By Hillsdale College February 14, 2020
The Great American Story, Part I
HUGH HEWITT: Morning glory, America. Bonjour, hi, Canada, greetings to my 400 affiliates all across the planet and listening online via HughHewitt.com, TownHallTV.com, or the Universe. That music means it’s The Hillsdale Dialogue, the last radio hour of the week. It’s when we go very big, very broad with Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College and, occasionally, as with today, one or more additional guests. This is the beginning of a three-part series over the next three weeks.
Indeed, we’re actually planning ahead, something we rarely do on The Hillsdale Dialogue and we will be replaying it on Thanksgiving of this year because it matters so much. It’s about history. And, joining Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College—and all things Hillsdale are collected at Hillsdale.edu—is Professor Wilfred McClay. Wilfred M. McClay is the Distinguished Teaching Fellow up at Hillsdale College. He is also the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Professor of History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma.
Professor McClay served for eleven years at the NEH—the National Council on the Humanities—as a senior member. His books include The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America, The Student’s Guide to U.S. History, and, new, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. We are here to talk about Land of Hope.
And we are joined as well by Kyle Murnen, who you’ve never heard before, even though he’s the Director of Online Learning at Hillsdale. So all of you who watch those amazing courses at Hillsdale.edu have Kyle to thank for them. Good morning, all of you, and welcome—a special welcome to Dr. McClay. Welcome to the sausage factory, as we call it. This is where we make radio, and I hope you enjoy the process.
WILFRED MCCLAY: It’s wonderful to be here, Hugh. Thanks for having me.
HEWITT: Tell us a little bit about Land of Hope, because we have long—those of us who have labored as I have, as a law professor with students raised on Howard Zinn—have long waited for the antidote.
MCCLAY: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. When I first began hearing talk from people about the need for an alternative, it really happened around the time that the College Board, the people who administer the all the Advanced Placement tests in the country, which is a sort of outrageous monopoly—but that’s another subject—they changed the standards for the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam. And they not only dumbed them down in some ways, but they eliminated stress on such trivial aspects of American history as the creation of Constitution, figures like James Madison, and a guy named George Washington. Seriously, and this was their initial foray into this.
And a lot of us were alarmed. There was a group of us got together and wrote a sort of open letter to the College Board imploring them to turn back from this. And they did to a large extent, temporarily—tactically. But I think we all could see that this was just tactical. And the change in the standards for European history have been almost worse than what’s happened to the U.S.
So, around this time—it was 2014, and I started hearing a lot of people talking about, We need a new textbook. And, whenever I was asked about it I would say, I agree, we need a new textbook. I hope you find someone who’s willing to do it.
And I finally succumbed to Roger Kimball, who called me on a Sunday afternoon, a time when I was utterly vulnerable to his persuasions. And I agreed to do it. And then I hung up the phone said, My god, what have I done?
HEWITT: What have I done? Land of Hope is magnificent. I’ve got to ask Dr. Arnn at this point so that we don’t embarrass the professor by having him say how hard it is. How hard is it to do a good textbook, Dr. Larry Arnn?
LARRY ARNN: Well, good morning, everybody.
MCCLAY: Good morning.
ARNN: Wilfred has made a major achievement. And books that are of an introductory nature can be the very best books or the very worst books.
ARNN: Because, if they’re good, then what they do is they tell you the basics as they are. And the first question is not the introductory student’s question, or the introductory adult’s question. It’s Socrates’ question: What is this thing?
And so, to identify that accurately—and then, after that, not obscure the differences of opinion about the facts that come later. But also, don’t dwell on those. Mostly just say, What is it?
So, I’ll give you my favorite example. There’s an argument about the meaning of the American Revolution. Were we just going to have the British system in almost all respects, or is this something significant? What did they fight for? And there’s enormous literature about that. Wilfred summarizes that in one paragraph. And then he finishes with a quote from somebody who fought at the Battle of Lexington. Why did you go?
And the man says, Was it the stamp tax? And he said, Never bought one of those stamps. Was it the tea? Didn’t drink that tea. They threw it all in the harbor. What was it? And he said, They intended to govern us, and we intended to govern ourselves. This is beautiful.
