Matthew Yglesias has some reaction to Right-Wing News’s lists of greatest figures of the twentieth century as voted for by right- and left-wing bloggers. My considered view that such lists are inherently silly hasn’t sufficiently stifled my irritation at the omissions. There’s obviously an argument to be had (on Aristotelian lines) about whether a person can both be great and do really bad things, though the further back in time one goes the easier it seems to be to reconcile judgements of greatness with the fact of a historical figure having committed atrocities or other acts of cruelty (e.g. Alexander the Great, Cromwell).
But I was also appalled by the fact that the so-called left-wing bloggers were, for want of a better word, chicken. Their list contained no leading figures from the international communist and socialist movements at all, and yet quite a few of them warrant serious consideration. Jean Jaures, French socialist opponent of war, murdered on the eve of the first world war, for one. And how about Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, again, socialist opponents of the war, murdered by the neo-fascist Freikorps in 1919? I’d even make the case for Lenin and Trotsky. The leftists have voted, safely and reasonably enough, for Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King jr. Fair enough, but I’d have thought Ho Chi Minh and Ben Bella were in with a shout. Yglesias bemoans the absence of theorists other than Orwell (who wasn’t). I concur: why were there no votes for Bertrand Russell (also a campaigner against WW1), Max Weber and Emile Durkeim (20th century figures both) or John Rawls? No doubt the prevalent francophobia meant that the right-wing crowd denied Charles de Gaulle his place. (And don’t get me started on the artists, writers and composers.)
UPDATE: (Thanks CY) There’s a long thread on this at Electrolite.
UPDATE UPDATE: Norman Geras posts the list he voted for and some reflections.