Was Spinoza a Liberal?


Can liberal democracy survive without any absolutes, especiallyreligious ones, while it expects its citizens to be ethical?Can this regime depend on its citizens to be moral while it allowsan unconditional questioning of its own moral foundations? Incontrast, are certain beliefs meant to be accepted beyond question,even in a regime committed to freedom of expression? Is itmore realistic to expect and even perpetuate the survival ofreligious belief for the purpose of maintaining morality? Many liberals since John Stuart Mill have argued that liberalismand the political usage of religious belief are fundamentallyincompatible. It is also often assumed that the hostility of Mill toreligious belief has antecedents in the early social contractthinkers. In accordance with this assumption, conventional scholarshipon Benedict Spinoza teaches that his major work ofpolitical philosophy, The Theologico-Political Tractatus (1670),sets the tone for liberal attitudes towards democracy and religion.Long before Mill, Spinoza supposedly contends that liberaldemocracy has no place for religion in the political realm. Theconclusion of most scholars to date is that Spinoza devaluesreligion (or any type of absolute belief) while he defends liberaldemocracy. In short, Spinoza is presumably an ideological andirreligious ancestor of Mill.
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