Lawrence Hamilton's Are South Africans Free and Freedom Is Power address the question of the relationship between political practice and political theory. The former does so explicitly, and the latter less directly, in relation to twenty years of South African liberation from apartheid. This article begins by reconceptualizing Hamilton's problem and solution in terms of the gulf that exists between the space of experience and the horizon of expectation. It then suggests that the author engages in “idealization” rather than “abstraction,” in Onora O'Neill's sense of the terms, by privileging and distorting aspects of Machiavelli, and dismissing rights and common-good-based arguments in the justification of social change. My contention is that Hamilton's argument relies on a conception of the common good which requires a theory of rights to sustain it. Finally, the argument does not identify the agents of change, nor acknowledge the difficulty of reshaping institutions de novo.

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