Jonathan Israel heeft liever Spinoza dan Oranjegevoel

Nieuws | de redactie
10 november 2006 | De beroemde historicus Jonathan Israel verbaast zich over de discussie in ons land over waarden, normen en identiteit. Dat de Nederlandse regering zich beklaagt over de groeiende verdeeldheid over onze basiswaarden, vindt hij opmerkelijk. “Hebben de Nederlanders enige reden tot klagen, of zelfs enig recht hun huidige positie te betreuren, als wereldlijke moraliteit en burgerschap niet onderwezen worden op school? Als degenen die verantwoordelijk zijn voor het organiseren van het onderwijs in de Nederlandse geschiedenis, denken dat het belangrijker is kinderen te vertellen over het Huis van Oranje en de VOC dan hen te onderwijzen over de Verlichting?” Zo valt hem op dat nergens in ons land een plein of straat van enige betekenis is genoemd naar de eerste en grootste moderne denker uit Nederland, Spinoza.

Jonathan Israel is hoogleraar Moderne geschiedenis aan het Princeton Institute of Advanced Study. In zijn ogen bracht Engeland noch Frankrijk de Verlichting voort, maar werd de eerste, cruciale sprong naar de moderniteit in de Republiek gemaakt. In zijn rede bekritiseert Israel het onderwijsbeleid in Nederland: “Veel Nederlanders, de Nederlandse regering voorop, beklagen zich over het afkalven van basale waarden en normen, de spanningen tussen diverse groeperingen in de samenleving en het gevoel van impliciet conflict en segregatie. Als buitenstaander is mijn vraag: hebben de Nederlanders enige reden tot klagen, of zelfs enig recht hun huidige positie te betreuren, als wereldlijke moraliteit en burgerschap niet onderwezen worden op school? Als degenen die verantwoordelijk zijn voor het organiseren van het onderwijs in de Nederlandse geschiedenis, denken dat het belangrijker is kinderen te vertellen over het Huis van Oranje en de VOC dan hen te onderwijzen over de Verlichting? Ik vind het persoonlijk niet gerechtvaardigd en ook niet zinvol om te klagen over sociale en culturele verschillen en instabiliteit, als er geen duidelijkheid bestaat over, of bereidheid is om, de geschiedenis te duiden van de doelen en basiswaarden van de maatschappij als geheel.’

U leest de volledige rede van Jonathan Israel hierna.

The three main cultural and intellectual blocs into which late 17th and 18th century thought can be divided – Moderate Enlightenment, Radical Enlightenment, and Counter-Enlightenment – could never resolve the often very bitter triangular conflict between them and for a very simple reason. Each of these richly textured blocs of thought can readily be summed up in one line and from this one line one immediately perceives the complete impossibility of any real or lasting compromise. Radical Enlightenment in the Spinozist tradition believed that philosophic reason is the only guide as to what is true and what is false in the universe and therefore the only true and reliable guide in human life when it comes to shaping our moral order, core values and society. Moderate Enlightenment, by contrast, judged reason is good for some things like science, but ruled large parts of reality to be outside the scope of reason – spirituality and the world of divinity above all – and ,as an inevitable consequence, ruled that many things must therefore be decided on the basis of tradition, authority, Revelation and theological truth. Meanwhile, the Counter-Enlightenment, rejecting both these positions root and branch, insisted that established authority, and especially theology and religious leaders are the only acceptable and true guide in human life.

Counter-Enlightenment could accept that a few individuals might devote their energies to something as irrelevant to most people’s lives as philosophy and political theory, but insisted that their efforts should remain entirely marginal and that when it comes to the moral order and society, everything important must be settled theologically and with the approval of religious leaders though here Counter-Enlightenment evolved later in such a way that a different kind of popularly venerated exponent of quasi-theological doctrine such as, in more recent times, a Fascist leader, could replace religious leaders. The typical Counter-Enlightenment attitude is that when it comes to the moral order, legislation and society responsible officials, politicians and educators should not be interested in anything not expressly directed or approved of by the people’s religious, (or quasi- theological) leaders, and anything the right theologians disapprove of must be rejected, and should not be listened to and or tolerated.

