Most consider Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt one of America’s greatest presidents. Though he struggled with health issues as a child, he overcame them at the behest of his father. Perhaps due to this struggle, he became an advocate of a life full of challenges and is known for his rugged adventurism.
Another thing that President Roosevelt is known for, which was perhaps born out of his life of challenge advocacy, is his “The Man in the Arena” speech. It is a part of a speech known as Citizenship in a Republic, which he gave in Paris on April 23rd, 1910. It has since gone on to be tattooed on celebrities, quoted by TED talk lecturers, and much more.
Yet, one problem may be faced by those who encounter the famous Teddy Roosevelt Man in the Arena quote. After they read it (you can do so for yourself on this site), they may not fully understand the meaning behind the quote. This is what this article will explore.
Read on to learn more about the famous “The Man in the Arena” Teddy Roosevelt speech and its meaning.
The Context of the “Citizenship in a Republic” Speech
To start, there’s one thing most important to acknowledge about the situation of Roosevelt’s famous speech. He wasn’t speaking to his fellow Americans. Instead, he was talking to a French audience and more so to a crowd of, assumedly, academics at the University of Paris or, as it’s otherwise known, Sorbonne.
This is important because it clarifies that when he was talking about pioneers conquering the New World, he wasn’t just talking about the founding of America. He was also talking about the founding that other nations, such as France, went through, which had long been forgotten. This can be further proven by the fact that Roosevelt mentions that countries should “learn from one another.”
Why does he speak of the pioneering age and the evolution of a country into the modern day? He does this to acknowledge that there is wisdom that citizens of the contemporary world can derive from this older one. It is in these values that a modern Democratic republic can succeed and not in what a mere ” life of material gain” can give them.
He acknowledged that each average citizen must “be a good citizen.” He then admits that the privileged, such as the academics before him, may be somewhat handicapped. They are more prone to become a critic or cynic than the man in the arena.
Who Is the “Critic” in “The Man in the Arena” Quote?
Directly after Roosevelt finishes acknowledging the past and present of modern Democratic republics and their citizens, he begins his man in the arena quote.
In the beginning, he acknowledges the critic. Specifically, he calls him “the man who points out how the strong man stumbles.” After “The Man in the Arena” quote, Teddy Roosevelt goes on to shame the man who develops into unfit for “doing the rough work of a workaday world.”
Roosevelt calls the critic a man who does nothing but bring others down. Even though he is well-learned, his actions are not fit for a citizen in a great democratic republic. As he mentioned, a great nation is one where all the average citizens must pull their weight, and criticism is not pulling one’s weight.
In essence, Roosevelt says that a critic is a man of little value. He clearly states there is “little use for them” compared to “the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.” At least, that is how it should be.
The Importance of “The Man in the Arena”
Roosevelt makes a prevalent point when speaking of the men in the arena directly after the quote. He mentions that it does not matter whether or not the man fails or succeeds. What matters is that they have “nobly ventured and have put forth all of their heart and strength.”
Roosevelt wants his audience to value courage and dedication over accomplishment and learning. He further mentions the value of education, but this shouldn’t be as important as virtues like self-restraint, common sense, courage, and resolution. These values are what make citizens tremendous and not what they accumulate.
Education alone, in Roosevelt’s eyes, leads mostly to leisure. He uses the phrase “lettered leisure” in the paragraph before his famous man in the arena speech. It’s important to note that leisure is something people envy and want to build towards; hence what occurs after the pioneers have fully conquered the new world.
Yet, this is not what nations should value. They should appreciate what “The Man in the Arena” has in terms of virtue and not any accomplishments that he may accumulate. It will be great if they encourage their citizens to value these virtues.
What Does This Mean for the Individual?
What can the individual derive from this speech? They must recognize that focusing on accomplishments alone will not make them great. Instead, they must focus on how well they practice virtues like courage.
Even if they fail, they can take comfort in the fact that they follow their virtues. In this way, they have still succeeded.
Stay Steadfast as You Grow Your Vision
How will you follow the lesson of “The Man in the Arena” speech Teddy Roosevelt gave? Will you forget about it instantly and remain the learned critic who does nothing? Or will you push forward while reminding yourself that staying true to your virtues is an accomplishment in and of itself?