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Friday, 25 July, 2008

THE ‘GREAT MAN’ THEORY:
The Americanization of History...!

By: Ghoma

"We’re the empire now and we act, we create our own reality...
And while you’re studying that -judiciously, as you will-
we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can
study too, and that’s how things will sort out.
We’re history actors...and you, all of you,
will be left to just study what we do."
                       An advisor to President G. Bush, quoted in:
                       Ahmed Rashid’s, The Descent to Chaos

        The "Great man" theory of history contends that forceful individuals could shape national destinies. "The history of the world is," as the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle had written back in the 19th century, "but the biography of great men." This heroic interpretation of history had attracted many a philosopher too. Hegel, Nietzsche, Spengler, et al. had come close to endorsing it, though the "superman" perhaps referred to the rise of the individual as the main agent of history than the captain of a collective ship.

        History, on the other hand as a ‘science’, views individuals as specks in the dusty storms of time, driven more by ineluctable forces toward inevitable though perhaps necessary ends. The Encyclopedists, Marx, Leo Tolstoy, J. Diamond, et. al, maintained that economic, societal, environmental, and technological impacts were more significant, if not determinant, to historical changes.

        Throughout recorded history there was a widespread prevalence to the first view. No less than radical movements, who had claimed a supernatural power was behind their undertakings in order to twist history into its supposedly ‘preordained course’. These and others had large share in diffusing such an understanding. Religions with their prophetic inspirations, transcended history’s piecemeal twirls and vicissitudes, into the miracles of predestination, and of the "Chosen People!". The notion that history’s tweaks were beyond the realm and grip of the ‘normal man’ had come to be accepted as the mainstay of narration. It had given rise to the idea of first the flood of hagiographic and then biographic materials later on, which now fill most of the libraries and bookstores’ shelves. As the fairy tales go, it’s tempting to reduce whole periods to the life and conduct of one single individual and a whole range of events to one gigantic episode. The synthesis in this way becomes only a prelude, a groundwork, for the emergence of the hero; and the summery a way to account for his exceptionalism and daring. Thus life as the multitude had known it and lived it gets lost in the myriad details around the main character and in the rush to pursue his deeds. In the hubbub, important conditions were basically skimmed through only to shed some light on those factors that helped bring or shine a light on the latent qualities that made our self-appointed or chosen savior unique to his role.

        The American experience, born out of the wilderness of history as well as nature, has made wise use of such an approach to to its narrative. Most of what's written was either on the Founding Fathers or the 43 individuals who had presided, so far, resided in the White House, over the throne of the U.S. of America. Hollywood has played its part, in movies dealing with the opening of the West and taming of its wilderness and the rogue yet wise Cowboys' sagas. Tarzan and the lonely hero were the stuff from which fiction had been turned into virtual realities. It still is the case, in the minds in the multitude, the just man who enters a corrupt and intimadted town only to salvage it and leave. not to mention the Amrican Dream storties, a al Horatio Alger, from puaprity to riches, et cetera,....

        The summarizing of a generation’s traits into one individual and the personification of all events, not scrambling them! to one single bio made history nothing but a narrating conduit to lives and deeds of ‘great men’, be they: Ulysses, Gilgamish, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Ghengis Khan, Saladdin, or the ‘founding fathers’ of the Church, of the nation, etc. Up to our own times when mass delusions have been proven to partake in common themes: the hunger of the masses for symbols of self-recognition. Thus delusional egomaniac thugs, a la Mussolini and Hitler, or a pure dumb-luck and Fate’s lottery-winner, as Nasser was -or for that matter all Qaddafis of this world-. had appropriated the wider stage of history to play their follies on for a while. The mass hysteria that accompanied such bizarre quirks resulted in true human and otherwise catastrophes. Italy and Germany had been reduced to rabbles amid occupation, which at a distance of more than 60 years are still practically occupied territories.

        As to the Big Bubba, Nasser, of the so-called "Arab Nationalism,"the fiascos were even more tragic and the disappointments are still lingering almost 4-decades after hist death. If the 1952 coup-d’etat was transformed, more by a sleigh of hands than mass yearnings, into a popular revolution, the miracle told more about the abysmal state of mass consciousness than the merits and credentials of the contenders to the prize. Amidst such decadence of culture, the ignorance and charlatanism of the leaders had made the self-suicidal tendencies of those days more plausible. The ‘Revolutionary Leader’ instead of using the undeserved status to legitimize his hold on power, and on the masses’ imagination too, by carrying what would further the long-term goals, had embarked indeed on those on blind adventures, which ended in sinking the cause as well as the country further deeper into the holes from which it still has to dig itself out. National causes, in the hands of those self-created heroes, had turned to merely propaganda for their regimes’ ill-planned and worse implemented campaigns. All tools of the state as well were used to serve further in the self aggrandizement schemes. In such an atmosphere of an already inflated ego, the ‘Leader’ was hard pressed to outdo himself, almost on daily basis, by embarking on, indeed, very risky ventures: the 1967's war, for example?

        Today, the imperialism against whom Nasser had long inveighed so loudly has re-turned back in force, if ever had left!- and to make things even worse, with the help of the same regime he’d put in place. As to the Arab Cause, Palestine, it has become, a dream of nightmarish proportions, like a mirage the closer it appears the farther it becomes. What about "Arab Nationalism"? It ended up in the hands of the Wahhabis and their ilks of brothers and sisters! The so-called ‘national regimes’ they dug themselves deep in muck to avoid using the epithet, of nationalism. A cause more of a liability, in the War against Terror, than a blaze to the future. Just watch what happened to its proponents and contenders: Syria is already undeclared kingdom; Egypt, Yemen, Libya are on their ways to become family dynasties; and Iraq has been squashed, under the boots of the Yankees, so badly beyond even recognition. The rest of the Happy Kingdoms? They’ve only the flags left to distinguish them one from another. Whatever else remains to their credits, has been hock-pawned to Uncle Sam for the promise of saving their behinds. The story goes: it was and it was not in the olden times of passed days, a hero, by the name of Nasser who’d tried to play the doctor - to cure the disease- instead killed the patient.

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com


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