Spinoza and Mendelssohn on Tolerance, Liberty and Equality

The concepts of tolerance and freedom according to Spinoza and Mendelssohn* 

In this article, I would like to examine the political connotation of Spinoza’s concept of freedom, as elaborated in the Theological-Political Treatise. It does not deal in particular with its metaphysical connotation, as elaborated and defined in the Ethics. On the one hand the aim is to investigate the role of Spinoza’s, as well as Mendelssohn’s, conceptions of the relations between state and religion, and on the other hand also some actual imlications, as e.g. the so-called “cultural war” in Israel today, tht are of general philosophical signification.[1] There one can already encounter some grave issues of intolerance and coercion, spiritual as well as practical ones. While religious coercion, as  endorsed by almost all secular Israeli governments in many areas of civil life as a result of political pressure of the Orthodox religious parties, infringes on personal and political freedom, religious intolerance is liable to lead to acts of political violence, and indeed did so. Both are deplorable and require rectification. This issue is not restricted to Israeli reality, but involves nowadays the European society too, especially with regard to Islam and its fundamentalist wings. On these actual aspects I shall dwell more at the end of this paper.

The issue of tolerance versus intolerance highlights two separate philosophical problems: 1. Tolerance does not ensure full equality because tolerated views are conceived and treated as inferior by the very fact that they are “tolerated”. 2. Tolerance should not be applied to certain manifestations of intolerance. The question therefore is: Does political freedom necessitate a certain restriction of tolerance? The political implications of these issues I shall investigate by taking as my point of departure some conceptions of Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendlssohn’s political philosophy that are still very much relevant and significant today.

Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise and Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem share three common issues: 1. a philosoophical foundation of freedom of thought and expression; 2. a rationalist conception of the relations begtween state and religion; 3. an exposition of the religious commandments of the Pentateuch (the Torah) as the political legislation of the ancient Jewish State. However, a more thorough analysis and comparison of their conceptions reveal some striking differences of much relevance to modern deliberations on these issues. Although Spinoza was one of the first modern thinkers to advocate separation of theology and philosophy[2] and exhorted freedom of thought (libertas philosophandi)[3], he did not recommend a clear-cut division between state and religion. He was concerned with preventing the influence of the religious establishment (the Calvinist preachers in Holland of his time) on the affairs of the state, but not the other way round. He aspired to saveguard the independence of the political authorities but not of the religious institutions. There was no symmetry in his approach. He limited religion to the sphere of public education towards obedience; it ought on no account interfere in matters of state. Public exercise of religious worship is subject to the regulations of the state.

The right over matters spiritual lies wholly with the sovereign, and the outward forms of religion should be in accordance with public peace.[4]

Religious practice, unlike philosophical thought, is subordinated to the political authority. The vulnerable point in that argument obviously consists in that the citizens should be completely free to think and believe, but this freedom of thought does not necessarily entail their right to act freely in line with their convictions. Spinoza was aware of the difficulties of this argument, namely that the precise borderline between speech and acting is not always easy to draw.

Mendelssohn’s approach to this issue, more than a hundred years later, was more liberalistic. Freedom of thought and belief must also include freedom of religious worship. His main philosophical issue was not the sovereignty of the state but freedom of religious conviction and its free exercise. The state is an institution that deals with the relations between man and his fellowmen, in order to assure their proper functioning; it may impose laws and exert coercion to enforce them. Religion is an institution that deals with the relations between man and God. Its task is, similarly to Spinoza’s view, education, although Mendelssohn remains rather vague in what this education consists. But it certainly is not to inculcate obedience.

At this point of the inquiry it seems useful to introduce a third philosopher, namely Spinoza’s contemporary Thomas Hobbes to whom Mendelssohn refered too. Spinoza was acquainted with Hobbes’ philosophy,according to which the subjects must concede all their rights to the sovereign, the Leviathan, including their individual thoughts and beliefs. The American political philosopher Robert McShea has claimed that the philosophy of Spinoza and Hobbes is identical, or at least identical with “what Hobbes would have said had he been consistent”.[5] Leo Strauss who also devoted much space to political philosophy in his writings, asserted, on the contrary, that “Spinoza’s political theory… is toto coelo different from the theory of Hobbes”.[6] The truth seems somewhere to lie in the middle. Spinoza himself explained the difference between his and Hobbes’ views on several occasions.

