Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Spinoza)

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP) or Theologico-Political Treatise  written by Baruch Spinoza, was one of the most controversial and influencial texts of the early modern period. It was a preemptive defense of Spinoza’s later work, Ethics, published posthumously in 1677, for which he anticipated harsh criticism.

Genesis of the work and historical context

The anonymous publication crowned a work begun in about 1665, at the time Spinoza was devoting himself to writing the Ethica, which he interrupted momentarily to write the Tractatus. The ‘anonymity served to divert odium theologicum from the author and publisher. The identification of the author was, moreover, easy and Spinoza took no particular care to obstruct it. In a letter to Leibniz he writes:

“If you did not happen to have the theological-political treatise in your hands and it does not bother you, I could send you a copy.”
(Epistle XLVI, Nov. 9, 1671)

On July 19, 1674, the Tractatus was struck down by a decree of condemnation from the Courts of Holland, along with Lodewijk Meyer’s Philosophia Sacrae Scripturae interpres, which had appeared in a single volume with the second edition of the Tractatus, and Hobbes’ Leviathan, which had been translated into Dutch as early as 1667 and into Latin the following year. The judgment of condemnation against the anonymous work had already been manifested in May 1670 by Jacobus Thomasius and, the following month, by Fredericus Rappoltus, while Lambertus van Velthuysen, in a letter to Jacobus Ostens, gives a negative judgment of the work and stigmatizes any subversion from religious tradition.

The United Provinces, at the time Spinoza begins writing the Tractatus, find themselves fighting to maintain the leading role conferred on them by the Peace of Münster (1648), which had ended the Thirty Years’ War by reconfirming the 1609 arrangement. England was the main adversary in the economic field. The balance of internal relations was articulated and tense: on the religious level Catholics and Calvinists confronted each other, on the political level Orangists and Republicans. In the Preface, Spinoza states that he wished to do a grateful thing to the country in which he had the privilege of being born by dealing with the foundation and importance of civil liberties, but it is possible that he was writing because he did not consider these liberties so far out of danger in the Low Countries.

Structure of the work

The work is written in Latin. It is divided into 20 chapters and a preface. A possible further subdivision is as follows:

  • chapters I-VI: analysis of prophecy as divine revelation and prophets as interpreters of revelation; the election of the Jewish people; the content of the divine Law; sacred ceremonies and stories; miracles. These are the most polemical chapters of the work, in which Spinoza argues that the metaphorical language of the Bible is aimed at simple people and rejects belief in miracles in favor of a rational explanation of natural phenomena made possible by scientific progress;
  • chapters VII-X: exposition of a new exegetical method of Scripture, with concrete application;
  • chapters XI-XV: the apostles; the true meaning of the divine word; the essence of faith; philosophy is not ancilla theologiae (this is the beginning of the “constructive” part of the work);
  • chapters XVI-XX: political themes.
    Themes of the work

The themes addressed are: – criticism of the way religion was understood: it produced in fact passive emotions such as useless fear and vain hope. – political theme: it is a liberal contractualist: he believes that men have created a covenant out of necessity (in order to satisfy their conatus) and that the state exists to guarantee freedom’ of thought and expression,necessary for the achievement of social peace.

Treatment of religion

In the treatise, Spinoza put forth his most systematic critique of Judaism, and all organized religion in general. Spinoza argued that theology and philosophy must be kept separate, particularly in the reading of Holy Scripture. Whereas the goal of theology is obedience, philosophy aims at understanding rational truth. Scripture does not teach philosophy and thus cannot be made to conform with it, otherwise the meaning of Scripture will be distorted. Conversely, if reason is made subservient to scripture, then, Spinoza argues, “the prejudices of a common people of long ago… will gain a hold on his understanding and darken it.”

Scriptural interpretation

Spinoza was not only the real father of modern metaphysics and moral and political philosophy, but also of the so-called higher criticism of the Bible. He was particularly attuned to the idea of interpretation; he felt that all organized religion was simply the institutionalized defense of particular interpretations. He rejected in its entirety the view that Moses composed the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch by Christians or Torah by Jews. He provided an analysis of the structure of the Bible which demonstrated that it was essentially a compiled text with many different authors and diverse origins; in his view, it was not “revealed” all at once.