From our present-day perspective the reasons for the non-resolution of the conflict between Radical Enlightenment, Moderate Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in the 18th century have a continuing and obvious topicality and relevance, for broadly the same modern dilemma – or conflict between three blocs – dominates global culture and intellectual life today, so that, in effect, exactly the same triangular conflict, so typical of the whole modern era as well as the Enlightenment proper, continues in principle to be irresolvable. At this point we might invent a hypothetical pragmatist of impeccable good sense, a kind of modern David Hume, to exclaim for all to hear that this ought to prove to everyone’s satisfaction that reason and principles in the end have nothing to do with establishing a successful, stable and harmonious society so we needn’t worry too much: all that is needed is good luck and especially some intellectually completely unaware and ill-educated leaders with plenty of experience, negotiating skills and especially British-style common sense. Well, yes, maybe. if men are to succeed in having a more successful, stable and harmonious society in the future than we have now this will in all likelihood come about purely through good luck, pragmatism and sincere good intentions just as it did in Europe after the Thirty Years’ War and other periods of desperate conflict and inability to resolve clashes of basic principle.

Nevertheless, given that the core values of modern western societies today are largely based on the central principles of the Radical Enlightenment, a programme which can be summed up in seven main points: namely democracy, equality of the sexes, equality of the races, individual liberty of life-style, freedom of thought and expression, full religious toleration, and freedom of the press – it is surely relevant and perhaps necessary for any thinking person engaged with the great issue of our time to know how the early architects of these core western values, thinkers like Spinoza, Bayle and Diderot, and, after them, the egalitarian revolutionary ideologues of the 1780s, thought that we could organize a successful, stable and harmonious society on the basis of these positions, that is to say on the basis of a purely secular moral order, individual liberty (including full freedom for homosexuals) and equality.

It is not difficult to see, as some predicted as early as the end of the 17th, that the radical tradition of thought anchored in the philosophy of Spinoza and the hylozoic materialism of the early and mid eighteenth-century French materialists, inevitably discredits, undermines, and finally eliminates all traditional conceptualizations of caste and social hierarchy. Where are autocracy, aristocracy or ecclesiastical authority in the republic of the Spinozists? Nowhere. These are totally destroyed. But if the revolutionary impulse of the Radical Enlightenment is obvious it is much less obvious, at first sight, that it was capable of constructing a new social and moral order on the basis of equality.

These central issues raised by Spinoza’s philosophy and the elaborations and reworkings of it to be found in the work of Spinoza’s Dutch disciples, as well as the writings of men like Bayle, Fontenelle and Boulainvilliers, were already perfectly clear by the early eighteenth century. In 1709, for example, the Anglo-Irish High Church Anglican divine, William Carroll, in a virulent attack on those he considered Spinoza’s English disciples, indignantly denounced the consequences of what he called ‘Spinoza-principles’ for ecclesiastical power and clerical privilege. Citing the tract De Jure Ecclesiasticorum, a text published in Latin at Amsterdam in 1665 which he had just read and mistakenly attributed to Spinoza himself (its true author was Lodweijk Meyer (1629-81), he correctly deemed it quintessentially Spinozistic in flavour. He saw that to proclaim the principle, diametrically opposite to that of Hobbes, that ‘the natural equality of mankind is not in private persons chang’d by the institution of a commonwealth’ not only calls all social hierarchy into question but necessarily implies that ‘all the inequality betwixt Man and man in civil society’ is in no sense divinely ordained, or something intrinsic in human life, or anchored in inviolable authority but rather is purely man-made and, worse still, must derive from de facto usurpation, or else dubious and unjustifiable, legislation.[1]

Carroll saw at once that Spinozism ultimately means the end of the Anglican establishment and its social privileges, indeed of all powerful churches. For if one accepts the premises of Spinoza and Meyer that ‘no sort of privileges or divine institution can be found in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments which can rightly or truly be ascribed to the clergy’ and that all the power and privileges of the clergy in every country in the world so imposing over so many centuries are merely, as Caroll puts it, ‘deriv’d, no less, nor otherwise than that of other citizens: and that there is no difference betwixt the latter and the former’ , the result is that no-one can any longer maintain the God- ordained character of social hierarchy or the sacrosanct character, social supremacy and inviolability of ecclesiastical pre-eminence and privilege. What in effect Spinozism means, as Caroll pointed out, is not just the questioning of the divine character of Scripture, the overturning of religious authority and the overthrow of theology as the queen of all knowledge,, but the complete liquidation of all the clergy’s rights to direct society, lay down the moral order and be the final judges of everything men undertake.

