Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 11
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1. Preface

2. Spinoza's World, 1664

3. The Sabbateans

4. The Disputation

5. The Holy Land

6. Marriage

7. Common Prayer

8. America

9. Gottfried and Sophia

10. The Sublime Porte

11. Spinoza's World, 1691

12. Mustafa and the Janissaries

13. Naomi

14. Regime Change

15. Tulips

16. Twilight

17. Spinoza's World, 1712

18. Epilogue


Spinoza in Turkey
"Therefore, that state is the freest whose laws are founded on sound reason, so that every member of it may, if he will, be free; that is, live with full consent under the entire guidance of reason."
-- Spinoza, Theological and Political Treatise, 16:58

Part 11 - Spinoza's World, 1691
1691 saw the death of both a Sultan and a Grand Vizier. The weak and sickly Suleiman II was the first to go, succumbing early in the year and being succeeded by his brother Ahmed II. Fazil Pasha lived only a few months longer, falling in battle at Slankamen in Serbia on August 19. [FN1] These changes, momentous as they were, had little effect on Spinoza. Like his predecessor, Ahmed II had spent most of his life confined in the palace, and had little skill at politics. There was another Kprl to occupy the Grand Vizier's chair, however, and the Sultan himself was a cultured man who wrote poetry, spoke Persian and Arabic, and considered himself a philosopher. Under the rule of these enlightened men, Spinoza remained in favor at court, and his university continued to receive royal patronage.

Spinoza had little time for conversation with the Sultan. At the age of fifty-nine, he was still quite capable of working a full day; he taught classes at the university, held regular prayer services and lectures at his home, attended to the business of the Rational millet, and exchanged letters with 200-odd correspondents throughout the civilized world. [FN2] His wife Sarah, now a matron approaching forty, also maintained a thriving correspondence with educated women throughout Europe, busied herself in the practice of medicine, and had recently completed a Ladino novel about the second wife of Maimonides. [FN3] Naomi, at fourteen, was also expanding her creative horizons, playing the flute at the Rational Synagogue and already beginning to write hymns.

As the titular leader and continuing philosopher to a community that now numbered more than thirty-five thousand, regularly received communications from the four corners of the earth. From England, there were hopeful tidings of the events that had followed the Glorious Revolution and its accompanying Bill of Rights. Many members of the small Rational Jewish community in England had been apprehensive about the accession of William III, who, as Stadtholder of the Netherlands, had once banned Spinoza's works. The political pressures that had led to him doing so, however, were not present in England, where the strict Calvinism of the Dutch did not prevail and where a spirit of free inquiry flourished. Although the Bill of Rights did not guarantee freedom of conscience and in fact contained many expressions of hostility to Catholics, there were still too few Jews in England to attract determined opposition, and the Rational community went unmolested. Both Spinoza's books and the writings of English Jews were allowed to circulate freely, and, with Newton's patronage, they did not escape the notice of the Royal Society.

Even in Holland, disapproval of Spinoza was no longer as strong as it had once been. Most of the rabbis who had driven him from the country thirty years since were long gone, and the conservative reaction that had followed the fall of Jan de Witt had long since run its course. The Jewish community had warmed to Spinoza - at least somewhat - in the wake of On Emancipation, and his writings on logic and empirical analysis were gaining attention among Dutch natural philosophers. Christiaan Huygens, in particular, was a long-standing correspondent of Spinoza's, and circulated his works enthusiastically among other Dutch thinkers. [FN4] Spinoza's religious, as opposed to political and mathematical, ideas were slower to gain a following, and the Jewish community of Holland clung for the most part to traditional theology, but his name was no longer anathema in Amsterdam.

In Palestine, the Rational colony in the Galilee was now more than four thousand strong, and its growth was fueled by the decree of the Elector of Brandenburg that any Jew applying for permission to reside in the province was required to provide passage to Palestine for three poor Jews. In the first year of the decree, sixty-three Jews came to Palestine in this way, and the expanding commercial opportunities of Berlin made it likely that many more would follow. Most of these immigrants, who were disproportionately uneducated servants and peddlers, were not Rationalists, but many drifted into Rational observance after settling in the Galilee colonies.

Their transformation was, perhaps, aided by the fact that Rationalism in Palestine had been strongly influenced by the mystics of nearby Safed. Many of the Galilee settlers chose to reach Spinoza's "third knowledge" through meditation as well as reason, and the readings used in the Palestine meeting halls included passages from the Zohar. The Rationalists of Palestine differed from their orthodox neighbors in custom and practice, but their doctrines had converged substantially.

In Safed, the Rationalists had also gained some measure of acceptance; the traditional Jewish community had been hard hit by fire and disease, and the resources of the growing Rational colonies were in great demand. By 1691, the excommunication of the Rational community was all but forgotten in Safed; the settlers brought their produce to market in the city, and two Rational doctors established medical practices there during that year. It seemed likely that within a generation, the two communities would become one.

The ban still held in Jerusalem, though; the authority of the rabbinate was stronger there, and the Jews of the holy city were especially vigilant in guarding their traditions. The great commentator Rabbi Avraham Amigo remained a staunch opponent of Spinoza, and continued to warn the communities of Jerusalem and Cairo against falling into Rational beliefs. Ironically, Spinoza's greatest influence in those cities was among the Muslims, who were free to disregard the rabbis' decree; his works circulated freely within the Muslim communities of Palestine and Egypt, and branches of the Rational Society existed in Cairo and Alexandria. Indeed, the governor of Egypt was widely reputed to be a member of the Society himself.

