Spinoza’s conception of sovereignty

Prokhovnik, Raia (2001). Spinoza’s conception of sovereignty. History of European Ideas, 27(3) pp. 289–306.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-6599(01)00051-1

Abstract

The article argues that Spinoza's principle of political order represents a conception of sovereignty which is both historically intelligible and analytically coherent.
The appropriateness of four meanings of sovereignty to Spinoza's political theory is considered. Then, after examining Spinoza's use of Hobbes's still influential touchstone for the modern theory of sovereignty, Spinoza's conception is discussed in the light of the role that customary practice and republicanism play in his political theory. The analysis of sovereignty also prompts engagement with a range of meanings of the notions of constitutionalism and absolute rule.
The argument demonstrates that while Spinoza employs some different criteria, he establishes a conception of sovereignty which needs to be recognised as no less internally consistent than Hobbes's. Moreover, both conceptions contain problems. Although Hobbes demonstrates the abstract logic of authority, the theoretical consequence he draws concerning sovereignty entailing a unitary state has been successfully challenged. Spinoza's conception of sovereignty is based on the logic of customary practice, but the manner in which customary practice is ultimately unsusceptible of analytical justification renders his notion also vulnerable to challenge.

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