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Epic
February 18th, 2010, 06:04 PM
The Great Man Theory (among others) of History
Preamble:
Alright, before I dig into the real meat here I’d like to just kinda ramble/write without any structure to get going. History is a passion of mine and I was inspired to create this thread after viewing Swansong’s about the importance of history in our schools and the topic of how history should be taught was briefly touched upon. The purpose of this thread will be to debate how history should be taught/studied in our schools and in general. The theory which I am most familiar with is the “Great Man” Theory of History, and while I don’t agree with it entirely, it is the one with which I a most familiar and it will have to be the one which I write about. Hope to be intellectually challenged and to learn from all of the following posts. Cheers.


The Great Man Theory:
The Great Man Theory of History posits that history is shaped and written by so-called “Great Men” (men like Da Vinci, Newton, Napoleon, Voltaire, Muhammed, and most other famous dead, and often white, males) through the force of their personality and through the power that they wielded. The greatest supporter of this theory was Thomas Carlyle, a 19th c. Scottish historian, who believed in the theory so much that he wrote “The history of the world is but the biography of Great Men” in his book, On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History. A practitioner of this theory (most students of history for large parts of the 19th and 20th c.) would study periods of history by reading through the biographies of the great leaders or other influential figures of the time and not much else. For example, a practitioner of the Great Man Theory would only read through the biographies of say Ghengis or Kublai Kahn when studying the Mongol invasions and conquests. As another example, Wikipedia tells me that much of Encyclopedia Britannica’s 11th edition followed the Great Man Theory and that any information about the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire are to be found in the biography of Attila the Hun. Furthermore, the theory says that these “Great Men”, or “heroes” as Carlyle calls them, “arose” as is to shape the world.


The Great Man Theory – Its Problems:
Before I start railing against this theory I will concede that for studying politics and wars it is very beneficial to study the biographies of “great men” and leaders, as these are areas where it is common for a single person to shape the course of events, but even then, biographies should not be studied exclusively. First and foremost it completely ignores all other aspects of historical change, such as the role that geography plays, social and economic history, or the gradual accumulation of small changes. For example, if one were to use the Great Man Theory to study the Roman Empire during the Pax Romana, you would attribute the Empire’s stability solely to the good governance of Emperors such as Trajan, Hadrian, or Marcus Aurelius, but completely ignore the role that economic stability and growth in the Empire played and the role that the Mediterranean Sea played in this growth. As another example, the Great Man Theory would attribute the rise of the Italian Renaissance to rulers like Lorenzo di Medici and artists like Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo, but would completely ignore the role that trade with the Middle East, started by the Crusades, and the Reconquista in Spain played in the rediscovery of ancient texts that allowed the Renaissance (French for rebirth, as in rebirth of ideas) to take place in the first place. The second major flaw of the Great Man Theory of History is that it does not take into account the social conditions that created the culture and people that the “great men” come from and which shape them before they can change history in the first place. Finally, the Great Man Theory ignores the role that social groups, such as religious institutions, social classes, or national groups, play in history and would instead focus completely on their leaders. For example, the Great Man Theory when applied to the history of the Catholic or Orthodox Churches would only look at the institutions’ notable members or leaders, rather than the institutions as a whole and look at trends that affected them, such as the anti-clericalism that developed prior to the Protestant Reformation.


Conclusion:
While biographies are quite useful for gaining an understanding of an era, especially in military and political realms of historical study, they are really only one piece of the puzzle. To truly get an understanding of history, you also need to take into account social history, economic history, the influences that weather can play in history (see Spanish Armada, Tennis Court Oath, failed French invasion of Ireland, many more I’m sure), women’s history (if you’re all PC that is :grin:), social struggle and clashes if you’re a pinko Marxist :grin:, and many more I’m sure (and which I hope to hear about).


Epic

czahar
February 18th, 2010, 08:34 PM
Any form of study which limits itself to one perspective is flawed. Human society rarely changes because of one variable introduced into it. The job of the historian should, instead, be to locate the factors which were most responsible for the events studied. Often these are a mix of great people, the sociological/political climates of the times, and sometimes even climatic and pathological factors (as in the case of the Ice Age and Plague). History, needs to take a deep look at all of these factors, as they all play a part in it.

Sigfried
February 19th, 2010, 10:40 AM
Interesting topic and I mostly agree.

