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The Two Faces of American Freedom Hardcover – October 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


A strikingly original and powerful account of American political culture. (Jedediah Purdy, Duke Law School)

Will put the concept of settler freedom on the map of scholarship on American political thought, political development, and democratic theory. (Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania)

This is a genuinely important book, offering a fundamental reinterpretation of American constitutional development. (Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School, author of The Decline and Fall of the American Republic)

In The Two Faces of American Freedom, Rana effectively weaves together historical analysis, constitutional interpretation, and theoretical reflections, showing that empire is more deeply intertwined with American political institutions and their development than many observers realize… Both its compelling historical interpretation and its innovative examination of normative criticisms through the discussion of contemporary social critics make this an important book that neither students of American political and constitutional development nor those interested in political theory and thought can afford to ignore. (Stefan Heumann Political Science Quarterly 2011-11-01)

This is interpretive history, and, as the title indicates, it is interpretive history with bite… The Two Faces of American Freedom is a marvelous tract for our times… The best thing about this book is that Rana has compiled a wonderful pantheon of also-rans in American history who either offered alternatives to 'settler society,' or actually tried to fulfill its promise of freedom and equality… The book also includes novel and penetrating analysis of the work and thought of better-known figures in American history… [A] tour-de-force. (Stephen B. Presser Reviews in American History 2012-09-01)

[This] is a significant contribution to constitutional scholarship. One of the virtues of The Two Faces of American Freedom is Rana's willingness to take intellectual risks...While Rana is not the first legal scholar to examine the link between republican freedom and imperial expansion in American constitutional history, he is the first to do so through the lens of settler colonial theory...By applying this theoretical framework, Rana offers a provocative and original narrative of how early American ideas of freedom and imperialism were interdependent, and together animated what was once a formative ideology underpinning American constitutional governance...The Two Faces of American Freedom is a significant theoretical accomplishment. It successfully taps the insights of a discipline unfamiliar to many legal scholars, and by doing so offers a novel interpretation of America's constitutional past. This interpretation suggests new and challenging ways of thinking about the relationship between national power and domestic freedom. (Anthony O’Rourke Michigan Law Review 2012-04-01)

Two Faces of American Freedom is an impressive piece of historical scholarship...[Rana] provides insightful new interpretations of several critical points in the United States' political development...It would be difficult to overstate the originality and importance of Rana's portrayal of the American Revolution as 'settler revolt.' ...By making imperialism and settlerism central concepts in his approach to the American Revolution, Rana deals a devastating blow to scholarship committed to American exceptionalism, which has sequestered the study of American history and politics for too long. If this were Two Faces' only contribution, it would be quite a worthy book, but in subsequent chapters, Rana extends his analysis through history, tracing the evolution of settlerism in the years between the ratification of the Constitution and the Civil War, and between Reconstruction and the turn of the twentieth century...In Two Faces, Rana uses the concept of settler colonialism to illuminate the American experience in an unassailably effective and innovative manner...Two Faces is a compelling work because it expands the compass of inquiry, opening the way to comparative approaches that were previously closed off by scholarly commitments to American exceptionalism. (Joshua Simon Settler Colonial Studies 2012-06-01)

[A] provocative, revisionist tale that finds the key to apparently contradictory strains in American political culture, political thought, and notions of citizenship in our own dual past as settler and colonizer...[It] seems clear that Rana's re-telling of the American story is one that will be debated and should be reckoned with, both for its bold sidelong glance at familiar history--especially the manner in which it outlines the case for how and why we moved almost immediately from colony to colonizer--and for its potential implications for the present political moment. Scholars of immigration history and policy, American foreign policy, and American political thought will all find arguments worthy of consideration and deserving of their attention, along with fresh perspectives on what might ordinarily be stale terrain. (Stephen Pimpare Law & Politics Book Review 2011-06-01)

[An] ambitious and thoughtful book...The Two Faces of American Freedom [is] a challenging and often compelling book. It is well written, full of fresh interpretations of familiar debates, and unafraid to pose big questions and draw striking conclusions where others often fear to tread. (Duncan Ivison Perspectives on Politics 2011-09-01)

Rana makes a compelling case for a populist account of self-rule at the heart of the U.S. political tradition. (M. G. Spencer Choice 2011-06-01)

Rana's interpretation of the American past helps make sense of the Revolution's democratic potential, and also the problems facing American democracy today. (Johann Neem Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 2011-09-01)

This provocative book will interest all American historians...A brief review cannot do justice to the intricacy and subtlety of Rana's argument. He deploys evidence from a dazzling range of sources, particularly but not exclusively from imaginative readings of pivotal court cases...The Two Faces of American Freedom...establishes Rana as a serious student of American democracy, and all readers of the Journal of American History should wrestle with his brilliant and passionate critique of 'settler empire.' (James T. Kloppenberg Journal of American History 2013-03-01)

Overall, this book is masterfully crafted. To say that ideas matter is easy. To demonstrate how ideas inform and are informed by our understandings, practices, and institutions in a dynamic manner across a wide ideological and historical spectrum is quite another…The challenge Rana sets forth--politically, conceptually and methodologically--is daunting in that it captures the kind of urgency, creativity and diligence that every intellectual should aspire for. (Daniel Kato Constellations 2014-03-01)

About the Author

Aziz Rana is Associate Professor of Law at Cornell Law School.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674048970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674048973
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Dev on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Finally! The field of political science & history is so well trodden that one can almost feel like original thought is reserved for when the recession is over. Far too often, what decorates the shelves at B&N will be many writers pandering with little creativity and even less insight. Yet bucking the trend comes Rana's 'Two Faces of American Freedom', an absolute challenge to the popular view of American history and the supposed 'natural' evolution of its civil society.

Rana writes with a confidence and a sureness of scholarship that permeates the text. This skill provides the provision of trust, permitting the only requirements of reading to be concentration and consideration. Whether a professional in the field or a casual observer, the access to the text is there. And for questioning what comes up, footnotes are provided regularly, with a full Index (a courtesy not even as extensively employed as the writings of CNN's Fareed Zakaria or ever-relevant writings of a curmudgeonly Noam Chomsky). Most of all, Rana's background in law gives the reader a unique look at the history, providing a frame for the picture being painted - that the American story is not as 'exceptional' as advertised..

For prospective readers concerned with readability, the book on the whole is fluid and without much concern. The intro provides anyone passing through their B&N with enough of a guide to get acquainted with the topic without feeling like a chapter in its own right. The single criticism would be the oversight of a self-conscious first chapter.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book contains profound insights about America, which its citizens would do well to understand and appreciate. It is based on an extraordinarily sophisticated level of analysis. The reasoning is unencumbered with the bias that many historians inject into books about American history. It transcends the cartoon-like characterizations found in many contemporary interpretations on the subjects of American freedom and liberty. The content is remarkably objective--neutrally presented-- based on an extensive command of all aspects of the social, cultural and political history of America.

Unfortunately, the book is nearly impossible to read because of the writing style. The author uses highly technical and esoteric language throughout the work. The vocabulary is loaded with unnecessarily pretentious and often obscure terms and expressions. The sentence structure is routinely complex, reading like some esoteric juried academic journal. The introduction and conclusion are particularly obtuse. In fact, the first 30 pages are enough to drive away the vast majority of modern readers.

Naturally, academic intellectuals might suggest that these ideas are so intricate that such a writing style is necessary. Yet, there are many authors who have conveyed equally complex ideas in language that is accessible to a much broader audience. Unfortunately, the editors of this work failed miserably in channeling the author into a prose that would produce a far greater impact on the discourse of freedom and liberty. Too bad for America.
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