True Greatness

by Don Boudreaux on May 13, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence

There is a large inverse relationship between someone’s greatness of character and the likelihood that that person will one day be immortalized in marble or in history books.

Society progresses only through the countless decencies, creative acts, honest exchanges, and faithfulness to responsibilities performed daily by millions of persons, nearly all of whom will be forgotten within a few decades of their deaths.  Unfortunately, the monuments we humans build are chiefly to conquerors, tyrants, arrogant pretenders, and buffoons — persons who, through the very acts that win them their ‘honor,’ help to undermine the progress promoted by the decent, unheralded many.

Be Sociable, Share!



50 comments    Share Share    Print    Email


True_Liberal May 13, 2009 at 9:09 am

Wonderful tribute, and not unlike my own father. Wish that I could write so eloquently.

Mandeep Singh Rayat May 13, 2009 at 9:26 am

Don, what a lovely tribute to your Father! It is very inspiring. There are many gems of wisdom to be learned from the lives of such great people.

Daniel Kuehn May 13, 2009 at 9:30 am

A nice tribute to the unheralded many.

I live right outside Washington, D.C., where you can find many marble statues. Some of these men deserve it more than others, but off the top of my head I can't think of any that I would apply the labels "conquerors, tyrants, arrogant pretenders, and buffoons" to. This is especially driven home for me as I consider the next statue scheduled to grace the National Mall – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. A tyrant? A buffoon? A pretender? No.

No, I think this sentiment is too pessimistic, Don. Certainly some undeserving tyrants have won their statues – but usually those tyrants order the statues to be built themselves. The leaders who have statues built for them by future generations, without requesting one, I find to be generally fallable and imperfect – but still quite deserving of honor.

eric May 13, 2009 at 9:45 am

Great post. Most really great men live modest lives, enriching those who merely know them. We need to emphasize this more. RIP.

Daniel Kuehn May 13, 2009 at 9:48 am

Sorry – didn't realize this was a tribute to your dad at first. I hope my post didn't detract from that. Sorry for your loss, Don – and while I do hold those thoughts, they certainly don't diminish the contributions of the "unheralded many".

Paul Sebastian May 13, 2009 at 9:59 am

A truly wonderful piece! It says as much about you as it does your dad, who obviously was a superb person!

Shakes May 13, 2009 at 10:38 am

May God Bless you and your father and your family. So much wealth is passed down through generations that wouldn't constitute "wealth" in nominal terms. Reading that made me feel good about my own father, and I still miss him to this day. He lives on in me and I try to pass the best of him along to my boys.

I don't want to insult anyone or derail the topic. Fathers today are devauled by the government, and you can see it in the rate of births out of wedlock. "Putting a roof over your head" or "putting food on the table" used to be a source of pride for the father. When the government stepped in and starting doing this we started to detach the value of fathers. The government can give you housing and food stamps and school your children, and the things that men did are now done by the government. But they leave a huge gap in their wake. The black family is in shambles, and it hurts everyone involved, most importantly the broken families themselves. These people need to be glorified. Tim Russert's dad was a garbage man. Your father was a welder. And we will never meet more fine and decent people.

Today people even are critical of "Mc-jobs". Like anyone who works a job should be degraded. We are all cogs in a wonderfully integrated and intricate system that is almost impossible to comprehend. I think about Leonard Read's "I Pencil" often, and that is the reason I read this blog. That is the first place I ever read your name.

Think of how lucky you are to be born with a father, and a father that you knew well and could respect. A father that could pass down values and wisdom. A father that showed you work ethic on those docks. Many people don't have that.

If it were not for my parents I may likely be dead by now. I was an uncontrollable youth. I was a horrible child but they never gave up. My parents had five wonderful children and then me, and I was the worst of the lot. Now that I am older and I reflect on their efforts I value them more than any other gift in life. And I am proud to the the father of my children. I am not wealthy, but I put a roof over their heads and I put bread on the table. And I love them. Some day they will pass that love on.

God bless you.

Big John May 13, 2009 at 10:39 am

Truth, Love, and Freedom are all that really matter in life. Thank you for pointing to the importance of all three in your writing.

Daniel Kuehn May 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

Shakes -
RE: "I don't want to insult anyone or derail the topic. Fathers today are devauled by the government, and you can see it in the rate of births out of wedlock."

