Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 18
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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
"The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but there remains of it something which is eternal."
-- Spinoza, Ethics, part V, prop. XXIII

Part 18 - Epilogue

Seven Scenes from Spinoza's World

July 1725

Sir Isaac Newton published the Dialogue on the Purity of Reason at the age of eighty-two. It had been his life's work, off and on, for almost thirty years, ever since his long nights of conversation with Spinoza during the latter's English exile. He had often despaired of seeing it in print, and said afterward that he owed his long life to his unwillingness to die before seeing it through.

The Dialogue was written as a conversation between Newton and Spinoza, in which the latter's errors are demonstrated and corrected. Although Newton was aware of Spinoza's attempts to reconcile empiricism and rationalism, his own opinions developed independently of Spinoza, and he eventually came to believe that Spinoza's synthesis was flawed and incomplete. He focused on one aspect of Spinoza's theory - that science was a mixed process of intuition and observation - and found that it was missing a critical step: an analysis of the way in which the mind processed information about the physical world.

Although Newton agreed that the mind was a necessary component of scientific analysis, he argued that its grasp of information could not simply be called "intuitive." Instead, the processes of the mind were systematic and could be analyzed. Indeed, it was the mind that categorized and gave order to human beings' perception and sensation.

On the other hand, the mind could not obtain knowledge in any way other than interpretation of sensation. Only those things that could be sensed were knowable. Just as there could be no science, or even experience, without reason, there could be no reason without experience.

This meant that the hope held out by Spinoza, that humans could know the essence of God through reason, was a chimera. To Newton, God was, and must forever be, unknowable, although he declined to take the next logical step and argue that the existence of God was unproven. Instead, he assumed God's existence as a necessary predicate for the creation of the physical world - an assumption that would be much criticized by later generations.

Two aspects of Spinoza's philosophy came in for particular criticism in the Dialogue - his utilitarian morality and his theory of motes. Newton argued that it was both simplistic and erroneous to measure the morality of an act by its effect on the world, because it was impossible to imagine all of an act's possible effects. Thus, it was not possible to determine beforehand whether or not the act would be moral, with the result that "none would know whether they were Saved or Damned until they stood at the Judgment Seat." Likewise, Spinoza's motes - the tiny particles from which both the physical and the metaphysical were constructed - were "both a pure Invention and an Invitation to Quackery" - an invitation that had been taken up by dozens of charlatans who claimed that they could transmute thought into matter.

At times, Newton's criticism of Spinoza could be biting; the great English philosopher was not one to brook a rival, and he became increasingly convinced that Spinoza's reputation cast a shadow on his own. Shortly after the publication of the Dialogues, Newton referred to Spinoza as "a man whose greatest Achievement was the Income Tax." In truth, this was hardly a minor achievement; a system of taxation and poor relief based on the ideas of Public Charity had been put in place during Queen Sophia's reign, and its programs - including the National Apprenticeships and the partial subsidies for emigration to the colonies - were beginning to affect the entire country. However, it is unlikely that Newton meant his words as a compliment, especially since he prefaced them by calling Spinoza "a dabbler in Philosophy and Politics, and a Master of Neither."

In private, though, Newton was more willing to acknowledge his debt to his predecessor, especially as his years drew to a close. "Had I not met Spinoza," he wrote to a friend shortly before his death in 1730, "I might have wasted my declining Years in Alchemy or some other Fool's Errand rather than pondering the Nature of the Mind. Had he not thought of uniting Reason and Science, I would never in all Likelihood have been inspired to do the Same. He was one of the Giants upon whose Shoulders I stood."

September 1729

Menachem Mendel of Dessau and his wife Rachel Sara lived in the Spinoza house. It was still called that more than a decade after the philosopher's death, and would probably be called that as long as people came to put stones on his grave.

Spinoza's headstone stood in the back garden, next to the year- old grave of Sarah. The philosopher's vigorous widow had died younger than her husband, in a way that doctors commonly did. At the age of seventy-five, she had caught an illness from one of her patients; he had survived, but she had not.

