Revolutions That Break with the Past Fail

Starting anew with a clean slate has been one of the most harmful ideas in history. It treats previous knowledge as an impediment and imagines that only present knowledge deployed in theoretical purity can make real the wondrous new vision. Thus the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 each made brave new worlds that catastrophically failed. By cutting off continuity with the slower parts of their cultures they had no fallback. The American Revolution of 1776, by contrast, was highly conservative. Its instigators studied Roman, Venetian, and even Iroquois history for precedents. There was little of the brutal rhetoric of making a total break with the past. As a result, all the leaders who started the revolution lived to see it through to completion, and its innovations in governance aged relatively well. The Americans severed the political bonds with the Old World but not the cultural bonds. They burned their bridges, not their libraries.

Burning libraries is a profound form of murder, or if self-inflicted, suicide. It does to cultural continuity and hence safety what destroying species and habitats does to nature's continuity, and hence safety. Burning the Amazon rain forest burns the world's richest library of species. The accumulated past is life's best resource for innovation. Revolutions cut off the past. Evolution shamelessly, lazily repurposes the past. Reinventing beats inventing nearly every time.


Erasing the past is a crippling thing to do. The Founders of America built on the past in their revolution and Evolution succeeds by building on the past.

Folksonomies: history culture knowledge libraries

/society/unrest and war (0.532557)
/science/social science/history (0.451012)
/technology and computing/consumer electronics/audio equipment/headphones (0.312636)

Past Fail Erasing (0.924271 (negative:-0.920948)), wondrous new vision (0.839002 (positive:0.845323)), Chinese Communist Revolution (0.823178 (negative:-0.478296)), brave new worlds (0.810411 (negative:-0.478296)), Amazon rain forest (0.760925 (negative:-0.242107)), crippling thing (0.636878 (negative:-0.920948)), slower parts (0.601236 (negative:-0.723575)), harmful ideas (0.597834 (positive:0.513148)), brutal rhetoric (0.588635 (negative:-0.836678)), clean slate (0.588406 (positive:0.513148)), theoretical purity (0.587593 (positive:0.845323)), French Revolution (0.586173 (neutral:0.000000)), Russian Revolution (0.585567 (neutral:0.000000)), American Revolution (0.581690 (neutral:0.000000)), total break (0.580221 (negative:-0.836678)), previous knowledge (0.578661 (positive:0.845323)), present knowledge (0.577782 (positive:0.845323)), Iroquois history (0.574297 (neutral:0.000000)), political bonds (0.571704 (neutral:0.000000)), profound form (0.568575 (neutral:0.000000)), richest library (0.566414 (negative:-0.242107)), cultural bonds (0.563213 (negative:-0.349562)), Old World (0.554414 (neutral:0.000000)), best resource (0.547681 (positive:0.710348)), continuity (0.474790 (negative:-0.140091)), Revolutions (0.435413 (negative:-0.743413)), libraries (0.382543 (negative:-0.459966)), species (0.378353 (positive:0.341377)), safety (0.376860 (positive:0.517328)), instigators (0.376859 (negative:-0.379132))

America:Continent (0.737018 (positive:0.167255)), Amazon rain forest:FieldTerminology (0.570756 (negative:-0.242107)), murder:Crime (0.484609 (neutral:0.000000))

Communism (0.978338): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Soviet Union (0.724471): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
United States Declaration of Independence (0.682716): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Amazon Rainforest (0.578439): dbpedia | opencyc | yago
American Revolutionary War (0.575683): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Age of Enlightenment (0.572093): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Liberalism (0.556157): dbpedia | freebase
French Revolution (0.545814): dbpedia | freebase

 Burning Libraries
Periodicals>Magazine Article:  Brand, Stewart (Winter 1999), Burning Libraries, Whole Earth , Retrieved on 2012-01-03
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: history culture