“Not to Any Mortal”: Freedom, Harmony, and Religious Imagination in Spinozan Theocracy

Benjamin Pollock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What does Spinoza mean when he uses the term “theocracy” in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus? Exactly what kind of political arrangement does Spinoza envision when he designates the original covenant between the Israelites and God at Sinai as theocratic, and what role is God imagined to play in it? Given the clear differences between the political arrangements of the Israelites prior to and following Mosaic rule, moreover, what leads Spinoza to use the same theocratic designator emphatically to describe both? By way of answer to these questions, this article argues there are both critical and positive definitions of theocracy, which come to light to different degrees, in the different manifestations of theocracy in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 17. The critical meaning is captured in the quote taken for the article’s title: “not to any mortal.” In a theocracy, no human being is ruled by another human being. But this article also claims that theocracy positively designates an ideal political arrangement in which orientation by the idea of God secures maximal unity or harmony of the social order combined with maximal freedom of individual members of that order. When Spinoza uses the term “theocracy,” he is flagging a cluster of political arrangements that answer to the critical and positive definitions of theocracy to varying degrees. In suggesting answers to interpretive questions regarding Spinozan theocracy, this article also seeks to show how the case of Israelite theocracy allows Spinoza to investigate the political force of popular religion in all its complexity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)482-511
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Religion
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

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