Do Leaders Make Events Or Do Events Make Leaders?


The historian ought to study ‘not the manifestations of power but the causes that produce it’, as said by Leo Tolstoy in his epilogue to ‘War and Peace’. As opposed to the sycophantic approach of the Ancients, he argues, whereby each event is attributed to the heroics of a ‘Great Man’, the historian must pursue the end of recording the precise, measurable ‘causes’ of events. This is not dissimilar to our progression in science, away from religion and towards real explanation.

‘Great Man’ history makes three categories of assumptions about both events and individuals. First, that ‘Great Men’ act consciously and distinctly as individuals, and thus that they are independent from the groups and classes other people find themselves in. Second, that ‘Great Men’ possess the power to move millions of people at their own whim, despite not being Gods (after all, we have progressed since the Divine Right of Kings). Third, that ‘Great Men’ are the source (or ‘cause’, to employ prior terminology) of their own power. This essay w