DISREGARDED HISTORY – The Power of Nonviolent Action

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This lengthy article was originally published in the March 1976 issue of Fellowship magazine. Dr. Sharp adapted it from two of his oral presentations. I like this piece because the tone is more conversational and passionate than Sharp’s books, which are mostly written in an academic style. When I first read this essay way back in the 1970’s, it sparked my interest in nonviolent action. The idea of looking at nonviolence systematically as a unified technique for wielding political power really “blew my mind” (as we used to say back then).

In this piece Sharp relates several historical episodes, including the American Revolution, where nonviolent action played a pivotal role in achieving political change. He goes on to advocate more serious study of strategic nonviolence for national defense, and upbraids the peace movement for its failures and reluctance to explore new alternatives to war. For me, one of the more interesting threads is the idea of a “hidden history” of nonviolent struggles. While historians focus on wars, revolutions and bloody coups, nonviolent power dynamics may be more influential in shaping history than is generally recognized.

Gene Sharp holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in political theory from Oxford University. He has written over a dozen books and scores of pamphlets and articles. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Dr. Sharp is currently Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution. Please do not reproduce this essay without clearance from Dr. Sharp. Contact him through the Einstein Institution link at the bottom of this page.

“It has been estimated that in nine or ten of the thirteen colonies, British governmental power had already been effectively and illegally replaced by substitute governments before Lexington and Concord.”

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