Monday, February 14, 2011

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

A list put together by American activist Gene Sharp, whose Albert Einstein Institute is said to have influenced some of the older Egyptian activists behind the recent revolt. Sharp has long emphasized that nonviolence is essential for protesters in the sort of police state that would use any violence as an excuse to crack down.

From the list of Frequently Asked Questions at the AEI website:
Q. How does nonviolent action work?

A. Nonviolent action works by getting a population to withdraw its support and obedience from the opponents. By getting key groups to withdraw their consent, nonviolent action is able to remove the sources of power for a regime or opponent group.

These sources of power are:

    1. Authority—the belief among the people that the regime or opponent is legitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
    2. Human resources—the number and importance of the persons and groups that are obeying, cooperating, or providing assistance to the regime or opponent;
    3. Skills and knowledge—needed by the regime or opponent to perform specific actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and groups;
    4. Intangible factors—psychological and ideological factors that may induce people to obey and assist the regime or opponent;
    5. Material resources—the degree to which the rulers control or have access to property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, and means of communication and transportation; and
    6. Sanctions—punishments, threatened or applied, against the disobedient and noncooperative to ensure the submission and cooperation that are needed for the regime or opponent to exist and carry out its policies.

All of these sources of power, however, depend on acceptance of the regime or opponent, on the submission and obedience of the population, and on the cooperation of innumerable people and the many institutions of society. When this obedience, acceptance, and support are withdrawn, the regime or opponent can be severely weakened or toppled.
I like this analysis. It is certainly true that all governments depend on consent to function; no dictatorship can coerce all of the people all of the time. How many regime supporters are needed is an interesting question, and it strikes me that a small band of fanatics willing to kill and die for their cause could rule many states. I think the Green Movement failed to topple the Iranian theocracy because the mullahs have strong support from a large segment of the people, as well as the prestige that their religious status gives them in a Shi'ite polity. What the majority wants is irrelevant if the government has a big enough minority willing to use violence in its defense.

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