October 16, 2009

Most successful man in history?

I'm reading H.W. Brands's biography of Benjamin Franklin, The First American. Franklin's life has a comic aspect (in both the Shakespearean sense of turning out happily and in the absurdist sense of the improbability of it all) in that he's successful at practically all the multitudinous projects he turns his hand to. Franklin figured out as an adolescent that he was superior to practically everybody he met, so he'd better be as funny, modest, and nice to people as possible or they'd get mad at him for being better than them.

I'm up to age 75 in the book, and Franklin still has yet to negotiate the treaty that ends the War of Independence on very good terms for the new United States, invent bifocals, and sponsor the key compromise that made the Constitution politically possible.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

110 comments:

Luke Lea said...

I recently read Walter Isaacson's life of Franklin. It was the best biography I have ever read, of anybody. You might have a glance at it.

BTW, I nominate Franklin as the greatest polymath of all time.

Tamara said...

Steve, the prosecution of Hiram Monserrate is nothing but a political prosecution--in the sense that he is to be made an example of.

To appease the testing99-feminist types.

Who of course deemed him guilty even before a trial.

It's certainly possible that he did intentionally slashed his gf--but it's also quite possible that its an accident.

kudzu bob said...

>and sponsor the key compromise that made the Constitution politically possible<

Gore Vidal maintains that Franklin suspected that the arrangement that replaced the Articles of Confederation would fail within a very few generations, hence that famous remark of his about "a republic, madam, if you can keep it." To the extent that Franklin really did believe this, the Civil War proved him right. I rather imagine, though, that Franklin's cheerful nature prevented him from worrying overmuch about the course that history might take after his own exit from the stage. Very wise of him.

Anonymous said...

Franklin was truly the greatest. It's a shame that Philadelphia has become such a cesspool.

C. Van Carter said...

And yet he completely failed at getting himself a decent haircut.

Anonymous said...

And yet he completely failed at getting himself a decent haircut.

And yet he had absolutely no trouble with the ladies.

milam command said...

Sold case can be made that Franklin is the greatest human. Ever. The more you learn about the man, the more you marvel and admire.

CK said...

It should be obvious to any thinking thing that Franklin was either a time traveller or an alien from some other planet or string or entanglement or whatever. All those women and no progeny of any merit?

dearieme said...

The indoctrination that you folk get as children really works, doesn't it?

Dutch Boy said...

Mr. Franklin had a number of accomplishments but he was also a notorious rake who fathered at least one illegitimate son and was a member of the Hellfire Club in London (a degenerates' social club). Perhaps he was worthy of Toscanini's assessment of Richard Strauss: "Sir, as an artist I take my hat off to you but as a man I put it back on ten times!"

sj071 said...

"Most successful man in history?" American, maybe..
But, what about his Heinmat?

USA Obesity Rates Reach Epidemic Proportions:
58 Million Overweight; 40 Million Obese; 3 Million morbidly Obese
Eight out of 10 over 25's Overweight
78% of American's not meeting basic activity level recommendations
25% completely Sedentary

76% increase in Type II diabetes in adults 30-40 yrs old since 1990
Among Americans 30 and older, 13.7 percent of men and 11.9 percent of women have diabetes. Almost one-third of them have never received a diagnosis of the disease. There are 23.6 million people in the United States, or 8 percent of the population, who have diabetes.

'Have you noticed how many children wear glasses these days?' Myopia, or short-sightedness, is very common. There has been a dramatic increase in myopia in developed countries over the past two-hundred years. In the USA, myopia affects around 25 to 35% of people of European descent and up to half or more of Asian descent populations.

'Number of Americans taking antidepressants doubles'

The number of Americans using antidepressants doubled in only a decade, while the number seeing psychiatrists continued to fall, a study shows.
About 10% of Americans — or 27 million people — were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996, according to the study of nearly 50,000 children and adults in today's Archives of General Psychiatry.

Not much of a legacy, is it?

Truth said...

"Franklin figured out as an adolescent that he was superior to practically everybody he met, so he'd better be as funny, modest, and nice to people as possible or they'd get mad at him for being better than them."

I should read that book, I never knew that I had a kindred spirit.

Dan Kurt said...

Franklin was a British Spy.

The disclosing of this cost a young Historian his promising future. The Historian was Cecil B. Currey. He managed to get into the relevant British archives of the period and found the pay records of the blood money Franklin received. If I remember correctly, John Jay suspected Franklin's duplicity.
The two books on this are are:
1) Code Number 72/Ben Franklin: Patriot or Spy?, 331 pages, Publisher: Prentice-Hall (January 1, 1972) ISBN-10: 0131394932.
2) Road to Revolution Benjamin Franklin in England 1765-1775,Publisher: Peter Smith (January 1, 1978) ASIN: B001187HII

albertosaurus said...

Last year I seemed to be interested in the Founding Fathers. I read a lot of biographies including one about Franklin. This year I seem to be interested in WWII tanks. Oops I'm going off topic again.

My father was fascinated by George Washinton. My ex-wife walked out with all of our Thomas Jefferson biographies. Me, I like Alexander Hamilton best.

I think your favorite Founding Father tells something about you. I just don't know what.

ironrailsironweights said...

On a different topic:

One out of seven girls at Chicago's Robeson High School is or was pregnant.

Peter

P Coderch said...

