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Humane Studies Review Volume 9, Number 1   Summer 1994
by Bryan Caplan

Bibliographic Essay

          Jeane Kirkpatrick's "Dictatorships and Double Standards" (New York:  Simon and  Schuster, 1982) laid out a bleak picture for the possibility of internal  reform in  Communist-controlled nations: "Not all Communist
governments feature  slave  labor, forced migrations, engineered famines, and forced separations of  the sort
that  have at some time characterized the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Afghanistan,"  she  wrote. "Not all have,
after the fashion of Stalin or Castro, imprisoned  tens of  thousands of political prisoners. But none has
produced either freedom or  development. Not one has evolved into a democracy. Not one" (Kirkpatrick,  6).
      Happily, matters turned out differently -- both Eastern Europe and the  Soviet Union  itself swiftly abandoned
Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  This would  be amazing in itself, but what is more startling is
that the ruling  elites of the former  communist countries typically gave up some, most, or all of their power
without  violence. Historically, power transfers in authoritarian regimes came via  coups or  civil war. While
violence broke out in Romania and Yugoslavia, the  remainder of  the former East Bloc serves as a historical
anomaly. Indeed, this  exception is all the  more puzzling because totalitarianism seemingly lacked the
weaknesses of  traditional authoritarian regimes. By breaking down every element of  pluralism,  totalitarianism
seemed to possess the ability to crush organized  opposition of any  kind.
          Since the Communist collapse does not appear to fit our standard  picture of how  oppressive
governments can be abolished, it would be good to look at some  other  traditions of thought on the question of
social change and see if any of  them might  apply. Of these, one neglected but useful perspective comes from
the  tradition of  nonviolent resistance. While almost exclusively associated with Gandhi,  the idea  has a long
history of theory and practice. This bibliographic essay  outlines the  contours of this tradition, beginning with
its roots in the more general  theory of  resistance to tyranny; it then explores the theory and practice of
nonviolent  resistance and its implications for classical liberal social theory.

***Resistance Thought:  Violent and Nonviolent
          An excellent survey of the history of theories justifying resistance  to tyranny is  Oscar Jszi and John D.
Lewis, "Against the Tyrant: The Tradition and  Theory of  Tyrannicide" (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957). While
it focuses on the  question of  tyrannicide, it actually covers a much wider ground. Unsurprisingly, the  concepts
of  tyranny and justified resistance to authority simultaneously arose in  ancient Greece.  Plato and Aristotle
discussed tyranny without commenting on the  permissibility of  resistance to the state, but the histories of
Xenophon and Herodotus  openly  sympathized with instances of tyrannicide. Romans also considered
tyrannicide.  Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca, and Polybius explicitly endorsed it.  Presumably, they would  have
endorsed less drastic resistance to authority as well. Christian  philosophers  such as Thomas Aquinas and
William of Ockham endorsed a limited right to  resistance against tyranny. Finally, during the Italian
Renaissance, the  revival of  classical authors led to a parallel revival of interest in the right of  resistance
against  unjust government.
          The question of resistance appeared in its modern form and won  profound  practical significance during
the Protestant Reformation. While Martin  Luther and  John Calvin denied the right of resistance in any form,
their  intellectual heirs --  especially Calvin's -- questioned the doctrine that all "powers that be  are ordained of
God" (Romans 13:1) and considered justifications for rebellion against  political and  religious persecution.
British Calvinists radicalized first. John Ponet,  successively  Bishop of Rochester and of Winchester, defended
resistance and  tyrannicide in his  book "A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power" (1556; reprinted in
Winthrop  S. Hudson,  "John Ponet" (1516?-1556), Advocate of Limited Monarchy [Chicago:
University of  Chicago Press, 1942]). The Scottish Calvinist John Knox turned radically  against
passive resistance and defended the right to establish the true religion  by force if  necessary.
Knox's English compatriot Christopher Goodman took a similar  line.  Knox's most famous work
is his tract "The First Blast of the Trumpet  against the  Monstrous Regiment of Women" (1558;
reprinted in Knox, On Rebellion, ed.  Roger A. Mason [New York: Cambridge University Press,
1994], 3-47).  Goodman is  best known for "How Superior Powers Ought to Be Obeyed of Their
Subjects"  (1558;  reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1972).
          Franois Hotman's "Francogallia" (1573; trans. J. H. M. Salmon and ed.  Ralph E.  Giesey,
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972; Julian H. Franklin,  trans. and  ed.,
"Constitutionalism and Resistance in the Sixteenth Century: Three  Treatises by  Hotman, Beza,
and Mornay" [New York: Pegasus, 1969], 47-96) initiated the  genre of  French Calvinist
resistance -- or "monarchomach" -- literature. In it he  argued that  historically, the French
monarch had been limited, subject to both  election and  deposition by the people. "It has been
sufficiently demonstrated, we  believe,"  Hotman concludes in the third edition, "that the kings
of France have not  been  granted unmeasured and unlimited power by their countrymen, and
cannot be  considered absolute" ("Constitutionalism and Resistance," 90). For a  detailed
treatment of Hotman's life and thought, see Donald Kelley, "Franois  Hotman: A  Revolutionary's
Ordeal" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973).
          Theodore Beza's "Right of Magistrates" (1574; "Constitutionalism and  Resistance,"
97-135) gave this historical critique a firmer theoretical background.  Fearing  individual
rebellion, he gave special weight to the right of lesser  magistrates to rebel  against a tyrant. He
countenanced individual rebellion only against  tyrants without  legitimate titles -- but, only if
the resistance of lesser magistrates  failed. Philippe du  Plessis-Mornay, in his "Defence of
Liberty Against Tyrants" (1579;  "Constitutionalism and Resistance," 137-99) essentially drew
the same  conclusions,  emphasizing that the people, not the king, are properly the owners of the
kingdom.  Julian Franklin has abridged and commented upon all three works in his
Constitutionalism and Resistance. Franklin emphasizes that the Calvinist  resistance  literature
needed to avoid radical conclusions to convince moderate  Catholics to  join the Huguenot
cause. Quentin Skinner's "The Foundations of Modern  Political  Thought," vol. 2, "The Age of
Reformation" (New York: Cambridge  University  Press, 1978) contains an extensive discussion
of Hotman, Beza, and  Mornay, as well  as lesser-known Calvinist authors and comments on
their Lutheran,  Catholic  Scholastic, and humanist predecessors. For a general treatment of
Huguenot  thought, see Michael Walzer, "The Revolution of the Saints" (New York:  Atheneum,
          The radical Calvinists' interest in the right of resistance spread to  broader religious
circles. The humanist thinker George Buchanan defended the right to  resist tyranny  not on
partisan religious grounds but on the basis of social contract  theory and  Aristotle's politics.
