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November 25, 2019 / Congau

Failed Revolutions

Nothing ever turns out as planned. Any vision of a great society is doomed to failure if perfection is the only measure of success. Hopefully no one expects perfection, though, and even a moderate version of the ideal could reasonably be counted as success. But it’s pitiful to see how most revolutionary fantasies have ended, not in a moderately acceptable variation of the original idea, but almost in its exact opposite. Dreams of universal brotherhood have ended in the most despicable tyranny.

Now, what is to blame for that, the original theory or the people trying to carry it out? If it’s the theory the whole world view that accompanied the revolution must be discarded and the devoted followers must see their entire belief system crumble; a depressing alternative. If the people are at fault and the unfortunate outcome was caused by just a few bad apples who contaminated the ideals, then we better try again make sure we keep our purity this time. The believers then keep their optimism and feel encouraged to try again; only to repeat the failures of their predecessors.

But could it be that the theories are good enough and the leaders no worse than what it’s reasonable to expect from fallible humans? After all, all plans seem to fail more or less without that leading to the assumption that all theory is useless. The plans that are more likely to be accomplished, are the ones that are closer to the system already in place, and so they don’t resemble a plan quite as much as more radical schemes. Any project that forms a part of an ongoing system is more likely to succeed just because it has the advantage of already partially existing.

The failure of a social theory in practice doesn’t prove the theory wrong, it may also mean that the current practice wasn’t quite right. Go ahead and try to change the practice then and expect more failure.

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