Law and Critique

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 325–355 | Cite as

Constitutionalism and imperialism Sub Specie Spinozae

  • Scott NewtonEmail author


Contemporary interpretations of Spinozan political theory and metaphysics (Negri, Balibar, Deleuze) suggest a parallel critique of constitutionalism and imperialism. Spinoza’s suspicion (in the Ethics) of every attempt to divide constituting power (potentia) from constituted power (potestas), and his simultaneous concern with the structure of constitutional frameworks (in the Political Treatise) and with their symbolic or passional significance (in the Theologico-Political Treatise) reveal the double-edged property of constitutionalism: its capacity both to constrain and to facilitate the dynamics of potentia, of the power of bodies. Imperialism operates in a similar fashion, on larger scales. European colonial empires were constituted as complexes of juridical-institutional forms, aggregating colonial subjects as new multitudes. They created new, hybrid worlds (however repressive and limited) with the bricks and mortar of institutions and conditioned the emergence of new political subjectivities, both releasing and channelling the flow of potentia. From a Spinozan perspective, the operations of constitutionalism and imperialism can be seen as analogous, and uncritical celebration of the one and condemnation of the other both become problematic.


constitutionalism imperialism potentia (pouvoir constituant) potestas (pouvoir constitué) Spinoza 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LawSchool of Oriental and African StudiesRussell Square, LondonUK

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