Only an American could think that Benjamin Franklin was the greatest man who ever lived. Outside the U.S, most people don't even know that he ever existed. Americans have this fanatical infatuation with their Founding Fathers that borders on comical. Most of them were slave-owning, ignorant farmers who just happened to lead the U.S to independence because they were tired of paying taxes to England. George Washington, for instance, had his IQ estimated at 115 by Hans Eysenck.of my head, I can think of several men who dwarf any of the American Founding Fathers in both reknown and historical impact on Humanity: Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Aristotle, Richard the Lionhearted, Charlemagne, Siddharta Gautama, Newton, Bismarck, king Ramses, Octavian, Columbus, Julius Caesar, Leonardo DaVinci, Descartes, Isabel of Castilla, Qin Shi Huang Di, Ghandi, Magellan, etc. All these people were greater achievers because their achievements are much better known by non-Americans than what the American Founding Fathers did, and non-Americans represent 96% of Humnanity. So they win.

SFG said...

"Most successful man in history?" American, maybe..
But, what about his Heimat?


So it's Ben Franklin's fault we're all fat, blind, and depressed? It has nothing to do with cheap food, desk work, and economic insecurity? He got his country off to a good start, you can't blame him if other people screwed it up.

P Coderch said...

And yes, Franklin was a genius, but there were many other statemen as capable or more than Franklin, and just because they weren't American doesen't mean their greatness is overshadowed by Franklin. If we are talking about Renaissance men who exceled at everything, there are several that far surpass Franklin, like DaVinci and Galileo. In the ancient World we have Aristotle, who wrote on everything from physics to statesmanship, zoology and philosophy. Julius Caesar is a good example of a statesman that far surpasses any of the American founding fathers at everything: he was a genius literati, whos books are considered classics of World literature, a brilliant strategist in both politics and military, a superb athlete and warrior who won the highest civic order of Rome at the age of 22 for his bravery in figgting the savage Cilicians, a brilliant jurist who defeated in court at age 18 Hortencius, the most accomplished lawyer of Rome of his time. Estimated IQ by Hans Eysenck: 178. Consider that the most intelligent U.S president, Lincoln, had his IQ estimated at 153 and the most intelligent U.S president of the 20th century, Nixon, had 143. Wy does Steve Sailer think that any of the American Founding Fathers were greater than, say, Qin Shi Huang Di, the man who unified China essentially fonding the country? China has a population of 1.2 billion people, or 4 times greater than the U.S' and historically it is much more important country since it is the only nation that was grand in the ancient World and remians grand in ours. Furthermore, the Founding Fathers were several and they had a compliant population, whilst Qin Si Huang Di did it all by himself against hostile populations fighting non-stop for 45 years. Think about it: a single man created the greatest superpower of the ancient World which will also be the greatest one of the 21st century as well, all by himself. That far surpasses any of the American Funding Fathers easily, although greatness is an issue of relevance, and the relative greatness of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adamsn is of course much greater for Americans.

Anonymous said...

"All those women and no progeny of any merit?"

From the wiki on William Franklin:

"He was born in Philadelphia, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. His mother's identity is unknown though evidence suggests she was a "Low Woman"

That should partly explain it.

Anonymous said...

The snark lessons that Brits get as children really take, don't they?

Luke Lea said...

In my opinion Lincoln was the greatest modern man, ahead of Franklin. Interesting that between them they had less than four years of formal education. Shows that it is the man not the school that counts in the end.

Anonymous said...

Franklin was a British Spy.

Eh. It would not surprise anyone who knows anything about the man to learn that Franklin was working
both sides of the street to some extent. He was a political boss in Pennsylvania, and quite capable of backdoor deals when and as needed. Contact with British intelligence (or even a little money taken from them) would not mean that he was not a supporter of the Revolution; but it might just mean he might have been setting up an insurance policy in case the Revolution failed, for himself and indirectly for Pennsylvania. As a middleman, with inside connections on both sides, he could be in a position to arrange a moderate settlement.

Dennis Mangan said...

P Coderch: Pack sand.

Melykin said...

P Coderch wrote:
" China has a population of 1.2 billion people, or 4 times greater than the U.S' and historically it is much more important country since it is the only nation that was grand in the ancient World and remains grand in ours. "
------------------------

Huh? If China was so grand then why didn't they:
-send out explorers and colonists into the world
-start the industrial revolution
-invent the printing press
-invent the computer
-develop democracy
-create decent music

I am especially puzzled about the music. East Asians seem to be disproportionately represented among classical musicians today.

jw said...

The Brands biography is exquisite.

From the book, for the trolls:

"A certain well-meaning man and his son were travelling towards a market town, with an ass which they had to sell. The road was bad, and the old man therefore rid [rode], but the son went afoot. The first passenger they met asked the father if he was not ashamed to ride by himself and suffer the poor lad to wade along through the mire; this induced him to take up his son behind him. He had not travelled far when he met others, who said they were two unmerciful lubbers to get both on the back of that poor ass, in such a deep road. Upon this the old man gets off and let his son ride alone. The next they met called the lad a graceless, rascally young jackanapes to ride in that manner through the dirt while his aged father trudged along on foot; and they said the old man was a fool for suffering it. He then bid his son come down and walk with him, and they travelled on leading the ass by the halter; till they met another company, who called them a couple of senseless blockheads for going both on foot in such a dirty way when they had an empty ass with them, which they might ride upon. The old man could bear no longer. My son, he said, it greives me much that we cannot please all these people. Let us throw the ass over the next bridge, and be no farther troubled with him."

anony-mouse said...

One of his sons died young and the other was completely estranged from him.

'The most successful man in history?' In what way?

Anonymous said...

I think your favorite Founding Father tells something about you. I just don't know what.

I think Steve went out of his way to pick one that wasn't a slave owner.

Wad Studley said...

P Coderch -

Did you major in Annoying at school? Just shut the f up already.

