Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: History — Rick Moran @ 4:01 pm

Pat Curley had a great idea for a lazy summer’s day; compile a list of the 10 Most Influential Human Beings of the Second Millennium:

A friend asked me to put together a list of the ten most influential people from 1000 AD to 2000 AD. They did not themselves have to live in the second millennium, just have influence. Here’s my list:

1. Jesus Christ
2. Galileo
3. Sir Isaac Newton
4. George Washington
5. Napoleon
6. Karl Marx
7. Adam Smith
8. Aristotle
9. Muhammad
10. John Locke

I love these kind of thought experiments for a variety of reasons. First, no matter who you come up with, someone is going to get mad at you for leaving out one of their favorites. And since Glenn Greenwald is ignoring me lately, I miss having people mad at me.

Secondly, it makes you think and (depending how much beer you’ve drunk or Oaxacan ditch weed you’ve inhaled) your writing takes on the patina of profundity; reason enough for any blogger to jump at the chance of sounding, well, smart.

Finally, what else is there to blog about on a Friday afternoon? There are only so many posts you can do about what you believe is happening in the Middle East. Or what a douchebag Glenn Greenwald is. Or how badly the Republicans are screwing things up. Or what a bunch of poopy heads the Democrats are.

Obviously, I need a little more of that ditch weed. Fire up that bowl!

Okay, here is my list of the 10 Most Influential Human Beings of the Second Millennium:

1. Johann Gutenberg
2. Martin Luther
3. Isaac Newton
4. Galileo
5. Mao Zedong
6. Muhammad
7. Napoleon
8. James Madison
9. Karl Marx
10. Albert Einstein

Honorable Mention: George Washington, Adam Smith, James Clerk Maxwell, William Shakespeare, Robert Goddard.

A couple of notes before you rip me to shreds.

First, there is a difference between most popular and most influential. The popularity of Jesus Christ may have been profound but judging by the bloodletting on the planet in the 20th century alone, one would have to sadly relegate him to the second tier because his influence on world events (his teachings) was not that great.

You’ll notice there are 4 scientists in my top 15. The reason is simple; the modern world would not be possible without Newton, Galileo, Maxwell, or Goddard. We’d still be living in mud huts and flinging pig feces at each other if those gentlemen hadn’t made their illuminating contributions to our general knowledge of How Things Work.

Here now is where I justify my picks (and enrage you further):

1. Gutenberg. No Johann, no mass literacy. No mass literacy, no protestant reformation. No reformation, we’re still buying indulgences and the finger bones of St. Peter.

2. Martin Luther. With many of my choices, one can make a strong argument that “if not this guy, then someone else.” Indeed, this entire exercise would be dismissed out of hand by most historians for that reason. They tend to downplay the role of individuals and singular events in history preferring to look at the vast and powerful undercurrents that drive history forward. Their reasoning goes something like this: There was a need for reformation ergo if not Luther, someone else would have taken on the Roman church.

There may be something to that. But the romantic in me doesn’t buy it. Luther’s towering intellect and tortured personality as well as a divinely inspired logic swept Europe off its feet and led directly to the formation of independent nation states. When historians find someone else living at that time or even a few decades later who could have done what Luther did, then I’ll buy their relativistic view of history.

3. Newton, enemy of everyone condemned to take integral calculus in order to get a degree (he was one of the inventors of it), not only contributed to our understanding of the universe, his theories on optics and light made much of modern technology possible.

4. Galileo. Only because he may have been the smartest human who ever lived. We still find him looking over our shoulder when we turn around.

5. Mao. Ranked higher than Marx because his teachings influenced about 3 times as many people. And he may be the greatest mass murderer in history. And his influence in China (and leftist moonbats here and in Europe) is still being felt today. And also because he was something of a military genius. That enough for ya?

6. Muhammad. Not only his teachings but the fact that he conquered most of Arabia.

7. Napoleon. Hard to overstate his impact on Europe and the world in the 19th century. Can’t get more influential as the fall out from his life and career carries through to today.

8. Karl Marx. 40-60 million dead as a result of his ideas. And that’s not counting people who died in wars of “national liberation.” That’s the body count from domestic upheavals in countries where communism was imposed.

9. James Madison. Wrote the Constitution of the United States. Nuff said.

10. Einstein. His contributions may have been more in the theoretical than the practical sphere of science except for one, small exception; the atomic bomb.