Furthermore, if the Radical Enlightenment always scorned the clergy and their privileges, it was just as hostile to the principle of aristocracy. Exactly the same unremitting demolition as Meyer undertook of the ecclesiastical estate, was carried out by Spinoza, Van den Enden, Koerbagh, and Mandeville, besides Knutzen, Radicati, Vico, Wachter, von Hatzfeld, Edelmann, Meslier, Morelly, Mably and other eighteenth-century radical writers, on the principle of sanctioned social hierarchy and aristocracy. The famous early 18th century French atheistic philosopher, Jean Meslier (1664-1729) held that the forefathers of those who in his day ‘font tant de bruit et tant de cas de leur noblesse’ were actually nothing but cruel and bloody oppressors, brutal robbers, tyrants, and murderers. It is hence a blatant abuse and ‘injustice manifeste’ to seek to establish on such a ridiculously flimsy basis ‘une si étrange et si odieuse disproportion entre les différens états et conditions des hommes’ as existed at the time he was writing, in the 1720s, in France.[2] Aristocracy and the wide social gap between noblemen and those over whom they tyrannize is inherently and absolutely unjust, holds Meslier, being ‘nullement fondée sur le mérite des uns, ni sur le démérite des autres’. Noble pretensions are socially harmful and odious because, in those persons society designates as nobles, institutionalized inequality foments only arrogance, ambition, and conceit which in turn are bound to engender envy, hatred, and division. [3]

However, getting rid of social hierarchy and monarchy proved no easier than getting rid of ecclesiastical authority. Listing the main factors underpinning arbitrary government, authoritarianism and petty absolutism in Germany, in the middle of the 18th century, Johann Konrad Franz von Hatzfeld (c.1685-c.1751), an interesting German radical writer, imprisoned in Holland, at The Hague, in 1745, for blasphemy and irreverence, included, beside the machinery of absolutism itself, and the system of princes and courts, together with the imposture of priestcraft, a third great pillar of modern social and political slavery – namely, the common people’s superstitious and ingrained veneration of what they imagine to be high social rank. For even though commoners might often be ruthlessly and brutally treated by the so-called high-born; ordinary folk, he complained, nevertheless still go in absolute awe of those of ‘high birth’ while in their ignorance, he adds, utterly scorning philosophers. It is, a dreadful abuse, laments Hatzfeld, that most men always prefer the richest, grandest and most exalted persons to rule over them rather than the most fitted, conscientious and knowledgeable, something all the more senseless in that ‘titles and marks of honour are of no significance whatever unless they rest on merit and ability’.[4] Titles, he says, amount to absolutely nothing in themselves. What gives high-sounding titles reality is the veneration for them the common people feel. Thus, it is the common people’s ‘s credulous admiration of high social rank which is the main prop of aristocracy and monarchy no less than it is their veneration for their religious leaders which is the chief pillar of ecclesiastical authority.

The project to de- legitimise aristocracy, then, follows directly from the idea of basic equality adopted at the outset by radical thought in the 1660s. Who is ‘noble and who ignoble’ asserts Koerbagh, in his Bloemhof van allerley Lieflykheid sonder verdriet of 1668 is a matter requiring close consideration. For most people, it seems, have completely unsound and incorrect notions on this point. In Koerbagh’s opinion, the ‘ignoble’ is merely he who is unlearned and lacks understanding even if incontestably descended ‘from the greatest king’: by contrast, ‘edel is hy die wijs en geleerd is alwaar dat hy vande de armste bedelaar voortgekomen was’.[5] Aristocratic birth, he suggests, actually counts for nothing whatever, the assumption that noble birth is something very splendid being nothing more than a crass superstition just like belief in demonology and witchcraft, or ghosts.

But my main point here today is to argue that the advent of the principle of equality is not just intrinsically important in the history of modernity but also strategically pivotal to the rest of the programme which flowed from Dutch and later French democratic republicanism, and Spinozist demolition of religious authority and theology. For the radicals’ attack on priestcraft and their eradication of theology from the business of establishing what is just and unjust, what is legitimate and illegitimate in society, raised the great challenge of how precisely to establish a comprehensively non-theological moral order that can confer legitimacy and moral authority on democracy, individual liberty and egalitarianism.

