The Politics of Nonviolent Action

Gene Sharp

1973

This book is a three-volume set, but you only have to read the first short book, Power and Struggle, to get the gist. Sharp has done for nonviolence what Clausewitz did for war and Machiavelli did for political power: provided a precise theory of how it works and a systematic study of strategy and tactics. Perhaps more importantly, by redefining power relationships and recognizing nonviolent struggle as a distinct political phenomenon, Sharp gives us a new way of interpreting history and viewing the political world.

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It is an obvious, simple, but often forgotten observation of great theoretical and practical significance that the power wielded by individuals and groups in highest positions of command and decision in any government—whom we shall for brevity call "rulers"—is not intrinsic to them. Such power must come from outside them. True, some men have greater personal qualities or greater intelligence, or inspire greater confidence than others, but this in no way refutes the fact that the political power which they wield as rulers comes from the society which they govern.

The Politics of Nonviolent Action
From Part One: Power and Struggle
Gene Sharp

In political terms nonviolent action is based on a very simple postulate: people do not always do what they are told to do, and sometimes they do things which have been forbidden to them....Political power disintegrates when the people withdraw their obedience and support. Yet the ruler's military equipment may remain intact, his soldiers uninjured, the cities unscathed, the factories and transport systems in full operational capacity, and the government buildings undamaged. But everything is changed. The human assistance which created and supported the regime's political power has been withdrawn. Therefore, its power has disintegrated.

When people refuse their cooperation, withhold their help, and persist in their disobedience and defiance, they are denying their opponent the basic human assistance and cooperation which any government or hierarchical system requires. If they do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that government or hierarchical system will no longer have power. This is the basic political assumption of nonviolent action.

The Politics of Nonviolent Action
From Part One: Power and Struggle
Gene Sharp

LINKS TO RELATED PAGES ON THIS SITE

NONVIOLENCE

THE KING WHO RULED NOTHING


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