tv Q A CSPAN January 12, 2014 11:00pm-12:00am EST
followed by the first question time of the year with british by minister david cameron. then a look at the violence in south sudan. later, potential global threats this year around the world. >> this week on "q&a," author and educator david bobb discusses his new book titled "humility: an unlikely biography of america's greatest virtue." >> david bobb, in your book on humility, you say humility is a wimpy virtue. what did you mean by that? >> it is often seen as that. i make the argument that it is a virtue of strength. i think humility has fallen on hard times. it is seen as a virtue as something for wimps and
wallflowers. people that are going to get run over. in order to be successful, conventional wisdom says you have to be assertive, bold, even putting yourself out there, self-promoting. i think humility countermand that. it councils a different disposition and attitude. >> define it. >> utility is an honest examination of oneself. you can admit you are imperfect, your imperfections, and think about how one might put others first in thought, word and deed. it is the opposite of self-aggrandizement. >> what if you examine yourself and conclude you are terrific? >> muhamed ali said it is hard to be humble when you are as great as i am. i think there is a lot of that kind of mentality. it can't be a real
self-examination. if anybody is honest with themselves, they know they make mistakes. they are imperfect. the tendency is to gloss over those things, to think that one can just get by, that one's mistakes don't have to be admitted. that you don't have to change your ways. i think the really honest person will admit also that they are not their own creator. that everything about their own lives is not of their own making. >> in politics, i want to show you some video of senator jeff sessions on the floor of the senate. it will be fairly obvious why i played this. > when i first came to washington considering running for the senate, i met at a republican mãnchen and happened to say a thing or two.
i said i could think of no greater honor than to represent the people of alabama in the greatest deliberative body in the history of the world. this is a great liberator body. that is our heritage and it is being eroded. it is not disputable that it is being eroded. >> start with the greatest deliberative body in the history of the world. what are you hearing there? >> i just finished a course for hillsdale college in politics on the liberation. it is the claim that has often been made. the question is, what does deliberation constitute? i think it requires that willingness to really listen. even to compromise. that kind of thing is not seen as much today. in democracy, our elected officials have a very difficult the lemma. they have to put themselves out there as the best, the one that is worthy of winning an election.
even more worthy of choosing, making decisions on behalf of other people. it is an immense esponsibility. i think that the senator is repeating something that has often been repeated but i know that he and many of his colleagues would lament what has been happening with the filibuster and say the possibility of deliberation is much more limited. the greatest part there out of that use of the word "greatest" is interesting. he senator is saying something that typifies the challenge that americans have had. regiment franklin early on rustled with the temptation of pride. i think he mirrored early america. in his own life, he saw that he would be quick to cut people off. he cut short elaboration. he would want to win the argument and not necessarily hen the person over.
he saw that with the help of a buddy, a friend who said ben, you are kind of arrogant. franklin recognized that he needed to become less prone to cut people off, more ready to really engage. to have that meeting of two people and more that constitutes deliberation. franklin for the course of his career, set himself on the path and in part helped america be on the path, in which we could be more humble. franken also recognized that there was a challenge in this. if you want to be humble and you strive to be humble, as soon as you think you are humble you are probably going to be proud of that fact. that was franklin's dilemma. >> what got you interested in writing a book that is named "humility?" >> the political use of humility
has been of interest to me for some time. hen you look to elections, fter an election, the victory, you find the winner say, i am humbled by the results of the people's vote today. then there is nothing thereafter that is humble. humility has been a thing that we have pay a lot of lip service to but there has not been a lot of reflection. when you look to the founding generation, it reflected a lot on the virtues that were going to be vital for republican self-government. as i started digging into the topic more, it occurred to me that there were a lot of different mirrors. the most famous is machiavelli. he doesn't pay any heed to humility. what his point is, you don't need virtue so much as the willingness to do whatever it takes. go back 1000 years before that to augustin. he puts in his mirror for
princes, humility. front and center. you have to be humble to be a good leader. >> you write about a lot of people from years ago and augustin is one of those. you say with an electric mind for language, augustin became what he described as "a salesman of words in the market of rhetoric." explain who augustin is and why did you want to use him in the book? >> augustin was a fascinating figure. an early church father. he came to christianity through a hard won journey. one of the point i make in the book is that pride comes to people naturally. humility does not. nobody is born naturally humble.
