Quotations about   revolution

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I’d be the first to say that some historical victories have been won by violence; the U.S. Revolution is certainly one of the foremost. But the Negro revolution is seeking integration, not independence. Those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out the oppressors. But here in America, we’ve got to live together. We’ve got to find a way to reconcile ourselves to living in community, one group with the other. The struggle of the Negro in America, to be successful, must be waged with resolute efforts, but efforts that are kept strictly within the framework of our democratic society. This means reaching, educating and moving large enough groups of people of both races to stir the conscience of the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Stride Toward Freedom, “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (1958)
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From the standpoint of a professional military man there is one good thing about revolutions: the opportunities for swift promotion are excellent . . . even if the pay is inclined to be irregular.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Revolt in 2100, ch. 10 (1953)
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History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression. One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding hatred. But oh this isn’t the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. And I’ve said, in so many instances, that as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over the world struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using violence in their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Violence isn’t the way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Loving Your Enemies,” Sermon, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery (17 Nov 1957)
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I resist, therefore I am.

James W. "Jim" Douglass (b. 1937) American author, activist, Christian theologian
“Revolution through Solitude,” Resistance and Contemplation (1972)
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The saddest thing in my life was when I discovered that people can get their freedom from colonial masters and find themselves unfree.

Joshua Nkomo (1917-1999) Zimbawean politician, trade unionist, guerrilla leader
In The Observer (UK) (22 Apr 1984)
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War is a simple matter compared with revolution. War is an applied science, with well-defined principles tested in history; analogous solutions may be found from ballista to H-bomb. But every revolution is a freak, a mutant, a monstrosity, its conditions never to be repeated and its operations carried out by amateurs and individualists.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Revolt in 2100 (1953)
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Love responsibility. Say: “It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.” Love each man according to his contribution in the struggle. Do not seek friends; seek comrades-in-arms.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
The Saviors of God [Salvatores Dei], “The March: First Step: The Ego,” #15-16 (1923) [tr. Friar [1960])
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The biggest sin is sitting on your ass.

Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) American lawyer, feminist, civil rights activist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Gloria Steinem, "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.," Ms. (Mar 1973).

Full quote: "Some people say they won’t work 'inside the system' -- they’re 'waiting for the revolution.' Well, when the ramparts are open, honey, I'll be there. But until then, I'm going to go right on zapping the business and government delinquents, the jockocrats, the fetus fetishists, and all the other niggerizers any way I can. The biggest sin is sitting on your ass."
Added on 21-Jun-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about — there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Give Us the Ballot,” Speech, Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, DC (1957)
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When I put a question to him about socialism in agriculture, he explained with glee how he had incited the poorer peasants against the richer ones, “and they soon hanged them from the nearest tree — ha! ha! ha!” His guffaw at the thought of those massacred made my blood run cold.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Unpopular Essays, “Eminent Men I Have Known” (1950)

Referring to an 1920 interview in Moscow with V. Lenin.
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The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Abolition of Man (1943)
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We repudiate all morality which proceeds from supernatural ideas or ideas which are outside the class conception. In our opinion, morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of the class war; everything is moral which is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat. Our morality consists solely in close discipline and conscious warfare against the exploiters.

Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870-1924) Russian politician, revolutionary, political theorist [b. Vladimir Ilich Ulyamov]
(Attributed)
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Quoted in René Fülöp-Miller, Lenin and Gandhi (1927).
Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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People never move towards revolution; they are pushed towards it by intolerable injustices in the economic and social order under which they live.

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
(Attributed)
Added on 10-Apr-17 | Last updated 10-Apr-17
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Comfort and habits let us be ready to forgo, but I am not ready for a creed which does not care how much it destroys the liberty and security of daily life, which uses deliberately the weapons of persecution, destruction and international strife. How can I admire a policy which finds a characteristic expression in spending millions to suborn spies in every family and group at home, and to stir up trouble abroad?

