Karl Marx (1818–1883) Karl Marx was the foremost Socialist intellectual. His work Das Capital, formed the basis of Marxism. With Frederich Engels, he published The Communist Manifesto, a radical agenda for Communist revolution. Marx has divided opinion ever since the publication of the Communist Manifesto. To supporters, his critique of capitalism is accurate and also holds out for a more equal and fair society. To his critics, Marx placed too much emphasis on equality and not enough in individual freedom. His phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ can be seen as a justification for the dictatorships of the Communist Soviet Union and Communist China. Defenders of Marx claim he has been misrepresented and the Communist systems created were not what Marx intended.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) As Emperor of France 1804-1815, Napoleon’s forces swept across Europe, gaining hegemony over most of Europe. At first, Napoleon was seen as the defender of Republican values and for the reform of corrupt European monarchies. He also instituted a revolution in the efficient administration of France – such as bringing in metric measurements. However, as his reign progressed and he invaded more countries, his progressive and republican values were increasingly criticised. Beethoven began writing a symphony in honour of Napoleon, but by the time he finished, he was so infuriated with Napoleon’s authoritarian tendencies, he scratched away his name. The great Indian philosophy Sri Aurobindo, wrote of Napoleon “The despotic defender of democracy” – highlighting the paradox and controversy of Napoleon, through ruthless methods, he preserved aspects of the French Revolution and encouraged reform in other Western European nations.
Donald Trump (1946 – ) US business magnate, investor, television personality and 45th president of the US. Trump ran a divisive campaign on subjects of immigration, trade and tax cuts. During his period in office, Trump has frequently told untruths and used demeaning language against minorities. His supporters claim he is great because he speaks freely, unconstrained by political correctness. His detractors argue that he has demeaned the office of President due to his misplaced personal attacks and divisive rhetoric.
Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) “I came, I saw, I conquered. Under Caesar, the Roman Empire conquered much of western Europe, killing one million Gauls who resisted. Caesar effectively ended the Roman Republic, sitting himself up as a dictator. To some, Caesar saved and strengthened the Roman Empire, but his critics saw him as power hungry and senators had him murdered.
Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1834) Thomas Malthus was a deeply religious and mild-mannered English rector. However, in 1798 he published in inflammatory book An Essay on the Principle of Population, (1798) which made the prophecy that the global population would grow faster than food production – leading to mass starvation and fights for food. Malthus was influential in encouraging a new movement of supporting birth control and later Eugenics (Malthus was mostly concerned about population growth in the working classes). Today, the predictions of Malthus have proved to be false. But, the fear of population growth has been revived by environmental issues, which could still make the issue relevant.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) – Martin Luther sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church which he felt had been corrupted and lost its original focus. Luther published a list of 95 complaints about the Catholic Church and was a principal figure in the Protestant Reformation and growth of the Protestant tradition. To his supporters, Martin Luther saved Christianity from the abuses of the church and returned religion to the purity of the Holy Scriptures. He also published the Bible in German, allowing ordinary people to read it. However, he is still controversial for his anti-semitic verses and strident criticism of those who disagreed with his theological view Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, and nontrinitarian Christians. This religious controversy led to bloody conflicts between different Christian sects.
Queen Victoria (1819–1901) British Queen. Presiding over one of the largest empires ever seen, Queen Victoria was the head of state from 1837 – 1901. As head of the British Empire, Queen Victoria sought to promote values of Christian morality. However, while she is seen as an emblem of moral virtue, the British Empire was less benign – taking control over foreign countries and denying people living in colonial lands the right to self-determination.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) A British suffragette, Emily Pankhurst dedicated her life to the promotion of women’s rights. She explored all avenues of protest, including violence, public demonstrations and hunger strikes. While many had sympathy with the cause to give women the vote, the violent demonstrations were more controversial. Critics argued it delayed the campaign to give women the vote. She felt it was necessary to shake the establishment out of its complacency. She died in 1928, three weeks before a law giving all women over 21 the right to vote.
Brigitte Bardot (1934 – ) Bardot is a French actress, singer and fashion model. In the 1960s, she was at the cutting edge of fashion and introduced more revealing clothes into major movies. At the time, it was controversial. Bardot later turned to animal rights activism. In 1986 she founded the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. She has been an outspoken critic of animal rights abuses around the world. She has also courted controversy by speaking against the impact of Islam in France. She has been charged four times for inciting racial hatred.
Peter Singer (1946 – ) Australian philosopher. Singer wrote an influential work Animal Liberation (1975) which argues for a biocentric view of giving intrinsic value to all living organisms and not a human-centric view of the world. Singer’s most controversial views rest on his implementation of utilitarianism. He has argued for the merit of abortion for fetuses which are severely disabled, and also for euthanasia. This has been criticised by people who believe it is more important to defend the sanctity of life and not make decisions based on hedonistic utilitarianism.
John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937) Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870; and he used underhand techniques to drive rivals out of business and gain monopoly power. He then charged high prices to consumers. It made him one of the richest persons in the world, but he came to symbolise the greed and inequity of the American ‘Gilded Age. He claimed his business promoted economic growth. Rockefeller retired in 1897 and spent his remaining years in philanthropic pursuits giving away money to charity.
Germaine Greer (1939– ) Australian feminist icon of the 1960s and 1970s, Germaine Greer often raises contentious issues. In particular her book “The Female Eunuch” was a defining manifesto for the feminist movement, which proved influential and controversial in the 1960s. Recently she has been courted controversy over her views on whether trans-women are real women.
Eugene Debs (1855-1926) Debs was a Trade Union Leader, and five times Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. In the face of inequality and poor working conditions, Debs organised trade unions strikes around the turn of the century. To workers he was fighting the inequality of capitalism, to capitalists, he was a socialist troublemaker who stirred up trouble. He also opposed the First World War and was jailed for his political views.
V.Lenin (1870–1924) Leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He masterminded the Bolshevik revolution and became the first leader of the Soviet Union. To his supporters, Lenin was a hero of the global socialist movement for overthrowing the corrupt Tsar and instituting a socialist revolution. However, under Lenin, the new Soviet Union began the policy of suppressing any opposition to Communist party rule, which would later be exploited by Stalin into a ruthless totalitarian state.
J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) American theoretical physicist who became the head of the Los Almos laboratory and the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. While many scientists contributed to the knowledge of atomic warfare, Oppenheimer was the lead scientist in charge of the project to make it a reality. Two years after the first bomb was detonated with great loss of life, he said: “the physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” After the Second World War, he used his position to campaign for the control of nuclear power and spoke against McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s.
Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451 – 1504) Isabella was an effective and influential monarch who, with her husband Ferdinand, united Spain and made it a leading power in Europe. She financed the journey of Christopher Columbus, leading to a new age of exploration. However, she was also a religious fanatic who set up the Spanish Inquisition. Also, the next wave of Spanish (and European) conquidistors felt they had a divine right to claim foreign lands.
Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) Russell was a brilliant mathematician who was also a committed pacifist. During the First World War he campaigned against conscription, and he was sent to jail for six months for speaking against America’s entry into the First World War in 1917. Russell did support the war against Nazi Germany, but after WWII he joined the campaign for nuclear disarmament, which was one of the great controversial issues of the Cold War.
Courageous people – People who have overcome difficult circumstances and difficult odds. Includes Joan of Arc, Galileo, Harriet Tubman, Socrates, Malala Yousafzai.
Inspirational people – People who made a difference in a positive way and left the world a better place. Includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa and Emil Zatopek.
Famous historical figures (throughout history) A list of the most famous figures throughout history. Includes, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Julius Ceasar, Albert Einstein and Constantine the Great.