Reevaluating Spinoza's legacy for Jewish political thought

Julie E. Cooper*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Jewish thinkers have long sought to dignify their projects by claiming Spinoza as a progenitor. In recent years, scholars have revived Spinoza's critique of theocracy as a counter to Judaism's supposed "antipolitical" tendencies. In this article, I contest lineages that trace admonitions against theocratic "antipolitics" back to Spinoza. When accounting for the resilience of the Hebrew theocracy, Spinoza accords political standing to communities organized on principles other than absolute sovereignty, and he evaluates them in political terms. With this interpretation, I challenge the political conclusions that scholars of Jewish thought have derived from Spinoza. Specifically, I demonstrate that the embrace of sovereignty as a precondition for agency is neither the only political conclusion that one can draw from the critique of theocracy, nor is it the most compelling conclusion for scholars of Jewish politics. I claim an alternative Spinozist legacy to reinvigorate debate about sovereignty's importance for Jewish political agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-484
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2017


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