Theorizing American Freedom (Book Review: Aziz Rana, The Two Faces of American Freedom (2010))

25 Pages Posted: 25 May 2011 Last revised: 25 Oct 2012

Date Written: August 27, 2011


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.

Keywords: The Two Faces of American Freedom, Book Review, Constitutional Law, Legal History, Rana, Rawls, Reflective Equilibrium, Citizenship, Freedom, Republicanism, Civic Republicanism, Neo-Roman Liberty, Settler Colonialism, Settler Colonial Theory, Political Theory

Suggested Citation

O'Rourke, Anthony, Theorizing American Freedom (Book Review: Aziz Rana, The Two Faces of American Freedom (2010)) (August 27, 2011). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 110, 2012; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 11-275. Available at SSRN:

Anthony O'Rourke (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States

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