The free spirit in the liberal political order
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How should we contemplate spiritual freedom in modern liberal societies? This dissertation explores spiritual freedom by presenting the figure of the free spirit, a figure modeled after Nietzsche's description of one. The free spirit exemplifies the possibilities for spiritual freedom, and his relation to political order uncovers important implications for our understanding of political freedom. The free spirit affirms life--he finds meaning and value in life--apart from politics and community. He does so by taking an aesthetic perspective. A certain type of spirit is necessary for such aesthetic perspective: a free spirit, a skeptic who liberates oneself from political community, religious traditions, and common values of his time. A deeper understanding of the free spirit also reveals a deeper understanding of individual autonomy. Individual autonomy is one of the bedrocks of liberal political order, a foundation that is threatened by criticisms from progressives and communitarians. Progressives attack the very possibility of employing individual autonomy as a justification for the founding of liberal government. In a similar vein, communitarians attack the possibility and the desirability of treating individuals as autonomous units, highlighting the social and communal basis of personhood and the dangers of individual "atomism". The attacks aimed at individual autonomy are simultaneously attacks on liberal political order. The explication of the free spirit in this dissertation is an attempt to combat these critiques of liberal political order on the basis of individual autonomy. The free spirit presented here reminds us that a wholly liberal defense of individual rights must include the political space for aesthetic perspective. For a society to be truly free it must respect and protect each individual's liberty to treat existence as a spectacle, to detach themselves from popular worldly concerns, whether political, cultural, or social.