Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 14
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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

"Seven Virtues are eternal;
One of them is Constancy;
Holding to a moral Purpose,
In direst Adversity.

"Seven Virtues are eternal;
One of them is Charity;
Aid to Neighbor freely given,
So that Want may cease to be.

"Seven Virtues are eternal;
One of them is Inquiry;
Reason must forever wander,
Only thus can Man be free."

-- From Naomi bat Baruch Spinoza Adi, Seven Virtues (translated from the Hebrew) [FN1]

Part 14 - Regime Change

May 1701 to January 1704

A new century had come to the world, and with it came new charters and freedoms. William Penn was in Pennsylvania once again, having retaken his office as governor and presented the colony with the Frame of Government that would serve as its constitution for the next seventy years. This charter increased the power of the popular assemblies, permitted those who were forbidden to swear to substitute a solemn affirmation for the oath of office, and explicitly guaranteed the franchise to all those who "professed a belief in God." With the acceptance of this document, the Pennsylvania legislature ratified the decision it had made when it granted freemanship to Simon van der Wilden eighteen years before - that citizenship and its privileges could not be denied on grounds of religion. [FN2]

England, too, provided for its future government that year with the Act of Settlement, providing that the royal house of Hanover would succeed to the throne if the Stuart line failed. This measure had not been passed without some debate - the Electoral house was Lutheran, and Sophia's friendship with the Spinoza family had prompted rumors that she was a secret Jew - but in the end, such objections had been rejected as malicious rumors and Sophia's promise to protect the Church of England had been accepted. As a precaution, Parliament required future English monarchs to take an oath disavowing the Jewish faith as well as the Catholic, but aside from this purely formal measure, neither Sophia nor the Jews already in England were subjected to further inquiry.

And there were fewer Jews in England than there had been the year before, because the Ottoman Empire had undergone the most profound change of all. The long war in Austria had ended in unmitigated disaster; at the Peace of Karlofcha in 1699, Turkey had been forced to cede Hungary to the Hapsburgs and southern Greece to the Venetians. Shortly thereafter, the Ottoman realm concluded a separate peace with Russia in which it ceded the fortress of Azov. As they had done years before, the fortunes of war brought simmering discontent to the surface; rebellion broke out in Anatolia, and the mood in the capital turned against those who had promised victory and prosperity but brought neither. In the autumn of 1700, Mustafa II and the reactionaries who had dominated his court were overthrown in a palace coup, and the new court of Ahmed III had a decidedly liberal cast. [FN3] One of the first measures taken by the new Sultan was to allow the exiles of 1695 to return, and to invite Spinoza to take up his old post at the university. Not all the Rationalists returned with Spinoza - many had become well established in England and had no desire to leave - but six hundred of the nine hundred who remained after the American expedition followed him back to Constantinople.

The Rational Jewish community in Turkey was somewhat smaller and poorer than it had been before, but conditions were once again changing for the better. Along with the other Jewish and Christian millets, the Rationalists regained the privileges they had been granted by Suleiman II, and, along with Armenians and Phanariot Greeks [FN4], were again appointed to important civil offices. They were also given permission to rebuild the Rational Synagogue, which they did on a somewhat smaller scale and at a different site; the new synagogue stood in the Rational quarter of Eyp rather than more orthodox Balat.

The university, surprisingly, had changed little. Although the faction that held power in Mustafa II's court had been reactionary, it did not discount the value of learning, and Haham Saltiel's work in distributing patronage to all factions meant that many of the conservative scholars had held sinecures as professors. There had thus been an influential constituency in favor of preserving the university; although the conservatives had put their stamp on the curriculum, it had not been closed, and many of the liberal professors had even been allowed to continue teaching. Now, with Spinoza's return in May 1701, its halls were once again filled with Rationalists and neo- Mu'tazilites, the latter of whom had also been permitted to re- establish their society in the capital.

The Rationalists were also prospering elsewhere. The news from the Allegheny colony was good; as in Palestine thirty years before, the first winter had been difficult [FN5], but the colony had survived. A few of the Jewish settlers had farmed in the Galilee, and some of the hundred-odd neo-Mu'tazilites who had joined the colony had also worked the fields; although farming conditions in the New World were unfamiliar, they knew the basics of how the work should be done. As Rationalists, they also understood the importance of careful research; the supplies they bought in Philadelphia included almanacs, and they listened carefully to the advice of the local farmers. So when they settled on the upper Susquehanna, in the southeast portion of the colony they had chartered [FN6], they brought in crops of barley, wheat, potatoes, corn and vegetables. Most of their produce, however, would not come from the land at all; some of the German Jews that sailed with Herz Behrens had experience in the cattle trade, and they had brought dairy cows with them from the Old World. In time - even after the Allegheny Commonwealth had diversified its crops and established trade with the Indians and French - its milk and cheeses would be famous throughout America. [FN7]

