It’s that “Great Man” idea again

From the earliest times of recorded history up to the present age, the idea of the “great man,” “the superman” has captured the imagination of the crowd. Stroll along any of the main highways of the world’s big cities and we are confronted with statues of every conceivable size erected in remembrance of these “great men.” But, like everything else, the worship of this “great man” idea has been done to death. There was Jesus Christ for example, supposedly crucified, dead and buried, but three days afterwards (so is the legend) popped back to life again. God had sent him. “He was the son of God.” And no man can, according to the Christians, surpass Christ. He was, and remains, the greatest of them all.

Of course this is all very childish now to those adults who have made any attempt to understand the historic origins of life—humanity and all its heirs and relations. Why has this “great man” idea been so carefully fostered through the ages? It is hard for the rationally minded to believe that it is a “carry over” from early man’s cave dwelling origins, a memory and worship for the departed chief warrior, high priest.

Even if it be conceded that recollection of the deeds of these great men have been a source of inspiration— for a time—in the main it has been one of the biggest contributory causes of the worshippers overlooking their own miserable plight.

We are prompted to record these few odds and ends about the “great man idea” because of what the Manchester Guardian recently described as “the long and occasionally acrimonious struggle to perpetuate the memory of Keir Hardie in Parliament’s own small Valhalla of statutory. . .” The origin of Keir Hardie’s fame is associated with the fact that he entered Parliament wearing a cap, a severe blow to the respectability and propriety which had been enjoyed by that assembly for generations. It is often murmured even now that it undermined for a decade respect for political tradition. But what’s in a hat or a cap for that matter. Has not the recently resigned Prime Minister set the fashion in head gear, inspiring many and otherwise very humbler members of the community to appear less humble—and correspondingly more respectable. There have been others, Baldwin with his pipe, Joseph Chamberlain with his eye glass and orchids; the world’s “big chum” with his big cigars and last, and by no means least, the Welsh miner who once coloured the pages of history by recording on a particular occasion his detestation of vermin!

All these incidents are of course quite trifling, but we would ask in all seriousness whether the cause of Socialism owes anything to whatever Keir Hardie ever said, whether with cap or bareheaded. Suffice it to say that the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee has been struggling for so many years to get the House of Commons to accept “a fine golden gleaming bust . . .” (but without that cap) to adorn those sacred precincts of the House of Commons. Lord Samuel, speaking on the occasion, is reported to have said . . . “Keir Hardie’s cap struck a discordant note. It made us feel slightly uncomfortable. It was meant to make us feel uncomfortable.” Mr. Gaitskell made his tribute at the occasion, saying, “. . . Far more than any other man, Keir Hardie had founded the Labour Party. His Socialism was idealistic in character, drawing more from Methodism, from Robert Burns, than from men like Karl Marx!”

Seriously we ask, what do Mr. Fenner Brockway, chairman of the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee, and Mr. Gaitskell, the old Etonian, really think about such odds and ends, which takes the mind back to the times of Moses, to the primordial past, leaving the story still untold of the manner and ways in which Capitalism still enfolds the life of the worker, with its slums, its homeless millions the world over. May we ask these two sentimentally saturated and posing politicians whether working class understanding of Capitalism as the cause and Socialism as the remedy for the existing ghastly lot suffered by the working class has been advanced one tittle? Or is it perhaps a vain hope which excites both these two political “show offs” to be “the bust of a to-morrow!” Who knows and who cares? Is not this the land of cant and humbug and can political humbuggery go lower?


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