Tamara -

Hiram Monserrate? WTFAYTA? Who cares? No one on this thread, that's for sure. They got him on tape roughing the chick up, he may go to prison. So besides the irrelevance here, you strike me as disturbed Hiram groupie.

To appease the testing99-feminist types.

Umm, testing99-feminist types? Again, WTFAYTA?

Hell really is other people.

Anonymous said...

"I am especially puzzled about the music. East Asians seem to be disproportionately represented among classical musicians today"

Not just East Asians...also Ashkenazim. Musical ability of the Mozart kind seems to go hand in hand with numerical/math talent.

Asian music is still unlistenable
to my ear.

Farmer F

Mark said...

China has a population of 1.2 billion people, or 4 times greater than the U.S' and historically it is much more important country since it is the only nation that was grand in the ancient World and remains grand in ours.

China is the equivalent not of "England" or "France" or "Italy" but of "Europe." It is larger geographically than all of such, and there are more Chinese and to spare than there are white people in all the world.

And yet...

Nanonymous said...

[OT reply]

One out of seven girls at Chicago's Robeson High School is or was pregnant.

From the article: "If you want to know why, the people closest to the situation say there's no simple explanation."

LOL. That's where I stopped reading and started typing this. For anyone from the egalitarian delusion, there is no mystery - it's a predominantly or almost completely black high school, that's why.

Damn, this is an illustration to Steve's point: unless you admit and accept HBD, you are powerless to explain a lot of things that really need explaining.

Anonymous said...

George Washington, for instance, had his IQ estimated at 115 by Hans Eysenck.of my head, I can think of several men who dwarf any of the American Founding Fathers in both reknown and historical impact on Humanity: Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Aristotle, Richard the Lionhearted, Charlemagne, Siddharta Gautama, Newton, Bismarck, king Ramses, Octavian, Columbus, Julius Caesar, Leonardo DaVinci, Descartes, Isabel of Castilla, Qin Shi Huang Di, Ghandi, Magellan, etc. All these people were greater achievers because their achievements are much better known by non-Americans than what the American Founding Fathers did, and non-Americans represent 96% of Humnanity. So they win.

As an American I recognize the accomplishments of other nationals. I also don't care whether or not the rest of the world has heard or even cares about our founding fathers.

I find it ironic that the non-Americans, who you suggest don't care about our Founders, sure seem to want to immigrate to the nation our Founders created. And I don't just mean the current third world immigrants. I am referring to the endless stream of Europeans who flooded onto our shores for 300 years.

For almost 300 years the New World has been open to newcomers. By and large the choice has been made to come to the USA. Heck, we now have immigrants coming to the USA from the New World which suggests the systems their founders established have failed. Yet according to you, our Founders did not do anything noteworthy.

As for George Washington, he will always be dear to Americans for two things. First, after leading the Continental Army to victory, he gave up his sword to the civilian authority. Second, after serving two terms as President, he stepped down and resumed his civilian life.

Those two things alone make him a giant to us. Most of the other men on your list would never have done that. Outside of Cincinnatus I don't know too many who did.

Anonymous said...

P Coderch obviously doesn't know much about Franklin's varied achievements, one of the problems being that the list is so long that most of the items on it are unknown.

For example many know he started dabbling in electricity when he retired from business at age 42, but how many are aware that a couple of years later he was universally recognized as one of the 18th century giants in the subject of physics -- a position he still maintains to this day?

We know about his inventions, but how many know about his pioneering discoveries in climatology and oceanography -- or that as a throw-away he propounded the theory of continental drift in a casual letter to a friend?

Or that he was a first-rate economist, invented a way to make banknotes that were impossible to counterfeit (by pressing plant leaves), and pioneered the business concept of a franchise?

Or that he proposed the idea of a bicameral legislature which, as the basis of "the great compromise" between the big and the small states, made the U.S. Constitution possible?

We know about his wit and his Autobiography, but how many are familiar with the great satirical essays he started writing at age 16 and continued to produce off and on for the rest of his life?

But the list goes on and on and on -- which is why we hear about so few of his accomplishments.

Bill said...

Only an American could think that Benjamin Franklin was the greatest man who ever lived. Outside the U.S, most people don't even know that he ever existed.

I guess the French don't count...

Argent Paladin said...

To clarify: Steve is asserting that Franklin was the most successful man in history. From the context, it is clear that he means his sustained efforts in a wide variety of fields (scientific invention, business, politics, diplomacy, etc).
The people Coderch mentions were either military leaders/politicians OR scientists, but not both. Coderch also seems to confuse notoriety ("renown or historical impact" or intelligence (IQ estimates)with success in a variety of fields. I would offer Goethe as possibly even more successful than Franklin.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Marx thought he was a poor political economist.

Jeff said...

I honestly have no idea where Franklin philosophical understanding of the world stands.

I guess he was a pragmatist/empiricist.

Anonymous said...

So it's Ben Franklin's fault we're all fat, blind, and depressed? It has nothing to do with cheap food, desk work, and economic insecurity?

It has to do with nihilism.

And any study of the modern history of nihilism is going to spend a great deal of time examining the intellectual [or anti-intellectual] dogma of pre-Revolutionary France.

I think that the history of nihilism in the United States is a fascinating [if terrifying] topic - especially if you've got a good genealogy of your family and you can watch some of your relatives being peeled off and lost to all sorts of nihilistic nonsense over the years.

Of course, you won't discover that you are directly descended from them - in general, they will prove to be aunts and uncles and cousins - because nihilists don't make babies [which gets into the terrifying aspect of it].