HEWITT: Yeah, it is.
ARNN: And it doesn’t obscure. Howard Zinn—it’s a long rant of the American Revolution seen from one side. 1619 Project by The New York Times is exactly the same thing. And it’s a radical distortion carried through. Here in this book—you can read this book with confidence that you will know what the views are, and that you can follow the train as it happens.
Kyle Murnen, you are the Director of Online Learning at Hillsdale College. You have produced this new wonderful video course. There are 25 lectures in it. We’re going to cover that over three weeks, which means we’ve got to cover roughly two lectures per segment, and we’re already behind because of Larry’s long-winded opening there. But it was a good opening. But I must say, Kyle—
ARNN: Shut up, you.
HEWITT: Kyle, how satisfied are you with this product? 24 lectures. Wow. 25 lectures.
KYLE MURNEN: Yeah, it was remarkable and a lot of fun. We originally conceived of it as a 15-lecture series. But Dr. McClay came in and started taping the course, and it was so compelling that we extende—
ARNN: Talk about long-winded.
MCCLAY: Wind me up and I go.
HEWITT: Kyle, I know that you know this because I know this from the radio: You know within one minute whether or not the presenter or the interview guest is going to be good. Despite knowing that, I’ve had Larry Arnn on for seven years. But you know from one minute. How long did it take you to figure out, I’ve got something here with Land of Hope and Dr. McClay?
MURNEN: Oh, as soon as he started. And that’s why we’re so excited about this course. So it was wonderful from the very beginning.
HEWITT: And how long, Dr. McClay, have you known Dr. Arnn, who, despite our exchange, is my friend. How long have you known him? How long have you been working with Hillsdale?
MCCLAY: Oh, well, being able to needle somebody is a sign of a best kind of friendship. Well, he probably doesn’t remember meeting me, but I met him back in the mid ‘90s when he was, I think, running the Claremont Institute, or well—he was, whether he used the title or not, he was running things. And Charles Kesler had invited me to come out and give a lecture on Federalism to—it was partly to his class. And it was a larger group.
And, anyway, I remember having nachos with Dr. Arnn at—maybe it was at the Claremont Inn or some place in Claremont, and having a great conversation about Winston Churchill, which, of course, is a subject about which he’s preeminently—and Martin Gilbert, with whom he worked, so I remember that. Dr. Arnn, you probably don’t remember that.
ARNN: I do remember that. Of course I do.
HEWITT: Well, needle does not begin to accurately convey. I’m his acupuncture doll, Dr. McClay. Dr. Arnn, when you brought him up to Hillsdale, with what intent? To teach history to the beginners or to teach them as they exited?
ARNN: Let me just register how much I value our partnership. You’re the one radio host in comparison to which I look really good.
But yeah. This book is an answer to a prayer. We were getting ready to spend half a million dollars trying to put together a text, because there isn’t one for high school. And then the very great Roger Kimball, a Hillsdale College parent, I might add—he snookered Wilfred into writing this book.
And we heard of the book. And we put the thing on hold we were doing. And we got the earliest copy of the book we could get. And we read it. And we said, Aha, this is the deal. And I’m intending—it’s not an accomplished fact yet—but I’m intending to take over Wilfred’s life.
HEWITT: Ah, excellent, excellent. And I am intending that Land of Hope, via these three weeks and our Thanksgiving show, become the text for every homeschooler and every private school in America. Dr. Arnn, is that not a good ambition for the book?
ARNN: Very much. And we have now—what do we have?—22 charter schools and two private schools under our command, or control, or influence. They’re going to use this book.
HEWITT: Land of Hope. Stick around for the next three hours, America. It’s The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Hillsdale Dialogue.
Welcome back, America, it’s The Hillsdale Dialogue on this Valentine’s Day-Thanksgiving Day special. I’m Hugh Hewitt. My guests today: Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College; Kyle Murnen, the Director of Online Learning at Hillsdale College—all of the course offerings, which we talk about that Kyle puts together available at Hillsdale.edu—all of The Hillsdale Dialogues dating back to 2013 available at Hugh for Hillsdale—and Dr. Wilfred McClay, who is a senior lecturer at Hillsdale College, and the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Professor in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma.
