Wilfred McClay

Wilfred McClay

Victor Davis Hanson Chair in Classical History and Western Civilization
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. In all nondemocratic political theories the state or the ruler is invested with uncontrolled power for the sake of achieving order and unity in the community. But the pessimism which prompts and justifies this policy is not consistent; for it is not applied, as it should be, to the ruler. If men are inclined to deal unjustly with their fellows, the possession of power aggravates this inclination. That is why irresponsible and uncontrolled power is the greatest source of injustice.”
— Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness

Faculty Information

Additional Faculty Information for Wilfred McClay


Johns Hopkins University
Ph.D. in History, 1987

St. John’s College (Annapolis, Maryland)
B.A. cum laude, 1974

Editorial and Board Appointments

Senior Fellow, Trinity Forum, Washington, DC, 2006–

Board of Directors, Ethics and Public Policy Center, 2004–

Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2004–

Publication Committee, National Affairs, 2009–

Fellow, Society of Scholars, James Madison Program, Princeton University, 2002­–

Editorial Board, Journal of American Political Thought, 2011–

Member, Board of Trustees, and Vice-Chairman of Academic Council, Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History, 2007–

Senior Fellow, Trinity Forum, Washington, DC, 2006–

President, The Philadelphia Society, 2021-22

Honors and Awards

Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, August 2019–May 2020.

Distinguished Teacher/Educator Award, Chattanooga Chapter of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, 2013.

William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, August 2009–May 2010.

Recipient, 2006 Richard M. Weaver Prize for Scholarly Letters, awarded annually by the Ingersoll Foundation.

Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, 2004–2016.

Adjunct Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, 2000–2004.

Danforth Graduate Fellow, Danforth Foundation, 1980–84.

Authored and Edited Books

Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (Encounter Books, 2019).

Young Reader’s Edition of Land of Hope (Encounter Books, forthcoming June 2022).

Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America (Encounter Books, 2014). Edited with Ted V. McAllister.

Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past (Eerdmans, 2007).

Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in Modern America (Woodrow Wilson Center/Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Edited with Hugh Heclo.

A Student’s Guide to U.S. History (ISI Books, 2000).

General Editor, with Jean Bethke Elshtain and Ted V. McAllister, of American Intellectual Culture (Rowman and Littlefield), a book series devoted to American intellectual history. For further information see https://rowman.com/Action/SERIES/_/AIC/American-Intellectual-Culture.

The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (University of North Carolina Press, 1994). Winner of the 1995 Merle Curti Award in Intellectual History from the Organization of American Historians.

Edition, with new editorial introduction, of John W. Burgess, The Foundations of Political Science (Transaction, 1994).

Edition, with new editorial introduction, of Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public (Transaction, 1993).

Selected Articles

“What the 9/11 Memorials Missed, and What They Revealed,” in Mosaic, September 20, 2021, found at https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/politics-current-affairs/2021/09/what-the-9-11-memorials-missed-and-what-they-revealed/.

“History in the Age of Fracture,” in Gary J. Schmitt, ed., The Professions and Civic Life (Lexington Books, 2016), pp. 181-205.

“The Strange Persistence of Guilt,” in The Hedgehog Review, Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2017, 40-55.

“From Moral Threat to Symbolic Promise: Shifting Views of Popular Culture,” in Modern Intellectual History, Volume 11, Number 2 (2014), pp. 491-504.

“Institutional Diversity and the Future of American Higher Education: Reconsidering the Vision of David Riesman,” in Timothy Leahy Simpson, ed., The Relevance of Higher Education: Exploring a Contested Notion (Lexington Books, 2013), 199-212.

“Still the Redeemer Nation,” in Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2013, 20-31.

“Memory and Sacrifice in the Formation of Civic Consciousness,” in Elizabeth Kaufer Busch and Jonathan W. White, eds., Civic Education and the Future of American Citizenship (Washington: Lexington Books, 2012), 37-48.

“The Tocquevillean Moment…and Ours,” in Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2012, 48-55.

“Sources of Renewal in Twenty-First Century America,” in Charles W. Dunn, ed., American Culture in Peril (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2012), 135-53.

“Abolition as Master Concept,” in Andrew Delbanco, ed., The Abolitionist Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 135-52.

“Honoring Faith in the Public Square,” in Christianity Today, November 2012, 25-29.

“The Catholic Moment in American Social Thought,” in R. Scott Appleby and Kathleen Sprows Cummings, eds., Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012), 135-56.

“Of Ashtrays and Incommensurability: Reflections on Herbert Butterfield and The Whig Interpretation of History,” Fides et Historia, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2012), 1-14.

“Reinhold Niebuhr and the Problem of Religious Pluralism,” in Richard Harries and Stephen Platten, eds., Reinhold Niebuhr and Contemporary Politics: God and Power (Oxford, 2012).

“A Left-Handed Salute,” in Charles R. Kesler and John B. Kienker, eds., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012), 58-64.