Spinoza therefore restricted the absolute rights, accorded to the sovereign by Hobbes. State authorities should not only abstain from dictating to anybody what to think  or believe, but also from interfering with the expression in his/her thought. Obedience should be  achieved by appealing to the understanding of the citizens and not by crude coercion. Although one may observe some kinship between Hobbes and Spinoza on the political plane, they completely differed from each other with regard to the task of philosophy. For Hobbes it is no more than a tool of self-preservation for the sovereign while for Spinoza  it is an end for Man. It expresses the human desire for knowledge. Therefore the political establishment should assure the free development of knowledge and reason which is the ultimate end. He thus more or less continued the thought-trend of Maimonides that philosophy can flourish only in a suitable political framework.[7]

Mendelssohn, unlike his two predecessors, was a religious person, an observant Jew. But he considered all the traditional religious beliefs – God’s existence, immortality of the soul etc. – to be attainable by reason. His religious outlook was in no need of belief in revelation. According to his view there had occurred only one unique event of revelation, at Mt. Sinai, but it was not a revelation of dogmas or beliefs, but of the “Law”. What singles out Judaism, is not being a religion, but being bound by particular ceremonial laws, the so-called practical commandments that constituted the framework of the ancient Jewish state (vide infra). When he identified the “eternal; truths” with “religious doctrines and propositins”, that was no more than a semantic device that enabled him, as Spinoza before him, to employ traditional terms for his potential readers. What he designated in the first section (“chapter”) of Jerusalem as “religion”, had nothing in common with the historical “positive” religions, but was some kind of enlightened theology, namely those philosophical issues that dealt with God’s essence and existence. Mendelssohn was on the general philosophucal plane a Deist; his only divergence from classical Deism consisted in that he admitted one single revelation, namely the giving of the Law to Moses.[8] His contemporaries discerned this very well, friends and foes alike, especially the latter. What is, however, most important for this inquiry, Mendelssohn endeavored to guarantee not only freeom of religious belief but also religious worship from state intervention. This was of special importance for Jews who, like Mendelssohn himself, began to participate in the genral intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of their environment, but at the same time remained faithful to their own religious worship. While Spinoza strove to vindicate the autonomous secular framework of the modern state, Mendelssohn strove to vindicate free religious worhip inside this state.[9]

For Hobbes, religion, like philosophy, was no more than the handmaid of the sovereign, in order to serve his political interests and to secure his rule. For Spinoza religion was a useful implement to educate the “vulgus” towards civil obedience. For Mendelssohn it was some kind of institution whose supposed though rather vague task was to support the state in assuring the happiness of its citizens. Let us recapitualte this in another way:

Hobbes: to surrender all freedom of thought and freedom of action, including speech-acts, to the sovereign.

Spinoza: to surrender freedom of action if it clashed with the interests of the state but to ensure full freedon of thought and expression.

Mendelssohn: to assure both freedom of thought and belief and freedom of religious practice.

The philosophical difficulties of Mendelssohn’s view derived from his claim that the distinctive feature of Judaism consists in the ceremonial laws that were awarded to the People of Israel by God and are still valid and obligatory for their descendants today. They are, however, of lesser concern to the present inquiry.[10] These difficulties were absent from Spinoza’s theories about the relations of state and religion. Since he considered the commandments to have been the political laws of the ancient Jewish state, and that state does no more exist, they have become outdated. One does not obey laws of a non-existent state Mendelssohn agreed with him that the commandments had lost their political function, but asserted  that they still conserve their allegedly ongoing religious signification. On the other hand, Spinoza’s division between metaphysics, religion and the Mosaic Law may be helpful for a better understanding of some contemporary problems. He distinguished between three different layers:

