A website for scholarship
in the theory and practice of nonviolence
in the USA.
A reader's guide to web literature on the theory and practice of nonviolence.
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White Supremacy, Manifest Destiny, and Contemporary Militarism
email March, 2003
There are three thematics I would like to outline in the context of the present assault on Iraq, address the cultural foundations of US militarism. First, the structure of this assault has been homologous to the structure of white racialized identity, and repeats the dynamic of white supremacy as a social structure. Second, it forms the latest moment in a sequence of attacks that were designed to transform international relations juridically in a manner that reiterates the structures of racialization. Third, it reveals a peculiar type of impunity that is culturally familiar, not as symptomatic of the arrogation of racialized power, but as a cultural engine that drives that power. In other words, while eocnomic interest may be interwoven in the fabric of power in the US, or in the assault on Iraq, it is not what drives its virulent militarism, nor the everydayness of its hyper-violence.
Three elements have characterized this present assault on Iraq. First, a number of charges were made against Iraq, each of which was proclaimed by attribution to pose a threat to the US, and each of which in sequence was exposed as non-existent (for instance, direct aggressive potential, ties to Al-Qaeda, stockpiling of WMD, violations of Security Council resolutions, the possibility of giving such weapons to terrorists, the need to rescue the Middle East from Hussein's tyranny, etc.). In the final absence of material reasons to aggress, a thesis of pre- emption appeared which essentially rendered Iraq's raw existence an abstract threat requiring national defense by invasion.
Second, national defense implies the necessity for social consensus and solidarity preparatory to meeting that threat, whether real or imaginary. These preparations don't give historical concreteness to the unfounded threat, but they render it socially real, a shift of political focus. And finally, though a broad opposition clamored against the gratuitousness of the proposed aggression, and the emptiness of its rationales, once the assault began, skepticism evaporated, and the national solidarity required for the assault congealed into "support for the troops," demonstrating again that military assault itself succeeds in rendering an imagined threat real.
In effect, the driving force of this war is a paranoia, which paranoia generates the demand for an allegiance to defensive consensus, in turn expressing itself as a support for aggressiveness and violence (actual war) that then rationalizes the demanded consensus and legitimizes the original paranoia as having been real. The violence (war) legitimizes the paranoia, the paranoia legitimizes the demand for allegiance, and the demand for allegiance legitimizes the violence.
This structure is homologous to the structure of white supremacy, and the general structure of racialization in the US. It can be seen as such even in the originary moment of its unfolding, the process of invention of whiteness, race, and white supremacy in the 17th century Virginia colony. In the wake of Bacon's rebellion of 1676, the Colonial Council responded by generating a similar social cycle, since the rebellion had all but put an end to the colony's corporate project. It had brought both African and English bond-laborers together under arms in the same ranks, despite previous elite attempts to separate them. And it should be noted that, at the time, the codification of plantation slavery had not yet occurred, and the number Africans and English bond-laborers in the workforce was fairly even....
Reply to Schrage
email May 12, 2003
Schrage's article [Washington Post May 11, 2003] is the oldest eurocentric rationale for war or
killing on the American continent that there is; it is just straight
out bigotry. And there is no making sense, or figuring out, a bigotted
argument. It does not operate through logic, but rather through
structure. If you go back to the first decade of the 17th century,
when the English first set foot in Virginia, John Smith wrote that the
indigenous were to be suspected in everything, were inconstant in
everything, and the only things they responded to were fear and force.
Especially in their friendly or diplomatic approaches to the colony
settlement. There was nothing the Algonquin could do that would not be
put into one or another of the categories that had already labelled
them warlike and treacherous. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And the way
in which the US has gone about its assault on Iraq has engaged the same
kind of thinking. Against none of the charges levied against Iraq was
there any answer to be given. Indeed, when the inspections found
nothing, it was the inspections that became suspect by association.
There was nothing Iraq could do. In fact, the State Dept had affirmed
this from the beginning. They had said, over a year ago, "we are going
to make demands on Iraq, and we are not going to take yes for an
answer." In these terms, it is nothing but supremacist bigotry,
emphasizing the supremacist nature of the US's underlying project.
