Chingis Khan. Chinese ink-drawing.

Chingis Khan the King

The awesome history of Chingis Khan is in every respect a perpetually intriguing one. No human in the whole history of Mankind has ever come close to what he accomplished. Testimony from contemporary sources, as well as subsequent history, corroborate that the historical Temuchin (his name before he became Chingis Khan), by the sheer force and warmth of his personality managed to win a conglomerate of different tribal people to his side, and by political as well as military means, to overcome all resistance against his grand Purpose, to unite the "people who live in felt tents," denoting all nomads of Inner Asia and Siberia that were drawn into the orbit of his influence.

Before the advent of Temuchin, fratricidal strife, cattle-stealing, destructive intertribal wars with only personal, local and temporary results were the order of the day. When he entered the scene, the enormousness of his authority did not only manage to bring the internecine destruction to an end, he went on to place the small Mongol nation (which never numbered above one and half a million) on the stage of world history in a way that seems to transcend every human experience, past and present. Even eight hundred years after his accomplishments, those belonging to his cultural tradition reverence him with undying fervor. That is perhaps the most telling proof of the extraordinary powers he brought into the World.

It is possible to determine the historical factors that facilitated the rise of Temuchin and led to the establishment of his brainchild the Mongol empire. They are real. It is also true that several typical features of Chingis' armies, such as the decimal system on which the army was structured, the feigned retreat, and the reconnaissance system were age-old techniques of the peoples between Lake Bajkal and China.

Nevertheless, Chingis Khan's consistent success in employing them, his principle of promotion on the basis of capability alone, his lifelong uncanny genius for winning people's hearts and to attract followers, evidenced already from his boyhood; his persistence in striving for exalted objectives that stretched far beyond the immediate, material and visible, and aim his endeavors towards the application of the Siberian/Mongolian heritage on something that was extendable in space-time, but first and foremost the dazzling success he had as the creator of a feeling of shared purpose in close to everyone with whom he came in contact, together with his being the architect of the Mongol Empire, is unique in the world. Chingis Khan, as a general, politician and man, has simply no parallel in history. He did in a stupendous degree transcend the ordinary limits of humans. Even more awe-inspiring: Being a genuine humanitarian with a grand Purpose, he energized his Mongolian peoples to join him in doing the same. The unceasing veneration of his memory among those connected to the Mongol tradition bespeaks the intrinsically philanthropic, unselfish nature of his authority and of his ultimate aims.

Would another person have been able to do what Chingis did?

This is a type of question that humans have asked themselves since time immemorial, in spite of its ultimate insolubility. In much of traditional historiography, it has been taken for granted that the "personal" or "subjective" element in history is at best a secondary one. The reasoning has been something like this: "What shapes history are the material factors, that is population dynamics, economic resources, climate and so on. This means that fame or greatness of any given person is contingent upon factors beyond the control of that individual. Thus, if a significant historical person had been struck down by a bullet during childhood, the socioeconomically predetermined course of history would have been the same, albeit with another role-player." 

This is certainly true as far as it goes. However, this is also a simplified frame of reference, whose boundaries lead its adherents to overlook the no less important subjective element. One might suggest that subjective factors, like emotions, wishes, and goals residing deeply in the collective as well as in the individual unconscious dictate our destiny to a far greater extent than normally acknowledged. If a given culture or individual succeeds in attaining a particular set of goals, this is likely to be the result of a subconscious wish or desire to aspire towards that goal. Such a subconscious desire will ripen into full-fledged action when the conditions so permit. When the moment comes it is a product of both material/objective as well as subjective factors. Speaking of the human collective unconscious, there will within a larger group of people be a spiritual/mental tendency to create just the socioeconomically most propitious conditions for the realization of the relevant aspirations. This holds true for groups and individuals alike. One might suggest that a single individual chooses, on a subconscious level, to create just the right psychosocial and material conditions for his/her aspirations to be fulfilled. Then, personal qualities of a rather elusive albeit real nature decide the eventual outcome.

This needs further explanation and elaboration. - We all know what the concept of the color "red" basically covers at the collectively agreed level. Now, say "red" to a number of randomly chosen people. Some will say that they associate the color with painting, others will say that their thoughts go to blood as a symbol of life, some others will say that for them, "red" signifies love, some connect the red color with anger, whereas another group of people would say they think of communism. Significantly, whereas all the persons can identify the color; the meaning it carries, and in effect its very nature, will in any given individual be different from everyone else's.

