When names become adjectives

Some people have made such a contribution in one way or the other that their names pass into the language.  The Washington Post has an interesting feature that takes up some of these names and argues that the actual person was different from the adjective that their names became.  (At the link, you can link further to complete articles about each of these individuals.)

Mao was not a Maoist By Jung Chang

Chairman Mao extolled the “hard life” for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Yet, biographer Jung Chang explains, Mao enjoyed the choicest food, lived among 50 estates and earned millions in royalties from the books he forced the nation to read.

Clinton was not Clintonian By Jon Cowan and Matt Bennett

Is President Clinton Clintonian? It depends on what the meaning of “Clintonian” is. But Third Way’s Matt Bennett and Jonathan Cowan argue that the benign definition — having a willingness to take on party orthodoxies — is the one that will endure.

Rand was not Randian By Jennifer Burns

Rand wanted to live up to her novels’ heroes — men like Howard Roark and John Galt, who lived for their work and cared little for the opinions of others. So why, asks historian Jennifer Burns, was Rand heartbroken when reviewers didn’t like “Atlas Shrugged”?

Keynes was not Keynesian By Nicholas Wapshott

The term “Keynesian” has become a Washington insult — “shorthand for spendthrift, wasteful, debt-ridden, incontinent, elitist, socialist,” writes journalist Nicholas Wapshott. But the elegant British economist was none of the above.

Machiavelli was not Machiavellian By Miles Unger

“It is better to be feared than loved.” The author of “The Prince” offered cynical chestnuts such as this to 16th-century politicians. But biographer Miles Unger writes that Machiavelli was far from devious: He took in orphans, went to jail for his beliefs and died broke.

Queen Victoria was not Victorian By Kate Williams

The supposedly dour monarch who ruled England during the repressed Victorian era not only had nine children with her dashing young husband, but even flirted with the help after his death. Biographer Kate Williams offers a glimpse at the woman behind the frown.

Freud was not Freudian By Howard Markel

Freud demanded that his patients tell the truth about their most intimate experiences. But author Howard Markel says the inventor of psychoanalysis was never honest about his deepest, darkest secret: his addiction to cocaine.

Jefferson was not Jeffersonian By R.B. Bernstein

It’s hardly news that the founding father who wrote that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. But according to biographer R.B. Bernstein, this small-government enthusiast was not above big-government moves. Exhibit A: the Louisiana Purchase.

via What’s in a name … and what isn’t? – The Washington Post.

One could take issue with some of this.  (Believing in sexual propriety as Queen Victoria did does NOT mean being against sex in marriage!)  And I suspect that every person is far more complex than some single quality that might be attributed to them.  But still, this is a game that we might play.

I am currently engaged in an e-mail controversy over whether Marx was a Marxist.  Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Was Luther a Lutheran?

What other names could we scrutinize?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Was Stalin a Stalinist, or Lenin and Leninist? Yes. Just like Mao was a Maoist and Marx was a Marxist.

    Granted, many of these terms developed as ways to describe the followers or adherents to the theological, political or philosophical school which acknowledges the named person as the “founder” or get labeled as such by their opponents. Thomists to Aquinas or Lutherans to Luther, Georgists to Henry George, Wahhabis to Wahhab, Mohists to Moh or Confucianists to Confucius. Over time the meaning may be entirely distorted a la Epicurious and the Epicureans which started off as an atheistic philosophy centered on living the hedonistic life – the eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die folks Paul spoke of.

    Let’s face it. Mao was a perfect Maoist – the people work and suffer and the supreme leader lives like the emperor, or, if you’re a Stalinist, like the czar. The hypocrisy is part of the “essential” nature of what makes Maoism or Stalinism or Leninism or other Marxist variants tick.

  • SKPeterson

    Was Stalin a Stalinist, or Lenin and Leninist? Yes. Just like Mao was a Maoist and Marx was a Marxist.

