Chatty Kathys and Silent Deliberators: understanding the role of communication in Spinoza’s democracy theory
Time: Wednesday 7.6. 14.15-15.45
Place: Metsätalo, room 10 (3rd floor)
Abstract: This talk is part of a chapter in my book: Absolute Democracy: Spinoza’s theory of individual and collective power. In the section before the one I will discuss in this talk, “Large Councils,” I set out Spinoza’s argument in the Political Treatise that all effective forms of polity from monarchy to democracy must have (extremely) large councils. I argue that to understand Spinoza’s democracy theory we need to understand these councils and what their function is supposed to be in the development of the power of states.
While the textual evidence for large councils is relatively straightforward, the epistemic and metaphysical role of these councils is a bit less so. I will approach the question in this talk through trying to categorize Spinoza’s theory within the current theoretical landscape. Justin Steinberg has argued that’s Spinoza is an epistemic democrat. Others have insisted on the imaginative/affective dimension of political agreement. I will argue that the best fit for Spinoza’s view is the Communicative Democracy theory of Iris Young, who celebrated and theorized the epistemic and affective dimensions of democratic communication.
Young often critiqued the rationalist dimensions of deliberation theory from Rousseau to Habermas, to the deliberative democracy theorists of the 1990s. Spinoza , similarly, would find the idea of silent deliberation deeply problematic — individually and collectively. Both Young and Spinoza agree that experiencing the world, talking with others — as many others as possible– is the best way to create strong democracy. Thus, Spinoza can be understood as a ‘communicative democrat’, and the role of large councils can be understood as having both epistemic and affective virtues in Spinoza’s democracy theory.