Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
Search Quotes Search Sages Search Chapters


One of the biggest dangers in revolutionary change arises from the short-sightedness of revolutionaries. To create the kind of rapid and radical change common in most revolutions requires a focused one-pointedness. Preparation for and thought about what will happen next become extremely truncated. Revolutionary fervor also often creates extreme pendulum swings from an extreme imbalance in one direction to an equally unbalanced extreme with the opposite point of view. As goals become more and more emotionally fixated, the temptations to let ends justify means increase geometrically and become vulnerable to more and more corruption and abuse. This helps explain why even revolutions with the best intentions and most noble goals so often only make situations worse. The more extreme the revolutionary fervor, the more vulnerable to Faustian bargains. In contrast, more effective and rational change recognizes the nuance and non-duality of opposites as depicted in the yin-yang symbol.

In the historical, dynamic swings between equality and freedom, the gap between rich and poor normally increases with more freedom, decreases with less. With more freedom, the privileged, more highly skilled, motivated, and intelligent gain more and more advantage increasing the separation. The rich get more and more powerful, the poor more and more numerous. The historical records of almost all countries and civilizations are filled with examples of this polarity either yielding governmental reform or revolution. The reforms have mainly resulted in social benefit, the revolutions in chaos and a worse situation for most.

Read More

Quotes (74)

“war is always a dangerous thing and brings with it destruction and devastation. Therefore it should not be resorted to rashly but, like a poisonous drug, should be used only as a last resort”

Fu Xi 伏羲 c. 2852–2737 BCE via Richard Wilhelm, Hexagram 7
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

Themes: Revolution War

31. Victory Funeral

“Aggression destroys our greatest treasure.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #69
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Mind began to revolve first from a small beginning; but the revolution now extends over a larger space, and will extend over a larger still... this revolution caused a separating—the warm from the cold, the light from the dark, the dry from the moist...”

Anaxagoras Ἀναξαγόρας 510 – 428 BCE
“The Copernicus and Darwin of his age”

“Revolutions are not trifles, but spring from trifles.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE
from Politics

Themes: Revolution

“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

53. Shameless Thieves

“Nietzsche’s writings, full of revolutionary opinions, were fired with a fearless iconoclasm which surpassed the wildest dreams of contemporary free thought.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from New York Times​ article

Themes: Revolution

“Domestic revolutions are most commonly occasioned by people who have property because the fear of losing what they have begets in them the same passions that burn in the hearts of those who desire to seize property because men think they own securely only those things that they have taken or defended successfully from others.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE
(Niccolò Machiavelli)

Themes: Revolution

“The first remedy or prevention of revolt and sedition to to remove by all means possible want and poverty.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

“The flaws that make social institutions necessary are the same as make the abuse of them unavoidable. The progress of inequality began with laws and property rights, developed sovereignty and domination which led to the conversion of legitimate into arbitrary power. The conditions of rich and poor, powerful and weak were established and later the institution of master and slave—a sure sign that this sequence has gone too far and either revolution or radical, internal change imminent.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE via GDH Cole, Shan Dao
from On the Origin of Inequality

“Government is—or should be—instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people… When it is found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, the majority has an unalienable right to reform, alter or abolish it.”

George Mason 1725 – 1792 CE
First American abolitionist, founding father, and Constitutional savior
from Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

“No revolution is the fault of the people but always the fault of the government.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Faust, part I

“Revolutions are the product of passion, not of sober and tranquil reason… Revolution is engendered by an indignation with tyranny, yet is itself pregnant with tyranny.”

William Godwin 1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic

Themes: Revolution

“It is time to effect a revolution in female manners—time to restore to them their lost dignity—and make them, as a part of the human species, labor by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners.”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist
from Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Themes: Revolution

“Revolution is one of the greatest evils by which mankind can be visited.. all the advantages which it procures cannot make amends for the misery with which it embitters the lives of those who take part in it.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE via Las Cases

Themes: Revolution

“Revolutions are like the most noxious dung heaps, which bring into life the noblest vegetables.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

Themes: Revolution

“Those who serve a revolution only plow the seas. I plowed furrows in the ocean... Independence is the only benefit we have acquired, to the detriment of all the rest.”

Simon Bolivar Simón Bolívar 1783 – 1830 CE via Shan Dao
El Libertador

“Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number—Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you—Ye are many—they are few.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822 CE

Themes: Revolution

“Revolution is the larva of civilization… When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur

Themes: Revolution

“Every revolution was once a thought in one man's mind. When the same thought occurs to another man... it will solve the problem of the age.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from History

Themes: Revolution

“Be not deceived. Revolutions do not go backward.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE

“There are three ways for people to escape their wretched lot in life: the wine shop, the Church, or social revolution.”

