Popper on Great Man Theory

September 27, 2022 • #

This just showed up in my Readwise highlights today, from Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies:

It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason.

Popper opposes the historicist Great man theory, where we attribute outsized impact on the world to singular people. Here he reminds us that deference to great men encourages hubris and overconfidence. We should remember that some of the worst assaults on the freedom and open societies are also the doings of these “great men”.