Slogans were not enough. The quest for the ‘general good’, or what the Amsterdam Doelisten in 1748 called het algemeene welzyn, was certainly a widely recognized social impulse in eighteenth-century European society but in itself it was merely a long-established, conventional notion, medieval in origin, largely devoid of concrete meaning except in Catholic scholastic tradition unless, that is, one chooses to follow the radical thinkers in defining basic equality as something which unites all mankind, putting everyone on the same level, irrespective of what they believe, and declaring the equivalence of human wills, and uses this as the starting point for a purely secular morality. Unless the principle of equivalence and reciprocity is adopted by statesmen and law-makers, in other words, they will be wholly unable to provide a moral basis for legislation, or construct a sufficiently equitable system of legislation and law, capable of meeting with enough broad acceptance to give modern society’s unending battle against Counter-Enlightenment any chance of success .

It is surely no accident that the modern idea of basic equality first emerged in the later Dutch Golden Age. For as Gregorio Leti, and later Mandeville, noted, a meaningful discourse of equality before the law requires a particular kind of administrative and judicial strength, anchored in the civic context.[6] By equalizing the protection and freedom afforded by the law which the monarchies and aristocracies of the day scarcely aspired to do, the United Provinces set a crucial example. As the Dutch Huguenot radical, Jean-Frédéric Bernard has his Persian philosopher remark, in 1711, ‘cette égalité de protection’, which he considers the most impressive feature of Dutch Republic, ‘est fondée sur le droit qu’a le citoien, comme membre de l’état’.[7] This was undoubtedly something profoundly new and profoundly important.

Spinoza’s doctrine then provides a means of instituting, and universalising, a secular morality without relying on, or referring to, any teleology, supernatural agency, prior authority, ancient constitution or precedent. Exactly this same doctrine of basic equality was then adopted by Bayle to underpin his generalized freedom of conscience because, as he clearly realized, only such an innate, fully secular morality proclaims a universalism from which no-one, anywhere, whatever kind of property relations they participate in, and whatever their beliefs and opinions, can be excluded. Bayle’s toleration, quite unlike that of John Locke, rests on the principle that there is a true universalism of basic equality, grounded on the notions of fundamental equity and justice, applicable to every individual irrespective of faith and that this is the only effective ground on which a comprehensive toleration of thought and life-style as well as faith can rest. All our laws of morality, as he expresses this idea, in his Commentaire philosophique, really depend on ‘cette idée naturelle de l’équité’, something innate in us, part of our natural heritage which illumines ‘tout homme venant au monde.’[8]

Bayle judged faith and reason to be absolutely incompatible and generally in opposition to eachother. Equally significant, he, sets faith wholly apart from and, to no small degree, also in opposition to, morality. Faith can not be explained, buttressed, or justified by reason, held Bayle, but far from meaning, as many modern commentators have wrongly supposed, that this shows he was genuinely a fideist and conscientious believer, what this really signifies is that the basic rules of ethics essential to society and human life can never be soundly based on theology and are in fact grounded and are explicable exclusively by means of reason and not by faith.

On the fundamental rationality of human morality, in fact, Bayle, in sharp contrast to Hume, has no reservations and is never sceptical, though quite a few modern scholars, in trying to interpret his thought, have fallen into the trap of supposing – as was alleged (without any evidence) by his enemy Jean Barbeyrac – that he is a sceptic on moral issues, wrongly presuming that this ought to follow from his extreme skepticism about what anyone believes. The unchallengeable primacy of natural reason in revealing to us what Bayle calls the ‘les premiers principes généraux des moeurs’ is alike natural, necessary, and universally valid; for it is the only way Man can ever construct the moral system he so desperately requires.

No matter how wrong and muddled the Socinians were, argues Bayle, in his Commentaire philosophique, in attempting to apply reason to matters of faith and theology, in applying reason to moral questions they were doing exactly the right thing , even when discussing moral issues dealt with in the Bible.[9] For Bayle like Spinoza, autonomous reason, and not under any circumstances faith, is absolutely the only criterion by which we can establish and evaluate morality. God Himself, he says, is obliged to conform to our basic notions of justice, equity and goodness, for the logic of the moral law is a necessary and unalterable one not something subject to the divine will and something which by definition is independent of any divine ruling: hence, without exception ‘il faut soumettre toutes les lois morales à cette idée naturelle d’équité, qui, aussi bien que la lumière métaphysique, illumine tout homme venant au monde’.[10] So important is the principle of basic equality in Bayle’s conception of a secular morality divorced from all teleology, divine ordinance or prior transcendental order that it prompts him to affirm, as he does repeatedly in his last works, that primitive societies based on equality – such as he took Lahontan’s Spinozistic Canadian Indians and the ancient Scythians to have been – must ipso facto be of higher ethical calibre than mere hierarchical societies like that of western Europe in his time.[11]

