Garry Wills
Lecture Date: 3-19-1996
Click the link below to listen ot his celebrity's lecture:
Interview: John Eadie and William Hixson introduce political historian Garry Wills. Hixson praises the breadth of topics covered, as well as the erudition, in Wills's writing. The topic Wills discusses in his lecture is leadership and the scarcity of leaders in our society today. He enumerates four reasons why we perceive leaders as being in the past but not in the present. One of these reasons is that we tend to glorify the past while the flaws of the present system remain glaringly obvious. Another reason is that people's conception of a leader is a person without goals who leads passive followers. This type of leader is a myth, and we would not want him if he did exist. The role of the leader is to appeal to the goals and interests of individuals, as it is impossible to come to a moral consensus between all members of a society. Wills states that the lack of perceived leadership in our country is partially due to the constantly changing needs and interests of our society. Social unrest and social change not only highlight the need for leaders but is actually the result of effective leaders. Electoral leadership is only one variety of leadership, and the elected usually take on the role of caretaker more than that of heroic leader. Wills discusses various civil rights movements throughout U.S. history, such as women's rights and minority rights. These movements are all the result of bold and imaginative leadership. While Wills is answering questions from the audience, he proclaims that political labels are superficial dividers and a waste of time. Democracy, says Wills, works and gives us the representatives that we deserve and want for the most part. Another topic that is covered is the role of the president's wife in government. He discusses the careers of many key political figures, such as Jesse Jackson and explains the difference in politics between the Civil War days, when Lincoln was in office, and the present. Wills shares the importance of religion in politics but the necessity of the separation of church and state. He then expounds on gun laws and the second amendment. Wills concludes his lecture by discussing the administrations of former presidents, such as Kennedy and Eisenhower.
Biography: Garry Wills, raised in Michigan in a devout Catholic family, is a cultural historian and author who has written nearly thirty books over his career. Some of his works include Nixon Agonistes (1970), Reagan’s America (1987), Why I Am a Catholic (2002), and Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power (2003). He has won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (1992), an analysis of the legendary Gettysburg Address, as well as two National Book Critics Circle Awards and the 1998 National Medal for the Humanities. Wills is a history professor at Northwestern University.