Spinoza’s understanding of the affects can illuminate much, but I do not think it amounts to a critical or radical politics of the affective. So while I finish a post on the politics of affect that is more to do with current theories and politics around affect, I thought I would reiterate some of the argument in C&C, but that I discuss further in another essay, “Spinoza’s Affections.”
Spinoza’s understanding of the affective was only one instance of the periodic attempt by philosophers to leap over the categorical distinction between mind and body. It would be a mistake to assume that he did so without reinstating that distinction in another form or by overstating his distance from considerations of national-imperial and corporate (as well as colonial) policy.
Firstly, despite the contrast between Hobbes and Spinoza in the late 1960s by Macheray among others, both attributed to the masses a capacity for being affected without reason that they did not ascribe to themselves. This is why Spinoza shifts from writing a politico-theological treatise to writing about ethics—the latter was intended for a more narrow audience inside the corridors of power.
Secondly and more importantly, as a concept of “the body’s power of acting”—that is through being affected “increased or diminished, aided or restrained”— Spinoza’s theory of the affects is an early rendition of the theory of human capital and a guide to business ethics.
Situated on the one (and losing) side of debates at the time about whether the Dutch East India Company should insist on the religious conversion of its trading partners, Spinoza’s rather modest heresy consisted of arguing that it was more important to accumulate the power to act than it was to collect explicit converts, precisely because he situated the affections on a continuum of greater or lesser “perfection” and because the “body” Spinoza had in mind, and whose dilemma he thought through, was the joint-stock company. This is why Spinoza argued that each affective state is a transitional state that can lead away or toward “perfection”—while the foreign trading partners of the Dutch East India Company might not now be religious converts, they nevertheless could be situated somewhere along a continuum of that conversion.
It is not coincidental that even today advocates of multiculturalism often rest their arguments on theories of human capital, namely: that cultural or religious differences can, inasmuch as they remain under its auspices, increase the stock of the national economy.