Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
Hirschmann begins by arguing that the dominant Western understanding of freedom does not provide a conceptual vocabulary for accurately characterizing women's experiences. Often, free choice is assumed when women are in fact coerced--as when a battered woman who stays with her abuser out of fear or economic necessity is said to make this choice because it must not be so bad--and coercion is assumed when free choices are made--such as when Westerners assume that all veiled women are oppressed, even though many Islamic women view veiling as an important symbol of cultural identity.
Understanding the contexts in which choices arise and are made is central to understanding that freedom is socially constructed through systems of power such as patriarchy, capitalism, and race privilege. Social norms, practices, and language set the conditions within which choices are made, determine what options are available, and shape our individual subjectivity, desires, and self-understandings. Attending to the ways in which contexts construct us as "subjects" of liberty, Hirschmann argues, provides a firmer empirical and theoretical footing for understanding what freedom means and entails politically, intellectually, and socially.