Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spinoza and the Hebrew Theocracy

In Chapter XVII of the Theologico-Political Treatise Spinoza argues that the original Hebrew Theocracy is nearly a perfect government. The election of Moshe to be the intermediary between the people and God is fundamentally, Spinoza claims, a decent way for society to be governed; they transferred power (the covenant) from God to Moshe to be the “sole promulgator and interpreter of the Divine laws”. When the people can be sure where the rules are coming from; there is no corruption in power.

What is really interesting is what Spinoza has to say about why the government collapsed. Chet HaEgel is fundamentally what brought down the Hebrew Theocracy; prior to that monumental event the priests were to be the bechorim spread evenly among the entire nation. Afterwards, the levi’im where chosen to be the priests as reward for their refusal to take part in the Chet HaEgel. The levi’im, according to Spinoza, became a bourgeois class; an envied group that ultimately grew to powerful and corrupted the State from the inside out. [This critique could have come from Hegel and Marx; which is probably one of the reasons why the Theologico-Political Treatise was one of the most popular books in Communist Russia.]

The final chapter of the TPT (or TTP in Latin) discusses what the proper government (Democracy) needs to be founded on. Spinoza, uses a critique of Moshe’s government to show how modern kings have faults:
Moses, not by fraud, but by Divine virtue, gained such a hold over the popular judgment that he was accounted superhuman, and believed to speak and act through the inspiration of the Deity; nevertheless, even he could not escape murmurs and evil interpretations. How much less then can other monarchs avoid them!
Even Moshe could not make a perfect government and he was really supported by God. In a backhanded way Spinoza’s making sure everyone knows that modern monarchies are not supported by God (they’ve got more issues than Moses’ did).

Spinoza may have been a heretic, but he’s got some really interesting views on the Torah – he, at the very least, takes knowledge of Torah very seriously.


Ittay said...

I was very surprised to read that Spinoza, of all people, had such a high praise for a theocratic government. Thanks for enlightening me.

Natan said...

I found it interesting too. His praise of the Hebrew Theocracy under Moshe is very telling, it is the ideal government. However, trying to insttitute such a government is unrealistic today since it wouldn't have the support of God,etc.

Therefore, Spinoza believes that Democracy is the best form of government, it "is the best system of governemnt...since it is the one most in harmony with human nature".

A government governed by Divine Right (real Divine Right, not the medieval notion) is fundamentally better than Democracy; but since it's not going to happen, we should form Democratic governments.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

You might enjoy the several posts on Spinoza on my blog http://vesomsechel.blogspot.com.