I’ll get to Donald Trump eventually, since there’s an election on.
But the question is, first, Do nations need Heroes?
Thomas Carlyle, the 19th Century English philosopher answered that question with a resounding “Absolutely.” In 1842 he did a series of lectures entitled “Heroes and Hero-Worship”, explaining why this is so. It was a hard read for me since he wrote in English-English, and if you’ve ever seen an English murder mystery on Brit-Box, which my wife and I are addicted to, you know half of the dialogue is in a language no American recognizes without hours of in-class training. (We plan to re-watch Seasons 1 and 2 just to see what we missed while learning this new cant.) But the way they say their words, as if speaking from the bottom of their chins…especially middle and upper class lips and chins…are grim reminders about how the government class and media speak down to and about the ordinary people of America today.
This is why the people select their Heroes and the politicians can’t, even in the days of kings and dictators.
Thomas Carlyle wrote his lectures never considering that a third generation coal miner’s son in America would ever read his lectures, then reread them to understand them, and then finally try to blend them into ordinary American-English for the casual reader. People who read modern professor-English knows why you’d have to read someone like Carlyle twice, first to find out if there’s anything in there worthy of deeper thought. This is something Barack Obama never knew to do at Harvard, so all he ever came away with was memorized cliche peer-English, a perfect example of the Cleese Rule.
Now Carlyle was teaching from the viewpoint of England and Europe. America was just over 50 years old, although He did mention George Washington in a positive way. He wrote The Hero as Divinity, The Hero as Prophet, The Hero as Poet, The Hero as Priest, the Hero as Man of Letters, and finally, the Hero as King, writing about men generally known in England.
For instance, as divinities he chose the pagan Norse gods, Odin and Thor, instead of the divinities Christian communities would normally consider. They were the primary gods of northern Europe before Christianity arrived in the 1st and 2nd centuries, and it was Carlyle’s opinion…”without evidence”, as the New York Times, Washington Post all the way down CNN and Politico like to report at least 5 times a day…that the Norse gods had all likely been actual real men who stood out so brightly they had been remembered in myth and legend for their various feats of strength, sagacity, leadership and wisdom, etc., possessing a long list of virtues people still universally look for in their leaders today.
Carlyle began with gods and ended with kings, and in between listed “prophets, poets and men of letters and priests”, for in truth, each in their turn, had captured the people’s hearts and imaginations in ways that precious few kings or political leaders ever could. And that was likely the point Carlyle was driving at.
Hero-worship is an interesting phenomenon in determining how peoples of every culture think about their history and society, much more than their leaders, showing that of all the kings that came down the pike, very few were admired by their people to the point of being thought of as heroes. As a young guy from the Caucasus said as he planned to open a kiosk on a Moscow street corner, “I just hope I get a good mafia.”
That’s about all the people could ever hope from a king.
Interestingly, as Prophet, Carlyle chose Mohammed (Mahomet) then went on to say absolutely nothing positive about the religion he started, but since Mohammed was illiterate, he probably wasn’t trying to run a scam. So he praised him for being earnest, and for the simplicity of his message which touched hundreds of thousands of Arabs, which, after conquering the holy places in Arabia, and Mohammed died, turned to evangelizing with the sword, first all across North Africa and into Spain, finally being stopped in the Pyrenees. They were still holding onto part of Spain when Columbus discovered America, 800 years later and their empire ran from Spain in the west to the islands of the East Indies in the east.
His choice of Dante and Shakespeare as Hero-Poets speaks for themselves, for both overcame immense obstacles, Dante Alighieri one of the history’s saddest figure. And both are still admired today.
As for Men of Letters, he selected Dr Samuel Johnson, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Bobby Burns, Johnson overcoming incredible pain but still the wisest observer and writer of almost every English age, and Burns overcoming possibly the greatest burden a writer in the English language could ever bear; that of being Scottish. But about Rosseau, like Mahomet, Carlyle had not one good thing to say about him except that he was a Hero to France, and inspired the French Revolution, which he saw as the foulest event in European history since the Black Plague, fouling Europe’s history long after it ended…mainly because it had bequeathed Europe a Napoleon Bonaparte, who Carlyle went on to describe in his final lecture, “The Hero as King, Cromwell, Napoleon and Modern Revolutionism.”
And for Priests, he named Luther and the Reformation and John Knox and Puritanism.
(It doesn’t take two readings to see how Carlyle connected these.)
I know, that was a long introduction, but there’s a line of thinking involved here I’d like to see resurrected, for Carlyle is a believer in Hero-belief as a very important asset in a society’s survival and its advancement. And they have a connection with Man’s basic nature, and that somewhere along the line there is a disconnect with that basic a nature and the political or government class.
You see, Hero-worship couldn’t be manufactured as the Communists attempted with their Cults of Personality; first Lenin and Stalin, then hitting a stone wall inside of 30 years, then Mao, hitting his stone wall within 30, China still clinging to it as its sole source of legitimacy, Fidel and Che and Cuba’s stone wall, and all those petty little tinhorn Communist potentates of Eastern Europe, stone wall after stone wall, as the German, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian people, all in very short order began their own great collective yawns, hiding in their basements listening to bootleg CD’s of Jethro Tull and the occasional public worship of a soccer hero, as I witnessed in Bulgaria, when Christo Stoichkov thrust Bulgaria into the Soccer World Cup in ’94. Instant hero…and the nation had stopped for a whole week.
So national leaders as Heroes, whether kings or politicians, were few and far between.
And Thomas Carlyle nominated Oliver Cromwell. And who better? King Arthur was a myth. Yes, there was Winston Churchill a century later, and Elizabeth I, who resealed the bond between the English monarchy and the People a century before Cromwell.
