CITIZENSHIP Part I: Claiming Magnanimity

Citizenship.  What is it, exactly? When Linda Johnson asked me what Mason used for the subject of citizenship at a presentation about 6 years ago, I was only able to give her the stock answer of "Plutarch".  Since then, it is a subject that I keep coming back to again and again and have learned that it is so much more than just Plutarch.  Last month I delivered a talk at the CLUSA conference titled, "Inspiring Heroism and Claiming Magnanimity:  What Charlotte Mason Said About Citizenship".  To think it all started with Linda's question...

Magnanimity.  This was part of Mason's rationale  for her programs, including and especially for the subject of citizenship.  She said,  "...we feel that Milton was right in claiming magnanimity as the proper outcome of education."  Mason, Vol. 6 p. 268

Read this thorough definition from Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary:

MAGNANIM'ITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

Isn't that a beautiful definition?  Can you see why this trait was so important?  Another famous author, C.S. Lewis thought so, too.  In The Abolition of Man, he talks about the chest of man as the seat of magnanimity and that this magnanimity works as the liaison between visceral and cerebral man.  He states that the denial of the emotions that are found in the eternal had led to "men without chests."

In regard to our students who we hope grow up to be magnanimous citizens, Mason states:

"There is another form in which the magnanimous citizen of the future must be taught the sense of justice. Our opinions show our integrity of thought. Every person has many opinions whether his own honestly thought out, or notions picked up from his pet newspaper or his companions. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he saved a life because there is no more or less about duty.Vol. 6, p 61

I think our country would be a different place right now - a better place - if magnanimity had been a priority in our schools.  I'm just getting warmed up, so if you're interested in the subject, watch for future posts beginning with the word "citizenship".  And if you're not interested, just delete the email or skip the post.  I hope you are interested and I think you might be surprised at some of my findings!

Further reading from the "Citizenship" series:


  1. I'm so glad you're posting about this - it's an area I haven't delved into and was one of the Childlight talks I was hoping to catch on audio. What a great definition! Looking forward to reading all your posts on citizenship.

  2. hmmmm... very interesting. my husband and I were just discussing a related issue, in that there is little honor sought or patriotism expressed nowadays and I think this is the root cause?

    amy in peru

  3. For my high schoolers I have them read Charlotte's own "Ourselves" for citizenship over the course of several years in tiny itty bitty chunks. It stretches them, helps them think things through, and provides much discussion between them and myself. I look forward to more posts on this topic.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to a new word - magnanimity! I don't think I have ever heard this word and am still working on saying it! I'm not sure I can improve upon what I would want for my children at the end of my years of teaching them. What would it matter their choice of profession or lot in life if this is the makeup of their character?

    I remember a day when I was first talking to you about homeschooling and I said I wanted to give my children a Christian education. You said what does that mean? I really wasn't sure what I meant except to give them a Biblical world view. I had no real idea how to go about it. Since then I have been amazed to realize how much "Christianity" can be integrated in education with out the "canned Bible tacked on to textbook" approach. I'm saying all this because magnanimity isn't a "Bible" word but it summarizes what Christlike living is. Thanks for opening my eyes to "The Godward movement of the Large Room."

  5. What a wonderful post, Nancy! Truly I agree with your conclusion that magnanimity is a beautiful word! Thank you for each of these thought provoking posts! What a treasure trove awaits as I dig through the archives!