Mikhail Bakunin 1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism

Themes: Revolution

“All men recognize the right of revolution; the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Themes: Revolution

“ideas that revolutionize society keep an even pace with external conditions as they change and become obsolete”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE via Shan Dao

48. Unlearning

“ideas that revolutionize society keep an even pace with external conditions as they change and become obsolete”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE via Shan Dao

48. Unlearning

“The eager and often inconsiderate appeals of reformers and revolutionists are indispensable to counterbalance the inertness and fossilism making so large a part of human institutions.”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
from Democtratic Vistsa (1870)

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win ... Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist
from Communist Manifesto, 1848

“Wherever there is a revolutionary convulsion, there must be some social want in the background which is prevented by outworn institutions from satisfying itself.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist
from Letter, 1851

Themes: Revolution

“People become uneasy, the face of society changes, old beliefs are destroyed before new ones can be created… these are the symptoms and precursors of revolution that have preceded all the world’s great changes.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

“The State is the curse of the individual... Away with the State! I will take part in that revolution. Declare free choice and spiritual kinship to be the only all-important conditions of any union.”

Henrik Ibsen 1828 – 1906 CE
"The world's 2nd most-performed playwright"

Themes: Revolution

“The two forces, the two worst enemies of civil freedom are absolute monarchy and revolution.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician
from Letters to Mary Gladstone, 1881

“I am a revolutionist by birth, reading and principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolt.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE via "In defense of Maxim Gorki"
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author
from New York Sun, 1906

Themes: Revolution

“We cannot calculate on any corresponding advance in man's intellectual or physical powers which shall be a set-off against the far greater development which seems in store for machines... Are we not ourselves creating our successors for the supremacy of earth”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Revolution

“The coming change can only come through a revolution, because the possessing class will not allow a peaceful change to take place; still we are willing to work for peace at any price, except at the price of liberty.”

Lucy Parsons 1853 – 1942 CE
(Eldine Gonzalez)
Political activist “more dangerous than a thousand rioters”

“Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny: they have only shifted it to another shoulder.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Major Barbara, 1907

Themes: Revolution

“No matter how much restriction civilization imposes on the individual, he nevertheless finds some way to circumvent it.”

Sigmund Freud 1856 – 1939 CE
from Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious, 1905

Themes: Revolution

“The effects of boredom on a large scale in history is underestimated. It is a main cause of revolutions, nd would soon bring to an end all the static Utopias and farmyard civilization of the Fabians.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

“Revolutions are ambiguous things. Their success is generally proportionate to their power of adaptation and to the reabsorption within them of what they rebelled against”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet
from The Life of Reason

“When Napoleon set up his brother Joseph upon the Spanish throne in 1810, the Washington of South America was General Bolivar and Spain was unable to suppress his revolt”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

Themes: Revolution

“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle

Themes: Revolution War

“education… will always have an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

“His work raises the familiar to a new, spiritual level, which may be termed revolutionary, not in a direct political or social, but in a psychological, poetic sense; it is truly and authentically open and sensitive to the future.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author

Themes: Revolution

“The Buddha gave to the world a complete teaching of the perfect construction of life. Each attempt to make a god of the great revolutionist, leads to absurdity.”

Helena Roerich Елéна Ивáновна Рéрих 1879 – 1955 CE

“Is it right because its always been like that?”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Marxist Internet Archive
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from A Madman's Diary

“if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE
from The Prophet

Themes: Revolution

“The rival hungers that found clearest voice in the French Revolution: the hunger for freedom—of movement, growth, enterprise, worship, thought, speech, and press; and the hunger for equality—of access to opportunity, education, health, and legal justice... the hunger for liberty to the detriment of equality; the hunger for equality, at the cost of liberty... freeing individualism to the point of a destructive disorder, and freeing superior ability to repeated crises of concentrated wealth... no discipline has checked the similar disorder in our times.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Revolution

“In progressive societies the concentration of wealth may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Revolution Wealth

“Sure that all truth must be good and beautiful and would make men free, Copernicus—with the magic of his mathematics—transformed a geocentric and anthropocentric universe into a kaleidoscope of planets and stars... No book in history created a greater revolution... With him modernity begins, With him secularism begins. With him reason makes its French Revolution against an immemorially enthroned faith, a revolution that compelled man to become of age.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE via Shan Dao
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, 1968

