Law and Critique

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 39–61 | Cite as

Freedom, Law, and the Colonial Project

  • Susan Dianne BrophyEmail author


In this essay I develop a Marxist-informed anticolonialist position, and from this position I assess the role of law in the early Canadian settler-state. I claim that the flexibility of law is a measure of its restitutive and exploitative facets, such facets that operate dialectically as a means of moderating between the settler-state’s liberal democratic ideals (e.g. individual freedom and enfranchisement) and its capitalist imperatives (e.g. privatization of land, expansion, and profit). Law plays an integral role in this context because, by performing this moderating function, it stabilizes the socio-economic order of the emergent settler-state. In the second half of this essay, I enrich my theoretical analysis by examining the variable legal subjectivity of early Ukrainian immigrants to Canada. This historical perspective allows me to illuminate the intricacies of the logic that informs law’s flexibility, and to show how the liberal democratic principle of freedom was—and continues to be—both extolled and compromised by the law’s moderating function.


Capitalism Colonialism Freedom Liberal democratic State Subject 



Thank you to Rade Zinaic, Elleni Centime Zeleke, and the journal’s anonymous reviewers for reading and commenting on earlier drafts. Thank you also to Stewart Motha for such insightful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social & Political ThoughtYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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