21 de abril de 2014

The Argentine Face of Spinoza: Passions and Politics / El rostro argentino de Spinoza: pasiones y política

Miriam van Reijen

Miriam van Reijen, Het Argentijnse gezicht van Spinoza. Passies en politiek, Klement, Kampen, 2010, 444 pp.


The central question that will be answered in this dissertation is, if there is an explanation for the fact that at the end of the 20th century there exists a relatively great interest in the philosophy of Spinoza in Argentina, compared with other countries in Latin America and in Europe. This study is partly historical. It contains a history of the reception of Spinoza in a little known context. In addition, the nature of that reception has been analyzed. Some Argentine publications on Spinoza in which passions and politics are central themes appeared to take a radical position. Spinoza is a ‘passionalist’, and not a rationalist, wrote Gregorio Kaminsky in a publication from 1990 (1). The reason for the excommunication of Spinoza in 1656 is the fact that his philosophy of the passions was considered subversive by the authorities, asserts Diego Tatián in a book about Spinoza from 2001 (2). Both Argentine philosophers expose the mechanisms to which Deleuze refers in the quote I have chosen as the motto for this dissertation: ‘La dévalorisation des passions tristes, la dénonciation de ceux qui les cultivent et qui s’en servent, forment l’objet pratique de la philosophie’ (3). My study will reveal what has been written about Spinoza in Argentina in the 20th century and also highlights the philosophical theme of the intrinsic relation between passions and politics in Spinoza’s philosophy.

The research question which is formulated in the introduction of the study states explicitly the underlying relation between the philosophical question for passion and politics and the historical-contextual question for the reception of Spinoza. This question is: Is it possible to give an explanation for and an evaluation of the reception of Spinoza in Argentina after 1980 which shows a relatively great interest in the relation of Spinoza’s philosophy of the passions and his political philosophy? This research question has been divided into three sub questions; each of these sub questions will be treated in one of the three parts of this study.

Part I discuss the relation between Spinoza’s philosophy of the passions and his political philosophy and is explained according to my own interpretation. In part II you will find the historical and contextual factors which could be important to find an explanation for the reception of Spinoza in Argentina after 1980 which shows a relatively great interest in the relation of Spinoza’s philosophy of the passions and his political philosophy,. In part III I looked for the reception itself of Spinoza in Argentina after 1980 which shows a relatively great interest in the relation of Spinoza’s philosophy of the passions and his political philosophy, and for the extent and nature of all this.

To enable me to make an evaluation of the adequacy of the Argentine reception of Spinoza which is described in part III, part I starts with ‘Spinoza on passions and politics’ which describes how Spinoza himself sees the relation between passions and politics. My description is based on a thorough study of three of Spinoza’s works: the Theological-political treatise, the Ethics and the Political treatise. They are the most relevant when it comes to the theme passions and politics. In part I, chapter 1, I reproduce the political philosophy of Spinoza, divided into seven themes. Paragraph 1.1 deals with the general fundamental principles of the state and with the transition from a natural state to a civil state. I argue that Spinoza does not believe in a theory of social contract; he asserts a natural transition to a community. The ground for this natural transition is not a calculation or a rational decision. The transition does not create an obligation, and there is no transference of power. Two themes in Spinoza’s political philosophy, sometimes misunderstood and criticized, are right and power and the common people. I discuss these themes in paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5, and I try to explain them with nuances in paragraphs 1.6 and 1.7. I present Spinoza’s preference for democracy as a form of government and his plea for a radical freedom of speech on the one hand and on for the limitation of (speech) acts on the other hand. Paragraph 1.8 is devoted to the consequences of the one and the other for the freedom of religion.

The theory of the origin and the nature of the affects, including the passions, as Spinoza describes this in Ethics part III, is reproduced and discussed in chapter 2. After the general theory of the affects, follow three paragraphs which described the way in which Spinoza deals with the affects in the Theological-political treatise, in the Ethics and in the Political treatise.

