Who’s the most powerful man in the world? Some say it’s the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I say no. The Head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon? Nope. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron? Now you’re having a laugh! What about beyond politics? How about Eric “Don’t be Evil” Schmidt, the comedy-villain Chairman of Google? No, you’re on the wrong track completely.
Real power is soft power. The power of ideas.
Measure power by the number of people influenced, the length of time influenced and the intensity of the influence and three outstanding candidates emerge.
Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha.
Number influenced? Billions. Duration of influence? Thousands of years. Intensity? Death – of self and others. They make Obama look like a nobody, don’t you think?
As an atheist, this feels like a problem. If the three most powerful people in the world continue to be long-dead prophets, how is humanity ever going to achieve its full potential?
Despite this, I’m optimistic, because if real power lies in ideas, it resides beyond the individuals who created those ideas.
The Enlightenment gave us a way to create new ideas, and many of those ideas now underpin modern society. Democracy; tolerance of minorities; sexual and racial equality; freedom of speech; judicial impartiality; reason; science. Those ideas weren’t found in religious texts, they were created by free-thinking, self-critical individuals.
That’s what the Enlightenment began, and it’s a journey that one day may take us to a place where the question, “who is the most powerful man in the world?” becomes obsolete, because we will all have power over our own lives at last.