Metaphysical truth which is the ultimate truth about God (or nature or substance). It resembles, at least to a certain degree, Mendelssohn’s “eternal truths”, although his pantheism, or more exactly pan-entheism, differed from Mendelssohn’s deism and traditional religious concepts. They also dissented on another point. According to Spinoza eternal truth must be achieved through an intellectul effort which is available to philosopers only – “Intellectual love of God”.[11] Mendelssohn also conceived of understanding eternal truths as the highest intellectual achievement, but he believed that every human being is capable of it. Spinoza’ assertion still entailed one additional

important inference – to emancipate people from superstitious beliefs and prejudices, to lead them out of the “sanctuary of ignorance”,[12] that is to help them in ascending to the superior level of philosophy. Mendelssohn acknowledged the “merit” of Spinoza in “clearing this path in the wilderness”.[13] That had been the professed goal of the Ethics. Unlike most medieval philosophers who considered belief in revelation to be sufficient for the common people and unlike Mendelssohn after him who considered popular reason to be sufficient for them, Spinoza insisted that only philosophical truth can guide Man towards happiness. He continued, inadvertently perhaps, Maimonides’ conception of philosophical knowledge as the precondition of a veritable understanding of God’s providence although he did not share the latter’s religious outlook of divine providence. It had no place in his deterministic view of Deus sive natura.

General religion, i.e. religion proper which has as its task the universal mission of teaching obedience. Because it is intended for popular thought – “ad captum plebis” – Spinoza emphasized the notions of justice and charity, and did not even refrain from retaining some traditional religious concepts such as a personal God, revelation or so on. But he made it absolutely clear that they were no more than pious dogmas – “fidei dogmata” which do not belong to his philosophical system. They are, however, useful in order to enforce man’s willingness to obey the authorities. He enumerated seven such dogmas.[14] This popular credo represents the common denominator of all religions that are acceptable and recommendable politically. They do not lean on any rational motives, but on more or less affective ones: fear, hope, trust, respect, love etc. However, this kind of obedience, unlike that of Hobbes’ theory, does noty mention servitude. It stresses the understanding of their usefulness just as a soldier must understand why he must obey the commands of his officer. Obedience does not only serve the interests of the sovereign but the self-interest of the members of the community or society. This layer has almost no counterpart in Mendelssohn’s thought. Mosaic legislation which is of a pure political nature. Using modern terminology one could say: Although the original symbolic meaning of the so-called ceremonial laws was probably not fully understood by their observers, their implicit political and social functions were very important and are still very much alive. “Ceremonies, like language, are the product of social thought, and are themselves essentially social”.[15] Machiavelli with whom Spinoza was well acquainted,[16] had already stated that “those princes or those republics which would endure uncorrupted, must above all keep religious ceremonies intact and hold them always in veneration”.[17] There is still much research to be done on the political and social signification of religious ceremonies and ritual but that transgresses the scope of this paper.

This third layer of Spinoza’s view on religion and state became the cornerstone of Mendelssohn’s concept of Judaism, but it compelled him, as said above, to transform Spinoza’s purely political interpretation of the commandments into a religious one. What had been political laws in the ancient Jewish state, have become, after its destruction, religious commandments that conserve their validity for the descendants of that state, or more exactly of thse who were present at the revelatory act at Mt. Sinai where they were given to the People of Israel. His merger of revelation, the Law and Jewish religion created many ambiguities and inconsistencies which are irrelevant in the context of  the present inquiry. Yet Mendelssohn’s view that religious truth is independent of revelation (which according to him was of the Law only, vide supra), brings him, inadvertently, much closer to Spinoza than to any other former philosopher. Both asserted that by his revelatory act at Mt. Sinai (although Spinoza denied revelation and ascribed the Torah to Moses) God bestowed laws on the People of Israel. Both assumed that religion is of a universal nature, and therefore excluded it from the Sinaitic revelation and Mosaic Law (Spinoza did not believe in its revelarory character anyway). The distinctive feature of Judaism is thus limited to the political legislative aspect of the Law of Moses. Spinoza mentioned many biblical quotations, in order to prove his point that they do not manifest any particular Jewish religiosity but express tenets of universal morality, based on obedience.

