If we want to measure an individual’s greatness, such a judgement has to be carried out not according to what he or she has achieved for him or herself, but what that person has achieved for humanity. In this way, we see that Aristotle was more magnanimous than Alexander; Beethoven was far greater than Napoleon; Einstein was more altruistic than any US President, or Henry Ford Steve; and Greta Thunberg is more important than Steve Jobs. Likewise, any individual who commits no crime against humanity is ethically better than anyone who does. This is quite straightforward and easy to understand, and yet the current status quo always tends to look for heroism in individual actions carried out for their own advantage. Our civilisation is a star-system paradigm that creates idols and fan clubs, even though most of these idols do almost nothing for the furthering of human progress. Our society’s obsession for sports is a prime example of this: The relegation of a football team to the second division can be perceived by “fans” as a far more existential problem than the climate emergency.
Psychology tells us that hero worship contains important cognitive and emotional needs. Hero narratives fulfil both epistemic and energizing functions, inspiring meaning, hope, and growth – so greatness is an important concept for humanity if humanity is ever to become anything great itself. This tautological statement is self-explanatory and obvious, but what also needs to be made apparent is the negative effect on greatness the idolatry of secondary human figures can bring about.
If we need to worship heroes, let us look for authentic human-heroes: the ones who energise humanity with knowledge; who show us what is truly meaningful on the human rather than individual or nationalistic level; who can show us the hope inherent in the idea of human-greatness and motivate positive growth above materialistic accumulation.
Decadence arises out of individuals wielding power for themselves and for their own, in a way that is not concordant with human fulfilment. Whilst Rome is Rome and not Humanity, it is destined to fall in decadence and ruin.