His Tractatus Theologico-Politicus undertook to show that Scriptures properly understood gave no authority for the militant intolerance of the clergy who sought to stifle all dissent by the use of force. To achieve his object, Spinoza had to show what is meant by a proper understanding of the Bible. And this gave him occasion to apply criticism to the Bible. To appreciate his services in this connection it must be remembered that his age was remarkably lacking in historical sense, especially in matters relating to religion. Saintly contemporaries like John Bunyan and Manasseh ben Israel made the most fantastic use of Scripture texts; while militant clerics, relying on the ignorant bibliolatry of the masses, misapplied Bible texts to gain their ends. Spinoza, who permitted no supernatural rival to Nature and no rival authority to the civil government of the state, rejected also all claims that Biblical literature should be treated in a manner entirely different from that in which any other document is treated that claims to be historical. His contention that the Bible “is in parts imperfect, corrupt, erroneous, and inconsistent with itself, and that we possess but fragments of it” roused great storm at the time, and was mainly responsible for his evil repute for a century at least. Nevertheless, many have gradually adopted his views, agreeing with him that the real “Word of GOD”, or true religion, is not something written in books but “inscribed on the heart and mind of man”. And many scholars and ministers of religion now praise Spinoza’s services in the correct interpretation of Scripture as a document of first rate importance in the progressive development of human thought and conduct.

Treatment of Judaism

The treatise also rejected the Jewish notion of “chosenness”; to Spinoza, all peoples are on par with each other, as GOD has not elevated one over the other. Spinoza also offered a sociological explanation as to how the Jewish people had managed to survive for so long, despite facing relentless persecution. In his view, the Jews had been preserved due to a combination of Gentile hatred and Jewish separatism.

He also gave one final, crucial reason for the continued Jewish presence, which in his view, was by itself sufficient to maintain the survival of the nation forever: circumcision. It was the ultimate anthropological expression of bodily marking, a tangible symbol of separateness which was the ultimate identifier.

Spinoza also posited a novel view of the Torah; he claimed that it was essentially a political constitution of the ancient state of Israel. In his view, because the state no longer existed, its constitution could no longer be valid. He argued that the Torah was thus suited to a particular time and place; because times and circumstances had changed, the Torah could no longer be regarded as a valid document.

Human power consists in strength of mind and intellect

One of the most striking features in Spinoza’s political theory is his basic principle that “right is might.” This principle he applied systematically to the whole problem of government, and seemed rather pleased with his achievement, inasmuch as it enabled him to treat political theory in a scientific spirit, as if he were dealing with applied mathematics. The identification or correlation of right with power has caused much misunderstanding. People supposed that Spinoza reduced justice to brute force. But Spinoza was very far from approving Realpolitik. In the philosophy of Spinoza the term “power” (as should be clear from his moral philosophy) means a great deal more than physical force. In a passage near the end of his Political Treatise he states explicitly that “human power chiefly consists in strength of mind and intellect” — it consists in fact, of all the human capacities and aptitudes, especially the highest of them. Conceived correctly, Spinoza’s whole philosophy leaves ample scope for ideal motives in the life of the individual and of the community.

Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy

Spinoza discusses the principal kinds of states, or the main types of government, namely, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy. Each has its own peculiarities and needs special safeguards, if it is to realise the primary function of a state. Monarchy may degenerate into Tyranny unless it is subjected to various constitutional checks which will prevent any attempt at autocracy. Similarly, Aristocracy may degenerate into Oligarchy and needs analogous checks. On the whole, Spinoza favours Democracy, by which he meant any kind of representative government. In the case of Democracy the community and the government are more nearly identical than in the case of Monarchy or Aristocracy; consequently a democracy is least likely to experience frequent collisions between the people and the government and so is best adapted to secure and maintain that peace, which it is the business of the state to secure.

