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Heroes and Great Men

The Great Man Theory of history is described at Wikipedia as "out of favor" with most historians today, people "who believe that economic, societal, and technological factors are far more important to history than the decisions made by any individual."  I agree with "most historians."

For millennia people have sought a great man to deliver them from their miseries, as with those Jews who wanted to be rescued by another king like David – the Messiah. But great men do not rescue humanity. Stalin did not do it. Nor did Mussolini, Mao, Hitler or Gandhi. The real heroes are a multitude of people who contribute to societal successes. In war it is the common soldier who risks his life and does the hard work, while generals merely organize – sometimes not so well. In Napoleon's time, peasants were scorned by intellectuals, but it was they who got up early in the morning and grew the food that everyone needed.

It is not a few great man who deserve glorification; it is that great body of persons in the laboratories, on the farms and in industry in general who are the real heroes. It might be true that many copy and only a few invent, and the inventors deserve praise, but without the common people taking advantage of their inventions those inventions would have little meaning.

History moves in accordance with aggregate doings, and the so-called great men are themselves a product rather than just a contributor to events. The emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius, with all his power, is a case in point.

Copyright © 2005-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.