No one can ever so utterly transfer to another his power and, consequently, his rights, as to cease to be a man; nor can there ever be a power so sovereign that it can carry out every possible wish.Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam, the son of Portuguese Jewish refugees who had fled from the persecution of the Spanish Inquisition.Although reared in the Jewish community, he rebelled against its religious views and practices, and in 1656 was formally excommunicated from the Portuguese-Spanish Synagogue of Amsterdam and was thus effectively cast out of the Jewish world.
He was also apparently involved with the Quaker mission in Amsterdam.
Spinoza eventually settled in The Hague, where he lived quietly, studying philosophy, science, and theology, discussing his ideas with a small circle of independent thinkers, and earning his living as a lens grinder.
He corresponded with some of the leading philosophers and scientists of his time and was visited by Leibniz and many others.
He is said to have refused offers to teach at Heidelberg or to be court philosopher for the Prince of Conde.
In this essay, I challenge genealogies that anoint Baruch Spinoza the founder of liberal democracy and liberal individualism.
Spinoza's departure from mainstream liberal individualism manifests most starkly in his argument for freedom of thought and expression–the argument invariably cited to prove Spinoza's liberal credentials.
When Spinoza defends freedom of speech, in The Theologico Political Treatise, he endorses a mode of democratic citizenship, and an ethos of public discourse, devoid of the heroic self-display endorsed by theorists like John Stuart Mill.
According to Spinoza, philosophy and democracy are mutually reinforcing: philosophers can pursue challenging lines of inquiry in a democracy that grants freedom of speech, and the democracy that welcomes philosophy proves more resilient than a tyranny that polices opinion.
Philosophy enhances democracy because philosophers comport themselves in ways that expand egalitarian community: specifically, philosophers observe anonymous protocol.