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“A Short View of Russia” (1925)
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Revolutions, as a long and bitter experience reveals, are apt to take their colour from the régime which they overthrow. Is it any wonder that the creed which affirms the absolute rights of property should sometimes be met with a counter-affirmation of the absolute rights of labour, less anti-social, indeed, and inhuman, but almost as dogmatic, almost as intolerant and thoughtless as itself.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 3 “The Acquisitive Society” (1920)
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It is necessary to stifle the domestic and foreign enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now, in these circumstances, the first maxim of our politics ought to be to lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people by terror … The basis of popular government in time of revolution is both virtue and terror. Terror without virtue is murderous, virtue without terror is powerless. Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice — it flows, then, from virtue.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-174) French lawyer, politician, revolutionary leader
Speech, National Convention (7 May 1794)
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“Terrorism” is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; “war” is what we call the violence of the strong, and we glorify it.

harris-violence-of-the-weak-strong-wist_info-quote

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Nations Should Submit to the Rule of Law,” Clearing the Ground (1986)
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The climax of terror is reached when the police state begins to devour its own children, when yesterday’s executioner becomes today’s victim.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
On Violence, ch. 3 (1970)
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We know the redemption must come. The time and the manner of its coming we know not: It may come in peace, or it may come in blood; but whether in peace or in blood, LET IT COME.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech to “The colored people of Pittsburge, Pennsylvania” (1843)

Representative Dellet of Alabama quoted the speech before the House of Representatives, then asked Adams, "though it cost the blood of thousands of white men?" Adams responded, "Though it cost the blood of millions of white men, let it come. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."
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It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle — the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly — to get rid of the disease of racism. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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The law of unintended consequences governs all technological revolutions.

Joel L. Swerdlow (contemp.) American author, editor, researcher, educator
“Information REvolution,” National Geographic (Oct 1995)
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We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super-rich are the same, like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us, like there’s some sort of piñata of benevolence. But here’s the thing about a piñata: it doesn’t open on its own. You have to beat it with a stick.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Real Time with Bill Maher (12 Mar 2011)
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For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979)
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The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.

Lorde - piece of the oppressor - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Copeland Colloquium, Amherst College (Apr 1980)

Reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984)
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Senseless extravagance is the best friend of revolution.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn “reasonable” and become your enemies, one quarter are afraid to speak, and one quarter are killed and you die with them. But the blessed final quarter keep you alive.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
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All the gang of those who rule us
Hope our quarrels never stop
Helping them to split and fool us
So they can remain on top.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“Solidarity song [Solidaritätslied]” (1931) [tr. Willett]
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The excesses of revolutionists are not an argument against democracy, since revolutions are anything rather than democratic.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificate — died of malnutrition — because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

In the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
The Grapes of Wrath, ch. 25 (1939)
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The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) Polish-Lithuanian poet, essayist, diplomat
“The Child of Europe” (1946)
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Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech on West India Emancipation (4 Aug 1857)
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Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Night Watch (2002)
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I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists. We’re tired of always deferring hope till the next generation. We’re tired of hearing politicians and priests and cautious reformers (and the husbands!) coax us, “Be calm! Be patient! Wait! We have the plans for a Utopia already made; just wiser than you.” For ten thousand years they’ve said that. We want our Utopia now — and we’re going to try our hands at it.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Main Street, ch. 16 [Carol] (1920)
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Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to James C. Conkling (26 Aug 1863)
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Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, ch. 8 (1972)
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When the gap between the ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Foreward (1978)
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We do, then, most solemnly before God and the world declare that regardless of every consequence, at the risk of every distress, the arms we have been compelled to assume we will use with perseverance, exerting to their utmost energies all those powers which our Creator hath given us to preserve that liberty which he committed to us in sacred deposit and to protect from every hostile hand our lives and our properties.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Declaration on Taking Up Arms” (1775) [Papers 1:202]
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It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803) American revolutionary, statesman
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Samuel or John Adams, but not found before the 1990s. See here and here for more information.
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Unhappy it is though to reflect, that a Brother’s Sword has been sheathed in a Brother’s breast, and that, the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched with Blood, or Inhabited by Slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous Man hesitate in his choice?