augustin's confessions which is a book that resonates very much today, speaks of his journey through what he called the school of pride. he was a brilliant wordsmith. he was a speechwriter for the top people of his age. he is somebody that didn't have any time early in his life for things of faith. he had a very dramatic conversion. it was a moral conversion, a spiritual conversion. he realized that the only way he was going to live with true success in life was to live for god. he changed everything about his life. that early quest for glory, for fame, for honor, he took it in a different direction. he was called to the ministry. he came to become a bishop in north africa, what is now algeria. augustin was living at a time when the roman republic had
degenerated into an empire. he saw this empire further crumbling because the invading barbarians had really sacked rome. the blame was cast on christianity. by this point, augustin was a christian. he resented that. he said, it is not fair. you are blaming christianity for his thing that has happened. the charge was that christianity has made, through its emphasis on another god among another king, has taken away people's attention from this world. it has made men week. augustin wrote a big book, his biggest of all called "the city of god" to counteract that. his introduction is really interesting. he says, i am writing this book to convince the prideful, the arrogant of the power and excellence of humility.
that is such an interesting task, to write a whole book and your audience are the people you're trying -- they are charging christianity, your religion with the downfall of rome. >> did you read that 1000 pages? >> i did. i wrote a doctoral dissertation at boston college and worked my way through "the city of god." >> 1000 pages written how many years ago? >> this was written in the fifth century, after christ. it has what seem like a lot of different digressions. his main argument is to say there are two kingdoms, the city of god which you might think of the city as the humble and the city of man which is the world we live in. he is trying to reconcile, how can we be as christians members of the city of god and yet live in this world? it is the classic tension that people of faith feel throughout the world. >> in your book, you talk about -- you have chapters on james madison and abigail adams and abraham lincoln and frederick douglass and on george washington. why?
why those five people? >> i think each of them represents a different aspect of humility. as importantly, a different aspect of healthy pride. humility is not self abasement. it is not thinking less of oneself. it is also not think into much of oneself. for each of these figures, i think we have had the tendency o think of their struggle -- take george washington for example -- as one that probably wasn't as hard as maybe others. this is a guy that had enormous ambition.
he had to struggle to tame that ambition. he had to struggle to tame his pride. abigail adams, james madison, each had a different set of circumstances. abraham lincoln and frederick douglass too. the friendship they forged. by talking about our early eriod, the american founding and the critical junction in our nations history, the civil war, wanted to bring out different spects of the combination of
humility and greatness of soul. >> you said something about george washington, that he would be worth $500 million in today's dollars. >> that was an estimate that a couple of economists came up. he was an immensely wealthy man. he strove for that. he was not born into all of that wealth. he came into it through inheritance and marriage. he wanted that. he was a man on the make as a young guy. his ambition was so great that i think he really strove for greatness. that kind of thing, when you want to be famous, when you want to have notoriety, the question is -- are you doing it for the right reasons? is it truly going to succeed? i think washington recognized that he had to think larger, roader than his own ego. to think about the common good. as he chastened his pride but was no less ambitious, he could be ambitious for the right things. assume more power and not let that power go to his head. that is the remarkable example that washington gives us. >> i want to run some video from 2005, the late howard zinn, a professor who wrote the people's history of the united states. here is what he said about some of the founders.