But as one particularly famous example, by the mid- to late-19th Century, Charles Sanders Peirce was ridiculed by his Unitarian family for the faux pas of reverting back to Trinitarian Christianity.

Steve Sailer said...

Most biographies have a tragic aspect to them. For example, Einstein was a successful guy, but he was pretty much done being a great discoverer by his late 30s, leaving him almost 40 years of frustration.

In contrast, Franklin didn't take up physics until he was in his 40s, then quickly revolutionized the theory of electricity, invented a wonderfully useful device based on his theory (the lightning rod), and was immediately proclaimed a genius by all of Europe. And then he moved on to other successes.

It's a pretty gleeful life story.

R J Stove said...

Dutch Boy refers to "Toscanini's assessment of Richard Strauss: "Sir, as an artist I take my hat off to you but as a man I put it back on ten times!"

There are dozens of websites and probably dozens of books of quotations which refer to this epigram and credit it to Toscanini. (Usually it is given in the third person: "I take my hat off to him" or some such.)

Yet Michael Kennedy, in his 1999 biography Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma (pp. 287-288), concluded that the remark might be apocryphal. It seems that initially something like it emerged from a letter to Strauss by his colleague Stefan Zweig (who disapproved of the implied sentiment).

Steve Sailer said...

Other 18th Century figures had scientific sides, such as Kant in astronomy and Goethe in botany. You go back to the 17th Century and there are even more polymaths like Pascal and Descartes. Pascal invented an adding machine, co-invented probability in letters with Fermat, and was an even better prose stylist than Franklin. Rubens was a great painter and, like Franklin, a major diplomat. Newton was pretty successful in politics, despite a not exactly Clinton-like personality.

If you project a 20th Century genius like John von Neumann back into the 17th Century, you can guess that he would have had a huge scientific success, and you could see him winding up in high political office. (He had a lot of political influence as it was in the 1950s, even though he died at just 53.)

Anonymous said...

Einstein was one of the most evil people who ever walked the face of the earth.

Like Lenin/Stalin/Mao levels of evil.

Anonymous said...

What do you consider evil about him?

Anonymous said...

Melkyn,
Chinese music is pretty good. Pick up a CD of folk or traditional Chinese music. The traditional music in the brilliant film, 'Shanghai Triad' is another good place to start.

Sometime people think east-Asians use Western Classical music as a sort of mind expander because it is so complex, varied and difficult to play well.

John Adams said...

Most successful man in history? Are you not forgetting the obvious, Barack Hussein Obama (peace be upon his name)?

Franklin's not much admired among the Western Civilization academics as he left no writings of note. Poor Richard is pretty thin gruel and almost comical when compared to how Franklin really lived.

His business successes, inventions, diplomacy and skirt chasing are usually nothing of profound groundbreaking nature. Franklin's appeal is exactly that his very wll-rounded, enjoyable and successful life is such that it can be envisioned as obtainable by everyman with the help of Fortuna (if not necessarily realistic).

Anonymous said...

All these people were greater achievers because their achievements are much better known by non-Americans than what the American Founding Fathers did, and non-Americans represent 96% of Humnanity.





That's an interesting definition of the word "achiever". Do you really want to argue that rapper Fifty Cent is a greater "achiever" than Thomas Jefferson? For that matter you seem to think he's a greater "achiever" than Aristotle and the other figures you mention. At least, he's better known.

Anonymous said...

China has a population of 1.2 billion people, or 4 times greater than the U.S' and historically it is much more important country since it is the only nation that was grand in the ancient World and remians grand in ours.





I had never noticed that China was "grand" in our world. I think you're just trolling.

PS - it's hard to respect the intellect of people who consistently make spelling errors.

Peter A said...

On his own terms Genghis Khan was probably the most successful man in history. Most men, if they could trade lives with anyone, would probably rather have lived Genghis' life than anyone else you can think of. Kublai Khan may be a close second.

Shouting Thomas said...

Einstein was one of the most evil people who ever walked the face of the earth.

Like Lenin/Stalin/Mao levels of evil.
.

Jesus, there are some incredible idiots roaming the internet.

neil craig said...

In terms of worldly success I would have to say Genghiz Khan with Mohammed as runner up. Alexander falls because, starting as a king's son there is a limit to his proportional rise. Julius Caesar fails because he was assassinated. However apart from Caesar's histories of these were successful in other fields.

However DNA analysis says that something like 1/4 of the population of Asia has a common ancestor in historic times so in pure genetic terms Genghiz takes it.

Nor were any of them really creative. I think, insofar as there can be such a competition including such multiple fields, I go for Franklin.

ben tillman said...

China has a population of 1.2 billion people, or 4 times greater than the U.S'

That would be *three* times greater (or four times as great). There are 300 million (not 240 million) in the US.

Rocky Gingko Balboa said...

Here's Wikipedia's list of polymaths.

I stil maintain that C.B. Fry was the greatest of the lot.

KingM said...

Leave aside the unparalleled military and cultural power of the United States, it's scientific accomplishments are unequaled in world history and can never possibly be equaled by any other nation. No other nation will be the first to set foot on an alien world, to invent the computer, to invent the atomic bomb, the airplane, the light bulb, television, the internet, the assembly line, or discover DNA.

Even our secondary accomplishments outstrip any nation but the British and maybe the French: skyscraper, microwave, cotton gin, vacuum cleaner, refrigerated rail car, revolver, oil well, repeating rifle, phonograph, telegraph, tractor, flashlight, air conditioning, washing machine, liquid fuel rocket, mobile phone, nuclear submarine, laser, transistor, integrated circuit, oral contraceptive, computer mouse, neutron bomb, plasma display, LCD, CDs, calculators, airbags, PCs and operating systems, digital cameras, ethernet, and GPS.

