The elections in the U.S. have shown now more than ever how fragile our democratic cultures really are. At times of “normal” politics (a now distant concept), it’s easy to forget that a functioning democracy is not simply a matter of getting the arrangement of political institutions just right. Democracies don’t run on autopilot once the correct procedures have been established; they’re continually reliant on social norms that help define the boundaries of acceptable political practice.
It’s not as though the norms governing our politics were in good shape before, years of obstruction and brinksmanship offer a grim display of just how much dysfunction a determined opposition can create. But there’s still something distinctively disturbing about the so-called Trump phenomenon, which could be called “mind-boggling” or “sui generis.” The key element is probably its undercurrent of violence, which amplifies the sense that Trump and his followers are uniquely willing to flirt with chaos. This kind of chaos, moreover, is no longer confined to political proceedings that most voters don’t closely follow. Trumpism brings chaos out into the open. What’s more this phenomena is not just limited to the U.S ; western democracies everywhere are under threat and have already been submitted to their own forms of right-wing populism and chaos.
In contrast Spinoza has made a remarkable comeback in contemporary political philosophy, even appearing as the benchmark thinker, a place vacated by Marx, to counter liberal influence. What is the conception of power where the "multitudes" replace the people to define a political subject open to pluralism and differences ?
What can Spinoza offer contemporary, political, economic, sociological or legal thought ? References to the author of the Ethics have recently multiplied. At a time when not only Marx, but also Foucault and Deleuze can no longer offer us an alternative to powerful liberal or communitarian Anglo-Saxon theories, a consolidation has taken place around a philosophy which, once purified of its dogmatic ontology, provides a conceptual toolbox for contemporary thinking. Ergo, Spinoza’s theory of conatus as the desire and force in every animate creature toward the preservation of its being, a key concept of Spinozism, is adept to explain social conflicts, political struggles and economic wars. Spinoza, rather than Marx, is now called upon as the thinker who does not give in to the liberal sirens of spontaneous harmony of interests or the illusions of social pacification.
Obviously, a return to Spinoza rather than to Marx - leads one to wonder: if this is a question of discovering an alternative ideologue in an intellectual world orphaned by its great figures and deprived of new gurus ? If one intends to sidestep the more or less consensual theories of political justice (Rawls, Habermas, their followers and their critics), is there no other "fallback" solution than to reexamine Spinozism ? Not unless it is something quite different and avant-garde, capable of fundamentally renewing social science as well as political philosophy. What is certain that the idea of the people now seems a thing of the past: obsolescence of the theories of sovereignty associated with the announced decline of the nation-state, a reluctance apropos the alleged totalitarian tendencies of Rousseauism, and a distrust of Marxist phraseology. But if the ideas of unity, identity and a fortiori unanimity are threatened with obsolescence, what concept embrace postmodern political science? A platform for reflection on the multitudes: collective thinking, to preserve plurality, not to deny heterogeneity and to safeguard differences. Thinking of the multitude rather than the people, can justify a tactical detour or a strategic return to Spinoza, or at least his rereading based on an analysis of the conditions of geopolitical production which now shape self-reliance.
It is therefore necessary to clarify the role assigned to Spinoza in this project of postmodern redefinition of politics. Spinoza, philosopher of the ontological power of a multitude of singularities acting in tandem, theorist of a relational dynamism that is both productive and counterproductive,. Spinoza engaged in a fight against the conceptual framework of "bourgeois" philosophy, making it possible to think about struggles without objectifying classes or ordering the masses. Once the dialectic and its progressive teleology have been dismissed, once the hypostasis of the People or the mythical figure of the Proletariat has been rejected, once the voluntarist image of man inherited from the Enlightenment has been removed, does Spinoza allow us to conceive the implementation of a social power ? If other views are possible, the philosopher invites us to identify the way in which social movements bring about new political singularities, notably structured around a cordiality associated with alter-globalisation. Against sovereignty (centralising) but also against socialism (unifier) and liberalism (falsely pluralist), reading Spinoza would therefore help to restore its claims to the idea of a non-state composition of powers or of a non-disciplinary convergence of desires: a multiplicity of free and creative singularities could come together through cooperation and not command - guidance rather than power. An anti-juridical vision, therefore supposedly anti-bourgeois, of politics would emerge here, bringing about the real future of civil societies, or a struggle without subject: the movement of the masses rather than the class struggle, the power of the multitude, positioned for the first time at the heart of politics and history.