characterizes the existence of a body politic?’

In this respect, the uniqueness of Spinoza is that of taking the movement (both outer and inner, so to speak) of the masses as the object of political science, and not just the legitimacy of sovereignty or the claims of order. (Of course, we may be tempted to ask, to what extent are the masses, or rather the multitude, the subject or object of politics?)

From here derives, in Balibar’s reading, both the centrality and aporetic character of the notion of democracy. Democracy is defined as a ‘united body of men which corporately possesses sovereign right over everything within its power’, as the combination of the reciprocity of duties and the equality of rights. As both Macherey and Negri note, this is not to be understood simply as another figure in a political typology of forms of government, but is an immanent tendency of political life, inscribed in the dynamic of reason and into the vicissitudes of human nature. Or, as Balibar puts it, democracy is both a kind of political order and the truth of every political order. Democracy can also be understood as the power of the multitude coordinated, cultivated and instituted without the imaginary displacement represented by sovereignty, by the alienation of the power of human singularities into the empty and formally unified place of power (the Hobbesian option, as it were). Whence the radical novelty of Spinoza’s question: How does power originate in the multitude? And, one should add, how does it continue and persevere, how is power not just originated, but also continuously constructed, in and by the multitude?

The Politics of Spinozism – Composition and Communication (Part 1 of 2)


As many schol­ars have noted, Spinoza’s rela­tion to the his­tory and prac­tice of philo­sophy is unique. Though often por­trayed in the academy as a thinker integ­rated into the ‘ration­al­ist’ tra­di­tion, Spinoza has repeatedly emerged as what Ant­o­nio Negri fam­ously called a ‘sav­age anom­aly’. Whether in the rad­ical enlight­en­ment of the late 17th and 18th cen­tur­ies, the Pan­the­ism con­tro­versy that played such a form­at­ive role within Ger­man Ideal­ism, or in the philo­soph­ical rad­ic­al­ism cata­lysed by May 1968, Spinoza has been repeatedly invoked as a point of ref­er­ence and inspir­a­tion at moments when the very mean­ing of philo­sophy and its link to the con­tem­por­ary world was at stake. Toscano’s ini­tial ques­tion is there­fore the fol­low­ing: How is it that a philo­sopher renowned for think­ing, with supreme detach­ment, ‘sub specie aetern­i­tatis’, could play such a force­ful part in debates over what Michel Fou­cault called ‘the onto­logy of the present’? In order to address this mat­ter, Toscano con­cen­trates spe­cific­ally on the latest ‘wave’ in the long his­tory of Spinozism, and focuses on three thinkers who have played a cru­cial role in the recent resur­gence of interest in the work of the Dutch philo­sopher: Gilles Deleuze, Etienne Balibar, and our guest in this col­loquium, Ant­o­nio Negri. More spe­cific­ally, Toscano is con­cerned with how Spinoza has served as a spur for these three thinkers in their rad­ical inter­rog­a­tions of the mean­ing of polit­ics, demo­cracy and the com­mon. He does this by flesh­ing out three con­cepts through which Deleuze, Balibar and Negri respect­ively affirm the rel­ev­ance of Spinoza’s onto­logy and eth­ics to any reflec­tion on the con­tem­por­ary status of the polit­ical: com­pos­i­tion, com­mu­nic­a­tion and constitution.