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Spinoza's Political Psychology advances a novel, comprehensive interpretation of Spinoza's political writings, exploring how his analysis of psychology informs his arguments for democracy and toleration. Justin Steinberg shows how Spinoza's political method resembles the Renaissance civic humanism in its view of governance as an adaptive craft that requires psychological attunement. He examines the ways that Spinoza deploys this realist method in the service of empowerment, suggesting that the state can affectively reorient and thereby liberate its citizens, but only if it attends to their actual motivational and epistemic capacities. His book will interest a range of readers in Spinoza studies and the history of political thought, as well as readers working in contemporary political theory.
Spinoza’s treatment of absolute sovereignty raises a number of interpretative questions. Spinoza seems to embrace a form of absolutism that is incompatible with his defense of mixed government and constitutional limits on sovereign power. And he seems to use the concept of “absolute sovereignty” in inconsistent ways. This chapter offers an interpretation of Spinoza’s conception of absolutism that aims to resolve these concerns. It argues that Spinoza is able to show that, when tied to a proper understanding of authority, absolute sovereignty is not only compatible with, but actually necessitates, power-sharing and constitutionalism. His treatment of “absolute sovereignty” in the political works is akin to his treatment of “substance” and “God” in the Ethics: he draws out revisionist implications from a recognizable, even anodyne, conceptual gloss, transfiguring the concept from within a common framework. This interpretation renders intelligible and consistent the various claims that Spinoza makes about sovereign absolutism in the Political Treatise.