Benjamin Franklin's dilemma-one he passed on to the young United States-was how to achieve both greatness and humility at once. The humility James Madison learned as a legislator helped him to mold a nation, despite his reputation as a meek, timid, and weak man.
In our current age of arrogance, humility is associated with wimps and wallflowers-a sign of failure, not success. A culture of narcissism and a society of self-promoters has obscured our past, blinding us to the hidden strength of humility.
Surprisingly enough, American humility is not an oxymoron. George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass: each of these humble heroes reminds us of what we were as a nation, and what we can become.
No one-not even these towering individuals of American achievement-is naturally humble. Each of them had to contend with temptations including ambition, arrogance, and vanity. Out of these trials, their humility grew. The humility James Madison learned as a legislator helped him mold a young nation, despite his reputation as a timid and weak man. The humility of Abigail Adams fed her impossible resilience. Frederick Douglass's escape from enslavement, and struggle for the equality of all Americans, was a triumph of humility over humiliation.
In Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue, David J. Bobb traces the "crooked line" that is the history of humility in political thought. From Aristotle to Augustine, Machiavelli to Lincoln, humility has been the subject of critical debate. Is it an essential virtue or a debilitating weakness?
George Washington's humility, as great as it was, cannot substitute for ours today. As individuals and as a people, we must rediscover our greatest virtue."
Bobb's book is countercultural in the best sense of the word, showing that even some of the singularly humble and charitable moments in our American political tradition-such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural-need to be enriched by the genuinely Augustinian insight from which our tradition has characteristically been deprived.- Peter Augustine Lawler, Dana Professor of Government, Berry College; executive editor, Perspectives on Political Science; member, President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics -
Humility is essential to good character-and to our country. Only a humble nation-with humble leaders-will respect the people's natural rights. In this smart and lively book, David Bobb illustrates this virtue with the stories of five great Americans. And he reminds us that humility is at the core of our national creed of equality and liberty.- Paul Ryan -
Nothing defies political correctness and the prevailing zeitgeist as radically as the notion that humility remains an important virtue. Dr. Bobb not only makes the case for this dismissed and disregarded value but emphasizes its importance as part of the American national character. This is a provocative and highly original book.- Michael Medved, syndicated talk radio host -