Relevant quotes


After his expulsion from the Jewish community in Amsterdam on July 27, 1956, the 24-year-old Spinoza decided to lead a secluded life in order to devote himself with complete freedom to philosophy, understood and practiced as a search for and indication of a way of life that would enable man to perfect his nature to the utmost and achieve happiness. Along with the Ethica, which is Spinoza’s most theoretically committed work, the Tractatus theologico-politicus (drafted between 1665 and 1670, when the Ethica was already almost completed) also obeys an ethical purpose, namely that of identifying, at the religious and political level, the conditions that guarantee the right to freedom of thought and expression, the autonomy of philosophical knowledge, religious tolerance, and peaceful coexistence among various beliefs and forms of life. And therein lies the decisive contribution of the Tractatus to the formation of the ethico-political consciousness of the West: for the first time the subject of freedom of thought is treated systematically, with the intention of demonstrating that such freedom “is not only compatible with religion and the peace of the state, but that, indeed, it cannot be suppressed except together with the peace of the state and religion itself.” A reading of the Tractatus that takes into account the essentially ethical character of Spinoza’s reflection allows us to understand the extraordinary historical relevance of some of his theses, and to grapple with some solutions to highly topical issues: the relationship between reason-faith or philosophy-theology; the foundations of religious belief; and the ethical value of religion. The volume’s editor is Alessandro Dini, professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Florence, a scholar of the history of religious thought and the relationship between philosophy and medicine in the modern and contemporary ages. The Latin text, reproduced on the basis of the original, even in its line-by-line scansion, is that of the critical edition by C. Gebhardt (Spinoza, Opera, voI. III, pp. 1-267).
A true international novelty.


If men could direct all their affairs with firm purpose, or if fortune were always benign towards them, they would not fall prey to any superstition. But they often end up in such difficult situations that they are unable to formulate any plan of action, and usually, for the sake of the uncertain goods of fortune (which they inordinately desire), they swing miserably between hope and fear: thus their minds are, almost always, totally inclined to believe anything. When he is in doubt, a small impulse is enough to push him in one or the other direction; and this happens even more easily when, agitated with hope or fear, he comes to a standstill, ensnared; if, under different circumstances, he trusts excessively in something, he becomes arrogant and puffed up with pride.
I believe that no one is ignorant of these things, although I am convinced that most men do not know themselves.
[Spinoza, Works. Theological-Political Treatise, translated by Filippo Mignini, Mondadori, Milan 2007]


Therefore, the ease with which men are enthralled by all kinds of superstition is equal only to the difficulty of making them constant in any one of these kinds; indeed, since the man of the vulgar always lives in a state of unhappiness, he never finds lasting satisfaction and only that which has the flavor of novelty and which has not yet proved illusory seduces him.


Preface p. 43
[Religion becomes an instrument of social control.]

How easy it is therefore for men to be taken in by any kind of superstition, it is equally difficult to make them persist in one and the same kind. On the contrary, because the vulgar always remains in a state of misery, for that very reason he never stays quiet for long, but he likes above all that which is new and has not yet failed him instability which was the cause of much turmoil and atrocious wars. Indeed, as is evident from the things just said, and as Rufus himself observed very well (IV, 10), “Nothing succeeds more than superstition in directing the multitude.”


Preface p. 45
2. Freedom of thought and expression is beneficial to the State and to Religion

But, in truth, if all the secrecy and all the interest of the monarchical regime consists in deceiving men and disguising under the flashy name of religion the fear by which they must be held in check – so that they fight for their own enslavement as if they were fighting for their own salvation, and believe that it is not at all shameful, but the highest of honors to sacrifice one’s blood and life for the sake of one man –


Preface p. 45
If, on the other hand, under state law only actions were punishable, and words went unpunished, such conflicts could not be justified from any legal point of view, nor would disputes be converted into conflicts;

Since, therefore, it has fallen to us this rare privilege, to live in a state where everyone is allowed full freedom of judgment and the faculty of rendering worship to GOD according to his own character, and where nothing is esteemed more dear and pleasant than liberty, I felt that I would not have done an unwelcome or unnecessary thing if I had shown that this liberty is not only compatible with religion and the peace of the state, but, indeed, that it cannot be suppressed except together with the same peace of the state and religion: this is the most important thing I have proposed to prove in the present treatise