Ultimately, the content of the charges levied matter not at all; it is
the fact of making charges, casting suspicion, demonizing, and
criminalizing the Iraqi nation that constituted sufficient reason for
aggression. And there we see the essentially self-referential nature of
the supremacism at work. Hence, too, the extreme denigration of France.
Whatever the economic motives for the assault on Iraq, or the political
schemes, France committed the sin of breaking solidarity with the
euroamerican supremacist structure.
Why Regimes Create Disorder: Hobbes's Dilemma During a Rangoon Summer
Journal of Conflict Resolution @2003
In mid-August, the Burmese military regime was cornered by a dissident movement that was universally supported both domestically and internationally. It reacted to this situation by selecting an almost unthinkable course of action, one that put before the Burmese people a fundamental choice: dictatorship or anarchy? Between August 25 and August 31, the regime announced the "escape" of thousands of common criminals. Some, such as the ones who survived a bloody revolt at Insein jail, had indeed escaped. Others were intentionally released. Furthermore, approximately 4,800 convicts, among whom the country's most dangerous criminals, were freed supposedly because they were nearing the end of their sentences. Predictably, in a country administered by General Strike Committees, the result was chaos.
Smith (1999, 12) recounts that the student union's newspaper published a document (whose authenticity was never confirmed but whose content strikingly mirrors the events that were to come) describing a secret meeting of top government officials and military cadres held on August 23. In order to "crush the opposition," the regime devised a plan to create a fracture within the dissident movement, separate students and activists from ordinary people, and then "annihilate student leaders and hardliners." The liberation of common criminals (given neither food nor money) in various regions of Burma was a crucial factor in the creation of anarchy, which was aggravated by the security forces' sabotage operations. The regime predicted that people would become progressively disheartened, disillusioned, and uncommitted to the democratic movement, thereby allowing the army to repress with ease the exhausted demonstrators left in the streets.
By withdrawing its troops, freeing thousands of the country's criminals, and disrupting the protests through the encouragement of rioting and destruction, the regime presented its population with Hobbes's Dilemma. The Burmese people were placed in a twentieth century version of Hobbes's state of nature (see Hobbes 1988), a situation in which, in the absence of any functioning government, anarchy was pervasive and cooperation, production, and trade were largely precluded. The violence and the indiscriminate pillage were not only tolerated but promoted by the armed forces, the only group within Burma who possessed the resources necessary to enforce stability, in order to bring about utter confusion and the complete breakdown of the country's economy. At that point, the Burmese people were confronted with a fundamental question (Lichbach 1995, x): "how can society, social order, and social organization be maintained?" General Strike Committees could not contain the generalized mayhem, restrain the widespread theft, halt the paranoid violence, or administer any kind of justice. The supply of the public good of social order was compromised by the thousands who, under the regime's instigation, took advantage of the lack of government and law enforcement to rob, loot, and settle personal vendettas, free riding on the efforts of millions who were striving to safeguard some stability.
Lichbach (1995, xiii) states: "When the Rebel's Dilemma is solved, Hobbes's Dilemma quickly follows." As the Burmese democratic movement was striving to solve its collective action problem, it was presented by the government with Hobbes's Dilemma. It was forced to prematurely face the problem of social order before having the power to enforce it. The Burmese people were therefore compelled to choose between anarchy and an inept, obtrusive, and hideously repressive Leviathan. Contrary to the typical Hobbes's Dilemma, where anarchy is overcome through mutual cooperation, this was one that had two possible solutions. The Burmese population could in fact more conveniently solve it through defection, by allowing the regime to reassert its power at the expense of the democratic movement. Lichbach (1995, xii) argues: "Social order in a state results from social disorder in dissident groups." Disorder was precisely what the regime intended to create.
Why Men (and Women) Don't Rebel: The Collective Action Problem
Intro to Comparative Politics 2003?
Many lectures on protest start with the question: Why do people rebel? What moves people to take to the streets and protest?
However, before we do that we must address another problem and a reality that is far more widespread: Why do people not protest?
The Five Percent Rule:
Dissent is rare and unlikely; rebels are always a minority.
Among those supporting a given cause, never do more than 5% become actually involved in the movement advancing that cause.
This means that 95% of the people, 95% of the time, and in 95% of places never protest
So why is this? Back to the initial question: Why do people not protest?
