About Wilfred McClay

Wilfred M. McClay holds the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. His book, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America, won the 1995 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians. McClay received his BA from St. John’s College in Annapolis and his doctoral degree in history from Johns Hopkins University.

Can We Live Without Enchantment?

By |2021-05-11T15:23:43-05:00May 10th, 2021|Categories: Modernity, Mystery, Philosophy, Science, St. John's College, Truth, Wilfred McClay|

Is the presumptuous mapping of all material reality a boon to humankind, or will it prove a curse? Might an acknowledgment of mystery as a steady and enduring feature of our condition be key to our mental and moral health, and our sense of our own freedom? This essay was co-authored with Donald A. Yerxa.* [...]

The Case for the Liberal Arts: Stronger Than Ever?

By |2021-05-05T16:49:37-05:00May 5th, 2021|Categories: Classics, Education, Featured, Liberal Arts, Liberal Learning, Plato, St. John's College, Timeless Essays, Wilfred McClay|

The chief public benefit of liberal education is the formation of a particular kind of person, a particular kind of citizen, who robustly embodies the virtues of both inquiry and membership, and therefore is equipped for the truth-seeking deliberation and responsible action that a republican form of government requires. If we are to make any [...]

Recovering Our Legacy: The Many Uses of the American Past

By |2021-05-05T13:16:44-05:00March 8th, 2020|Categories: American Founding, Citizenship, Civilization, Conservatism, History, St. John's College, Western Civilization, Wilfred McClay|

“Citizenship” means a vivid and enduring sense of one’s full membership in one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the astonishing, perilous, and immensely consequential story of one’s own country. Today, we must redouble our efforts to make that past our own, and then be about the business of passing it on. We Americans [...]

In Search of the American Myth

By |2021-05-19T17:10:16-05:00April 27th, 2017|Categories: American Founding, American Republic, Education, Featured, History, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|

Since throughout history, strong and cohesive nations generally have had strong and cohesive historical narratives, how long can America continue to do without one? Do our historians now have an obligation to help us recover one?… American history needs to be seen in the context of a larger drama. But there is sharp disagreement over [...]

The Federal Idea

By |2021-05-05T13:14:26-05:00November 27th, 2016|Categories: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Featured, Federalist Papers, St. John's College, Timeless Essays, Wilfred McClay|

If we can begin to understand the sense of federalism as an idea rather than a fixed set of immutable relations, and moreover as an idea that is designed to balance and reconcile the competing claims of competing goods, then our debates over the promise of federalism may take on a new vitality and plausibility… Today’s offering in [...]

The Legacy of “The Closing of the American Mind”

By |2021-05-05T13:18:29-05:00May 20th, 2015|Categories: Books, Featured, St. John's College, Western Civilization, Wilfred McClay|

There can be no question of the signal importance and influence of The Closing of the American Mind. Any future historian who proposes to explain the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s will have to contend with the looming presence of Allan Bloom’s grand and gloomy tome—along with the words and works of the [...]

Communitarianism and the Federal Idea

By |2021-05-05T13:17:38-05:00May 4th, 2015|Categories: American Founding, Community, Featured, Federalism, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|Tags: |

The communitarian movement has arisen as an effort to address the evident and growing deficiencies of modern liberalism, which seems unable to think beyond the sovereign autonomy of rights-bearing individuals. But communitarianism has considerable deficiencies of its own. In particular, there is its propensity to use the language of “community” as a form of mood [...]

The Mystic Chords of Memory: Reclaiming American History

By |2021-05-05T13:11:38-05:00April 27th, 2015|Categories: Conservatism, Featured, History, Russell Kirk, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|

I am delighted to be with you this afternoon and to have a role in the Heritage Foundation’s worthy project of commemorating Russell Kirk’s many contributions to American intellectual life. My own task today is to explore the subject of historical consciousness in America—a subject about which, strange to say, Russell Kirk actually did not [...]

Finding Your Place by Ennobling the World

By |2021-05-05T13:10:12-05:00October 14th, 2014|Categories: Culture, Nature, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|Tags: |

When I bring up the subject of “place” to fellow scholars and administrators, I often encounter blank stares and gentle skepticism. Why, I’m asked, would people want to talk about…place? Why would anyone want to write, or read, or hear about such an abstract, ineffable, ethereal concept? But when I talk to students about place, [...]

The Anti-Jefferson: John Dickinson

By |2021-05-05T13:05:25-05:00February 11th, 2014|Categories: American Founding, American Republic, John Dickinson, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|Tags: |

The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson by William Murchison Few habits of speech and thought inhibit our appreciation of those who created the United States of America more than our tendency to refer to them as “the Founders.” Not that the Founders do not form an identifiable group, and not that they are undeserving of [...]

Hope or Despair? Roger Kimball & the Future of Culture

By |2019-11-07T12:47:11-06:00February 15th, 2013|Categories: Books, Culture, Jacques Barzun, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|Tags: , , |

The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia by Roger Kimball For those who cherish the life of the mind, one of the saddest events of 2012 was the death of the great historian Jacques Barzun. If a loss can be said to be pregnant with meaning, this one surely was. It [...]

The Federal Idea

By |2021-05-05T13:12:50-05:00January 5th, 2013|Categories: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Federalist Papers, Political Philosophy, Politics, St. John's College, Wilfred McClay|

The concept of federalism has been one of the principal casualties of modern American history. One has to look far and wide to find American historians and political scientists who do not believe, with the smugness and tenacity of dogma, that our federal institutions are lumbering relics of a past we outgrew over a century [...]

Go to Top