Before she died, however, she gave a name to the renewal of the Jewish community in Palestine. In 1719, Sarah had written her second novel, The Rekindling. Subtitled Abraham's Children, it was one of the many Hebrew novels inspired by Rational Judaism, but unlike most, it was not set in a romanticized Jewish past. It began with a description of Haham Saltiel's foundation of the Galilee colony as told by the great-grandfather of the viewpoint character, but the main story began on the colony's hundredth anniversary in 1769. The novel described a future Palestine dotted with Jewish farms, new towns built with Jewish labor, and cities populated by Jewish craftsmen and merchants. The whole of Palestine was an autonomous republic under the Sultan's rule, much like Lebanon or the Egyptian emirates, where Jews and Arabs enriched each other and shared custody of the holy places. Any Jew who was oppressed or denied entry into another country could come to Palestine, which was once again a vibrant center of Jewish life. At the conclusion of the story, the viewpoint character - a merchant and scholar who traveled the world in search of rare books - married a refugee he had rescued from a riot in the Roman ghetto, and started a family in a place of freedom and dignity.

Sarah's vision of the future had caught the imagination of European Jews - and even non-Jews - in a way that more straightforward political appeals had not. There were Rekindling Societies in Europe now; collections were being taken up for emigration over and above the amounts extorted by the German states as the price of citizenship or marriage. Some of the rich Jews had even begun to come to Palestine themselves, rather than sending the poor. In the past three years, two Dutch Jewish shipping firms had opened offices in Haifa, and the merchant Isaac Nathan of Ansbach had relocated to the same city. And the schoolmaster Menachem Mendel of Dessau had scraped together every penny he had so that his wife could bear their child in freedom.

The trickle of immigrants that had arrived after 1669 was slowly becoming a flood. In each of the past six years, the number of new arrivals had exceeded the limit of five hundred set by Mehmet IV more than half a century before. The Sublime Porte, however, was too busy these days with its power struggles and Balkan wars to pay much attention to Palestine, and the local governor was eager to have hard-working and well-connected immigrants in his province. He was also married to one of the many daughters of the neo- Mu'tazilite governor of Cairo, and shared that governor's desire to expand. So nobody raised a hand to stop the thousands of Jews who streamed into Palestine, and nobody barred the way of Menachem Mendel and Rachel Sara when they came to stay at the Spinoza house.

Their child was born on September 26, 1729. They named him Moses.

May 1741

Issachar Senderowicz was one of the few Rational Jews in Warsaw. Sometimes that disappointed him, but it didn't really surprise him; one of Rationalism's goals was that Jews should live like everyone else, and there was little chance of that in Poland.

In the West, in America - even, to an extent, in Germany - the image of Jews was changing; the wealthy and privileged Jews, at least, were starting to be seen as citizens of their countries rather than outsiders living in a parallel world. That was not the case in Poland. Jews were treated far better in Poland than in Austria or Rome, but that didn't make them Poles.

Nor did most Polish Jews want to be Poles. Many of them, in fact, never learned more than a few words of Polish. Tradition ran strong among them, especially after the Cossack uprisings and wars of the previous century, and many Polish Jews believed that their ghetto of the mind was a protective wall for their customs. They were, if not content with their separate lives, at least confident that any alternative would be worse.

Only in Warsaw and the cities of western Poland were things slightly different. It was there that Jews were most integrated into Polish society, interacted most frequently with their non- Jewish neighbors, and were most likely to have a secular education. It was also here that many Jews from the Holy Roman Empire, unable to afford prohibitive marriage taxes and not lucky enough to be awarded free passage to Palestine or America, came to find wives. Some of them were educated despite their poverty, and some saw in the greater freedom of Poland a chance to advance themselves. For them, Rational Judaism held some appeal.

In the east, though, the trend was precisely the opposite; Jews by the thousands were embracing the mystical doctrines of the rabbi who called himself the Baal Shem Tov. If Senderowicz and the orthodox rabbis of Poland had one point of agreement, it was the danger posed by the Baal Shem Tov's teachings. To Senderowicz, he was as bad as Zevi - a mystic charlatan who exalted faith and emotion over reason. But there was no Spinoza in Poland to conquer the Baal Shem Tov with words, nor was the mystic from Okop likely to discredit himself as spectacularly as Zevi had. Instead, the Baal Shem Tov would be fought by rabbis even more hidebound and medieval than himself - unless...