So yeah, the Founding Fathers started something pretty damn important. What's your country got?

(Feel free to get back to us when you land a man on the moon.)

Anonymous said...

Another of Franklin's minor accomplishment: editing the famous first sentence of Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, where J. had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and eternal," F. crossed out the last two words and substituted the mathematician's term "self-evident." What a difference! By making the American creed axiomatic rather than "sacred and eternal" he rendered it in effect inarguable, a rhetorical gambit of the first order. Or as Mark Twain once observed: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone mentioned that Franklin was also the first world-wide celebrity in modern times, a fact which he cleverly exploited to the hilt in his diplomatic relations with the French court? Thanks to his efforts France bankrupted itself to revenge England for the French and Indian War, and thereby assured the success of the American Revolution. Unfortunately this also led directly to the French Revolution, which I guess makes Franklin the most consequential diplomat in history. I doubt von Neumann could have achieved anything remotely like that even in the 18th century.

Anonymous said...

Among 17th century figures Leibnitz would probably have been Franklin's closest competitor.

jody said...

it freaks me out how much more intelligent and capable the founding fathers were compared the present collection of people running the US.

solidly, 100 percent composed of the dreaded, hated straight white males. the founding fathers would have caused modern diversity officers an instant, fatal heart attack.

MacSweeney said...

China was as advanced or more than all of Europe until the 1600s or so.

Huh? If China was so grand then why didn't they:

-invent the printing press



Lady, I've got news for you. China DID invent the printing press. Unless you're talking about the modern printing press.


-create decent music

Nothing wrong with traditional Chinese music. Personally, I'm a big fan of the erhu (Chinese violin). Just because it's a different style than European music doesn't mean it sucks. What, are you going to talk trash about the innate musical ability of Scots because you don't like bagpipe music?

rob said...

Franklin's interesting sure, but there's quite a bit you problaby don't know about George Washington

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7iVsdRbhnc

Coderch, almost everyone on your list was a mass murderer. If your measure of greatness is people killed and stuff stolen, you are are monster.

Anonymous said...

"All those women and no progeny of any merit?"

Mike Castle, a 9 term Republican congressman from Delaware and current candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Joe Biden, is Franklin's great-great-great-great-great grandson.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that works against being a polymath today is the "overspecialization" required to master most fields and make notable contributions to them. Compared to today, subjects such as physics, biology and engineering weren't all that complex or demanding over 200 years ago(even if you take into account that they didn't have computers back then - however, it was people "overspecialized" in electrical engineering, physics and mathematics who helped invent the modern computer).

The brain can only hold so much information; the amount of information(and time) you need to learn to be a successful physicist makes mastering other deep subjects almost impossible.

Hence, geniuses like Franklin could excel in several areas without having to study them for several years straight at a university due to the relative "simplicity" of understanding electricity(but due to the intuition of brilliant men like Franklin), unlike today where any further developments in electricity are made by those with over a decade's worth of rigorous education and training in the field.

Some geniuses will soon come along and make some very exciting contributions in the field of nanotechnology. But how many of these brilliant nanotechnologists can also excel as politicians, economists or artists or biologists(assuming they are dealing with non-biological nanotechnology applications).

It seems virtually all of the polymaths listed have been European or caucasian. To be fair, perhaps one of the greatest non-European(although with a little bit of European ancestry) polymaths of the late 19th century was the Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal. He was, not surprisingly a Freemason(like Franklin and other brilliant men) excelled as an optometrist, poet, writer and revolutionary leader. His ancestry was very mixed and he could speak several languages fluently. Unfortunately, he was executed at age 35 for his revolutionary activities.

Truth said...

After Einstein died, they discovered through letters that he had TEN (!) mistresses concurrently. Take that and his afro into consideration and it's obvious he must have been a mulatto.

Anonymous said...

"Einstein was one of the most evil people who ever walked the face of the earth.

Like Lenin/Stalin/Mao levels of evil."

Explain; I'm intrigued.

Mr. Anon said...

"P Coderch said...

Of my head, I can think of several men who dwarf any of the American Founding Fathers in both reknown and historical impact on Humanity."

The American founding fathers founded.................America.

Which, last I checked, had some not insiginificant historical impact on humanity.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

For example many know he started dabbling in electricity when he retired from business at age 42, but how many are aware that a couple of years later he was universally recognized as one of the 18th century giants in the subject of physics -- a position he still maintains to this day?"

This is not true. Franklin is not, in our present age, considered a "Giant" among 18th century physicists. He is not considered a physicist at all. His discovery that lighting is an electrical current (the very notion of which was not well understood at the time) saved a lot of buildings from burning, but it did not have much impact on the subsequent development of electromagnetism.

Franklin was a talented tinkerer, but he was not a great scientist.

general torpor said...

I like Aaron Burr. He really was quite a fascinating person and eminently likeable and brilliant, and really cute when he was young. He was also directly descended from the great reanimator of Puritanism--oops, I forgot that name. Anyway, he's also related to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and of course all Harriet's relatives, most of whom were of the "transcendental" evangelical movement that came out of New England in the 1800s. It is this movement's mentality that I think is responsible for the goofy leftism of today. The movement out of New England, with its utopias and universities that admitted blacks&women (meaningful in the 1840s), was spiritually driven and the possessors were in no danger of being overwhelmed by those for whom they advocated. Now its more politically driven and run by the "victims."
I am also a "collateral" descendant of Burr, meaning one his great-grandmother's siblings was one of my direct ancestors. But that's not why I dig 'im.
He believed in equal education for males and females. Unfortunately, he was so fond of his only daughter that his enemies accused him of incest. Not true, I'm sure. My ancestors would never do such things.