Hence, while the true man of faith, says Bayle, rightly insists the fundamentals of Christianity can not be explained by reason, and need no justification in reason, the central mysteries of the Christian religion having no connection at all with reason, matters are exactly the opposite when it comes to discussing questions of morality. Here, holds Bayle, because only rational criteria apply, faith has no relevance at all and everything must be settled exclusively on the basis of reason with no appeal to faith or religious authority being allowed. The function of ‘fideism’ in his system being tactical only, and limited to rendering questions of faith uncertain, Bayle is in no way being inconsistent in affirming, as he does in his Commentaire, that a strict rationalism, reason that is defined as the ‘principes généraux de nos connoissances’, are for us always the absolute and only guide when weighing and judging those moral issues posed in, and by, the Bible, since reason is ‘la règle matrice et originale’ of all Bible exegesis and ‘en matière de moeurs principalement’.[12]

Once basic equality is conceded, men wield an objective, or at least common, criterion, or touchstone for evaluating the human condition and political constitutions in whatever setting. Proclaiming the concept of basic equality, Spinoza, Bayle, and Diderot, the three chief architects of Radical Enlightenment, fix the purpose of the state as the maximisation of peace, security and freedom for the largest possible number, a criterion which in turn provides a universal benchmark by which to judge the actions of regimes of whatever hue or character. Indeed, with the introduction of this criterion every regime, in theory, automatically falls into one of two categories – either promoting or failing to promote what can now usually be labelled the ‘common good’ or what Diderot calls the volonté générale. It was precisely this Spinozistic dualism of good and bad political systems evaluated in terms of the ‘common good’ which Paine later invoked when contrasting ‘governments which arise out of society, in contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest’.[13]

Where, for Descartes, human minds are equal because they are intrinsically separate from bodies, and equally capable of reason and, for Locke, because each soul is equally valid and potentially redeemable through spiritual striving, in Van den Enden, Spinoza, Mandeville and Diderot, with their one-substance monism there is an altogether neater conjunction of instinct, appetite, will and mind. Whether men act rationally or irrationally, whether they are primitive or sophisticated, ignorant or knowledgeable ultimately makes no difference. Man’s motivation is always the same and men’s wills always equivalent. Whether a given mind has clear and distinct ideas, or is confused, it ‘endeavours’, as Spinoza expresses the point in Proposition IX of Part Three of the Ethics, ‘to persist in its own being over an indefinite period of time and is conscious of this conatus‘ [Mens tam quatenus claras, et distinctas, quam quatenus confusas habet ideas, conatur in suo esse perseverare indefinita quadam duratione, et hujus sui conatus est conscia.][14]

Democracy is held to be the best form of state by the first modern democratic republican theorists, Johan de la Court, Van den Enden, and Spinoza, because it is the closest to nature ‘approaching most closely to that freedom which nature grants to every man’,[15] so that in a democracy nobody surrenders his natural right to anyone else to the extent he can no longer influence opinion and decisions. What he surrenders, he yields moreover, not to any group, or individual, but to the majority of the commonwealth of which he is part so that as citizens living under and protected by the state ‘all men remain equal, as they were before in the state of nature’.[16] What is remarkable in Spinoza’s, and later Diderot’s theory of equality is its strategic role in buttressing the entire structure of right and wrong, the passing of laws, and the conduct of the state. When a system of laws is created by a democracy, that is by the majority of the community, and receives the allegiance of all, held Spinoza, it enjoys moral authority, that is convinces everyone that it is in their private interest to conform to those laws to the extent that its system of justice is based on the principles of equity and inequity. Equality, therefore is the fundamental principle of democracy which, despite the constant risk of succumbing to sectarian strife, and provided the citizens remain vigilant, affords the best prospect of living well in a well- ordered, harmonious state based on liberty, security, and stability, being the system which makes most explicit the underlying logic articulating every more or less stable state.[17]

Equality thus became an inalienable ‘natural right’, carried over from the state of nature. Tom Paine vigorously echoed this radical tradition when asserting that Man’s ‘natural rights are the foundation of all his civil rights’.[18] Fundamental equality is therefore always applicable and the perennial criterion of l’esprit de critique whether particular societies or individuals in a given society acknowledge this or not. At the same time, equity must be incorporated into the decisions and laws of the state if it is to pursue its own, and its citizens’ best interests. Equality before the law is an aspect of this equality of principle which may or may not exist in any particular state and which can become institutionalized only where the principle of equality, including equality in the free expression of opinion, and right to publish, is expressly upheld and fought for by society.

