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"Great Man" Theory of History

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Clarste One Winged Egret Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
Mar 22nd 2013 at 3:47:11 PM

Bush was elected. His existence was a direct response to the political climate. You could hardly have chosen a worse example.

I'll admit that with regards to monarchies the whims of the leader might theoretically come into play, but even then they'll have been raised by their parents and tutored by the leading scholars of the country. No one grows up in a vacuum. And as I said it's simply impossible to disprove the Great Leader theory. Which I suppose makes it hardly even a theory. It's more like an observation that what happened happened.

Ultrayellow Unchanging Avatar.
Unchanging Avatar.
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:05:37 PM

Actually, Gore was elected. Bush was installed by the Electoral College. In a hypothetical situation where the election laws were slightly different, Gore would've become president and the war in Iraq wouldn't have happened. Even though not a single thing would've changed about the society and political climate you're talking about.

edited 22nd Mar '13 4:06:07 PM by Ultrayellow

Except for 4/1/2011. That day lingers in my memory like...metaphor here...I should go.
Clarste One Winged Egret Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:16:46 PM

And the Electoral College isn't a part of history? Also I have some problems with your definition of "elected".

The point is that history has a billion different variables and it's impossible to isolate any given one. Is it important that it was Bush, or would any of the other potential Republican candidates have made the same decisions? You can't tell, because it didn't happen, and we'll never experience a situation identical in every way except for one variable.

edited 22nd Mar '13 4:23:33 PM by Clarste

Ultrayellow Unchanging Avatar.
Unchanging Avatar.
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:25:46 PM

No, we won't. Which makes either version impossible to prove.

And actually, this is about more than history. It seems to me that what I'm seeing now is more a basic difference in philosophy. Tell me, are you a determinist?

Except for 4/1/2011. That day lingers in my memory like...metaphor here...I should go.
Clarste One Winged Egret Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:27:35 PM

No, in the sense that I believe in random chance, but yes in the sense that I believe the past affects the future.

DrTentacles Cephalopod Lothario from Land of the Deep Ones Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Cephalopod Lothario
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:32:30 PM

I'm a determinist, and determinist doesn't negate "great man" theory. You can be a determinist and believe that things would have turned out a vastly different way without someone with the certain array of personality trades (ingrained by culture, biology, upbringing, experiences, ect) who managed to through circumstance, and the choices they were neurochemically pre-ordained to make, to end up as 'fulcrum point" where their absence or replacement would have significantly changed the course of history.

However, that doesn't mean you should ever ignore the incredibly complex interplays of factors that lead to them being where they are. Or suppose that just because someone wasn't famous, that they weren't a fulcrum. Or presume that any person's contribution to the fabric of history/reality is inherently less important/causes less ripples than any other.

Ultrayellow Unchanging Avatar.
Unchanging Avatar.
Mar 22nd 2013 at 4:34:22 PM

@Clarste: Everyone believes the past affects the future. But the difference between you and me (correct me if I'm wrong) is that you believe a person's thoughts are the product of their genes and experiences, and therefore a Great Man theory can't work because every leader is simply the inevitable product of his/her society and the deterministic march of history, whereas I have a philosophy influenced by a belief in free will, and therefore believe that the decisions of a leader seriously affect the course of history. This difference is not surmountable by historical argument, and unless you're a truly great metaphysician, I doubt either of us is capable of proving one position "right." Agree to disagree?

edited 22nd Mar '13 4:35:00 PM by Ultrayellow

Except for 4/1/2011. That day lingers in my memory like...metaphor here...I should go.
Mar 22nd 2013 at 8:30:32 PM

isn't there are report that Cheney and Wolfowitz advocated war in Iraq before Bush even elected ? I think Bush the Elder decision to NOT march to Baghdad is better example of "Great Man" "Free Will" to influence history. War in Iraq by Bush the Younger had institutional support from Republican Party, many believe sanction should end with war sooner or later at that time.

Great Man theory problem is not just deterministic or free will, it also have deal with free will of advisers and main supporter of the Great Man, it is not enough that some "Great Man" do make decisions that change history, it also show that "Great Man" have an inordinate influence on history.

Is main influence on history is very few "Great Men", or lot of numerous politicians/general/adviser who influence/advise "Great Men", or is it the "people below" that have inordinate influence ?

there also problem is just being president of one nation, even superpowered one count as being "Great Men". Bush decision decide life and death of thousands of Iraqis is not necessarily important in the long run. look at Vietnam and China, you could argue that civil war and communism is just hiccup in history, since in the long run Capitalism is triumphed on them.

Ultrayellow Unchanging Avatar.
Unchanging Avatar.
Mar 22nd 2013 at 9:12:32 PM

I never argued that the invasion of Iraq qualified Bush for the status of a Great Man. Merely that it was an example of one leader's individual decisions affecting what happened, since Gore, for instance, would have been unlikely to go to war.

edited 22nd Mar '13 9:12:46 PM by Ultrayellow

Except for 4/1/2011. That day lingers in my memory like...metaphor here...I should go.
Clarste One Winged Egret Relationship Status: Non-Canon
One Winged Egret
Mar 25th 2013 at 9:02:06 AM

I don't think it's really a matter of free will. The point isn't that any particular individual will always make the same choice because of their upbringing or brain states, but that even if they don't make the choice someone else will. It's a matter of probability I guess. It takes only one person to start a war or a revolution or whatever, and there are thousands of people who might because their circumstances make it look like a good option. And even in a purely free-will based picture, surely you acknowledge that people will often take options that look appealing to them, right? The fact that one person took the option first is almost meaningless.

