Marx, Spinoza, and 'True Democracy'

In Jason Maurice Yonover & Kristin Gjesdal (eds.), Spinoza in Germany: Political and Religious Thought in the Long Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

It is common to assimilate Marx’s and Spinoza’s conceptions of democracy. In this chapter, I assess the relation between Marx’s early idea of “true democracy” and Spinozist democracy, both the historical influence and the theoretical affinity. Drawing on Marx’s student notebooks on Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, I show there was a historical influence. However, at the theoretical level, I argue that a sharp distinction must be drawn. Philosophically, Spinoza’s commitment to understanding politics through real concrete powers does not support with Marx’s anti-institutional conception of true democracy. And as a matter of social theory, the gap between civil society and the state which so troubles Marx is a development of modernity that has not entered Spinoza's premodern field of view. Marx’s true democracy was also influenced by his study of Rousseau, and theoretically, it is just as close if not closer to Rousseau as to Spinoza.

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Sandra Leonie Field
Yale-NUS College

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