Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Lori Marso




freedom, governance, sovereignty, framework, American, debate, theory


In this thesis, I argue that different conceptions of freedom yield different manifestations of governance. I demonstrate that in the United States, a private conception of freedom grounded in individual and state sovereignty has been repeated in political discourse with severe consequences for democracy. This conception of freedom derives largely from America’s founding, from a reliance on legal language, and from fundamental assumptions about the role of the people in governance. It institutionalizes social and political hierarchies through promoting and protecting individual autonomy. In contrast to this dominant form of freedom, I sketch an alternative that encourages public engagement, political responsiveness, and citizen responsibility. My theory of freedom, based largely on the writings of Hannah Arendt, incorporates freedom’s complexity, interconnectivity, and instability. The conception of freedom that I put forth approximates the Arendtian condition of “no-rule,” enabling a form of non-hierarchical political organization in which the people actually debate and decide. I develop this theoretical framework by applying it to contemporary case studies in American politics. Through scrutinizing the methods of judgment employed in the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, highlighting the limits of legal language in addressing protests at military funerals, and exposing the Tea Party’s reassertion of political and social hierarchies through its antihistorical and ethnocentric appropriation of freedom, I will present a new way of conceptualizing and responding to political events.