History's Slaves Or History's Masters?
A striking contrast in worldviews about leadership can be found in the writings of Leo Tolstoy, who believed that history shapes and determines leaders, versus those of Thomas Carlyle, who believed that leaders shape and determine history. In his epilogue to War and Peace, Tolstoy contended that kings and generals are history's slaves. Tolstoy believed that leaders merely ride the crests of historical waves that have been set in motion by myriad forces beyond these leaders' control or comprehension. "Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own free will," wrote Tolstoy, "is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole cause of history and predestined from eternity."
On the other side is Carlyle, the nineteenth-century British historian and essayist, who was convinced that "history is the biography of great men," the greatest of them being kings. The very word king, Carlyle contended, derives from the ancient word Can-ning, which means "Able-man" (although his etymology can be disputed). In Carlyle's view, the Ablemen (and Ablewomen) of the human species direct the course of history and determine humanity's destiny.
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