TOO MUCH COHERENCE
We see then, that every citizen depends not on himself, but on the commonwealth, all whose commands he is bound to execute, and has no right to decide, what is equitable or iniquitous, just or unjust…. And so, however iniquitous the subject may think the commonwealth’s decisions, he is none the less bound to execute them. (Spinoza, 1677b, III.5, p. 302f)
The flaws in Plato’s Idealism become particularly apparent in its political implications. It is the same with Spinoza. The quotes at the beginning of this section indicate how Spinoza’s thought can be used to justify the power of the masses on an individual, which can be as frightening as the power of the elite. Robespierre referred explicitly to Spinoza when he installed the reign of terror and the guillotine during the first French Revolution (1792-1794). He replaced the Christian religion with a religion proclaimed by the state: The Cult of the Supreme Being that is Nature and Reason. Robespierre also refers to Spinoza to insist that each citizen appreciate studies, solitary labor, temperance, incorruptibility, and the cult of virtue. He persecutes and condemns the aristocrats, the Freemasons, the bachelor (that is against nature) to the guillotine: requiring of each citizen the abdication of individual freedoms to the benefit of the supreme common good.
If Plato advocated the taking over of power by the elite, Spinoza did not wish to see the totalitarianism of the majority come about. But it appeared to him to be one of the risks implied in a democracy based on his principles. The trap that this risk affords us to unveil is that Spinoza’s system wants to be totally coherent, and it extolls a society that adopts this need to be coherent.
With Plato we discussed the danger of believing that only harmony is constructive. Now, with Spinoza, we have discussed the danger of believing that only coherence is creative. I shall not discuss Leibniz, who hoped that the world could be a harmonious and coherent system None of these philosophers could explain in a satisfactory way why our world only had pockets of harmony and coherence. However, this bias did not prevent them from developing other themes in a particularly interesting way.