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Political "Greatness" (?)
June 29, 2002 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Political "Greatness" (?) [nyt reg req] An attempt to measure political leadership with the "cool objectivity of science", reflecting a leader's "impact on the world, not his personal virtue". Dr. Arnold M. Ludwig, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky says: "No American president can be regarded as great unless they've been involved in war and been responsible for the death of many." Serious BS.
posted by Voyageman (9 comments total)

 
Serious BS.

Then why would you post it?

Based upon "impact on the world", his assessment is decent, if not obvious. You can't tell me that Clinton or Bush are even in the same ballpark as FDR, Hitler, Stalin, etc.

Further, tyrants and despots seem to garner the most attention because they require intervention, whereas peaceful, charitable leaders impact their own state in a profound way, but are ignored in the global picture. Like I said, obvious assessment.
posted by BlueTrain at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2002


Hrm. I don't know if FDR is really as well respected for leading us in WWII as he is for changing the direction of the country during the great depression.
posted by delmoi at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2002


You can't tell me that Clinton or Bush are even in the same ballpark as FDR, Hitler, Stalin, etc.

Certainly you could make a case that Bush and Clinton's greatness rivals former leaders of the world. They are so near to the present that it prevents any comparison to the past. Take Clinton's bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which is accountable for over 3 million deaths in that country. That is half of the Jews killed in the holocaust. Some people have used the excuse that because he wasn't directly attacking the people themselves that it is not really a crime (I don't know how they come to this conclusion either). Seemingly all our crimes take place this way lately, From afar with farther reaching effects.

Peaceful leaders like Gandhi or Mandela (which I would not liken to Bush or Clinton) are, on the other hand, just as synonymous a name as Hitler or Castro and, I believe, have made just as great an impact.

The effects of George W. Bush's leadership will be seen for decades to come. How it will be written into history is another matter.
posted by velacroix at 11:43 AM on June 29, 2002


Take Clinton's bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which is accountable for over 3 million deaths in that country

That's an interesting statistic. Where did you find it?
posted by daveadams at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2002


I feel some serious trolling coming in this thread's direction...

Hrm. I don't know if FDR is really as well respected for leading us in WWII as he is for changing the direction of the country during the great depression.

Maybe in the US... but on a global scale? I don't think that anyone outside of the US would think of FDR as anything but the "wartime president."
posted by mkn at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2002


One can certainly see the argument for FDR's stature given this prof's underlying rationale. That's the point though: as the article openly discusses (not communicated in Voyageman's post), measures of greatness are somewhat subjective, change over time, and have no common theoretical basis. One could easily say that the greatness listing is not so much an argument for the personage's theoretical objective greatness as it is for the list-maker's rationale.

Probably the most famous controversy of this sort, in recent years, is Michael Hart's The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, which on first publication in 1982 caused quite a stir: Hart's #1 is Muhammad, #2 Isaac Newton, and #3 Jesus Christ {sample page showing list}. I'm amused that one of the Amazon reviews is titled, after the Python sketch, Hello, I'd like to start an argument. Not just choosing 100 important persons, but to actually rank them! (By comparison, look at the hackles that are raised just by an AFI list of 100 movies.)

As for the Ludwig hypothesis, the article suggests he's relying on a Great Man theory of history, when it sounds to me more like an Interesting Times theory. The leaders of a given people through periods of peace and prosperity are by this definition almost incapable of greatness, though one could just as easily argue without any basis of proof that they were simply never tested as were others.

Compare with The American Presidents Ranked by Performance, for example, or the Keys to the Presidency election prediction system {self-link}, which can be used in reverse as a referendum on the performance of a US President. (Under this system, devised as it happens by a liberal Democrat, Reagan's first term ranks higher than any other; the next is Teddy Roosevelt, but FDR is close behind.) The Keys system posits a specific list of performance factors, some of which are objective (GDP per capita) and others highly subjective (charisma). In general, though, the system is not so much an argument for a given office-holder's greatness or the parlor game of predicting the election winner, but about putting forth a performance model of the presidency. Such a model would necessarily include economic factors, as well as military, and the way in which the model is constructed is really an exprssion of the builder's world view.

Also, it's important sometimes to separate the man from the office. I think Jimmy Carter is a terrific human being, but he made a terrible president.
posted by dhartung at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2002


Shoot, one more -- the periodic rankings of US presidents by historians, such as the most recent from the Federalist Society (and the WSJ) which tried to be more bipartisan, as it saw things, than prior surveys. The author of the survey's report even downplayed it as "a parlor game for academics"; and the WSJ article was even subtitled Society reveals itself in whom it reveres.
posted by dhartung at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2002


Take Clinton's bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which is accountable for over 3 million deaths in that country

That's an interesting statistic. Where did you find it?

According to Chomsky, an independent researcher estimated tens of thousands potentially dead from the loss of the pharmaceuticals.
posted by Corky at 5:26 PM on June 29, 2002


That's an interesting statistic. Where did you find it?


I read this in Chomsky's "911" but I can't be sure that the number is right now as I lent it out to a friend. I may be guilty of "enroning" :) the number to suit my post. Oh I'm a haven of BS.
posted by velacroix at 2:19 PM on June 30, 2002


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