Friday, May 21, 2010

Do Leaders Make History, or Is It Beyond Their Control?

On May 21, the New York Times published an op-ed written by Paul Kennedy called “Do Leaders Make History, or Is It Beyond Their Control?” In the article, Kennedy questions the Great Man Theory, which argues that history has been made by a relatively small group of powerful leaders. Instead, Kennedy argues that all leaders are constrained by the circumstances they inherited, and thus cannot have the absolute impact that the theory espouses.

To argue his case, Kennedy cites the example of Winston Churchill. According to Kennedy, no leader had a bigger impact on history than him. Nonetheless, Kennedy notes that Churchill could not prevent the collapse of the British Empire.

“By the 1940s, there were deep forces at work – forces like the rise of Asia and the relative shrinking of Europe – which were beginning to change the planet’s geopolitical landscape and which are still advancing today,” said Kennedy. “The marvel is that Churchill and his relatively small island-state achieved so much, and for so long.”

Leaving aside the fact that Kennedy appears to bemoan the end of the European subjugation of the peoples of Asia, apparently, Kennedy wrote this article in an effort to persuade everyone – including Obama – that they should tap down their expectations of what the Obama administration might achieve. President Obama certainly seemed to take this advice to heart. But the question is, by following Kennedy’s advice, has Obama made the world a better place, or has he fucked everything up and further eroded his country’s position?

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