Famous Manifestos – The top ten of all time
What are the most famous manifestos ever written? Now, that’s a great conversation to have at the dinner table if you want a robust discussion. But beware, it might also lead to a debate on the content of these manifestos. For instance, as soon as you mention, The Bible or The Communist Manifesto, this might spark some heated debate about religion and politics. To get you started, here’s my list of the ten famous manifestos.
Note: This post has been completely rewritten with a new top ten and a video in August 2022.
What is a Famous Manifesto?
For context, and to ensure we’re all talking about the same, it might help you to define What is a Manifesto?
A manifesto is a public statement of your intention. It’s a description of how you see the world or want the world to be. But not all manifestos are created equal. Some are more inspiring, more influential, and more well-known than others.
To make this list, a famous manifesto had to have one or more of these three qualities:
- Name recognition – lots of people have heard of it
- Influence – lots of people have been impacted by it
- Representative – it represents a significant domain (eg politics, religion, art, science, corporate, social) or style of presenting a manifesto (eg a TV commercial, book, handwritten document, charter, speech).
Here’s the top ten list of famous manifestos in descending order.
10 Apple Ad: Here’s to the Crazy Ones
Number ten lives in the corporate world. But manifesto is not a popular item here – they prefer to call them vision and mission statements.
And if we had to pick a corporate manifesto example, it’s fitting that it’s a TV ad. But this is not your usual advertisement. They’re not selling a specific product. They don’t even show a single product in the ad. Further, the company name is only shared in the final second of the ad.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, this was the first ad campaign that Apple created. It was a series called Think Different and this ad is called, Here’s to the Crazy Ones.
It’s a double-sided manifesto.
- First, it defines what the company stands for – a call to arms – a mission – for their staff and the quality standard they’re aspiring to.
- Second, it’s a call to arms for their customers. It’s inspiration and permission to pursue your own genius – to be a little crazy – just like the famous people featured in the ad.
It’s a famous example filled with famous people.
9 The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Some manifestos are inspired by bright possibilities and others by fixing things gone wrong. Number nine was triggered by darker days.
During World War II an estimated 50 million people were killed in battle and a further 20 million due to war-related disease and famine. That’s two to three times the entire population of Australia. At the time it was about 3% of the world’s population.
As a result of the war and in particular, the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, the United Nations developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As a manifesto, you’ve probably never heard of it by name. But it is the basic document that frames human rights for everyone on the planet.
This social charter is the most translated document in the world – available in over 350 languages. And it is the reference point against which all country’s commitments to human rights are judged.
8 John F Kennedy’s Land a Man on the Moon speech
Number eight on our list is one of the few famous manifestos that focuses on a single specific goal.
In 1961, newly elected US President John F Kennedy announced to congress that the US would send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade. It was a response to the US recession and the drive to control space during the Cold War with the Communist countries. As such, it wasn’t just about the moon. Rather, it was a statement of intent for the US as a country for the decade ahead.
And when Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon on 20 July 1969 it became a defining moment in human history and the fulfilment of a famous manifesto.
7 Marinetti’s Futurism Manifesto
While the corporate world has few famous manifestos, the art world has plenty of them. Wikipedia lists over 65 examples and I’ve picked one of these to be Famous Manifesto #7.
Art Manifestos have a classic structure – they reject the past and celebrate the new.
In 1909, the Italian poet Filippo Marinetti had his Declaration of Futurism published in newspapers in Italy and France. It celebrated the speed of the new machines – cars, planes and buses – and called for a visual expression that mirrored the emerging fast-paced modern world.
Previously, I had listed the Surrealist Manifesto as my representative of the art manifestos. I’ve since reconsidered this because the Futurism Manifesto’s influence quickly spread to other areas of design – notably the rise of modernism in architecture. Not many other art manifestos can make that claim.
6 On the origin of species by Charles Darwin
How many people can say that their manifesto rewrote millions of years of history, changed how every single human being on the planet saw themselves and started a whole new branch of science? Plus, it helped form a split between religion and science.
Charles Darwin can. His book, On the Origin of Species, is number six on our list of famous manifestos. It’s a science manifesto about what it means to be a human being.
Darwin proposes that the diversity of life on the planet arises from evolution – as if we were branches on a tree.
Being told you descended from apes rather than being a son or daughter of God has caused a lot of discussion over the years. And it shows that the right manifesto can change how people see themselves and their place in the world.
5 Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto
Number five on our list of famous manifestos highlights the mixed reputation that they have.