Toward the end of 1701, Spinoza also received tidings from an unexpected place - Poland. The Kingdom of Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world - possibly a quarter of all the Jews on earth - but the Polish Jews were prone to excesses of piety and mysticism after the upheavals of the seventeenth century, and Rationalism had made little headway there. Indeed, the Polish Jews who wrote to Spinoza had not been born in Poland at all, but had been part of Constantinople's small Ashkenazic community. There were a few Ashkenazic Rationalists, mostly in the Hasky district across the Golden Horn, and some of them had returned to Poland after their meeting hall had been destroyed in the riots of 1695. Their neighbors looked on them as little more than an oddity, but they had opened a small school in Warsaw and set themselves up in trade with the Near East.

Shortly afterward, in the spring of 1702, Spinoza published the last of his political works, Public Charity. As he later wrote to Leibniz, this is a book that "would never have been written had [he] not resided in both Turkey and England." Although Public Charity was grounded in Spinoza's earlier political writings and in Jewish treatises on charity, it also owed much to his study of the Muslim concept of zakat and the Elizabethan poor laws.

Public Charity began with the argument that the relief of the poor was among the fundamental obligations of humankind, having been enjoined thereon by all major religions. Thus, since the role of the state included the encouragement of moral behavior in its citizens, charity to paupers should be a governmental concern. In addition, public poor relief would ensure that every pauper received the aid necessary to prevent starvation rather than consigning him to the random charity of passers-by.

The concept of governmental aid to the poor, of course, was nothing new; the public dole had existed as early as republican Rome, and England had instituted a regularized system of poor relief more than a century before. Spinoza, however, undertook to study both the methods by which public charity should be administered and the means by which poor relief funds should be raised.

The manner in which he did so shows strong signs of influence by the theories of "social calculus" that he had discussed with Leibniz. While he praised the ideals underlying England's 1601 poor laws [FN8], he argued that the practice of having parishes collect and distribute poor relief funds was flawed. In a poor parish, there were not only more paupers to support, but the ratepayers had fewer resources to support them, so they were taxed far more heavily than those in richer parishes who could better afford the burden. It would be better, Spinoza wrote, to have a uniform national poor rate which the national government would collect and distribute to the districts most in need. Such a rate, moreover, should be based on the Islamic law of zakat - which Spinoza explained in some detail - under which every person was required to pay one fortieth of his income but wealth under certain minimums was not subject to taxation. [FN9] Thus, the tax burden would be distributed according to the wealth of the ratepayer, and those who were poor themselves would not have to pay.

Public Charity borrowed not only from Islam but from Judaism; although Spinoza disagreed with Maimonides in matters of faith, he adopted the great philosopher's conception of charity, especially the belief that the highest form of charity was one that enabled the recipient to become independent. [FN10] This, then, should be the focus of public charity for all save those who were unable to work. Instead of returning paupers to their home parishes where work is in short supply, the government should encourage - and even pay for - them to move to areas where their labor is in demand. Workhouses, if they exist, should endeavor to teach their inmates a useful trade rather than simply profiting through their menial labor; paupers whose skills were no longer in demand should be admitted to apprenticeships regardless of their age, and those capable of employment as clerks should be taught to read and write.

Public Charity would prove influential. Although the West was not ready for its more radical proposals, it was circulated widely and would be read by many of the people who shaped public welfare policy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - and also reached a surprisingly receptive audience in the Ottoman Empire. Although the public school experiment of the early 1690s had been written off as an expensive luxury, the Sultan's advisors began to consider the possibility of encouraging the growth of certain trades by training the poor to participate in them.

By this time, however, Spinoza's mind was no longer focused on political matters. Although he would continue to discuss political ideas in his correspondence with other philosophers, his attention was increasingly occupied with achieving a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. The works written by Spinoza during the final years of his life would concern this theme, and the first of them - Science and Reason - was published in the summer of 1703.

In Science and Reason, Spinoza began by stating - as he had in the Ethics forty years before - that the highest form of knowledge could only be achieved through the mind. However, few people were capable of achieving such knowledge through pure reason. Only the philosopher-prophets that he had described in On Religion had the intuitive knowledge of the essence of God necessary for them to grasp the laws of the universe. For everyone else, knowledge of the physical world could only be approximated through science.

