Wilfred McClay Interview: “Land of Hope, the Forgotten American Story, and Civic Education”
JMC board member Wilfred McClay was recently interviewed by JMC Senior Fellow for Constitutional Studies, Daniel Cullen. McClay discussed his best-selling new textbook, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story and his thought-process while writing the book.
In this clip, McClay explains his ideal reader for the book and the attitude towards American citizenship he hopes his book will foster:
…I wanted to capture at the outset that we’re—I hate to use the word products of our history—but that we are products in a way of what came before us. But the baton is passed to us by time to make of those circumstances what we will. The reason I call it A Land of Hope is that America is a place where, more than anyplace else in human history, people have been able to transcend the conditions of their birth, and to think beyond them, imagine other and greater things and succeed in bringing them about. There’s always a sense that what is given to us, initially—the conditions of our birth, you know, of our natality—are never the final story. There’s always more to be said, and we’re the ones, to some extent, thanks to being in a country where we enjoy a considerable degree of freedom, who can do the saying. We can have that. That doesn’t mean we don’t misuse freedom and all that sort of thing. And the pursuit of happiness is not the achievement of happiness, all those disclaimers, but to hope is to believe that something better is possible, and is within the range of achievement…
Listen to the whole interview below:
Wilfred McClay’s best-selling American history textbook provides an alternative to the standard AP-level texts. In McClay’s words:
“We have a glut of text and trade books on American history. But what we don’t have is a compact, inexpensive, authoritative, and compulsively readable book that will offer to intelligent young Americans a coherent, persuasive, and inspiring narrative of their own country. Such an account will shape and deepen their sense of the land they inhabit, and by making them understand that land’s roots, will equip them for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society, and provide them with a vivid and enduring sense of membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the exciting, perilous, and immensely consequential story of their own country.”
Wilfred McClay is the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests focus on the intellectual and cultural history of the United States, with particular attention to the social and political thought of the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of American religious thought and institutions, and the theory and practice of biographical writing. A recipient of many teaching awards and honors, he has been the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education. Professor McClay previously served on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities. His book, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America, won the 1995 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history. Besides Land of Hope, he is the author of The Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America, Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past and Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Public Life in Modern America.
Professor McClay is a JMC board member.
Daniel Cullen is a Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College and directs the Project for the Study of Liberal Democracy, a program supporting teaching, scholarship and critical discussion of the principles of constitutional government and the philosophical sources of those principles in the Western intellectual tradition. He teaches a wide variety of courses in the history of political thought, contemporary political ideas. He serves on the board of the Association for Core Texts Studies and Courses, an international organization devoted to the advancement of liberal education. Professor Cullen is the author of Freedom in Rousseau′s Political Philosophy (1993), and has published various essays on Rousseau, Montaigne, democratic theory, liberal education and most recently, on the political philosophy of Roger Scruton. His most recent book is Liberal Democracy and Liberal Education (2016), which he edited and co-authored. He is currently writing a book on the philosophy of Roger Scruton.
Professor Cullen is a Senior Fellow for Constitutional Studies at the JMC and serves on the Center’s Academic Council.
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