A Defense of Boasting

We now have a very low estimation of boasters. They are loud-mouthed, arrogant, sometimes self-deceiving, and, while boasting especially, very inconsiderate of others. Such a level of self-importance disgusts us, the non-boasters.

We have the presumption that those who are properly confident have no need to speak of themselves, let alone to sing their own praises. I can’t help but feel that this is on the whole true: confidence in oneself often functions as the quiet background against which one can easily act and speak about all other things but oneself. Confidence reveals itself without speaking itself, without needing to speak of anything but everything else.

But now let me ask why we are revolted by boasters and why boasting ended up falling out of favor. The start of an explanation of our disgust and boasting’s illegitimacy would be to claim that honor societies have disappeared. Beowulf’s boasting in Beowulf and Achilles’s in The Iliad are the means by which they made their claims to glory and through which they roused their spirits to fight. For boasting puffs up the victor–this speaks to the claim about glory–and it also encourages us to overcome our fears of pain, disgrace, and death. The scene is battle, and the life is that of the warrior. Fear is the great enemy, and thus boasting often a fine friend. With the end of honor culture comes the end of the need for boasting–or so we have come to believe.

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