Author: Victor Hugo
From the novel "Histoire d'un Crime" or "The History of a Crime", published in 1877
Quote: "All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come"
From "The History of a Crime", about Napoleon III's takeover of France, this quote refers to the powerful Revolutionary movements that happened both in the novel and in real life during his reign and about the inevitibility of Napoleon III's defeat by them. This quote comments on the penetrating power ideas. The literal translation "One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas", means that, even when a great army, like that of Napoleon III, takes over a place or a people, it can only do so for so long before revolt and unrest eventually undermine it and makes controlling the populace impossible.
The variant translations, roughly translate to "All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come". Not only do these variants make the comparison between armies and Revolutionary ideas, stating that the latter are more powerful, but they also imply that the defeat of any such standing army is inevitable. Essentially, what it means is that ideas are the greatest shapers of the world. They are unstoppable, uncontrolable, and undeniable, eventually rendering any army or force standing against them practically useless when their time has come.Read more »