Does nonviolent resistance work? Part 2a

Rally at Ft Meade for Bradley Manning

Rally at Ft Meade for Bradley Manning
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The next three posts are Part II of a series of posts in which Dr. Ian Hansen shares his thoughts on nonviolence.

See also Part 1a, Part 1bPart 1c, Part2b and Part2c.

In March 17, 2014 post, I suggested that in their book Why Civil Resistance Works Chenoweth and Stephan provide  good evidence that:

  • relatively nonviolent movements are more likely to achieve their goals than exclusively violent movements, and
  • nonviolent movements are less likely to bring to power the type of people who drag their nations into bloody purges and genocidal-scope mass killings.

That said, recent history reminds us that nonviolent uprisings against brutal governments (e.g., Libya, Syria) can stir up mass participation with some significant likelihood of tilting towards violence (particularly if the state responds to the peaceful protests with psychotic carnage).

Moreover, mass movements in strategically important states (like Syria and Libya) also tend to attract the meddling interest of large regional powers—as well as global imperial powers—and this meddling can tilt the probabilities even further towards mass carnage.

The prognosis for exploited and manipulated nonviolent revolutions is probably still better than the prognosis for exploited and manipulated violent revolutions, though perhaps not better than the prognosis for cleverly innovating some new form of rebellion that authoritarian and imperial forces are not so confident about co-opting or disrupting.  The hacktivism of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden may be an example of this kind of avant garde rebellion.

Still, transforming the relations of power will require more than simply exposing the vileness of current state policies on the internet.  Tunisia may owe the tinder-striking moment for its revolution in part to Chelsea Manning’s whistleblowing courage and wikileaks’ reportage, but it still had to make a revolution in the streets.  The Tunisian revolution was televised (and tweeted) but it was live too, and without the live part it would not have succeeded.

Ian Hansen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at York College, City University of New York. His research focuses in part on how witness for human rights and peace can transcend explicit political ideology. He is also on the Steering Committee for Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

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7 Responses to Does nonviolent resistance work? Part 2a

  1. kathiemm says:

    For a timely story of one of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, Cecily McMillan, an advocate of nonviolence who was arrested during the action in New York and is currently on trial, read the story at

  2. Ross Caputi says:

    I really can’t take credit for this idea, but I would like to think that I’m working on a new and alternative form of rebellion. My colleagues and I just started an organization dedicated to giving voluntary reparations ( The concept doesn’t apply so much to oppressed people, but more towards citizens of empires. We try to give people who feel that they are in some way complicit in war, occupation, or displacement the opportunity to pay reparations for the harm their society committed in their name.

    We feel that this is a radical concept, because unlike charity or aid work, there is truth telling and an acknowledgment of responsibility implicit in acts of reparations. USAID is now infamous for being a tool of empire. But I highly doubt the US State Department would be able to manipulate a reparations project the same way they do an aid project. For example, in Iraq USAID is funding and supporting divisive projects in the name of supporting nonviolence. Also, they give some badly needed supplies, but they don’t acknowledge the US role in creating the divisions and the desperation in Iraqi society. They don’t attempt to mend the structural injustices put in place by the US-led invasion and occupation; rather they just try to make the harm caused by US aggression less offensive. A reparations project aims to do just the opposite.

  3. kathiemm says:

    It sounds like a new and revolutionary approach to me, Ross. And your site is packed full of new kinds of ideas for visitors to consider. Thanks for sharing the link and the thinking.

  4. Pingback: Does nonviolent resistance work? What Chenoweth and Stephan get right (Part 1a) | Engaging Peace

  5. Pingback: Does nonviolent resistance work? What Chenoweth and Stephan get right (Part 1b) | Engaging Peace

  6. Pingback: Does nonviolent resistance work? What Chenoweth and Stephan get right (Part 1c) | Engaging Peace

  7. Stephanie Moses says:

    I would like to discuss violent and nonviolent movements in relation to learned behaviors and corporal punishment. When we know that there are more effective ways to reach our goals, why do we resort to violence? According to Chapter 1 of Family Violence in the United States, “a majority of parents in the United States spank their children and consider spanking appropriate and necessary,” even though multiple studies suggest that children should not be exposed to corporal punishment. Parents use corporal punishment as a means to achieve certain ends, often believing that it is the appropriate response to “self-endangering behaviors in a toddler.” Corporal punishment justifies violence to children, and is associated with more aggressive, delinquent, and criminal behavior.

    After watching violence kill people, why don’t people change their behaviors and resort to more peaceful methods of handling situations? Social learning theory, a popular explanation for family violence, suggests that individuals learn from punishments that they experience, as well as from observing the behaviors and consequences of others. In other words, violence is a learned behavior.

    In addition to the parallels between violent movements and corporal punishment, I believe that corporal punishment could lead to people choosing to participate in violent over nonviolent movements. Eliminating corporal punishment would also eliminate the maladjustment and learned violent behaviors associated with it, decreasing the chances of people using violence later in life.

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