The Determinants of Political Protest in East Asia: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan
Southern Political Sci Assn Nov., 2002
This study attempts to explain the determinants of unconventional political participation (peaceful political protest) in East Asian democracies in 1990s. While a vast literature has addressed political protest in Western democracies, there is a dearth of empirical analysis on protest politics in new democracies. To allocate this gap, this study test competing models of political protest in three East Asian democracies – Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The protest models include Socioeconomic Status, Dissatisfaction, Cognitive Skills, and Value Change approaches that were traditionally applied to Western democracies....
The results support three of four approaches: the socioeconomic status, the cognitive skill, and the values change approaches. Thus, despite the divergent political cultures, institutions, and histories between the Western democracies and East Asia, there do seem to be some striking commonalities in terms of factors that prompt their citizens to engage in political protest activities....
Like conventional forms of participation, unconventional forms of participation – protests, demonstrations, boycotts, political strikes, occupations, street blockades, etc - are an essential part of the democratic process (Dalton 1988, 67). The history of new democracies is marked by repeated episodes of political protest - a more familiar name of unconventional political participation - and vigorous political dissent by the people. Perhaps the most graphic illustrations of political protest were the democratic revolution that spread through Eastern Europe and the “people power” protests in the Philippines, South Africa, and other new democratizing countries in the late of 1980s and early of 1990s. When the people are blocked from exercising political influence through legitimate participation channels, protest politics stands as an option. Labor union and peasant protests are an established part of contemporary politics in the new democracies as well as advanced industrial democracies. And, the new democracies continue to experience at least modest levels of protest over various political, economic, and social issues.
Despite the historical roots of unconventional action, many political experts expected protest politics to fade with the spreading affluence of industrial and democratic societies. Yet, the frequency of protest and other conventional political activities apparently has increased (Jennings and van Deth, 1989). Cross-national comparison also finds that protest levels are higher in more affluent nations. (Powell, 1982, 129-32). These trends have led some analysts to argue that a new style of protest is becoming a regular form of political action in democratic societies. Political protest, as elite-challenging attitudes of mass publics, is necessary to stimulate democratic reform in new democracies as well as advanced industrial democracies (Flanagan and Lee, 2000)....
The purpose of this study had been to examine the determinants of political protest in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The results of empirical analyses support three approaches: socioeconomic status, the cognitive skills, and the value approaches. That is, the preceding analyses support following ideas: people’s socioeconomic status is associated with their political protest potential; the increasing levels of political orientation lead people to be more active citizens; and a postmaterialist view leads people to more participate in political protest activities.
Explaining Political Protest Potential and Unconventional Participation in Latin America: An Analysis of Competing Theories
with John P. TumanISA Oct., 2002
In order to fill the gap in the research on participation in Latin America’s new democracies, we test competing models of protest potential in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico in two time periods, 1990 and 1995. By extending the analysis to a greater number of countries than those examined in previous studies, we seek to develop a richer, more complete understanding of what motivates citizens in Latin America to engage in unconventional participation....
In general, the finding from previous research is that older, male, and more educated individuals with higher income are more likely to participate. This model is true at least for conventional political involvement. Is it also true for political protest potential? The socioeconomic status variables that influence conventional participation may also have an effect on unconventional participation, with the exception of age. Previous research shows that young people are far more likely to more participate in political protest activities (Inglehart 1977; Dalton 1984, 1996). The demands upon time and energy imposed by demonstrations, occupations, and others forms of unconventional participation are most easily met by younger people. In particular, older people – who have precious little time outside of work and familial obligations to devote to politics – are unsuitable candidates for unconventional participation, and particularly building occupations, illegal strikes, and sustained protests. To test the socioeconomic status model, this study includes four measures: age, gender, social class, and occupation....
For the last 30 years, new political values in the Western democracies have surfaced elsewhere and have found their most enthusiastic reception among the young middle class. The New Left in many industrializing countries embraced ideas that had little to do with the established Left-wing discourse that focused on class conflict. The disciplined view of a workers’ movement under determined leadership has, to a certain extent, given way to demands for freedom of expression, creativity, concern for the environment over economic growth, and mass participation in decision-making in the community at every level. This movement was said to be a product of the growth of post-materialist values. The rapidly growing economic security of Western economies had been expected to put an end to vigorous political conflict. Instead it had spawned a new basis for conflict....
