lorenzo veracini on rana’s two faces of american freedom


Lorenzo Veracini, ‘Book Review’, Ethnic and Racial Studies (2011).

The Two Faces of American Freedom outlines the rise and fall of the US ‘experiment’ in settler constitutionalism. It is an ultimately convincing outline of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American history as the history of a settler colonial project. While this project and the conception of freedom that underpinned it had emerged victorious with independence, they were terminated sometime between the defeat of Populism and the establishment of the New Deal order. To frame this narrative, Rana understands the settler order as fundamentally characterized by a political theory that was at once internally inclusive and premised on exclusion and expansion. On the one hand, it constituted an ostensibly egalitarian political community that allowed its members, including its most recently arrived members, northern European ‘co-ethnics’ who were immediately allowed to access republican freedoms, an enhanced degree of meaningful participation. On the other hand, this egalitarianism was most decidedly not universal, and these freedoms necessitated an ongoing expansionary project of conquest. The two elements of this equation, Rana emphasizes, were predicated on each other and could not be separated; hence the two faces referred to in the title.
It is the notion that we are no longer in the presence of a settler colonial political regime that allows Rana to propose a return to the openness and inclusiveness of a settler colonial project. However, I wonder whether a ‘settler-freedoms-for-all’ proposition is tenable. If the two faces of American freedom could not be separated then how can one think of separating them now? On the one hand, Rana’s prescription ultimately clashes with his original recognition that a settler project is necessarily premised on the subjection of others and on ongoing expansion. On the other, there is slippage, and that the co-ethnics were never outsiders should be emphasized. Most importantly, was the settler colonial project terminated in its entirety? Many Native Americans would beg to differ (indeed, it is significant that indigenous people are entirely absent from Rana’s account). Thinking it is, is like assuming that a party must be over because the bouncers are no longer letting anyone in the private area of a trendy club.

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