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Book Review

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In Copyright


This is a review essay of The Two Faces of American Freedom, by Aziz Rana. The book presents a new and provocative account of the relationship between ideas of freedom and the constitutional structure of American power. Through the nineteenth century, Rana argues, America’s constitutional structure was shaped by a racially exclusionary, yet economically robust, concept that he calls “settler freedom.” Drawing on the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of settler colonial studies, as well as on the vast historical literature on civic republicanism, Rana contends that the concept of settler freedom necessitated a constitutional framework that enabled rapid territorial expansion and legitimized the subordination of “outsider” groups.

This Review examines the normative aims underpinning The Two Faces of American Freedom, and evaluates the extent to which Rana’s methodological choices advance those aims. It argues that, in contrast to most historically oriented legal scholarship, the success of Rana’s project does not necessarily turn on whether historians would find his narrative persuasive. Indeed, Rana’s normative aims might have been better served by departing even further from the methodological standards that govern intellectual history. Additionally, this Review suggests that Rana’s method of normative inquiry is a valuable complement to what he (misleadingly) describes as “utopian” political theorizing – but that it cannot, as he claims, serve as a satisfactory replacement for such theorizing.

Publication Title

Michigan Law Review

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