NPR's Weekend Edition interviewed Bosque Boys favorite, Bill McClay, on Saturday. The interview with Scott Simon (who struck me as a bit sillier than necessary in this particular segment) explored McClay's essay from a recent issue of In Character, which was dedicated entirely to extolling the virtue of modesty. Listen here to the audio archive.

The article (in full here), "Idol Smashing and Immodesty in the Groves of Academe," offers a study of the meaning of modesty and the lost art of practicing modesty. In the end, McClay indicts the academy for steamrolling modesty in favor of iconoclasm. Here are some highlights (although I encourage you to read the entire essay):

McClay argues that true modesty emanates "from a certain depth of self-knowledge, from an awareness of how far we fall short of what we ought to be. In short, a modesty that arises out of an awareness of precisely who we are, and how much we have to be modest about."

He reminds us: "it is always appropriate to conjoin manners with morals. There is always a philosophy of human nature, however hidden or implicit, lurking behind our manners."

And: "[M]odesty means having a mature perspective on one’s ultimate insignificance and limitations, grounded in a sense of mystery about the vastness and incomprehensibility of the world, and skepticism about the limits of human nature and human capabilities. This is the meaning of the word that ought to attach to the “modest” achievement of even the greatest scholars. Whatever we do is, in the end, pretty puny.

"This is also the kind of modesty that remembers the embarrassing contrast between human aspiration and human frailty."

"It remembers the painful contrast between the youthful Cassius Clay’s arrogant and scornful cry, “I am the greatest!” and the pathetic figure that the elder Muhammad Ali has cut, his mind and body ravaged by his career in boxing and by the steady advance of Parkinson’s disease. It remembers that nearly every human glory and every human boast ends in the same sad and humiliating way."

On the academy and its cottage industry of inconoclasm (which McClay offers as the "polar opposite of modesty"): They "have made the liberation from social convention into a new social convention all its own. Of course, this ideology rests upon a veiled form of class snobbery, since there must always be those unnamed “others,” the suburbanites and functionaries and breeders and Babbitts who are thought to sustain and uphold the conventions from which “we” perpetually need to be liberated. But those “others” are increasingly shadowy and hard to locate. The new convention has been triumphant beyond its wildest dreams, and is now entirely pervasive, suffusing our popular culture and our advertising and assimilated into the mainstream in the most remarkable and incongruous ways."

The article (in full here).