Elections or other forms of choosing leaders are always a gamble, certainly, but the important thing isn't the particular leader but the faction they represent. We can say that the cause of the war isn't Bush himself, but the fact that the Republicans won the election. And they won the election by taking advantage of the details of the system (Electoral College, etc) and using the pieces they had in play. Each individual citizen's vote is certainly a product of their free will, but in aggregate the result is a matter of probability rather than any "Great Men".

I suppose a Great Man could stop something from happening by resisting external pressures that others would have succumbed to, but that's not the sort of thing history books often emphasize.

edited 25th Mar '13 9:08:43 AM by Clarste

DomaDoma Three-Puppet Saluter
Three-Puppet Saluter
Apr 1st 2013 at 6:48:09 AM

There is a distinct paucity of Great Men in modern history, so I'll buy the cultural-climate explanation.

Clarste: that depends on the nature of the crossroads. For instance, Fort Sumter. The serious abolitionists wanted Lincoln to fire the first shot; Seward wanted Lincoln to withdraw support; Lincoln decided to just send Fort Sumter food. Hence, there was a war, and the Confederates started it, and it resulted from a choice not many people would have made.

edited 1st Apr '13 6:55:58 AM by DomaDoma

Hail Martin Septim!
Iaculus Pronounced YAK-you-luss from England
Pronounced YAK-you-luss
Apr 1st 2013 at 9:12:06 AM

[up]Is it fair to say, though, that without the Fort Sumter incident, there would have been no war? I mean, there was a whole lot more to World War I than an archduke getting shot.

What's precedent ever done for us?
Apr 1st 2013 at 9:18:13 AM

I thought it started because a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.

Specialist290 Terracotta Soldier Man
Terracotta Soldier Man
Apr 1st 2013 at 12:40:10 PM

I have to say that this is the first thread in OTC that I've been really interested in.

[up][up][up] You make a good point — about that particular moment.

At the same time, however, in the broader picture, the slavery issue had been simmering for years. I wouldn't say anything with certainty, but I feel that, based on the evidence, some kind of break between the Northern and Southern states was inevitable. That said, I think that Lincoln's character did have some influence on how the war unfolded simply because he was in a position where a lot of people had to listen to the things he said.

Is it possible that, had a less polarizing candidate than Lincoln been elected, we could have avoided the war entirely and come to some kind of equitable settlement eventually? Is it possible that a president with less moral fortitude might have allowed the South to go free, or tried to hang the Confederate leadership as traitors when the Federals won? Is it possible that some harebrained filibuster might have succeeded in snatching up Cuba from Spain to turn into another slave state to keep the balance from tipping for just a few more years? I've got my own views on these questions that I won't express here because they're a bit off-subject, but the truth is, we really can't know for certain. We can make educated guesses and construct models based on the evidence we have, then play around with the variables a bit to see how those models might have changed the results with tweaked inputs, but we can't really know in a scientific sense.

Personally, I tend to learn towards the school of thought of Bloch and Braudel, that ideas are the chief driving force behind history rather than individuals. However, I won't deny that in the same way that a sufficiently "Big Idea" can affect how society as a whole processes the world around them, a person who holds a big enough podium and talks loudly enough can get a very large crowd of people to react in some way to the ideas he or she puts out there.

Carciofus Is that cake frosting? from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
Apr 1st 2013 at 12:50:27 PM

There is a distinct paucity of Great Men in modern history, so I'll buy the cultural-climate explanation.
I am not convinced that this is the case. It's more that it's difficult to recognize great people of our own age — I'm pretty sure that during their times, there were plenty of people who thought that Marin Luther King was a hack, Lincoln was an idiot, and Einstein was just some German dude with loony ideas about the universe. And there were also plenty of people who thought that <dude pretty much nobody remembers nowadays> was a great man who would change history.

I might perhaps suggest Vandana Shiva as a possible modern-day "Great Woman" in a similar sense; but I'm quite sure that many would strongly disagree, and, you know, they might be absolutely right!

I think that individual people can have — and, often, do have — momentous effects on historical developments. Yes, there are historical tendencies and economical pressures and so on; but ultimately, what makes history is people making choices. However, the point where — I think — the "Great Man" theory of history is mistaken is in assuming that only the choices of highly visible people can have great effects. I believe that us — all of us — are far more influential than we expect: our choices, even the tiniest ones, can shape reality to a huge degree.

edited 1st Apr '13 12:53:15 PM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
Specialist290 Terracotta Soldier Man
Terracotta Soldier Man
Apr 1st 2013 at 3:17:47 PM

Yes, there are historical tendencies and economical pressures and so on; but ultimately, what makes history is people making choices.

I don't think anyone really doubts this if they think about it seriously. The question at present seems to be more along the lines of "To what extent are our choices predetermined in some sense by factors beyond our control?"

edited 1st Apr '13 3:18:05 PM by Specialist290

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