Comparison Of Thomas Carlyle's Great Man Theory

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The “great man theory” crafted by writer and historian Thomas Carlyle,defined nineteenth century sociology. Therein, Carlyle posited that human history was merely play-dough for the whims of “supermen”: individuals blessed by the heavens from birth to rise up and single-handedly alter the trajectory of civilization. Napoleon, Hitler, Lenin; you get the picture. Not everyone was a Carlyle fan, of course. Hubert Spencer, a noted polymath of the time, rubbished his “some are born to lead” narrative. He argued instead that great societies spawn great leaders, and not the other way around. Continuity is obviously key to such a system of government, both in defining and dispensing justice, and proliferating the “right” truths about the human experience. As Spencer foretold, developed nations ranging from the US to Great Britain to Japan have all benefitted from erecting state institutions that serve continuity, and hence prosperity. Hubert and Carlyle epitomized the classic nature versus nurture debate. Then again, when you have Sparta, you get Leonidas. Nevertheless, there are flaws in both theories without which history would be far less than entertaining. To his mind, Carlyle’s “great man” is definitively a hero who shapes for the better the lives of those around him. While this may be true for a certain class of people through a limited stretch of time, events on the whole since the Middle Ages affirm that Carlyle’s “great man” creates enormous social upheaval. He ushers in
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