>> we don't mean that the united states is simply unique. all countries are unique. its exceptionalism suggests more than that. it suggests superiority. it suggests something that all of us living in the united states have encountered a lot, and that is self-congratulation. we are fond in the united states of congratulating ourselves for how wonderful we are. e are the best, we are the greatest, we are the strongest, we are the most prosperous. > what you think of him? >> howard zinn was a historian. he died a few years ago.
he wrote a book that since its writing more than a quarter-century ago, is enjoyed every year. it sold a couple million volumes. two words, guns and greed. you can see in that clip that he is not very fond of our founding come in a very fond of any period in american history. he thinks that we have been dedicated to a lot of the wrong things. he goes through in his narrative and challenges the prevailing one. he sees himself as responding to the traditional view of america as exceptional. i think a little different approach -- i have been critical of howard zinn because i think he paints with too broad a brush. merican exceptionalism can sometimes be that version he describes. that is problematic. it is also problematic to not recognize, to deny that there have been great accomplishments in american history. properly understood, i think american exceptionalism recognizes that we were
born. we were created with the commitment to equality and liberty. more than any other country on earth, we have sought to secure that for our citizens and the citizens of the rest of the world. our cause is the cause of all nations. that kind of universalism that you see in george washington's life, in james madison's work, in abigail adams' striving was haracterized not by that chest thumping, but rather a striving to be great. you would have to earn that. the way to earn that would to be construct an edifice that could truly stand the storm. george washington, about a month into the constitutional conventions when things were looking really difficult, wrote a letter.
he said, we can lay the foundation, we the assembled people in philadelphia writing the constitution. but the people have to raise the edifice. here is a certain remarkable exceptionalism in that promise. it is not going to be the work of one indispensable founder. it is not going to be the work of a small band of people who enrich themselves. i don't see the evidence of that. rather it is the work of the people as a whole carry on from generation to generation.
>> go back to howard zinn -- in the book -- he was here a number of years ago. why has that book -- you said it only printed 4000 copies in the beginning and sold 2.2 million since then area why is it so popular among academics? >> it is not as popular among academics. many of them even on the left are distancing themselves from the book. zinn was a social historian. it has been very popular with secondary schools. i think its popularity owes to its widespread adoption by teachers and readership in general. it tells a good tale. it is a narrative, a story. it is a story that i find fault with and disagree with but too many of our history textbooks written by committee are oring. they bore our kids to tears. that has been a real problem. we have to recognize that american history is full of
amazing tales. all kinds of devices as well. it is a story we have to relate all of. zinn focuses on the warts. i don't think that is the best way to write history. >> who wrote a book in your opinion about american history that is not on the left but maybe on the right that you think is good? >> i think that larry schweikert's book on a patriots history of the united states does a good job. bill bennett has a two-volume history of the united states. it is tough to find textbooks by major publishers -- they are often written by committee -- but those two books in general, they are of the right. >> you said you got a phd at boston college and howard zinn was a boston university at the same time. where did it start for you? where were you born? >> in fairfax, virginia and moved to minnesota when i was three years old. i grew up in the midwest in the twin cities area. i very much consider myself a midwesterner at heart. >> your parents? >> my father is a cpa, retired
now. my mother, a dietitian was mainly at home with her children. >> what impact -- how many kids were in the family? >> two of us. i have a younger brother. >> what impact did your parents have on the way you think today? >> very much. television was not allowed but sparingly. dinnertable conversations were about the day's headlines, what was happening in the world. a challenge to engage that way and become interested in things of politics and civics, religion and the intersection of those things. sometimes we hear that the things we ought not to talk about our religion and politics. those are the main things we talked about. >> how religious were your
parents? >> very much so. religion has been very much a part of their lives and mine as well. >> how did you get to hillsdale college? >> i visited a lot of different places. what drew me to hillsdale was the fact that it is a small liberal arts college, it is dedicated to having full professors teaching the students, it has been fiercely independent. it was started in 1844 by abolitionists. they had a remarkable commitment to equality. they wrote one of the first charters, best as we can tell, in the world that said there can be no discrimination on the basis of sex or race. even though they were free will baptists at the time, the school has disassociated from that, they did not discriminate on the
basis of religion. you have a school in 1844 accepting everybody regardless of race or sex and graduating women and americans of african descent long before most other institutions. frederick douglass spoke on our campus twice. it was full of this abolitionist fervor. >> one word you use in your book a lot is "mag amenity." what does it mean? >> greatness of soul. it is the latin word that captures the idea that aristotle talked about. aristotle was a greek philosopher. he wrote a book that really laid ut his view of ethics, the way you should be in order to align your soul with that which is virtuous. aristotle characterized as one of the twin peaks of virtue, this idea of greatness of soul. in his telling, it is a virtue that you might think of this way -- you are great and you know you are great. you are not going to stoop, you're not going to bend, but
you are not going to lord your superiority over those lesser than yourself. it was a virtue that was seen on the battlefield and also within politics. for aristotle, it was one of those things that really distinguished a person from the asses. >> again, when did you start thinking about writing a book about humility? what was -- can you go back to the very beginning? >> i would have to say that in hat seminar i mentioned in graduate school, it really struck me that there is a tension between the ancient world, aristotle, and augustin. in that view of magnanimity, think of it as fixed nature. some people are better than others even by birth, that is a very problematic thing from the perspective of modernity. for aristotle, that was the way things were. humility didn't much factor in his view of that greatness of soul.
