What are your thoughts on great man history? I kind of like it in a narrative sense. It's easier to tell a story when you have a protagonist.
Great men often reflect existing trends and conditions, but that doesn't mean that they weren't great, or that their personal agency was unimportant in pushing events along. Mao and Liu Xiaoqi were in the same generation in the same movement, reflecting the same demographic changes in post-imperial China, but they would have been radically different in charge.
Humans evolved around telling stories.
Our ancestors, your ancestors sat around a fire every night and told stories to each other. Storytelling is encoded in our DNA.
So of course we're gonna try to make things into a cohesive story. Either after the fact or as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is an extreme randomness factor to it. How many "great men" have we possibly lost to random disease, the chaos of battle, natural disasters? Or perhaps never getting the opportunity to ever recognise and later showcase whatever greatness they possessed because of the class they were born in?
I disagree with completely eliminating the concept (i.e. all people and history is shaped by external factors in the vein of gun germs and steel) and equating all peoples' talents. But these circumstances surely do play a part.
But can the same be said of Marius or Sulla or, to some extent, the Gracchi brothers? It seems to me that the fall of the Roman republic was kind of a great man thing. Sure, the Gracchi might have just been able to tell what way the wind was blowing, but they still pushed things off.