James Fenimore Cooper and the NSA: Security, Property, Liberlism

Event Date: 

Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 5:00pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 2623

Professor Castronovo will discuss how the development of classic liberalism in the American frontier made it possible to conceive culture as a state of security. In fictions about the state of nature, like those appearing in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government or James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, the securitization of property and persons emerges as a particular point of anxiety. The worry that property is always capable of being seized, alienated, or left to rot, that it is essentially never secure, provides justification enough for surveillance and other measures to operate continuously and without end. The Pioneers provides an architectonic perspective that discloses how privacy and property combine to establish security and surveillance as settled notions, which, after all, seems only appropriate for a novel all about the settlement of the wilderness. Private property on the frontier undergirds the right to privacy, which is often seen as a bulwark to encroachments of government surveillance. However, this talk concludes by arguing that the defense of privacy will only be robust if it can be distinguished from the liberal idea to private property and articulated in terms of public life.

Russ Castronovo is the Tom Paine Professor of English and Dorothy Draheim Professor of American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His most recent book is Propaganda 1776:  Secrets, Leaks, and Revolutionary Communications in Early America.

This talk is co-sponsored with the Department of English

Russ Castronovo September 22 at 5pm