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Protest Theory:
Some Web Lit
by Greg Moses
March 23, 2003

A quip Saturday by a cable newsman sent me to google looking for the phrase, '95 percent of the people never participate in protest.' The commentator's wisdom is apparently attached to something called the Rebel's Dilemma which accounts for the rule that 95 percent of the people are not protesting 95 percent of the time. Political scientist Federico Ferrara has posted a helpful sketch of the dilemma and its solutions, in support of his syllabus for Intro to Comparative Politics at Kansas University.


Furthermore, in a forthcoming paper for the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Ferrara says regimes who want to aggravate the Rebels Dilemma, and keep 95 percent in their places, can invoke Hobbes dilemma, a well-known state of nature where people are forced to choose between universal war or sovereign order. His case study is Burma 1988, when the regime quelled a democratic movement by withdrawing police order altogether, even to the point of emptying prisons!

The general theory is interesting enough, when we think about a regime that achieves 95 percent allegiance through continual reminders of threats that democratically-motivated failures to obey the regime would surely result in elevated degrees of terror.

Meanwhile, another political scientist, Young-Choul Kim at Texas Tech University, has posted some interesting studies of protest behavior around the globe. Kim asserts that protest activity is essential to genuine democracy, and like many other features of what we call democracy today, protest activity works best among middle classes. Protest takes time, and time is most spendable by middle classes who are not quite so tied down by prospects of survival. This is why we see students rather than workers more often engaged in protest activity.

It is also important for protest activity to be nourished by political discourse and education, preferably left-leaning. But Kim is more interested in what he calls the post-materialist bias of protest groups. Today's signs that cry 'no blood for oil' would seem to epitomize post-materialist values.

Anti-globalization protests might also be seen as vanguard post-materialism. Which makes interesting what Ann Florini of the Brookings Institute has to say about attitudes expressed by a US administration official who searched for intellectual connections between terrorists and anti-globalization protesters. Globalization as we know it, argued the official, is the best method for achieving social progress, and it would appear that all opponents must be connected in their irrational responses.

But Florini patiently argues that critics of globalization--we'll call them post-globalization protesters--represent important concerns in an emerging globalized civil society. The question, for Florini, 'is how to open the policy making process to a wide range of voices and interests.' Responding to protests as focus groups, will certainly decrease regime ability to advance unilaterally across the globe. But Florini finds the moment important: 'The risk of ignoring pressures for a more open and transparent policy-making process far outweighs the risk of engagement.'

Indeed, as Perry Anderson argued earlier this month, the issue of Iraq can be poorly framed as a narrow issue of war vs. inspections if we do not also raise the embedded issues of how global sovereignty is structured in the first place such that the people of the world have to choose between two such grim regimes.

Much has been said about the internet facilitating a surprisingly robust anti-war movement. But the sophistication of internet protest organization has surely been facilitated by the anti-globalization, too. And in the USA, our most recent polls indicate that the numbers of anti-war citizens have been whittled down to numbers that we may guess are very closely related to politically alert, left educated, post-materialist, post-globalization democrats who now pause to reflect what this movement is about. Our focus on crisis cannot distract us from opportunities to secure a new world order that transcends Hobbesian dilemmas of war and regime.


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