Dr. McClay, I also teach con law, and have for 25 years. And I always begin with my law students with a lecture called “A Brief History of Nearly Everything” that has within it the question, How did you get here? And that lecture takes two and a half hours, ‘cause it’s a trick question. “How did you get here?” is both personal—how did you actually get here? Which people brought you here? I got here via Switzerland, Scotland, and Ireland.
And then there’s an institutional—how did we get to this classroom in this republic with this set of laws? Most law students think history begins in 1803 with Marbury v. Madison. It’s so wrong, but it’s a problem, I think, that is endemic to the lawyers and probably the other professions in America. Do you see that problem?
MCCLAY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And I think the whole complicated legacy of the English—British—legal-political system, the product of, not just the common law, but the great wars and civil wars, established the principle of a constitutional monarchy—all these things, which you can treat on the level of a succession of ideas, but they’re also a succession of events. They are concrete in character. Yeah, there’s just very little knowledge of any of that.
HEWITT: And so, when did that disappear, in your view, from the standard curriculum that an American had to know to be considered an educated person?
MCCLAY: Well, I’m not sure. I think, if you look back at textbooks, say, in the early part of the twentieth century up to the 1950s—I think you would see it represented, not always very well.
And textbooks, of course, aren’t everything. One of the things we had, something very precious that was scorned at the time—but we had a wonderful middlebrow—that’s the term Dwight MacDonald invented—the middlebrow culture of very decent, and reliable, and factual, but also exciting, books. The Landmark Series—some of you with white in your hair can remember those kinds of books that were popular editions of history. They were exciting, they were biographical, they had strong narrative.
HEWITT: I love them. I love them. Yeah. My hair’s completely white. But I love them. They’re gone. Dr. Arnn, do you believe that that was intentional or was that simply the marketplace?
ARNN: Well, we have this phenomenon of everything in history, scientific history. Scientific history means isolating the process of history that causes things. And so, the American Revolution is an episode. Progressive thought in America is sometimes regarded as a happy episode. It’s turned against it more recent. But both agree that it’s an outmoded thing because everything in the past is outmoded.
And so we look back on the past with something like contempt. And so they don’t—the celebration of—who gets celebrated in history are people who are important to the advanced political causes of the day. And that means that they’re not looking at the story as a real set of human experiences that reveal the human potentials. And so, that’s why it’s disappeared.
HEWITT: And they lose, as a result, not merely the thread of the story; they lose an inspiration to citizenship. Forty-five seconds Dr. Arnn. That is the problem.
ARNN: That’s right—nothing more important than the teaching of civics in America today.
MCCLAY: Civics has been decoupled from history, and that to the detriment of both. We could unpack that a little bit.
HEWITT: We will, after the break. This is the short side. Civics has been decoupled from history to the detriment of both. I will remember that. Write that down during the break. We will come back to that. Don’t go anywhere, America. Civics has been decoupled from history to the detriment of both. I’m writing it down because, gosh, I’m 63. I can’t remember through a segment. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s The Hillsdale Dialogue.
Welcome back, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt. The Hillsdale Dialogue this hour is the first of three hours devoted to the brand new book Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story authored by Wilfred M. McClay, the distinguished teaching fellow at Hillsdale College and the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Professor—I love this—in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma.
All praise to G. T. and Libby Blankenship. And may others endow a history of liberty chair at Hillsdale and other places, because that’s an interesting—tell me about that chair, Professor—because that is a great name for a chair.
MCCLAY: Well, it is. And it wasn’t created for me. It was created by—the Blankenships are a very distinguished family in Oklahoma. He was involved in politics—was the attorney general of the state for a while. And it was created for a man named Rufus Fears, J. Rufus Fears, who was a classicist and a legendary teacher. Those of your audience who know—I’ll bet there are just a few—1,000—many thousands of listeners—who know that name because he’s the star of the teaching company.
HEWITT: Oh my goodness!