The late 1700s were a sort of Golden Age for this country, which has never been repeated as far as the actual "great" men, and some women, produced. Sure, there were a lot of material advances later on, but they overshadowed the creators of those inventions, whereas someone like Franklin or Jefferson stand on their creations rather than the creations standing on them.

trey said...

Going the other direction than Steve and imagining Franklin's reception in modern times, one would have to guess most people would mostly notice how homely he is.

P Coderch said...

Lots of angry responses just because I dared stating that it is a bit ufanistic on the part of Americans to assume that, out of the 70 billion Homo Sapiens Sapiens who ever lived, an American who just happened to be one of the founders of the U.S would be the greatest of them all. The criteria used to categorize Franklin as the greatest ever is multiple achievements on different fields, of which there are many individuals who surpass him, including Aristotle, Leibniz, DaVinci, etc. If the criteria is statesmanship, then men who single-handedly founded World empires and civilizations whilst fighting against grand oddshigher than him in my opinion. Franklin didn't found the U.S alone, and he had the support of the population of the thirteen colonies who wanted independence. Compare this to Octavian, who founded the imperial distany in Rome fighting against a hostile senate that wanted to maintain it's priviledges and a population that regarded tyranicide as the highest civic act one could perform. Saving the entire World from collapse whilst fighting incredible odds is grander than what Franklin did in my opinion. If the criteria is popularity, than any of the American founding fathers gets crushed by men like Alexander the Great and Buddha: except inside the U.S, which contains only 4% of the World's population, the latter are far better known the former. School children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe study who Alexander the Great was in school, but they have no clue who Franklin was. Sorry if tese facts upset you, but it's the truth. To me, Franklin was a much grander man than Alexander, because he was a man of reason, an inventor, a capable philosopher who contributed to the juridical-philosophical framework that forged a great country whilst the latter was a genocidal, arsonist, egotistic, megalomianiac, but in terms of sheer popularity he is not that well known outside the U.S. So I don't understand what criteria is being used to assert Franklin as the greatest Human Being ever. If it is either statesmanship, greatness as a polymath or popularity, Franklin was certianly not the greatest ever.

corvinus said...

"I am especially puzzled about the music. East Asians seem to be disproportionately represented among classical musicians today"

Not just East Asians...also Ashkenazim. Musical ability of the Mozart kind seems to go hand in hand with numerical/math talent.

Asian music is still unlistenable
to my ear.

Farmer F

This is easy to explain.

High Classical and Romantic music was unknown in China, or at least considered a foreign oddity, and 20th century music is generally not aesthetically pleasing. Novelty and the avant garde utterly replaced aesthetics as the driving force for 20th century music. This is also why there are no popular American composers of classical music, with the possible partial exception of Aaron Copland (of "beef... it's what's for dinner" fame)

Meanwhile, the Ashkenazim do have Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Rubenstein, Ignaz Moscheles, and several others to their name.

P Coderch said...

@Melykin

The Industrial Revolution happened in England, not in the U.S.A. As for music, it is subjective. Americans find hip hop fantastic, whilst I find it appaling. As for circumnavegation of the globe, China did develop caravels before Europe and in the Tang Dynasty the emperor had girafes and lions in his personal zoo that were brought from Africa. As for inventions, it is not fair to compare Europe to China because practically everything that was invented has been invented in the past 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, because inventions need a demand for them which is created by the market system and the market system was suffocated in China due to the statism and central control of the government establihsed by Qin Shi Huang Di since 300 B.C, which was copied by all succeeding emperors, and once industry is established, it is much easier to create further technological advancement due to the fact that inventions tend to serve to push development in other areas leading to further inventions, creating a virtuous cycle of technological advancement. As for why it happened in England and not in China, it is due to the higher individuality of Caucasians, which tends to direct their intelligence towards more paths and pursuits than the reserved Asians, and not because Caucasians are innately more intelligent. And democracy was invented in Greece due to the peculiarities of the city-state and not by Americans, and there are actually several drawbacks to a democratic system in a pluralistic society, so it is not necessarily a virtue - this is a value-judgement on your part. Your knowledge of history leaves a lot to be desired, frankly, and your criticisms are poor in my opinion.

MacSweeney said...

-send out explorers and colonists into the world

They did send out explorers. In fact, in the 1400s during the Ming Dynasty they were in a good position to start colonialism long before Europe (look up Admiral Zheng He and his voyages), but these plans were scrapped and the fleet sunk in favour of isolationist policies, like building up the Great Wall. They sailed to Africa and awed the natives with their power, but instead of enslaving them they just brought some giraffes back for the imperial zoo. Lack of ambition perhaps.

-start the industrial revolution

Who knows, but Manchu rule and a less competitive Asia were not favourable conditions to start the Industrial Revolution compared to the ultra competitive nation states of Europe.

invent the computer

Dunno. They did help out; An Wang invented magnetic core memory.

-develop democracy

I'm actually having doubts about the greatness of democracy, but to answer your question, I don't know.

eh said...

Genghis Khan, suggests a noted authority.

For one basic, biological definition of 'success', anyway.

Truth said...

"Do you really want to argue that rapper Fifty Cent is a greater "achiever" than Thomas Jefferson?"

In what respect are we talking "achievement?" He's certainly a better businessman.

Curvaceous Carbon-based Life Form said...

"Ufanistic"?

Svigor said...