Great men/women are kind of like a catalyst. Without them change can happen but its pretty slow and often in fits and starts. A great person provides the clear direction that channels the underlying current of events to a decisive outcome.

But events are also the shapers of great men. There are probably many with the things it takes to achieve greatness but the need or fuel for change is not there.

Epic
March 25th, 2010, 05:54 PM
It's now been more than a month since a post in my thread and I find myself wishing that I had posted something much more controversial so that I could have actually argued about my favourite school subject and how it should be taught. So, I'll bump this thread up with this post and ask the historians of ODN, if they wish, to write and post about what particular methods they themselves feel should be used to teach history, in general or any particular subject, and what points of history they feel need to be emphasized for certain courses and how. I hope to be enlightened by any who takes up my request and to engage in, if not a debate, then a stimulating discussion with anyone who posts after this.

Thanks very much,


Epic

Sigfried
March 26th, 2010, 09:53 AM
I'm not a big history buff or a historian... but....

I think there are many good ways to teach history and a varied approach is good.

#1. History is a story: People learn through stories better than any other method. Any study of history (excepting advanced studies) should put the information in the context of a classic narrative. Not to say there is only one narrative per historical event, quite the contrary you should have narratives from different perspectives since indeed that is the way history truly happens.

#2. TV is cool: The history channel and others have shown that there is a lot of interest in good historical documentaries and historical based fictional or semi fictional drama's. Kids will pay attention to well made film, and they will remember it, and they will likely be more excited about it. Follow this up with discussion and further individual research and you have a great learning tool.

#3. Role playing games: Let people re-live historical moments. They will never be accurate but that is not the point. The point is to see history from the ground level, what it might be like to be there rather than hear about it. Put students in the role of great historical figures and give them the same choices those figures had to make. give them your best guess as to the consequences of those decisions. Talk to game writing professionals about making the scenarios and materials. There is a large untapped resource here and history is the perfect venue for guided role playing experiences.

DonAthos
March 26th, 2010, 10:17 AM
It's now been more than a month since a post in my thread and I find myself wishing that I had posted something much more controversial so that I could have actually argued about my favourite school subject and how it should be taught. So, I'll bump this thread up with this post and ask the historians of ODN, if they wish, to write and post about what particular methods they themselves feel should be used to teach history, in general or any particular subject, and what points of history they feel need to be emphasized for certain courses and how. I hope to be enlightened by any who takes up my request and to engage in, if not a debate, then a stimulating discussion with anyone who posts after this.

Thanks very much,


Epic

You know, it's true. I don't find much controversial about your OP... but there has been a lot that I've taken issue with in discussions about topics involving what seems to be "Great Man theory."

For instance, I've heard people make the claim before that the events of history would largely have taken place as they did even if you changed or removed one or more of the actors. In other words, there had to be a Hitler; even if you time travelled and killed Adolf at a young age (like in so many sci-fi plots), someone else would have basically rose to his position and done the same sorts of things, because Germany at that time was going to have a leader like Hitler.

I guess it's the argument that the times make the men, rather than the men making the times.

It's been a while, but I remember that Howard Zinn in his People's History didn't much care for "great men"; he thought that a true study of history was looking at the grassroots and the common man.

But me? I find a limited utility in studying the common man where history is concerned. It might be interesting to know what life was like for the Roman farmer, but if I'm studying Ancient Rome I'm going to spend more time on the Caesars... and I think there's a good reason for that. And I think that Hitler was unique--that we're all fairly unique--and that the history of the 20th Century would have been profoundly different if a young Adolf had run into an angry traveller from the future.

Epic
March 26th, 2010, 03:04 PM
#3. Role playing games: Let people re-live historical moments. They will never be accurate but that is not the point. The point is to see history from the ground level, what it might be like to be there rather than hear about it. Put students in the role of great historical figures and give them the same choices those figures had to make. give them your best guess as to the consequences of those decisions. Talk to game writing professionals about making the scenarios and materials. There is a large untapped resource here and history is the perfect venue for guided role playing experiences.

