Governing between Reason and Affects: Spinoza and the Politics of Prophets

Jonathan Harmat*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

    Abstract

    Through a close analysis of Spinoza's views on prophecy and the Hebrew Republic, this article contributes insights into how certain modes of governing succeed in aligning and entangling affects with reason. I argue, first, that the prophet must be seen as a political figure immersed in the imaginative-affective domain. Through the imagination, signs, and a moral compass, the prophet utilizes affects such as humility, repentance, and devotion to exhort people to live in accordance with the guidance of reason. In this way, prophetic authority underlies a mode of governing that utilizes imaginative and affective means to reach rationally expedient ends. However, since affects are inherently inconsistent and fluctuating, something needs to be invoked to make commendable affects durable, intense, and lasting. I therefore turn to Spinoza's analysis of Moses’ government of the Hebrews to argue that by commending collective, repetitive, and bodily performances of ceremonies, rituals, and liturgy, he was able to habituate individuals to certain moods, values, and virtues that conform with the prescripts of reason on an affective basis. It is my hope that the article will enhance our ability to see that, although affects are governable, not all affects can be entangled with reason and that the difference between true and false prophets is small.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalDistinktion
    Volume22
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)319-339
    Number of pages21
    ISSN1600-910X
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Published online: 23 Jul 2021.

    Keywords

    • Spinoza
    • Affect
    • Reason
    • Prophets
    • Governing
    • Ceremony
    • Ritual

    Cite this