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Institute’s fall series will explore the meaning of America in 2018


The Institute for Freedom & Community’s fall series on Patriotism, Nationalism, and the Idea of America will explore the meaning of America in 2018 from a variety of different perspectives.

Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri has carefully curated an assemblage of speakers and programming opportunities in an effort to answer the fall theme’s most pressing questions: What kind of role should America be playing on the world stage? What kinds of values and experiences can unite Americans from all different backgrounds? What do American citizens owe to themselves, to their families, and to other Americans?

Answers to these questions are neither simple nor easy, but they are all the more important to discuss in our current political climate.

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency have urged in various moments a revival of American patriotism and nationalism,” explains Santurri. “His clarion call has been ‘America First,’ and this attitude is indicated in a range of policies and policy proposals related to immigration, trade, international security, and other things. Trump’s election and presidency concur with other revivals of nationalistic spirit worldwide, and prompt thoughtful Americans to consider carefully the idea of America, the role of the United States in the international community, and the obligations of American citizens to other Americans and to humanity at large.”

The institute’s fall speaker series will explore these topics from different angles to promote thoughtful discussion around the identity of America and our place in it. All lectures are free and open to the public. They will also be streamed and archived online.

New York Times columnist and best-selling author David Brooks will kick off the season’s speaker series by presenting a keynote address at St. Olaf College on September 24. In a New York Times opinion piece, Brooks articulates a version of the American dream that, as he puts it, “says no to tribe, yes to universal nation, no to fences, yes to the frontier, no to closed, and yes to the open future, no to the fear-driven homogeneity of the old continent and yes to the diverse hopefulness of the new one.”

Widely acclaimed historian and public intellectual Walter Russell Mead will follow on October 30 with two lectures titled “History, American Greatness, and the State of Israel” and “Examining ‘America First’: Nationalism and Jacksonian Democracy in the 21st Century.” According to Santurri, Mead has made prominent “the idea that Trump’s ‘America First’ proposals and their associated policy predilections, in effect, resurrect the spirit of  ‘Jacksonian democracy,’ which he distinguishes from Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian and Wilsonian perspectives.”

St. Olaf alumnus and global media expert R. Eugene Parta ’62 will round off the fall lecture series with his November 15 talk on “U.S. Global Media and American ‘Soft Power’: Cold War Successes, Current Challenges, An Uncertain Future.” After working for many years for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Parta is especially well situated to describe how American values are embodied in the policies and practices of government-supported international communications,” Santurri says.

Established at St. Olaf in 2014, the Institute for Freedom and Community encourages free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues among students, faculty, and the general public. To that end, the Institute will sponsor a range of fall programming opportunities, in addition to the lecture series, to further cultivate civil discourse within the context of the liberal arts.

Other fall programming includes a Constitution Day celebration on September 17; a student workshop facilitated by Better Angels, an organization that works to depolarize America through meaningful conversations across the political aisle; and an October 4 performance by the Theater of Public Policy, which uses improvisational comedy to advance the understanding of complex ideas and issues.   

Please visit the Institute’s website to learn more about the fall speaker series, to sign up for event reminders, or to receive regular updates and information about Institute programming through the quarterly newsletter.