    Granted, many of these terms developed as ways to describe the followers or adherents to the theological, political or philosophical school which acknowledges the named person as the “founder” or get labeled as such by their opponents. Thomists to Aquinas or Lutherans to Luther, Georgists to Henry George, Wahhabis to Wahhab, Mohists to Moh or Confucianists to Confucius. Over time the meaning may be entirely distorted a la Epicurious and the Epicureans which started off as an atheistic philosophy centered on living the hedonistic life – the eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die folks Paul spoke of.

    Let’s face it. Mao was a perfect Maoist – the people work and suffer and the supreme leader lives like the emperor, or, if you’re a Stalinist, like the czar. The hypocrisy is part of the “essential” nature of what makes Maoism or Stalinism or Leninism or other Marxist variants tick.

  • MichaelZ

    Was Luther a Lutheran…? That was a good question. What defines Lutherans? Isn’t it an incredible respect and honor for Luther and everything (with exceptions) that he wrote and said. Luther, however, did not have a monolithic religious leader that he looked up to and revered. Wasn’t he against just such a person…(the pope)?
    Thoughts from you Lutherans?

  • MichaelZ

    Was Luther a Lutheran…? That was a good question. What defines Lutherans? Isn’t it an incredible respect and honor for Luther and everything (with exceptions) that he wrote and said. Luther, however, did not have a monolithic religious leader that he looked up to and revered. Wasn’t he against just such a person…(the pope)?
    Thoughts from you Lutherans?

  • Bob

    MichaelZ,

    Actually, Lutherans don’t honor everything Luther wrote and said. That would be silly.

    For me, it’s the Book of Concord that defines what it means to be a Lutheran.

  • Bob

    MichaelZ,

    Actually, Lutherans don’t honor everything Luther wrote and said. That would be silly.

    For me, it’s the Book of Concord that defines what it means to be a Lutheran.

  • SKPeterson

    Michael @2 – “Lutheran” was initially a pejorative used by the Roman church to disparage Luther and those who sided with his arguments against papal abuses. By stigmatizing them as followers of a single man, they hoped to dismiss the arguments without having to address them.

    Do Lutherans have a deep respect for Luther. Yes, obviously. Is he monolithic in Lutheranism? No, which should also be obvious. Luther was a man; so is/was the pope. Lutheranism is more of a school of theological method and thought as opposed to some sort of blind following. In many ways it could be said that Luther is to theology what Newton is to physics. Luther built his theology upon a solid Biblical grounding, anchored in Paul and mediated through theologians such as Ambrose, Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux. Similarly, Newton based his classical mechanics on the basic works of the classical Greeks, mediated through Galileo, Brahe and Kepler.

  • SKPeterson

    Michael @2 – “Lutheran” was initially a pejorative used by the Roman church to disparage Luther and those who sided with his arguments against papal abuses. By stigmatizing them as followers of a single man, they hoped to dismiss the arguments without having to address them.

    Do Lutherans have a deep respect for Luther. Yes, obviously. Is he monolithic in Lutheranism? No, which should also be obvious. Luther was a man; so is/was the pope. Lutheranism is more of a school of theological method and thought as opposed to some sort of blind following. In many ways it could be said that Luther is to theology what Newton is to physics. Luther built his theology upon a solid Biblical grounding, anchored in Paul and mediated through theologians such as Ambrose, Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux. Similarly, Newton based his classical mechanics on the basic works of the classical Greeks, mediated through Galileo, Brahe and Kepler.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes: Lutheranism is defined as adhering to the teachings of the Book of Concord. Not everything Luther said in his long and prolific life necessarily fits with that. (Though, on the basis of his own bottom line confessions of faith, he could indeed be classified as a “Lutheran.”)

    I have heard it said variously that Luther was really a Calvinist and that Calvin was really a Lutheran. That wouldn’t measure up to the Book of Concord test, but this has been claimed.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes: Lutheranism is defined as adhering to the teachings of the Book of Concord. Not everything Luther said in his long and prolific life necessarily fits with that. (Though, on the basis of his own bottom line confessions of faith, he could indeed be classified as a “Lutheran.”)