Men would never be superstitious, if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune : but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being often kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune’s greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, over-confident, and vain.
This as a general fact I suppose everyone knows, though few, I believe, know their own nature; no one can have lived in the world without observing that most people, when in prosperity, are so over-brimming with wisdom (however inexperienced they may be), that they take every offer of advice as a personal insult, whereas in adversity they know not where to turn, but beg and pray for counsel from every passer-by. No plan is then too futile, too absurd, or too fatuous for their adoption ; the most frivolous causes will raise them to hope, or plunge them into despair — if anything happens during their fright which reminds them of some past good or ill, they think it portends a happy or unhappy issue, and therefore (though it may have proved abortive a hundred times before) style it a lucky or unlucky omen. Anything which excites their astonishment they believe to be a portent signifying the anger of the gods or of the Supreme Being, and, mistaking superstition for religion, account it impious not to avert the evil with prayer and sacrifice. Signs and wonders of this sort they conjure up perpetually, till one might think Nature as mad as themselves, they interpret her so fantastically.
Thus it is brought prominently before us, that superstition’s chief victims are those persons who greedily covet temporal advantages; they it is, who (especially when they are in danger, and cannot help themselves) are wont with Prayers and womanish tears to implore help from GOD: upbraiding Reason as blind, because she cannot show a sure path to the shadows they pursue, and rejecting human wisdom as vain ; but believing the phantoms of imagination, dreams, and other childish absurdities, to be the very oracles of Heaven. As though GOD had turned away from the wise, and written his decrees, not in the mind of man but in the entrails of beasts, or left them to be proclaimed by the inspiration and instinct of fools, madmen, and birds. Such is the unreason to which terror can drive mankind! Superstition, then, is engendered, preserved, and fostered by fear.


As the mass of mankind remains always at about the same pitch of misery, it never assents long to any one remedy, but is always best pleased by a novelty which has not yet proved illusive.


If, in despotic statecraft, the supreme and essential mystery be to hoodwink the subjects, and to mask the fear, which keeps them down, with the specious garb of religion, so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety, and count it not shame but highest honour to risk their blood and their lives for the vainglory of a tyrant; yet in a free state no more mischievous expedient could be planned or attempted.

Chapter 1 Of Prophecy

Now it is evident, from the definition above given, that prophecy really includes ordinary knowledge; for the knowledge which we acquire by our natural faculties depends on our knowledge of GOD and his eternal laws; but ordinary knowledge is common to all men as men, and rests on foundations which all share, whereas the multitude always strains after rarities and exceptions, and thinks little of the gifts of nature ; so that, when prophecy is talked of, ordinary knowledge is not supposed to be included.

Nevertheless, it has as much right as any other to be called divine, for GOD’s nature, in so far as we share therein, and GOD’s laws, dictate it to us; nor does it suffer from that to which we give the preeminence, except in so far as the latter transcends its limits and cannot be accounted for by natural laws taken in themselves.

I do not believe anyone has reached such perfection, surpassing all others, except Christ, to whom GOD immediately revealed — without words or visions — the conditions which lead to salvation. So GOD revealed himself to the Apostles through Christ’s mind, as formerly he had revealed himself to Moses by means of a heavenly voice. And therefore Christ’s voice, like the one Moses heard, can be called the voice of GOD. And in this sense we can also say that GOD’s wisdom, that is, a wisdom, surpassing human wisdom, assumed a human nature in Christ, and that Christ was the way to salvation.

Chapter 3: Of the Vocation of the Hebrews, and Whether the Gift of Prophecy Was Peculiar to Them

When the prophets, in speaking of this election which regards only true virtue, mixed up much concerning sacrifices and ceremonies, and the rebuilding of the temple and city, they wished by such figurative expressions, after the manner and nature of prophecy, to expound matters spiritual, so as at the same time to show to the Jews, whose prophets they were, the true restoration of the state and of the temple to be expected about the time of Cyrus.
At the present time, therefore, there is absolutely nothing which the Jews can arrogate to themselves beyond other people.
As to their continuance so long after dispersion and the loss of empire, there is nothing marvellous in it, for they so separated themselves from every other nation as to draw down upon themselves universal hate, not only by their outward rites, rites conflicting with those of other nations, but also by the sign of circumcision which they most scrupulously observe.
That they have been preserved in great measure by Gentile hatred, experience demonstrates.
Ch. 3