In chapter 3 I look at the passages in the same three works where Spinoza himself describes the relation between passions and politics. This chapter is structured in three parts, in accordance with the three dimensions where the relation passions and politics plays a part: in the origin of the state, in the maintenance and stability of the state and related to the aim of the state. At the origin of the state and in the maintenance of the stability of the state it becomes evident that the imaginative and passionate nature of man is Spinoza’s starting point and always remains decisive. Only as long as somebody supposes to receive more advantage than disadvantage, a promise or contract or law is kept. The way for a state to profit by this natural law is to make use of the passions. This is possible either responding to sad passions (fear for sanctions) or responding to joyful passions (hope for recompense). I call this Spinoza’s theory of motivation, or two-way model. In his Ethics Spinoza writes about being motivated by the passions as passive or external, from outside. He confronts this with being motivated from inside, from reason. In his political philosophy reason does not play an important role. The two ways for being motivated in the state are no longer by reason or passion, but by sad passions or joyful passions.

In part II ‘The first Argentine face of Spinoza’ is described shortly (in chapter 1) the history of Latin America in general and Argentina in particular. The history of ‘Spinoza in Argentina’ starts in 1492, because the ‘discovery of America’ cleared the way for western philosophy in Latin America, and also in Argentina. After a necessarily rapid and therefore superficial round through the reception of western philosophy in Latin America and Argentina, the question of the possibility and the nature and authenticity of a Latin American philosophy appears. This question emerges from the 19th century, and in the second part of the 20th century is an explicit subject of discussion in the philosophy of liberation, to which I dedicate chapter 2. This philosophy itself–a result of the theology of liberation–is often viewed as the candidate for an authentic Latin American philosophy. The points of view in this debate, of the Mexican philosopher Leopoldo Zea, the Peruvian philosopher Augusto Salazar and the Argentine philosopher Enrique Dussel, are presented. Dussel is the only one still alive, and publishing a lot, recently about the ‘politics of liberation’. One of my conclusions is that the reception of Spinoza’s philosophy after 1980 in Argentina can be understood as such a ‘politics of liberation’.

From chapter 3 on, Spinoza is appearing on the stage in Latin America and in Argentina. There exists a trace, not so clear, of Spinoza in the first three quarters of the 20th century. This trace is a little one, various and not distinctive. It is a part of the history of the reception of Spinoza in Argentina, but only consists of short publications, some entries in other works, or some implicit reference to Spinoza’s philosophy.

Beside this early trace there exists, in more or less the same period, a Jewish reception. The origin and the nature of this reception is the subject of chapter 4. In the beginning of the 20th century Argentina was the most prosperous and most European country in Latin America, at least looking at the capital Buenos Aires. At the same time it was a vast country, big part of it not yet claimed. Argentina became an immigration country, also for a lot of Jews from Eastern Europe, who were suffering from the Tsars persecution. They brought Spinoza to Argentina. The relatively big Jewish community in Argentina has produced a first quite distinctive Spinoza reception. There had not been a tradition in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, but in the 20th century some Spanish translations of Spinoza’s work emerge in Argentina. This was even before they were translated in Spain. Until 1977 nearly all the publications and translations of Spinoza’s works are Jewish, and the same is the case with the secondary literature of Spinoza. In all these works it is the Spinoza of the Ethics making his appearance, and of the Ethics most of all part I and V, about god. With regard to the Theological-political treatise it is only the theological part until chapter 16 that is referred to. No word about the conatus, about power, passions or politics. Spinoza is represented as a good son of the Jewish people, who as such deserves to be reinstated. In 1977, a Spinoza commemoration year, the director of the Museo Judío de Buenos Aires requests to the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam to undo the ban from 1656. This Jewish reception is a real, specific and interesting part of the history of the Spinoza studies in Argentine. The Jewish reception, present in translations and publications from and about Spinoza, published by their own Jewish publishers, and in their own Jewish periodicals, shows really the other Argentine face of Spinoza. But none of these publications, not even the classic work in four volumes of León Dujovne from the years 1942-1945, has been translated (4).

So, there appeared to be two Argentine faces of Spinoza: the Jewish one and the passional-political one after 1980. The last one, which was the starting point of this study, is represented in part III. Although philosophically quite different, it became clear to me during my research that the early Jewish reception of Spinoza’s philosophy is an important explanation for the interest in Spinoza in the last twenty years of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Nevertheless, there seems to be no direct connection between representatives of the two generations. The Jewish reception seems to stop completely after 1977. The political situation in Argentina, the military dictatorship from 1976 until 1983, puts an end to nearly all intellectual and political activities. However, after further research there seems to be also a certain continuity. Most of the contemporary Argentine philosophers dealing with Spinoza and publishing about him have a Jewish background. In some of them this background is explicitly present in their publications and activities, although their angle of incidence is also passions and politics in Spinoza. Both receptions have their political commitment with Spinoza’s philosophy in the context of their own identity or desire for political and social changes in common.

