Are Pluralistic Societies Doomed to Collapse? Spinoza and His Conservative Critics

Author: Jason Waller (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. )

One of the most influential –and controversial– books in European history that you have probably never heard of is Benedict de Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise published in 1670. The treatise landed like a bomb among the intellectuals of the seventeenth (and eighteenth) centuries. Governments acted immediately to suppress it and within a year the book was outlawed in every country in Europe. Copies were burned and booksellers were arrested or fined. Despite heroic efforts on the part of the censors, however, thousands of copies were printed and distributed and the book became one of the bestselling books of the era. Radical and free thinkers loved it and embraced Spinoza as their figurehead. Mainstream sensibility was offended and angry. Even the radical philosopher Thomas Hobbes chastised Spinoza saying, “I durst not write so boldly!” Hobbes agreed with much of what Spinoza said, but thought that he could have said it … well, more delicately.

So, what made the Theological-Political Treatise so controversial?

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