Therefore, according to Mendelssohn, God had been the ruler of one particular people. This event was not incidental but unique. Only then and there political and religious laws were wholly identical, but everywhere else must prevail strict separation between the state authorities and the religious establishment. Unlike Spinoza, Mendelssohn decreed that religious practice should be autonomous and not subordinated to the state. While Spinoza was one of the most important precursors of the Enlightenment, Mendelssohn belonged to its ripe age and was one of its most prominent representatives. But, as we shall see, he had to pay a price for his more liberal approach.

Although both Spinoza and Mendelssohn identified civil and religious law in the ancient Jewish state, they inferred from it still more different arguments which are of much actual signification. When Spinoza claimed that God had been the supreme sovereign of the Hebrews, and that all legislative authority emanated from him, he strove to illustrate his general political thesis that all political prescripts must be derived from state authority. The “fact” that in the ancient Jewish State the sovereign was allegedly God himself, was only incidental. Spinoza explained that it was no more than an idea.[18] Although the state was formally a theocracy, it was practically some kind of non-hereditary monarchy, ruled by Moses. Such a state represents a more or less desirable political reality, although he considered democracy to be preferable. It is transferable in principle and in potentia to other states. Mendelssohn proclaimed agains this that only once in all human history God had decided to become the ruler of a state, namely of the People of Israel. Spinoza spoke of God’s kingdom as an idea, without committing himself to any religious dogma while Mendelssohn who described the ancient state of Israel as a unique kingdom of God, had to accept or presuppose at least one a priori religious belief, namely the belief in a personal God. Like Maimonides he acknowledged the first of the Ten Commandments as a compulsory belief. He was caught in a twofold trap: on the one hand his presupposition represented an infringement on freedom of thought, and on the other it clashed with his general Deistic conception.

Mendelssohn was indeed aware of his predicament. Although he advocated freedom of thought, belief and expression, he was still unwilling to extend this freedom to atheism. He was torn to and fro between recommending full tolerance and at the same time restricting it. Here he followed in the footsteps of John Locke whose philosophy had a strong hold on him. Locke, in his Letter on Toleration and The reasonableness of Christianity was confronted by the same dilemma. Both Locke and Mendelssohn pleaded for religious tolerance but excluded atheism from it. Locke, unlike most other thinkers of his time, distinguished between idolatry which he merely denounced and atheism which he utterly resented and identified with immorality.

But idolatry (say some) is a sin, and therefore not to be tolerated. If they said that it were therefore to be avoided, the inference were good. But it does not follow, that because it is a sin it ought therefore to be punished by the magistrate. For it does not belong to the magistrate to make use of his sword in punishing everything indifferently, that he takes to be a sin against God.[19]

Like Locke, Mendelssohn also repudiated the opinions of Pierre Bayle and John Toland who considered superstition and idolatry to be much more dangerous to morality than atheism, and he took the latter’ side in the debate.

Neither state or church is authorised to judge the religious matters, for the members of society could not have granted that right to them by any contract whatsoever. The state, to be sure, is to see to it from afar that no doctrines are propagated which are inconsisten with the public welfare, doctrines, which like Atheism and Epicurianism undermine the foundations on which the felicity of social life is based. Let Plutarch and Bayle inquire ever so much whether a state might not be better off with atheism than with superstition. Let them count and compare ever so much the inflictions which have hitherto befallen and still threaten to befall the human race from these sources of misery. Every civil society would do well to let neither of them, neither fanaticism nor atheism, take root and spread.[20]

Thus Mendelssohn assigned to the state the explicit duty to prevent the spread of “Atheism and Epicurianism”; he therefore abandoned his main thesis which demanded full freedom of thought, and made, though unwillingly, a compromise with Locke’s extreme version against tolerance. He was indeed discomforted by this conflict of conscience and tried to rectify it as follows:

But it is only from a distance that the state should take notice of this, and only with wise moderation should it even favour those doctrines upon which its true felicity is based. It should not interfere directly in any dispute or wish to decide through the use of its authority.[21]