Other possible explanations for the second reception of Spinoza can be found in the political-economical and cultural background of Latin America in general and Argentina in particular. Argentina (means: Buenos Aires) from the end of the 19e century has been oriented at Europe, and most of all, at the cultural and intellectual life in Germany and France. Politics and philosophy have been mixed up for at least 200 years; 2010 is the celebration of two hundred years of independence in most of the Latin American countries. In Argentina professional philosophers have made their way in politics, as a minister or even president. From another side, bottom up, there have also been a clear relation between a specific philosophy and a political practice. In the 19e century this was the case with Comte’s positivism as a philosophy for the emerging bourgeoisie. In the 20e century it was Marxism that inspired liberation movements: Che Guevara for instance is Argentine. Since the ’60 of the 20e century the Christian basic communities formed a concrete manifestation of the theology of liberation, later on the philosophy of liberation.

In part III ‘The new generation: the second Argentine face of Spinoza: passions and politics. 1980-2010’ the extent and the nature of the reception of Spinoza in Argentina after 1980 is described. The French ‘turn to politics’ in the Spinozastudies from the sixties has also developed the Argentine Spinozastudies from the eighties. An interpretation of Spinoza in which passions and politics plays an important role, and even more, an interpretation of Spinoza as a ‘passionalist’ is more or less present in many of the philosophers of this generation. Nevertheless, there is more diversity than I thought in advance, and the Jewish reception of Spinoza is still present.

In chapter 1 three philosophers are discussed who since the eighties have been publishing about Spinoza: Leiser Madanes, Gregorio Kaminsky and Diana Cohen. The central theme of Leiser Madenes is the freedom of speech. Kaminsky deals, after publishing his book about Spinoza in which he calls him a ‘passionalist’, in particular about security and safety in the state. Diana Cohen concentrates her publications on the topics of suicide, identity, bio-ethics and how to apply Spinoza’s philosophy to daily life and problems. In chapter 2 six philosophers are presented who take very different positions, and for whom their Spinoza research forms only a part of their activities and publications. More than half of them unite explicitly Spinoza with Jewish religion and philosophy.

Two paragraphs of Chapter 3 are dedicated to Diego Tatián, who has a central position in the actual Spinoza research. He published a lot about Spinoza, and is the initiator of many research projects, publications, conferences and other activities concerning Spinoza. One of these, and the most important to me, is the organization since 2004 of the international Spinoza congresses that take place every year, for three or four days, in Córdoba. In paragraph 3.3 I write about ‘again a new generation’, namely the young philosophers, researchers and research assistants writing their Ph. D., who form the biggest part of the participants at these congresses. Nine of them who have translated and published most and are very active in the Spinoza research are presented in this paragraph.

Over the course of my research another part of the Spinoza reception in Argentina presented itself, and not from a purely philosophical side, to the extent that one ever can speak of a purely philosophical side in Argentina. It is the ‘psychoanalytical reception’ of Spinoza in Argentina. In the same year, 1910, in which appears the first publication of a Jewish writer on Spinoza, namely Alberto Gerchunoff, appears the first explicit and public manifestation of attention for psychoanalysis in Argentina. In the Black Book of Psychoanalysis, published in 2006, is asserted in the introduction that there are only two backward countries left in the world where psychoanalysis still plays an important role: France and Argentina (5). Exceptional is not only the fact that indeed psychoanalysis–and especially the Lacanian version–plays an important role in professional education, in public health, in the media and in everyday life in Argentina. It is also striking that many philosophers are trained in and orientated at psychoanalysis. On the other hand there are a lot of psychoanalysts and psychologists (the difference between them is much less in Argentina than in the Netherlands) who occupy themselves with philosophy. A lot of publications, magazines, websites, educational institutes, organizations, groups and networks are at the same time philosophical and psychoanalytical. In this context also Spinoza appears some times, in connection with Lacan or Deleuze. Articles in national journals about social and political questions, written by psychoanalysts and psychologists, relatively often involve Spinoza in their considerations. Also the subject of the (sad) passions and the political philosophy of Spinoza appear in this context.

In chapter 4 I give a summary of the history of psychoanalysis in Argentina. Like the question for the existence and the identity of a specific Argentine philosophy, described in part II, the question for the specificity of psychoanalysis in Argentina is still topical. One of my conclusions is that this last question is not about the identity of Argentinian psychoanalysis, because this is not specific at all. Argentinian psychoanalysis is classical Freudian or Lacanian in his ‘back to Freud’-ian sense. This part of the reception of Spinoza in Argentina appeared to be very relevant as far as the theme of passions and politics is concerned. The most explicit connection between Spinoza and Freud and psychoanalysis can be found in the publications of psychoanalytical practitioners. Two of them are treated in paragraphs 4.1 en 4.2. Enrique Carpintero, who works in Buenos Aires and Miguel Benasayag, who works mainly in Paris and Reims, have published about respectively Freud and Spinoza and psychoanalytical practice and Spinoza (6).

With regard to the reception of Spinoza in Argentina I came to the following conclusion. Characteristic for the Argentine philosophers in general, and certainly for the philosophers I studied after 1980, is that they pay little attention to metaphysics, theory of knowledge and analytical philosophy. They pay more attention to themes and problems in everyday life, individual and social. They try to spread their ideas by way of accessible publications and journalistic canals. They do not stay in their proverbial ivory tower.

Based on my synthesis in part I of Spinoza’s political philosophy, his philosophy of the affects and the relation between both, I argue that the interpretation of Spinoza as a ‘passionalist’ is justified. This interpretation is, in different ways, more or less shared by the intellectuals and philosophers of the presented ‘second generation’ after 1980 in Argentina. This interpretation is also shared by the Argentine psychoanalysts who wrote about Spinoza. Like the earlier Jewish reception of Spinoza they use their Spinoza interpretation in a ‘political’ project. My answer to the question to what extent they - both receptions – are doing justice to Spinoza’s philosophy, is partly negative. In case of the Jewish reception, because their interpretation of Spinoza ignores the central place of the conatus, affirmative power, passions and politics in Spinoza’s philosophy. In case of the second reception because the central place of the passions in the political philosophy isn’t taken seriously enough. They make use of the model of the two-ways, reason and passion, that Spinoza sketches in the Ethics. But in the Ethics Spinoza gives another model of two-ways, or motivational theory, than in his political philosophy. The so called coupling principle, by which self-interest is coupled to general or public interest is the political variant of the two-ways model (7). But this coupling is effective because of the appeal to the passions, either to the sad passions (fear), or to the even more effective joyful passions (hope, ambition). Reason is, according to Spinoza, a negligible force in politics.

Finally, I claim that taking note of the reception of Spinoza in Argentina after 1980 contributes to a fuller and more adequate understanding of Spinoza’s philosophy, in particular with regard to the intrinsic relation of his political philosophy and his theory of the passions, in other words, with regard to the intrinsic relation of passions and politics in everyday life.

Miriam van Reijen, Het Argentijnse gezicht van Spinoza. Passies en politiek, Klement, Kampen, 2010, pp. 298-302.


1. Gregorio Kaminsky, Spinoza; la política de las pasiones, Barcelona: Gedisa, 1998.
2. Diego Tatián, La cautela del salvaje; Pasiones y política en Spinoza, Buenos Aires: Hidalgo, 2001.
3. Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza et le problème de l’expression, Paris: Minuit, 1968, p. 250.
4. Atilano Dominguez, ‘León Dujovne: Spinoza, su vida, su época, su obra, su influencia’. Studia Spinozana 1(1985), 462-469.
5. Catherine Meyer (red.), Le Livre Noir de la psychoanalyse; vivre, penser et aller mieux sans Freud, Paris: Ed. des Arènes, 2005; Idem, El libro negro del psicoanálisis, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2007.
6. Enrique Carpintero, La alegría de lo necesario. Las pasiones y el poder en Spinoza y Freud, Buenos Aires: Topía, 2003; Miguel Benasayag (2003).
7. Wim Klever, ‘Power: Conditional and Unconditional’. In: C. de Deugd (red.), Spinoza’s political and theological Thought, Amsterdam/Oxford/New York: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1984, pp. 95-106.