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The “genius” behind Spinoza, Van den Enden

Wim Klever

For those of you who have not read W. N. A. Klever’s article for The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, “Spinoza’s life and works” you are missing something. It presents a radically different Spinoza, one quite divergent from the one that gets passed down in philosophy circles. A man much closer to Science and natural investgation, and perhaps more spiritual and political. His research is historically diverse, detailed and eyeopening, though perhaps conclusions need to be checked. Aside from these sweeping thoughts, I wanted to post here a brief description that Klever makes of his thesis of an underpinning influence of Spinoza’s thought, to give context to the Van den Enden link below. Klever, remarkably, considers him the “genius” behind Spinoza’s thought. Part of this is his understanding that Spinoza was part of a circle of like-minded thinkers all of whom organized themselves around this nearly forgotten philosopher, Scientist, playwright and political revolutionary. His thesis is supported by various entries in the diary of Borch:

We do not actually have manuscripts of Van den Enden from this period, but we do have a printed pamphlet written by him in 1661 and 1622 with the title Kort Verhael van Nieuw-Nederlants…[1662] and another one published in 1665 under the title Vrije Politijcke Stellingen, but written in 1663. These pamphlets were recently unearthed by this author [1990] and were also discovered nineteen years earlier, but not published by M. Bedjai, as I came to hear some weeks later. On the basis of the mentioned works I came to the conclusion that Van den Enden must be a proto-Spinoza, the genius behind Spinoza; Bejai defends in his thesis the same idea by claiming that the so-called Amsterdam Spinoza circle could be better named “Van den Enden and his circle” [Bedjai 1990]. The works of Van den Enden contain a political theory which is in fact the same one worked out by Spinoza in his Theological-Political Treatise and Political Treatise. One finds moreover between the lines all the items which would later be proven deductively by Spinoza in his Ethics: full-fledged determinism, the distinction between three kinds of knowledge [and other epistemological claims], human passivity, the conatus theory, the intellectual love of God, and so on. Much research has to still be done, but one may already conclude that the group of Amsterdam friends, to which Meyer and Bouwmeester also belonged, had a common philosophy (26)

I doubt the genius behind the genius conclusion, for one cannot tell the impact Spinoza himself had upon the thinking of Van den Enden. And several of the themes that Klever brings up as to be original to Van den Enden have antecedents that are rather ancient. But I do think it quite convincing to place Spinoza’s work within a larger historical context, and the shared ambitions of a mind of many men, making of his abstractions, not only a political, but a spiritual and communitarian movement indicative of a mid-17th century Dutch struggle with modernity.

 

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