Thursday, June 08, 2006

Great Man Theory

Who uses it: Historians
What it means: The idea that -- in the words of Thomas Carlyle -- "history is the essence of innumerable biographies," that the will and actions of specific, individual human beings are the primary cause of world events.
How you can use it: To explain our current President.

The opposite of this idea is Hegel's theory of history as the actualization of a universal mind -- a separate force that finds its way despite the will of individuals.

You could dismiss the whole idea of "theories of history" as academic self-indulgence, except that the belief in a particular set of causes and effects shapes your decision-making process.

George W. Bush believes in the Great Man theory and in its corollary, which says that leaders are born, not made. Therefore, the war on terror requires only that we eliminate certain prime movers: Saddam Hussein, now Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and one day Osama bin Laden.

So now al-Zarqawi is dead. Does this mean the U.S. troops get to come home now?


JIM LAMB said...

Come home? Never!
We still have Armies in Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea.
When the first Roman Army entered Sicily, it was a step they never were able to retreat from for almost two millenia, until 1453.
We did it, we are stuck with it.
Now we will get to see how much of the turmoil in Iraq was the product of the "insurgents" and how much was just plain banditry and tribal fueding.

Anonymous said...

Isn't what George says/thinks as far as I know.
As for the rest,facts lie in between.Great (read "powerful") men do count and for a lot.
See Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane where circumstances seem to have been less important.
See in recent times, Hitler, Mao, Stalin where circumstances were a factor but the power of of the man was overwhelming even in a more civilized country like Germany.
Unkown Uncle

Anonymous said...

Add Napoleon.

Picked tyrants not because other great men in freer socities are not important (cf. Churchill) but because in formers' society power of the "great man" stands in higher relief.
Unknown Uncle

AnswerGirl said...

Point taken, but particular circumstances must exist in order for these "great men" to assert themselves. An economically prosperous Germany would have laughed at a former housepainter with delusions of grandeur.

Genghis Khan, on the other hand, must have really been something... I read somewhere that a very high percentage of central Asians can claim direct descent from him.