Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nonviolent Discipline

The largely nonviolent resistance that's played out in the Arab world so far is taking the lead from such pivotal past leaders as Gandhi and M.L. King. As well, the defining scholarly work of Gene Sharp, who wrote The Politics of Nonviolent Action, is providing valuable perspective.

According to Sharp what are its lessons?

First, successful nonviolent resistance is based on overcoming fear and obedience. "Despotic regimes, rather than ruling through absolute violence, typically rely on a noxious mixture of propaganda, patronage, apathy, political legitimacy, and a calibrated use of public and covert violence to generate a blanket of fear."

Secondly "Power always depends for its strength and existence upon a replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of numerous institutions and people -- cooperation that does not have to continue. Nonviolent resistance can leverage immense economic and political pressure because a regime relies on its citizens for labor and expertise. Targeted noncooperation can be devastating."

Third, nonviolent discipline can be one of the most critical strategies in the protester's plan. If the state is seen as violent and repressive, then the state's cause is discredited.

One hopes that the resistance sweeping many countries leads to vital, democratic voices for its peoples.

From essays in The Atlantic and the NYT.