During the past few years, Senderowicz had begun to examine his religion critically, trying to separate the characteristics that made it succeed among the people from those that made it fail. As Spinoza had done with the state, Senderowicz pondered the traits of an ideal religion, and the things such a religion must do for its members in order to hold their faith. It was surprising, he thought, that Spinoza himself had never done this - but then again, the framework of religion had never been important to Spinoza, only its substance.

As a faith, Senderowicz concluded, Rational Judaism appealed mainly to the elites - the worldly, educated people who valued both social integration and intellectual freedom. The masses wanted more concrete things from their religions, and Rationalism had not done well among them - except where it was combined with something else. There were two places where Rational Judaism had become a mass movement - Palestine and America - and in each of those, Spinoza's austere logic had been fused with more traditional beliefs. And even more importantly, Rationalism in both places was more than just a religion. In both America and Palestine, Rationalism had adopted Jewish autonomy and self-reliance as one of its core beliefs, and even those who were unimpressed by Spinoza's conception of God were often willing to believe in a faith that told them they could farm their own land and elect their own government. Many of America's thirty-five thousand Rational Jews had probably never read Spinoza's works, but they received something far more concrete - the assurance that all people were equal on earth as well as in heaven, and that it was possible for them to be Jews and citizens of their countries at the same time.

Maybe this form of Rationalism might take root in Poland - a movement that brought Jews back to the land and taught them to be farmers and craftsmen rather than being peddlers or landlords' agents. If Jews were to live in a parallel world, then let it be one where they had dignity and supported themselves. The theology could come later. God wasn't going anywhere.

January 1748

The rebuilt Rational Synagogue still stood in the Eyp district, and the Rational millet still held title, but the door had been locked for years. There were few Rational Jews in Constantinople any more, and most of those who still lived in the city were too poor to maintain such an elaborate house of worship. The tide of reaction ran deep in the Ottoman capital in the wake of domestic malaise and foreign defeat, and those modernists who were rich enough to leave had done so.

Some had gone to America, others to Palestine, but more to Egypt. The governor of Cairo - the son of the man who had ruled during Spinoza's time - had won many of the local Mameluke beys to his side through marriage, and neutralized the others through his British- and French-trained army. With the Ottoman court in a state of virtual civil war, he did largely as he pleased, and had started to develop his own sphere of influence; the Shihabs of Lebanon were his allies, and the roads to Mecca were under his protection. Lately he had begun to call himself a khedive, and he had opened his country's doors to skilled immigrants.

There were Jews in Alexandria again, a community as polyglot and worldly as in Caesar's time. There were also Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, even the occasional Italian or French merchant - and most of all, there were neo-Mu'tazilites. In Constantinople, they had suffered even more than the Rational Jews; after all, the Janissaries regarded them not only as dangerous liberals but as apostates. The Rationalists could live and even worship in Constantinople if they were quiet about it; the neo-Mu'tazilites were persecuted.

Under the khedive's rule, though, they were protected; in fact, the khedive himself professed to belong to the neo-Mu'tazilite school. He was careful to respect all forms of Islam and avoid angering his people by forcibly modernizing their religion, but the neo- Mu'tazilites were free to worship in Alexandria and Cairo. Over time, their faith had begun to spread to the masses, albeit with the same admixture of mysticism that existed among the Rationalists of Safed. In the capital, neo-Mu'tazilites now made up almost half the Muslim population, just as Rationalists were now a majority of Egyptian Jews.

More of both came every year - doctors, lawyers, engineers, merchants. There were three universities at Cairo now, and two at Alexandria, and surveyors were laying out roads to carry Egyptian cotton to Alexandria's looms. Turkey was setting; Egypt was rising.

March 1760

On the hundredth anniversary of Spinoza's expulsion from Amsterdam, the United Provinces enfranchised its Jewish population. The coincidence of dates was not deliberate; indeed, the more traditional Dutch Jews would have vigorously opposed marking the occasion in such a manner - but it was not lost on the Rationalists of Amsterdam. They knew who the architect of their liberation was, and to them, the timing of their enfranchisement was only poetic justice.

