It is appropriate to mention at this point Nizan’s lasting admiration for another man devoted to the endless task of freeing men’s minds from the wrong objects: Spinoza. This admiration is a further indication that Nizan, as a militant, never committed intellectual suicide. Spinoza was a favorite before Nizan encountered Marx or Lenin, and he remained one afterwards. At the E. N. S. [École Normale Supérieure,] Nizan worked on a study of Spinoza, none of which has been published; but it is possible to guess at what attracted him to this retiring yet powerful mind. Like Epicurus, Spinoza lived in seclusion and tried to cultivate self-sufficiency, whereas his opposite number Leibniz (one of Nizan’s bugbears) was a gregarious and power-seeking man. One of Spinoza’s basic beliefs could describe Nizan’s general existential strategy. Spinoza believed that freedom lay in concentrating one’s passions on a proper object, and that the only way we can conquer an undesirable emotion is by attaching our thought to another and stronger emotion. Nizan swung his fixation from the luxurious anxieties of individualism to the collective strivings of the underprivileged. Spinoza’s theory of the “conatus,” the effort towards self-maintenance, would also attract Nizan, who supported the collective only insofar as it sought to benefit the individual. He could not, of course, have accepted Spinoza’s acquiescence—partly due to Spinoza’s lack of any idea of historical changeto existing social laws and conventions. But the “conatus,” which has been likened to Freud’s concept of the libido, and the insistence by both these Jewish thinkers that the cure of mental illness lies in making the patient more self-conscious—these theories provide real backing for some of Nizan’s deepest convictions. “A free man thinks of nothing less than death.” Epicurus and Nizan would agree with Spinoza on this point, and Spinoza would recognize with them that the problem is how to free men from this obsession. The solution is to teach them the proper use of the mind and the emotions. The obstacle to this education is the lazy preference for that secondhand knowledge, which Nizan frequently claims to be the mark of many writers of his own era who fail to think for themselves. Altogether, Nizan must have found Spinoza less shallow than Descartes and his rather facile optimism about the powers of human reason and will, and his relative lack of interest in the less conscious sources of human weakness. No doubt Nizan admired not only Spinoza’s interest in this weakness, but also his open mind on the question of human potentiality. Spinoza refused to dogmatize on the limits of possible action of the human body. This “most ambitious and uncompromising of all modern philosophers” [quote from Stuart Hampshire’s Spinoza] kept company with Epicurus and Marx in Nizan’s grateful mind.
SOURCE: Redfern, W. D. Paul Nizan: Committed Literature in a Conspiratorial World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 103-104.
See also another biography of Nizan:
Scriven, Michael. Paul Nizan: Communist Novelist. New York: St. Martins Press, 1988.
Schalk, David L. Professors as Watchdogs: Paul Nizans Theory of the Intellectual and Politics, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 34, No. 1, January - March 1973, pp. 79-96.
John-Paul Sartre on Paul Nizan
Philosophy in Aden by Paul Nizan
The Watchdogs: Bourgeois Philosophy in Action (Excerpts)
by Paul Nizan
"The Philosopher's Mission" by Paul Nizan
la Filozofo de Paul Nizan
(same text in Esperanto)
Le Matérialisme Antique par Paul Nizan
Badiou and the Bankruptcy of Fashionable French Philosophy by R. Dumain
Anti-Bergson: Bibliography & Links
Spinoza & Marxism: Selected Bibliography (with Basic Spinoza Web Guide)
Leibniz & Ideology: Selected Bibliography
Marx and Marxism Web Guide
Paul Nizan @ Reason & Society
Paul Nizan @ Ĝirafo
Paul Nizan @ Marxists Internet Archive
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