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date: 18 June 2018

Abstract and Keywords

This article argues that Spinoza is a modern republican political philosopher. He combines Machiavelli’s idea of liberty with Hobbes’s version of the social contract. This claim has four basic elements. First, Spinoza rejects Hobbes’s view that the individual must alienate his natural rights to form a state through a contract. Rather, the contract’s validity depends on a continuous and dynamic transfer of power from its citizens, which is defined as participation in public life. Second, the stability of a state depends on how effectively the regime can foster participation in the state. Spinoza uses his theory of the imagination and passions to explain how the state can overcome free-rider problems in the social contract. Hence the republican ideal of government is expressed not so much in any particular constitutional form of the state but in how well each form can foster participation. Although democracy expresses the highest degree of participation—and hence stability—aristocracy and even monarchy can be also optimized. Third, the participation of the individual in the state is not an end in itself but the means to the individual’s own freedom. So, although participation in the state is a necessary condition of individual well-being, it is certainly not sufficient to become virtuous. Fourth, the participation of individuals in the state, the quality and structure of state stability, as a well as the freedom of the state and individual, all depend on the degree of rationality manifest in both the individual and in the institutional structures of the state.

Keywords: Aristocracy, Collective Action Problems, Democracy, Freedom, Free-Rider, Hobbes, Liberty, Machiavelli, Monarchy, Natural Law, Natural Right, Participation, Republicanism, Social Contract, Virtue

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