I suppose the reason no one has said "doesn't make you a better man" is because so far the whole thing has been intra-European. In fact, unless I missed something, the only trend toward exception was when someone mentioned China.

Europids: nothing if not well-trained animals.

Svigor said...

Americans find hip hop fantastic, whilst I find it appaling.

He's obviously a troll, guys.

Brits find Ali G fantastic, whilst I find him repellant.

See? Anyone can be a troll!

Anonymous said...

I think the dearth of innovation and invention of the Chinese world compared to the Western world can be traced to two things:
1) China has been politically unified for over two thousand years. Europe has always been fragmented into several nations. These nations were always competing with each other, which helped spur innovation and discovery.
2) The effect of Confucianism on China and the Orient cannot be understated. At its core is the belief in submission to authority: children to parents, wives to husbands, and citizens to the government. While this is a good system for keeping order, it is bad for individualism and creativity.

James Kabala said...

"Franklin's not much admired among the Western Civilization academics as he left no writings of note."

I think there's been a mistake here; Franklin's Autobiography is a very frequently assigned text.

Anonymous said...

China is the equivalent not of "England" or "France" or "Italy" but of "Europe." It is larger geographically than all of such, and there are more Chinese and to spare than there are white people in all the world.

Better 50 years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Anonymous said...

Most men, if they could trade lives with anyone, would probably rather have lived Genghis' life than anyone else you can think of. Kublai Khan may be a close second.

Maybe Japanese men spend a lot of time fantasizing about rape, but most of us don't.

Steve Sailer said...

Please keep in mind that I chose the word "successful" carefully. I didn't mean most talented or most important or most profound or most ambitious, but most successful.

Steve Sailer said...

Dear Luke:

Thanks, I bought Isaacson's biography of Franklin today on your recommendation.

Steve

A Monkey's Uncle said...

Curvaceous Carbon-based Life Form

POIDH.

Anonymous said...

China was as advanced or more than all of Europe until the 1600s or so.

Macsweeny, as usual your comments always directed to praising our would-be asian overlords. Do you ever comment on anything else?

And that Chinese printing press? Well yes they did but they never got around to the mass production of books and mass lieracy - the western printing press indeed appeared later, entirely independently of the Chinese
invention.

Anonymous said...

An Wang - Chinese yes, but he had to go to the US to do his work.

Anonymous said...

Lots of angry responses just because I dared stating that it is a bit ufanistic on the part of Americans to assume that, out of the 70 billion Homo Sapiens Sapiens who ever lived, an American who just happened to be one of the founders of the U.S would be the greatest of them all.





1) You missed the question mark.

2) You don't quite understand this blogging business, do you?

3) You confuse contempt with anger. They are two different emotions.

Luke Lea said...

Steve,

The New American Library's selection of Franklin's writing I also recommend. The guy could write, maybe not quite as good as you can, but close!

Anonymous said...

If the criteria is popularity, than any of the American founding fathers gets crushed by men like Alexander the Great and Buddha: except inside the U.S, which contains only 4% of the World's population, the latter are far better known the former.






I'm always fascinated by the reflexive hostility so many Britons have for America.

Last I checked, your own land has an even smaller proportion of the worlds population. But it would take a foolish man indeed to argue that it has not punched above its weight intellectually.

And despite your obsession with making it so, the criteria is not popularity.

Anonymous said...

Not just East Asians...also Ashkenazim. Musical ability of the Mozart kind seems to go hand in hand with numerical/math talent.





That would be strange, as musicians of "the Mozart kind" in our day merely repeat music written hundreds of years ago by people not noted for their remarkable mathematical talent.

P Coderch said...

@Svigor

Where did I claim that I am English? Furthermore, what has the fact that some Brits love hip hop got to do with anything? Read the sentence I wrote again. Here it is:

"Americans find hip hop fantastic, whilst I find it appaling."

I never claimed that Brits don't like hip hop; I said I don't like it. Your reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired, and this also applies to many other dyslexics who post here.

P Coderch said...

@Steve Sailer

The problem is that the expression "most successful" is in many ways analogous to stating "most important" or "most profound". To an intellectual, being the most important is synonymous with being the most profound. Why was Einstein the most important theoretical physicist of the 20th century? Because he was the most profound. Why is Alexander the Great regarded by many as the most important man in history? Because he was one of the most successful. So please excuse me if I got confused as to what precisely you meant by your statement.

P Coderch said...

@Anonymous

Your contempt amuses me. That is the most that you will ever elicit from yours truly: amusement.

MacSweeney said...

Macsweeny, as usual your comments always directed to praising our would-be asian overlords. Do you ever comment on anything else?

Gosh Anonymous, I think I defend Asians from unfair criticism about once every couple weeks. You on the other hand? Praising the brilliant white race and talking trash about the others every single day.

And that Chinese printing press? Well yes they did but they never got around to the mass production of books and mass lieracy - the western printing press indeed appeared later, entirely independently of the Chinese
invention.


"entirely" independent is really stretching it. The original Chinese press was known to Europe, so how can you say they were not at least somewhat inspired by it?

Anonymous said...

And then there is Franklin's closing remark in his Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, which will no doubt be of interest to Sailer readers:

"Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."

neil craig said...

The problem with most successful is that it has no specific meaning. One could class Diogenes since he spent his life philosophising in his bath but which is exactly what he wanted to do. When Alexander the great came round he was very dismissive of his achievements (I don't think Genghis Khan would have let him away with that).

On a completely different measure of success how about Norman Borlaug who died recently in his nineties (itself a success by any historical measure) having presided over the green agricultural revolution that developed new crops that kept a billion people alive. Didn't make him that rich or fertile but presumably that wasn't what he was after.

