Source: Theologico-Political Treatise Chapter V - of the ceremonial law

Spinoza's Chapter 5 – on the benefits of society and the need for laws (Page 2)

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After using various Scriptural references and interpretating them to show that religious rites were often neglected by the Jews under dire circumstances in the past Spinoza goes on to discuss how the ceremonial observances tended to preserve and confirm the Hebrew kingdom.

Society, Spinoza says, is not only for defense but also makes possible the division of labor. That division of labor provides the mutual assistance necessary to keep life going not only for the necessities like food and manufacturing but for art and science. In short, society makes possible the perfection of human nature.

If men were so constituted that they desired nothing more than true reason dictated society would have no need of laws. Men would then freely, without hesitation, act in accordance with their true interests which means they would respect and aid their fellow men. He goes on to describe realistic politics and why laws are necessary –

But human nature is framed in a different fashion: every one, indeed, seeks his own interest, but does not do so in accordance with the dictates of sound reason, for most men's ideas of desirability and usefulness are guided by their fleshly instincts and emotions, which take no thought beyond the present and the immediate object. Therefore, no society can exist without government, and force, and laws to restrain and repress men's desires and immoderate impulses.

Still human nature will not submit to absolute repression. Violent governments, as Seneca says, never last long; the moderate governments endure. So long as men act simply from fear they act contrary to their inclinations, taking no thought for the advantages or necessity of their actions, but simply endeavoring to escape punishment or loss of life. They must needs rejoice in any evil which befalls their ruler, even if it should involve themselves; and must long for and bring about such evil by every means in their power.


From his understanding of human nature Spinoza concludes that men must be governed but they are best governed moderately and he warns that repression will produce revolution.