The Humility Course
Classroom Location: BASSLB L70
Spring Semester, 2013
Tuesdays 9:25-11:15 am
Office: Rosenkranz 343
Office Hours: 9:30-11:30 Monday nights at coffee shop meeting room or other locale.
Office Phone: 203-432-6109
Everyone says character is important to leadership but few people know how to build it. This course will survey one character-building tradition, one that emphasizes modesty and humility. The strategies covered here start from a similar premise—that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance and weakness. Character emerges from the internal struggles against one’s own limitations.
We will start in the current moment. How do we conceive of character building today? We will then trace this humility tradition in its different forms over the centuries—from Moses to Augustine, to Montaigne, Burke, Niebuhr and so on. We will make special effort throughout to connect the themes of each session to practical politics and leadership.
General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman” by Ed Cray; Publisher: Cooper Square Press (June 6, 2000)
“Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do And Who We Should Be” by Mark Schwen and Dorothy Bass; Publisher: Eerdmans Pub Co (May 15, 2006)
Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy by Donald Kagan; Publisher: Free Press (October 1, 1998)
“Augustine of Hippo” by Peter Brown; Publisher: University of California Press; Revised Edition (August 7, 2000)
“How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer” by Sarah Bakewell; Publisher: Other Press (October 19, 2010)
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke; Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Reissue edition (June 15, 2009)
“The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist” Dorothy Day; Publisher: HarperOne (December 6, 1996)
The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niehbuhr; Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 1, 2008)
“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman; Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2011, Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin; Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher (1993)
Grading and Requirements:
Participation: Students are required to attend class and be prepared to discuss the readings. 20% of the final grade is determined by class participation
Assignment 1: Mid-Term paper of 2,500 words. Students will be asked to grapple with the indictment of their generation made by Christian Smith, Alasdair Macintyre and Jean Twenge. Due Date: February 26. Deliver Hard Copy at end of class. 40% of the final grade.
Assignment 2: Final Paper. 2,500 words. Students will be asked to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of one of the character codes covered in the course. Due April 29. Delivery by email. 40% of the final grade.
Late Assignment Policy: Extensions will be granted only in case of emergency, out of respect to those who abide by deadlines despite equally hectic schedules. Late submissions without extensions will be penalized ½ letter grade per day (B+ to B, e.g.).”
Cheating and Plagiarism: Please familiarize yourself with the University’s policy on cheating, plagiarism, and documentation. It is your responsibility to understand and abide by this policy. If you do not understand or are uncertain about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, please ask. Any cases of suspected plagiarism will be reported directly to the appropriate dean, and documented plagiarism will result in a complete loss of credit on the assignment.
Course Readings and Schedule
Week 1: The Reticence Code (January 15)
How did American leaders in the 1940s and 1950 conceive of their obligations to their country? We will survey episodes from the lives of George C. Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower and various “Wise Men.” We will pay special attention to those who attended elite prep schools and universities.
Reading: General of the Army: George C. Marshall by Ed Cray. Chapters 1-6, 15-19, 23-24, 35, 41-42
Week 2: The Cultural Shift (January 22)
Why did America reject the values of the Protestant Establishment? What replaced it? We will explore the cultural shift that took place between 1950s and today against the character code of the old elite, including the thinking of Carl Rodgers and a more meritocratic system.
Reading: The Organization Kid, The Atlantic Monthly by David Brooks
Passages From “Leading Lives That Matter” edited by Mark Schwen and Dorothy Bass
Week 3: The Effects (January 29)
What have been the effects of this cultural shift? Has there been a rise in narcissism? Is the culture less effective at transmitting a character code? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this culture?
Reading: Passages From Leading Lives that Matter. Edited By Mark Schwen and Dorothy Bass
Week 4: Pericles (February 5)
We begin our historical survey with Athens. What was the Homeric Honor Code? How did Greeks conceive of hubris? We conclude with an examination of Pericles, the man who sought eternal fame through service to the nation.
Reading: Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy by Donald Kagan
Week 5: Moses (February 12)
Moses was the opposite of a Greek hero. He was described as the most humble man on earth. How does the bible portray heroism? We look at the Jewish formula of character building through obedience to law. We look at the way the rabbinic tradition has interpreted the struggle between internal goodness and the evil urge.
Reading: The Book of Exodus. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/exodus-rsv.asp
Week 6: Augustine (February 19)
We look at how Augustine conceived of pride and sin. We look at the way he built a moral code around the virtue of humility
Reading: Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown Chapters 1-12, 15-20, 22, 26-31
Week 7: Montaigne (February 26)
From moral and religious humility, we begin our shift to epistemological humility. How did Montaigne believe we can best understand ourselves? How did his way of observing the world differ from grander and more systematic methods?
Reading: How to Live by Sarah Bakewell Pages 1-221
Week 8: Burke (March 5)
Edmund Burke argued that the power of reason is weak and that people are wiser to rely upon just prejudices and tradition. Given his tendency to distrust reason and rapid change, how did Burke believe politics and reform should be pursued?
Reading: Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke Parts 1-8
Week 9: Florence Perkins and Dorothy Day (March 26)
Perkins grew up in Maine and was inculcated with a sense of mission at Mount Holyoke. After witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire she devoted herself to worker safety and public service. Day was a young suffragette who founded the Catholic Worker and many other institutions of social action. How did Perkins and Day turn Christian humility into political service?
Reading: The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Week 10: Martin Luther King and Reinhold Niebuhr (April 2)
Niebuhr devised an Augustinian vision for modern times, holding that by his sinfulness man is a problem to himself. He argued for political action, while understanding that power is inherently corrupting. How did Niebuhr believe power should be used? Why did he oppose idealism? How was MLK and the civil rights movement influenced by Niebuhran thought?
Reading: The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niehbuhr
Week 11: Seemliness (April 9)
Modern societies have become economically and socially more unequal. We will explore status competition and the desire for social distinction—executives who feel unabashed when asking for lavish salaries. We will ask whether it is proper to put a Yale window sticker on the back of your car. We will look at codes of social modesty and ask whether modest people make better business leaders
Readings: Online essay: Level 5 Leadership by James Collins. Harvard Business Review
Passages from Leading Lives That Matter
Week 12: Cognitive Modesty (April 16)
Over the past thirty years we have learned a great deal about the operations of the brain. One core finding is that much of our thinking happens below awareness at a cognitive level that is fast, associative, sloppy and sometimes misleading. How should we make decisions and calculate risks if we can’t even be sure of our own thinking.
Reading: “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (Relevant sections to come)
Week 13: Fate (April 23)
In the 1940s researchers began a longitudinal study tracing the life courses of Harvard Men. These men had every advantage, but a third of them had their lives ravaged by alcoholism and other setbacks. However well one is trained for life, one cannot control life. We’ll look at the Grant study and other studies of how lives develop.
Reading: What Makes Us Happy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. The Atlantic
The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin
Life Reports by David Brooks (Three New York Times columns)
April 29 FINAL PAPER DUE