09 September 2012

A Realist* Case for Non-Violence

I have been reading really smart, recent work by political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan on the usefulness of non-violent strategies of political resistance. You can find a summary here at Foreign Policy.**  They ask a basically instrumental question: do non-violent strategies work? And they offer what many likely will find a surprising answer - not always and everywhere, but under most conditions such strategies work much more consistently than do violent strategies. Chenoweth and Stephan parse things nicely, pointing out for instance, that non-violence is not identical to pacifism and that it demands deep strategic insight. In this way they offer an alternative to the dual temptations to moralize naive self-sacrifice or rationalize violence.
* Please note: I am not subscribing to the "realist" view of international politics which holds that actors guided by their own interests pursue only power; I understand 'realist' in a more colloquial sense to mean only that we engage in politics for instrumental purposes,  in hopes of achieving something, even if that something is as amorphous and contested as, say, freedom.
** You can find the full version of their research here:  Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. 2011. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press).

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