Themes: Revolution

“As the sanity of the individual lies in the continuity of his memories, so the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions; in either case, a break in the chain invites a neurotic reaction... To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind... the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“The American Revolution was not only a revolt of colonials against a distant government; it was also an uprising of a native middle class against an imported aristocracy.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Revolution

“We cannot—in literature any more than in the rest of life—live in a perpetual state of revolution.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE
from Milton (1947)

Themes: Revolution

“Revolutions are history's organic agents, its yeast. But revolutions are made by fanatical men of action with one-track minds. They overturn the old order in a few hours or days but the fanatical spirit that inspired the upheavals is worshipped for decades thereafter, for centuries.”

Boris Pasternak Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к 1890 – 1960 CE
Russia's greatest poet
from Doctor Zhivago (1957)

Themes: Revolution

“One hundred and eighty-one years ago, our forefathers started a revolution that still goes on.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 – 1969 CE

Themes: Revolution

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

“One of the most biting satirists of Chinese culture... Lusin is God to the leftist writers of China today... [he] represents the Literature of Revolt. But this is in itself a sign of life... China needed a man like Lusin to wake the millions up from the self-complacency and lethargy and the accumulated inertia of 4000 years.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of China and India

“the world now with all the misery, conflict, destructive brutality, aggression... still brutal, violent, aggressive, acquisitive, competitive and a society that supports this… How very important it is to bring about in the human mind a radical revolution.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“There have been countless political revolutions and other upheavals in the course of history but their final outcome has always been to recreate communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people in which everyone knew his or her place in the social order of things and accepted, willingly or under duress, the local rules of the game.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE via The Global Village
Influential scientific environmentalist

from Celebrations of life (1981)

“Most revolutionaries imagine that everything can be put to rights by altering the shape of society.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from Nineteen Eighty Four

Themes: Revolution

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent... the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from 1984

Themes: Revolution War

“Every idea subverts the old to make way for the new. To shut off subversion is to shut off peaceful progress and to invite revolution and war.”

I. F. Stone 1907 – 1989 CE
One of the greatest 20th century reporters

“Every time we are confronted with a new revolution we take to the opium pipes of our own propaganda (1963).”

I. F. Stone 1907 – 1989 CE
One of the greatest 20th century reporters
from I.F. Stone's Weekly

“Revolutions do not go backward [but] a revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE
from Rules for Radicals

Themes: Revolution

“An eloquent and reverent expression of the implications of this courage to doubt—a belief in religious liberty and the creator’s delight in the multiformity of men's minds—was offered by Thomas Paine who was a prophet and publicist of the American Revolution. But he was hardly a favorite of dogmatic theologians”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History, 1987

Themes: Revolution

“it is notorious that most revolutions establish worse tyrannies than they destroy. To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it. It is to be able to use it as an instrument instead of being used by it”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from The Way of Zen (1957)

“Buddhism and Taoism—unlike Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism—are not whole cultures but critiques of culture: endearing, non-violent revolutions or 'loyal oppositions' to the cultures they live in.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

John Kennedy 1917 – 1963 CE
Modern America's most popular president

Themes: Revolution

“Whitman’s breakthru from official conventional nationalist identity to personal self, to subject, subjectivity, to candor of person, sacredness of the unique eccentric curious solitary personal consciousness changed written imaginative conception of the individual around the whole world, and inspired a democratic revolution of mental nature from Leningrad and Paris to Shanghai and Tokyo.”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE
from Sulfur 31

Themes: Revolution

“If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

Themes: Revolution

“You tell me it's the institution… You'd better free your mind instead.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Revolution

“A recipe for a successful revolution.: Take large masses of injustice, resentment and frustration. Put them in a weak or failing hegemon. Stir in misery for a generation or two, until the heat rises. Throw in destabilizing circumstances to taste. Once the main goal of the revolution is achieved, cool instantly to institutionalize the new order.”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –
from 2312

Themes: Revolution

“Every third or fourth generation is a generation of radicals, of revolutionaries. We, my friends, are the bottle-smashers. We release the genies... But the genies we set loose stay loose... Those whispers are the blueprints of the future.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Utopia Avenue

Themes: Revolution

“What good was the French Revolution? If people did not become any happier, then what was the point of all that chaos, fear, blood, and war?... People think that this political revolution or that social reform will make them happy, but their biochemistry tricks them time and again.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

Themes: War Revolution

“The Agricultural Revolution was a trap... This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

Themes: Revolution

Comments (0)