On this web log, I favorably reviewed two of Gene Sharp’s manuals for nonviolent resistant to despots. A friend asked if I think nonviolent resistance would have worked against Hitler.
His ideas rest on the truth that the power of a tyrant is the power to command the obedience of the people he rules. To the extent that they cease to obey, his power disappears. Gene Sharp cited examples of successful nonviolent resistance to Hitler, including Norwegian school teachers who successfully resisted demands that they teach Nazi doctrines, and German women married to Jewish men whose protests caused the German government to rescind orders to deport their husbands to death camps.
But nonviolent resistance would not work for peoples marked for extermination or ethnic cleansing. this would not work for the Jews, gypsies and others marked for extermination. Hitler did not wish to rule the Jews, gypsies and others marked for extermination. He wished to eliminate them. Nonviolent resistance would not have been an obstacle to that goal.
I am not a pacifist. I understand that war is sometimes the least bad option. I do not think that the line between nonviolent and violent resistance is always clear. Many campaigns of mass defiance involve both. A nonviolent struggle has the merit of being inherently democratic, in the way that many seizures of power in the name of liberation did not. M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. had power that rested on the voluntary compliance of their followers. Unlike the leaders of many supposed liberation movements, they didn’t kill people to keep their followers in line.
Click on The realism of nonviolent action for my review of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action.
Click on Gene Sharp’s revolution handbook for my review of his From Dictatorship to Democracy.
Click on Gene Sharp: A dictator’s worst nightmare for a good profile by CNN. [Added 6/27/12]