The “great man” theory of history -- the idea that individuals (mostly men) of high social, political, economic or scientific rank shape destiny -- has been largely eclipsed. There is much good in that. Today, the stories of the marginalized (such as women, persons of color, the disabled, laborers and farmers, slaves and soldiers, the poor) are now studied in a manner once exclusively reserved to kings and princes, presidents and prime ministers, the rich and famous.
To be “great” does not, to be sure, mean to be always correct. Many in the Catholic community, for example, look at Kennedy’s record on abortion and ask, what if the great liberal lawmaker had used his stature and abilities to promote legal protection to the unborn? He chose another course.