Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spinoza's Atheism Contra Modern AtheoLeftism

The author seems to feel that religious zealotry is the enemy of freedom of speech. Despite evidence to the contrary regarding the abuse of the religious by both government and Leftist legal attack, western religion is demonized constantly. But it is the religiously, unrelentingly dogmatic AtheoLeftism which now matches Spinoza's definition of totalitarianism. The current push to criminalize dissent illuminates the intolerance of the "tolerant" AtheoLeft of today. Spinoza would be banned as a heretic from today's groupthink-meisters.
Why Spinoza still matters
At a time of religious zealotry, Spinoza’s fearless defence of intellectual freedom is more timely than ever

"The political ideal that Spinoza promotes in the Theological-Political Treatise is a secular, democratic commonwealth, one that is free from meddling by ecclesiastics. Spinoza is one of history’s most eloquent advocates for freedom and toleration. The ultimate goal of the Treatise is enshrined in both the book’s subtitle and in the argument of its final chapter: to show that ‘freedom to philosophise may not only be allowed without danger to piety and the stability of the republic, but that it cannot be refused without destroying the peace of the republic and piety itself’.

All opinions whatsoever, including religious opinions, are to be absolutely free and unimpeded, both by necessity and by right. ‘It is impossible for the mind to be completely under another’s control; for no one is able to transfer to another his natural right or faculty to reason freely and to form his own judgment on any matters whatsoever, nor can he be compelled to do so’. Indeed, any effort by a sovereign to rule over the beliefs and opinions of citizens can only backfire, as it will ultimately serve to undermine the sovereign’s own authority. In a passage that is both obviously right and extraordinarily bold for its time, Spinoza writes:
a government that attempts to control men’s minds is regarded as tyrannical, and a sovereign is thought to wrong his subjects and infringe their right when he seeks to prescribe for every man what he should accept as true and reject as false, and what are the beliefs that will inspire him with devotion to God. All these are matters belonging to individual right, which no man can surrender even if he should so wish.
A sovereign can certainly try to limit what people think, but the result of such a vain and foolhardy policy would be to create only resentment and opposition to its rule. Still, the toleration of beliefs is one thing. The more difficult case concerns the liberty of citizens to express those beliefs, either in speech or in writing. And here Spinoza goes further than anyone else in the 17th century:
Utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions … The most tyrannical government will be one where the individual is denied the freedom to express and to communicate to others what he thinks, and a moderate government is one where this freedom is granted to every man.
Spinoza’s argument for freedom of expression is based both on the right (or power) of citizens to speak as they desire, as well as on the fact that (as in the case of belief) it would be counter-productive for a sovereign to try to restrain that freedom. No matter what laws are enacted against speech and other means of expression, citizens will continue to say what they believe, only now they will do so in secret. Any attempt to suppress freedom of expression will, once again, only weaken the bonds of loyalty that unite subjects to sovereign. In Spinoza’s view, intolerant laws lead ultimately to anger, revenge and sedition.
‘The right of the sovereign should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks’
There is to be no criminalisation of ideas in the well-ordered state. The freedom of philosophising must be upheld for the sake of a healthy, secure and peaceful commonwealth, and material and intellectual progress. Spinoza understands that there will be some unpleasant consequences entailed by the broad respect for civil liberties. There will be public disputes, even factionalism, as citizens express their opposing views on political, social, moral and religious questions. However, this is what comes with a healthy, democratic and tolerant society.
‘The state can pursue no safer course than to regard piety and religion as consisting solely in the exercise of charity and just dealing, and that the right of the sovereign, both in religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks’.
This sentence, a wonderful statement of the modern principle of toleration, is perhaps the real lesson of the Treatise, and should be that for which Spinoza is best remembered."
The "modern principle of toleration" is not that of Spinoza. Toleration now, for the AtheoLeft, means that AtheoLeftist groupthink is Truth, and dissent is both false and evil - and therefore not to be tolerated. Anti-groupthink results in banishment for heresy, including destruction of careers, the same or worse than Spinoza received from his religious roots in Judaism.

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