It will be more secure and steadfast and less subject to fortune that society which is founded and governed by wise and careful men. Conversely, that which is made up of uncouth and incompetent men depends to a great extent on fortune and is less steadfast.
(Chapter III)

Variant translation: Therefore at the present time there is nothing whatsoever that the Jews can arrogate to themselves above other nations. As to their continued existence for so many years when scattered and stateless, this is in no way surprising, since they have separated themselves from other nations to such a degree as to incur the hatred of all, and this not only through external rites alien to the rites of other nations but also through the mark of circumcision, which they most religiously observe. That they are preserved largely through the hatred of other nations is demonstrated by historical fact.
As translated by Samuel Shirley
In regard to intellect and true virtue, every nation is on a par with the rest, and GOD has not in these respects chosen one people rather than another.
Ch. 3

Chapter 4

He who gives what is due to each for fear of capital punishment acts at the command of others and compelled by fear of evil, nor can he be called righteous; while he who gives to each his own because he knows the true reason for the laws and their necessity acts consistently and according to his own decision, not others’, and therefore is rightly called righteous.
(Chapter IV)

Since, therefore, the love of GOD is man’s supreme happiness and bliss, as well as the ultimate goal and purpose of all human action, it follows that only those who take care to love God observe the divine law.
(Chapter IV)

Chapter 6

Any event happening in nature which contravened nature’s universal laws, would necessarily also contravene the Divine decree, nature, and understanding; or if anyone asserted that GOD acts in contravention to the laws of nature, he, ipso facto, would be compelled to assert that GOD acted against His own nature—an evident absurdity.
As nothing happens in nature which does not follow from her laws, and as her laws embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect, and lastly, as nature preserves a fixed and immutable order; it most clearly follows that miracles are only intelligible as in relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence, either by us, or at any rate, by the writer and narrator of the miracle.
Since miracles were wrought according to the understanding of the masses, who are wholly ignorant of the workings of nature, it is certain that the ancients took for a miracle whatever they could not explain by the method adopted by the unlearned in such cases, namely, an appeal to the memory, a recalling of something similar, which is ordinarily regarded without wonder; for most people think they sufficiently understand a thing when they have ceased to wonder at it. The ancients, then, and indeed most men up to the present day, had no other criterion for a miracle; hence we cannot doubt that many things are narrated in Scripture as miracles of which the causes could easily be explained by reference to ascertained workings of nature.
When we know that all things are ordained and ratified by GOD, that the operations of nature follow from the essence of GOD, and that the laws of nature are eternal decrees and volitions of GOD, we must perforce conclude that our knowledge of GOD, and of GOD’s will increases in proportion to our knowledge and clear understanding of nature.
Plainly, they are but triflers who, when they cannot explain a thing, run back to the will of GOD; this is, truly, a ridiculous way of expressing ignorance.
Philosophers who endeavour to understand things by clear conceptions of them, rather than by miracles, have always found the task extremely easy—at least, such of them as place true happiness solely in virtue and peace of mind, and who aim at obeying Nature, rather than being obeyed by her.
All the events narrated in Scripture came to pass naturally, and are referred directly to GOD because Scripture, as we have shown, does not aim at explaining things by their natural causes, but only at narrating what appeals to the popular imagination, and doing so in the manner best calculated to excite wonder, and consequently to impress the minds of the masses with devotion.
Scripture does not explain things by their secondary causes, but only narrates them in the order and the style which has most power to move men, and especially uneducated men, to devotion; and therefore it speaks inaccurately of GOD and of events, seeing that its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination. If the Bible were to describe the destruction of an empire in the style of political historians, the masses would remain unstirred.
We may, then, be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened, like everything else, according to natural laws; and if anything is there set down which can be proved in set terms to contravene the order of nature, or not to be deducible therefrom, we must believe it to have been foisted into the sacred writings by irreligious hands.
In order to interpret the Scriptural miracles and understand from the narration of them how they really happened, it is necessary to know the opinions of those who first related them, and have recorded them for us in writing, and to distinguish such opinions from the actual impression made upon their senses, otherwise we shall confound opinions and judgments with the actual miracle as it really occurred: nay, further, we shall confound actual events with symbolical and imaginary ones. For many things are narrated in Scripture as real, and were believed to be real, which were in fact only symbolical and imaginary.
In order to understand, in the case of miracles, what actually took place, we ought to be familiar with Jewish phrases and metaphors; anyone who did not make sufficient allowance for these, would be continually seeing miracles in Scripture where nothing of the kind is intended by the writer; he would thus miss the knowledge not only of what actually happened, but also of the mind of the writers of the sacred text.
Scripture makes the general assertion in several passages that nature’s course is fixed and unchangeable. In Ps. 148:6, for instance, and Jer. 31:35. The wise man also, in Eccles. 1:10, distinctly teaches that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and in verses 11, 12, illustrating the same idea, he adds that although something occasionally happens which seems new, it is not really new, but “hath been already of old time, which was before us, whereof there is no remembrance, neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that come after.” Again in chap. 2:11, he says, “GOD hath made everything beautiful in His time,” and immediately afterwards adds, “I know that whatsoever GOD doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it.”
Now all these texts teach most distinctly that nature preserves a fixed and unchangeable order, and that GOD in all ages, known and unknown, has been the same; further, that the laws of Nature are so perfect, that nothing can be added thereto nor taken therefrom; and, lastly, that miracles only appear as something new because of man’s ignorance.
Nowhere does Scripture assert that anything happens which contradicts, or cannot follow from the laws of Nature; and, therefore, we should not attribute to it such a doctrine.
The words of Moses, “GOD is a fire” and “GOD is jealous,” are perfectly clear so long as we regard merely the signification of the words, and I therefore reckon them among the clear passages, though in relation to reason and truth they are most obscure: still, although the literal meaning is repugnant to the natural light of reason, nevertheless, if it cannot be clearly overruled on grounds and principles derived from its Scriptural “history,” it, that is, the literal meaning, must be the one retained: and contrariwise if these passages literally interpreted are found to clash with principles derived from Scripture, though such literal interpretation were in absolute harmony with reason, they must be interpreted in a different manner, i.e. metaphorically. … In the present instance, as Moses says in several other passages that GOD has no likeness to any visible thing, whether in heaven or in earth, or in the water, either all such passages must be taken metaphorically.

