To that end I've compiled a list of twenty men. They had different careers, different ambitions and drives, and different fortunes. They were kings and conquerors. They were philosophers and explorers. They were warriors and statesmen. They were inventors and businessmen. They were adventurers and seducers. The one thing they all have in common is that they left a legacy. They left something to guide the present man as he seeks to secure his place in life. For the man that desires to rise above the waves of mediocrity, these twenty men all have something to teach, lessons to impart.
This is of course, my own list. I encourage everyone else that wants to succeed to engage in a similar composition. It will serve not only as a useful fountainhead of indispensable knowledge, but it will also encourage self-reflection. What men were important examples to you and why? What do you seek to learn and become? The answers will vary widely from person-to-person, so I don't expect anyone to have exactly the same list. I don't even expect they will be very similar from person-to-person. But the exercise is indispensable.
In my mind, a successful man will possess some, but not necessarily all of the following traits:
- He will put in the effort to take care of his body and achieve the best physique his genetics allow him to.
- He will know how to be powerful.
- He will be financially sound enough to secure a reasonable degree of independence.
- He will be successful enough with women to be non-needy around them.
- He will seek knowledge for its own sake, and expand the purview of his mind.
- He will be devoted to his purpose in life, and seek to leave a legacy of his own that future men can learn from.
1. Cyrus the Great (c. 576 - 530 B.C.): The founder of the Persian Empire whose successes on the battlefield and great desire for knowledge allowed the flourishing of all peoples subject to his rule. He was one of the first rulers to display a genuine religious tolerance, and his satrapy system of relative regional autonomy generally respected to the highest degree possible the local cultures, allowing a generally stable empire. His career was one of achievement that allowed the advancement of civilization to follow.
2. Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.): Often described as the greatest thinker to ever live, Aristotle's works on physics, though wrong, were brilliantly argued, and became ingrained in science for the next 1,500 years. His works on ethics were so influential that they served as the foundation of Western ethical and political thought and are still taught in their pure form in universities today. In particular, his Doctrine of the Mean is well worth looking into as a guiding light on your journey in life.
3. Julius Caesar (100 - 44 B.C.): One of the greatest generals of all time, his battlefield victories and his ability to lead men to do extraordinary feats are very well-known. But he was so much more. In Caesar we see the story of a lesser noble, who through his ruthless drive and cunning, and his mastery of the game of power, rose to the pinnacle of his society. He was a great seducer of women. He knew how to stage spectacles that would earn him praise. Cicero himself described Caesar as the best public speaker in Rome. And he was also a great statesman, showing a clear vision of polity that few leaders have ever shown. The one great mistake he made was that he neglected the spirit of republican Rome, and displayed his dictatorial power too openly, leaving room for not only the envious, but the stern believers in the republican principle that no man should have absolute power, to conspire and assassinate him. This mistake is one that the future early emperors wisely did not repeat, and one that all men who seek to rise beyond the ordinary must take into consideration.
4. Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180): The last in the series of Rome's "Five Good Emperors," Marcus Aurelius governed his empire well and oversaw important military victories for its security. He was in fact described as being closest to the ideal of the Philosopher-King in his own lifetime. All the while he was on campaign in the north, he penned his longest-lasting legacy, his Meditations, a Stoic guide to purpose and self-improvement. If we are to measure a man's legacy by the quality of his successors that found it valuable, Marcus Aurelius' Meditations has been praised by such figures as Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, Goethe, Wen Jiabao, and Bill Clinton, who has described it as his favorite book (According to Wikipedia).
If men like that have found Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations valuable, surely it will serve as a fine example to myself or nearly any other man moving up in the world.
5. Charlemagne (c. 742 - 814): The principal regenerator of the flame of civilization in the West after it sputtered out with Rome's fall, Charlemagne reigned over a time of peace, prosperity, and security that brought about cultural rebirth, helped in no small part by his own commitment to education. He demanded that he be taught to read and write, which was considered unkingly in his own time. For his achievements he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor of the West in 800. He thus started a tradition that would last for a thousand years.
In addition to all of his stately achievements, Charlemagne ran strong game, amassing a long line of wives and concubines, and fathered many children.
6. Francis of Assisi: (1181/2 - 1226): He's been popularized with the reign of Pope Francis, and this is a very good thing, for Saint Francis of Assisi lived an admirable life. Willingly giving up a life of wealth and luxury that he was born into, he devoted himself to a higher calling, founding the Franciscan Order and living a life of disciplined self-denial. He also served as a diplomat seeking peace, by going on a mission to Egypt to convert the Sultan and put an end to the Crusades. His dedication to the poor has left a lasting legacy on the current Pope, who has already made an impact in the hearts of the people.
Though we'd probably think giving up the wealth he amassed was a poor decision, the discipline he showed in his life and his devotion to a greater cause than himself are good examples to follow, and should help anyone succeed in his own life.
7. Zheng He (1371 - 1433): Admittedly, my knowledge of Eastern history is poor, but Zheng He seems a wonderful example to begin catching myself up to speed. The great explorer of his age, Zheng He reached the Atlantic Ocean and brought Chinese naval power to a point that would not be repeated for many centuries to come. In Zheng He we see a clear-cut example of how, less than a century before the next man on the list, history could have been vastly different, were it not for circumstances of fate. Zheng He also knew how to play the game of power at court, or else he would not have risen to his position.
8. Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506): Truly the father of the modern world, Columbus' voyages began the great Age of Discovery that would bring the West to preeminence in wealth and power, but the fact that he was the one to get the process started seemed far from certain. Columbus had an ambition to succeed that rivaled Caesar's, and he rose from an even poorer place than his predecessor on this list to high social status, selling himself and his proposed voyage eventually to Queen Isabella, and thus took his place in history. Setbacks and failure were simply not an option for him, and he found cunning ways to spin negatives into positives, a must-have skill for anyone wishing to become powerful.
9. Giordano Bruno: (1548 - 1600): I have been introduced to Bruno only in recent years, and since then, I've always had a desire to read his writings. Living during the Renaissance, he is a figure which embodied the spirit of the age- bold, adventurous, inquisitive, and a victim of its persecutions. Among his most notable ideas is not only the acceptance of the Copernican model of heliocentrism, but his belief that the other stars were just other Suns very far away, each with planets and life. As Carl Sagan said of Aristarchus in Cosmos, "I'd love to know how he figured it out."
Bruno was more interesting than just that however. According to Wikipedia, he was a spy serving under Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster Francis Walsingham. The exercise of deception and stealth that he would have displayed is a key element in the mastery of power, and is therefore a lesson all in itself.
He also wisely agreed to outwardly conform with the Church's teachings while preserving his own inwardly. Nevertheless, he could not abandon everything, and was burned at the stake. The story of his trial should be well worth reading and analyzing for potential tactics to ward off persecution, a situation which we will all find ourselves in to one degree or another.
10. Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 - 1645): The first name that comes to mind when one hears the word "Samurai," Miyamoto Musashi asserted himself in the most pure masculine way possible: by meeting other distinguished men in battle and defeating them- face to face. It was brutal. It was primitive. But it worked. It secured his fame and legacy. Miyamoto Musashi was no barbarian, however. His cunning was legendary in his own lifetime, and warriors far and wide eventually begged to challenge him so that they could prove their own worth as men. Musashi never lost a fight. In addition, he studied the arts extensively, and was a cultivated man. His greatest legacy is the Book of Five Rings, which is widely-read today by ambitious and powerful men.
11. Louis XIV of France (1638 - 1715): "Louis le Grand" was the longest-reigning monarch in European history, spanning over 72 years, though he did not take personal control until the age of 23. In his reign, he oversaw the rise of France as the greatest European power and himself as the most powerful monarch in Europe. His territorial expansion strengthened France, and to his credit (which is a lesson well-worth learning), Louis was able to put his monumental ego in check somewhat to the degree that he recognized talent when he saw it and put it to use extensively. If another measure of a man's worth is the quality of the men working under him, then Louis XIV is one of the greatest of all time. Such names as Turenne, Colbert, Vauban, and Villars, along with numerous others were all under his employ, serving his interests. Despite losses in his last war, France was more prosperous and secure after him than before him.
Louis was a very cultured man and he saw French culture reach a degree of pedigree and influence that was unrivaled. He was one of the best power players in history. A mere look of displeasure from the King could frighten and humiliate not just other men, but other men of power. Naturally, he attracted women like a magnet- and it wasn't just because he was King. He was handsome and had top-notch game. In short, Louis XIV was maxed out in all categories, but all of this isn't something he was just handed- he had to overcome the chaos of the Fronde as a child to get where he was.
There is one very important lesson from Louis to learn and not repeat, however. Throughout his lifetime Louis' unmasked ambition and aggression simply made him too many enemies. And in the War of the Spanish Succession, it would cost him, first and foremost at the hands of the next man on this list.
12. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650 - 1722): I've written about him on this site before, so I won't be too lengthy. It was under his direction that Louis XIV was baffled and humiliated by the Grand Alliance, but this was far from a certain fate. Marlborough is perhaps the ultimate example of a late bloomer. Impoverished in his youth, he played court politics perfectly and rose above many challenges and setbacks to secure his fame and fortune in his 50's- by navigating complex international relations and winning stunning battlefield victories. It also helped that he chose the right wife, even though luck may have been on his side with this choosing.
Another measure of a man's prowess is the type of woman he settles down with, and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was quite the catch- and a dangerous one. She was considered beautiful well into her middle age by contemporaries, but she was also a cantankerous bitch who was widely hated. Her own children despised her and she was arrogant enough to try to control Queen Anne. Despite this, she never dared treat her husband poorly, and was devoted to him even after he died. In one entry in her diary, she was very blatant about the pleasure he gave her when he returned home one day from campaign. That Marlborough could secure the love and devotion of such a woman speaks monuments as to his personality.
If there are three words to learn from his life, they are these: ambition, persistence, initiative.
13. Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790): The first premier American, Franklin was probably as close to the ideal of a renaissance man as one can get. Rising above poverty at a young age by his printing trade and writing, Franklin didn't dare stop there. His experiments with lightning became world famous, and his wisdom as a politician and statesman is well-worth learning. And of course, in addition to his success in business, science, and politics, Franklin was a noted playboy. He attended the notorious Hellfire Clubs in England and was charming and attractive to the ladies of the French court even in his 70's.