In many ways, formal enfranchisement was a minor step for the Dutch Jews, whose position was enviable compared to that of their compatriots in much of the world. For almost two centuries, Jews had lived in Holland without fear of arbitrary expulsion, oppressive taxes or government-sponsored violence. The fact that they now enjoyed their status as a right rather than a privilege, however, had at least symbolic significance. And citizenship did open new doors, even for the relatively unrestricted Dutch Jews - military service, the franchise, even political office. Indeed, it would be less than a decade before one of the East India Company's Jewish directors sat on the Amsterdam Senate.

All this would have been unthinkable a hundred years before, or even fifty, but the perception of Jews by their non-Jewish neighbors was changing. In the West, Jews were viewed less and less as hunchbacked peddlers or sly bankers; instead, they were seen as men of the world who had embraced modernity with a greater passion than anyone. This stereotype, of course, was no more true - and no more false - than its predecessors; despite the visibility of the Rationalists within the Jewish community, they amounted to no more than a fifth of Jews worldwide. Nor was the new stereotype entirely a good thing. Jews might no longer be viewed as an insular, backward minority whose allegiance was to their clan rather than their country, but the image of Jews as cosmopolitan liberals also called into question their loyalty to their countries and their bond to their native soil. This stereotype, like the others, would be the source of much prejudice and misunderstanding in the centuries to come.

Although it was becoming less common to view Jews primarily in economic terms, the Jews of Holland still had one more contribution to make to the field of economics. In March 1760, the same month that the Dutch Jews were enfranchised, Jacob Mendes' Capital was published. Although many of its theories are considered simplistic today, Capital ranks as one of the great early modern treatises on economics, along with the works of the British philosophers of the same period.

The theories of Capital, in many ways, were a product of the emerging industrial revolution. Mendes was one of the first to argue that the growth of business creates wealth, and that competitive markets combined with free trade and investment were the best way to stimulate that growth. Nevertheless, as a Rational Jew who retained more regard than most for Rationalism's founding philosopher, Mendes warned that law and business could not ignore moral principles of economic justice. Payment of a just wage to workers, for instance, was an imperative recognized by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and utilitarian principles demonstrated that it was also an imperative in any rational ethical system. It was also necessary, in both a religious and utilitarian sense, to minimize injuries among workers and to make the conditions of labor as humane as possible. Such measures, Mendes argued, would not only be moral but would increase the ability of the working class to consume, and thus lead to higher profits in the long run.

Mendes' was a voice that would often be ignored by mill-owners in decades to come. Among legislators and emerging trade unions, however, it found a far more sympathetic hearing, and his ideas would be chief among the foundations of the Moral Capitalist movement of the next century.

Port Said
August 1764

Like many middle-class Egyptian Jews, Musa ibn-Hikmat had Arabized his name. His father's name, Mendel, meant "wisdom," which was also the meaning of Hikmat. He hadn't really changed his name - he was still Moses, the son of Mendel - but his acquaintances found the Arabic version easier to pronounce.

He had changed his name at the age of fifteen, when he had come to study at the Ismail II University in Alexandria. He had graduated four years later with a degree in engineering, just in time to be taken on to the Department of Canals. At first, he had worked on irrigation projects in Upper Egypt; the khedive intended to make the desert bloom. In 1755, though, he had been among those chosen to oversee a much greater project - a canal across the Isthmus of Suez.

There had been such a canal in the time of the pharaohs, but it had long since fallen into disuse. The growing trade with the East now demanded that it be rebuilt, and the neo-Mu'tazilite shipping firms - which had become the chief link between Bombay, Alexandria and London - were among its greatest advocates. The Celer firm, in fact, was second only to the khedive's government among the shareholders in the British-Egyptian consortium that had been put together to finance the construction.

In six more years, if the work went according to plan, the new sea route to Asia would open, Port Said would become one of the great ports of the world - and that would be only one of Ismail III's achievements. The second khedive had brought Egypt modern roads, a civil service chosen by competitive examination, theaters, banks, corporations, maritime insurance - the things that made a modern state. There was even an Egyptian parliament now; the Majlis was elected by less than a tenth of the population and barely had the power to name streets, but that was more than could be said for France.

And ibn-Hikmat had the same chance to take advantage of these things as anyone else, for, by decree nine years past, all Egyptians were equal under the law. To be sure, he knew most of them only in the abstract; his work as a civil engineer left him little leisure, and his wife and children even less so. The intellectual freedom of Egypt, though, was something ibn-Hikmat enjoyed in full measure. It was only natural that a man born in Baruch Spinoza's house would be attracted to philosophy, and he was already jotting down notes for what would one day be Faith and Reason.