As concerns atheism, Mendelssohn neither accorded the state the candid right of coercion nor fully denied it, but made some kind of compromise, namely to watch then situation “from afar”, “from a distance”, and to interfere as slightly as possible and in a delicate manner. For the same reason that he held religion to be helpful in assuring the happiness of the citizens, he limitated tolerance with regard to atheism. No such theoretical difficulties could shoot up in Spinoza’s conception of state and religion. Although he defended himself and his philosophy, mainly in his letters, against the charge of atheism[22], he nowhere as much as sinuated that the authorities ought to prohibit or restrict any thoughts or beliefs. This gulf betweeen Spinoza on the one hand and Locke and Mendelssohn on the other highlights another important distinction. Toleration represented a major achievement of 18th century thought, but nevertheless still hinted, implicitly, at the different status of those who tolerate and those who are tolerated (see also at the beginning of this paper). The views of the latter were regarded as inferior. If one tolerates other opinions, one does not consider them to be of equal status to one’s own; one merely “tolerates” them (vide supra). That is no tautology. Toleration of other opinions is only the first step towards the ultimate goal of equality in the realm of thought and belief. Therefore Spinoza’s admonition, in the Theological-Political Treatise, to award liberty of thought and speech without any discrimination, was more consistent and more progressive than Locke’s and Mendelssohn’s views on toleration a century later. Their views were certainly inspired by an enlightened philosophy, but that does not change this essential difference between them.

It might be interesting to mention in this connection another distiction, mentioned by the late Israeli Professor Nathan Rotenstreich. He defined as “intellectual tolerance” that  the view which somebody holds manifests a certain philosophical or religious totality, but also other views and systems represent similar totalities. But he defined as “moral tolerance” the rejection of some other’s view, but at the same time the recognition that it is the view of a human person.[23] Tolerance is the moral expression par excellence of acknowledging the other’s autonomous personality. One must not interpret this concept of tolerance as some kind of scepticism, i.e. that the other’s view might perhaps be more justified than mine. It simply asserts that it is the other’s legitimate view although I disagree with it. This is certainly correct, but it does not take into account another problem which has given birth to much public consternation in Israel, especially after the murder of prime mnister Jitzhak Rabin. Can it be possible to demonstrate tolerance with regard to views which deny tolerance? Moreover, can one tolerate views which call for killing persons who hold views to which one is opposed? Had those orthodox Rabbis in Israel (but also in America) who condemned publicly Rabin’s political policy by the Talmudic terms for treason – Din Rodef, Din Mosser, Pulsa denura – which imply that it was allegedly a criminal act that ought to be punished by death (even if they did not say so explicitly) the right to say so? Does the principle of tolerance to apply to them too or to those who a posteriori expressed their “comprehension” of Rabin’s murder? Once again, the borderline is sometimes difficult to draw, but it cannot be swept under the carpet.

The issue of tolerance is, of course, not limited to such extreme cases. However, on several other occasions Rotenstreich was less consistent. He wrote, e.g., that on the one hand the state (that is the government) has no right to restrict the religious establishment, but also the latter should “not be aggressive against the total political establishment”.[24] When he condemned the non-recognition of secular institutions by the orthodox and ultra-orthodox circles in Israel, he returned, inadvertently, to what Spinoza had already underscored, namely that the issue is not only the conflict between state and religion, but the imposing of religious coercion on the individual by the state. All the governments in Israel hitherto surrendered, out of coalitional deliberations, on many instances to the pressure of the religious parties. After all, the question is not “imposing on the state, in the name of religious freedom, coercive means and to realise certain religious demands”[25]; it is not on the state that these coercive means are imposed but on the individual citizens. Rotenstreich indeed rightly added that the goal is “to realise modes of conduct that the religious sector is unable to realise by trusting their immanent truth and the power of proof, examinarion and education. They rely on the state and its coercive means, in order to assure those modes of conduct which a person will not adopt by his own sentiments and convictions.”[26]

