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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Humility" (David J. Bobb)

TITLE: Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue
AUTHOR: David J. Bobb
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2013, (230 pages).

True greatness comes not with power and might, but with humility and grace. As far as America's founding fathers are concerned, the exercise of humility is the key difference between ancient Rome and the America they want. In this book, Bobb looks at how important humility is with regards to the building of a nation. Throughout the book, Bobb emphasizes that "greatness and humility need not be opposed to each other." Rather, humility herself is powerful in ways that the powers at different eras, including those of this age still fail to comprehend. People such as Plato who believes that the "magnanimous man" is only answerable to self. There is Machiavelli who sees humility more as an instrument rather than a virtue, or Thomas Hobbes who sees humility more as a threat to any politics.  Bobb then pits them against Jesus, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas' view of how humility is not just a means to an end, but the very essence of true humanity.

As an executive director of citizen education for Hillsdale College, and lecturer in politics, Dr David Bobb helps us to see that humility is not just the founding virtue of true greatness, it is vital for virtuous governance in any country. In order to flesh out his thesis, Bobb sets forth five examples of great individual leaders whose hallmark for success is humility over all other traits. George Washington was not just the first American President, he was also one who not once, but twice, opted to leave power when he was at his peak. He could have held on to power. He could have worded the constitution for his own benefit. He could have created a dynasty. Yet, he chose to stay away from the limelight when he could. The second example is James Madison (1751-1836), also known as the "Father of the Constitution." Madison believed that one can never stop improving, and sought to create a constitution that will protect the weak, and loved to operate behind the scenes without the limelight. In fact, he was a proponent of limiting power rather than increasing power. The third example is Abigail Adams, wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams (1735-1826), also the President's closest confidante. She helped shaped the modesty and humility of her husband. Instead of climbing the social ladder of influence and power, Abigail's magnanimous spirit helped raise the character of John to be a better man. The fourth example is Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the United States. Born with humble roots, Lincoln was able to recognize ambition and arrogance, and how the two can combine to flip one to the wrong side of morality. By being committed to hear from various people, even his opponents, he became one of the nation's most respected leader, showing us that the way to true greatness is humility and modesty. Finally, Frederick Douglas (1818-1895), a black man committed to the abolitionist movement, fought injustice not with arrogance but modesty. For him, "slavery was a self-perpetuating cycle of disordered pride and debased conduct." Even among his fellow blacks, he recognized forms of pride and arrogance. His case was a delicate balance between humiliation of being a slave and humility when fighting slavery. One can fight for truth, but how one fights is another matter altogether.

Bobb's book is a timely reminder that if we are not careful, we may enjoy the success of Rome and also suffer the downfall caused by Roman arrogance. America is not there yet, but it can dangerously copy the fateful path of Rome.  We all need to be reminded that arrogance and pride are closer than we think. Only the weapons of humility and modesty can move us farther away from these threats. This book is indeed an unlikely biography of America's truest and greatest success. It is not the power and might that defines a nation. It is the virtues and the values of humanity that will help a nation flourish and be an example for the rest of the world to follow. As I reflect on this, I am reminded once again that leaders are important, doing the right things are important, and fighting for what is right is also important. Let these not hide the fact that behind each righteous act or deed lies a person who needs the God of righteousness for help. Greatness and humility can co-exist.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Thomas-Nelson and BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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