Chapter 7

No one can be forced by violence or laws to be happy; instead, loving and fraternal exhortation, good education and, above all, personal and free judgment are necessary to achieve that state.
(Chapter VII)

Each has the sovereign right to think freely in matters of religion, and since it is not given to suppose that one can withdraw from that right, each will hold the sovereign right and authority to judge freely in matters of religion and consequently to explain and interpret it.
(Chapter VII)

Chapter 11

Certainly happy would be our age if we could see religion itself free even from all superstition.
(Chapter XI)

While it is true that religion, in the form in which the apostles expounded it in their preaching, that is, through the simple narration of the life of Christ, does not fall within the realm of reason, it is also true that with the aid of natural light every man can easily understand its essence, which, like all the doctrine of Christ, consists mainly of moral teachings.
(Chapter XI)

Chapter 16

“Democracy”: a political regime definable as a union of all citizens, collectively possessing and exercising a sovereign right over all that is in its power.
(Chapter XVI)

Men are far from being easily guided by reason; each is driven by his personal impulses to pleasure, and minds are so often dominated by envy, by anger, that no place remains for the ability to reflect and judge.
(Chapter XVI)

Chapter 18

The constitutional form of the state ve necessarily maintained and that it cannot be changed except with the danger of total ruin.
(Chapter XVIII)

