Divorcing Power and Reason: Spinoza and the Founding of Modern Law

Wednesday 1 January 2003 by Benoît Frydman

Cardozo Law Review, vol. 25, 2003

This paper explains how Spinoza contributed to turning our conception of the law and the methods of its interpretation upside down. His contribution has been essential and twofold: (1) Spinoza was partly responsible for the destruction of the “legal model of thought” (ratio more juridico), which prevailed until the 16th century (and sometimes later) not only in legal matters but in most areas of scientific knowledge; (2) Spinoza also played a major role in the shaping of modern law, which rests upon the summa divisio between, on one hand, natural law, embedded in natural reason and discovered more geometrico, and, on the other hand, positive law, which expresses the will of the sovereign power and rests upon its sole authority. This division is neither eternal nor self-obvious, but an effect of the strategy followed by Spinoza and a few others in their arduous struggle against traditional powers and religious authorities.

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