Honorable mentions are pretty self explanatory. Washington invented the Presidency of the United States as well as keeping the country from flying apart the first 8 years of its existence. Adam Smith didn’t invent capitalism but he explained it so well his writings still influence people today. Maxwell’s equations are the reason you can read this on your computer - they made every modern device from radio to Diebold voting machines possible. I put Shakespeare in there because of his profound influence on the spoken words of everyday people. And if you look inside the rockets that power the Shuttle, you’ll still see Robert Goddard’s basic design.

Okay - have at me. Check back often as I skewer your choices with my perspicacious wit and devastating logic. Or, I may get lazy this weekend and ignore you.

At any rate…have fun!


  1. Excellent choices all, Rick. But somewhere on the list I would have to find room for Charles Darwin. His effect on science and how we perceive the world around us is incalcuable.

    Comment by SShiell — 7/21/2006 @ 4:56 pm

  2. Darwin and Freud were left off the list because while people built substatially on their original ideas, they’ve fallen out of favor in the last couple of decades as new discoveries in brain chemistry and evolutionary biology have have superceded their original work.

    Comment by Rick Moran — 7/21/2006 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Rick,

    “New news is old news happening to new people.” Thanks for breaking the monotony.

    I like these kinds of lists too and you did a fine job compiling it. An exception: without Jesus there’d be no Luther or Gutenberg (or arguably Newton or Galileo who both approach science as a pursuit of truth rooted in God).

    Adam Smith was a great addition that I would not have thought of but needs to be there.


    Comment by Jefferson Reed — 7/21/2006 @ 5:05 pm

  4. [...] Getting back to the round-up, Rick Moran over at the Rightwing Nuthouse has a great Friday afternoon thingy going on - he’s listing the 10 most influential people of the second millenium and inviting you to do the same. I hope some of you will choose me. But if you don’t, that’s alright. Tigerhawk got Chocolate, today. I did not. Sigh. I miss my husband and Buster. They’re still doing that backpacking-a-heatwave-with-no-toilets thing. Buster told me it’s been a genuine ordeal and he will never do such a stupid thing again. Apparently he’s got a rash, or a fungus or something, too. I tried to tell them this he-man stuff wasn’t necessary. But I’m proud of them, too. They’ve had a grueling week, climbing up 1500 ft. inclines and eating freeze-dried trail food and such. Silly beans! I wish they’d get home, already! Triangulation Kibble now being served! Captain Ed notices that Bill and Hillary are once again doing the Triangulation Trot. This time over Joe Leiberman. This is, of course, what they always do. One steps right, the other steps left, and they manage to cover the dancefloor without crashing into each other. I call it Triangulation Kibble because it is the food they always serve the Democrats. One is the hard outside, the other is the chewy center, and they have the remarkable skill of being able to switch roles at the drop of a hat. I’ll never forgive her for putting on a Yankee cap and utterly cursing my baseball tribe! [...]

    Pingback by The Anchoress » Written under duress…I mean Guinness! — 7/21/2006 @ 5:31 pm

  5. My friend who suggested this stopped by this afternoon and the two others that he came up with that I had to agree with were Gutenberg and Luther. Madison is certainly close; he might be near the top of the list of my second ten.

    Locke is crucial though; he’s underappreciated because his thinking has so permeated our lives that what he says seems like nothing more than common sense. But it was fairly radical for its time.

    Comment by Brainster — 7/21/2006 @ 6:20 pm

  6. I’ll give you Jesus as the most influential person in history.

    Homer and his scribe come in tied at second. Whoever he was, the scribe invented the alphabet to record Homer, still the best storyteller of all time. Thus literature was born.

    I’d put Augustine third. His influence was preeminent for over 1000 years. The Confessions, On Christian Doctrine and The City of God essentially defined civilization as we know it.

    Washington fourth. We’d all be living in a monarchy if it weren’t for him.

    Substitute Jefferson for Napoleon at 5. American over French Revolution, that sort of thing. (No Frenchman deserves to be on any list of influential people, except for maybe Dumas.)

    Substitute Madison for Marx at 6. Much better understanding of economics.

    Smith is good at 7.

    Shakespeare (Edward de Vere) at 8. Invigorated the English language and re-invented drama.

    Substitute King John for Aristotle at 9. He did sign the Magna Carta, which as a document is much more influential than anything Aristotle wrote.