“Religious Perspectives on the Problem of Progress: Revisiting Butterfield, Dawson, and Niebuhr,” in Donald Yerxa, ed., British Abolitionism and the Question of Moral Progress in History (South Carolina, 2012).

“Liberalism after Liberalism,” in First Things, May 2012, 25-32. (Symposium on the future of liberalism, conducted by Institute on Religion and Public Life, New York, NY.)

“The Desert’s Austere Grace,” in First Things, Number 219, January 2012, 19-21.

“The Living City,” in First Things, Number 218, December 2011, 19-22.

“A Far Other Butterfly,” in The New Atlantis, Number 33, Fall 2011, 111-24. (A study of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Artist of Society.”)

“Memorializing September 11th,” in National Affairs, Number 9, Fall 2011, 1-13.

“The Place of Religion in the American Public Square: Christianity, Civil Religion, and the Contribution of Richard John Neuhaus,” in Andrzej Bryk, ed., Krakowskie Studia Miedzynarodowe, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2011), 215-28.

“The Enduring Irving Kristol,” in First Things, July 2011.

“The Particularities of Place,” in The New Atlantis, Number 31, Spring 2011, 33-40.

“In Search of the Next Great American Songbook,” in Naomi Schaefer Riley and Christine Rosen, eds., Acculturated: 23 Savvy Writers Find Hidden Virtue in Reality TV, Chic Lit, Video Games, and Other Pillars of Pop Culture (Templeton Press, 2011), 119-29.

“Whig History at Eighty,” in First Things, January 2011, 47-53.

“The Tocquevillean Moment,” in The St. John’s Review, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Spring 2011), 19-43.

“The Moral Equivalent of War?” In National Affairs, Fall 2010, 134-45.

“The Christian Historian and the Idea of Progress,” in John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller, eds., Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 316-44.

“L’accoglienza di Machiavelli in America: Un caso di trapieanto culturale” (The American reception of Machiavelli: A Case of Cultural Transfer), in Roberto de Mattei and Bruce Cole, eds., Identità nazionale, memoria storica e le scienze umane (National Identity, Historical Memory, and the Humanities) (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and National Endowment for the Humanities, 2009), 76-90.

“The Unclaimed Legacy of George Santayana,” in James Seaton, ed. Character and Opinion in the United States (Yale University Press, 2009).

“What Do Experts Know?” in National Affairs, Number One, Fall 2009, 145-59.

“Revisiting the Idea of Progress in History,” in “Moral Progress in History: A Forum,” in Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society, September/October 2007, 11-13.

“Idol-Smashing and Immodesty in the Groves of Academe,” In Character, Winter 2006, 68-75; reprinted in Philip Zaleski, ed., The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007. I was interviewed on this subject on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, airing June 10, 2006: the interview, entitled “A Modest Little Article on Virtues,” can be heard at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5476305.

“The Secret of the Self,” in First Things, Number 158, December 2005, 29-33. Reprinted in Philip Zaleski, ed., The Best American Spiritual Writing 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 177-86.

“David Riesman and the Problem of Diversity in American Education,” Journal of Education, Vol. 186, No. 1 (2005), 1-9.

“Christianity and Dual Loyalty,” in Society, Vol. 42, No 4, May/June 2005, 17-19.

“The Naked Public Square Now: A Symposium,” in First Things, No. 147, November 2004, 11-27.

“Land of Hope and Fear: Nathaniel Hawthorne and the American Past,” in Weekly Standard, August 16/August 23, 2004, 31-35. Reprinted as “Hawthorne and the American Past,” in William Kristol, ed., The Weekly Standard: A Reader, 1995-2005 (HarperCollins, 2005), 471-80.

“The Church of Civil Rights,” in Commentary, Vol. 117, No. 6, June 2004, 43-46.

“Science and Self-Government,” a contribution to a symposium on “Biotechnology and the Good Life,” in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, Number 4, Winter 2004, 17-22.

“The Soul of a Nation,” in a special number of The Public Interest entitled “Religion in America,” Number 155, Spring 2004, 4-19.

“The Mixed Nature of American Patriotism,” in Society, November/December 2003, 37-45.

“The Ph.D. Octopus, 100 Years On,” in Books & Culture, November/December 2003, 6.

“Emerson and Us,” in Weekly Standard, September 1/September 8, 2003, 35-39. (A response to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

“Tradition, History, and Sequoias,” in First Things, March 2003, 41-47.

“Introduction,” to Patrick Swan, ed., Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, and the Schism in the American Soul (ISI Books, 2003), 1-10.

“The Shadow of Mastery,” in Touchstone, March 2002, 19-21.

“The Continuing Irony of American History,” in First Things, Number 120, February 2002, 20-25.  This essay also appears in John Wilson, ed., The Best Christian Writing 2004 (Jossey-Bass, 2004), 99-116.

