Can modern communities do without great men? Can they dispense with hero-worship? Can they provide a larger wisdom, a nobler sentiment, a more vigorous action, by collective processes, than were ever got from the Titans? Can nations remain healthy, can all nations draw together, in a world whose brightest stars are film stars and whose gods are sitting in the gallery? . . . There is a sense of vacancy and of fatuity, of incompleteness. We miss our giants. We are sorry that their age is past. . . .We mourn the towering grandeur which surrounded and cheered our long painful ascent. Ah! If we could only find some new enormous berg rising towards the heavens as high above our plateau as those old mountains down below rose above the plains and marshes!
– Winston Churchill
What is a Great Man?
A great man is one who stands above the normal flow of history. He is not content with his lot in life, he doesn’t settle for “average”. Great men are shaped by their times, yes, but they have the tenacity to rise to the occasion, take hold of their circumstances, and change them, for better or worse.
A great man may be born in trying circumstances. He may face ruin, in whatever form it takes, but he rises above whatever comes his way.
These are all traits of the great man.
As a famed Marvel character is fond of saying, “With great power comes great responsibility”, and we can see that throughout history. For every George Washington there is an Adolf Hitler. Both had the power to influence those around them. Both loved their lands. But while one chose to exemplify service for others as the pinnacle of success, one chose to allow their personal demons to destroy a valid dream. One turned from dictatorship to set a masterful precedent, one allowed absolute power to corrupt his mind.
Great men are necessary, for without them civilization stagnates. A people that is too comfortable is a corrupt one. Advancement requires the push and pull of visionaries. And so we need these great men.
The inspiration for these posts came from a podcast I was listening to. The podcaster was introducing the material and explaining how he would go about it. He then proceeded to trash the “Great Man” school of history and said that anyone could have done what these men did. Proclaiming that the ebb and flow of history are inevitable and so nothing anyone does can change that really rubbed me the wrong way.
Basically what this school of thought is saying is that there really is no reason for anyone to strive for excellence. Change is going to come anyway, so why not just enjoy the ride and let it take us where it may? I reject this notion. Sure, societal trends are real and, left unchecked, can determine the course of history, but this “no such thing as great men” theory flies in the face of established fact.
For example, Julius Caesar lived in a time when the old Roman Republic was breaking down. There were factions vying for supremacy and the whole shebang was teetering on the edge of oblivion. One push in the wrong direction would have shattered the Republic, and Rome as we think of it would not have existed. It would have been a footnote in history.
But Caesar deftly maneuvered his way throughout these times. He sought alliance with two other powerful men (both who actually were more powerful than he) to bring “stability”. He then recognized in his nephew a fellow great mind that he proceeded to cultivate. This young man would one day be Augustus Caesar, arguably the greatest Roman Emperor.
I could go on, but I’m going to save Caesar for a later time.
The point being: Yes, Caesar was in some form shaped by his era, but aren’t we all? But only one man rose to this stature and saved this Roman experiment from destruction. Were it not for him, Rome would have eaten itself.
We need to recognize the need for great men because we need to challenge ourselves to BE great men. You may never rule an empire or be a billionaire, but striving for the top cannot do anything but help you. Reach for the high calling. Lay aside weights, things that so easily trip you up. Set your eyes on your calling, whatever that may be, and do it to the best of your ability.
Don’t cower down and be afraid of the times. The darker your surroundings get, the more brightly you will burn. I may never be in a history book, but let my words and deeds resonate one hundred years from now in my children, their children, and their children. Let my legacy guide those that come after me. Let my words ring true.
“Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth.”
I pray that this series inspires and challenges us all. I find when I read of these men it causes me to look into my self and challenges me to think what I would have done. Could I have done what these men did? It’s awe inspiring for me and hopefully I can convey this to you.
As always thanks for reading.