In 2011, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan published a groundbreaking study on civil resistance, Why Civil Resistance Works, the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. While the prevailing view is that the most effective means of waging political struggle entails violence, they found that civil resistance campaigns were more than twice as successful in achieving their objectives than violent campaigns. They examined 323 nonviolent and violent campaigns between 1900-2006, involving more than 1,000 people, and that related to a country’s secession, overthrow of a dictatorship or removal of a foreign occupation. They also explore four case studies: Iran, Burma, the Philippines, and the Palestinian Territories.
Another interesting outcome of their study is that the governments of countries where the peaceful resistance took place were far more likely to become or remain stable democracies afterward. The book won several prizes including the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for best book published in the United States on government, politics or international affairs.
Here is a recent TED Talk by Erica Chenoweth, she discusses the promise of unarmed struggle in the 21st century. In addition to explaining why nonviolent resistance has been so effective, she also emphasizes how important it is to change the focus of social studies and what we teach in schools:
Interested in learning more? Here is a presentation on External Factors in Civil Resistance by Maria Stephan & Rob Wilkinson at the 2013 Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict:
Erica Chenoweth and Stephen Zunes present how repression affects nonviolent campaigns. Chenoweth notably provides empirical evidence that nonviolent movements are still effective even against brutally oppressive opponents:
To go further:
- Ackerman, Peter, and Jack DuVall. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press (2000).
- Karatnycky, Adrian and Peter Ackerman. How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy, Washington, DC: Freedom House (2005).
- Marchant, Eleanor, Adrian Karatnycky, Arch Puddington, and Christopher Walker. Enabling environments for civic movements and the dynamics of democratic transition, Freedom House special report (July 18, 2008).
Several documentaries have been produced and are available in several languages, with a useful study guide designed for high school and college use:
- A Force More Powerful (narrated by Ben Kingsley): it explores how nonviolent power has overcome oppression and authoritarian rule all over the world.
- Bringing Down a Dictator (narrated by Martin Sheen): it tells the inside story of how Milosevic was brought down — not by smoke and flames– but by a campaign of political defiance and massive civil disobedience.
- Orange Revolution: it studies the 2004 stolen election in Ukraine which brought citizens together on the streets for 17 days to defend their vote and the future of their country.
- In production: The Egypt Project