Spinoza’s Enduring Legacy

Examining the 17th-century philosopher’s continued grip on the modern imagination, and the dramatic story of his expulsion from the Amsterdam Sephardi community, Steven Nadler highlights those of his ideas that remain most relevant:

Spinoza is one of history’s most eloquent advocates for freedom and toleration. The ultimate goal of the Theological-Political Treatise is enshrined in both the book’s subtitle and in the argument of its final chapter: to show that “freedom to philosophize 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. . . .

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 it would be counterproductive 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.

Read more at Aeon

More about: Benedict Spinoza, Freedom of Speech, Heresy, History & Ideas

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy