Balibar, Etienne. “Spinoza, the Anti-Orwell: The Fear of the Masses”. In Masses, Classes, Ideas. Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx. Trans. James Swenson. New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. 3-37.
For Emilia Giancotti
With this intentionally untimely title, I shall attempt to formulate the problem on the basis of which it would be possible to understand and discuss what makes Spinoza's political thought (or better, if we share on this point the conception brilliantly put forth by Negri, Spinoza's thought, inasmuch as it is thoroughly political), indispensable for us today, however aporetic it might appear. In fact, I believe that it is impossible to reduce the positions of the "renegade Jew" from the Hague, despite their deductive appearance, to a single definition, even if considered as a tendency which would progressively prevail over others in his intellectual itinerary. It seems to me, on the contrary, that what he is heading toward, or what we head toward when we undergo the experience of reading him and attempt to think in the concepts he offers us, is a complex of contradictions without a genuine solution. But, not only can the problems he poses not be returned to a time irretrievably past; it is precisely this complex of contradictions that makes them unavoidable for us today, conferring on his metaphysics a singular critical power and constructive theoretical capacity. Perhaps this is the sign by which we can recognize a great philosopher.
As a result, there is no question of fictitiously resolving these contradictions by taking a position beyond the point reached by Spinoza in his inquiry, or the place that he occupies in a historical evolution whose meaning we believe we possess. In this respect, the demonstration produced by Pierre Macherey in his Hegel ou Spinoza seems decisive to me. Every reading is certainly a transformation. But the only effective (and therefore instructive) transformation is one that rejects the ease of retrospective judgment, which refuses to project onto Spinoza's contradictions a schema (dialectical or otherwise) that he himself would have already invalidated. As a result, it is the inverse that is important: to bring to the fore, if possible, contradictions characteristic of his thought that turn out to be at the same time entirely current, and in this way enable us to understand both what there is for us to think in Spinoza's concepts, and how the latter, in their turn, can be active in our own inquiry, without any pre-established solution.