"Powers of the Crown of Scotland" (1579; trans. C.  F. Arrowood,  Austin: Texas University
Press, 1949) is his most famous book; I. D.  McFarlane, in  his "Buchanan" (London: Duckworth,
1981), offers a more detailed  treatment of his  thought. At the same time, Catholics like Juan de
Mariana and Francisco  Surez  validated the right of resistance against tyranny. Using state of
nature  theory and the  idea that rulers' power is delegated rather than inherent, both of these
Jesuit  thinkers justified some form of the right of resistance. Surez stood  behind the  classical
distinction between the usurper and the tyrant-by-conduct.  While it was  permissible to use
violence against a usurper, such could be justified  against a  tyrant-by-conduct in only the most
extreme situations. Mariana took a  more  extreme view; he bypassed the dichotomy between the
two types of unjust  rulers  and argued for every individual's right to kill a tyrant. Most of Surez's
thought on  resistance is in his "Tractatus de legibus" (1612; translated in  "Selections from
Three  Works of Francisco Surez" [New York: Oxford University Press, 1944]).  Mariana's  chief
work in this area is "The King and the Education of the King"  (1599; ed. and  trans. George
Albert Moore, Washington, DC: Country Dollar Press, 1948).
          It should be emphasized that the monarchomachs chiefly justified  resistance as  such,
rather than nonviolent resistance. Their principal contemporary  critics are  Jean Bodin and
William Barclay. See Bodin, "On Sovereignty: Four Chapters  from  'The Six Books of the
Commonwealth'" (1576; ed. and trans. Julian H.  Franklin,  New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1992) and Barclay, "The Kingdom and  the  Regal Power" (1600; translated, Chevy Chase,
MD: Country Dollar Press,  1954). Both  argue that this was more likely to lead to endless
bloodshed and further  tyranny  than anything else. In this context, Etienne de La Boetie's
"Discourse on  Voluntary  Servitude" (1577; trans. Harry Kurz, 1942; reprinted as "The Politics
of  Obedience:  'The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude'" [New York: Free Life Editions,  1975])
appeared, promoting the efficacy of nonviolent resistance. Anticipating  David  Hume's "Of the
First Principles of Government" (1777; reprinted as  "Essays, Moral,  Political, and Literary", ed.
Eugene F. Miller, rev. ed.[Indianapolis:  Liberty Classics,  1987], 32-36), La Boetie saw that the
rule of a tiny minority over  society was possible  only if the majority voluntarily accepted it.
          Taking it one step further,  La Boetie  argued that the social consensus theory implied that
it could overthrow  tyranny  peaceably if the majority withdrew its consent. "It is therefore," he
wrote, "the  inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about their own  subjection,
since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude" (La  Boetie, 50).  While La
Boetie's arguments for mass civil disobedience seem more  moderate than  the Huguenot
justification for violent resistance, he is, in every other  respect, far  more radical. All tyrants, he
argued, whether by inheritance, force of  arms, or  elections, are equally bad and, therefore,
equally permissible to resist.  Perhaps most  significant, La Boetie justified resistance not
through custom or  national tradition  but because "freedom is our natural state" (La Boetie, 57).
La Boetie  explained the  oppressed state of mankind with a theory of ideology and caste
exploitation. The  former, he contended, suppresses humanity's natural urge for freedom; the
latter  develops as a tyrant fortifies power by privileging a pyramid of followers.
          Despite the originality of La Boetie's theory, it exerted little  influence on  subsequent
theorists who continued to equate resistance with violence.  Thus, the  three pillars of
seventeenth-century British resistance theory -- Locke,  Sidney, and  Milton -- focused chiefly on
violent revolution. John Locke, in his  "Essay  concerning Civil Government," the second of the
"Two Treatises of  Government"  (1689; student ed., ed. Peter Laslett, New York: Cambridge
University  Press, 1988),  not only justified rebellion against tyranny but also assumed that
physical force  existed as the necessary means to subdue a tyrant. While more moderate  than
Locke  on many questions, Algernon Sidney in his "Discourses concerning  Government"  (1698;
reprint, ed. Thomas G. West, Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1990)  militantly  advocated violent
revolution against tyrants. And John Milton in his book  "The  Tenure of Kings and Magistrates"
(1649; reprinted in "Political  Writings," ed. Martin  Dzelzainis [New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1991], 1-48), defended  the right of  the people to execute a tyrant if the
established watchdogs failed to  manage him  effectively.
          The nineteenth century produced two significant theorists of  nonviolent  resistance: Henry
David Thoreau and Count Leo Tolstoy. In Thoreau's  famous essay  "Civil Disobedience" (1849;
reprinted in "On Civil Disobedience: American  Essays,  Old and New,' ed. Robert A. Goldwin
[Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969],  11-31), he  argued that the individual had a moral duty to resist
unjust acts of  government.  While not primarily a work on collective action, Thoreau noted that
"[i]f  the  alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and  slavery, the State  will
not hesitate which to choose. . . . When the subject has refused  allegiance, and  the officer has
resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished"  ("On Civil  Disobedience," 21).
One can find Tolstoy's arguments on nonviolence in the compilation  "Tolstoy's  Writings on
Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence" (New York: Bergman,  1967).  Unlike Thoreau, who
largely treated his conclusions as simply the  consistent  application of Jeffersonian principles,
Tolstoy based his condemnations  of violence  on the philosophy presented in the New
Testament. His most notable essays  on the  issue of non-violence include "Patriotism, or
Peace?" which argued that  the general  renunciation of patriotism was a precondition of
international peace and  his "Notes  for Officers" and "Notes for Soldiers", which argued that
members of the  military  had a duty to resign their posts and obey their consciences rather than
the state. For  more on Tolstoy's political thought, see his "The Law of Violence  and the Law of
Love" (New York: Rudolph Field, 1948), in which he  favorably cited  the work of La Boetie on
the efficacy of nonviolent struggle against  tyranny.
