The Hero in History
A Study in Limitation and Possibility
The interaction of the individual in history and politics has posed major theoretical questions of historical analysis for the past two centuries: is social destiny shaped by forces beyond the power of the individual, or can the future be mastered by collective effort under the outstanding leadership of heroic men and women? In this classic study, a major philosopher and social theorist of the twentieth century offers a searching examination of the conditions under which individuals make choices that significantly alter the course of historical events and presents a scathing critique of various forms of social determinism that deny the individual freedom of action or a decisive role in history.
The myth of the hero as the savior of the tribe or nation, as Hook notes, is older than written history. Until the ninteenth century, the hero functioned not merely as a cult figure but as a principle of historical explanation, a key to the rise and fall of countries and even of cultures. The exaggerations and omissions of this point of view produced an equally simplistic reaction with the formulation of determinist historiographies in which physical, racial, social, and economic forces replaced individuals as the dynamic factors in the development of events. Hook singles out orthodox Marxism as the most all-encompassing determinist system and subjects the historical thinking of Engels, Plekhanov, and Trotsky to sharp and meticulous scrutiny. Using the Russian Revolution as a test case, Hook observes that while the February 1917 Revolution was an inevitable development, the October revolution was, according to the best historical evidence, contingent upon the personality and actions of Lenin.
In his 1978 reconsideration of the subject of heroism, appearing new to this edition, Hook defines a middle ground between the extremes of voluntarism and determinism that explains why the presence of strong personalities are decisive under certain conditions while under others key actors would appear to be almost interchangeable. He points us toward an understanding of a fascinating problem in history and raises essential questions about the role of "great" men and women in a democracy. The Hero in History will be of interest to intellectual historians, philosophers, political scientists, and sociologists.