MCCLAY: Yeah, the outfit. He probably did ten…twelve courses with them on everything from Churchill, to the history of liberty, to books that change lives. And he was this massive figure at the University of Oklahoma. And when he died, I was invited to take his place.
HEWITT: Oh my goodness! You never want to follow—
MCCLAY: Which I have not done.
HEWITT: You never want to be that guy. Never take a job of a superstar, ever. It’s a bad idea.
MCCLAY: And for the first year I was at Oklahoma—people —I would introduce myself. And they’d say, oh, so you’re the new Rufus. You’ve got big shoes to fill, boy.
HEWITT: So Dr. Arnn—
MCCLAY: It’s very humbling.
HEWITT: —do you have a history of liberty chair at Hillsdale College?
ARNN: Not with that name in it, but, of course, that’s what they all are.
HEWITT: Well, we need to find some donor out there to come up with—endow a history of liberty chair. Let’s talk a little bit about what we went to break about. Civics has been decoupled from history to the detriment of both; Dr. McClay, you said that in the last segment. What did you mean?
MCCLAY: Well, a couple of things. The study of history, because—and as Dr. Arnn said, there’s this pretense that history can be a science. There is a way in which those of us who are practitioners of the field—in the field—don’t think about what we are doing as a discipline that’s designed to have a formative effect on young people and, particularly, on the way they regard their membership in this society.
And civics is, to an extent, if taught at all, is not seen as a discipline leading people into membership, into full possession of the story of America as part of their being. But it’s sort of how the bill becomes a law, the sort of procedural stuff that you describe to your students in your Con. law courses as partaking. Citizenship, it is about those things. Civics is about those things. But it’s also about attachment, attachment to the land that is yours, that is a part of your life, that is—and we train—we should be training young people, not just to know about their country, but to love their country.
HEWITT: That is a fascinating—that’s a radical claim that civics should have a formative effect. And Dr. Arnn, I think it would be quite controversial at The Chronicle of Higher Education and in the gathering of the critical legal studies groups and all that. They would reject the idea. They would say that that is imprisoning—that formative effects are terrible. But, in fact, that’s what we need.
ARNN: Yeah. For it to be controversial, it would have to be present. We’re long past that now. If you look, we hire adjunct professors here, sometimes. And, if you’re prepared to be a history professor at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale College is the place you want to be. And we can’t hire them all, alas. And, if, when they look for a job, there is no job—literally zero jobs advertised on an annual basis in America for somebody who just teaches the story of America.
It’s all now race, gender, and class. And so, if you want to—it’s the same in classics, by the way. If you want to teach the Spar—if you want to teach classics, you have the Spartans on race, gender, and class; and Athenians; and the Romans, everybody. See, that’s all there is now. So yeah. The effect of that, which pretends to be, in effect, to unite, in fact fragments the society.
HEWITT: Kyle, when you were taping this—a personal question—did you feel it had a formative effect on you?
MURNEN: Oh, absolutely. To be able to listen to Dr. McClay tell the story of America and to weave that together in such a compelling way, it has been informative for all of us listening to it.
HEWITT: And so, Dr. McClay, the key question—titles matter a lot for anyone who’s written a book. We labor over titles a long time. You call yours Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. I understand the subtitle. That’s a welcoming. It’s an ask. Why Land of Hope?
MCCLAY: Well, because I think you can’t really understand this country if you don’t understand that there’s a fundamental aspirational element in it. And this is not just in matters of principle. It’s also—if you look at the story, what you see is a succession of people coming to the Western hemisphere, coming to this continent out of a belief that in some way—and there could be religious motives, there could be secular motives—a lot of different motives—but in some way that their lives are not tied to the conditions of their birth, that they can become more. If given the opportunity, they can become more than what they were born into, that their possibilities in life are not limited by that.
I don’t have to stay in the same little corner of Italy and be a butcher like my father was, or whatever, or, worse than that, a peasant like my father was. But I can go across the seas and try my hand in a land of opportunity. That’s the most mythic version.
