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What does it mean to be free? We invoke the word frequently, yet the freedom of countless Americans is compromised by social inequalities that systematically undercut what they are able to do and to become. If we are to remedy these failures of freedom, we must move beyond the common assumption, prevalent in political theory and American public life, that individual agency is best conceived as a kind of personal sovereignty, or as self-determination or control over one’s actions.
In Freedom Beyond Sovereignty, Sharon R. Krause shows that individual agency is best conceived as a non-sovereign experience because our ability to act and affect the world depends on how other people interpret and respond to what we do. The intersubjective character of agency makes it vulnerable to the effects of social inequality, but it is never in a strict sense socially determined. The agency of the oppressed sometimes surprises us with its vitality. Only by understanding the deep dynamics of agency as simultaneously non-sovereign and robust can we remediate the failed freedom of those on the losing end of persistent inequalities and grasp the scope of our own responsibility for social change. Freedom Beyond Sovereignty brings the experiences of the oppressed to the center of political theory and the study of freedom. It fundamentally reconstructs liberal individualism and enables us to see human action, personal responsibility, and the meaning of liberty in a totally new light.