Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Ruth O'Brien

Subject Categories

American Politics | Economic Policy | Intellectual History | Labor History | Law and Politics | Legal Biography | Legal History | Legal Theory | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Political Economy | Political History | Political Theory | Public Affairs | Public Law and Legal Theory | Public Policy | Social History | Social Policy | Social Welfare | Supreme Court of the United States | United States History


Brandeis, libertarianism, progressivism, Jefferson, election of 1912, antitrust


The American Right features a well-developed—and well-heeled—infrastructure for promoting a conception of freedom as inextricable from capitalism. The American Left, by contrast, has seemed content to cede the territory, abandoning the ground of freedom for the terrain of “equality,” “justice,” “fairness,” and “prosperity.” This paper is an effort to address this asymmetry in the public discourse over the meaning of freedom. Its principal objective is to capture the vision of freedom embodied in the political and economic thought of Louis D. Brandeis, one of the American Left’s ablest expositors of freedom.

In addition, the paper has three subsidiary objectives. The most important of these is to help put an end to the American Left’s defensive crouch in debates over the nature of freedom. To that end, I leverage Brandeis’s conceptions of freedom, the state, and the market into a more general argument about the nexus between those three phenomena. In particular, I cast the welfare and regulatory state as an organ of empowerment and emancipation rather than of restraint and inhibition, and I depict the untrammeled market not as a wellspring of freedom and creativity but as a source of constraint and enervation. The second subsidiary objective is to prod libertarians to interrogate the equation of the market with freedom and government with constraint, in the hope of provoking a more robust and critical discourse over whether the libertarian program of meager government and unfettered markets truly advances the ideal of freedom. Finally, the paper aims not only to identify fault-lines between Left and Right but also to differentiate Brandeis’s understanding of freedom from that of his Progressive brethren, in particular those Progressives who favored Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” over Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” in the presidential election of 1912.