it is hard to imagine a magnanimous man stooping to wash the feet of those who were anything. yet that is the message that jesus gave in his early ministry. humility is the thing you need. there is a way in which that inverted everything. it through the whole order on its head. it sparked a religious following and it sparked even a kind of political philosophy. it was that tension that i wanted to explore. >> in your book -- in the chapter on jesus and socrates, for jesus unlike aristotle the only sure remedy was external to oneself. you say there were many in those days that thought that was the epitome of arrogance. hy was it not?
> one can believe that jesus was the christ or not. if he is god, then that is a true claim. if not, then it is an arrogant pretension. that is what is at stake. and franklin when he was trying to think through humility, he wrote out a little phrase -- imitate jesus and socrates. what franklin admired is that while there is that claim, that all-important claim that jesus made, there was also a moral example and a moral exemplar that jesus made. whether you are like thomas jefferson and ben franklin who did not believe that jesus was the christ, or you are george washington and many of the other founding fathers who seems to affirm that, there was a recognition that there was something really amazing about
the moral example that jesus set. >> speaking about politicians, on any given sunday, you can see jimmy carter in church in georgia talking about the bible and teaching. ou can go to the george walker bush time of the white house where he reportedly read something from the bible every day. jimmy carter and george w. bush don't think alike on a lot of things. ow do you justify how somebody comes out on this and who do you believe?
>> that is a great question. the political philosophy of christianity is much contested. when you look at the words of jesus, it doesn't seem like he is preaching a political message. there are many political ramifications but i think the problem that comes is when politicians think that they know the mind of god. there is in that a kind of pretension. there is in that a kind of hubris. i think lincoln is a very good example -- take his second inaugural address. there is a humility before god. our task, he says, is not to invoke god on our side but to make sure that we are on the side of the divine. lincoln referred to himself as a humble instrument in the hands of the almighty. you might say that is kind of a little bit of a humble brag, a claim that wouldn't seem to be merited. i think his actions bore it out. he wasn't trying to say to the nation, i know the will of god and i am going to impose it on you. anytime a politician does that, run. >> you write in that chapter, as lincoln made clear -- he was aware of the power of arrogance. when do you determine when somebody is magnanimous, when they are humble, when they are arrogant? >> it is hard. don't pretend to know the heart of these men and women
that i write about. i think what lincoln does there -- as a young man, he gives a speech in springfield, illinois and he is reflecting on ambition. it is a kind of self reflection. what he is reflecting on is the dilemma that the nation is in. are we going to live according to freedom or tyranny? e reflects on politicians. he says there are certain types that would settle for a city council seat. there are others like alexander, caesar, napoleon, they are going to disdain the beaten path. i think lincoln was one of those.
