Time's Top 20 Leaders and Revolutionaries
Jude Wanniski
April 16, 1998


Memo To: Walter Isaacson, Managing Editor, Time
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Top 20 Leaders & Revolutionaries

Congratulations on a great list of the 20 most important leaders and revolutionaries of the 20th century. Usually, you can count on me to disagree with almost any collection of this kind, and at first glance I did wonder about some of the choices.  But the more I thought about the selection, the more I saw the reasoning and agreed with almost all of them.

I definitely agree with Teddy Roosevelt, V.I. Lenin, Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Ghandi, David Ben-Gurion, Mao Zedong, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ayatollah Khomeini, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev.

I first questioned Margaret Sanger, but came around after thinking it through. Susan B. Anthony really belongs in the 19th century. Eleanor Roosevelt gave me pause, but on reflection, I saw the point and accepted it. I questioned Ho Chi Minh, but when I stacked him up against the others available, including Fidel Castro, I had to agree. I wondered if John XXIII didn’t deserve the “revolutionary” label more than John Paul II, but finally saw that John Paul II deserved the “leader” label more than John XXIII, who broke the ground at Vatican II and was thus more the revolutionary.

I wondered if Nelson Mandela measured up to the century-class. I’m stuck there, figuring I’d give a slot to Fidel if it came down to the two of them -- Mandela in prison, Fidel presiding over his very own revolution for 40 years. But it might even come down to the toss of a coin.

Where I definitely differ is with your anonymous rebel, the fellow who lay down in front of an army tank at Tiananmen Square. It’s a picture you saw and I saw, but it was not seen in China and made no real difference in the scheme of things. It is fraught with meaning, symbolism, heroism, poetry, et cetera, but it is a major stretch to suggest it had any effect on the ruling establishment. Rosa Parks had more impact on history, by refusing to sit in the back of the bus. In fact, Walter, you really can’t have a list of the top 20 of the century without including Deng Xiao Peng. If Gorbachev belongs on the list, and I think he does as a symmetrical counter to Lenin, then Deng certainly belongs there as the converse of Mao. If Mandela barely belongs on the bottom of the list, then Deng belongs in the top ten. I’d definitely put him ahead of Gorby, Walesa, Ben Gurion, Khomeini, and Teddy Roosevelt.

All in all, you can be proud of the effort that went into this compilation. We hope you can do as well in your next list, which I understand will give us the top 20 thinkers and intellectuals. Off the top of my head comes John Maynard Keynes, Whittaker Chambers, and the Canadian economist Robert A. Mundell, who resurrected classical economic theory (supply-side) in time for the Reagan campaign of 1980. If it were not for Mundell, who fed into Laffer, me, Kemp, et al., Reagan would have been without a growth agenda and would have been demolished in the GOP primaries. Besides, it will be nice to put a Canadian on the list. All the other bigtime economists are Keynesian anyway, excepting von Mises, the big daddy of the Austrians.