“Teaching Religion in American Schools and Colleges: Some Thoughts for the 21st Century,” in Historically Speaking: Newsletter of The Historical Society, November 2001, 8-15.

“America—Idea or Nation?” in The Public Interest, Number 145, Fall 2001, 44-58.

“History for a Democracy,” in Wilson Quarterly, Volume 25, No. 4, Autumn 2001, 99-106.

“Individualism and Its Discontents,” in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 77, No. 3,  Summer 2001, 391-405. A shorter version of this essay also appeared in The Responsive Community, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 2001, 14-25.

“The American Scholar: Kenneth Lynn, 1923-2001,” in Weekly Standard, July 16, 2001, 37-39. (His life and work.)

“Remembering Santayana,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer 2001, 48-63. (A biographical account and analysis of the American philosopher George Santayana.)

“Clio’s Makeshift Laboratory,” in First Things, Number 111, March 2001, 23-27. This essay also appears in John Wilson, ed., The Best Christian Writing 2002 (Harper San Francisco, 2002), 114-29.

“Two Concepts of Secularism,” in Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2000, Vol. 24, No. 3, 54-71.  This essay also appears under the same title in a longer, and fully annotated form in a special number of Journal of Policy History entitled “Religion, Politics, and Policy,”  Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 2001), 47-72, and in Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in Modern America (Johns Hopkins, 2002), 31-62.

“The Judeo-Christian Tradition and the Liberal Tradition in the American Republic,” in T. William Boxx and Gary M. Quinlivan, ed., Public Morality, Civic Virtue, and the Problem of Modern Liberalism (Eerdmans, 2000), 124-36.

“Is America an Experiment?” in The Public Interest, Fall 1998, 3-22. This essay also appears in an extended and annotated form in Gary Gregg III, ed., Vital Remnants: America’s Founding and the Western Tradition (ISI Books, 1999), 1-32.

“Fifty Years of The Lonely Crowd,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 1998, 34-42.

“Communitarianism and the Federal Idea,” in Peter Lawler, ed., Community and Political Thought Today (Praeger, 1998), 101-108.

“Mr. Emerson’s Tombstone,” in First Things, Number 83, May 1998, 16-22. This essay also appears in extended and annotated form in Bruce Frohnen and George Carey, eds., Community and Tradition (Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 85-101.

“Filling the Hollow Core: Religious Faith and the Postmodern University,” in Gregory Wolfe, ed., The New Religious Humanists: A Reader (Free Press, 1997), 231-40.

“Historical Writing in an Age of Interpretation,” Academic Questions, Vol. 9, No. 5, Special Issue 1997, 55-58.

“The Soul of Man Under Federalism,” First Things, Number 64, June/July 1996, 21-26. Also reprinted in The Good Society (the journal of the Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society), Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall 1996, pp. 16-20.

“Where Have We Come Since the 1950s? Thoughts on Materialism and American Social Character,” in Robert Wuthnow, ed., Rethinking Materialism: Perspectives on the Spiritual Dimension of Economic Behavior (Eerdmans, 1995), 25-71.

“The State of American Higher Education: A Conversation with David Riesman,” Academic Questions, Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 1994-95, 14-32; and Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 1995, 32-48.

“Edward Bellamy and the Politics of Meaning,” American Scholar, Vol. 64, No. 2, Spring 1995, 264-71. Also reprinted in Current, Number 375, September 1995, 31-37.

“Historical Research on the Refugee Intellectuals: Problems and Prospects,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 7, No. 3, Spring 1994, 513-24.

“Clio in 2013: The Writing and Teaching of History in the Next Twenty Years,” Academic Questions, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 1993-94, 20-28.

“John W. Burgess and the Search for Cohesion in American Political Thought,” Polity, Vol. 26, No. 1, Fall 1993, 51-73.

“The Strange Career of The Lonely Crowd: Or, The Antinomies of Autonomy,” in Thomas L. Haskell and Richard F. Teichgraeber, eds., The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays (Cambridge, 1993), 395-440.

“Lewis Mumford: From the Belly of the Whale,” American Scholar, Vol. 57, No. 1, Winter 1988, 111-18.

“Two Versions of the Genteel Tradition: Santayana and Brooks,” New England Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3, September 1982, 368-91.


Wilfred M. McClay holds the Victor Davis Hanson Chair in Classical History and Western Civilization at Hillsdale College. Before coming to Hillsdale in the fall of 2021, he was the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, and the Director of the Center for the History of Liberty. His book, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America, received the 1995 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history. Among his other books is 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, Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Public Life in Modern America, and Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. He served for eleven years on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is currently is a member of the U.S. Commission on the Semiquincentennial, which has been charged with planning the celebration of the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026. 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, and served as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Rome. He is a graduate of St. John’s College (Annapolis) and received his Ph.D. in History from Johns Hopkins University.