But let us return to Spinoza and Mendelssohn. If one tries to draw up a comparative balance between them which would also apply to contemporary standards, the difference between their views might be summed up as follows. On the philosophical level, Spinoza’s works still occupy modern thought very much. His metaphysics in the Ethics (and the works leading up to it), as well as his political philosophy, in the Theological-Political Treatise and the post-humous Political Treatise, retain their philosophical vitality and political relevance.[27] It is different with Mendelssohn. He very much impressed his contemporaries by the very fact that an observant Jew could play such a preponderant role in the spiritual life of his age[28]. But his Popularphilosophie never reached the profundity of his great predecessor. Only Jerusalem resisted the gnawing teeth of time. His exposition of the relationship between state and religion, notwithstanding some of its definitional and theoretical shortcomings, is nowadays perhaps even more acceptable than Spinoza’s. Spinoza was the first modern thinker who openly advocated freedom of thought and speech, but, as we have seen, he still justified the employ of coercion by the state authorities in some matters of conscience, such as religious worship. As shown above, his principal aim was not to assure the mutual independence of state and religion, but the autonomy of the state to which religious practice ought to be subordinated. Let me illustrate this again by the state of affairs that prevails in Israel today, some of which has already been mentioned above. There are various areas of civil life where religious coercion is operated by the secular authorities – the Knesset and the government (vide supra). This unfortunate situation seems prima facie to conform, quite paradoxically, with Spinoza’s conception. He evidently would have bitterly opposed the singular circumstances which led up to this situation,namely the menaces and pressures, exerted by the religious parties on the coalition governments in Israel, in order to enforce such coercion.[29] This exactly had been the core of Spinoza’s strife against the Calvinist preachers in Holland and instigated him to write the Theological-Political Treatise. Insofar as he denied their right to wield pressure on the Dutch government for the sake of their ecclesiastic ends and interests, he would have acted the same way today.  But he would not have questioned the right of the state authorities to decide on matters of religious practice, on what he called “ius circa sacra”. Mendelssohn expressed on these matters, as shown above, the spirit of the Enlightenment, but at the same time also his personal predicament as a “tolerated” Jew who was still deprived of elementary civil and political rights in his country of domicile. He formulated his views on these matters in a much more clear-cut fashion. He called for full autonomy as well of the state as of religious practice. He was opposed to any form of coercion in matters of conscience whether performed by the state or the religious authorities (“church”). Notwithstanding his regrettable inconsistency and controversial equivocality with regard to atheism, his positions are certainly more acceptable now and adaptable to modern and progressive conceptions in this domain.

A last important point to mention in this regard is what several researchers have described as Spinoza’s democratic turn.[30] Mendelssohn who lived under the rule of an absolutist king, did not devote much thought to democracy. What predominated his thought was, as we have seen, the relation between state and religion and the right of the Jews to participate in general cultural life. Spinoza considered democracy to represent the desirable political form of government, although due to his untimely death he did not complete the chapter on democracy in the Political Treatise. But already in the Theological-Political Treatise, when he wrote about the ancient Jewish state, he emphasized that after having been slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews were firm in their resolution never again to become slaves  or subjects of another human being. Therefore they recognized only God as the supreme ruler.[31] Their government was a theocracy[32], though he added that this had been no more than a fiction, an idea (vide supra) , because Moses, a human being, became their veritable ruler. This turn of events he deplored. At the same time he did not conceal that the real target of his argument were the political affairs of his time, and that his interpretation of the Scriptures was intended to underscore their similarity. “They were, in fact, in much the same position… as the United States of the Netherlands”.[33] In contradistinction to all traditional and ulterior views, including that of Mendelssohn, the biblical Jewish state was no exceptional or unique phenomenon in the history of mankind, but a theocratic (or quasi-theocratic) regime which can serve as a paradigm for any othe state. Whether the supreme ruler  is God (theocracy), the king (monarchy) or the people (democracy), does not change the contractual relationship between the sovereign (whoever he is) and his subjects.

In this manner a society can be formed without any violation of natural right, and the covenant can always be strictly kept – that is, if each individual hands over the whole of his power to the body politic[34], the latter will then possess sovereign natural rights over all things, that is, it will have sole and unquestioned dominion, and everybody will be bound to obey, under pain of severest punishment. A body politic of this kind is called a Democracy, which may be defined as a society which wields all its power as a whole.[35]

This obedience ought to be based on rational understanding of its utility (vide supra). On the whole Spinoza’s preference of democracy is quite plausible although from time to time his distinction between the intellectuals (the philosophers) and the vulgar (“vulgus”) undercuts it. In this he continued the line of Maimonides, as expressed in the Introduction to the Guide of the Perplexed. Moreover, when he employed, in the Thological-Political Treatise, the concepts of charity and justice in their traditional religious sense, he had first of all in mind to saveguard tolerance and non-interference with the thoughts and beliefs of others. From this angle the most important goal of democracy is to promote human freedom, that is individual liberty, but this freedom also includes voluntary obedience to the body politic.