The gemeene beste, gemeene interest, or ‘common good’ in the Spinozist tradition, rejecting all presuppositions of a prior transcendental order, resting on a conception of basic equality which negates the innate rights and duties postulated by the Natural Law theorists insisting on the validity of the ‘general will’, resurfaces in Radicati, Mably, Morelly, Diderot and then Rousseau. However, Rousseau, already in his Discours sur l’inegalité , of 1754, somewhat diverges from Diderot and the Spinozist legacy in his conception of the ‘general will’, and in his estimate of natural man and the impact of the state on him and society, and while joining Mably, Morelly, and Diderot in rebuking Hobbes for his excessively negative picture of natural man, also, by implication, criticizes them (and expressly criticizes Mandeville), for conceiving of morality as an essentially social and political construct rather than issuing directly from the natural sensibility of Man.[19]

On the subject of moral sensibility, then Rousseau went his own way but on the subject of equality, he largely aligns with Diderot and the radical tradition. Consciously or unconsciously, in any case, Rousseau advanced much the same ground for the essential superiority of the democratic republic, as Johan de la Court and Spinoza, and indeed echoes their argument: the democratic republic is the best form of state being the closest to the state of nature in that there Man’s natural liberty remains most intact and inequality, and the distortions of which inequality generates, are least. He too uses the idea of the General Will as a primary criterion. The laws of the democratic republic, held Rousseau, must be based on ‘la volonté générale’ something conceived as quite distinct from, albeit linked to, the will of the majority: in a democracy, the majority’s will is simply what is actually decided; the General Will, on the other hand, has a fixed, unalterable quality and can diverge sharply from what the majority decides in any given case, being, roughly equivalent to the timeless general interest, an abstract good which must always exist however well or badly men recognize it.

Rousseau proclaimed ‘la volonté générale’ infallible in that it must, by definition, tend to the public advantage defined as the common good.[20] Here indeed, as Johan de la Court, Van den Enden, and Spinoza already saw, in the early 1660s, is an idea relying for its efficacy on the principle of basic equality as an equivalence of wills, enhancing the effectiveness and positive influence of the state the more there is a pooling of those wills.[21] A skeptic might object that there need be no connection at all, in practice, between what the majority decides and the true interest of all. The force of Spinoza’s idea that majority votes will relate to the General Will, later adapted by Rousseau, relies, however, on the principle of the equality of wills and the calculation that private interests, no matter how crass, selfish and narrowly focused, will continually clash and cancel each other out, thereby tending to produce consensus only for what is most likely to serve the public interest.

It is for this reason Spinoza thinks that in the democratic republic ‘there is less danger of a government behaving unreasonably’ than in any other form of state; for in his view, it is unlikely (though by no means impossible) for the majority ‘to agree on the same piece of folly’.[22] To promote the influence of the general interest over the conduct of the majority, as both Spinoza and Rousseau equally stress, a comprehensive freedom of speech and expression must be accorded to everyone. Here, yet again, both the conception of a General Will as the sum of all individual interests, and the idea of curbing of private interests with other private interests, wholly depends on the equivalence, liberty and reciprocity of individual wills, that is the idea of basic equality.

But democracy, freedom of thought and expression and individual liberty always constitute a delicate balance, as they still do, a balance which all these thinkers, Bayle no less than Spinoza and Diderot, think is quickly destroyed in practice, as soon as any society permits ecclesiastical authority and theological principles to gain ascendancy in the public sphere. For the common people, or large sections of them, will always think that their religious leaders are closer to God than the office-holders of the state, constitutional experts or high court lawyers, and will actively take to the streets to overthrow or suppress whoever their religious leaders condemn or disapprove of. If these thinkers were right in thinking in this way it would seem that there is indeed a lesson here for all of us. For it would mean that complacency and lack of awareness have done a lot of damage. It also means that no-one has any right to complain that Dutch society, or any part of modern society, is becoming fraught with conflict, unstable and conflictual if they take no interest in sustaining the principles that underpin the democratic, egalitarian purely secular moral order. It means that the public, by means of the state itself, must take more concrete steps to weaken ecclesiastical authority and keep politically and educationally as weak as possible, and that religious leaders must not allowed to mobilize popular opinion against office holders or those who express unpopular opinions. It also means that the principle of egalitarian moral order are taught to children in schools and society generally with the firm backing of the government.