he was aware of himself even at that time that there was a starring of ambition. his law partner said he is a little engine of ambition, knows no rest. humility wasn't the word that everybody around him associated -- >> you say, his assistants agreed that lincoln was almost wholly lacking in utility. >> lincoln is a very controversial figure. the argument i make in the book is that over the course of his life, particularly in the maturation that he went through in the civil war, he came to a place in his own life where he recognize not only humility before the divine, but he exemplified throughout much of is adult life, particularly in his political insurrections but also in personal dealings, a humility with others. there is a way in which he
combines with that a greatness of soul. when can was willing to admit when he was wrong. that is a rare thing. he wrote general grant before the two men had ever met, a letter. they disagreed about what the general should do regarding vicksburg. the general went ahead with his plan and the president wrote him and said, "i was wrong. you were right." lincoln did that over and over again in his public life. he was not perfect. nobody is. 2.2 there humility, doesn't point to the fact that they were paragons of that virtue. >> you have an example of somebody in your lifetime that you would say is humble? >> i have seen this in the work of the current governor of indiana, mike pence.
he is somebody that has a strong sense of self, a confidence in the mission, but a voting record that he is going to stick by. he has been a member of the house of representatives and now serves as governor of the hoosier state. somebody i have seen interacting with students in a number of other settings, really does a fine job of meeting people where they are at. as an elected official, he really understands what servant leadership can entail. >> here is another of today's politicians talking about some of the same things you are talking about. here is governor chris christie. >> through our conduct, our deeds, our demonstrated principles and our sacrifice for each other and for the greater good of our nation, we become a country emulated throughout the world.
not just because of what we said, but because of what we have done it at home and abroad. if we are to reach real american exceptionalism that can set an example for freedom around the world, we must lead with purpose and unity. >> do people around the world really want to be us? >> when you look to the constitution, the answer would be no. they don't emulate our constitution. they don't emulate the forms of government. yet when you look to the immigration patterns, they want to be here. they want to enjoy the liberty and equality that the united states has set itself up as representative. i think there is a lot of times that term american exceptionalism which has become associated with so much meaning and controversy, can imply that
verbal equivalent of the foam finger, the number one. properly understood, i don't think that is what america has been about. take our great seal, the great seal of the united states quotes from the aeneid. it uses a latin phrase that means, he has smiled on our beginnings. he referring to the divine. you can take that one of two ways. the first would be, we are blessed, we are uniquely chosen by god. the second would be he has smiled on our beginnings, he has allowed us to get off the ground. we are a nation, we have a lot of problems ahead. we have the stain of slavery that we have not contended ith. if we don't do our job in a
self-governing form of overnment, that providential mile may not always be there. >> why do so many politicians say we are the greatest in the world? when you look at all the statistics that come out on our education, and math we are 27th in the world and when you look at poverty, we have 30 million people in poverty or even more than that. go down the list. the politicians' ratings are so low today. >> i think it is an easy escape to duck some of the problems we do have. at the same time, i think you will find more republicans than democrats but as of late, the president has talked in unequivocal terms about american exceptionalism. it has been a long-standing trope and it does allow for that shifting of the emphasis. at its best, an appeal to american exceptionalism would
accurately reflect the founding challenge which is, you set up a standard and you try to live by that standard. it is not saying we have achieved it for all time. you still have to keep it going. you have to improve. i think a lot of claims to american exceptionalism myth that. hey can talk about it as the lmost chosen people. >> abigail adams, there are a couple of quotes i want to read. one is a letter from abigail adams to john adams. do you have any idea how much time they spent apart? >> in fact, for the first 20 years of their marriage -- they were married 54 years -- it was half that time. it amounted to a very painful, sometimes lengthy period of time. or than 1000 letters that abby and john sent back and forth. you can almost feel like they were tear stained. she came to resent the fact that he had to be gone so much. >> this is a letter from her to
him. what was the point of that and also, of you writing a chapter on abigail adams? >> abigail was at that time feeling the sting of john's long absence. she wondered if the time he devoted to public things was coming at the expense of private even at the same time that she was foursquare with him in his public service. her example of undergoing and enduring the harshest of conditions -- this is the woman who was managing their farm area she stayed behind when he went off to become president to maintain their household. it was an enormously difficult thing. she was very keen from the time that they even dated on helping him. he wrote early on and said, you are going to have to help me counterbalance my ill effects, the things i am not very good
at. on thing he knew he wasn't very good at was humility. he was aware of this. it was a constant problem in his public life. it was a constant claim against him. he didn't really care about others as he should have and he was -- she in her own way set an example in her life. that is what i really dmire. it is a virtue that is not often given to women. i think in abigail adams's case, she really displayed a greatness of soul and at the same time a real modesty and humility of spirit. >> here is another thing you
wrote. she did not much appreciate the puppy dog treatment. >> abigail recognized in her amous letter, remember the ladies which came in the context of a discussion of slavery, african-americans, but also the enslavement that women had to endure. they couldn't own property. this was a source of, she thought, a great injustice. she wished that to change. you can understand that attitude and that sentiment that she and so many others had, which was, you talk about the plight of the united states in terms where you portray us as the enslaved israelites to the english egyptians and yet you care not enough to emancipate the slaves and to give women their property.
