Posts Tagged ‘Nonviolent Resistance’

The practicality of nonviolent civil resistance

September 21, 2014

Erica Chenoweth in this TED talk says that in the past 50 or so years, nonviolent civil resistance (or, as I prefer to call it, mass defiance) has a better track record of success than violent struggle for overthrowing oppressive governments and resisting conquest.

I am not a pacifist, but in recent years I have gotten out of the mindset that says that war is the baseline answer to oppression and aggression, and it is only the alternatives to war that must justify themselves.

The aim of your oppressor is to compel you to obey him.  The oppressor is defeated when he comes to realize that your obedience cannot be compelled.  The effective way to do that is to join with others in mass defiance.  To me, violence or the lack of violence are not the most important things.  The most important thing is a population that shows it cannot be compelled to submit.

What I have learned from reading the writings of Gene Sharp is that nonviolent struggle requires as much strategy and tactics as violent struggle.  Just going out and letting yourself be hit over the head doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything.  What counts, as he has pointed out, is to find ways to destroy the enemy’s legitimacy and fearsomeness.

Now there are circumstances in which this does not apply.  If the aim of your enemy is not to rule over you, but to destroy you or to drive you off your land, your only choices are to flee or fight.   Nonviolence resistance would not have worked for the Jews or gypsies against the Nazis.   But not every enemy is a Hitler.

I thank Mike Connelly for e-mailing me the link to the video.

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Nonviolent resistance to Hitler?

April 29, 2012

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]