> On Thu, 18 Aug 2011, SA wrote:
>> This is a little too Great-Man-Theory-of-History-ish for me.
> Hey you started it! I thought you were insisting on this frame. I
> don't ever think this way.
Although this thread has already gone on too long -- a world-historical development for which I claim sole responsibility -- let me clarify what I mean.
The Great Man theory is almost always wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few very rare and exceptional cases where it is possible to attribute some enormous historical change to the contingent choices of a single person, in whole or in large part. There are lots of momentous changes in history, but they almost always have no individual cause; and, conversely, there are lots of clearly individually-caused historical changes, but they tend to be more minor.
Gorby strikes me as a rare example of Huge Change + Clear Individual Responsibility. Yes, in the end it was actually Yeltsin who brought down the system, but once Gorbachev chose to take the steps that destabilized it -- which he didn't have to do, and which no other plausible party GS would have done -- it was inevitable that someone or some group would have administered the coup de grace sooner or later.
Another possible example is Hitler. I guess you could argue about whether WWII was inevitable. But my understanding is that holocaust historians are fairly united on the slogan "No Hitler, No Holocaust." Whether the holocaust was -- in a historical as opposed to strictly moral sense -- in the same league of significance as the collapse of Communism is another question.