It wasn’t so much about what Cromwell did but how English thinkers and historians the following centuries regarded what he did. And it all came down to Class and the negative opinion people on that side of the pond had about self-righteous, rock-ribbed Puritans…which caused some of them to pull up stakes and help found America, only to be equally disliked on this side of the pond by their neighboring Protestants once they got to know them. In fact, almost every negative characteristic of Puritans then has been adopted by the Democratic Party culture as ugly behavior patterns, only married to the nastier aspects of class rank and entitlement of the English aristocracy. It’s as if every Democrat is either seeking illicit wealth or a knighthood. Or both.
In truth, Oliver Cromwell was not a likeable man, and of course, Carlyle acknowledged this.
Critics of Cromwell, both British and foreign, have long continued to “find what they were looking for” in the records of his career and character. Some have denounced him as a hypocritical tyrant; others have described him as the finest type of middle-class Englishman. (Italics mine.) He has been acclaimed as “the greatest Englishman of all time”- DH Pennington, History Today, Vol 8, issue 9, Sept 1958
In the end it doesn’t really matter which view about Cromwell wins a debate, but the reality of what Cromwell actually did and did not do. This is how Carlyle came to name Cromwell as Hero as King, that he could have made himself one, but despite all his unlikeable faults, he chose not to. Neither power for the sake of power or entitlement, nor the pursuit of self-aggrandizement (wealth) was part of decision-making.
What he did do was save Parliament, by defeating the Royalist forces in battle in the English Civil War, 1641-1649, then watching successive parliaments be unable to cut a deal with the sitting King, Charles I, who the aristocratic Parliament preferred to keep rather than abolish, for if the monarchy were abolished so would their own “divine rights and privileges.” Charles and Parliament could never agree, so finally Gen Cromwell formed a “Rump Parliament” out of just under 50% of the original Parliament, who ordered Charles I to be tried, and then executed. Then when Parliament reneged on several agreements of reform Cromwell re-entered, named himself Lord Protector and ordered a Commonwealth formed. A dictator, plain and simple. But just a temp.
He died in that job and was succeeded by his son, until both the Commonwealth and Office of Lord Protector were dissolved when Parliament, after 11 years, decided it wanted its king again, so invited Charles II back to succeed his dear departed and beheaded papa so to set the royal planets in their universe back on their original course. (Bottom line, that didn’t work so, the Stuart line going back as far as Mary, Queen of Scots.) Charles and James were so rotten (and French) the Glorious Revolution of 1688 finally restored the original handshake between Elizabeth I and the people of England, that first seed planted at Runnymede three centuries earlier (which we’ve discussed before.)
Just as Oliver Cromwell had spent his life trying to acquire.
To historians such as David Hume, Oliver Cromwell’ greatest sin against English history was, well as a commoner, he kicked around a lot of members of Parliament and the aristocracy. He was heavy-handed, and rude, worse, he was out-of-line witness his speech to Parliament when he fired them all. (Wouldn’t you love to be able to tell the American Congress this today.?) (I liked Richard Harris in “Cromwell” in 1970 more than did the critics, but he came much closer to Carlyle’s depiction.)
Cromwell was, still is, hated by much of English history because of the way he talked down to his betters, and they have written almost all the histories.
In short, he nearly destroyed the class system which England still believes it cannot exist without.
But what Cromwell did not do was name himself king and go from being a “democrat” commoner to an aristocrat, or king, as Bonaparte did. Bonaparte began the French Revolution as a pro-democrat, then notice how poorly the intellectuals were running it, and decided to restore order, as I described earlier in the month, (When a Nation Goes Mad). Only he decided he could do better as Emperor. This thinking has become common fair among the government class in America, today. This was only highlighted by the Obama regime but how far back that thinking actually goes we won’t know until America’s historians feel the need to write about it.
America loves it Heroes, and thanks to the shenanigans of the NBA and NFL, and cold corporations who now own them, is in a process of re-examining its heroes even in sports. Our military still produces great heroes, as do our police, first responders, only they no longer get any press from an anti-hero media. Nor do their exploits lead to final victories. That more or less ended with Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton. Our last true national heroes were Neil Armstrong and the entire teams of Apollo adventurers. All of them. But that was almost 50 years ago. And they blazed a trail so that ordinary millionaires with absolutely no skills and only a few simple safety precautions, will be able to pay Elon Musk for a 5-day excursion to the moon, which is the normal fate of heroes, to do the extraordinary so that life can remain ordinary.
America has had few political heroes. Of course there was Abraham Lincoln, who died keeping America together, even though it seems Congress still found it more profitable to keep America largely at one another’s throats. George Washington was our greatest Hero, probably, simply because he actually fought our war for independence, and then went on to plow the first several rows for our future existence, plowed almost entirely by his stature and not his politics…all the while knowing he could have agreed to become king, only turned the notion down, out of hand just like Oliver Cromwell, simple because he followed a higher Truth and a higher God.
Having some of the same flaws of the public Oliver Cromwell, Donald Trump may well be treated in history the same way as Cromwell was, simply because of the low-nature of the people he represents, and the high-handed way he has treated his self-appointed betters.
George Washington wasn’t a politician but he was a Hero to all the People. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a politician, but he was a Hero to all the people. Donald Trump isn’t a politician, but so far, he is also a Hero to the People except among the government class and their toadies.
This is as it should be.
So, do nations need Heroes? Especially now, Yes.
My Heroes Have Never Been Politicians.
Mostly only cowboys and explorers.