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The World's Greatest Citizen


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Dalibor’s comments comparing the careers of Wojciech Jaruzelski and Alexander Dubcek got me thinking about what makes a great historical figure.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=372

I thought it might be a good idea to start a thread on the world’s greatest citizen in history. I started by thinking about what I value most about society. I came up with democracy, freedom of expression, political equality and the welfare state. I then looked at the person who did most to achieve this. I would therefore nominate Tom Paine.

In 1776 Paine published Common Sense, a pamphlet that attacked the British Monarchy and argued for American independence. Over the next few years he wrote articles and pamphlets on the superiority of republican democracy over monarchical government. This not only influenced events in America but also played a role in the French Revolution.

In 1791 he published his most influential work, The Rights of Man. In the book Paine attacked hereditary government and argued for equal political rights. He also urged the introduction of progressive taxation, family allowances, old age pensions, maternity grants and the abolition of the House of Lords.

The Rights of Man was printed in cheap editions so that it could achieve a working class readership. Although the book was banned by the government, during the next two years over 200,000 people in Britain managed to buy a copy. The book inspired a generation of men and women willing to sacrifice life and liberty in order to obtain equal political rights.

Most of the things Paine advocated were not achieved until the 20th century. However, I believe that Paine’s writings played an important role in this. I know my decision has been influenced by the fact that Paine was born in Britain (in fact he lived very close to the place where I am typing these comments). I would be very interested to hear from others who would like to nominate someone from the country where they live.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRpaine.htm

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If you widen the discussion to the greatest criminal then there are plenty of candidates! My vote would be for Stalin.

For greatest citizen how about Percy Shaw - the person that invented cats eyes - you know, the things that shine in the road in the middle of the night. He refused to take out a patent so they would be cheap. And think of all the countless safe journeys made at night because of such a simple invention. I think he might get my vote!

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ONE SOLITARY LIFE

( Author Unknown )

He was born in an obscure village.

He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty.

He then became an itinerant preacher.

He never held an office.

He never had a family or owned a house.

He never went to college.

He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only thirty-three when the public turned against Him.

He was turned over to His enemies.

He was deserted by his friends.

He went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property He had on earth.

He was laid in a borrowed grave.

Twenty Centuries have come and gone, and today

He is still the central figure of the human race.

All the Armies that ever marched,

all the Navies that ever sailed,

all the Parliaments that ever sat,

and all the Kings that ever reigned

have not affected the life of man on this earth

as much as that ONE SOLITARY LIFE.

On a secular plane, I would choose Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who, for good or for ill, launched the Enlightenment, whose paradigm governs our world view to this day.

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All the people mentioned so far are very worthy. I'm finding it extremely difficult to pick just one person. I suppose I tend to admire courage in the face of extreme adversity. Given that, a few names spring to mind: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. I'll plump for Mandela, a man who emerged from prison after over 20 years incarceration at the hands of a brutal and unjust system who holds no bitterness. He is an example to us all.

Edited by cd mckie
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So far Percy Shaw, Mohandas Gandhi, Jesus, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Nelson Mandela have been nominated as the world’s greatest citizen.

My original criteria was that the person had to make a large contribution to the achievement of democracy, freedom of expression, political equality and the welfare state.

Although Percy Shaw was obviously an admirable person I don’t think he did anything to achieve any of the above. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an interesting choice. He cared deeply about citizen rights but unfortunately Hitler managed to successfully suppress his political and religious movement. I think his friend, Martin Niemöller, is a better candidate. Mainly because he survived the war and managed to play an important role in helping us maintain peace in Europe after 1945.

Jesus has obviously had the most influence of all the people named so far. Unfortunately, his philosophy has been terribly distorted by his followers and therefore his role in the achievement of democracy, freedom of expression, political equality and the welfare state, is somewhat debateable. With some notable exceptions, his followers have probably done more to prevent these objectives being achieved.