    I have heard it said variously that Luther was really a Calvinist and that Calvin was really a Lutheran. That wouldn’t measure up to the Book of Concord test, but this has been claimed.

  • kerner

    Was Luther a Lutheran?

    Well, gee Dr. Veith, you answered your own question @5. The correct answer is: Sometimes.

    Much of what Luther wrote is not in the BOC, and some of what Luther wrote conflicts with it. And everything in the BOC was not written by Luther. Ergo: Sometimes.

  • kerner

    Was Luther a Lutheran?

    Well, gee Dr. Veith, you answered your own question @5. The correct answer is: Sometimes.

    Much of what Luther wrote is not in the BOC, and some of what Luther wrote conflicts with it. And everything in the BOC was not written by Luther. Ergo: Sometimes.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    From the summer 2011 edition of the Concordia Journal “Was Walther Waltherian?”

    Luther was not “Lutheran”, he would have despised the label. Luther was an Evangelical Catholic. We superimpose the Lutheran label because the name has become synonymous with those who confess in accord with the confessions found in the Book of Concord of which he co-wrote or authored himself.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    From the summer 2011 edition of the Concordia Journal “Was Walther Waltherian?”

    Luther was not “Lutheran”, he would have despised the label. Luther was an Evangelical Catholic. We superimpose the Lutheran label because the name has become synonymous with those who confess in accord with the confessions found in the Book of Concord of which he co-wrote or authored himself.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    edit should read “some of which he co-wrote”

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    edit should read “some of which he co-wrote”

  • Steve Billingsley

    This just looks like an exercise in “too clever by half”. Not interested.

  • Steve Billingsley

    This just looks like an exercise in “too clever by half”. Not interested.

  • Dan Kempin

    What about McCarthyism? That one was never intended to define his beliefs, but has always been (as far as I know) a slur and a vilification. Can anyone identify what drove McCarthy, or do we just know that he was a judgmental and closed minded inquisitor?

  • Dan Kempin

    What about McCarthyism? That one was never intended to define his beliefs, but has always been (as far as I know) a slur and a vilification. Can anyone identify what drove McCarthy, or do we just know that he was a judgmental and closed minded inquisitor?

  • Dust

    Stupid is as stupid does :)

  • Dust

    Stupid is as stupid does :)

  • CRB

    I’d like to present another: Was Walther a Lutheranian? OR, was
    he a Waltherian?

  • CRB

    I’d like to present another: Was Walther a Lutheranian? OR, was
    he a Waltherian?

  • kenneth

    If one wants to get real scare of what totalitarian really means after all the carnage of recent history I suggest watching “Animal Farm” on netflix. A nightmare down memory lane.

    I suppose Luther was a more consistent man than any in hisory I have heard about. So yes, Luther, was a human being but he was quite aware of it in both the misery and joy of it.

  • kenneth

    If one wants to get real scare of what totalitarian really means after all the carnage of recent history I suggest watching “Animal Farm” on netflix. A nightmare down memory lane.

    I suppose Luther was a more consistent man than any in hisory I have heard about. So yes, Luther, was a human being but he was quite aware of it in both the misery and joy of it.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Did Luther eat lutefisk? No, so he wasn’t as Lutheran as he could have been.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Did Luther eat lutefisk? No, so he wasn’t as Lutheran as he could have been.

  • steve

    I always though Lennon was a Marxist.

  • steve

    I always though Lennon was a Marxist.

  • Dust

    well in today’s modern world where everyone gets to decide the definition and meaning of each and every word, there might even be some debate about even whether Christ himself was a Christian? Why not, given the wide range of interpretations of that term and His Person, it could be the ultimate question of the day? on the other hand, perhaps it’s just a stupid idea…as noted above :)

  • Dust

    well in today’s modern world where everyone gets to decide the definition and meaning of each and every word, there might even be some debate about even whether Christ himself was a Christian? Why not, given the wide range of interpretations of that term and His Person, it could be the ultimate question of the day? on the other hand, perhaps it’s just a stupid idea…as noted above :)


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