Blowing a hole in the “Great Man Theory” with President Zelensky

Mary Lee Johnson
4 min readMar 20, 2022


The Great Man Theory…

Blowing a hole in the “Great Man Theory” with President Zelensky …(And Women’s History Month!)

The Great Man Theory may have been created by a Scottish philosopher named Thomas Carlyle around 1840. However, the theory has somehow managed to snowball into the history books with many believing in the ideology Carlyle crafted in a series of lectures on heroism.

One of the things that has always stood out to me in the notion of what makes a man a hero is the random quality of history and time. The debate has always been whether the great man can create a movement and a moment, with men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King rising to the occasion and time-space needed in history.

What makes a man a Hero?

Or if a man such as Churchill or FDR, Truman and Eisenhower were created simply as needed when the occasion arises. Returning to the notion of what makes a man heroic, a movie lover such as myself returns to literature and film synchronized. There is a moment in the film Lord Jim when a great naval hero, who must court-martial the cowardly man who abandoned the ship, the Patna, to save himself and allow others to die, begins to muse about what makes a man a hero. He conceded that any person can act courageously in one moment, while turning tail and becoming a coward in another instance. Which adds to the argument that there are moments where time and space simply halt and a new world order is created.

There is a tipping point in history. Author Malcolm Gladwell talks of it, and we remember the film, “Ten Days that Shook the World,” which ironically, dealt with the Russian Revolution. The Revolution has begun, but don’t adjust your television set. The Great Man has arrived to meet the moment, and he is a short Ukranian comedian named Volodymyr Zelenskyy!

The Great Man Theory or a Legend in their own minds?

The Great Man Theory argues that these men, these heroes, are highly influential and unique specimens endowed with superior intellect, extraordinary leadership skills and are divinely inspired. Carlyle and the Great Men proponents believe that all of history is somehow crafted and created around the thought-process, the determination and the will and desire of these men to shape history. They are set apart from others to assume positions of great power and authority.

There are many who, as we say here in the States, begin to believe our own publicity. I can think of several men who, in their minds, believe wholly in the Great Man Theory. And even the great Frank Sinatra was somehow knocked down a peg or two with the roasting analysis: “A Legend in his own mind!” And here we are currently in the midst of yet another Women’s History Month. It seems a fitting point to include women finally in the history of influencing our culture. Women’s History month was designed, in part, to honor those many women who often stood behind the Great Men. These were women who were not simply doing the same work and getting paid less, but they were thinking great thoughts and achieving results. The difference was that they did not yet receive the accolades bestowed upon the Great Men of history.

Zelensky: The Great Man & Global Mass Communicator

In the same vein as underestimating so many hidden voices throughout history, so it was with President Zelensky of Ukraine. Zelensky did not just arise out of the ashes to become a Great Man and an inspiring leader. The generation he grew up in has been engrained in the Mass Communications Global Network. Zelensky is a master at crafting the message we need to hear. He is the man of our time who has proven more than capable of meeting the moment. And unfortunately, this moment has arisen to give him the world stage to voice his message of fighting for freedom and pleading for peace.

I had hoped never again to turn on the TV and see images that look as if they were staged shots from the history of World War II. Buildings that are randomly blown up, and beautiful historical cities have been flattened. But more important, the beautiful faces of people, young & old, are fleeing from indiscriminate bombings. Lives have been shattered, families uprooted, because of the ego-maniacal thought-dreams of one weird and depraved man.

Zelensky has met the moment. He is the Great Man Theory come to life for the 21st Century. The man not only meets the moment, but he also shapes and crafts the messages and images we need to see. He insists that we must see them in order to shame us. Why? Because of two words-Never Again. The entire Globe must put into action the necessary means to create a world that Never Again allows evil dictators to threaten the peace and stability of an entire planet.



Mary Lee Johnson

Author of five books, & blogger at 6 Degrees Writer…