The purpose of this study has been to examine the determinants of political protest and unconventional participation in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. The findings suggest that age, discussion of politics, attachment to left-wing political ideology and postmaterial values have a consistent effect on protest. We also find an effect for social class status, gender, and union membership, although the impact of these variables was not consistent in all cases.
From Protest to Participation: The Role of Civil Society in Global Governance
Kiel Institute of World Economics June, 2002
On issues of economic integration, however, policy insiders still tend to be dismissive, if
not hostile, toward the demands of activists for greater inclusion. The bluntest example
of what often remains a contemptuous attitude toward the protesters came from U.S.
trade negotiator Robert Zoellick. In the aftermath of September 11, the protest
movement was reeling, fractured over the question of what kinds of protests, if any, were
desirable in the new environment, and what issues deserved highest priority. This would
have been a golden opportunity for policy makers to reach out for a constructive dialogue
with that vast majority of the protest movement that is reformist and committed to nonviolence.
Instead, Zoellick gave a speech in which he argued that:
it is inevitable that people will wonder if there are intellectual connections
[between the terrorists and] others who have turned to violence to attack
international finance, globalization, and the United States…. Here’s a lesson I
learned from history: Change breeds anxiety. Anxieties can be manipulated to
force agendas based on fear, antagonisms, resentments, and hate. And then those
who are the weakest, those with the least influence, are hurt the most by cold and
hard people who overrun openness and liberty and the rule of law in the name of
In short, Zoellick portrayed those who disagreed with him as either manipulated and
anxious people unable to think for themselves, or 'cold and hard' people with intellectual
connections to mass murder. He went on to raise a host of strawman arguments:
Let me be clear where I stand: Erecting new barriers and closing old borders will
not help the impoverished. It will not feed hundreds of millions struggling for
subsistence. It will not liberate the persecuted. It will not improve the
environment in developing nations or reverse the spread of AIDS. It will not help
the railway orphans I visited in India. It will not aid the committed Indonesians I
visited who are trying to build a functioning, tolerant democracy in the largest
Muslim nation in the world. And it certainly will not placate terrorists.
Zoellick’s extreme language is certainly not shared by all decision makers working on
economic integration. Others have accepted at least some of the arguments made by
globalization’s critics. Former WTO director general Renato Ruggiero has called for 'a
new vision of global governance' that goes beyond capital movements and trade
liberalization to include environmental, social, labor, human rights, and development
concerns.28 Former EU Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan has called for the
reconciliation of 'the competing demands of economic growth, environmental protection,
and social development.'
But Zoellick’s adamant rejection of the protest movement’s claims is widely enough
shared that it is useful to try to understand the fears created by civil society’s demands for
broader inclusion in economic policy decisions. It is true that channeling that
participation presents governments with daunting obstacles. Civil society groups are not
necessarily democratically motivated, broadly representative, or willing to cooperate in
good faith with other groups or the government. Political leaders today understandably
have profound misgivings about working out policy questions with groups whose
involvement will surely make the process more cumbersome and confrontational.
Civil society, that amorphous third sector beyond state and market, is becoming stronger virtually everywhere, often organized into non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that serve to channel, or create, demands for participation. Their emergence is not a fluke, and their strength is likely to continue to grow.
This is partly a normal and desirable consequence of democratization. Governments around the world are facing new pressures from their citizens to enact laws establishing legal conditions for NGOs and to ensure that governmental policies and practices are transparent to citizen scrutiny. But there is more to the story of the growth of "civil society." Technology is playing a significant role, making it easier and cheaper for groups to organize themselves and to acquire and disseminate information. Economic integration itself is providing a growing number of focal points around which such groups can coalesce. Civil society is still largely a national phenomenon, but increasingly groups are linking up across borders, learning from one another and finding strength in numbers. Private and official donor agencies have in the past few years poured vast sums into fledgling civil society organizations in developing and transition countries. Some donors are aiming to support CSOs as part of a democracy assistance strategy. Others who are funding economic development projects have been persuaded that increasing citizen participation in such projects renders them far more effective. The World Bank and IMF have jointly endorsed the participation of civil society in the formation of Poverty Reduction Strategies.
