Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




R.T.W. Arthur




Spinoza's political philosophy is partly based on an implicit sense that crisis can play a generative role. He begins with a subjective theory of value, and sees political participation as following from that. Our desires are relative to our respective natures; and our interests are in being most able to satisfy our desires. According to the Theological-Political Treatise and the Political Treatise, we submit to governance only when, and to the extent that, we perceive it to be in our interest to do so. The measure of 'natural right' is power alone; and the greatest power always lies with the multitude. Explicitly, Spinoza discusses cases in which nations cease to support the state. This happens when their laws or customs are inconsistent with their desires. When the prevailing order loses the multitude's confidence, it can no longer perpetuate itself, and the state dissolves into a state of nature. This is what I call 'crisis? During a crisis, a people is vulnerable to invasion. But society can also be renewed, if customs can be reformed in such a way as to obviate the conflict that precipitated crisis. New rights may come to be agreed upon, to better capture the nation's sense of freedom and justice. Liberal democracy is the most broadly inclusive way of life, and formally incorporates everyone's concerns into a perpetual discourse. I have presented Spinoza's views on crisis as a coherent 'theory', albeit one developed implicitly in the course of discussing other topics. To support my interpretation, I refer extensively to the primary literature. Finally, in order to give a sense of how Spinoza's concepts might be applied to present-day conflicts, I consider the problem of the status of women in post-war Iraq as a case of crisis, and possible policy recommendations that might be made.

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