    Substitute St. Ambrose for Mohammad at 10. Translated the Bible into Latin.

    Now for your second list.

    I’ll give you Guttenberg at 1.

    Pope Julius II over Luther at 2. He did give us Michelangelo after all.

    Galileo instead of Newton at 3.

    Columbus at 4. Discovered the New World.

    Leibniz over Newton at 5. The latter may have won the war of the philosophers, but the former invented the first calculating machine, which was the precursor to the computer. He also developed the calculus first.

    Chaucer at 6. Invented the rhyming couplet and started the great tradition of English literature.

    Julius Caesar instead of Napoleon at 7. A Roman over a Frenchman any day.

    Franklin instead of Madison at 8. Just to be different.

    Hayek instead of Marx at 9. Whose economic system is still functioning?

    Darwin instead of Einstein at 10. Although wrong, the theory of evolution has had much more influence than relativity, which no one has ever understood.

    Comment by GawainsGhost — 7/21/2006 @ 6:54 pm

  7. No Al Gore?

    I could see votes for Thomas Jefferson or Edward Teller. Or Hitler, who has cast a shadow over the world that’s still around today. (And/or maybe Nietzche, if I’m going to put Hitler in there).

    Thomas Edison? James Fulton? Henry Ford?

    They’re mostly America-centric, for which I make no apologies.

    Comment by Steve in Houston — 7/21/2006 @ 7:02 pm

  8. Time check, yo!

    Comment by ace — 7/21/2006 @ 7:25 pm

  9. Tough call. I think some of the scientists’ contributions were inevitable; maybe a few years later but inevitable. Einstein’s contributions may well hve been unique.

    I think the printing press was inevitable. The technology had been around for quite a while.

    George Mason was probably as influential as Madison (without the political ambitions).

    Put me in the George Washington camp.

    Others to consider:

    Zhu Xi. You’ve probably never heard of him but he was enormously influential in the Confucian world (most of the Far East).

    Temujin. Without him we might well all be speaking Arabic.

    Charles Martel. Ditto.

    Comment by Dave Schuler — 7/21/2006 @ 8:34 pm

  10. Gawain’s Ghost, your list is certainly of better people than mine or Rick’s but the question is one of influence. Marx has had much, much more influence on the world than did Hayek; the good news is that has probably ended.

    I picked Napoleon because he’s the central figure in Europe for the last 250 years, and because his military strategies had lasting influence around the world. He’s effectively the father of Realpolitique as much as Metternich was.

    I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare, but he’s not somebody who changed the world. You could make a better argument for Harriet Beecher Stowe (or Tom Paine). Ditto with Darwin; an important building block of knowledge but would anything in the world be significantly different today if he’d not existed? That’s why I left Bell off my list–his invention changed the world dramatically, moreso than almost anybody out there other than Gutenberg, but… we all know that if Bell hadn’t done it Elisha Gray would have two hours later, because that was the difference in time between the patent applications. Hard to argue that he’s crucial then.

    Comment by Brainster — 7/21/2006 @ 8:42 pm

  11. Galileo

    Comment by chuck — 7/21/2006 @ 8:56 pm

  12. Well, Hitler had more influence than Marx, but I don’t see him on any list.

    The question goes to influence on the state of the world as it is today, not on who people think influenced the world. This is why I pick Leibniz over Newton. Leibniz not developed the calculus and published it first, but the calculus we study today, which is based on differentials, is closer to Leibniz’s than it is to Newton’s, which is based on fluxions. The simple fact that people believe Newton developed calculus is irrelevant.

    Shakespeare isn’t someone who changed the world? He added over 10,000 words to the English vocabulary and set the precedence for adding and inventing new words to the language. Not to mention re-inventing drama, which is the dominant force in contemporary culture. It is not hyperboly to say the two books that most determined the spread of English over the globe were the King James Bible and the Works of William Shakespeare. Talk about influence.

    As for Napoleon, he was a French midget. But he was no Julius Ceasar and certainly no Augustus. He definitely was no Constatine.

    I’d pick Franklin or Edison over Darwin. Electricity and the light bulb certainly had more influence than the theory of evolution, since how people live is more important than what they think.

    As to Galileo, okay, I’ll grant him some influence. But how much influence would he have had if the Church leaders had not finally admitted he was right?

    Comment by GawainsGhost — 7/21/2006 @ 10:16 pm

  13. Edison, Bell, the Wright’s, Ford, Gates. Come on! I wish the Darwin, Freud, Shakespeare factions well, but lets get real.