As I have shown on various places in this paper, this conception clashes with the intolerant conceptions of the Jewish religious establishment in Israel which exerts so much pressure on the government in order to restrict the conduct of the non-religious population in many practical domains. This state of affairs is still worse in Islamic countries but in this paper I restricted myself to Israel. It would require another paper to enumerate all the arbitrary and intolerable interferences of the religioud parties in the individual and public life of Israel. That would also transgress the scope of this paper.

 * An earlier version of this paper in German has appeared in prima philosophia, Band 17, Heft 3, 2004, 247-262.


[1] This term is borrowed, of course, from Bismarck’s struggle with the Catholic Church in Germany in the late 19th century.

[2] Spinoza, TPT, p. 190: “Theology is shown not to be subservient to Reason, or Reason to Theology.”

[3] “Libertatem philosophandi non tantum salva pietata & rei republicae pace posse concidi…” – from the original title of the TPT.

[4] Ibid., p. 245.

[5] McShea, 1968, pp. 137-138.

[6] Strauss, 1965, p. 229.

[7] Viz. Maimonides’ parable of “the apples of gold in settings of silver”, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 11-12.

[8] By the way, although Mendelssohn’s knowledge of Hebrew was excellent, when he spoke of the Torah, he followed the Greek translation of the Septuagintanomos, i.e. law – whereas the more exact translation of Torah is “education” or “teaching”.

[9]  This was still a problem in the first decades of the 19th century. Leopold Zunz wrote his book on sermons in the synagogue on Sabbath, in order to refute their prohibition by the Prussian government (supported by the orthodox Jewish circles).

[10] Viz. Ze’ev Levy, Baruch or Benedict, pp. 137-140.

[11] Amor Dei intellectualis, The Ethics, Part 5, prop. 32, corollary, p. 219.

[12] The Ethics, Part 1, Appendix, p. 62.

[13] Jerusalem, Section 1, p. 36.

[14] TPT, ch. 14, pp. 186/7.

[15] Toy, History of Religions, quoted by Kaplan, Religion and Language, p. xxviii

[16] Political Treatise, p. 315, p. 378.

[17] Discorsi I, 12.

[18] Ibid., ch. 17, in particular pp. 219-222.

[19] A letter concerning toleration, p. 71.

[20] Jeusalem, pp. 62/3, my emphasis.

[21] Ibid., my emphasis.

[22] His adversaries discerned, of course, the atheistic implications of assertions like Deus sive natura (“God or Nature”) etc. in the Ethics.

[23] Rotenstreich, 1963, p. 208.

[24] Ibid., p. 188.

[25] Ibid., p. 206.

[26] Ibid., p. 207.

[27] The multiple congresses on Spinoza’s philosophy, the many Spinoza societies the world over, and the ever-growing publications of new editions of his works and books on his thought, all testify to this. In Israel there has appeared a few years ago a new translation of the Ethics by Prof. Yirmeyahu Yovel which replaces the translation of Ya’acow Klatzkin of 1924. This evidently also reflects the fact that Spionoza was one of the greatest philosophers of mankind.

[28] Kant, e.g., devoted a special chapter in his Critique of Pure Reason to a refutation of Mendelssohn’s concept of the soul.

[29] With the estabishment of Natanyahu’s rightist government in 1909, this situation has still become much worse, especially with regard to the Arab part of the population (20%). The ultra-right parties now demand to fix a law that Israeli citizenship depends on a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

[30] Smith, 1994, pp. 359-388.

[31] TPT, ch. 17, pp. 218/9.

[32] Ibid., pp. 219/220.

[33] Ibid., p. 224.

[34] One might perhaps discern here a certain influence of Hobbes.

[35] Ibid., p. 205.


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