14. Giacomo Casanova: (1725 - 1798): The man whose name has become synonymous with seduction, Casanova was a traveler and adventurer who managed to get himself imprisoned and escape from his confinement. He constructed a role for his life that he wanted to and not what convention seemed to have planned for him. He is perhaps the ultimate example of the nomad- the man that really found no career but made the most of his life by various enterprises. His character is certainly interesting, and should serve as an example in not only seduction, but in assuming different roles for maximum effect, defying society to do so.
15. George Washington: (1732 - 1799): The 18th century's "action hero," George Washington's wisdom and foresight in becoming the "Father of His Country" is well-known. His Farewell Address is one of the most astute political documents I have ever read, which is why it is on my recommended list of readings. But he was more. He ran a successful business and displayed immense personal bravery in his service in both the French and Indian War and the Revolution. It's almost a miracle that Washington wasn't killed in action, and it makes one wonder whether he was truly picked by a supernatural destiny for greatness. Throughout his life Washington showed a determination to rise and a fortitude of leadership that are vital areas of study. He also knew how to mask his ambition perfectly- a very important thing, as we've seen in the cases of Caesar and Louis XIV.
16. Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895): I read Frederick Douglass' Narrative in my freshman year of high school. Despite it now being many years later, it has still stuck with me. There is a rawness to it that sucks the reader in and makes him feel present in the narrator's life. He experiences first hand the hardships that Frederick went through and the joy that was felt when he escaped. Frederick's first job as a free man, despite being a somewhat menial position, was described in such flowery terms because of how much it meant to him to be his own master. It is a powerful thing to read. In the life of Frederick Douglass we see a man that was determined to not only escape from slavery, but make something of himself as a free man. This drive eventually led to him dining in the White House and, like Casanova, defying the role that society had laid out for him.
17. John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937): One of the wealthiest men in history, Rockefeller wasn't born into it- he earned it through relentless drive and savvy business acumen. The story of his exploits against competitors is legendary. Nothing less than a monopoly on oil would do, and Rockefeller employed genius ways to attain it. His success can be summed up in a few words: he was hated and vilified for decades in his own lifetime. The old adage from Winston Churchill can easily apply here: "if you've made enemies, be thankful. It means you've done something."
Rockefeller also helped to establish the modern tradition of philanthropy. He was not a hoarder, but gave vast sums away, and did much for the advancement of education and medicine.
Rockefeller may have been ruthless in business, but he certainly had a heart. We would do well to remember this.
18. Warren E. Buffet (b. 1930): A name that recurs on the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people like clockwork, Warren Buffet is the most successful investor of the 20th century, and if you really want to make money on the market, you need to at least listen to what he has to say. He also displayed a business acumen from a very young age, famously going from door-to-door to sell various things in his youth.
He took literature on investment seriously when he was in college, and became a millionaire in his early thirties (back when it was much more of a big deal than it is today as well).
Though he famously suffered in 2008, losing tens of billions, his lessons still need to be learned.
Warren Buffet is also known for his sense of humor, and listening to him is far from a chore. It is entertaining.
19. Arnold Schwarzenegger (b. 1947): Imagine yourself as a poor immigrant in a new country whose language you do not speak. What would you do? Where would you go? How would you eke out a place in life?
For Arnold Schwarzenegger the answer was dedication in the gym. Though his taking of steroids is now well-known, Arnold winning the Mr. Olympia competition seven times put him on the map. But he didn't want to stop there. Arnold wanted to be a Hollywood actor. He was told that he couldn't do it. No one would want to hear his accent. No one would want to pronounce his name. Arnold didn't care, and did it anyway, becoming one of the greatest action heroes in history. His level of influence was enough for him to marry into an established and wealthy family, the Kennedys.
That's quite a resumes, but he still wasn't done. Always passionate about politics and bucking the trends in Hollywood by being a staunch Republican (the Democrats, to him, sounded too similar to the Communism in Eastern Europe that he wanted to escape from), Arnold eventually decided to run for Governor of California in the special election of 2003. Arnold won, and served for seven years. He even got his own postage stamp in his native Austria for this.
Arnold has returned to acting. He is already a living legend, and seems to have many years left in the tank.
20. Marcus Luttrell (b. 1975): A modern day warrior who endured pain and suffering unimaginable to most of us, Luttrell, the lone survivor of Operation Red Wings, has always shown a grit and determination that is the necessary catalyst to making men great. His devotion to his comrades is the ultimate example of friendship. Listening to him speak is always an eye-opening experience. Full of both wisdom and inspiration, his speeches will leave you deep in thought. Marcus is a living example of cool masculine resolve, and a signal to young men that there are contemporaries worthy of emulation.
And there you have it. My list of twenty. It was very enlightening and inspiring to create, and I learned a lot just from thinking about and compiling the list. There will be much to gain from it. I encourage every one of my readers to make a list of your own. And do share it with me. I'd love to hear from you. Masculinity Historical Role Models