she wanted that to be taken seriously. she also knew that there were many challenges and decisions that had to be made simultaneously. >> what are you doing right now? >> i am serving as president of the bill of rights institute in virginia. t has a nationwide outreach to educate young people about the constitution. >> what is the funding? >> we get our money from all over the country, foundations, private individuals, thousands of folks that see the need to reach out to high school teachers and high school students.
we have a network about 30,000 teachers. >> what were you doing before? >> i served as the founding director of a center started by hillsdale college. it is called the ellen p kirby junior center for constitutional studies and citizenship. i was with hillsdale college for a little over a decade. >> where is hillsdale? >> the middle part of the state, south central, isolated in that state. it is a rural county of about 40,000 people. >> in 1988 our current vice president was running for president and our cameras were in a kitchen in claremont, new hampshire. i want to show an exchange between the fellows asking a question and his response. put it in context with your
book. >> what law school did you attend? where did you place in the class? >> i think i have a much higher iq than you do. i went to law school on a full scholarship, the only one in my class that had a full academic scholarship. in the first year, i decided i didn't want to be in the law school and ended up in the bottom two thirds of my class. then i decided i wanted to stay and ended up in the top half of my class. i won the international moot court competition. i was the outstanding student at the end of my graduation. i would be delighted to sit down and compare my iq to yours. >> what is your reaction? >> i thought you were going to show one of his 15 minute questions. that is quite a mouthful there.
he obviously even in public reflection on that recognized that it wasn't one of his finer moments. politicians are pressed often. why do you think you were so good for this office? it is hard because they have to dissemble, they have to say there are lots of people that are qualified. it is hard to come right out and say that. it is not often that you see, i have a high iq, therefore i should be in office. >> what do you think the public reaction would be if politicians just said, i am what i am. i am nothing special but i will do the best i can to represent you. >> i think they would love it. there is a way in which we have set up this impossible series of
expectations especially for our president, but for elected officials as a whole. they are going to come in, save the day, and when it doesn't appen, we give congress a 9% approval rating and the president a 39% approval rating. the expectations have to be lowered. that is part of what is really quite amazing about the american ounding. it is not that the founders hemselves said, don't expect much from government. it is, government isn't going to be the main driver of our liberty. it is going to be civil society.
the government exists to do certain things and it better do them well. if it doesn't, nothing else will be properly situated. the main area of activity is in the private sphere, the civil society. in the election of local officers and the carrying out of duties at the local and state levels. there is even in that a measure of modesty, recognizing that it is not possible for people from washington dc to run a nation of 310 million people. >> you start your book -- i assume you know about it -- the history of the roman empire. >> it is a really remarkable work. he comes to a lot of different topics but one thing that struck me is that in his indictment of the immoderate greatness of rome, he issues what we might take as a kind of warning. >> when did he write it?
