Though Erikson here uses a list of modern secular heroes, I don’t find his point any less potent.
Consider for a brief moment certain great names of our time, which prides itself on a dominant identity enhanced by scientific truth. Darwin, Einstein, and Freud omitting Marx, who was a conscious and deliberate ideological craftsman would certainly deny that they had any intention of influencing, say, the editorials, or the vocabulary, or the scrupulosity of our time in the ways in which they undoubtedly did and do. They could, in fact, refute the bulk of the concepts popularly ascribed to them, or vaguely and anonymously derived from them, as utterly foreign to their original ideas, their methodology, and their personal philosophy and conduct.
Darwin did not intend to debase man to an animal; Einstein did not preach relativism; Freud was neither a philosophical pansexualist nor a moral egotist. Freud pointed squarely to the psycho-historical problem involved when he said that the world apparently could not forgive him for having revised the image of man by demonstrating the dependence of man’s will on unconscious motivation, just as Darwin had not been forgiven for demonstrating man’s relationship to the animal world, or Copernicus for showing that our earth is off-center. Freud did not foresee a worse fate, namely that the world can absorb such a major shock by splintering it into minor half-truths, irrelevant exaggerations, and brilliant distortions, mere caricatures of the intended design. Yet somehow the shock affects the intimate inner balance of many, if not all, contemporary individuals, obviously not because great men are understood and believed, but because they are felt to represent vast shifts in man’s image of the universe and of his place in it shifts which are determined concomitantly by political and economic developments.
The tragedy of great men is that they are the leaders and yet the victims of ideological processes.
Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, p.177