Gilles Deleuze

“Nietzsche understood, having lived it himself, what constitutes the mystery of a philosopher’s life. The philosopher appropriates the ascetic virtues – humility, poverty, chastity – and makes them serve ends completely his own, extraordinary ends that are not very ascetic at all, in fact. He makes them the expression of his singularity. They are not moral ends in his case, or religious means to another life, but rather the “effects” of philosophy itself. For there is absolutely no other life for the philosopher. Humility, poverty, and chastity become the effects of an especially rich and superabundant life, sufficiently powerful to have conquered thought and subordinated every other instinct to itself. This is what Spinoza calls Nature: a life no longer lived on the basis of need, in terms of means and ends, but according to a production, a productivity, a potency, in terms of causes and effects Humility, poverty, chastity are his (the philosopher’s) way of being a grand vivant, of making a temple of his own body, for a cause that is all too proud, all too rich, all too sensual. So that by attacking the philosopher, people know the shame of attacking a modest, poor, and chaste appearance, which increases their impotent rage tenfold; and the philosopher offers no purchase, although he takes every blow.

Here the full meaning of the philosopher’s solitude becomes apparent. For he cannot integrate into any milieu; he is not suited to any of them. Doubtless it is in democratic and liberal milieus that he finds the best living conditions, or rather the best conditions for survival. But for him these milieus only guarantee that the malicious will not be able to poison or mutilate life, that they will not be able to separate it from the power of thinking that goes a little beyond the ends of the state, of a society, beyond any milieu in general. In every society, Spinoza will show, it is a matter of obeying and of nothing else. This is why the notions of fault, of merit and demerit, of good and evil, are exclusively social, having to do with obedience and disobedience. The best society, then, will be one that exempts the power of thinking from the obligation to obey, and takes care, in its own interest, not to subject thought to the rule of the state, which only applies to actions. As long as thought is free, hence vital, nothing is compromised. When it ceases being so, all the other oppressions are also possible, and already realized, so that any action becomes culpable, every life threatened. It is certain that the philosopher finds the most favorable conditions in the democratic state and in liberal circles. But he never confuses his purposes with those of a state, or with the aims of a milieu, since he collects forces in thought that elude obedience as well as blame, and fashions the image of a life beyond good and evil, a rigorous innocence without merit or culpability. The philosopher can reside in various states, he can frequent various milieus, but he does so in the manner of a hermit, a shadow, a traveler or boarding house lodger. That is why one should not imagine Spinoza breaking with a supposedly closed Jewish milieu in order to enter supposedly open liberal ones: liberal Christianity, Cartesianism, a bourgeoisie favorable to the De Witt brothers, and so on. For, wherever he goes he only asks, demands, with a greater or smaller chance of success, to be tolerated, himself and his uncommon aims, and from this tolerance he judges concerning the degree of democracy, the degree of truth, which a society can bear, or on the contrary, concerning the danger that threatens all men.”

(pages 3-4, the opening of chapter one “Life of Spinoza”)


About Michael Johnson

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