I find this very intriguing and highly appealing actually. At the Museum of Civilization across the river in Hull they do this kinda thing, where you play as fur traders and natives. The game was really simple (kind of round robbin trading in historical costumes and having to talk all "old timey"), but it's not really that fun. On the other hand, when my cousin (who is taking middle eastern studies, archaeology, and persian) was at a either UBC or U of Ottawa (don't remember which) she told me about an excercise they did in class where you were divided into groups, each representing a different power in the Mid-East from the period (I think it was the Middle Kingdom, but not sure, I remember there was an Assyria) and they had to use the knowledge that they had gained in the class that far to form a plan about how they would take over the whole region, through either military means or diplomacy, and also how they would maintain peace at home. This, to me, sounds like the kind of excercises that should be run in schools if they were to use roleplaying games to teach history. Not necessarily games of conquest (that'd be pretty good though!!! military history ftw!!!), but definitely ones that require you to do in-depth thinking and utilize all the knowledge taught previously in the course.


But me? I find a limited utility in studying the common man where history is concerned. It might be interesting to know what life was like for the Roman farmer, but if I'm studying Ancient Rome I'm going to spend more time on the Caesars... and I think there's a good reason for that. And I think that Hitler was unique--that we're all fairly unique--and that the history of the 20th Century would have been profoundly different if a young Adolf had run into an angry traveller from the future.

I share your sentiment about the Roman farmers, because while I do enjoy the history of the common man from time to time, in most cases they, and their lifestyles, simply weren't that important in shaping history and that devoting your study of history to them sounds more like archaeology.

In reference to Hitler being unique, I'll agree with you....to an extent. I think that after the Treaty of Versailles it's no surprised that we had a smoldering, very pissed off Germany. I think that even if you didn't get Adolf Hitler, you still would have gotten a leader like him, one who would have torn up Versailles like Hitler did and one who would have retaken the Saarland like Hitler and maybe undertaken some of Hitler's invasions, but also wouldn't have interfered with his generals or invaded the Soviet Union. The mechanisms of my mind are whirring in delight as I imagine new possible debates for the history sub-forum.

Thanks both of you, and to both of you pos reps


Epic

DonAthos
March 27th, 2010, 11:28 AM
In reference to Hitler being unique, I'll agree with you....to an extent. I think that after the Treaty of Versailles it's no surprised that we had a smoldering, very pissed off Germany. I think that even if you didn't get Adolf Hitler, you still would have gotten a leader like him, one who would have torn up Versailles like Hitler did and one who would have retaken the Saarland like Hitler and maybe undertaken some of Hitler's invasions, but also wouldn't have interfered with his generals or invaded the Soviet Union.

Of course it's the nature of counterfactual history that we'll never know what might have been. But I wonder... (and other more knowledgable history buffs--I'm looking at you czahar--can certainly dispute with all of their facts and what-not :))

I don't think that the Nazi party would've been able to do what it did without Hitler's specific oratory. Perhaps Germany's post WWI situation demanded some sort of "strong leadership" that it wasn't going to find in the Weimar Republic--maybe they were "destined" to turn to one or other of the "fringe" groups. But the specific character of Hitler's Party, with its fascination with war, etc., seems to me to be much more individually driven. I mean, it's no coincidence that Fascism caught on in different countries at around the same time, but even among these Germany seems distinct in its orientation towards war (and among Fascist govts, that's saying something).

Anyways, my larger point is that I think that specific, individual men matter in the study of history, and sometimes a great deal. That if we remove one of these men, let's say due to a childhood disease or something, we're not guaranteed the same general results... and sometimes things may have turned out quite differently. No Lenin? I'd argue no Soviet Union. And how different would things have been in the 20th Century, and today, had that been the case?

manc
July 17th, 2010, 10:53 AM
Interesting thread, I will give you my view, the Marxist view. Firstly, the truth is not one or the other, key individuals can play a critical role at certain times, but in no way is history driven mainly by individuals.

Leaders are basically the personification of the general conditions. Obama represents the wishes of the ruling class and the people, to a large extent. Hitler represented the minds of the German people, to a large extent, the middle class and the capitalist class.

At certain times of course, the leadership can make all the difference, non so more obvious than in a revolution. No Lenin, no revolution? Hard to say. He certainly played a key role. But Lenin wasnt even in the country when the revolution started. And the Bolsheviks were a minute party. But they were propelled to the front by being the right people for the situation, what the people wanted.

Hitler likewise represented the resentment of the ruined German petty-bourgeois, which at the time was at least half the population.