HEWITT: Lecture two is called “Beginnings.” Lecture one—and these are the video lectures available at Hillsdale.edu, which everyone can watch. And Land of Hope, you can get and give to your students and read for yourself. But it talks about Columbus. It talks about the hope of finding a trade route to the east. It talks about the importance of discovery. This is deep in the American genome.
MCCLAY: Yeah. I agree. I agree. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have the word hope in the title. And, also, I think—one of the things I do want to stress about this book is that I do not white out—this is a loaded phrase these days—but I don’t ignore or dismiss the negative aspects of our history. I don’t think people would be comfortable with a book that did that. I don’t think they would feel persuaded by a book that did that.
So I engage all of that. And I think there’s a lot that—I’m not going to praise Howard Zinn—but there’s a lot that people on the left have contributed to our sense of our fallibility as a culture, although I think they’ve done it disproportionately. And they missed the elements of triumph.
HEWITT: I’ll bet you there’s no other radio show in America that has spent more time denouncing John C. Calhoun and the Dred Scott decision, Dr. Arnn, than this one. I don’t know that Conservatives ever walk away from the scar that was slavery, or the treatment of the Native American culture, or the oppression of the people, or de facto-de jure segregation than people who are in love with liberty. I don’t think anyone beats us at this.
ARNN: That’s right. And let’s say the love of Abraham Lincoln and of his message or of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington—that is what gives you the equipment to denounce John C. Calhoun, because Jefferson himself, a slave holder, the Almighty has no attribute that can side with us in the contest between the master and the slave.
The principles by which to condemn the evils of America, which, as Wilfred says, are manifold—that they are in the principles of America. And, if you cut yourself off from those, you’re adrift.
HEWITT: Adrift. And you won’t get back. You will not get back. So, very quickly, before we go to break, Doctor, Land of Hope—when did it publish? Where is it available? I know the video course is up at Hillsdale.edu. And these conversations are at HughforHillsdale. But we’re taping it, originally, on Valentine’s Day 2020. It will re-air on Thanksgiving for as long as we’re on the air. So my question is, Where do people get it?
MCCLAY: Well, obviously, they can get it at Amazon, where everything is available. Barnes & Noble—I want to say something. They had not only—when the book was published—you asked when it was published. It was published in May of last year—of 2019. And there will eventually be a paper edition. We don’t know when. But Barnes & Noble has it in all their stores, or, at least, they did. And I think it’s still true. And a lot of good independent bookstores stores have it.
HEWITT: And how long did it take you to write?
MCCLAY: You can get it from Encounter Books, the publisher, at their website. And I think it’s not in airports yet. But I’ve been checking.
HEWITT: OK. How long did it take you to write this, Dr. McClay?
MCCLAY: Oh, a couple of years. It wasn’t fast enough for Roger Kimball. But, let me tell you, I didn’t have anybody standing over my shoulder and saying, Hey, we want to read this chapter and make sure you are in line with our doctrine on this—none of that, not a bit! I was the freest author ever.
And the poor folks who do the big textbooks—they make a lot of money off of them, but they pay for it in inability to look in the mirror because they’re really beholden to any interest group that comes along and says, If you don’t include this, we’re not going to support this for—
HEWITT: Oh, that’s so liberating.
MCCLAY: —for adoption in the state of x.
HEWITT: When we come back and we talk about “The Revolution of Self-Rule.” I will salute, again, your self-rule in the construction of Land of Hope. Don’t go anywhere, America. Dr. Larry Arnn, Kyle Murnen, and Dr. Wilfred McClay are this week’s guests on The Hillsdale Dialogue talking about the brand-new video series at Hillsdale.edu. Go there and enjoy it, and come back for the next segment and the next two weeks.
Welcome back, America. We are coming to the conclusion of the first hour of three hours devoted to the bran- new history textbook Land of Hope, authored by Dr. Wilfred McClay, presently lecturing at Hillsdale College, always at the University of Oklahoma. He joins Dr. Larry Arnn—Kyle Murnen, who is the Director of Online Learning—Dr. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College—all things Hillsdale at Hillsdale.edu. I want in this six-minute segment to Dr. McClay, to talk a little bit about “The Revolution of Self-Rule.” It’s lecture three in the 25-part lecture series that you do. The colonists who came to America from Great Britain did not come with merely material goods. They brought with them a legacy. What was that legacy?
