Five Nonconformists Who Made History

Here is a collection of contrarian quotes from five people who weren’t afraid to go against the grain, and in doing so, made history.


“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning oneself.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Noted German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was somewhat of a loon for his time, and a brilliant one at that. Spanning such topics as consciousness, power, cultural theory, and nihilism, his work during the 19th century has had a profound influence on modern philosophy. In his acclaimed “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” he introduced the concept of the “Übermensch,” meaning “above man,” which is what one becomes once he has broken away from the pack and recognized the ideals of mainstream society as hollow.

Betty Friedan

“The problem that has no name—which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities—is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.”-Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, was a prominent figure of the U.S. women’s rights movement in the late 20th century. A driven activist, Ms. Friedan founded the National Organization of Women (NOW), propelled the Equal Rights Amendment through congress in 1971, and authored six books in her lifetime. Her work in going against the patriarchal grain to achieve equality for women has secured her an admirable place in history.

carlin“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic.” -George Carlin

Famed for going against cultural norms, Comedian George Carlin was once arrested for his inability to produce a government-issued identification card, citing he didn’t believe in them. He was arrested once again for violating obscenity laws while performing in Milwaukee in 1972 for his routine, Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. Carlin’s attitude of pushing-the-envelope continued to be central throughout his fruitful career, which included frequent performances on The Tonight Show during the Carson era, hosting the premiere broadcast of Saturday Night Live, and fourteen HBO stand-up specials. In 2001 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Comedy Awards, and in 2008 he was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Inna Shevchenko

“I believe revolution isn’t physical. It’s in the mind. One of the main goals in any revolution is to change the minds of people.” -Inna Shevchenko

23-year-old Ukrainian Inna Shevchenko is a leading member of feminist protest group FEMEN, known for their topless protests against patriarchy and dictatorship. She studied journalism at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Ukraine and graduated with honors, and in 2009 joined FEMEN. Shevchenko has been arrested and threatened by the Belarus KGB, cut a cross in Kiev down with a chainsaw, and currently resides in Paris, France where she was granted political asylum and runs a FEMEN training base. She has been a figure of admiration and emulation, inspiring the latest depiction of Marianne on French stamps. Currently she is leading protests against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea.

Karl Marx“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” -Karl Marx

Karl Marx, German sociologist, economist, and philosopher most famous for his Communist Manifesto disagreed with sociologists who came before him who believed that society would move in a positive direction on its own and that the task of sociologist was merely one of study. Instead, he took a more active approach, urging members of the labor-class proletariat to develop their “class consciousness” in order to overthrow the bourgeoisie, commonly known today as the 1%. Marx remains one of the most widely-studied figures in academia and the Manifesto a piece of enduring relevancy.

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