          Tolstoy's "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India -- Its Cause  and Cure" in  "Tolstoy
Centenary Edition," vol. 21, "Recollections and Essays" (New  York: Oxford  University Press,
1937) significantly influenced the twentieth-century's  preeminent  exponent of nonviolence,
Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi began his lifetime  interest in  nonviolence when, as a lawyer in South
Africa, he used nonviolence to  help repeal  governmental discrimination against the Indian
minority. He later  acquired world  fame for his leadership of the nonviolent struggle for Indian
independence from  the British. One can find a good sampling of Gandhi's writings in his
"Non-Violent  Resistance (Satyagraha)" (New York: Schocken Books, 1951). While Gandhi's
advocacy of nonviolence was chiefly religious and deontological, he also  defended  its
practicality. Not only will nonviolence win more public support than  violence,  he argued, but it
also has a greater chance to convert one's opponents  and succeed  with minimal casualties. In a
typical passage, Gandhi wrote that a "civil  resister  never uses arms and hence is harmless to a
State that is at all willing  to listen to the  voice of public opinion. He is dangerous for an
autocratic state, for he  brings about  its fall by engaging public opinion upon the matter for
which he resists  the State"  (Gandhi, 174). Elsewhere, echoing La Boetie, Gandhi stated that in
"politics, its  [power's] use is based upon the immutable maxim that government of the  people is
possible only so long as they consent either consciously or unconsciously  to be  governed"
(Gandhi, 35).
          Gandhi makes for difficult reading because he mixed religious ideas  with more  practical
observations. Gene Sharp does a good job of disentangling these  two strains  in his "Gandhi as a
Political Strategist" (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1979).  If one ignores  Gandhi's religious views and
focuses on his discussion of practical  strategic  questions, one finds a shrewd and insightful
thinker in the tradition of  La Boetie.  Several of Sharp's interpretive essays -- especially "Gandhi
on the  Theory of  Voluntary Servitude" -- bring together the bits and pieces of Gandhi's  theory
of  nonviolent resistance. For further writings on Gandhi's philosophy which  emphasize his
mystical side, see Raghavan N. Iyer, "The Moral and  Political  Thought of Mahatma Gandhi"
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1973) and  Joan  Bondurant, "Conquest of Violence: The
Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict"  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958). For an
unsympathetic view,  see  Murray Rothbard, 'The New Menace of Gandhism,' in "Libertarian
Forum,"  March  1983, 1-6, which focuses on his mysticism and economic program.

***Nonviolent Resistance:  Theory and History
          There can be little doubt that today's foremost thinker sympathetic to  nonviolent
resistance is Gene Sharp. With an eye toward practical strategy rather  than  philosophy, his
major work "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" (Boston:  Porter  Sargent, 1973) covers virtually
every aspect of the theory and history of  nonviolent  resistance to government. In the opening of
the book, Sharp carefully  crafts his  arguments as an extensive discussion of the nature of
power. He draws on  the long  tradition of thinkers who argue that ideology and consent --
whether  grudging or  enthusiastic -- rather than brute force are the ultimate basis of  political
power. If a  large enough segment of the population refuses to comply with the  government, it
will lose its ability to rule. Merely the threat of non-compliance is  often serious  enough to
provoke the government to redress grievances. Moreover, when  governments use violence
against protesters who are clearly committed to  nonviolence, they undermine their ideological
foundations and often make  uncontested rule even more difficult. He cites such diverse thinkers
as  Auguste  Comte, Etienne de La Boetie, David Hume, Gaetano Mosca, Bertrand de  Jouvenel,
Max Weber, Jeremy Bentham, Montesquieu, and Niccol Machiavelli.
          Sharp distinguishes between three stages of nonviolence: protest and  persuasion;  social,
economic, and political non-cooperation; and nonviolent  intervention.  Normally a movement
begins with the first stage and gradually escalates  until the  government meets its demands or
agrees to compromise. As examples of  protest  and persuasion Sharp lists public speeches,
petitions, distribution of  literature,  public demonstrations, and fraternizing with low-ranking
soldiers and  other  government enforcers.
          Nonviolent resisters bring more serious sanctions to bear when they  resort to  social,
economic, and political non-cooperation. Here Sharp offers as  examples social  boycott,
excommunication, student strikes (social non-cooperation);  consumers'  boycotts, workers'
strikes, refusal to pay fees, rent, or interest,  refusal to accept a  government's money (economic
non-cooperation); and the boycott of  legislative  bodies and elections, draft resistance, tax
resistance, deliberate  bureaucratic  inefficiency, and mutiny (political non-cooperation). Unlike
protest and  persuasion,  many of these tactics could pressure a government into changing its
policies  without actually changing anyone's mind.
          Sharp's final category, nonviolent intervention, includes the most  radical forms of
resistance against authority. Some examples include fasting until death  (Gandhi's  famed tactic),
sit-ins, occupying or surrounding critical government  buildings,  blocking of roads, setting up
alternative markets and transportation  systems (such as  black markets), overloading
administrative systems, and forming a  parallel  government.
          Sharp documents a number of examples for each category. While not all  of them  have
met with success, the historical effectiveness of nonviolent action  is  surprising. One familiar
but neglected example is colonial resistance to  Britain  before the American Revolution from
1765 to 1775. For further details on  the  nonviolent stage of colonial resistance, see Edmund S.
Morgan and Helen  M.  Morgan, "The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution" (New York:
Collier  Books,  1963); Lawrence Henry Gipson, "The British Empire Before the American
Revolution" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961-1965); Arthur Schlesinger,  "The  Colonial
Merchants and the American Revolution" (New York: Frederick  Ungar,  1966); Lawrence
Henry Gipson, "The Coming of the American Revolution"  (New  York: Harper Torchbooks,
1962); and Murray Rothbard, "Conceived in  Liberty," vol.  3, "Advance to Revolution,
1760-1775" (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House,  1976).  The famous boycotts of tea and other
British imports, refusal to pay  taxes such as  those required by the Stamp Act, and ostracism of
the Tories imposed  serious costs  upon the British government, leading to desperate action to
preserve  British  authority in the colonies. Fewer works on later American tax resistance  exist.
See,  however, Dall W. Forsythe's "Taxation and Political Change in the Young  Nation,
1781-1833" (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), and James Ring  Adams,  "Secrets of
the Tax Revolt" (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984),  both of  which David T. Beito
discusses at length in 'Tax Revolts in American  History,'  "Humane Studies Review" 4 (Winter
1986-87). Beito's major work in this  area,  "Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance during the
Great Depression" (Chapel  Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1989), offers a broad
discussion of  the largest tax  rebellion in modern America; he emphasizes the tax resistance in
Chicago  during  the New Deal era.
