LOUIS SCHOR ASKS ME who would be my choice for Time magazine’s Man of the Century, assuming that they get to pick one.
The question is premature. In the 13 years before the century ends, we might yet find some leader of worldwide influence who is sane, resolute and humane.
I suppose Schor uses the term Man of the Century , apparently excluding women, because the century has so far given us no women who have that combination of power, hubris and iniquity found in most men who dominate history.
Few women have risen to that dubious distinction in conventional views of history. They do not seem to have had the Napoleonic complex. In his book, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” (which was called to my attention by Nick Polos, professor of history at La Verne University), Michael H. Hart names only two women--Queen Isabella (No. 68) and Queen Elizabeth I (No. 95) in the entire Christian era.
It may help in evaluating Hart’s judgment, however, to know that he puts John F. Kennedy on his list (No. 80), because J.F.K. brought about the Apollo moon shot, but he leaves Abraham Lincoln off on the peculiar excuse that if Lincoln had not freed the slaves, someone else would have.
Reader Schor suggests such possible nominees as Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, Henry Ford, Guglielmo Marconi, Thomas Edison and Martin Luther King Jr.
His own choice would be Edison, he says, because Edison’s inventions led to television, “which to my mind has had the greatest impact on the greatest number of people throughout the world,” he says.
If psychopaths are eligible, then Hitler and Josef Stalin are definitely in it. Hitler caused the deaths of perhaps 60 million people and made us wonder whether we were civilized at all. Doubtless he cast a darker shadow over the century than any other man. Stalin ran him a close second and killed even more of his own countrymen than Hitler did.
The electronic wonders of our age go back to Edison and several others, but Edison patented his most important inventions in the 19th Century, and modern communications were already widespread when the new century began on Jan. 1, 1901.
If the Man of the Century should turn out to be Teller, that will mean that his brainchild, the hydrogen bomb, has prevailed, and his nomination will be moot, since there will be nobody here to applaud him.
Certainly Einstein is the mathematical genius of the century, but ironically the ultimate product of his most portentous insight may be the end of man’s existence on earth.
Of course, if Einstein hadn’t figured out that the energy of an atom is equal to the product of the mass and the square of the velocity of light, someone else would have.
Who knows? If Mikhail Gorbachev lives up to his promise, he might lead us to disarmament and peace and be the Man of the Century. Ronald Reagan seems to have lost his chance.
One looks without much hope among the current presidential candidates, but of course great leaders have been known to rise from unpromising material.
Hart’s list of the 100 most influential people in history suggests that religious leaders are always strong contenders. His first six, in order of their influence, are Mohammed, Isaac Newton, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius and St. Paul--all but one men of religion or philosophy.
At the moment, however, the field is rather barren. Jim Bakker has definitely peaked, Oral Roberts is too close to God, and Jerry Falwell seems to have lost his clout. Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson look like also-rans.
I’m not sure a woman can’t make it yet. Jack Dunn sends me something I had overlooked: a copy of a page from Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary on forms of address. On addressing the President, it advises:
The White House; or
The Honorable Amelia R. Smith
President of the United States
The White House.
Perhaps that’s an omen. Pat Schroeder, won’t you please come back!