Friday, January 28, 2011

Nonviolence and power

It is very relevant these days: the relation between nonviolent action and resistance and power processes. See what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt and in other countries in the Middle East. By chance I have just finished an article on this theme. It is different from most of the philosophical blogs that I usually publish here, but for the interested readers of my blog, here is a summary. You can find the full text on

Nonviolence and Power. A study about the importance of power relations for nonviolent action and resistance: Summary
When a repressive regime is challenged by a nonviolent opponent, power relations play a central part. In this article I analyse how they are important for the choice of nonviolent methods.
In the classical Weberian view power is the possibility to impose one’s will. This is called “power over”. Against this Arendt put her idea of power as concerted action for pursuing a common aim: “power to”. It is the idea that underlies nonviolent action and resistance. However, these concepts of power give only a partial understanding of the dynamics between a repressive regime and nonviolent resisters. Moreover, they give hardly any insight when to choose which nonviolent methods and why.  What we need is a concept of power that distinguishes between different political situations in order to understand better which nonviolent methods are most effective. Such a concept has been developed by Lukes.
The approaches just mentioned, so Lukes, describe only the overt dimension of power, namely power as it is exercised openly. Following Bachrach and Baratz, he explains that many people are excluded from the arena where the power play takes place so that they cannot legally defend their interests. Then power is used in order to deny others entrance to the power arena: the covert dimension. Moreover, as Lukes shows, power has also a third dimension. Many people just do not see that they have interests that they might defend in the power arena. They are culturally and linguistically manipulated in the way that they consider their powerless position as normal. So power is also the possibility to manipulate culture, language and other relevant factors that way that people do not realize that they ever might have entrance to the power arena. This is the latent dimension of power.
Returning to the possibility of nonviolent resistance, I explain that the way power is exercised is important for the way a regime has to be opposed. A democratic regime that exercises power overtly has to be approached differently than a regime that excludes people openly from defending their interests and that excludes people fundamentally from power positions, not to speak of a regime that keeps people unconscious of their rights. In the last part of my article I give a first analysis of what kind of nonviolent methods are to be used against different regime types.

Full text on

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