Manifestos are tools for change which means they are deliberately intended to disrupt the status quo. And in some cases, they are used to promote extreme views and extreme methods of creating that change.
On the website 1000manifestos.com I have collected over 260 examples of manifestos. Based on page views, the most popular manifesto on the site is the one written by Ted Kaczynski – better known as the Unabomber.
Ted’s manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future is 35,000 words in length – the size of a small book. He wasn’t the first or only person to write about the negative effects of industrial technology. The infamy of his manifesto is not really based on what he has written, but more so on what he did.
Over 15 years, Kaczynski mailed or hand-delivered more than 16 bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others.
The Unabomber manifesto only became famous because Kaczynski threatened newspapers to publish it, or he would continue to deliver bombs. Manifestos are powerful ideas. Handle with care.
4 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Number four and our next example of famous manifestos is famous in a predictable way but with a twist.
Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people about manifestos. And the number one example that comes to mind for most people is ‘The Communist Manifesto’. That makes it a famous manifesto. But, most people – including me – have never read this book. And many don’t even know what it’s about. We know of it, but not much more.
To fill in the blanks, The Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 and it presents the core ideology of the political system of Socialism. It is recognised as one of the most influential political documents ever written.
And through its adoption as the Communist doctrine by Russia and a suite of European countries, it changed the political landscape for millions of people. It even formed the basis for an ideological or Cold War after World War II and put the world on the brink of a nuclear war.
That’s the extreme power of words.
3 Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech
In the famous examples so far, we have seen advertisements, books, political statements, scientific theories, social charters, and rants from aggrieved individuals. Manifestos come in many forms and number three on our list of famous manifestos is different again – it’s a speech.
It was delivered to over 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is a powerful vision for the future of America and became a pivotal moment in the US Civil Rights campaign.
It has become a worldwide call for individuals to aspire to fulfil their own dreams. And I still get goosebumps every time I hear this!
2 The US Declaration of Independence
Number two on our list of famous manifestos is a rare document because it caused the birth of an entirely new country.
At the time it was written, 13 colonies were at war with the English and their King, George III. The locals weren’t happy – they didn’t like someone else telling them what to do and they didn’t like the high taxes they were being charged. As a result, a group of 56 men published a handwritten note which they each signed, A Declaration of Independence – the US Declaration of Independence.
The document said we are no longer under your rule. We are now an independent union. Significantly, by signing their names, the men were committing treason which could have resulted in the death penalty.
This is a great example of the power of a manifesto – and a warning. Not everyone is going to like or even agree with what you write.
Perhaps the most powerful part of this declaration that can be used in your manifesto is the immortal words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. Your manifesto is your statement of what you believe to be true.
1 The Bible and the Ten Commandments
Our number one most famous manifesto of all time is a religious example.
While there are several comparable religion-based manifestos, this one is ranked number one because it is the best-selling publication of all time – with over five billion copies sold. Plus, it provides the archetype of manifesto design.
The Bible is a collection of scriptures in Christianity, Judaism and other religions and there are quite a few different versions dating back several thousand years.
The archetype or classic format of a manifesto is the Ten Commandments which sets out ten rules for how to live as a Christian. If you want to create your own manifesto, this is a simple and powerful format to adopt and follow.
You could also add the major texts from all religions here. Wikipedia has an extensive list on this page.
Updates and Revisions to the Top Ten Famous Manifestos
The original list for this post (which might help stoke your dinner party conversations) was as follows. In brackets I’ve included the new ranking:
- The Bible and the Ten Commandments (1)
- The US Declaration of Independence (2)
- Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech (3)
- Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto (4)
- Apple Ad – Here’s to the Crazy Ones (10)
- Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto (Replaced)
- John F Kennedy’s Land a Man on the Moon speech (8)
- Russell – Einstein Manifesto to question the use of Nuclear Weapons (Replaced)
- Lock, Searls, Weinberger and Levine’s The Cluetrain Manifesto (Replaced)
- Fond and Hopper, Easy Rider movie (Replaced)
Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto was added to this list as a bonus manifesto in 2021 – it now sits at #5.
New additions to this list are:
- Marinetti’s Futurism Manifesto (7)
- Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (6)
- The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (9)
More famous manifestos
If you want more examples of famous manifestos to add to your discussion, I’ve collected over 260 examples at 1000manifestos.com
Plus, here are three recent blog posts and videos on Manifestos that may be of interest:
- Content Creation Manifesto – The Ultimate Guide to Thought Leadership Content
- Thought Leadership Content – What is a Manifesto?
- Three big reasons to write a thought leader manifesto
Which examples would you add to this list? What are your most famous manifestos?