>> he was writing a couple hundred years ago, recognizing as a historian a kind of overall reflection on the descent of the roman republic into its imperial existence. >> what did you see in rome that you would warn us about today? >> the main thing is, the founders were very concerned and they were self-aware about the roman republic becoming an empire. they wanted to avoid that. i think that we see today a lot of the doom and gloom about the united states. are we headed in that direction? i don't want to overemphasize or overstate that. i think there are many things about this country that are still great. many things that we need to work on. the thing that really struck me about the founders' awareness is that to maintain self-government is immensely difficult. that slipsliding into tyranny, that overreach, that overconfidence, that pride that goes before fall, it can happen really easily in politics. we have to be always aware of that danger. > you end the book by saying america is not rome. yet. there is no guarantee of
national greatness. the arrogance of our age supposes that prosperity is perpetual and success inevitable. america's history of humility tells us otherwise. as individuals and as people we must rediscover our greatest virtue. how are we going to do that? >> i don't have any easy 12 or 13 step plan. i say 13 because benjamin franklin was in his early life, he looked about and thought that he needed to improve things. he wanted to become more frugal, more orderly. he set out on this mission to become better in a bunch of different areas. as i mentioned earlier, he added humility to his list. it was a list of 12 and he added a 13th. there was no easy way to become humble. we have to work on it in our own lives and reflect on it in our national life.
i hope, have some happy consequences as well. >> george washington had his civility rules. how many were there? >> i think 110. these were things he took up that had been formulated by the jesuits about 100 years before washington. he learned these things learning penmanship. they had a constant theme. ethics was very important. not putting yourself forward, not playing the peacock as one of the rules put it. washington was very mindful of that throughout his life. he didn't want to pretend to be something. that is what allowed him when it came to that decisive moment, is he going to lay down his sword, he had that commission for 3114 days. that is a long time. you're given dictatorial authority. he did not abuse that. that was the reason he was really rightfully recognized as america's -- >> if you look around the entertainment world and apply your book on humility to the
biggest successes and one of the biggest successes in our lifetime is rush limbaugh. he spends his whole time on the radio telling you he is the greatest in history. that it is the excellence in broadcasting and all that. your is a clip from one of his discussions about american exceptionalism. how do you explain that these kind of folks are so successful? >> we are created with a natural yearning to be free. it is other men and leaders who have suppressed that and imprisoned people. the u.s. is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was
supreme and dominant. that is what led to the u.s. becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed evil to be the best they could be on like it had ever happened. that is american exceptionalism. wooten doesn't know what it is. obama doesn't know what it is. it got trashed in the new york times. >> i think what rush limbaugh is saying there has good truth to it. america did put individuals front and center. they were also individuals in a community and a sense that this was going to have to be done together. a lot of the self-promotional is him we see, sometimes part of a persona, some of it not -- > who knows when he is
tongue-in-cheek? >> it is tough. he has incorporated humor very ably. that is one of the reasons he has been able to be on the air and so popular for so long. some of that humor comes at its own expense. some of it doesn't. sometimes -- moving back and forth between and sometimes being serious and sometimes humorous, one thing he is always serious about is american exceptionalism. >> if you watch television and all the news business, we are the greatest, we are number one, the best in the world, world headquarters. they all have these slogans. does it work? >> it seems to. does the sizzle of ratings constitute working over the long haul? i am less confident in that. think of what social media has done. twitter, facebook, these things are media made for the promotion f oneself.
