Benedict Spinoza on the Naturalness of Democracy

Lee Ward

Abstract


Benedict Spinoza is arguably the first important political philosopher to endorse democracy as the best government. He does so primarily on the basis of the claim that it is the most natural regime. However, there are features of Spinoza’s argument that complicate efforts to interpret his understanding of the naturalness of democracy, especially (i) the tension between his claims about the naturalness and rationality of democracy; and (ii) uncertainty about Spinoza’s attitude toward the natural end or goal of political life. This study argues that Spinoza’s claims about the naturalness of democracy are only fully intelligible in light of the connection between his metaphysics, on the one hand, and his conception of political right, on the other. We conclude that Spinoza believed the naturalness, and hence superiority, of democracy rests on its capacity to promote a formative purpose that includes both the perfection of social construction in the state and the intellectual and moral development of individuals.

Keywords


Spinoza; democracy; sovereignty

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125