Lots of people in the Netherlands today, and in the Dutch government privately, lament the growing divisiveness over core values, the tensions between different segments of society, and a sense of embedded conflict and division. As an outsider my question is this: do the Dutch have any grounds for complaint, or indeed any right to deplore their present predicament, when secular morality and civics are not taught in the schools, when those responsible for organizing the teaching of Dutch history think it is more important to tell children about the House of Orange and the VOC than to teach the Enlightenment, when there is not a single major street or square in the whole of the Netherlands named after Spinoza (when there are hundreds named after in some cases totally insignificant burgomasters), and when only now, in 2006, has the Rotterdam city government got round to thinking that there ought to be a memorial in their city to Pierre Bayle, the philosopher of Rotterdam? My own personal opinion is that it is not justified and also quite pointless to complain about social and cultural difficulties and instability if there is no clarity about, or willingness to point out the history of, society’s overall objectives and core values.

[1] William Carroll, Spinoza Reviv’d (London, 1709) p. 9; [Lodewijk Meyer], De Jure Ecclesiasticorum (Amsterdam, 1665) p. 38

[2] Jean Meslier, Testament ,(ed.) R. Charles (3 vols. Amsterdam, 1864) ii, 173, 178

[3] Meslier, Testament ii, 169

[4] [Johann Konrad Franz von Hatzfeld], La Découverte de la Verité et le monde détrompé à l’égard de la philosophie (The Hague, 1745) p. xxxiv

[5] Adriaan Koerbagh Een Bloemhof van Allerley Liefleijkheyd sonder Verdriet (Amsterdam, 1668), p. 346

[6] Gregorio Leti, Raguagli politici e politici (2 vols., Amsterdam, 1700) part two, ii, 408-10; Israel, Dutch Republic Its Rise Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806 (Oxford, 1995) p. 4

[7] Jean-Frédéric Bernard Reflexions morales, satiriques et comiques sur les mœurs de notre siècle, (‘Cologne’ [Amsterdam ?], 1711), p. 263

[8] Pierre Bayle, (ed.) Commentaire philosophique sur les paroles de Jésus-Christ, ‘Contrains-les d’entrer’, Jean-Michel Gros (Paris, 1992) p. 90

[9] Bayle, Commentaire philosophique, i, 89-90

[10] ibid. i, 89-90 ; Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford, 2006), pp. 670-1, 674-5, 679-81

[11] Pierre Bayle, Continuation des Pensées diverses sur la comète (2 vols. Rotterdam, 1705) ii, pp. 427-30, 574, 591

[12] Ibid., 121 ; Bayle, Commentaire philosophique i, 85

[13] Tom Paine, The Rights of Man (1790) (ed.) E. Foner (new York, 1985), 70

[14] Benedict de Spinoza, Opera (ed.) Carl Gebhardt (4 vols. Heidelberg, 1925) iii, p. 147

[15] Franciscus Van den Enden, Kort Verhael van Nieuw nederlants GelegenheidDeughden, Natuerlijke Voorrechten en Byzondere Bequaemheit ter Bevolkingh,(n.p. [Amsterdam?], 1662) pp. 3, 31, 69; Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (ed.) Jonathan Israel (Cambridge, 2007)

[16] ibid.; Manfred Walther, ‘’Philosophy and Politics in Spinoza’, Studia Spinozana, pp. 54-5

[17] ibid. 243, 252-4; Van den Enden, Kort Verhael, 30-1

[18] Paine, Rights of Man, 68

[19] Jean- Jacques Rousseau Discourse on the Origin of Inequality in Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses (ed.) G.D.H.Cole et al. (repr. London, 1993), p. 75

[20] Rousseau, Social Contract, in ibid., p. 203

[21] Van den Enden, Kort Verhael, 3, 31; Walther, ‘Philosophy and Politics’, 55

[22] Spinoza, Tractatus theologico-politicus

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