Universalizing Settler Liberty

Nikhil Pal Singh in Jacobin:

Indian-land-for-saleOver the last decade, interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere have led academics and activists to question the prerogatives of American empire. At the same time, the global financial crisis has created space for a renewed discussion not just about inequality and redistribution, but capitalism itself.

Yet recent conversations about empire and capitalism have tended to operate in isolation, with little attention paid to how they are bound together and what these interconnections might mean for projects of social change.

Aziz Rana’s book, The Two Faces of American Freedom, now out in paperback, embodies a sustained attempt to link these two conversations. It presents a historical account of the relationship between external projections of power and internal judgments of economic liberty in the United States.

Rana, an associate professor of law at Cornell University, argues that the American experience is best understood as one of “settler empire.” English colonists, along with their descendants, viewed society as grounded in an ideal of freedom that emphasized continuous popular mobilization and direct economic decision-making.

However, this ideal was politically bound to territorial conquest and to the dispossession and control of marginalized groups. These practices of liberty and subordination were not separate currents, but rather two sides of the same coin. Even today, he argues, the legacies of settler empire shape and sustain the twin dynamics of racial exclusion and economic exploitation.

More here.