For all these reasons, the question is no longer whether there should be broader participation in economic decision making. Exclusion generates a powerful, and avoidable, backlash, and can prevent decision makers from having timely access to crucial information about the impacts and social acceptibility of various policies. The question is howto open the policy making process to a wide range of voices and interests. At the least, that "how" should include much more forthcoming disclosure policies by governments and inter-governmental organization. There is no valid reason to cloak high-level decisions in secrecy, just as democratic parliaments are not allowed to deliberate and vote in secret. The protest movement's frustration go beyond the slow pace of advances on transparency. Civil society's right to voice is being increasingly accepted in rhetoric, but practice lags far behind. NGOs are allowed to air their views in WTO dispute settlement procedures but those views are ignored unless they parallel those of goverments. The World Bank takes great pride in promoting multi-stakeholder dialogues with its critics but pays little attention to what they say.
These practices should change. The risk of ignoring pressures for a more open and transparent policy-making process far outweighs the risk of engagement. Economic policy necessarily involves a political, democratic debate about risks and tradeoffs of various policies. Politics is an inherent part of the process, not a distraction from some perfect policy.
With the end of the Cold War, the spread of democratic ideology, and the backlash against the Washington Consensus, a new model of policy-making has become inevitable. Leaders can either resist the clamoring voices and invite confrontation, or include the more reasonable and representative groups and invite their cooperation. Greater inclusion may make the policy process less efficient, but it will also make policy results more sustainable.
Casuistries of Peace and War
LRB Mar. 6, 2003
The prospect of a second war on Iraq raises a large number of questions, analytic and political. What are the intentions behind the impending campaign? What are likely to be the consequences? What does the drive to war tell us about the long-term dynamics of American global power? These issues will remain on the table for some time to come, outliving any assault this spring. The front of the stage is currently occupied by a different set of arguments, over the legitimacy or wisdom of the military expedition now brewing. My purpose here will be to consider the current criticisms of the Bush Administration articulated within mainstream opinion, and the responses of the Administration to them: in effect, the structure of intellectual justification on each side of the argument, what divides them and what they have common. I will end with a few remarks on how this debate looks from a perspective with a different set of premises....
What conclusions follow? Simply this. Mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's crudity, is merely saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war would do better to focus on the entire prior structure of the special treatment accorded to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over the secondary issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or to put it out of its misery quickly.
US Government and World Family Needs Crisis Intervention Now
NVUSA Feb. 27, 2003
US involvement with other countries could be summed up by the above description-While we claim to be "liberating" Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba, Hawaii, Iraq, Panama, Germany, Vietnam, we consistently and increasingly cause horrendous damage to these places in the name of providing democracy-whether " the people" ask for it or not. We send in CIA and various secret special forces. We bomb or sabotage their schools, hospitals, power plants, factories. We promise, as in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to restore their bombed- out countries, but over and over the people are left in worse shape than ever. We don't apologize, or show remorse. The puppet governments we tend to set up are never popular with the people, and our promises of "democracy" or even of improved economics are broken. We seem not to care.
If as family members we are being assaulted by the bigger and stronger and meaner Domestic Violence bully, we might be lucky enough, or brave enough, to find a safe shelter for ourselves and our children. If our own government is the abuser-both towards us, and towards our world neighbors, where can we go to find shelter? If our own government, the fathers of our country, as policy-makers, are classic models of Anti-Social Personality, we are in big trouble. These people seldom turn themselves into the law, or seek counseling services since "they don't do anything wrong"-after all, it's always the other guy's fault. With their frail sense of their own power, they must dominate others in order to feel it. Without the powerless, they are weak themselves, or invisible.
Our US government is being run by Anti-Social Personality Disordered men who are behaving like Domestic Violence perpetrators. Under the Patriot Act we are being told to sit down and shut up, and on the International front, they are intending to continue making not only irrational threats but carrying them out unilaterally. If this doesn't scare you, it should. Or have you adopted the "learned helplessness" of the disempowered? If the mentally ill are running our country, and we are allowing this to happen, we will forever be victims.
We have to find ways to get out of the violence cycle by finding every resource possible to shift from passive consumers to fierce and outspoken critics and confronters of those who would use us, steal from us, blame us, abuse us. We must find ways to get unhooked from the international and domestic violence system. We must write, speak out, join together. We must find our resilience and our resolve. For the sakes of our children, for the sakes of our own healing, for the sake of our home planet.