August 2021

Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideal of the “free spirit” offers a distinct vision of what freedom could be. What does it offer a liberal society?

Readers not up on their Nietzsche don’t need to worry; lead essayist Prof. Steven Pittz of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs offers both a helpful guide to one of the philosopher’s most evocative ideas—and an argument about how the free-spirited individual stands to benefit the society around him. Replying to his essay will be Prof. David Owen of the University of Southampton and Prof. Matthew Meyer of the University of Scranton, each of whom will have a somewhat different approach to the question. We will then feature an open discussion among the participants.

The conversation will continue and the comments will remain open for the coming month.

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Lead Essay

  • Steven Pittz describes spiritual freedom as a kind of intellectual freedom that is concerned chiefly with achieving spiritual goals. In a liberal society, a free spirit may also stand as a bulwark against oppression, provincialism, and mindless conformity. As a result, those who are willing to rethink their society’s received wisdom are both vital and often persecuted.

Response Essays

  • David Owen offers two challenges to the claim that spiritual freedom is necessary for a free society: First, he suggests that voluntary associations and value-coalitions will naturally emerge in a free society and break up social despotism all on their own. The free spirit may not be all that necessary. But in his second challenge, he argues that it could be the case that free spirits do best with a degree of perhaps paradoxical social support, especially in the areas of education and the media, which are crucial to the production of free spirits and the spread of their ideas and examples.

  • The free spirit—unbound by social norms and received ideas—may or may not be an asset to liberalism, says Matthew Meyer. The fearless investigation of norms and ideas may lead an individual to reject liberalism itself. Meyer argues that, on a careful reading of Nietzsche, that philosopher’s free spirit ideal may even have more of an affinity with authoritarianism and empire than liberals like Steven Pittz would like to admit.

Coming Up

Conversation through the end of the month.