The scientific method, according to Spinoza - and here, Leibniz' influence on his thinking - was an iterative process. By building on the knowledge obtained through prior experiments, a natural philosopher could approach ever more closely to perfect knowledge of the physical universe, even though he could never actually achieve such knowledge. Moreover, since it depended upon the mental faculties of the observer as well as the conditions of the experiment, science was itself a partially intuitive process, and scientific experiments could lead to serendipitous and unlooked-for discoveries.

Spinoza was careful to acknowledge that science had its limits; it was suitable for achieving knowledge of the physical part of the world, but not for exploring the mind or the nature of God. However, scientific discovery was valuable in itself, because perfect knowledge was rarely required in the mundane world. The type of learning that could be discovered through science was more than sufficient to build bridges, cure diseases and build useful machines to ease human labor. Science was, therefore, a legitimate method through which genuine learning could be obtained.

Science and Reason reached London - and Newton - in January 1704. In the same month, three things happened that would have profound impact on the future of the Rational Jewish community. On New Year's Day, the Elector of Brandenburg decreed that families of "protected Jews" could purchase naturalization by paying a fee of 50,000 Reichsthaler and subsidizing the emigration of ten poor Jewish families to Palestine or America. [FN11] In New York, a political controversy over public schools would lead to another one about Jewish votes. And in Constantinople, Numan Kprl, a reformer and admirer of the West, was appointed Grand Vizier.

[FN1] If the verse seems unworthy of such a hymnist as Naomi, just blame it on bad translation.

[FN2] In OTL, colonial Pennsylvania's Fourth Frame of Government did increase the powers of the legislature and permit Quaker elected officials to affirm instead of swear, in addition to granting other civil liberties (such as criminal defendants' right to counsel), but continued to restrict the franchise to those who "profess[ed] to believe in Jesus Christ." As I mentioned before, however, there were no Jews in Pennsylvania in OTL until 1720, so it would never have occurred to anyone the framers of the 1701 charter to make an exception for them. In the ATL, with a sizable and respected Jewish community already in Pennsylvania (and with an even larger Jewish settlement immediately to the west), it's likely IMO that non- Christians would receive formal consideration, especially if there were common-law precedents.

[FN3] The peace treaties with Austria, Venice and Russia are unchanged from OTL, as is the rebellion in Anatolia, but Ahmed III did not take the throne in OTL until 1703. In the ATL, however, the court of Mustafa II was dominated by a conservative faction which specifically identified itself with the progress of the war and whose decrees were widely resented by the public, leading to a more violent postwar backlash. This won't be the last time the pendulum swings, though.

[FN4] The Phanariots took their name from Phanar, a Constantinople neighborhood where many upper-class Greek families had lived since the Turkish conquest.

[FN5] Yes, winters in the Galilee can actually get cold.

[FN6] In other words, around Lancaster and Harrisburg. In OTL, these areas had been visited but were still unsettled at this time; the first settlers arrived in the 1710s, and major Mennonite immigration began in the 1720s. BTW, early Jewish settlement might bring the Mennonites in sooner as well; they'll become aware of the colony through recruitment notices aimed at German Jews, and they'll share a language with many of the Jewish settlers. A Jewish- Mennonite-modernist Muslim colony (one of three political entities that will occupy the territory of OTL Pennsylvania) has the potential to become interesting, even if the original settlers are ultimately overwhelmed by later immigration.

[FN7] Although barley and wheat don't seem to be among the principal crops of Lancaster County today, they were widely grown there during the 1700s, and the land around Lancaster is suitable for almost any kind of temperate agriculture.

[FN8] 43 Eliz. I c.2. The full text of the statute can be found at .

[FN9] Zakat is possibly the precursor of the modern progressive income tax, and was generally levied at a rate of two and one- half percent. As a comparison, most estimates indicate that English poor relief at this time amounted to about one percent of GDP.

[FN10] The famous Eight Degrees of Charity are described in Mishneh Torah 10:7-15.

[FN11] In OTL, the first Jew to take the oath of a citizen of Prussia did not do so until 1791. In the ATL, there is somewhat greater acceptance of wealthy and assimilated Jews in Germany - in many ways, Spinoza and the Rationalists accomplished what Moses Mendelssohn did in OTL by showing that Jews can be accepted on merit into European intellectual circles. At the same time, however, the attitude of the German princes toward poor Jews is unchanged from OTL. The Brandenburg naturalization policy combines tolerance for protected Jews (which, even in OTL, was greater in the Brandenburg period than in the first decades of the Prussian state) with a convenient method of reducing the number of poor Jews and, incidentally, raising money for the treasury.

Last modified: Fri Dec 6 12:29:34 GMT 2002