Mohandas Gandhi is a towering figure in the struggle for democracy and equality. His most important contribution was to remind us that political change could be achieved by non-violent methods (also the message of Jesus). Unfortunately, he has not had a tremendous influence of most political movements since his death. The one exception is that his political ideas did influence that other great world citizen, Martin Luther King. The problem with Gandhi and King is that their influence depended largely on them remaining alive. They were charismatic leaders who had the ability to persuade large numbers of people to follow their example. Whereas Tom Paine relied on his writings and these continued to influence the world long after his death.

Nelson Mandela is probably the best loved human being in the world today. Everybody seems to admire his policy towards his former oppressors. However, his influence in the short-term has been negligible. Almost without exception, political leaders find it more acceptable to call for revenge rather than reconciliation. Look for example, how George Bush and Tony Blair responded to September 11th.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is I think the main rival to Tom Paine. Two of his books, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men and the A Treatise on the Social Contract, had a similar impact to Paine’s Common Sense and the Rights of Man. Rousseau gave us of course the slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” that has inspired many fighting for universal human rights.

Therefore I would argue that the current top three are:

(1) Tom Paine

(2) Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(3) Mohandas Gandhi

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I am not going to make demands that my nomination win the contest and hold my breath until I turn blue.

However I think that it is much easier to appear virtuous and full of genius as a writer than as an activist. Paine, Rousseau , Gandhi, and King all have the advantages and disadvanages of being deceased.

I think writers are quite valuable however the warts show and the tough decisions have to be made to actually lead people in time and space. So I would choose to lean more toward a person like Gandhi than Paine or Rousseau

democracy=advocated a civic nationalism for India that went beyond race or creed or caste

freedom of expression= he modelled the value of the voice following conscience and living with the consequences

political equality= spoke out against the abuses of the caste system, the problems of untouchability, and abusive practices against women.

welfare state= well I'm not sure any of the top three went a great deal their. Gandhi did have an ideal communal system with his ashrams. But his vision would have harmed India's economic development. One of his key allies did implement a highly socialistic system of the first democratic leader of India (Nehru)

I think I would choose a value as a criteria of contibuting to improvement of the general welfare of people more than focusing specifically on the creation of the welfare state.

I greatly admire Thomas Paine's writings and passion, but I would choose Thomas Jefferson before him.

The europeans on this thread would be better qualified to come up with candidates from your continent but any support for any of the following . . .

Lech Welesa, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Orwell . . .

Edited by Eeyore
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The World's Greatest citizen - how do we define "Great"?

Refering to Germany some I think would suggest Bismarck as he united Germany in the 19th century, some would refer to some German Emperors/kings of the Middle Ages.

I personally would suggest Willy Brand who initiated and masterminded the Neue Ostpolitik and who truly and honestly began the process of reconciliation between Germany and the nations east of us. I see his foreign policy as the beginning of reuniting Germany.

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I personally would suggest Willy Brand who initiated and masterminded the Neue Ostpolitik and who truly and honestly began the process of reconciliation between Germany and the nations east of us. I see his foreign policy as the beginning of reuniting Germany.

There is a good case for Willy Brandt. He was active in the campaign against the Nazis until being forced to flee from Germany in 1933.

As Foreign Minister he developed the policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between eastern and western Europe). In 1969 Brandt became Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). He continued with his policy of Ostpolitik and in 1970 negotiated an agreement with the Soviet Union accepting the frontiers of Berlin. Later that year he signed a non-aggression pact with Poland.

The Basic Treaty was signed in 1972. In this treaty the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic committed themselves to developing normal relations on the "basis of equality, guaranteeing their mutual territorial integrity as well as the border between them, and recognizing each other's independence and sovereignty".

For his work reducing tensions between East and West he deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

As Ray Blair pointed out it is far easier to be considered great as a writer than as a politician. Brandt is an example of a politician who stuck to his principles and when in power actually made a difference.

