Spinoza’s Vision of Freedom, and Ours By STEVEN NA DLER
Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch thinker, may be among the more enigmatic (and mythologized) philosophers in Western thought, but he also remains one of the most relevant, to his time and to ours. He was an eloquent proponent of a secular, democratic society, and was the strongest advocate for freedom and tolerance in the early modern period. The ultimate goal of his “Theological-Political Treatise” — published anonymously to great alarm in 1670, when it was called by one of its many critics “a book forged in hell by the devil himself”— is enshrined both in the book’s subtitle and in the argument of its final chapter: to show that the “freedom of philosophizing” not only can be granted “without detriment to public peace, to piety, and to the right of the sovereign, but also that it must be granted if these are to be preserved.”Spinoza was incited to write the “Treatise” when he recognized that the Dutch Republic, and his own province of Holland in particular, was wavering from its uncommonly liberal and relatively tolerant traditions. He feared that with the rising political influence in the 1660s of the more orthodox and narrow-minded elements in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the willingness of civil authorities to placate the preachers by acting against works they deemed “irreligious,” “licentious” and “subversive,” the nearly two decades-long period of the “True Freedom” was coming to an end. The “Treatise” is both a personally angry book — a friend of Spinoza’s, the author of a radical treatise, had recently been thrown in prison, where he soon died — and a very public plea to the Dutch republic not to betray the political, legal and religious principles that made its flourishing possible.
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"The treatise was published anonymously in 1670 by Jan Rieuwertsz in Amsterdam. In order to protect the author and publisher from political retribution, the title page identified the city of publication as Hamburg and the publisher as Henricus Kunraht. It was written in New Latin rather than the vernacular Dutch in an attempt to avoid censorship by the secular Dutch authorities."