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to George William Fairfax (31 May 1775)
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Man cannot live without hope. If it is not engendered by his own convictions and desires, it can easily be fired from without, and by the most meretricious and empty of promises.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“What Has Happened to the American Dream?” Atlantic Monthly (Apr 1961)
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A riot is the language of the unheard.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Other America,” speech, Stanford U. (1967)
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The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Rebel (1951)
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The conservative has but little to fear from the man whose reason is the servant of his passions, but let him beware of him in whom reason has become the greatest and most terrible of the passions. These are the wreckers of outworn empires and civilisations, doubters, disintegrators, deiciders.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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The Russian government is an absolute monarchy tempered by assassination.

Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine (1790-1857) French aristocrat and writer
La Russie en 1839, Vol. 1 (1843)
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It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in the Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Independence Hall, Philadelphia (22 Feb 1861)
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Rebels and dissidents challenge the complacent belief in a just world, and, as the theory would predict, they are usually denigrated for their efforts. While they are alive, they may be called “cantankerous,” “crazy,” “hysterical,” “uppity,” or “duped.” Dead, some of them become saints and heroes, the sterling characters of history. It’s a matter of proportion. One angry rebel is crazy, three is a conspiracy, fifty is a movement.

Carol Tavris (b. 1944) American social psychologist and author
“Anger in an Unjust World,” Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion (1982)
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Traters, I will here remark, are a onfortnit class of peple. If they wasn’t, they wouldn’t be traters. They conspire to bust up a country — they fail, and they’re traters. They bust her, and they become statesmen and heroes.

[Traitors, I will here remark, are an unfortunate class of people. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be traitors. They conspire to bust up a country — they fail, and they’re traitors. They bust her, and they become statesmen and heroes.]

Artemus Ward (1834-1867) American humorist, editor, lecturer [pseud. of Charles Farrar Browne]
“The Tower of London,” The Complete Works of Atermus Ward (1898)
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I used to be very revolutionary, but now I think that nothing can be gained by brute force. People must be drawn to good by goodness.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago, 8.5 (1957) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958)]
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CAESAR: Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Julius Caesar, Act 1, sc. 2, l. 192 (1599)

See Plutarch.
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When it was told that Antony and Dolabella were in a plot against him, Caesar said he did not fear such fat, luxurious men, but rather the pale, lean fellows, meaning Cassius and Brutus.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
“Caesar,” Lives [tr. Dryden (1693)]
Added on 4-Feb-14 | Last updated 4-Feb-14
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Nothing stands between the people’s miserable present and its glorious future, except a minority, perhaps a majority, of perverse or merely ignorant individuals. All that is necessary is to liquidate a few thousands, or it may be a few millions, of these living obstacles to progress, and then to coerce and propagandize the rest into acquiescence. When these unpleasant but necessary preliminaries are over, the governage will begin. Such is the theory that secular apocalypticism, which is the religion of the revolutionaries. But in practice, it is hardly necessary to say, the means employed positively guarantee that the end actually reached shall be profoundly different form that which the prophetic theorists envisage.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
“Religion and Time,” in Christopher Isherwood, ed. Vedanta for the Western World (1945)
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The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one is a criminal.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Escape from Freedom, 7.2 (1941)
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Take the most radical revolutionist and place him upon the all-Russian throne or give him dictatorial power, for which so many of our green revolutionists daydream, and within a year he will have become worse than the Emperor himself.

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) Russian anarchist, political theorist
Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task (1870)
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There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have actual experience of it.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Prince, ch. 6 (1513) [tr. Ricci (1903)]

Alt. trans.: "Nothing is more difficult to transact, nor more dubious to succeed, nor more dangerous to manage, than to make oneself chief to introduce new orders. Because the introducer has for enemies all those whom the old orders benefit, and has for lukewarm defenders all those who might benefit from the new orders. [tr. Codevilla]
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