          Post-World War I Germany yields two significant examples of the  effective use of
nonviolence. In 1920, a pro-monarchist faction led by Dr. Wolfgang Kapp  attempted  to seize
control of the Weimar government. German generals, sympathetic  to the  coup, refused to assist
the civilian government, and many police actively  sided with  Kapp's forces. In response,
President Theodor Ebert called a general  strike and  bureaucratic non-cooperation. While the
military eventually came to the  aid of the  elected government, nonviolent resistance acted as
the chief obstacle to  Kapp's  seizure of power. For more details on the Kapp putsch, see Erich
Eyck, "A  History of  the Weimar Republic" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).
A  second  instance of the use of nonviolence came during the so-called Ruhrkampf  from 1923
to 1925. When Germany defaulted on its war reparation payments, French  and  Belgian troops
entered the Ruhr -- one of Germany's chief industrial  centers -- to  extract the payments by
force. Strikes and civilian and bureaucratic  obstruction made  the occupation so costly that the
French and Belgians withdrew without  net gain.  Wolfgang Sternstein, 'The Ruhrkampf of 1923:
Economic Problems of  Civilian  Defense,' in "Civilian Resistance as a National Defense," ed.
Adam  Roberts  (Harrisburg, PA: Stockpole Books, 1968) discusses the Ruhrkampf instance  at
great  length.
          We must turn back to the Indian struggle for independence from Great  Britain, the  most
famous and successful twentieth-century nonviolent movement. While  Indian independence
quickly sparked ethnic violence and failed to deliver  prosperity and freedom to ordinary Indians
and Pakistanis, the struggle  compares  favorably to violent colonial outbreaks such as in
Algeria. Sharp  estimates that if  one takes India's population into account, Algerian-level
casualties  would have left  India with three million to three and a half million people dead. The
number of  Indians actually killed while taking part in nonviolence was about eight  thousand.
(See Sharp, "Gandhi as a Political Strategist," 7.)  Indians tried  virtually every  nonviolent tactic
-- tax resistance (such as the famous salt march),  boycotts of British  goods, failure to support
the British war effort, and fasting -- during  the  independence movement. For more details on
the history of the Indian  struggle  with the British, see Michael Edwardes, "The Last Years of
British India"  (London:  Cassell, 1963); Ram Gopal, "How India Struggled for Freedom: A
Political  History"  (Bombay: Book Centre, 1967); Francis Hutchins, "India's Revolution:  Gandhi
and  the Quit India Movement" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973);  and  R.P.
Masani, "British in India: An Account of British Rule in the Indian  Subcontinent" (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1960).
          The most famous nonviolent struggle in recent American history has  been the  civil rights
movement. A few of the many histories of the combat for  legal equality  for blacks -- fought
largely with nonviolent tactics -- are: Arthur I.  Waskow, "From  Race Riot to Sit-in: 1919 and
the 1960's" (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,  1966); James  Farmer, "Freedom -- When?" (New
York: Random House, 1954); and Alan F.  Westin, ed., "Freedom Now: The Civil-Rights
Struggle in America" (New  York:  Basic Books, 1964). Martin Luther King Jr.'s theories of
nonviolent  resistance should  not be overlooked. Besides 'Letter from the Birmingham Jail'
(Goldwin,  ed., "On  Civil Disobedience", 61-77), King's other works on nonviolence and the
civil rights  movement include "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story" (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1958) and "Why We Can't Wait" (New York: New American  Library, 1964).
For a broader look at the struggle of black Americans,  most of it  nonviolent, see Joan Grant,
ed., "Black Protest: History, Documents, and  Analyses,  1619 to the Present" (Greenwich, CT:
Fawcett, 1968); Carleton Mabee,  "Black  Freedom: The Nonviolent Abolitionists from 1830
Through the Civil War"  (New  York: Macmillan, 1977); and John Hope Franklin, "From Slavery
to  Freedom," 6th  ed. (New York: Knopf, 1988).
          Sharp lists many historical examples of both nonviolent struggles and  violent  struggles
with a large nonviolent component. His examples include:  Hungarian  resistance to the Austrian
empire from 1850 to 1867; the Belgian  suffragist  enlargement strikes in 1893, 1902, and 1913;
Finland's opposition to  Russian rule  from 1898 to 1905; and the Russian Revolution of 1905
and 1906.  Anti-colonial  struggles in Asia and Africa were also often nonviolent.  They included
China's  boycotts against the Japanese between 1906 and 1919; the struggle of the  Indian
minority in South Africa against discrimination from 1906 to 1914 and  again in 1946;  and
Samoan resistance against New Zealand from 1919 to 1936. See Gene  Sharp,  "Social Power
and Political Freedom" (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980) for a  comprehensive list.
Sharp finds a common pattern throughout the history of nonviolent  resistance.  After a
movement for social change acquires any sort of influence, it  typically meets  with repression.
While badly organized movements collapse as soon as  resistance  begins, the inculcation of
solidarity and discipline (akin in some ways  to the training  of normal soldiers) can hold a
movement together long enough to win  attention  and score some victories. Moreover, the very
fact that the protesters  remain  committed to nonviolence even as the government turns to
repression to  combat  them tends to win over previously neutral parties, arouse dissent among
the  repressing group, and inspire and involve other members of persecuted  groups.  Sharp
refers to this as "political jiu-jitsu" -- jiu-jitsu being a style  of martial art that  uses an opponent's
aggressiveness and ferocity against him. Sharp is far  from a  Panglossian advocate of
nonviolence; indeed, it is precisely because of  the possibility  of failure that he is interested in
studying the mechanics of nonviolent  struggle.  But, insofar as it succeeds, it usually does so by
converting opponents,  making  repression too costly to continue, and threatening the very ability
of  the  government to maintain power.


Humane Studies Review Volume 9, Number 1   Summer 1994
by Bryan Caplan


          Among Sharp's other works in the area of nonviolence are "Exploring  Nonviolent
Alternatives" (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971); "Social Power  and Political  Freedom: Making
Europe Unconquerable" (London: Taylor and Francis, 1985);  "National Security Through
Civilian-Based Defense" (Omaha, NE:  Association for  Transarmament Studies, 1985); and
"Civilian-Based Defense: A  Post-Military  Weapons System" (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1990). These  books  overlap one another to a significant extent, but, taken together, they
detail the  benefits of nonviolent action as a substitute for violence. Sharp  generally utilizes a
comparative institutions approach. For example, he compares the  effectiveness of  real-world
violence to real-world nonviolence rather than ideal violence  to real- world nonviolence as
critics often do. As Sharp puts it, "Comparative  evaluations of  nonviolent and violent means
must take into consideration that political  violence  is often defeated also. By conventional
standards, does not one side lose  in each  international war, civil war and violent revolution?