Thucydides said...

China's relative isolationism throughout its history and reluctance to explore is often cited as a defect.

But it's possible that burning one of the greatest and largest ocean going fleets in the 1400s will end up being one of the greatest moves ever made in history. They burned their entire merchant fleet upon the use of that fleet to return African slaves to China.

China avoided the fate of the West consequent to colonization: Being reverse colonized by immigration from less developed countries and subjected by verbally, intellectually, and culturally dominant others. As a consequence China might be set to outpace the rest of the world.

A wise move that we may have done well to emulate.  The cultivation of lands previously held by hunter gatherers by Europeans may turn out to be small compensation for the loss of our homelands—especially if the newly cultivated lands turn out to be lost.

Of course with increasing prosperity, China may end up being subjected to mass immigration and increasing influence and power from certain verbally, intellectually, and culturally dominant groups. They seem to have stronger checks in place such as greater ethnocentrism, collectivism, etc., that would better serve to prevent this, but it may belie a greater vulnerability under the surface that might wilt once the external barriers are destroyed.

Like Zhou Enlai said of the French Revolution, "It's too early to tell."

Anonymous said...

'Have you noticed how many children wear glasses these days?' Myopia, or short-sightedness, is very common.

Myopia is also a sign of intelligence, and in most cases is correctable by surgery. The genetic predispostion to myopia will someday be treated by genetic surgery, and if the Jesus Freaks don't like it, too bad.

Anonymous said...

I too would like China, and Asia in general, to get the credit they deserve. Consider that when the West was at its low point, the East was at its height, and vice versa.

Consider also that a society such as China really valued intelligence, and was stratified on that basis. It was a high-IQ paradise without the dog-eat-dog viciousness of the post Industrial Revolution West.

Democracy and universal literacy - the dummies didn't need it, wouldn't know what to do with it, and would take over and ruin everything. Even the ancient Greeks, one of the inventors of Western democracy, knew that it could go only so far without destroying society.

Truth said...

"And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth."

So I have a question, generally speaking, how do you guys feel about Nordic Supremacists?

They're kind of analogous to HBD nerds on steroids, n'est-ce pas?

Anonymous said...

MacSweeney said:
"China was as advanced or more than all of Europe until the 1600s or so."

China was indeed more advanced than Europe from about the fall of the Roman Empire until about the 1600's or so. But taking all of recorded history into account, this is really only a blip. Most defenders of Chinese civilization make the incorrect assumption that China was -always- more advanced than Europe. The Romans and Greeks were much more civilized at their peak than the Chinese were at the time. Maybe if the Roman Empire had not fallen they would have maintained their superiority. Or perhaps Europe would have eventually stagnated under centralized authority the way that China eventually did.

MacSweeney said...

I certainly hold ancient Greece in very high regard as well. Really, Alexander the Great + Aristotle were more important than Britain and France.

Really though, the whole Socrates -> Plato -> Aristotle -> Alexander the Great chain is beyond absurd.

David said...

Anonymous said

> That would be strange, as musicians of "the Mozart kind" in our day merely repeat music written hundreds of years ago by people not noted for their remarkable mathematical talent. <

Touche.

Music and maths are not identical. Beethoven couldn't do simple multiplication, nor be relied on to add any short column of figures correctly.

Truth said...

If someone introduced himself to me as a "linguist", my first question would be "how many languages do you speak?"

If his answer were "only English, but I spend 8 hour a day reading etymology books I would be dissappointed, wouldn't you?

As I said before, this is along the same vein of a doctor who passed the bar 20 years ago and never practiced calling himself a doctor. True, but not impressive.

Great analogic thinking said...

As I said before, this is along the same vein of a doctor who passed the bar 20 years ago and never practiced calling himself a doctor. True, but not impressive.

Umm....you are aware that a doctor practicing medicine (treating patients, diagnosing, performing surgery, etc.) is not the same thing as a medical researcher, biologist, geneticist, etc., right?

kudzu bob said...

>Umm....you are aware that a doctor practicing medicine (treating patients, diagnosing, performing surgery, etc.) is not the same thing as a medical researcher, biologist, geneticist, etc., right?<

Twoof is as innocent of how the world works as he is the proper usage of the semicolon.

On some level he must be aware of his lack of knowledge, but rather than do something about this treatable condition he chooses instead to stroke his own ego here in the comments section by writing such witticisms as "Good one, sport," (invariably leaving out the comma that's supposed to be between "one" and "sport," of course.)

Willful ignorance displayed as though it is some sort of badge of honor is an ugly thing to see, rather like watching a truly bad comedian get booed off the stage. But I believe that Twoof is compelled to embarrass himself over and over again, for reasons that I can only guess.

Anonymous said...

Boys impreginating all those Robeson High girls are following Ben Franklin's promiscuous nature.

The man's legacy lives on.

He was like a shorter, paler, more intelligent Wilt Chamberlain.

David said...

Switch Troof's doctor to attorney and you have a good analogy. There's just something laughable about a linguist who isn't able to speak more than one language. "Nous, vous, tu? I dunno from all that - I'm a linguist!" What kind of data bank is he abstracting his principles from?

Foof said...

David,

there's a difference between speaking and being fluent in a language, and being able to read, knowing, and understanding a language.

Truth said...

Yeah Dave, kind of like the difference between a mechanic and a "mechanist."

Great analogic thinking said...

Yeah Dave, kind of like the difference between a mechanic and a "mechanist."

No. It would be like the difference between an auto mechanic and an engineer, or mechanics physicist, etc.