Greatest American / Greatest Citizen
November 29, 2004 7:10 PM   Subscribe

After watching Tommy Douglas beat out Terry Fox and Pierre Trudeau on CBC's "Greatest Canadian" program tonight, I have a two-parter for you...who would get your vote as "Greatest American" and/or as "Greatest World Citizen" in similar contests?

Thinking of how the finalists turned out to be as much a reflection of the values of the nation as much as the individuals themselves, here would be my picks in each category...

1. Henry Ford
2. Gutenburg
posted by Jaybo to Society & Culture (34 answers total)
ever, or currrently?

For current American, I'd say Eliot Spitzer, and/or the whistleblowers: Colleen Rowley (FBI), Bunny Greenhouse (Halliburton), or Sibel Edmonds (CIA).

Greatest world citizen, maybe Wangari Maathai? (i'm not sure tho--the world is a big place)
posted by amberglow at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2004

Greatest American ever, I'd go with Franklin, Lincoln, or MLK (with Dr. Seuss and Jonas Salk in the top ten somewhere).
World: Gutenberg, Gandhi, or either Aristotle or Plato. (with Spinoza, Newton, Gallileo, and various thinkers in the top ten)
posted by amberglow at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2004

Response by poster: The CBC contest was based on "ever" I know that makes the potential field pretty huge, especially if you're trying to pick Greatest World Citizen ever. But that's the fun of it too. Pick one single individual who is the greatest American or world citizen ever.
posted by Jaybo at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2004

Ever's too hard, really, esp for the whole world. (for american ever, i want to throw in some muckrakers, abolitionists, suffragettes, and general fighters/organizers)

I'll go with MLK, and Gutenberg. : >

(didn't Gutenberg get man of the millenium or something, too?)
posted by amberglow at 7:33 PM on November 29, 2004

A similar topic was address in "1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium," published in 1998 and now out of print. You can read about the first 17 though on the Amazon site, and read the entire list here. Gutenberg is #1.
posted by ALongDecember at 7:45 PM on November 29, 2004

Louis Armstrong whose mastery and grace elevated all americans,his genius undeniable.
posted by hortense at 7:48 PM on November 29, 2004

"Pinball" Clemons.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2004

It's funny, picking a "Greatest Canadian" seems doable, if a little silly. But picking a "Greatest American" seems impossible. Maybe that's how an American (born in Scotland) ended up in the "Greatest Canadian" top 10.

Didn't Homer Simpson win a "Greatest American" vote in the UK last year?
posted by thirdparty at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2004

I'm going to get banned (or simply kicked out) for even suggesting this, but I'm going for Hitler.

I haven't posted this thread and I can already hear the *thumps* from feet hitting the undersides of desks.

I'm not saying that anything that he did was laudable, but rather, he was able to unite a world against him and managed to set the bar for what is Definitely Not Tolerable. Without what he did, would the worldwide Jewish community be better or worse off? Without the horrors of the second World War, would the world be more armiguous or less? He set off the booby trap that was already on a timer and made everyone take notice.

It's very possible that the world, 2004 years after an arbitrarily set date that started the common era (CE), might have been a better place without Hitler. I'm not denying that, nor the atrocities committed by him or in his name, I'm saying that a rapscallion toed, then blatently crossed the line and *that* helped the world sit up, notice, and see in themselves what is wrong, and why it's wrong.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:55 PM on November 29, 2004

Ford? Fuck no. The anti-semite prick. I'd vote H.D. Thoreau for being an intellectual force behind some of the greatest progressive movements of the last 100 years.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:04 PM on November 29, 2004

I'm not sure about "greatest" American, but if by "greatest" you mean "most archetypal," I'd say Mark Twain.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:09 PM on November 29, 2004

Jefferson. Newton.
posted by TimeFactor at 9:21 PM on November 29, 2004

But as far as archetypes go, I'd have to agree that Ford is up there as well. His aphorism "The business of America is business" seems to me to neatly capture both the best and the worst of this country.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:39 PM on November 29, 2004

1. James Madison - The man who "made" America. I think he's had more influence over the course of this country than anyone.

2. Eh...hard to say. I like amberglow's recommendation of Plato.
posted by BradNelson at 10:01 PM on November 29, 2004

Greatest American: Thomas Jefferson (damn, I can't believe I had slaves.)

Greatest Earthling: John Lennon
posted by orange clock at 10:04 PM on November 29, 2004

Greatest Earthling: Everyone who has died for peace.
posted by orange clock at 10:08 PM on November 29, 2004

DevilsAdvocate: that wasn't Ford. "The Business of America is Business" was penned by Calvin Coolidge.

And I also cast my 'Greatest American' vote for Lincoln.