Such defeats have  usually been  explained as resulting from certain weaknesses or inadequacies,
such as  lack of  fighting spirit, insufficient or poor weapons, mistakes in strategy and  tactics, or
numerical inferiority. Comparable weaknesses may also lead to defeat in  nonviolent  action.
The common practice of explaining defeats of political violence  in terms of  such specific
shortcomings while blaming defeats of nonviolent action on  the  presumption of its universal
impotence is both irrational and uninformed"  (Sharp,  "The Politics of Nonviolent Action," p.
          With this in mind, he first notes that violence is usually  ineffective. The ability of  the
government to use violence greatly exceeds that of the rebels.  Indeed, violent  rebellion often
strengthens oppressive regimes which can plausibly claim  that rebel  violence necessitates
repression. Government's comparative advantage lies  in  violent action. The comparative
advantage of the people, in contrast,  lies in their  ability to deny their voluntary cooperation
without which it is nearly  impossible for  government to persist. Consider the deadliness to a
government of tax  strikes,  boycotts, general strikes, and widespread refusal to obey the law.
While  these tactics  are nonviolent, their universal and unyielding use should terrify any
          Nonviolence has other advantages as well. Because it seems less  dangerous and  radical
than violence, it more easily, as mentioned above, wins broad  public  support. The costs of
participation are lower, so more people are likely  to participate.  Traditional noncombatants like
children, women, and the old can  effectively  participate in nonviolent struggle. It is more likely
to convert  opponents and  produce internal disagreement within the ruling class. It generally
leads  to far fewer  casualties and material losses than violence. And since it is more
decentralized than  violent action, it is less likely to give rise to an even more oppressive  state if
it  succeeds.
          In addition to Sharp's impressive and far-reaching "Politics of  Nonviolent  Action," one should
examine other works, including Richard B. Gregg's  "The Power  of Nonviolence" (New York:
Fellowship Publications, 1944), which combines  a  theoretical discussion with a partial history
of Gandhi's struggle for  Indian  independence. Gregg's theoretical approach is roughly
equivalent to  Sharp's -- albeit  in a less detailed systematic form. A. Paul Hare and Herbert H.
Blumberg's  "Liberation Without Violence: A Third-Party Approach" (Totowa, NJ: Rowman  and
Littlefield, 1977) offers a collection of largely historical essays on  the use of  nonviolence in
India, the United States, Africa, and Cyprus. V.K. Kool,  ed.,  "Perspectives on Nonviolence"
(New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990) collects  thirty essays on various topics relating to
nonviolence, including a  keynote address  by Kenneth Boulding. Leroy Pelton, in "The
Psychology of Nonviolence"  (New  York: Pergamon, 1974), takes a psychological approach,
focusing on the  ability of  nonviolent resistance to change minds while avoiding a vicious spiral
of  escalating  violence.

***Civilian Based Defense
          If nonviolent action can effectively force one's government to change  its policies  or
abandon power, then plausibly similar tactics might succeed against a  foreign  invader. And,
since most nonviolence has historically been sporadic and  unorganized, it might bepossible to
increase its effectiveness through  training and  strategic and tactical planning. These two
possibilities have sparked  interest in  "civilian-based defense" -- the self-conscious use of
nonviolent means  for the goal of  national defense. Sharp defines civilian-based defense as "a
projected  refinement of  the general technique of nonviolent action, or civilian struggle, as it
has occurred  widely in improvised forms in the past. This policy is an attempt  deliberately to
adapt and develop that technique to meet defense needs, and thereby  potentially to  provide...
deterrence to those particular forms of attack" (Sharp,  "Social Power and  Political Freedom," p.
          While this may appear intuitively impractical at first, on closer  examination the  argument
may have strong appeal.  From the outset, one should note that  some of  the most famous cases
of nonviolent resistance were carried out against  foreign  powers: colonial North America and
India against the British; Germany  against  France and Belgium in the Ruhrkampf; and Hungary
against the rule of the  Austrian Empire. Quoting Kenneth Boulding, Sharp writes "What exists,
is  possible." More fundamentally, nonviolent resistance never had any of the  advantages that
military resistance does. Usually the military has years  to train,  strategize, prepare arsenals, test
weapons, stockpile necessary  resources, and study  the past for lessons. But, nonviolent
struggles have almost always been  carried out  without the benefit of personnel training or
tactical and strategic  planning. What  would happen if countries spent as much energy preparing
for a nonviolent  struggle as they do for a military struggle? This is a question that  Sharp and
other  authors sympathetic to civilian-based defense have tried to answer.
          As with most scholarship on nonviolence, the work of Gene Sharp  dominates the  area of
civilian-based defense. "Social Power and Political Freedom," a  collection of  essays on topics
relating to nonviolence, contains two well-written  introductory  essays to the theory of
civilian-based defense: "ÔThe Political  Equivalent of War' --  Civilian-Based Defense,"and
"Popular Empowerment." "The Political  Equivalent of  War," criticizes traditional solutions to
the problem of war: removing  its "causes,";  pacifism and unilateral disarmament; world
government; and negotiated  general  disarmament. He also discusses the history of nonviolence,
with examples  from the  Montgomery boycotts, the Soviet prison camp resistance at Vorkuta,
and  German  and Norwegian opposition to Nazi policies.
          These introductory examples provide a springboard for an extensive  discussion of
civilian-based defense. Sharp insists that deterrents are not limited to  standard  military ones.
Rather, it is merely necessary for nonviolence to make  occupation so  difficult that the costs of
conquest exceed the benefits. Massive tax  resistance,  boycotts, incitement of desertion, and
strikes might accomplish this.  And, if a  would-be conqueror realized that nonviolent techniques
might make the  costs of  occupation skyrocket, he might be deterred from trying. Sharp
considers  specific  ways to prepare effective civilian-based defense: general education and
training in  the techniques of nonviolence, as well as a "West Point" for training  specialists; the
wide-spread dissemination of publishing and broadcasting equipment to  prevent  invaders from
seizing all of the means of communication; and  local  stockpiles  should exist to ease the pain of
a general strike. Lastly, Sharp  considers questions of  strategy. He contrasts a "nonviolent
Blitzkrieg" -- a policy of total  non-cooperation, a  general strike, and massive protests -- with the
less dramatic but more  sustainable  "selective resistance" -- targeting specific institutions for
protection  and defense and  certain enemy policies for defiance and protest.
