Gene Sharp, Nonviolent Warrior

March 16, 2011 | The Nation |

He has been called a "nonviolent Clausewitz," in reference to the grand military strategist of the early nineteenth century.

For Sharp, violence, by contrast, isn’t just morally problematic; it is also a peculiarly ineffective way to take on despots. After all, governments have access to more, and more sophisticated, weapons. Their armies are better trained in using those weapons. And they generally control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy those weapons and armies. To fight dictators with violence, Sharp argues, is to cede to them the choice of weaponry. Nonviolence forces the regime to fight on unfamiliar terrain. It is, in many ways, akin to fabled organizer Marshall Ganz’s idea that David beat Goliath not by outfighting him so much as outfoxing him [see Abramsky, "A Conversation With Marshall Ganz," February 21].

The worse the regime gets, the more steadfast ought the opposition to be in its commitment to nonviolence. The result will be a “severing of power,” a process of political jiujitsu in which the ruler’s actions turn against him and he becomes progressively isolated from the people and institutions whose complicity he needs to keep the administration functioning. Take that complicity away, and the ruler will be exposed as naked, a Wizard of Oz character with the curtains pulled back. At the same time, the more the populace resists, the more they will realize their own innate power and, like Dorothy, discover that they had possessed the means of shaping their own destiny all along.