Contributor Post Created with Sketch. No Genius in Sight

 
casablanca-conference-granger
1943 Casablanca Conference (l-r): Giraud, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and Churchill.

Peggy Noonan nailed our collective international crises in her WSJ column this weekend. She states that we live in a time where there seem to be no exceptional people — what she calls “genius clusters” — on the international level (never mind in our own country) to step-up to the plate and lead us forward.

The leaders of the world aren’t a very impressive group right now. There’s a sense with some of them of playing out a historical or cultural string, that they’re placeholders in some way. Many are young, yet so much around them feels tired. […] There was a small genius cluster in World War II—FDR, Churchill, de Gaulle. I should note I’m speaking of different kinds of political genius. There was a genius cluster in the 1980s— John Paul II, Reagan, Thatcher, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Lee Kuan Yew in his last decade of leadership in Singapore. The military genius cluster of World War II—Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery, Patton, MacArthur, Nimitz, Bull Halsey, Stilwell—almost rivaled that of the Civil War—Grant, Lee, Stonewall, Sherman, Sheridan, Longstreet.

She also makes a critical point regarding the times we live in:

Obviously genius clusters require deep crises, otherwise their gifts are not revealed. Historic figures need historic circumstances. Also members of genius clusters tend to pursue shared goals.

The world is in one huge mess. What will need to happen for great men and women to emerge and step forward? Any thoughts about who is waiting in the wings?

There are 61 comments.

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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Romney would have been one member.

    Imagine the most American guy you can imagine — a Mormon capitalist state governor — with Keystone XL and reasonable immigration policies helping conservatives retain power in Canada and Australia — squaring off against Jeremiah Wright’s own peasant Pope and a gutless, borderless europe.

    Putin would have to wait in line to make trouble, like Marilyn Manson going door-to-door trying to shock a jaded America in 2016.

    http://www.theonion.com/article/marilyn-manson-now-going-door-to-door-trying-to-sh-459

    • #1
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:17 AM PDT
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  2. Boss Mongo Member

    Susan Quinn: Obviously genius clusters require deep crises, otherwise their gifts are not revealed.

    Or, sans crisis, their gifts are purposefully tamped down and suppressed, so as not to disrupt the established order.

    • #2
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:24 AM PDT
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  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Ball Diamond Ball: Romney would have been one member.

    Okay. I’ll bite. Are you serious or not?

    • #3
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:26 AM PDT
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  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Boss Mongo: Or, sans crisis, their gifts are purposefully tamped down and suppressed, so as not to disrupt the established order.

    Just another example of government domination in our lives?

    • #4
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  5. Seawriter Contributor

    The problem with Noonan’s thesis is “genius clusters” are only revealed in retrospect, generally 20 to 50 years after the fact. During the period the geniuses are working their magic (which is less magic than hard work) they are despised as nidderlings, buffoons, and fools.

    Grant was a drunken butcher. Sherman was crazy. Churchill was a has-been dinosaur. Reagan was an affable dunce. Thatcher was a heartless harridan. Those were all contemporary opinions of these geniuses.

    As to those hailed as geniuses during their active careers? Who remembers Edward Everett today? Yet he was the most renowned orator of the day the man who gave the speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery everyone was going to remember. George McClellan was the military genius of the Civil War. Pierre Trudeau was going to lead Canada to greatness. Walter Mondale was going to fix America’s problems.

    Kipling (as he often does) said it best:

    They that dig foundations deep,
    Fit for realms to rise upon,
    Little honour do they reap
    Of their generation,
    Any more than mountains gain
    Stature till we reach the plain.

     Noonan, sadly, is representative of the world’s elites today. Able to craft pretty words, but unable to grasp deeper meanings or underlying realities. She would be well advised to leave New York City’s Upper West Side for Omaha, NE, Ogden, UT, or Odessa, TX to reconnect with reality. She won’t though.

    Seawriter

    • #5
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:35 AM PDT
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  6. Boss Mongo Member

    Susan Quinn:

    Boss Mongo: Or, sans crisis, their gifts are purposefully tamped down and suppressed, so as not to disrupt the established order.

    Just another example of government domination in our lives?

    I don’t think the phenomenon is governmental. Any group of self-selected elites–the self-important, self-selected, self-impressed–will fight to suppress the emergence of genius. Otherwise, they would have to hold their own paltry accomplishments and abilities cheap.

    • #6
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:42 AM PDT
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  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Seawriter: The problem with Noonan’s thesis is “genius clusters” are only revealed in retrospect, generally 20 to 50 years after the fact. During the period the geniuses are working their magic (which is less magic than hard work) they are despised as nidderlings, buffoons, and fools.

