chapter  3
From political theology to politics
Pages 18

How, then, can we move from political theology to politics? Can the ‘true religion’ be translated into true politics? What kind of politics is imaginable on the basis of reason? If religion is fundamentally grounded in passion (imagination), how can it then relate to politics? Just as imagination can perfect itself by ascending to the intellectual love of

God, political theology can transform itself into democracy, ‘the most natural form of government’ (Spinoza 1951a: 263; see also Brown 1991: 109). But the transition from passion to reason, from nature to the city as a political association, is not a pure break. There is always a remainder of nature, an irrational residue at the very center of the city. In Spinoza’s genesis of the city this unassimilated rest is constituted by passions. Even though the city is basically a reasonable form of human togetherness, passions such as love, hatred, envy, ambition, pity, and so on, are significant elements of conduct in it. And we do not get far by simply mocking or denying their existence, the fact that ‘man is always necessarily liable to passions’ (Spinoza 1993a: 145). So, political subjectivity cannot be constituted independently from passion. The ‘harassment’ of passions is an omnipresent political possibility. Because there are passions, there are antagonisms, and because there are antagonisms, there are passions in the city. Thus, even though reason is a potentially unifying factor, passions can always lead to dissention. And reason is, in itself, impotent to bond unreasonable subjects (see Spinoza 1951b: 289, 294-95). But does this fact, that there is a passive genesis, passions, as well as reason

in the origin of the city, mean that the city is opposed to passions? To start with, affect and reason point towards two different but interrelated origins of the city. The distinction between affect and reason is also a distinction between two cities: the ‘despotic city’ founded on superstition, and the ‘free city’ founded on reason. In the first, the domain of the law is colonized by

superstition, and free opinion is treated as crime. Superstition deceives the citizens and masks their fears with reference to transcendent authorities ‘so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for their safety, and count it not a shame but highest honour to risk their blood and their lives for the vainglory of a tyrant’ (Spinoza 1951a: 5). The free city, on the other hand, is one in which everyone may worship as their conscience dictates and ‘where freedom is esteemed before all things dear and precious’ (Ibid. 6).