Sociological theory, as opposed to the interpretations of most Historians, has stressed the role of ‘socialforces’ in bringing social change. It has been noted for example, that the greatest American Presidents – Washington and Lincoln have been war presidents and the question arises whether they would have been equally great if they had lived in different times and circumstances.
On the same plane, it can be said that the name of Gandhiji would have been simply insignificant had there not been the British rule in India. It is relevant to quote Tolstoy in this connection.
Tolstoy writes in his “War and Peace”: “The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more people he is connected with and the more power, he has over others “. He further writes: “In historic events, the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself.”
No one, of course, has any idea how to weigh and to estimate the influence of single individuals in the process of social change. Sociologists are more inclined to agree with Tolstoy and to be extremely cautious about attributing major influence to the great personalities of men and women.
“Personality itself is seen to be shaped and formed by patterns of culture and of historical circumstance…” Hence, sociologists tend “to interpret changes in societies in terms of deeper lying phenomenon, of which great men are only the surface representations.”
There is no doubt that all social changes occur because of the actions of men and women. “Culture is not self-innovating, ideas are not self-creating, and technology is not self-inventing.” Somehow, somewhere, in a society, a man breaks however slightly, from tradition. He does something in a different way. He finds a short cut. He has a new idea or makes a new discovery. “When that happens whether he is a “great man” or not, he has disturbed the stream of culture and, like a stone, tossed into the waters, its ripples may go on forever. It may affect, after a while, all the compartments of culture and all the sectors of society.” Robert Bierstedt.
Great men like the Buddha, Mahavira, Shankaracharya, Basaveshwara, Jesus Christ, Zoroaster, Prophet Mohammed, Confucius and others introduced revolutionary changes in the realm of religion.
Napoleon Bonaparte, Washington, Lincoln, Karl Marx, Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Kemal Pasha, Mahatma Gandhiji, Hitler, Mussolini, Indira Gandhi, Khomeini and others have caused revolutionary changes in the political field. Similarly, writers, scientists, philosophers have also contributed to social changes.