Still, it is the same word with its collective definition which was the starting point for them all. Yet it is superabundantly clear that the personal mental and emotional experience accompanying the collective concept of "red" is vastly different from person to person. Why it is so, nobody can tell in full detail. Suffice it to say here that the reason for the differences must be immensely more complex than superficial personal experiences within the lifetime of the person. We simply have different abilities. Insofar as we imagine that different emotional/mental/spiritual approaches to the red color imply different potential actions, we quickly perceive that we are speaking about varying abilities to respond to the stimulus in question, whether it be a color or a complex scientific, political or military challenging situation.

In most cases, people follow a rather predictable pattern, constricted by the combined effects of genetic predisposition and the prevalent and inchoate ideas/beliefs of the surrounding milieu. This is what is expressed through the ubiquitous "regression towards the mean." It is probable that an excessively high number of individuals who consistently managed to break out from the (fictitious) boundaries of heredity and milieu would correspond to a chaotic, or revolutionary, state which would tend to lead to a breakdown (=revolution) in any larger system of any kind. In spite of this checking mechanism, a number of individuals do exhibit characteristics that set them apart from their family, friends, fellows and contemporaries. Characteristic of these people is a dissatisfaction by much of what their peers value most highly; the material rewards, the emotional ties cherished by most others hold little or no appeal in comparison to the messages of their mental images, which seem to testify to the horizon of their minds stretching far beyond the ordinary scope of human beings. This kind of individual can never accept anything less than what the typically very lofty inner standards dictate. When such a spirit possesses mental qualities that by some "alchemy" bring mastery of a chosen Purpose, then he or she is able to do what others cannot. The reasons why a small number of individuals harbor far-reaching aspirations, why they possess personal qualities and capabilities that make them outstanding, are of necessity as subjective as the reasons why a common concept like that of the color "red" evokes very different responses from different people, and of course equally intriguing.

Now, even if it could be said that all the natural talents of an individual, no matter how great, are rendered inconsequent unless this individual lives in circumstances that permit those personal characteristics to be brought to fruition and practical realization, it is still clear that in order to act upon the opportunities presented, the doer must possess the required qualities. In other words; no matter how propitious the conditions might be for a certain line of development, that development is not going to take place until an individual with sufficient capacity comes forward and forcefully acts upon the opportunity.

Human history is replete with examples that seem to illustrate the importance of the subjective element. We are not only shaped by the circumstances under which we live; these very circumstances are in their turn a result of subconscious patterns of a non-objective character. In my understanding, it is by no means clear that the latter are less important. 

The basic conditions that would enable a Chingis Khan to emerge had existed for millennia. It took the historical Temuchin to combine the ability to wage war relentlessly with the ability to win people with the heart. For most humans living today, there is an unbridgeable contradiction between love and war. For Chingis Khan this was not the case. While in the conduct of war he possessed the ruthlessness to wipe out those who stood in the way of his Purpose, it was said of Temuchin since his early childhood that he had a remarkable "fire in his eyes," a Mongolian term for emotional depth and kindness. It was also said about him already when he was a boy that the rivaling tribes hated him because he had wisdom.

There is no way to tell whether any other man (or woman, for that matter) could have possessed this combination of qualities and done what Chingis did. Personally, I hold the firm opinion that there is nothing and nobody to compare this man to. We may try to conceptualize his person, to make him fit into our known categories, but in the end we have to face the fact that no man on Earth ever did what he accomplished. Hence, if somebody tries to analyze Chingis Khan "objectively," Chingis must then be made to conform (in absentia and post mortem!) to whatever that somebody's previous experiences, conceptions and so on would presuppose or dictate. Obviously such an attempt at pressing Chingis Khan into an "objective" frame is unrealistic. Chingis was and is unique in all of History, a true one-of-a-kind. But we do not know in full detail why. Nevertheless, we know that he had an infinite sense of Purpose which sets him apart from all those who work for the present and tangible benefits of this life and no other. Chingis Khan understood the concept of Eternity, his spirit was never confined to the present, because his mind penetrated the mist of the moment, and forever he saw clearly the eternal horizons that others could not fathom.

What we all can do is to let the memory of the Father of the Mongol Nation, the greatest politician and statesman of all time, serve as an example of human achievement and thus stimulate us to transcend our own limitations.

"The precious jade has no crust on it,
the polished dagger has no dirt on it;
man born to life is not deathless,
he must go from this world without home,
without resting place.
The glory of a deed lies in being finished.
Firm and unbending is he
who keeps a plighted word faithfully.
Do not follow the will of others,
and you shall have the good-will of many."

(Chingis Khan)

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Last updated January 19, 2011 by Per Inge Oestmoen