Trotsky illustrates this brilliantly...

"Nevertheless, the leader is always a relation between people, the individual supply to meet the collective demand. The controversy over Hitler’s personality becomes the sharper the more the secret of his success is sought in himself. In the meantime, another political figure would be difficult to find that is in the same measure the focus of anonymous historic forces. Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois."

What Is National Socialism?

(June 1933)
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1933/330610.htm

In fact Trotsky goes on to say that Hitler had no ideas, and this became a plus for him, he merely said what got the most applause...

"...all these minuses turned into pluses. They supplied him with the possibility of uniting all types of dissatisfaction in the beggar’s bowl of National Socialism, and of leading the mass in the direction in which it pushed him. In the mind of the agitator was preserved, from among his early improvisations, whatever had met with approbation. His political thoughts were the fruits of oratorical acoustics. That is how the selection of slogans went on. That is how the program was consolidated. That is how the “leader” took shape out of the raw material."

Other people who played a key role for example were the disastrous Communist leaders, who's mistakes allowed Hitler to take power.

So what does drive history? I will give you the Marxist view, known as historical materialism. In a nutshell, the development of technology, from the stone axe onwards, was the root of all social development. Different forms of society suited different stages of development. As development continued, old structures became outmoded. Thus for example the bourgeois revolutions like the English civil war were driven by new forms of production. The rising capitalist class found the feudal order a hindrance, and swept it away.

czahar
July 17th, 2010, 12:31 PM
So what does drive history? I will give you the Marxist view, known as historical materialism. In a nutshell, the development of technology, from the stone axe onwards, was the root of all social development. Different forms of society suited different stages of development. As development continued, old structures became outmoded. Thus for example the bourgeois revolutions like the English civil war were driven by new forms of production. The rising capitalist class found the feudal order a hindrance, and swept it away.

There is no doubt that technology has played a part in history and that part has certainly been a huge one. However, saying that technology drives history (even in a nutshell) is just not true. Technology, for instance, was not the main driving factor in the creation of the Hellenistic world (i.e., the world ruled by Alexander the Great and his successors). It was charisma, a sense of heroism, and brilliance in the battlefield which drove Alexander and his armies to put the nail in the coffin of the independent city state governments of classical Greece and spread "Greek-like" culture out into the East.

manc
July 17th, 2010, 01:11 PM
I'm not saying technology drives every event in a direct way, I'm saying its behind change. The wars of Alexander the Great would not have been possible without a certain level of technology. That form of society had to be to a large extent based on the level of development of production. Its only a guideline, it doesn't explain everything. And its impossible to generalise. One factor can have different outcomes.

czahar
July 17th, 2010, 01:17 PM
I'm not saying technology drives every event in a direct way, I'm saying its behind change. The wars of Alexander the Great would not have been possible without a certain level of technology. That form of society had to be to a large extent based on the level of development of production. Its only a guideline, it doesn't explain everything. And its impossible to generalise. One factor can have different outcomes.

What exactly do you mean by "change" then? Alexander the Great's campaigns significantly changed both the political and cultural landscape of Greece and what refer to nowadays as "the Middle East".

Mr. Hyde
July 17th, 2010, 01:55 PM
I find this very intriguing and highly appealing actually. At the Museum of Civilization across the river in Hull they do this kinda thing, where you play as fur traders and natives. The game was really simple (kind of round robbin trading in historical costumes and having to talk all "old timey"), but it's not really that fun. On the other hand, when my cousin (who is taking middle eastern studies, archaeology, and persian) was at a either UBC or U of Ottawa (don't remember which) she told me about an excercise they did in class where you were divided into groups, each representing a different power in the Mid-East from the period (I think it was the Middle Kingdom, but not sure, I remember there was an Assyria) and they had to use the knowledge that they had gained in the class that far to form a plan about how they would take over the whole region, through either military means or diplomacy, and also how they would maintain peace at home. This, to me, sounds like the kind of excercises that should be run in schools if they were to use roleplaying games to teach history. Not necessarily games of conquest (that'd be pretty good though!!! military history ftw!!!), but definitely ones that require you to do in-depth thinking and utilize all the knowledge taught previously in the course.

