David Brooks, author, essayist, columnist for The New York Times, guy who has thoughts, is teaching a class at Yale this semester. Here is the syllabus; authors listed include Edmund Burke, Reinhold Niehbuhr, Isaiah Berlin, and David Brooks. "We will ask," Brooks writes, "whether it is proper to put a Yale window sticker on the back of your car."
To get an answer to that (very good) question, though, you'll need to wait until April 9 — "Week 11: Seemliness" — the required reading for which is "Level 5 Leadership," a Harvard Business Review article by James Collins. At that point, you'll have spent two hours a week for ten weeks, discussing "character" with David Brooks and a bunch of Yale kids:
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.
What a surprise, that David Brooks' class would be a turgid, clueless examination of his own fetishes and pet theories ("Why did America reject the values of the Protestant Establishment? What replaced it?")! How enticing, the thought of gathering to discuss Exodus and the Confessions with the Times' second-worst columnist and the most pathetic, careerist undergraduates Yale has to offer!
At least the reading list isn't terrible, though Brooks certainly prefers pop histories to more focused academic texts:
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)
That's an incomplete list, by the way — Brooks is also assigning his Atlantic Monthly article "The Organization Kid," and three of his Times columns. Because how can you possibly learn about humility from David Brooks if he's not teaching you about articles he's written?
"I certainly wasn't wrong about it provoking smart ass jibes," Brooks wrote in an e-mail to Daily Intelligencer last night about the class. "I understand the shot taking - the target was designed to be easy - but getting beyond the Twitter level, I don't see what is intrinsically ridiculous about the course." [...]
And his own entries - including "The Organization Kid" from The Atlantic and three Times columns - "are not really mine," he said. "Those three columns are just lessons drawn from the essays that were sent to me by others," Brooks explained. "I asked readers over 70 to send in life reports in which they describe what they've learned over the years."
It's true that colleges are filled with professors who assign essays and books that they've written — but most of those professors aren't teaching courses called "Humility." Anyway, we'd rather take Peggy Noonan's Harvard class.
[NYM; image via AP]