Freedom of Speech and Philosophical Citizenship in Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise

Julie E. Cooper*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In this essay, I challenge genealogies that anoint Baruch Spinoza the founder of liberal democracy and liberal individualism. Spinoza's departure from mainstream liberal individualism manifests most starkly in his argument for freedom of thought and expression–the argument invariably cited to prove Spinoza's liberal credentials. When Spinoza defends freedom of speech, in The Theologico Political Treatise, he endorses a mode of democratic citizenship, and an ethos of public discourse, devoid of the heroic self-display endorsed by theorists like John Stuart Mill. According to Spinoza, philosophy and democracy are mutually reinforcing: philosophers can pursue challenging lines of inquiry in a democracy that grants freedom of speech, and the democracy that welcomes philosophy proves more resilient than a tyranny that polices opinion. Philosophy enhances democracy because philosophers comport themselves in ways that expand egalitarian community: specifically, philosophers observe anonymous protocol. According to Spinoza, democratic philosophers should aspire to the role of courteous friend–not the role of celebrity, martyr, or disciple. Spinoza's argument for anonymity remains relevant for contemporary democratic theorists: Spinoza offers a compelling alternative to dominant modes of philosophical citizenship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-114
Number of pages24
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes


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