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Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care
John T. Hamilton

Named a Harvard University Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for 2014

Paperback | 2016 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691171227
336 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2013 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691157528
336 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 7 halftones. 4 tables.
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From national security and social security to homeland and cyber-security, "security" has become one of the most overused words in culture and politics today. Yet it also remains one of the most undefined. What exactly are we talking about when we talk about security? In this original and timely book, John Hamilton examines the discursive versatility and semantic vagueness of security both in current and historical usage. Adopting a philological approach, he explores the fundamental ambiguity of this word, which denotes the removal of "concern" or "care" and therefore implies a condition that is either carefree or careless. Spanning texts from ancient Greek poetry to Roman Stoicism, from Augustine and Luther to Machiavelli and Hobbes, from Kant and Nietzsche to Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, Hamilton analyzes formulations of security that involve both safety and negligence, confidence and complacency, certitude and ignorance. Does security instill more fear than it assuages? Is a security purchased with freedom or human rights morally viable? How do security projects inform our expectations, desires, and anxieties? And how does the will to security relate to human finitude? Although the book makes clear that security has always been a major preoccupation of humanity, it also suggests that contemporary panics about security and the related desire to achieve perfect safety carry their own very significant risks.

John T. Hamilton is professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. He is the author of Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language and Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity, and the Classical Tradition.


"[This] is a wonderfully rich volume that makes punctual yet decisive incursions leading to brilliant new readings of canonical texts. . . . Through the cornucopia of its corpus and the generosity of its gesture, Security is above all an invitation to think along, to think further and deeper, to pursue the project of the book on a yet wider corpus. It invites us to practice the philology of care in our approach to books but also to the world."--Hall Bjornstad, L'Esprit Créateur

"[A] masterful meditation."--Ellwood Wiggins, Modern Language Quarterly

"Excellent."--Comparative Literature


"John Hamilton's meditation on 'security'--the word and the thing--ranges, with uncommon erudition, over centuries of thought, from Hyginus's Latin fable on Cura (a marvelous beginning) to Heidegger and Homeland Security. Hamilton's philological skill, intellectual historical imagination, and critical brio fuse in a radiant explication of Goethe's Faust; indeed, the trajectory of his thought is itself Faustian in its appetite and willpower."--Stanley Corngold, author of Franz Kafka: The Ghosts in the Machine

"Broad and deep, learned and incisive, Security traces crisscrossing arcs from Roman securitas, back to Greek asphaleia, up through renaissance allegorization and the major thinkers of the Western tradition until our own times. The paradox of security, a state of lacking care, sets up a double bind between being carefree and carelessness. Hamilton's philological method resists the degradation that comes with a governmental monopolization of security measures and proposes instead a flexible, more humane politics."--Michèle Lowrie, University of Chicago

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Part One: Preliminary Concerns 1
1. Homo Curans 3
2. Security Studies and Philology 7
3. Handle with Care 25
Part Two: Etymologies and Figures 49
4. A Brief Semantic History of Securitas 51
5. The Pasture and the Garden 68
6. Security on the Beach 83
7. Tranquillity, Anger, and Caution 114
Part Three: Occupying Security 135
8. Fortitude and Maternal Care 137
9. Embarkations 168
10. Lingua Homini Lupus 182
11. Repercussions 201
12. Revolution's Chances 224
13. Vital Instabilities 238
14. The Sorrow of Thinking 262
15. Surveillance, Conspiracy, and the Nanny State 284
On the Main 299
Works Cited 301
Index 317


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