Absolutely right. The good thing is, a LOT of people in government are realizing this, and things are slowly changing. I work with HHS a lot, and this is a very big issue there right now.

Of course, the state can't make good fathers – whatever incentive they dream up are only going to be a drop in the bucket. It needs to be a cultural change. But I think people are becoming aware of this shortcoming (thanks in large measure to people in the Bush administration… something I don't get the chance to say often).

Curg G May 13, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks for the moving tribute, Don. It is good to be reminded of the humble heroes that surround us, unheralded and unrewared.

CRC May 13, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Don that was absolutely lovely. It (seriously) brought a tear to my eye and guilt to my conscience (for not being more forthright about my similar feelings to my own Dad). I will fix that.

Martin Brock May 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I remember how you took Paw [my paternal grandfather] into our small home after Maw died, and cared for him with tenderness and good humor. I remember how you did the same for Aunt Louise.

That's what I call social security. Congratulations on your many benefits, and condolences on your temporal loss.

Jeremy May 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

That was one of the most touching pieces I have read. Makes me think of my own father! Thanks for sharing.

K Ackermann May 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm

That was a very nice tribute you wrote to your dad. He sounds like a great man.

We should all be so blessed.

Speedmaster May 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Dr. Boudreaux, wonderful sentiments. And my condolences for your loss.

S Andrews May 13, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Sorry for your loss Prof. Boudreaux. Wonderful write up, reminded me of my own Dad.

OregonGuy May 13, 2009 at 5:05 pm

My dad is a constant source of personal wealth. He passed fifteen years ago. To underscore your view is the following "test" proposed by Peanuts creator Charles Schultz:


vidyohs May 13, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Where would humanity be if all of us simply learned the lessons our parents had to teach us, and we did not make their mistakes.

Where would humanity be, DK, if all the wealth created was left in the hands of the creators instead of taken and squandered on mounuments to the egotistical power hungry thugs of the world. And, DK, you know damn well that Don wasn't talking about people such as MLK, or Abe, or such folk; but you had to open with your…….usual.


I have one more Monday left on my teaching business skills to the outcasts of a local HS, and the Walmart story will be in my last presentation, and your tribute to your father will certainly be as well; because one of the main points I have been making to them is that success can be determined by many standards, but a basic standard is being totally self sufficient and being able to pay for all those you take responsibility for, which your father did. The fact that you testify to his character, as you do, will just be icing on the cake when I talk to the kids.

Carried to a deeper philosophical level, it is a never ending source of amazement to me that there are people in the world, who seek power over you and I, that think that they can force your father and someone like Jesse Jackson, David Duke, muirgeo, or myself into the same pigeon hole and think they have acheived equality by doing so.

Don, that last paragraph is clumsy, but I think you will understand what I tried to say.

save_the_rustbelt May 13, 2009 at 10:48 pm


We begin to feel old and inadequate when we become the family patriarch, but we press on.

And we hope we can be as much to our children as our parents were to us.

Bill Nichols May 14, 2009 at 7:15 am

A beautiful tribute. I am reminded of a statement attributed to Lincoln, (forgive the paraphrase) "God must love the comman man for he made so many of them".
Although the memory of Adrian's deeds may not last as long as the monuments, the legacy will endure after marble has turned to dust.

Patrick Barron May 14, 2009 at 9:17 am

Wonderful tribute, Don. My mother would never have won a Nobel in anything, but…if everyone in the world were like my dear, departed mother, we would not need armies, navies, locks, safe houses for abused children, etc. My dear, departed dad quit the Lion's Club, a club he desired to join for many years, but didn't have the money (he was raising a family). He took his best friend, Ed, there for a drink. Later some members told him that the club did not allow black people into the club, even as guests. My dad quit on the spot. These are inheritances that are beyond worldly riches.

Bob Guzzardi May 14, 2009 at 9:38 am

My dad died 25 years ago and it is not infrequently that I think of a lesson learned from him.

Christopher Renner May 15, 2009 at 5:43 am

I read this in the Tribune-Review prior to here. My condolences to you, and may you be reassured of the ultimate vindication of the unsung hero.

Jeff Crichton May 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Thank you for posting. Your father sounds like a great man. May he rest in peace.

Don Boudreaux May 16, 2009 at 6:18 am

I thank you all for your kind remarks and warm condolences.


Previous post:

Next post: