The Great Man of History and the Fallacy of Equality

S y d n e y T r a d s

thomas carlyle Thomas Carlyle (b. 1795 d. 1881) Scottish philosopher, essayist and historian.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe?
Where is the debater of this age? [Where is the Great Man?]
(1 Corinthians 1:20, English Standard Version)

Many theories have been postulated about what makes a person a leader, and from where leaders arise. The literature on this topic covers a broad range of paradigms and a large amount of amassed data on leadership qualities. The purpose of this essay is to focus on the controversy resulting from the ‘Great Man Theory of History’, which was an essential Victorian description of “the stuff” of leadership (Carlyle, 1840 p. 43). Three main themes emerge from the literature surrounding this controversy:

(1) the extent to which the great man influences social progress;
(2) the nature of greatness; and
(3) the great man’s role in shaping history.

The literature is…

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