          "Popular Empowerment" offers another telling point. While standard  military  defense is
easy for a government to use against its own people,  civilian-based  defense is not.
Civilian-based defense is a positive check against the  abuse of power.  If the government acts
improperly, the same techniques that the citizenry  can wield  against foreigners can be turned on
its own leaders. National defense,  properly  understood, shields society from all oppression,
both foreign and domestic.
          "Making Europe Unconquerable" was Sharp's attempt to apply his theory  of
civilian-based defense to the protection of Western Europe against a  Soviet  invasion. While the
subject is perhaps passe, the work is useful because  it  investigates a fairly specific issue in
detail. Moreover, those who  doubted the efficacy  of nonviolence against the Soviets may find it
a more plausible tool  against the less  serious threats that European nations face today.
"Exploring Nonviolent  Alternatives," one of Sharp's shorter pieces, applies the analysis to  the
question of national defense. "National Security Through  Civilian-Based  Defense," a long
pamphlet, does nearly the same. "Civilian-Based  Defense," Sharp's  most recent book,
summarizes his lifetime of scholarly research on  nonviolence. It  also contains fascinating
treatments of the use of nonviolence in the  final  overthrow of communism in EasternEurope.
Short, clear, and wide-ranging,  "Civilian-Based Defense" is the best single piece to read on the
          Some of the most interesting scholarship on civilian-based defense by  authors  other than
Sharp appears in Roberts, ed., "Civilian Resistance as a  National  Defence." Notable essays
include Sir Basil Liddell Hart's "Lessons from  Resistance  Movements -- Guerrilla and
Nonviolent"; Theodor Ebert's "Nonviolent  Resistance  Against Communist Regimes?"; Jeremy
Bennett's "The Resistance Against the  German Occupation of Denmark 1940-5"; Magne
Skodvin, "Norwegian  Nonviolent  Resistance During the German Occupation"; and Wolfgang
Sternstein, "The  Ruhrkampf of 1923: Economic Problems of Civilian Defense." One should
also see  T.K. Mahadevan, Adam Roberts, and Gene Sharp, eds., "Civilian Defense: An
Introduction" (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1967).
          For other books on civilian-based defense, see Sir Stephen King-Hall,  "Defence in  the
Nuclear Age" (London: Victor Gollancz, 1958), which argues that  Britain should  unilaterally
give up its nuclear weapons stockpile, since the possession  of nuclear  weapons makes Britain a
more likely target for a hostile nuclear attack;  he  recommends civilian-based defense. Norman
Freund, in "Nonviolent National  Defense: A Philosophical Inquiry into Applied Nonviolence"
(New York:  University Press of America, 1987), summarizes many of the main arguments  for
civilian-based defense, as does Krishnalal Shridharani, "War Without  Violence: A  Study of
Gandhi's Methods and Its Accomplishments" (New York: Garland,  1972). A  Quaker
organization, the American Friends Service Committee, defended  civilian- based defense in "In
Place of War: An Inquiry into Nonviolent National  Defense" (New York: Grossman Publishers,
1967). Anders Boserup and Andrew  Mack, "War Without Weapons" (New York: Schocken
Books, 1975), overlaps  with  Sharp's work; its main innovation is its explicit attempt to
integrate  the theory of  nonviolence with classical strategic theory as formulated by Clauswitz.
In so doing,  Boserup and Mack open the door for the application of both rational  choice and
game theories to the question of nonviolence.

**"It Can Only Work Against the British" -- Nonviolence against  Totalitarian  Regimes
          Almost everyone will concede that nonviolence can work against  "civilized"  nations. But
what about the hard cases? What about totalitarian  governments  utterly lacking in moral
scruples and prepared to kill as many people as  necessary to  cement their rule? Intuitively, the
case against nonviolence in such  circumstances is  strong. Yet preliminary research into the
history of nonviolent  resistance against  Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia casts doubt on this
intuition. While  nonviolence  may be less useful against amoral or immoral tyrants, it is far
from futile.
       Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch resistance to Nazism from 1940 to 1945  was  pronounced and
fairly successful. In Norway, for example, teachers  refused to  promote fascism in the schools.
For this, the Nazis imprisoned a thousand  teachers.  But, the remaining teachers stood firm,
giving anti-fascist instruction  to children  and teaching in their homes. This policy made the
pro-fascist Quisling  government  so unpopular that it eventually released all of the imprisoned
teachers  and dropped  its attempt to dominate the schools. Other forms of struggle included
ostracism, the  refusal to speak to Nazi soldiers and intense social hostility to  collaborationists.
          Nonviolent struggle in the Netherlands was also fierce. The Dutch  organized two  general
strikes in Amsterdam; one in 1941 protested mistreatment of Jews,  and a  second in 1943
opposed the Nazi plan to intern Dutch war veterans in  Germany. In  Copenhagen, Danes used a
general strike to liberalize martial law. Gene  Sharp's  sources include Jeremy Bennett, "The
Resistance Against the German  Occupation of  Denmark 1940-5," in Roberts, pp. 154-172;
Magne Skodvin, "Norwegian  Nonviolent  Resistance During the German Occupation," in
Roberts, pp. 136-153; Bjarne  H¿ye  and Trygve M. Ager, "The Fight of the Norwegian Church
Against Nazism"  (New  York: Macmillan, 1943); and Werner Warmbrunn, "The Dutch Under
German  Occupation 1940-1945" (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1963). For a  general
treatment of resistance to Nazism, see International Conference on the  History of  the
Resistance Movements, "European Resistance Movements, 1939-1945  (Oxford:  Pergamon
Press, 1960).