    Comment by ecs — 7/21/2006 @ 10:58 pm

  14. Sorry, should have added Steve Jobs to balence it out.

    Comment by ecs — 7/21/2006 @ 11:01 pm

  15. No More Surprises

    Earlier this week, the NYT took note of the fact that both the US and Israel were apparently surprised by Hezbollah’s level of weaponry: WASHINGTON, July 18 — The power and sophistication of the missile and rocket arsenal that Hezbollah…

    Trackback by Say Anything — 7/21/2006 @ 11:08 pm

  16. Imagine a world without radio, without television, without nightlife, without movies. No internet, no computers, no space program, no culture as we know it today. That would be the world without Thomas Edison. The vacuum tube was discovered through experiments on the “Edison effect” of thermionic emission. The vacuum tube led to the amplifier which led to radio which led to the transister, the integrated circuit, the miroprocessor …

    First power plants, electrification … we owe our entire culture to Edison.

    Comment by crosspatch — 7/22/2006 @ 12:20 am

  17. Oops, forgot recorded music … he was the grandfather of the iPod too.

    Comment by crosspatch — 7/22/2006 @ 12:21 am

  18. The top 3: Jesus Christ, Karl Marx, and Muhammad. As I see the world, the movements founded by these three are the broadest and deepest existing “philosophies”. Jesus: I sputtered at the comment that He is not influential. Faith in Jesus as the crucial factor of the universe is shared by a third of mankind, including a massive chunk of world leaders. Jesus influences billions every day, including most of the other “most influential” people. Karl Marx: Not only did his teachings lead directly to the deaths of scores of millions, it has become the unifying force of the secular mindset, and not only in economic terms. The ultimate goal of Marxism/socialism/nihilism is the destruction of Western civilization, as explained by David Horowitz in “Unholy Alliance”. Muhammad: His followers conquered vast portions of the world and the Jihad for a global Caliphate is yet in its first millennium. Oh wait, it’s because George W. Bush did something or other. Never mind.

    Scientists: Einstein with a bullet. The revelations of his annus mirabilis may not have come for many centuries but for him, and the tangible implication of his works - the nuclear bomb, which swayed the course of World War II and the fate of the world - is only part of the equation (pun intended without shame). His relativity theory truly redefined humanity’s understanding of the nature of the physical universe and replaced centuries-old theories by… Newton: Gravity, calculus, and the Fig Newton. Darwin: Had a huge influence on scientists and fascists and, more importantly, (supposedly) gave an intellectual stamp on secularism.

    Other: Washington: No Washington, no USA, no cars, planes, or internet? Martin Luther: What Mr. Moran said. Shakespeare: what Ghosty said.

    Rounding out the top 10, the guy who made the formula for Frappucinos.

    Note: I think that it is fair for the list to lean heavily to modern figures because the direction of progress is exponential. It is worth noting that the influence of the top few may outweigh the rest combined.

    Comment by Josh — 7/22/2006 @ 12:48 am

  19. Tesla—without whom the modern world would not exist. Everything connected to electricity goes back to him. He laid the foundation for all things electrical, without which there is no modern world.

    Comment by paul — 7/22/2006 @ 7:58 am

  20. I am not trying to offend crosspatch…but he needs to get his facts straight about Edison. Tesla is resposible for electricity that we use today(alternating current).

    Comment by paul — 7/22/2006 @ 8:01 am

  21. Crosspatch, I’ll give you Edison. But if Franklin had not discovered electricity, would the light bulb have ever been invented? And I agree with Paul, where would radio be today if not for Tesla?

    I am not convinced on Luther. Anyone who has ever read his writing knows his logic leaves a lot to be desired. Besides, could he have ever posted his protest if Henry VIII had not broken with the Catholic Church?

    All this goes to say that no single person is influential alone. Would Jesus have had any influence if not for His apostles? Everyone plays on another, as all ideas build on other ideas. In this regard, I highly recommend Harold Bloom’s book The Anxiety of Influence, which illustrates how great writers can only respond to other great writers.

    For example, Virgil could only respond to Homer. Dante could only respond to the writers of the Bible–he envisioned his Divine Comedy as the third book of the Bible, after the Old and New Testaments. And the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight could only respond to Dante and Chretien de Troyes, although this is little recognized. Milton could only respond to Dante, and Blake could only respond to Milton.

