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