Wilfred McClay writes for the Federalist about restoring America’s legacy by boosting understanding of world history.

When we celebrate the Fourth, we’re not only observing our nation’s birthday. We’re also celebrating the things that came into the world along with it.

When we obsess over our faults, we lose perspective and forget that aspect of our past. Never before had a country been built upon the idea that it was not the rule of kings but the dignity of each person that formed the basis of political and social order. We did that.

Our liberty is founded not upon the gift of a favored few, but on the idea that each of us has certain inherent rights, bestowed by God and woven into the fabric of nature itself. The magnificent fireworks we set off on this day every year symbolize one of the most explosive ideas in all human history.

Yet we take it far too much for granted. We assume that these commitments represent the default position of the human race. We’re surrounded today by evidence that too few of us know our history, and too many have been mis-educated to see only its flaws and appreciate none of its grandeur.

After years of teaching American history, I’ve come to the conclusion that to appreciate America properly, we need to know much more than we do about the rest of the world, and about how the American story compares with its real-world alternatives. That’s why I’ve often wished that every course in American history could begin with a reading of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago,” or Robert Conquest’s “The Great Famine,” or Jung Chang’s “Mao,” books that offer a horrifying glimpse into an alternative reality of tyranny, murder, and degradation that even the worst moments in our history cannot rival.