The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World

Matthew Stewart, Author
Matthew Stewart, Author . Norton $25.95 (351p) ISBN 978-0-393-05898-7
Reviewed on: 08/15/2005
Release date: 01/01/2006
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-393-07104-7
Paperback - 351 pages - 978-0-300-12507-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-393-32917-9
Hardcover - 351 pages - 978-0-300-11405-8
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According to Nietzsche, "Every great philosophy is... a personal confession of its creator and a kind of involuntary and unperceived memoir.". Stewart affirms this maxim in his colorful reinterpretation of the lives and works of 17th-century philosophers Spinoza and Leibniz. In November 1676, the foppish courtier Leibniz, "the ultimate insider... an orthodox Lutheran from conservative Germany," journeyed to The Hague to visit the self-sufficient, freethinking Spinoza, "a double exile... an apostate Jew from licentious Holland." A prodigious polymath, Leibniz understood Spinoza's insight that "science was in the process of rendering the God of revelation obsolete; that it had already undermined the special place of the human individual in nature." Spinoza embraced this new world. Seeing the orthodox God as a "prop for theocratic tyranny," he articulated the basic theory for the modern secular state. Leibniz, on the other hand, spent the rest of his life championing God and theocracy like a defense lawyer defending a client he knows is guilty. He elaborated a metaphysics that was, at bottom, a reaction to Spinoza and collapses into Spinozism, as Stewart deftly shows. For Stewart, Leibniz's reaction to Spinoza and modernity set the tone for "the dominant form of modern philosophy"—a category that includes Kant, Hegel, Bergson, Heidegger and "the whole 'postmodern' project of deconstructing the phallogocentric tradition of western thought." Readers of philosophy may find much to disagree with in these arguments, but Stewart's wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read. (Jan. 2006)

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