Chapter 20

The ultimate aim of government is not to rule, or restrain, by fear, nor to exact obedience, but, contrariwise, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security ; in other words, to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself or others.
No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.
Ch. 20
Variant translation: The last end of the state is not to dominate men, nor to restrain them by fear ; rather it is so to free each man from fear that he may live and act with full security and without injury to himself or his neighbor. The end of the state, I repeat, is not to make rational beings into brute beasts and machines. It is to enable their bodies and their minds to function safely. It is to lead men to live by, and to exercise, a free reason ; that they may not waste their strength in hatred, anger and guile, nor act unfairly toward one another. Thus the end of the state is really liberty.
If men’s minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease; for every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would esteem a thing true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience to their dictates.
Ch. 20
The more a government strives to curtail freedom of speech, the more obstinately is it resisted; not indeed by the avaricious, … but by those whom good education, sound morality, and virtue have rendered more free. Men, in general, are so constituted that there is nothing they will endure with so little patience as that views which they believe to be true should be counted crimes against the laws. … Under such circumstances they do not think it disgraceful, but most honorable, to hold the laws in abhorrence, and to refrain from no action against the government.
Ch. 20
When the religious controversy between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants began to be taken up by politicians and the States, it grew into a schism, and abundantly showed that laws dealing with religion and seeking to settle its controversies are much more calculated to irritate than to reform, and that they give rise to extreme licence: further, it was seen that schisms do not originate in a love of truth, which is a source of courtesy and gentleness, but rather in an inordinate desire for supremacy. From all these considerations it is clearer than the Sun at noonday, that the true schismatics are those who condemn other men’s writings, and seditiously stir up the quarrelsome masses against their authors, rather than those authors themselves, who generally write only for the learned, and appeal solely to reason. In fact, the real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over.
Ch. 20
The safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.
Ch. 20

Other relevant quotes

Seeing that we have the rare happiness of living in a republic, where everyone’s judgment is free and unshackled, where each may worship God as his conscience dictates, and where freedom is esteemed before all things dear and precious, I have believed that I should be undertaking no ungrateful or unprofitable task, in demonstrating that not only can such freedom be granted without prejudice to the public peace, but also that without such freedom, piety cannot flourish nor the public peace be secure.
Such is the chief conclusion I seek to establish in this treatise…


Faith has become a mere compound of credulity and prejudices—aye, prejudices too, which degrade man from rational being to beast, which completely stifle the power of judgment between true and false, which seem, in fact, carefully fostered for the purpose of extinguishing the last spark of reason! Piety, great God! and religion are become a tissue of ridiculous mysteries; men, who flatly despise reason, who reject and turn away from understanding as naturally corrupt, these, I say, these of all men, are thought, O lie most horrible! to possess light from on High. Verily, if they had but one spark of light from on High, they would not insolently rave, but would learn to worship God more wisely, and would be as marked among their fellows for mercy as they now are for malice; if they were concerned for their opponents’ souls, instead of for their own reputations, they would no longer fiercely persecute, but rather be filled with pity and compassion.
…never even in sleep have they caught a glimpse of Scripture’s Divine nature.


The authority of the prophets has weight only in matters of morality, and… their speculative doctrines affect us little.


I show that the Word of GOD has not been revealed as a certain number of books, but was displayed to the prophets as a simple idea of the Divine mind, namely, obedience to GOD in singleness of heart, and in the practice of justice and charity; and… that this doctrine is set forth in Scripture… to the end that men might receive it willingly and with their whole heart.


Revelation has obedience for its sole object, and therefore, in purpose no less than in foundation and method, stands entirely aloof from ordinary knowledge; each has its separate province, neither can be called the handmaid of the other.


As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey GOD freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honoured save justice and charity.


Having thus drawn attention to the liberty conceded to everyone by the revealed law of GOD, I… prove that this same liberty can and should be accorded with safety to the state and the magisterial authority—in fact, that it cannot be withheld without great danger to peace and detriment to the community.


I start from the natural rights of the individual… I show that these rights can only be transferred to those whom we depute to defend us, who acquire with the duties of defence the power of ordering our lives, and I thence infer that rulers possess rights only limited by their power, that they are the sole guardians of justice and liberty, and that their subjects should act in all things as they dictate: nevertheless, since no one can so utterly abdicate his own power of self-defence as to cease to be a man, I conclude that no one can be deprived of his natural rights absolutely, but that subjects, either by tacit agreement, or by social contract, retain a certain number, which cannot be taken from them without great danger to the state.


I know that I am a man and, as a man, liable to error, but against error I have taken scrupulous care, and striven to keep in entire accordance with the laws of my country, with loyalty, and with morality.