    Your point is fair enough, Seawriter. But not everyone saw them at the time as you describe them. Also, we’ve seen time and again that personal weaknesses (such as Churchill’s) doesn’t mean he wasn’t celebrated during his time. The people who didn’t like people’s policies, such as Reagan’s and Thatcher’s, did ridicule and condemn them. But they were also celebrated during their own times by those who had sufficient insight to what they were contributing.

    I don’t like a lot of Peggy Noonan’s columns. But I think she was right on this one. But you and I can disagree!

    • #7
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:44 AM PDT
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  8. Pencilvania Inactive

    I can imagine several clusters of people who are pretty ticked after reading Noonan’s article.

    • #8
    • July 3, 2016, at 7:57 AM PDT
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  9. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Peggy writes real purty. But as attractive as the text reads, I think she is dead wrong.

    First off, we all know that intelligence is not a number, nor is intelligence the same thing as wisdom or good judgement. These men were not “geniuses”. They were merely powerful and forceful, which is not as rare a quality as Noonan suspects.

    Nor were they remotely infallible or even above average for political or military leaders in history. What the best of them was, was stubborn. And while that is a tremendous and rare quality, stubbornness also cuts both ways.

    • #9
    • July 3, 2016, at 8:25 AM PDT
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  10. Larry Koler Inactive

    Pencilvania:I can imagine several clusters of people who are pretty ticked after reading Noonan’s article.

    Funny!

    • #10
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:03 AM PDT
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  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    iWe:Peggy writes real purty. But as attractive as the text reads, I think she is dead wrong.

    First off, we all know that intelligence is not a number, nor is intelligence the same thing as wisdom or good judgement. These men were not “geniuses”. They were merely powerful and forceful, which is not as rare a quality as Noonan suspects.

    Nor were they remotely infallible or even above average for political or military leaders in history. What the best of them was, was stubborn. And while that is a tremendous and rare quality, stubbornness also cuts both ways.

    iWe, I think you sell the people short whom Noonan selected. First you’ve chosen to define genius in a very limited way. Here are the Merriam-Webster definitions:

    A very smart or talented person; a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable; a person who is very good at doing something of great natural ability; remarkable talent or intelligence.

    Second, they did much more than behave stubbornly. You could arguably delete some from the list as showing great accomplishment, but hardly all of them by a long shot.

    Finally, all that aside, do you see anyone in the wings who could step up? Or are we doomed?

    • #11
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:09 AM PDT
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  12. Larry Koler Inactive

    Noonan is best when she looks at the long game. She’s horrible at the short term — didn’t she vote for Obama?

    I get what she is saying. There’s some truth to this and that crisis brings the better people to the fore. One of the great problems with the Communist countries is that great people cannot rise. Because great people aren’t great until God or history or circumstances open a way for them. Communists tend to kill potential great people. Like with their farming, they tend to eat their seed corn.

    Grant would have been a nothing in history if not for the Civil War — but wow! was he ready and capable and driven!

    But, Seawriter is right about the hindsight that is needed to really evaluate things and we shouldn’t expect to recognize them now.

    Noonan is summoning the ghosts of Christmases Future.

    • #12
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:11 AM PDT
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  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I’d also suggest to commenters that they look past her post and consider answering my question: is there anyone out there who can step up to the plate? I know a lot of you don’t like Noonan or the WSJ, but I think my question is legitimate.

    • #13
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:12 AM PDT
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  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Larry Koler: But, Seawriter is right about the hindsight that is needed to really evaluate things and we shouldn’t expect to recognize them now.

    Thanks, Larry. But don’t you think we have to see their potential for greatness, even if we don’t fully realize it until later? I guess I’m desperate for someone to show up!

    • #14
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:20 AM PDT
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  15. Titus Techera Contributor

    I think the politicians that brought down the USSR pall in comparison with the politicians who fought & won WWII. I’ll note, there had been none of their kind in the previous conflict…, but in previous centuries, far greater politicians lived & led.

    But all in all, great politicians are enemies of democracy; or democracy is their enemy. Either way, they are remarkably rare by nature–& then democratic politics tend to add different limits.

    I do not think America wants or would allow the rise of a great politician. Any that might arise against the tendency of the times would have to be trusted by the democrats. The chance that they would help out the country as a whole is also not great, because there are so few organizations articulating the opinions, inspiriting the habits, & revealing the relative power or influence of the various parts of the American electorate.

    I don’t know any extant American politician who could be a great American politician in these times.

    • #15
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:23 AM PDT
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  16. Seawriter Contributor

    Susan Quinn: I’d also suggest to commenters that they look past her post and consider answering my question: is there anyone out there who can step up to the plate?

    Oddly enough that is the same question a lot of people were asking about Union generals in 1862. If your predictions included Sherman and Grant you would have been hooted at – even after Donelson and Henry and the Battle of Shiloh. Grant was almost removed from command after taking Forts Donelson and Henry.

