When a single individual has a preeminent impact on the world, then based on that person’s “historical footprint,” they have to be accorded the status of “person of the year.”
As Time’s editor’s wrote when assigning the position to Vladimir Putin, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person in question is good.
This can be troubling for those who might prefer to single out the most important and morally good person as the “person of the year.” Taking that approach, however, would involve confusing two kinds of value-judgment: ethical value-judgments–which pertain to whether or not someone is good or bad, and metaphysical value-judgments–which in this context pertain to the significance of a person’s role in shaping the world we live in.
Of course, good is fundamentally worthier of attention than evil, but that doesn’t mean that good people are necessarily those determining the course of events at any point in time. An evil person can be in that position, and thus be “person of the year” because of the failure of good people to be just (to recognize evil for what it is and defend the good). A perfect example is Hitler in 1938 (actually chosen by Time Magazine), who was in a position to dominate events in the world, because of the infamous appeasement of the Nazi regime by Europe’s leaders. In this historical example and in general, the selection of such a person as “person of the year” serves as an indictment of those (such as Neville Chamberlain in 1938) who allow evil to reach its undeserved status in the world and a clarion call to the moral to take action.
Fortunately, in our day, evil is nowhere near as empowered as it was in 1938. Osama Bin Laden is living in a cave somewhere, where he belongs. Ahmedinejad has to worry about his own people rebelling because the oil rich country doesn’t provide its own citizens with gas. North Korea lives in darkness for lack of power. (A picture really is worth a thousand words!)
The most important troublesome regimes–Russia and China–are both coasting along pragmatically. Their leaders have abandoned ideology and accepted whatever reforms they believe can benefit them, while maintaining their traditionally oppressive regimes.
Which is not to say that an evil person isn’t within striking distance of being “person of the year” very soon. Ahmedinejad may be allowed to assume the title, though I believe that Israel will view the rise of nuclear Iran as intolerable and take matters into its own hands, making its own president the true “decider” of the coming decade.
We still haven’t arrived a PHR’s “Person of the Year” for 2007. More on the algorithm, and my choice in Part4!