We did a similar thing once in school, but with Japan. Each of us was a feudal warlord, and the goal was to go Nobunaga on the country and unite everyone under one banner. The easiest way of course, by killing each other until only one warlord was left. Because food was so important in moving your army and controlling provinces, I'd say it was the first time I got to see how much food can win or lose a war.

But, since we're talking about using games to teach or explore history, I'd like to see (in reference to your sig), a history game likened to Oblivion or Fallout3. A 1st/3rd person game where you're "random guy" and you can go and just do whatever. But set at different time periods. Let me play a lowly squire during the Crusades, or a privateer turned pirate during the 16-1700s. That was what I LOVED about Oblivion: the total immersion.


I share your sentiment about the Roman farmers, because while I do enjoy the history of the common man from time to time, in most cases they, and their lifestyles, simply weren't that important in shaping history and that devoting your study of history to them sounds more like archaeology.
The lifestyles of the common man were more important than you'd think. The political views of the average person in Missouri was pretty important during and after the Civil War because, if for no other reason, it helps one to understand how and why the James boys could live around there without going to jail for so long, especially with relatives and friends being jailed or killed.

Not to mention the need to understand the average slave and Roman citizen around the time of the slave revolt. Or, if one were to look at historical events in the Bible, the average Hebrew's lifestyle becomes important in understanding how Lot could be rescued when kidnapped (rescued by a small number attacking a larger force).

Or look at it another way, the "Great Men" of history, before being declared such, were ordinary men. Washington was a farmer/plantation owner. That's no different than any other southern guy before or after him for about a hundred years (in either direction). The only difference is that Washington was a time-tested stomper of colons both foreign and domestic. Washington: "Rebellion? Shay? WASHINGTON MANIA'S ABOUT TO BE RUNNIN WILD, BROTHA!" *rips off shirt and wildly swings a metal chair at Alexander "Mouth of the south" Hamilton (the nickname has meaning, trust me) *

John Wilkes Boothe was nothing to write home about until plugging Lincoln. The study of Great Men is, inherently, the study of ordinary men. The only difference is that these were ordinary men doing extraordinary things...except the lincoln killing, any asshole can kill someone, just ask Dylan Klebold.

DonAthos
July 17th, 2010, 09:24 PM
Firstly, the truth is not one or the other, key individuals can play a critical role at certain times, but in no way is history driven mainly by individuals.


I was reminded of this post when I saw a post of yours in another thread, manc. Here is the significant portion:


If the German revolution had succeeded, the whole of world history might have been different. Now one has to wonder, if Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg hadnt been murdered on the orders of the SPD leaders, would that have made a crucial difference?

I understand that you're not arguing completely against individuals importance in world history, and you do specifically mention "revolutions" as being a time and place where individuals may matter a great deal... but still...

If you're open to musing that a couple of individuals might have made the difference for "the whole of world history," then isn't that a strong case for the idea that individuals (potentially at least) have great power to shape history?

Others have subsequently mentioned and discussed Alexander, and I brought up Lenin and Hitler (and I will yet argue for them, if you deem it salient/interesting), and I think that there are many other individuals whose lives have had profound and long-lasting effects on human society (take, for example, a few religious icons such as Mohammed or St. Paul). While I certainly wouldn't try to account all of history to particular individuals--you're right that often a "process" preceeds an event--I still don't think that the power of individuals to affect the course of history should be discounted.

manc
July 18th, 2010, 04:39 AM
What exactly do you mean by "change" then? Alexander the Great's campaigns significantly changed both the political and cultural landscape of Greece and what refer to nowadays as "the Middle East".

Well, there is the role of people like Alexander the Great, but that empire must have been founded on production and agriculture, all civilisations need the physical means. With that comes trade, competition for resources, and war. Society is related to the mode of production.

Ancient Greece had its level of production and with that a class structure with went with it. Originally there were landlords, and technology advanced and there were cities, later the artisans and so on got more organised and won democracy for citizens, but it was all built on slavery. Slavery is a bit of a dead - end in terms of progress, and so all slave societies end up basing themselves on conquest of other lands.

manc
July 18th, 2010, 04:49 AM
I was reminded of this post when I saw a post of yours in another thread, manc. Here is the significant portion:



I understand that you're not arguing completely against individuals importance in world history, and you do specifically mention "revolutions" as being a time and place where individuals may matter a great deal... but still...

If you're open to musing that a couple of individuals might have made the difference for "the whole of world history," then isn't that a strong case for the idea that individuals (potentially at least) have great power to shape history?

Others have subsequently mentioned and discussed Alexander, and I brought up Lenin and Hitler (and I will yet argue for them, if you deem it salient/interesting), and I think that there are many other individuals whose lives have had profound and long-lasting effects on human society (take, for example, a few religious icons such as Mohammed or St. Paul). While I certainly wouldn't try to account all of history to particular individuals--you're right that often a "process" preceeds an event--I still don't think that the power of individuals to affect the course of history should be discounted.

I wondered if anyone would spot that 'inconsistency!' Yeah, looking at two sides of the coin there. Its hard to say. Individuals can be like the final clincher, the vital ingredient that tips the scales, but they are also the ' individual supply to meet the collective demand'. These leaders are products of the society they live in. Lenin was a byproduct of capitalism, as was the whole working class and socialist theory. Without the invention of mass production, factories, you would never have Lenin or Marx. Jesus talked a lot about the poor, but he could never have envisaged socialism, because society was not developed enough for that.

In fact the reason the Russian revolution failed was because the country was too backward, and was isolated. Most people couldnt read or write. Many of the elite under the Tsar had professional expertise and got decent positions in the Communist regime, they joined the party and there was a huge dodgy layer ripe for bureaucratic overthrow of real socialism.

Hitler was the reflection of the ruin of the German middle class. Without him...who knows?

So as for the murder of Luxembourg being a deciding factor, well its speculation. It probably didnt change history, but in a slightly more favourable situation, the German revolution may or may not have found her playing a pretty vital role.

czahar
July 18th, 2010, 11:26 AM
Well, there is the role of people like Alexander the Great, but that empire must have been founded on production and agriculture, all civilisations need the physical means. With that comes trade, competition for resources, and war. Society is related to the mode of production.

Ancient Greece had its level of production and with that a class structure with went with it. Originally there were landlords, and technology advanced and there were cities, later the artisans and so on got more organised and won democracy for citizens, but it was all built on slavery. Slavery is a bit of a dead - end in terms of progress, and so all slave societies end up basing themselves on conquest of other lands.

First, Alexander was not Greek, he was Macedonian. Therefore, your analysis of Greece does not support your argument that Alexander's conquests and radical alteration of the Mediterranean's political landscape was driven by technological reasons.

Second, if you do want to discuss Greece, then the development of democracy probably had less to do with technology and more to do with military strategy. The Greeks employed the use of the hoplite phalanx, a rectangular mass military formation of heavily armed infantry acting in unison. Because the soldiers had a very equal role in the phalanx, this may have encouraged a sense of egalitarianism among both Athenian and Spartan soldiers. In other words, it may have been this sense of military comradery, and less with an organization of artisans which, to the best of my knowledge, Greece did not have much of (probably no more than many of its non-democratic contemporaries), though I will have to consult some of my history books to be sure.

manc
July 18th, 2010, 12:21 PM
well, according to wiki he was Greek

czahar
July 18th, 2010, 01:03 PM
well, according to wiki he was Greek

And upon further inspection it appears that the history of the two may not be as cut and dried as I made it appear, but there was certainly a lot of controversy concerning the Macedonian nationality in ancient Greek times. Demosthenes, in the Third Philippic refers to Alexander's father as . . .

"... not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honors, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave"

Thrasymachus says:

"Shall we being Greeks, be slaves to [the Macedonian king] Archelaus, a barbarian?"

Even Herodotus, the Greek historian who defended the Macedonians as Greeks, states that there those who doubted their Greek nationality:

"I happen to know, and I will demonstrate in a subsequent chapter of this history, that these descendants of Perdiccas are, as they themselves claim, of Greek nationality. This was, moreover, recognized by the managers of the Olympic games, on the occasion when Alexander wished to compete and his Greek competitors tried to exclude him on the ground that foreigners were not allowed to take part. Alexander, however, proved his Argive descent, and so was accepted as a Greek and allowed to enter for the foot-race. He came in equal first."

The Histories Book 5. 22.

Considering this evidence, I think it is safe to say there was significant controversy in ancient Greece to bring the Macedonians ties to ancient Greece into doubt.

DonAthos
July 18th, 2010, 04:30 PM
Considering this evidence, I think it is safe to say there was significant controversy in ancient Greece to bring the Macedonians ties to ancient Greece into doubt.

What are we trying to show right now? That Alexander wasn't Greek, therefore an analysis of Greek culture at the time doesn't relate to Alexander's life/conquests?

Because whether or not Ancient Greeks considered Macedonians Greek or not, I think it would be a hard case to make that Alexander wasn't at least heavily influenced by Greece (for instance, he was tutored, famously, by Aristotle)... which I think is the only thing that manc really needs for his argument; not for Alexander to be "ethnically Greek."

But what *of* manc's argument regarding Alexander, here?


Well, there is the role of people like Alexander the Great, but that empire must have been founded on production and agriculture, all civilisations need the physical means. With that comes trade, competition for resources, and war. Society is related to the mode of production.


"Society is related to the mode of production." I won't argue this point, in part because it seems to be so obvious and simultaneously so vague as to not require discussion. Of course society is related to "the mode of production." Society is related to all things that are a part of it; that's the nature of "relation."

But czahar is putting forward specific claims that the nature of Alexander as an individual had important and long-lasting effects for world history:


It was charisma, a sense of heroism, and brilliance in the battlefield which drove Alexander and his armies to put the nail in the coffin of the independent city state governments of classical Greece and spread "Greek-like" culture out into the East.

Whether or not "all civilisations need the physical means," that doesn't speak to the argument, which I believe summarises like this: if Alexander had been a different kind of individual, is it possible (or even likely) that world history would have been extremely different?

I think so. If Alexander had possessed the temprament of Woody Allen, I think things would have proceeded in a very different fashion.

But if manc (or anyone else) would like to try to make the argument that sans Alexander the world would've roughly turned out the same... hell, it'll be a hard argument to make, but I'd sure like to see it. :)

czahar
July 18th, 2010, 04:50 PM
What are we trying to show right now? That Alexander wasn't Greek, therefore an analysis of Greek culture at the time doesn't relate to Alexander's life/conquests?

Because whether or not Ancient Greeks considered Macedonians Greek or not, I think it would be a hard case to make that Alexander wasn't at least heavily influenced by Greece (for instance, he was tutored, famously, by Aristotle)... which I think is the only thing that manc really needs for his argument; not for Alexander to be "ethnically Greek."

Manc seemed to be implying that Macedonia had achieved democracy. However, not only did this democratic spirit not make its way out of Greece, it did not even make its way out of Athens. By showing that the Macedonians were not Greeks I was showing him that, even if the organization of artisans did bring about democracy in Athens (and I do not believe it did), it certainly did not bring about democracy in Macedonia.

But I would actualy disagree with you here. Even if the Macedonians were ethnically Greek, manc's analysis of "the Greeks" (in actuality nothing more than a analysis of the Athenians) would not necessarily apply to the Macedonians.

DonAthos
July 18th, 2010, 10:23 PM
Manc seemed to be implying that Macedonia had achieved democracy. However, not only did this democratic spirit not make its way out of Greece, it did not even make its way out of Athens. By showing that the Macedonians were not Greeks I was showing him that, even if the organization of artisans did bring about democracy in Athens (and I do not believe it did), it certainly did not bring about democracy in Macedonia.

But I would actualy disagree with you here. Even if the Macedonians were ethnically Greek, manc's analysis of "the Greeks" (in actuality nothing more than a analysis of the Athenians) would not necessarily apply to the Macedonians.

Fair enough. Truly the Greeks (and Macedonians, if we don't count them as being Greek) had a number of different kinds of societies and states.

manc
July 19th, 2010, 12:17 AM
I can't really go into the specifics much as I don't know much, certainly not the difference between Greece and Macedonia. I'm not denying that Alexander have played a pivotal role.

The fact that society is related to the means of production may seem obvious, but its not always obvious to people. It seems to get overlooked in historical analysis.

For instance I was reading a bit about Dutch history recently and they apparently invented the sawmill and this gave them the edge on shipping, so they went on to become a major colonial power, making huge amounts of ships.

So the theory with slave societies is that they can't progress. People look at work as something slaves do, beneath them. Its a dead end. They end up relying on conquests of other places to get more slaves etc. Hence it was slavery that perhaps was a big factor in why Alexander went on all these expeditions and wars.