Kwek, Dorothy H. B
Power and the Multitude : A Spinozist View
2015, Kwek, Dorothy H. B
Benedict Spinoza (1634–1677) is feted as the philosopher par excellence of the popular democratic multitude by Antonio Negri and others. But Spinoza himself expresses a marked ambivalence about the multitude in brief asides, and as for his thoughts on what he calls “the rule of (the) multitude,” that is, democracy, these exist only as meager fragments in his unfinished Tractatus Politicus or Political Treatise. This essay addresses the problem of Spinoza’s multitude. First, I reconstruct a vision of power that is found in the Ethics but that tends to be overlooked in the scholarly literature: power is not just sheer efficacy or imposition of will, but rather involves a capacity for being-affected; I call this the conception of power as sensitivity. The second part of my argument shows how, given Spinoza’s emphatic political naturalism, the conception of power as sensitivity can be extended to his political philosophy to shed light on what Spinoza calls potentia multitudinis, or “the power of the multitude”—a term found solely in the Political Treatise and nowhere else in his oeuvre. This juxtaposition reveals significant qualifications to the liberatory potential of the multitude currently claimed in the scholarly literature.