Greatest World Citizen... man, that's a tricky one. Gutenberg makes sense, but I'd cast my vote for The Forgotten Inventor who came up with what we now know as Arabic Numerals and the concept of Zero.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:41 PM on November 29, 2004

Greatest American: Sitting Bull
Greatest World Citizen: Mitochondrial Eve
posted by Rumple at 11:00 PM on November 29, 2004

Greatest world citizen... well, we still owe our lives to this guy. He gets my vote.

I drink to him every September 26th, as it's increasingly clear that more of his ilk will be necessary to save us from ourselves in the not too distant future.
posted by drpynchon at 11:04 PM on November 29, 2004

The greatest American ever is General William Tecumseh Sherman.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:02 AM on November 30, 2004

orange swan, the man who stood in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square didn't die. There's TV footage of that scene. You see him standing there, the tanks try to go to his right, but he moves to block them, then the tanks try to go to his left, and he again moves to block them, and then someone runs in from the side and pulls him away. Perhaps he was killed later, but he wasn't squashed by those tanks. I don't believe his identity was ever discovered.

And what he did was a meaningless symbol. His action came on the morning of June 4th, 1989, well after the Square had been cleared. And it's not like China has since been shamed by that footage and introduced democratic reforms.
posted by alidarbac at 5:17 AM on November 30, 2004

Please, anyone over the age of twenty-five knows who the Greatest American is...
posted by Chrischris at 6:25 AM on November 30, 2004

Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley.
posted by jonmc at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2004

DevilsAdvocate: that wasn't Ford. "The Business of America is Business" was penned by Calvin Coolidge.

I stand corrected. Thank you.

For greatest American, I'm tempted to say Joshua Norton, although I suspect I might not be entirely serious about that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2004

Johnny Cash
Isaac Newton
posted by COBRA! at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2004

Greatest World Citizen?

How many people are credited with saving a billion lives, after all?
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2004

Didn't Madison write the constitution?

In the West, I think that the most inspiring and influential (even if largely misunderstood) figure is Jesus.

In the East, the anonymous authors of the Upanishads created a mystical tradition that provided the philosophical assumptions of Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, etc.
posted by goethean at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2004

Eh, strike Taoism from that list.
posted by goethean at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2004

Greatest American? I'd have to give nods to both Jefferson and Madison, who both affected the cultural mindset of "Americans" that still exists today.

Greatest World Citizen? Martin Luther, who had the courage to tell the Catholic Church to piss off (even tho this led to Calvinism). Imagine just how difficult that must have been during that time.

Newton as well, for almost the same reason.
posted by AccidentalHedonist at 9:56 AM on November 30, 2004

Living: John Glenn (US), Nelson Mandela (World)

Ever: George Washington (US), Isaac Newton (World)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2004

I note that Canada, Mexico, and a bunch of countries south of Mexico are all American.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 AM on November 30, 2004

The greatest US citizen ever--either Jefferson or Lincoln.

The greatest world citizen ever--the person (probably female, but who knows) who first domesticated grain or the person (probably female, but who knows) who first came up with a reliable way to make fire.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2004

The greatest living US citizen: I have no idea. I literally can't think of anyone I would call "greatest"--obviously, there are Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists aplenty (both Bill Gates and Paul Allen have done some really interesting philanthropy and social investing), but it's hard to pick one person as standing out head-and-shoulders above others.

The greatest living world citizen: Nelson Mandela is a good choice, as is Desmond Tutu; I have big love for Aung San Suu Kyi, and she could use some good news right now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2004

if by "greatest" you mean "most archetypal," I'd say Mark Twain

Better yet, Thomas Edison. The guy embodies everything about America -- the "can-do" spirit (and by "can-do" I mean, "can rip off ideas of others, then litigate competition out of existance; can ignore fantastic ideas until someone else does something better with them, then take full credit for them; etc.")

Otherwise, I'd say either Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln.

"World's Best Person, living" : probably Mandela (kind of a cop-out, but it's an easy choice and I don't want to think right now).

"World's Best Person, ever" : Martin Luther. His actions begat the Reformation, which begat the Enlightenment, which begat modern Democracy... etc. Him or Gandhi.

And on the note of "world's best," I would like to submit to you an excerpt from the "world's worst poem," because it's funny:

"Alas! Alas!" the father said,
   "O what a dispensation!
How can we be by mercy led,
   In such a situation?
Be not surprised at my alarms,
   The dearest boy is without arms.

"I have no hope, no confidence,
   The scene around is dreary.
How can I meet such vast expense?
   I am by trying weary.
You must, my dearest, plainly see
   This armless boy will ruin me."

-- From the well-named "Catastrophe," by Cornelius Whur about a young artist born without arms who supports his parents by painting.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:05 PM on November 30, 2004

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