    He was the only consistently victorious Union general to that point, but was still dismissed as merely lucky, a man to be removed before his impulse to attack led to disaster. Similarly Reagan was dismissed as someone who was merely lucky during the period from 1980-88. Reagan proved to be the greatest US President of the 20th Century, but in 1989 most people considered him somewhere in the bottom half of the Presidents. Lucky, not smart or good.

    Are great people out there today? Yep. Do we know who they are? Not yet. This generation’s Reagan might prove to be Gregg Abbott or Rick Perry (yeah, he’s a loser – that is what they said about Churchill in 1938). Or it might be someone else. Pope Francis may be a disaster on stilts, but his successor may be the next John-Paul II. We do not know and will not know until afterwards.

    They are there – they always have been.

    Seawriter

    • #16
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:28 AM PDT
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  17. Seawriter Contributor

    I also feel sitting around waiting for the Chosen One to appear and deliver us all is a good formula for ensuring the next Reagan, the next Thatcher, the next JPII never arises.

    There are no Chosen Ones. There are only imperfect people who strive against the odds and sometimes succeed. The extent evil convinces people they need to await a deliverer is also a measure of the success of the forces of darkness. I prefer to look to the invisible hand – millions of individuals seeking to improve their lives – for progress than the man on the white horse.

    Seawriter

    • #17
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:34 AM PDT
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  18. Larry Koler Inactive

    Seawriter:I also feel sitting around waiting for the Chosen One to appear and deliver us all is a good formula for ensuring the next Reagan, the next Thatcher, the next JPII never arises.

    There are no Chosen Ones. There are only imperfect people who strive against the odds and sometimes succeed. The extent evil convinces people they need to await a deliverer is also a measure of the success of the forces of darkness. I prefer to look to the invisible hand – millions of individuals seeking to improve their lives – for progress than the man on the white horse.

    Seawriter

    Wow! Great stuff. Well stated.

    We should do our duty and support those who we examine and find qualified to do a job well. Great heroes are not to be seen and shouldn’t be sought prospectively. This is — almost by definition — something for future generations to sort out.

    • #18
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:47 AM PDT
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  19. Jim George Member

    As one who is often turned off by Noonan’s elitist and condescending view from that most insular of all islands and in full agreeement with the description of her writing as “real purty”, in all fairness I must say that I feel this was one of her best columns in a very long time. While I am sure the idea of “clusters of genius” is not brand new scholarship, I found the idea most appealing and some of the clusters listed almost brought tears to my eyes, especially the Generals and Admirals from The Civil War and World War II. And, we have often talked of the providential bringing together of geniuses which brought us the gift of “something new in the history of man” which we celebrate tomorrow –Happy Birthday America! But, the “cluster of geniuses” which really was painful to recall, in this era of Government by Thugocracy and surrounded by the blatant, in-your-face corruption of Obama and both Clintons, was that incredible time in our history when we had President Reagan (remember when we had a real President?) and Thatcher, et al., and I especially admired the quote from the British Home Secretary: “Politics isn’t a game.” Would that our current candidates could learn that lesson. What are the odds?

    Happy Fourth and God Bless America!

    • #19
    • July 3, 2016, at 9:59 AM PDT
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  20. Larry Koler Inactive

    Titus Techera:I think the politicians that brought down the USSR pall in comparison with the politicians who fought & won WWII. I’ll note, there had been none of their kind in the previous conflict…, but in previous centuries, far greater politicians lived & led.

    The job they had to do was different and less spectacular but if ever there was a need to do it that was greater then I don’t know what that is. And they had to overcome incredible resistance — from the Democratic Party liberals, the left in general and the media and Hollywood and academia. All were opposed and our heroes overcame them.

    • #20
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:01 AM PDT
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  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Seawriter: Are great people out there today? Yep. Do we know who they are? Not yet. This generation’s Reagan might prove to be Gregg Abbott or Rick Perry (yeah, he’s a loser – that is what they said about Churchill in 1938). Or it might be someone else. Pope Francis may be a disaster on stilts, but his successor may be the next John-Paul II. We do not know and will not know until afterwards.

    Thanks for elaborating, Seawriter.

    • #21
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:14 AM PDT
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  22. Titus Techera Contributor

    Larry Koler:

    Titus Techera:I think the politicians that brought down the USSR pall in comparison with the politicians who fought & won WWII. I’ll note, there had been none of their kind in the previous conflict…, but in previous centuries, far greater politicians lived & led.

    The job they had to do was different and less spectacular but if ever there was a need to do it that was greater then I don’t know what that is. And they had to overcome incredible resistance — from the Democratic Party liberals, the left in general and the media and Hollywood and academia. All were opposed and our heroes overcame them.

