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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Churchill On Tradition And Innovation

Traditional doesn't mean 'good'
Last weekend, I visited Chartwell House, and one of the many things that caught my eye was a note in which Churchill seemed to consider tradition more important than progress. That surprised me, as I read it amongst plenty of evidence to the contrary, and the notion that he believed that has nagged at me ever since. 

Today, I looked in vain for the same quote on the web, but stumbled on two others from Sir Winston that suggest the note I saw was an aberration, or perhaps was meant in a different context:
"A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril; but the new view must come, the world must roll forward." 
And,
"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." 
We seem to equate the word "tradition" with benign customs, as seems implicit in the above quotations (although Churchill may have overstated this for rhetorical purposes). Others have not been so kind. At any rate, the ordinary meaning does not stretch that far: 
"1. the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being so passed on. > a long-established custom or belief passed on in this way." From the Latin 'tradere' which in turn is from trans 'across' + dare 'to give'.  Source: Oxford English Dictionary.

Image from RRStar.com.