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
Number of pages21
ISSN1600-910X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 23 Jul 2021.

Keywords

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

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