WHO CAN BE CALLED A GREAT MAN?

If asked of military heroes such as Alexander, Attila, Caesar and Tamerlane, the question is not difficult to answer. The military men make epochs and effect vast transitions. They appal and dazzle their contemporaries by their resounding victories. They become great without waiting to be called great. As the lion is among the deer, so they are among men. But it is equally true that their permanent effect on the history of mankind is very small. Their conquests shrink, and even so great a General as Napoleon after all his conquests left France smaller than he found it. When viewed from a distance they are seen to be only periodical, if necessary, incidents in the world's movement, leaving no permanent mark on the character of the society in which they live The details of their career and their moral may be interesting, but they do not affect Society and form no leaven to transform or temper the whole.

The answer becomes difficult when the question is asked about a person who is not a military general. For, it then becomes a question of tests, and different people have different tests.

Carlyle the apostle of Hero Worship had a test of his own. He laid it down in the following terms:—

"But of Great Man especially, of him I will venture to assert that it is incredible he should have been other than true. It seems to me the primary foundation of him, this. . . No man adequate to do anything, but is first of all in right earnest about it; what I call a sincere man. I should say sincerity, a deep, great genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic."

Carlyle was of course particular in defining his test of sincerity in precise terms, and in doing so he warned his readers by defining what his idea of sincerity was—

"Not the sincerity that calls itself sincere: ah no," he said, "that is a very poor matter indeed;— a shallow, braggart, conscious sincerity; oftenest self-conceit mainly. The Great Man's sincerity is of the kind he cannot speak of, is not conscious of: nay, I suppose, he is conscious rather of insincerity; for what man can walk accurately by the law of truth for one day? No, the Great Man. does not boast himself sincere, far from that; perhaps does not ask himself if he is so: I would say rather, his sincerity does not depend on himself; he cannot help being sincere!"

Lord Rosebery proposed another test when dealing with Napoleon—-who was as great an Administrator as a General. In answering the question, Was Napoleon great? Rosebery used the following language:

"If by 'great' be intended the combination of moral qualities with those of intellect, great he certainty was not. But that he was great in the sense of being extraordinary and supreme we can have no doubt. If greatness stands for natural power, for predominance, for something human beyond humanity, then Napoleon was assuredly great. Besides that indefinable spark which we call genius, he represents a combination of intellect and energy which has never perhaps been equalled, never, certainly, surpassed."

There is a third test, suggested by the philosophers or, to be more accurate, by those who believe in divine guidance of human affairs. They have a different conception of what is a Great Man. To summarise the summary of their view, as given by Rosebery, a great man is launched into the world, as a great natural or supernatural force, as a scourge and a scavenger born to cleanse society and lead it on to the right path, who is engaged in a vast operation, partly positive, mainly negative, but all relating to social regeneration.

Which of these is the true test? In my judgement all are partial and none is complete. Sincerity must be the test of a Great Man. Clemenceau once said that most statesmen are rogues. Statesmen are not necessarily Great Men, and obviously these on whose experience he founded his opinion must have been those wanting in sincerity/ Nonetheless no one can accept that sincerity is the primary or the sole test. For sincerity is not enough. A Great Man must have sincerity. For it is the sum of all moral qualities without which no man can be called great. But there must be something more than mere sincerity in a man to make him Great. A man may be sincere and yet he may be a fool, and a fool is the very antithesis of a Great Man.

A man is Great because he finds a way to save Society in its hours of crisis. But what can help him to find the way? He can do so only with the help of intellect. Intellect is the light. Nothing else can be of any avail. It is quite obvious that without the combination of sincerity and intellect no man can be great. Is this enough to constitute a Great Man? At this stage we must, I think, make a distinction between an eminent individual and a Great Man. For I am certain that a Great Man is something very different from an eminent individual. Sincerity and intellect: are enough to mark out an individual as being eminent as compared to his fellows. But they are not enough to raise him to the dignity of a Great Man.

A Great Man must have something more than what a merely eminent individual has. What must be that thing? Here comes the importance of the philosopher's definition of a Great Man. A Great Man must be motivated by the dynamics of a. social purpose and must act as the scourge and the scavenger of society. These are the elements which distinguish an eminent individual from a Great Man, and constitute his title deeds to respect and reverence.

~ Dr B. R. Ambedkar



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