    This is all true. I mentioned things to point out that it simply used to be the case that politicians were far greater, in ages when civilized people had far less power. But life is better now for most people than it’s ever been. There’s a kind of reverse relation…

    • #22
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:15 AM PDT
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  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Larry Koler: We should do our duty and support those who we examine and find qualified to a job well. Great heroes are not to be seen and shouldn’t be sought prospectively. This is — almost by definition — something for future generations to sort out.

    You and Seawriter make sense, Larry. I’d be happy to settle for someone who could do a good job!

    • #23
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:16 AM PDT
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  24. Seawriter Contributor

    I am currently writing a book about Hood’s 1864 invasion of Tennessee (more about the project here). One thing I am relearning as I write it is great decisions often get made by ordinary people. The North won the Battle of Franklin due to one brigade commander’s decision to do the right thing.

    When his division commander ordered the division to entrench in a poor position, ahead of the main Union breastworks in a spot which was easily flanked, Colonel Emerson Opdyke told the General the orders were crazy. He refused to dig in there, placing his brigade in a position behind the Union lines in reserve.

    When the Confederates attacked they swept away the exposed division, pursuing the retreating Union soldiers so closely the Union main line could not fire for fear of hitting their own troops. As a result, the Confederates breached the Union lines and were about to roll up the fortifications.

    Opdyke, who had placed himself without orders, launched a counterattack on his own initiative, which contained the breach, and led to the Confederates being pushed back.

    Had Opdyke quietly obeyed orders, the North would likely have lost the battle. He had the courage to disobey a foolish order and attack without being told. He was not routinely insubordinate or difficult – he was a good soldier.

    How can anyone judge that kind of greatness prospectively? I do not believe you can. It only appears when it is needed.

    Seawriter

    • #24
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:32 AM PDT
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  25. Titus Techera Contributor

    Consider our situations. Conservatives declare, asked & often unasked, their infinite contempt for politics, as well as their preference to pay attention to private life, not public stuff. On the other hand, conservatives are capable of terrible anger & are not ashamed or taken aback when it comes to turning it into a political force or even a principle.

    There is a deep contradiction there. It would be, it seems to me, better to be interested in politics–which the anger reveals–in a more consistent way while thinking about politicians as other than mostly evil or mostly incompetent. Otherwise, how to acquire both the experience to judge political events before they come to a big smash & the kind of politicians who think to do right by conservatives?

    What man of ability would trust conservatives? Take them at their word, they have no interest in politics–so soon as the crisis is over, they’ll go back to their own concerns. If they had their druthers, politics would be the most useless profession–politicians cannot ultimately agree with this! Look at their deeds & you see an incredible anger that leads them to sacrifice people when a disagreement blows up of a sudden, as though there could be no future… Whereas politicians want to make a life of politics, so that they should survive disagreements.

    Then, too, are conservatives really going to move heaven & earth to defend their own?

    How are we to attract that which we cannot create, great politicians?

    • #25
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:32 AM PDT
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  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Seawriter: How can anyone judge that kind of greatness prospectively? I do not believe you can. It only appears when it is needed.

    So I’m trying to understand–it sounds like we can elect people who we think can do a good job, but we shouldn’t expect them to be great. We can only know when they take on the job whether a greatness will emerge or not? I’m not sarcastic–genuine tone here.

    • #26
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:37 AM PDT
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  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Titus Techera: Consider our situations. Conservatives declare, asked & often unasked, their infinite contempt for politics, as well as their preference to pay attention to private life, not public stuff. On the other hand, conservatives are capable of terrible anger & are not ashamed or taken aback when it comes to turning it into a political force or even a principle.

    Titus, I’m not sure what or whom you’re describing. Could you explain?

    • #27
    • July 3, 2016, at 10:54 AM PDT
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  28. Seawriter Contributor

    Susan Quinn:

    So I’m trying to understand–it sounds like we can elect people who we think can do a good job, but we shouldn’t expect them to be great. We can only know when they take on the job whether a greatness will emerge or not? I’m not sarcastic–genuine tone here.

    More like we will only find out if they are great (as opposed to good) after they have taken on the job. The effect of their efforts is not clear (in many cases) until long after they are done. Immediately afterwards the effects can be so small as to be unnoticeable.

    Seawriter

    • #28
    • July 3, 2016, at 11:29 AM PDT
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  29. Tim Wright Inactive

    Is it as simple as this? A society gets the leadership class it deserves. Tim

    Edited to add… I remember thinking when I read Noonan’s column that a society has to want and value strong sound people, in order to have them as leaders. People in the early republic respected Washington. And those leaders reciprocated by respecting their office.

    • #29
    • July 3, 2016, at 11:30 AM PDT
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  30. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Seawriter: Reagan proved to be the greatest US President of the 20th Century, but in 1989 most people considered him somewhere in the bottom half of the Presidents.

    Cite?

    • #30
    • July 3, 2016, at 11:43 AM PDT
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