Like Spinoza, ibn-Hikmat had begun his philosophical career by contemplating the nature of the divine, but he took the step that both Spinoza and Newton had not dared to take. Surely, ibn- Hikmat reasoned, the requirement that knowledge be subjected to empirical proof applied just as well to the existence of God. Maybe it was time to recognize that God was unknowable and his existence unprovable, and that religion was purely a matter of faith. And that, in turn, meant that religion was a personal matter, that morality must be derived from within - and that it was therefore each person's responsibility to construct a moral vision. This idea was very much in ibn-Hikmat's mind as he wrote the first words of the work that would be published eight years later.

"Whoso would be a man," he wrote, "must be a nonconformist."

October 1773

Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Behrens stood on the parade ground, watching the British commander hand over his sword. On the other side of the field, a military band was playing a popular tune, "The World Turned Upside Down." For the British army in Boston, it had.

Surely, Behrens thought, Britain would have to make peace now. With Boston taken, the last British stronghold in the core territories of the American Commonwealth had fallen. Next spring, the Americans would be free to attack the British forces in the southern colonies, and Behrens had heard that those armies were low on both supplies and morale. With every passing month, the British position was growing worse, and the negotiators in Utrecht surely knew that.

The peace terms on the table, Behrens believed, were more than fair. The southern colonies and Canada would become kingdoms under the British crown, subject to the King albeit with more autonomy than before. The territories held by the American armies, though - from Pennsylvania to Acadie, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi - would be the American Commonwealth, and there the American Charter would be supreme. The Commonwealth would recognize the King's majesty, and he would be received in state if he chose to travel to New York or Philadelphia, but he would have no power. Only the Charter would be law.

Behrens found it inspiring to imagine what the American Commonwealth would become. Under the Charter, no person would ever be a slave. Every man of full age - and in some colonies, every woman - would have the vote, and would be eligible for election to the highest office. The government could never close down a press. silence a speech or imprison a citizen without trial.

That had been worth fighting for, through eight long years of war, and Behrens was hardly alone among his people in thinking so. Eight thousand Jews - almost a tenth of the Jews in America - had fought on the side of the revolution, and Behrens' 14th Allegheny Rifles was one of nine regiments raised from the colony. Americans of other religions, as well, had come out in similar proportions.

Sometimes Behrens was amazed by how much the American revolution had been a religious war - a jihad, as his wife might say. All four of Abraham's religions had taken part, and clergymen of all four had beaten the drum for freedom - the ministers of Boston, the priests of Acadie and Iroquoia, the imams of Philadelphia and the rabbis of Allegheny had all played prominent roles in creating the new nation. Upon reflection, though, Behrens decided that this might not be so amazing after all. Freedom was a religious concept - whatever mistakes Spinoza may have made, he had known that - and the Commonwealth was a nation deeply aware of the spiritual aspect of its liberty. Or a dour lot of puritans, as Leila often said - but that is in the eye of the beholder.

Soon, the Commonwealth would have the chance to come to that awareness in peace. If the negotiations in Utrecht succeeded, Behrens would not have to take the field again next spring; he could retire like Cincinnatus to his farm on the Susquehanna. Already, in his mind, Behrens was watching his son and daughters play on the grounds of the manor house, escaping to one of the secret places that he and Leila shared, listening to his great- grandmother say grace at the head of the table.

Old Naomi was the one who saw all this. She had known it would happen when she had led the Rationalist exiles to America seventy- five years ago; she had known when she traveled to Albany at the age of eighty-nine as part of the Allegheny delegation to the American Meeting; she had known when she scrawled her defiant signature eighth from the top on the American Charter. And now, God willing, she would celebrate her ninety-seventh birthday in a free nation.

If Behrens lived as long as she had, he would live to see 1840. That seemed unimaginably far away, but it was really no longer than the time that had passed since Allegheny was founded, or the time between the first settlement and Spinoza's birth. Seventy years, more or less - as real time was counted, how long was that?

He wondered what marvels those years might bring.

Last modified: Wed Oct 9 15:39:33 BST 2002