    Brainster wonders why I place so much importance on great writers. The answer is very simple–literature shapes culture. Or as Blake writes, “Empire follows Art, and Not Vice-Versa.” Anyone who questions the influence of Shakespeare (Edward de Vere) has no understanding of how the language we speak influences the way we think. No one has had more influence on the growth and development of the English language than Shakespeare, and thus no one has had more influence on the way we think–constantly adding and inventing new words, and thus new ideas, new usages and new inventions. Nothing else more defines the 1st world.

    Comment by GawainsGhost — 7/22/2006 @ 8:59 am

  22. I would add something. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors (whom I greatly respected) once told me that all of human history could be divided into two periods: before 1798 and after 1798. He was referring of course to the publication of Lyrical Ballads and the Romantic revolution at the end of the 18th century, of which the American revolution was an integral part.

    Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Paine lit the fire that changed the world we live in. Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats lit the fire that changed the literature we read.

    Comment by GawainsGhost — 7/22/2006 @ 1:20 pm

  23. The discussion of which is better, ac or dc, is secondary to the concept of having generating stations (Edison’s used DC, Westinghouse wanted AC) and running wires to people’s houses allowing them to have electic lights and motorized water pumps that allowed indoor plumbing …

    But such things as recorded music (which needed no electricity on a mechanical device using wax cylinders) and his several other inventions define our culture today. And not just American culture but world culture.

    Also, Frankin did not discover electricity. He suspected that lightning was electricity and proved it allowing him to invent the lightning rod which saved many from fire but hasn’t really defined our culture as Edison’s inventions have.

    Italian physician Girolamo Cardano returned to the subject of electricity in De Subtilitate (1550)[1], distinguishing, perhaps for the first time, between electrical and magnetic forces. In 1600 the English scientist William Gilbert, in De Magnete, expanded on Cardano’s work and coined the modern Latin word electricus from ηλεκτρον (elektron), the Greek word for “amber”, which soon gave rise to the English words electric and electricity.

    He was followed in 1660 by Otto von Guericke, who invented an early electrostatic generator. Hiraga Gennai developed the elekiter in Japan in the mid 18th century. Other pioneers were Robert Boyle, who in 1675 stated that electric attraction and repulsion can act across a vacuum; Stephen Gray, who in 1729 classified materials as conductors and insulators; and C. F. Du Fay, who first identified the two types of electricity that would later be called positive and negative.

    The Leyden jar, a type of capacitor for electrical energy in large quantities, was invented at Leiden University by Pieter van Musschenbroek in 1745. William Watson, experimenting with the Leyden jar, discovered in 1747 that a discharge of static electricity was equivalent to an electric current.

    In June, 1752, Benjamin Franklin promoted his investigations of electricity and theories through the famous, though extremely dangerous, experiment of flying a kite during a thunderstorm. Following these experiments he invented a lightning rod and established the link between lightning and electricity.

    Comment by crosspatch — 7/23/2006 @ 2:06 am

  24. And a note: My grandparents home had an “Edison” system to provide electricity for lighting and water pumping. I believe it was a 32 volt DC system but was replaced when the rural electrification program came about during the depression. Some of the old wires and insulators are still in the basement.

    Their house was a Sears kit purchased by my great grandmother as a wedding gift and one of the first in the area with indoor plumbing.

    Edison had more than an impact on our culture, he managed to define it.

    Comment by crosspatch — 7/23/2006 @ 2:18 am

  25. Well, I’m not going to quibble over semantics with you. Whether Franklin “discovered” electricity or invented the lightning rod is beside the point. He also invented the pot-belly stove, the rocking chair, and bifocals. He was one of the more important framers of the Constitution, and that alone gives him more impact on our culture.

    Edison, Bell, Tesla only added to the culture. They did not define it in any way comparable to Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, or any of the other framers.

    Comment by GawainsGhost — 7/23/2006 @ 4:20 am

  26. Hitler certainly in the second M. How many people were influenced by his personal megalomaia? Indeed, how many would be alive yet today?

    Also, I would have to include Al Kaline. Sorry.

    Comment by Tomf — 7/25/2006 @ 3:36 pm

  27. Um… megalomania.

    Comment by Tomf — 7/25/2006 @ 3:38 pm

  28. No comments

    Comment by Jose — 7/27/2006 @ 7:28 pm

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