“I dare not mutter a word”: Speech and Political Violence in Spinoza

Crisis and Critique 1 (8):365-386 (2021)
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This paper examines the relationship between violence and the domination of speech in Spinoza’s political thought. Spinoza describes the cost of such violence to the State, to the collective epistemic resources, and to the members of the polity that domination aims to script and silence. Spinoza shows how obedience to a dominating power requires pretense and deception. The pressure to pretend is the linchpin of an account of how oppression severely degrades the conditions for meaningful communication, and thus the possibilities for thinking and acting in common. Because it belongs to human nature to desire to share our thoughts with others, Spinoza believes that most people experience efforts to control our communication to be acutely intolerable. As a result, such unbearable violence threatens the political order that deploys it. I conclude with some speculative remarks about why, in the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza consistently deploys the superlative form of the adjective violentus in reference to the domination of thought and speech rather than to other modes of political violence.
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Archival date: 2021-09-10
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