      But, surely the most amazing but widely neglected case of nonviolent  resistance  against Nazi
Germany was the protection of Jews and other persecuted  minorities  from deportation,
imprisonment, and murder. In "The Lesson of Eichmann: A  Review-Essay on Hannah Arendt's
Eichmann in Jerusalem" in "Social Power  and  Political Freedom," Gene Sharp shows how the
nations which nonviolently  resisted  National Socialist racial persecutions saved almost all of
their Jews,  while Jews in  other Nazi-controlled nations were vastly more likely to be placed in
concentration  camps and killed. The effort to arrest Norway's seventeen hundred Jews  sparked
internal resistance and protest resignations; most of the Norwegian Jews  fled to  Sweden. In
Belgium, police refused to cooperate with the Germans, and  railroad  workers sabotaged trains
transporting imprisoned Jews. Apparently no  Belgian Jews  died at Nazi hands, and about half
of all foreign Jews living in Belgium  survived  occupation. While Vichy France helped deport
foreign Jews, it refused to  cooperate  in the deportation of French Jews; in consequence, eighty
percent were  saved.  Even  though Italy was a German ally, Italians did not share Hitler's
anti-Semitism. As a  result of bureaucratic resistance and non-cooperation, ninety percent of
Italian Jews  were saved.
          When Himmler tried to crack down on Danish Jews, the Danes thwarted  his  efforts. Not
only did the Danish government and people resist -- through  bureaucratic slowdowns and
noncooperation -- but, surprisingly, the  German  commander in Denmark also refused to help
organize Jewish deportations.  This  prompted Himmler to import special troops to arrest Jews.
But, in the end  almost all  Danish Jews escaped unharmed. In Bulgaria, the parliament refused
to  assist the  German anti-Jewish measures, and Bulgarians held public demonstrations  against
the persecution of Jews. As far as can be known, no Bulgarian Jews were  killed or  deported by
the Nazis. For more on this, see Hannah Arendt, "Eichmann in  Jerusalem: A Report on the
Banality of Evil" (New York: Viking Press,  1963).  The omnipresent pattern that Arendt finds
and that Sharp emphasizes is  that  totalitarian governments are not omnipotent. They need the
cooperation of  the  ruled to exert their will. If a people denies cooperation, even a  government
as  vicious as Hitler's, bound by few moral constraints, might be unable to  get what it  wants.
          The history of nonviolent struggle against the Soviet Union has, until  recently,  been
much more bleak. When, in 1953, East Germans used the general strike  and  other nonviolent
tactics to win better treatment for workers, the Soviets  brutally  crushed all opposition, leading
to worldwide recognition -- even among  socialists --  that the Soviet regime's claim to represent
"workers" was absurd. Stefan  Brant, "The  East German Rising" (New York: Frederick A.
Praeger, 1957) covers the  history of  the largely nonviolent 1953 struggle. The Hungarian
uprising in 1956,  while  generally considered a military struggle, contained strong nonviolent
elements,  including a general strike, mass demonstrations, and the formation of a  parallel
government. Again, the Soviets harshly repressed it, though it is worth  noting that  the
nonviolent resistance (for example the general strike in Budapest)  held out  longer than the
Hungarian military. On this, see Ferenc Vali, "Rift and  Revolt in  Hungary: Nationalism versus
Communism" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University  Press, 1961) and George Mikes, "The
Hungarian Revolution" (London: Andre  Deutsch, 1957).
          The Czech struggle of 1968 is a final tragic chapter in the history of  resistance to the
Soviets. Remarkably, the Czechs used nonviolent means almost exclusively  and,  consequently,
lasted considerably longer than did the Hungarians. The  Dubcek  government ordered its
soldiers to remain in their barracks, the state  news agency  refused to announce that its
government had "requested" the invasion, and  the  Czech Congress condemned Soviet actions
and demanded a release of its  kidnapped  officials. Other forms of resistance included
short-term general strikes,  transportation obstruction, and the use of radio to rally the people
against Soviet  invaders. Even though the invasion was a complete military success, the  Soviets
decided that the political situation made it unwise to replace the Dubcek  government with
collaborators. Instead, after some compromise on reforms,  they  released the kidnapped Czech
leaders and restored them to their previous  positions.  The liberal reformers retained power for
eight more months, at which  point the  Russians replaced them with their own favorites. This
ended Czech  reforms. On the  1968 struggle see Robert Littell, ed., "The Czech Black Book"
(New York:  Frederick A.  Praeger, 1969); Robin Alison Remington, ed., "Winter in Prague"
(Cambridge: MIT  Press, 1969); and Philip Windsor and Adam Roberts, "Czechoslovakia" 1968
(New  York: Columbia University Press, 1969).
          It would be easy to draw deeply pessimistic conclusions from this long  string of
suppressed attempts to liberalize communist nations. Not only did history  support  the
pessimistic conclusion of Jeane Kirkpatrick and other conservatives,  but it, a  priori, also made
sense. Violent revolution in a totalitarian system  seemed futile.  The ruling elite might fight
amongst itself, but they had no intention of  giving up  power voluntarily. And, nonviolence
proved clearly useless against  conscienceless  dictators.
          Or did it? As Sharp emphasized, nonviolence can win by converting  opponents  and
neutrals and by creating divisions within ruling groups. In a way,  that was  happening for
decades under communism. Not only the people, but also  subgroups  within the ruling elite
itself gradually came to see the evil and  inherent  contradictions within their own system.
Circulation of illegal  literature, smuggled  videotapes, and infiltration of Western cultural
influences slowly eroded  confidence. It is a mistake to look at communist nations over the  past
few decades and conclude that all resistance had been crushed;  rather, it had  been occurring
covertly, slowly undermining all of the claims of  communist  governments of legitimacy.
          The move for liberalization began with the Solidarity movement in  Poland. One  readable
journalistic history of Solidarity is Timothy Garton Ash's, "The  Polish  Revolution: Solidarity
1980-1982" (London: Jonathan Cape, 1983). Ash  emphasizes  that the election of a Polish pope
marked the beginning of rising  expectations in  Poland. By highlighting the role of non-state
institutions, John Paul's  election  tended to make people more conscious of the distinction
between society  and state.  Ash describes one of the pope's Polish appearances: "For nine days
the  state virtually  ceased to exist, except as a censor doctoring the television coverage.
Everyone saw  that Poland is not a communist country -- just a communist state" (Ash,p.  29).