MCCLAY: Well, it was a legacy of local institutions that embodied the principle—the republican principle—of self-rule. And yes, they were subjects of the king. And they thought of themselves in those terms, initially. But it’s an interesting process that part of what happens after the French and Indian War, which—Britain expends a tremendous amount of treasure, blood and treasure on the colonists’ part—is they say, Well, you guys need to start paying for some of this stuff.
And people say, Well, wait a minute. We’ve always ruled ourselves, particularly in matters of taxation. And there’s not really a good way of doing it from the locus of parliament. So, there you have the table set for a lot of what was to come as a—yes, there were all kinds of other factors involved. But the question of who would rule is really central to that. American colonists were used to ruling themselves. That wonderful quote that I end the chapter with in this rather unvarnished statement from a man who had fought in the Revolution—said we’d always ruled ourselves.
HEWITT: Yeah, and in my Con. law class—and I’ll turn this to Dr. Arnn—I always insist that we teach the beheading of Charles, and that we teach the Glorious Revolution of 1688, because 1776 is not without memory in the colonists’ mind of rising up. Do you agree that those are interconnected?
ARNN: Well, that’s Winston Churchill’s great theme. He turned the Declaration of Independence into a source of unity with the British. The principles of the Declaration grew up on the banks of the Thames. And by it, we lost an empire. But by it, we preserved an empire. And, of course, the greatest statesmen of the age in Britain, Burke and Pitt, were friends of the American Revolution. George III just made a mistake not listening to them.
HEWITT: And was there a chance? Was there a way that they could have avoided it by granting representation of the colonies in the Parliament, Dr. McClay?
MCCLAY: That’s a great question. Oh, go ahead. Dr. Arnn, you had something you wanted to say about that?
ARNN: Well, mostly just that I don’t think it was ever in us to be Canada. But we might have some of the constitutional arrangements of Canada if they had just behaved themselves. If you read the pamphlet in the beginning of the American Revolution, the early ones, they all express loyalty to the king, right? It’s been a good thing. Why are you acting different now? What’s this awful Parliament doing?
And so, they should have just responded to that. And they underestimated the difficulty of conquering a ragtag army for most of the Revolution in such a huge place, right? George Washington was very smart about that. So the king made a bunch of mistakes. Andrew Roberts is intending to write a biography, he tells me, of George III.
HEWITT: Oh my goodness!
ARNN: That’ll be delicious because I said, You’ve got to talking about what idiots those guys were.
HEWITT: Dr. McClay, could the Brits have avoided it?
MCCLAY: I don’t see how. But it’s interesting. It’s one of those things where something comes to fruition at a particular time, and the possibilities are limited. If we’d had the transatlantic cable, if transatlantic communications had been available, there might have been a way of holding things together. But part of what was also going on is you have this deeply federative principle of Anglo-American governance.
And now we use the word subsidiarity to talk about something very much like that. But there comes a crisis. The Civil War was an example of that—our American Civil War—where the federative principle has to have a final arbiter. There has to be a final say. And, with the distance, and the inability to communicate effectively across that distance, in that time, with that technology, I don’t see there really was a way. I think you establish in the hearts and minds of the American people that—and we have to remember this has existed for 150 years. This is not a kind of passing set of customs that they’re trying to overturn. So it’s very, very difficult to dislodge that once it’s present in the hearts and minds of the American people.
HEWITT: And the revolution would come.
MCCLAY: And they start to think of themselves as a people. That’s the other crucial thing, is, when do Americans start to think of themselves as Americans and not just as British subjects in different places?
HEWITT: We will come to that in the first segment of the next week’s episode of the second hour of our Thanksgiving show. Don’t go anywhere, America, except to Hillsdale.edu.
Go see Dr. Wilfred McClay’s brand new 25-part video series that’s available at Hillsdale.edu. Thank you, Adam. Thank you Ben. Thank you, Generalissimo. Have a great Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, whenever you’re hearing this. It’s The Hugh Hewitt Show.