putting oneself out there and saying, i am the indispensable one. there is a way in which we have to be concerned. the animating part of my work. how do young people not get the wrong message from all of this? how do young people grow up and a proper sense of who they are? there is a lot of concern. every generation laments about the ones to come. they think too much of themselves and they are too big for their britches. you have to have models of real humility. i think the media culture we are in today doesn't do a very good job of that. >> getting a teacher in front of me is always fun to do something like this. it is a quiz. the kirby center at hillsdale college which you ran, who is allen p. kirby? >> he is a new jersey businessman who has been interested in liberty throughout his life. he was interested in citizenship and the constitution and the intersection of those
things. what virtues do we need as citizens to keep our constitution going? >> did he find the whole thing? >> he funded a large portion of it. we have a building that is not far from c-span, a couple of blocks from the u.s. supreme court. we took three row houses built in 1892, we finished that project about three years ago. >> you were the founding director of the charles r and kathleen k hoagland center for excellence. ho are they? >> they are businessmen and women for whom family video was their enterprise. a series of video rental chains across the country, mainly based in the midwest. harlie hoogland had a store in
illsdale, michigan and came to he college and said, i would like to be involved in the work you are doing. the college and the president of hillsdale got talking with mr. hoogland and established this program for high school teachers. the effort of that center is to revive civic education. >> you recently completed your phd at boston college where you received the erhardt and bradley foundation fellowships. do you know who they are? >> i wish i could give you a better history of both of them. based in michigan and wisconsin respectively, they are involved in a lot of educational efforts, working to enhance free society today. >> and you don't know either one of them? >> i don't know them personally. i don't think i could do justice to who they were. >> you are the recipient of a weaver fellowship from the intercollegiate studies institute area who was weaver?
>> he wrote a book that was on, ideas have consequences. a thinker in the middle part of the 20th century tried to figure out what really is the lasting significance of liberty in the west? where did modernity go wrong? >> last chapter of your book is about frederick douglass. why? >> frederick douglass was a remarkable and i think not well enough known american today. douglass endured the humiliation of slavery. he knew unrelenting toil, hardly knew his mother, didn't know the year of his birth which less the day. for him, humility captured that
literal sense of being on the earth, in the earth, he slept in the dirt for much of his childhood. for him, humility wasn't a term that would conjure up anything good. pride was something that he associated in its negative sense with that of his slaveowners. even in his vivid descriptions, douglass wrote three autobiographies, he associated pride -- he would see attached on their face. he kind of pride that is corrosive to the soul. for douglass, humility was hard won. what he could have done as he gained his freedom and became ne of america's best-known orators, he could have been come embittered.
what he chose to do was recognize or acknowledge his former slave owner. to recognize that the only way we were going to get rid of slavery was the constitution. >> you talk about hillsdale ollege being for abolition early. then you went to boston to get your degree and you're writing about frederick douglass. this is in the north. you write in your book, only after the whites were served communion did the presiding clergyman invite the black members of the church. douglass observed that they looked like black sheep who had been penned in the corner. that is in boston. during his lifetime. >> racism was not reserved to the south. that is what douglas found out.
he escaped after a harrowing adventure. he was on the eastern shore of maryland. he was sent out to one of the terrible slave breakers. he resisted that man in a physical confrontation. after that, that slave breaker never touched him. he had to come to a moral conversion and a spiritual conversion. one that left him free to go on and recognize that religion didn't have to be a bad thing. it didn't have to be that which justified slavery. that is all that they had known. it gave sanction to his slaveowners. when he escaped north to new bedford and later to rochester, new york, he certainly encountered racism throughout his life. >> when you teach, at what point do you see your students come alive? >> if you're going to teach the american founding, you ought to start with the hard questions. how is it that the founders could talk so much about liberty and yet two thirds of the signers of the declaration could hold slaves? let's look at each of their stories if we have time.
let's look at the arguments they ade. et's go to the primary documents. when you go to the autobiographical reflections and pulling snippets of those documents, that is when you see things come alive. when you go to the core questions. a liberal arts education is a lesson in liberty. it requires you to ask what is a good human being? what is a soul? what is it to be free? >> i have seen a book of yours about that thick. what is it. >> it is a book that i helped with. i was a contributing editor to "the u.s. constitution: a reader." it was done a few years ago by the department at hillsdale college. ever year, there would be different readings and we wanted to assemble as much as we could
for our undergraduates and also make it available for online courses that we were offering. >> our guest has been david bobb. he is a phd from boston college. he has written a book called "humility" and has become the president of the bill of rights institute in arlington, virginia. thank you very much. >> thank you very much for having me. >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at www.q-and-a.org. "q&a" programs are also available as c-span podcasts. cable satellite corp. 2014] national captioning institute] >> on the next "washington jour