‘Securocrats’ illustreren de actualiteit van Spinoza

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Martin Kettle schreef gisteren in The Gardian een artikel (lead: "While Edward Snowden revealed an over-mighty state, there are other symptoms. In Britain, democracy has some way to go") dat uitvoerig met Spinoza begon.

"As you walk from Rembrandt's house along the canal towards the town hall of Amsterdam, you come upon a statue of a man wrapped in a large cloak. The statue is a monument to the 17th-century philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, who lived nearby. Around the base of the monument, in Dutch, are inscribed the words, "The purpose of the state is freedom".

Spinoza wrote those words in his Theological-Political Treatise of 1670. It is worth reading the words in the context that he used them. The state's purpose, wrote Spinoza, is "not to dominate or control people by fear or subject them to the authority of another". On the contrary, he went on, "Its aim is to free everyone from fear so that they may live in security so far as is possible, that is, so that they may retain, to the highest possible degree, their right to live and to act without harm to themselves and others". Therefore, he concludes (in the modern translation by Michael Silverthorne and Jonathan Israel), "the true purpose of the state is in fact freedom".

That was radical stuff for the often intolerant 1670s. But, more than three centuries on, Spinoza's words still seem remarkably audacious. What can he possibly mean by them that makes sense in this day and age? How can they be squared, for example, with the actions of America's National Security Agency, carnivorously chomping its way through the private communications of millions of people around the world and spying on Europe's leaders too, until Edward Snowden blew the whistle? In what meaningful sense can the US securocrats who testified so unapologetically in Washington this week be said to be advancing not curtailing freedom?

In fact the securocrats would probably find less difficulty squaring their activities with Spinoza's views of the state than many modern citizens may do." [Lees méér in The Gardian]