“How can a set of ideas believed to be universal undergird a national identity?” During an American presidential campaign when the air of nationalism weighs heavy, this is an especially vital question. In this course we will engage it first by discussing Jill Lepore’s tightly argued short book, This America: The Case for the Nation. In it, she examines the liberal and illiberal currents of American nationalism and concludes with a call for a New Americanism – one that will require a “clear-eyed reckoning with American history.”
We will then turn to Joseph Ellis’ book, American Dialogue: The Founders and Us, in which he seeks such a reckoning as he relates the thoughts of Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington to contemporary realities concerning racism, economic inequality, governmental sclerosis, and foreign entanglements. Ellis’ approach calls for the founding fathers to take a step down from their pedestals as it draws them in to contemporary political debate. For us, it provides a stimulus to lively discussion.
Please recognize that this discussion intensive course will call for participants to commit to a close read of the two well-written books.