Michael Mack's nieuwste boek: Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity

Michael Mack is sinds begin van dit jaar verbonden aan het Centre for Medical Humanities van de Durham University, tevens is hij er Reader in het Department of English Studies. Hij deed z’n doctorsgraad in de filosofie in Cambridge en doceerde aan de University of Chicago (research fellow and lecturer), de Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Minerva Amos de Shalit fellow at the Franz Rosenzweig Research Center for German Jewish Literature and Cultural History ), de University of Calgary, Syracuse University (Rothman Visiting Professor in Jewish Studies), de University of Sydney (a Sesqui Centenary Fellow) en de University of Nottingham (a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow).

Hij publiceerde naast zo’n veertig artikelen in internationale tijdschriften (over o.a geschiedenis, filosofie, theologie, antropologie en recht) drie boeken:

·      Anthropology as Memory. Elias Canetti and Franz Baermann Steiner's Responses to the Shoah (2001);
·      German Idealism and the Jew. The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses (2003), (shortlisted for the prestigious Koret Jewish Book Award 2004)
·      Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: the hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud (2010).

Toen ik pas met “Spinoza op internet” was begonnen, kwam ik hem op het web tegen als deelnemer aan de conferentie ‘Wandering with Spinoza’ die in sept. 2006 in Melbourne gehouden werd en waarvan de abstracts nog steeds op het internet te vinden zijn. Zijn onderwerp was “Towards an Inclusive Universalism. Spinoza’s Ethics of Sustainability.”

This paper discusses the ways in which Spinoza’s Ethics delineates a non-hierarchical understanding of humanity and its place in nature. Spinoza does not opt for the absolute supremacy of any one entity. Instead he argues for the coexistence of different ways of life (here he is of course indebted to Averroes). It is this pluralistic and non-hierarchical aspect of his ethology that makes Spinoza a more appropriate philosopher for contemporary social thought than Hobbes, Descartes or Kant. Spinoza envisages a world that does without hierarchical divisions (be they racial or religious or economic etc.) that give rise to violence in the first place. Whereas Hobbes, Descartes and Kant opt for certainty in their respective political philosophies, Spinoza allows for uncertainty and difference.
Spinoza blurs the distinction between conceptual boundaries: the corporeal is not the imperfect, because there is no such thing as imperfection. We are all equally imperfect or rather perfect. Spinoza radically breaks down the hierarchical divide between those who succeed and those who seem to fail. This then is the disruptive force of his philosophy. [hier]

[jacket image]Hierover had hij inmiddels een boek het licht laten zien: German Idealism and the Jew: The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003]
[Review Ralph Dumain;
Review Wendy C. Hamblet]

In dit boek trekt hij de diepe wortels na die het antisemitisme in de Duitse klassieke filosofie had. In tegenstelling tot zoals het vaak gezien werd dat het Duitse antisemitisme een reactie was tegen de Verlichting, benadrukt Mack dat het antisemitisme juist een logische consequentie was van de Verlichting en hij wijst dit aan in de manier waarop Kant de universele rede concipieerde.  

In dat boek kwam Spinoza niet veel en niet direct, maar meer zijdelings voorbij, voor zover hij namelijk in de bagage zat van Mendelssohn. Ter illustratie een passage:

“Kant's version of the Enlightenment had rather reactionary implications insofar as it defined itself over against Mendelssohn's separation between the moral and the epistemological. To this extent Mendelssohn's twofold differentiation of state and church, on one hand, and action an theory, on the other, developed and deepened Spinoza's notion of an liberal kind of politics as defined in the Theological-Political Treatise. By arguing that Moses did not reveal a universally valid theory but only a particular outline fort a context-specific form of action, Mendelssohn reflected certain arguments that Spinoza, in his discussion of Judaism, pronounced a social political theory.” p.81 [bij books.google en ook p. 34 met passage over Spinoza]

Tussen dit boek uit 2003 en het boek dat nu net uit is, schreef Michael Mack in het internationale kwartaaltijdschrift Telos, 145 (2008) [an international forum for discussions of political, social, and cultural change] het artikel: Toward a Redefinition of Europe's Political Identity: Spinoza's Non-hierarchical Vision.

  about how European geopolitics has indeed been construed as Kantian. "Strangely enough," Mack observes, "Kant still serves to represent not only 'the good German' but also 'the good European.'" Mack makes note of Robert Kagan's essay "Of Paradise and Power," which associates American military force with a Hobbesian "state of nature," whereas European preference for "formal proceduralism in international relations" is more Kantian. Mack takes issue with this characterization, particularly since both Hobbes and Kant had similar conceptions of a lawless, violent "state of nature." Mack makes the case that the current reluctance to engage in military action by European powers is the intellectual descendent of Spinoza, rather than Kant:

Contrary to his geometrical method, the content of Spinoza's thought is filled with uncertainty. This is why he tolerates religion within a secular state, refraining from opting for the absolute supremacy of any one entity. Instead, he argues for the coexistence of different ways of life....It is this pluralistic and non-hierarchical aspect of his theology that makes Spinoza a more appropriate philosopher of postwar Europe than Kant. As Kagan himself acknowledges, the quasi-Kantian politics of peace is itself dependent on Hobbesian war. Spinoza, however, envisages a world that does without hierarchical divisions (be they racial, religious, economic, etc.) that give rise to violence in the first place. Whereas Hobbes and Kant opt for certainty in their respective political philosophies, Spinoza allows for uncertainty and difference.

Mack connects this allowance for uncertainty and difference to Spinoza's critique of teleological conceptions of God. Humans conceive of God as human-like in the sense that God has some end goal, some telos. This teleological theology gives rise to teleological thought in general. The anthropomorphic, i.e., teleological, conception of God...lays the foundation for violence and ethnocentric discrimination within society itself. Teleological thought pitches the telos of one community against that of another.

