How to Study Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise

"How to Study Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 17 (1948).  Reprinted in Persecution and the Art of Writing.


The reason why a fresh investigation of Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise’ is in order, is obvious. The chief aim of the Treatise is to refute the claims which had been raised on behalf of revelation throughout the ages; and Spinoza succeeded, at least to the extent that his book has become the classic document of the “rationalist” or “secularist” attack on the belief in revelation. The study of the Treatise can be of real importance only if the issue discussed in it is still alive. A glance at the present scene is sufficient to show one that the issue which, until a short while ago, was generally believed to have been settled by Spinoza’s nineteenth century successors once and for all, and thus to be obsolete, is again approaching the center of attention. But we cannot help noticing that the most fundamental issue – the issue raised by the conflicting claims of philosophy and revelation – is discussed in our time on a decidedly lower level than was almost customary in former ages. It is with a view to these circumstances that we open the Treatise again.

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