Thursday, March 10, 2011

Can't Overdo Peace

A couple of days ago, a post appeared here on the United States Institute of Peace. Today the focus is on what Erica Chenoweth calls "peaceful resistance" in a March 10th Times op-ed. The point she makes can be summed up simply: Nonviolent resistance is twice as likely to produce positive results as violent resistance. This is an extraordinary finding and needs to be reiterated to be grasped. Nonviolence is twice as effective as violence. Based on exhaustive research comparing hundreds of violent and nonviolent actions in countries all over the world from 1900-2006, Chenoweth and her collaborator, Maria J. Stephan, found that "over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies."

What these researchers mean by "success" is not really explained and I, for one, look forward to finding out more about their research, but it can be inferred from the other information Chenoweth provides that nonviolent actions are "successful" when they are sustainable and supported over time by a broad spectrum of the populace.

This inference leads naturally to their other key finding: "Nonviolent revolutions tend to lead to democracy." Not only is this supported by other researchers, such as Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash in their book Civil Resistance and Power Politics, it seems right intuitively. Democracy is, by definition, a process of deliberating nonviolently to take actions that represent and reflect the broad interests of the general public. Although a cynic might note that by this definition things are not working out very democratically in the U.S. right now, time is on the side of the people. And by maintaining a strong but nonviolent position and by "finding and exploiting points of leverage in one's own society," change will occur that tilts toward what is right. As Dr. King, that great and unwavering advocate for nonviolent resistance once said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Even in dark times, it may be tempting to introduce violence, but taking action peacefully is almost always better over the long haul.

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