Spinoza is interested in undercutting the claims of any one community's telos, thus allowing for different social arrangements to coexist peacefully. Is this truly the current approach of European geopolitics? If so, how is this reconciled with European action in Afghanistan, which is ostensibly a nation-building effort that is teleologically driven towards a Western-inspired outcome? Regardless of its accuracy in describing the current geopolitical outlook in Western Europe, is Spinozan pluralism a potential template for future conflicts? Or is the Kantian notion of the "unjust enemy" a better model? [hier]

Over Robert Kagan's essay "Of Paradise and Power," is indertijd wel wat te doen geweest. Kagan’s boeken lagen op de nachtkastjes van presidenten… Ook Michael Mack wil nogal wat: eigenlijk een soort paradigmawisseling bewerkstelligen wat betreft onze kijk op de wereld en elkaar. Zou hij net zoveel impact krijgen als Robert Kagan?

En nu is er sinds kort zijn nieuwe boek: Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: the hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud (Continuum, 2010).
De inleiding en een deel van het eerste hoofdstuk zijn bij de uitgever te lezen.

Ik laat hem daarover zelf aan het woord. Hij schrijft om zich voor te stellen bij zijn nieuwe werkkring aan de Durham University:

“I have just completed my third book "Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity". This book offers a novel approach to one of literary theory's most notorious problematic: that of binary oppositions. It grounds this problematic within a social and philosophical context where it can be re-envisions for innovative ways of addressing issues that impact our society and culture at large. It does so by focusing on how in a Spinozan building of self and society opposites are not fundamental. Oppositions do not oppose each other but are complementary to each other. Spinoza’s legacy seems to be a ghostly one: it opens up a space where apparently incompatible entities visit each other as if one were haunting the other. The specter whom Marx conjured up in his "Communist Manifesto" (1848) had already made an appearance in the hugely influential "On the Doctrine of Spinoza" with which Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi provoked the Spinoza controversy in 1785. Jacobi makes clear that he endeavours to put an end to the haunting with which Spinoza’s ghost seems to keep Europe enthralled. Jacobi attempts to turn the indefinable specter of Spinoza into the clearly definable doctrine of Spinoza. Jacobi sets out to clarify matters by pinpointing the exact structure and shape of Spinoza’s teaching so that it can be opposed (as "atheistic", "nihilistic" and "immoral"). The book shows how unsuccessful Jacobi’s attempt was. Far from having put an end to Spinoza’s legacy, Jacobi in fact provoked a controversy that hugely increased the appreciation of the writing, life and thought of the Dutch Jewish philosopher within the literary and larger public sphere from Goethe to George Eliot, to Freud and beyond. The book delineates this legacy as a blueprint for human flourishing in the literary, religious, political, and medical sense. It is concerned with human flourishing mainly because the driving motor behind Spinoza’s rational inquiry is the discovery of ways through which humanity avoids violence, destruction and self-destruction.” [van hier]

Table of Contents
Introduction. Spinoza’ alternative modernity
Chapter 1. Descartes, Spinoza or the goal that destroys itself.
Chapter 2. Spinoza’s conatus or the critique of political self-destruction
Chapter 3. Herder’s Spinozist understanding of Reflection
Chapter 4. From the Dissection theatre to popular philosophy or Herder’s Spinozist theology
Chapter 5. From the National to the Transnational
Chapter 6. Universalism contested: Herder, Kant and Race
Chapter 7. Talking Humanly with the Devil: From Rosenzweig via Spinoza to Goethe’s hospitality in Faust and Iphigenia on Tauris
Chapter 8. The Significance of the Insignificant: George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and the Literature of Weimar Classicism
Chapter 9. Conclusion: Freud and Spinoza or how to be mindful of the mind.  *)


Als je de titels van de hoofdstukken ziet, lijkt het de zoveelste studie over die interessante periode van het Duitse Idealisme en de Duitse en Engelse Romantiek. Maar uit wat je eromheen kunt lezen, krijg je de verwachting dat Michael Mack méér wil bieden – dat hij lessen wil trekken voor onze tijd. Oorspronkelijk zou het boek de titel krijgen: Thinking with Spinoza.
Hij wil er de wereldpolitiek in de 21e eeuw mee verstaan. In zijn inleiding schrijft hij: "I practice intellectual history that is productive of contemporary thought but the main focus is not the contemporary scene but a literary reading of "past" texts which bring to the fore their present day relevance."
Enfin leest u de inleiding en wat ik in dit blog aandraag om te zien of het zo gek is dat ik gisteren schreef dat ik
flink wat van dit boek verwacht.

Het lijkt mij wel een boek dat ik wil gaan lezen. Als een van de boeken ter voorbereiding van de komende zomercursus van de Vereniging het Spinozahuis “Spinoza voor en tegen door de eeuwen heen”.

*) Dit hoofdstuk was de Dundee-lecture uit 2009. Michael Mack (toen nog verbonden aan Nottingham), sprak op de conferentie die in sept 2009 over Spinoza and Bodies werd gehouden aan de University of Dundee, over: “Spinoza and Freud, or how to be mindful of the mind.”
Deze lezing is net als de andere aldaar te beluisteren.


Ik begrijp, Stan, dat je wat getriggerd was door mijn reactie op je vorige blog. Maar nu je het doopceel van Mack hebt gelicht (waarvoor niettemin mijn dank) blijf ik toch bij mijn aarzelingen t.a.v. deze auteur. Ik herken weinig van Spinoza in zijn globale schetsen van de geschiedenis van het denken. Maar ik blijf geinteresseerd in wat jij uit zijn schetsen opdiept.