1691 was also the year that Spinoza published his first major political work, The Measurement of Law. In the preface to this book, Spinoza credited its inspiration both to ideas developed during his correspondence with Locke and Newton and to a treatise released by Ismet Celer the year before. This treatise, entitled The Civil Law, argued that the conformity of government decrees with the principles of Islam could be measured by their effect on the population. Since the intent of Islamic law was to promote certain identifiable virtues, a statute could be measured by the degree to which it increased these virtues and decreased the corresponding vices. These virtues, naturally, included not only individual piety but social justice and harmony. [FN5]

The Measurement of Law was, in many ways, an expansion on this concept. It was also Spinoza's first attempt at applying empirical methods to problems of ethics - which, as he had explained to Locke, he regarded as matters touching upon both the natural and the divine. His focus, he stated, was upon the primary means by which human beings attempted to influence the moral behavior of other humans: the law.

Like Celer, Spinoza argued that the effects of laws could be measured against moral principles. These principles, whether divinely revealed or derived through reason, would become the standard by which laws were judged. Making such a judgment, however, was rarely a simple matter, because few if any laws affected only one social factor or affected all people uniformly. How was one to weigh, for instance, a law that decreased poverty but also decreased freedom, or one that made many people wealthy but allowed others to starve? How were benefits and harms to be weighed, and were there harms that no possible benefit could justify? He discussed several possible methods of answering these questions, many of which he would develop in later works.

Spinoza argued, as well, that the standards by which laws were measured should affect the process of lawmaking. Since no law could be moral unless it had both a moral purpose and a moral effect, the lawmaking process should start with a clear statement of the proposed statute's rationale - a measure which would, incidentally, "promote due Consideration before the enactment of Laws, and prevent unnecessary Statutes from being enacted improvidently or in haste." Moreover, the first enactment of a law should be for a limited period only, during which its effects - both intended and unintended - could be carefully studied. At the end of this period, the lawmaking body - or a court - could rule on whether the statute served a moral purpose and thus whether it should continue in force.

The first copies of The Measurement of Laws reached Hanover in the summer, and found a receptive audience in the Duchess Sophia. The treatise found a somewhat more critical audience in Leibniz, who conceded that its principles were of interest but that it was practically flawed. Spinoza had simply assumed that the effects of laws were measurable, but Leibniz, with his greater mathematical mind, realized that this was not necessarily true. It was all well and good to state that a law that increased the poverty of a nation was unjust, but how did one go about determining whether a nation had been made richer or poorer? The question of how societies could be measured intrigued Leibniz greatly and, as he wrote to Spinoza late in the year, he was soon hard at work on a theory of "social calculus." This theory, which would be the subject of a number of Leibniz' later works, was an important ancestor of the modern sciences of sociology and statistics.

At the end of 1691, Spinoza was as happy as he had ever been in his life - a man at the height of his faculties, the builder of an edifice for the generations. In less than four years, it would all come crashing down.

[FN1] In other words, on the same day as OTL. This wouldn't necessarily happen in the ATL; battle is a chancy thing, and it's entirely possible that Fazil Pasha's activities might be altered enough that he'd avoid taking a bullet at Slankamen or fight the Austrians someplace else entirely. On the other hand, Spinoza didn't really play a part in the Grand Vizier's military reforms and nothing has happened to change the general fortunes of war, so the OTL outcome is also a reasonable possibility, and one that has the advantage of keeping random effects to a minimum. Thus far, I've generally held to the convention of keeping such things as the outcome of battles and the deaths of historical figures the same as OTL unless there's a good reason not to, and I'll continue to do so for events such as the Constantinople fires of 1693. (There's also the fact that I only get one gimme, and I want to keep it available in case there's no other way to achieve a certain result around 1710. One thousand points to anyone other than Anthony who can tell me what result I intend.)

[FN2] He's still a piker compared to Leibniz, who had more than 600 correspondents.

[FN3] It was rare, but not unknown, for Jewish women to practice medicine at this time; see the "Medicine" part of the bibliography at . As for the novel, I can somehow imagine that Sarah might feel affinity for a philosopher's wife who had an only child.

[FN4] Huygens was a friend of Spinoza's in OTL; their relationship in the ATL is somewhat more long-distance, but it still exists.

[FN5] It's only natural that the original inspiration would come in part from Celer and the Rational Society. As a commentator recently stated about the 19th-century neo-Mu'tazilite scholar Rashid Rida: "Since Rida... there has been particular interest in the notion that obedience to the divinely revealed principles of sharia leads inevitably to certain divinely-favored social outcomes, such as social justice, chastity and democracy. If one accepts such an axiom, one can determine whether laws conform to the principles of sharia by determining whether the laws lead to the divinely favored social ends." Clark Benner Lombardi, Islamic Law as a Source of Constitutional Law in Egypt: The Constitutionalization of the Sharia in a Modern Arab State, 37 Columbia J. Transnat'l L. 81, 95 (1998). Given that the neo- Mu'tazilites are getting a 200-year head start in the ATL, it's likely that one of them will pre-empt Rida with respect to this utilitarian concept of law. Of course, Lombardi also notes that this theory has been criticized as simplistic and overly subjective, and the same criticisms will doubtless be applied to Celer and Spinoza by some of their contemporaries.

Last modified: Fri Dec 6 12:29:11 GMT 2002