If you want to assess the state of humility among politicians today, just think about how often you hear leaders admit that they are wrong and then change course. This is how Dr. David J. Bobb of Hillsdale College, speaking at a Heritage event, framed the topic of his new book Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue.
The book explores why so many of today’s leading politicians lack humility and identifies how America’s greatest virtue may be recovered. Most Washington observers these days would agree with Dr. Bobb’s diagnosis that our politics are often marked by excessive ambition and pride. It’s not hard to see the general tendency toward sanctimony and self-righteousness among our political leaders when, for example, they are continually looking to popularity polls.
The story of humility today is also one of misunderstanding: Many leaders today confuse humility with political irrelevance and powerlessness. History tells a different story and, through the examples of men like George Washington and James Madison, demonstrates that overcoming one’s pride is an essential component of statesmanship.
That process of overcoming pride is key to understanding humility, Bobb explains. “No one is naturally humble [whereas] pride comes easy to everyone.” Even for the political leaders at the center of Bobb’s examination, such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, humility is a habit that must develop over time through adversity.
Dr. Bobb’s book serves as a wake-up call to today’s politicians, showing them that—far from being a sign of failure—humility is the common thread that unites America’s greatest heroes and most successful leaders. It encourages them to admit when they are wrong—and perhaps even correct course—which often requires putting others ahead of themselves, the ultimate act of humility. If only Humility were assigned reading for Congress.
Samantha Summers is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.