Brandt even left office over a issue of principle. In April 1974 he resigned after it was discovered that his close political aide, Gunther Guillaume, was an East German spy.

He continued to be active in politics and between 1977 and 1983 was chairman of the Brandt Commission on economic development. Its report, North-South: A Programme for Survival, argued that the rich north should help countries in the poor southern hemisphere.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERbrandtW.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWostpolitic.htm

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I would like to add some details to my own posting and John's explanation why I chose Willy Brand: for me he was a politician who still had a vision of a better and fairer society; but he was not a utopian, in a way he was vsisonary enough to strive for the nearly impossible by he was realistic enough to look for and find ways of making the impossible possible. The word "Realpolitik" in Germany is always used in context with Bismarck but in a way Brand's policy also was a form of "Realpolitik". He knew that the march to a better future began with the very first sometimes tiny steps be it a permit for people from West-Berlin to visit their families in East-Berlin after the Wall had been built or his "Neue Ostpolitik" which sometimes is actually called a "politics of small steps".

His greatest succes definitely was his foreign policy and many believe that he failed in domestic politics which I think is true. But it was Brand who invited and encouraged the young people who had taken to the streets at the end of the 60's to join the SPD; he was willing to listen to us and to take us seriously. It was him who saw that the Federal Republic of Germany still showed signs of an autocratic system, that democracy was not yet firmly rooted in society and that democratisation of institutions like the universities, the parties, parliament itself was necessary. For the first time in post-war history the Federal Republic of Germany was led by two men (Gustav Heinemann - President and Willy Brand) who represented the "other" Germany, the Germans who had resisted and opposed the Nazi-system.

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I suppose Spartacus wasn't actually a citizen and that is why he has not been nominated :unsure:

The concept is wrong. To worship at the shrine of great men (and notice how many of them were men!) is to shrink from taking our destiny into our own hands.

The one thing which Spartacus realised was that nobody else was going to do anything for the slaves unless they did something for themselves

That is why I would abstain in a vote for the world's greatest citizen.

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I suppose Spartacus wasn't actually a citizen and that is why he has not been nominated :unsure:

The concept is wrong. To worship at the shrine of great men (and notice how many of them were men!) is to shrink from taking our destiny into our own hands.

The one thing which Spartacus realised was that nobody else was going to do anything for the slaves unless they did something for themselves

That is why I would abstain in a vote for the world's greatest citizen.

As I tried to make clear in my original posting, nominations are open to people who did most for the achievement of citizen rights. Spartacus obviously falls into this category (one of the reasons that I named my publishing company after him).

I am not convinced by your reasons to abstain. In your postings you often describe yourself as a socialist. From your comments this appears to be very important to you. However, would you have ever become a socialist without the individual examples of people who were socialists? In reality, most social reform movements have to a certain extent involved the “hero worship” of leaders. These were often intellectual rather than political leaders. However, they were leaders.

Even Karl Marx had heroes. He was once asked who his heroes were. He replied Spartacus. He was his hero because he was the first man in recorded history to organize resistance against the dominant ideology. Marx was aware that without Spartacus the slave rebellion would never have taken place. Marx probably was considering his own role in history when he made these comments. He hoped that his intellectual leadership would result in the creation of more people like Spartacus.

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Why have no women been mentioned in this list?! I would like to add one, but I can't actually think of one off the top of my head who fits the criteria, perhaps answering my own question?! :)

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Why have no women been mentioned in this list?! I would like to add one, but I can't actually think of one off the top of my head who fits the criteria, perhaps answering my own question?! :)

I will nominate several women over the next few days. I will start with Jane Addams. She spent her life campaigning to improve the lives of the people. This included the formation of Hull House (1889), Women's Trade Union League (1903), National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (1909), National Federation of Settlements (1911), Woman's Peace Party (1915), Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1919), and the American Civil Liberties Union (1920). She was also a leading figure in the National American Women's Suffrage Association.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAaddams.htm

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