          The  chief tactic of Solidarity was the strike, which it used both to  highlight particular
grievances and to attain broader reform. Peter Raina's "Poland 1981:  Towards Social  Renewal"
(London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985) details the history of  Solidarity's  tactics, demands,
and compromises that critical year. The author analyzes  the precise  text of reform bills on
independent trade unions, worker self-management,  censorship, and higher education. For a
broader history, see Jadwiga  Staniaszkis,  "Poland's Self-Limiting Revolution" (Princeton:
Princeton University  Press, 1984).  This work gives a solid account of the crucial 1980 through
1982 period  -- the height  of Solidarity's influence -- but it also discusses moderate reforms
during the 70's, the  Polish people's rising expectations prior to Solidarity, and the early  period
of Soviet  occupation after World War II.
          The Solidarity movement and student and peasant associations expressed  discontent and
struggled for reform despite harsh persecution. Their  limited  successes inspired dissidents in
other communist nations to push harder  for reform  and frightened communist leaders into mild
compromises. One work  documenting  the spread of the "Polish virus" is Elizabeth Teague's
"Solidarity and  the Soviet  Worker" (London: Croom Helm, 1988) which discusses the influence
of the  Solidarity movement on Soviet politics. The Politburo clearly feared the  growth of  the
ideas of the Solidarity movement and made concessions to workers in  the early  1980s to
prevent this. While Teague found little Polish influence upon  ethnic  Russians, the Solidarity
movement frequently influenced other ethnicities  within  the USSR to push peacefully for
reforms in their own republics.
          Eventually the accumulated effects of resistance penetrated the Soviet  Politburo  itself.
Gorbachev announced that Soviet forces would not quell reforms in  Eastern  Europe. At this
point, the unself-conscious tactics of nonviolent  resistance went  public. A half million East
Germans demonstrated in Berlin for democratic  elections  and civil liberties on 4 November
1989. A half million Czechs and Slovaks  protested  the phony reforms of communist bosses in
Prague three weeks later.  Thousands of  protesters in Leipzig forced state security headquarters
to submit to  public  inspection. As Sharp writes, repression often rebounded against the
repressors:  "Czechs and Slovaks erected shrines at the main sites of the beatings,  raising those
injured to the stature of heroes. Hundreds of thousands took to the  streets daily  following the
police actions. As one student put it, the beatings were  Ôthe spark that  started the whole
movement'" (Sharp, "Civilian-Based Defense," pp.  58-59). Success  was contagious -- once East
Germany's neighboring communist regimes fell,  the East  Germans began to flee to West
Germany by way of their government's former  allies.  In the final chapter, communism within
the Soviet Union itself collapsed,  and the  last-ditch attempt of hard-line communists to seize
power was foiled with  no small  thanks to mass demonstrations, fraternization with soldiers, and
other  nonviolent  tactics.
          While there has been some overlap between the classical liberal  tradition and the  theory
and practice of nonviolent struggle, they remain virtual strangers  to one  another in scholarship.
There is, however, no intrinsic reason for this.  While  nonviolence is compatible with many
viewpoints, some of the best  arguments in its  favor have a rather classical liberal flavor. The
analysis of political  power and civil  obedience put forth by nonviolence theorists closely
resembles classical  liberalism.  Similarly, the observation that violent revolution often serves
only the  interests of  a new elite fits comfortably into the classical liberal tradition. The
nonviolence  literature contains few explicit references to spontaneous order, but the  idea is
often  present nonetheless, especially in Gene Sharp's work. The idiom of the  nonviolence
literature is initially foreign, but frequently it is a difference  chiefly of style, not of  substance.
          Classical liberals interested in the issue of nonviolence will find  several gaps in  the
existing literature waiting to be filled. First of all, the notion of  spontaneous  order in general,
along with rational choice and game theories, rarely  appears. But,  these tools could shed
considerable light on the feasibility of  nonviolence; they  might also help answer the objection
that centrally planned resistance is  necessarily  more effective than civilian-based defense.
Second, classical liberals  may be able to  draw on a broader range of historical examples than
the current  literature does. The  self-conscious resistance movements are its primary focus; but
aren't  there many  voluntary institutions whose result is to check state power even though  that is
no  part of the intention of the participants? Thus, the informal economy is  rarely a  form of
ideological protest, but it is nevertheless a decentralized and  nonviolent  check upon the abuse
of governmental power. A third insight that  classical liberals  might introduce and expand is the
role of markets and economic freedom as  a  nonviolent check upon the state. Since
contemporary advocates of  nonviolence  tend to be suspicious of capitalism, they often ignore
typically liberal  observations.
          Classical liberals may learn from -- as well as contribute to -- the  nonviolence  literature.
Besides its intrinsic interest, it may point the way to  answers to several  difficult issues within
the classical liberal tradition. Despite their  distrust of state  power and interventionist foreign
policy, classical liberals have had a  difficult time  envisioning specific alternatives to violence
to combat tyranny. The  literature of  nonviolent resistance is  filled with penetrating insights in
this area.  And, while  classical liberals frequently long for alternatives to both electoral  politics
and  violence, specific suggestions have been sparse. These are merely a few  gaps that the
nonviolence literature may fill.  On a more aesthetic note, many of the  historical  examples of
nonviolence are beautiful illustrations of the power of  voluntary  institutions to supplement or
replace the role of the state.
          Finally, the role of civilian protest and direct action in recent  anti-communist  revolutions
lends a new credibility to the idea of nonviolent resistance.  It would go  too far to attribute the
demise of communism purely to nonviolent  resistance. But it  was one important and neglected
factor in the greatest triumph of freedom  in the  twentieth-century. Classical liberals should
study the lessons that it  teaches. In  particular, they should learn how freedom may be defended
against  tyrannical  governments. A central lesson here is that even when the government has
the  weapons, there is something that it cannot seize: the voluntary  compliance of its  citizens.
Without it, maintaining power becomes costly or even  impossible. But, as  we have seen,
governments almost instinctively sense this risk and strive  to  prevent it from arising. As La
Boetie explains, "it has always happened  that  tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have
made every effort to  train their  people not only in obedience and servility toward themselves,
but also in  adoration" (La Boetie, 75). All that is necessary to prevent tyranny is  to let the
citizenry come to know its own strength. Or, in the timeless words of La  Boetie,  "From all these
indignities [of tyranny], such as the very beasts of the  field would  not endure, you can deliver
yourselves if you try, not by taking action,  but merely by  willing to be free. Resolve to serve no
more, and you are at once freed.  I do not ask  that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him
over, but simply that  you  support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great
Colossus  whose  pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into  pieces"
(La  Boetie, p. 53). Bryan Caplan is a graduate student in Economics at Princeton University.

Copyright 1994 by the Institute for Humane Studies