This sub-section includes a number of texts by major theorists of the 20th century that bear directly on debates about civil disobedience and civil resistance, and also includes a few important contributions to the theory of revolution that take account of the phenomenon of unarmed or ‘velvet’ revolutions.
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A. 1.a.iii. Social and Political Writings cited in Civil Resistance Literature
Arendt is one of the most eminent political philosophers often cited by theorists of nonviolent resistance, especially in relation to her 1963 book On Revolution, and also a major theorist of totalitarianism. This book contrasts Arendt's concept of total domination under totalitarianism with the testimonies of both well known and lesser known intellectuals and writers who survived the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, as well as those of unknown survivors of the holocaust. Aharony argues that Nazi domination was less total than Arendt posited (in her 1951 book On Totalitarianism), and that morality and individual choice exist even in the most extreme conditions.
The essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ discusses consent and the right to dissent in the context of the US Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam anti-war protests. It distinguishes between disobedience motivated by citizenship responsibility and that motivated primarily by individual conscience. The essay ‘On Violence’, examines the nature of power and violence (with examples from contemporary movements and politics), and argues that power (as she defines it) is not only distinct from violence but its opposite.
Explores the concept and experience of revolution, drawing on the history of the American and French revolutions in particular, but also Russia, and develops the theme of the ‘lost treasure’ of revolutionary experience, which is the upsurge of creative and organisational energy in forms of direct democracy, and the conflict between popular political cooperation and the centralising tendencies of political parties.
Eloquent and influential defence of revolutionary violence as a necessary psychological reaction to the prolonged experience of structural domination by colonialism, and as a socially radicalising experience promoting the possibility of genuine political freedom.
Covers a range of issues, including Foucault’s interpretation of power and resistance, in accessible form (and also includes interesting discussion on the 1977-79 Iranian Revolution). See also Foucault. M., ‘Truth and Power’ in Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991. For a brief survey of Foucault’s evolving thought see Bleiker, Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (A. 1.a.ii. Theories of Civil Disobedience, Power and Revolution) , pp. 530-73.
Compares views of Arendt and Fanon on the role of violence in politics.
Essay by observer and analyst of many recent movements of unarmed resistance (see later sections). Garton Ash looks back after 20 years on 1989 in the Soviet bloc, but also other movements involving large scale unarmed resistance and culminating in negotiated agreement for a transfer of power (as in South Africa) that suggest a new model of revolution has emerged challenging older models.
Explores the disadvantages of ‘velvet revolutions’ with a specific focus on Czechoslovakia and comparing Vaclav Havel with the earlier president and theorist Thomas Masaryk.
Includes chapters by Moshiri on the evolving theory of revolution since Marx, including Tilly, Skocpcol and Goldstone. It also comprises Goldstone’s analytical framework for understanding revolutions, case studies of a range of violent and unarmed movements (chapters on Iran, Poland, the Philippines and the Palestinian Occupied Territories are referenced under appropriate sections later), and a concluding chapter ‘Comparison and Policy Implications’ by Gurr and Goldstone that incorporates reflections on the role of violence and nonviolence.
Habermas, one of today’s major social theorists, is associated with the concept of ‘new social movements’ in the 1970s, and developing the theory of ‘deliberative democracy’. Argues for the potential value of civil disobedience as a means of upholding democratic principles.
Other important essays by Habermas are: ‘Hannah Arendt’s Communicative Concept of Power’ in Steven Lukes ed., Power, Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 75-93, arguing for a structural interpretation of power.
And Habermas, Jürgen , What does Socialism Mean Today? The Rectifying Revolution and the Need for New Thinking on the Left New Left Review, 1990, pp. 3-21 , an interpretation of the nature and significance of the 1989 revolutions from a democratic socialist perspective.
(Also available in other collections.)
Influential analysis of ‘post-totalitarian’ society and politics in the Soviet bloc in the 1970s and eloquent argument for individual integrity and acts of dissent by lead Czechoslovak playwright and dissident, who became President after 1989. This text inspired many activists in Eastern Europe and others round the world, including Aung San Suu Kyi, leading figure in the nonviolent resistance in Burma from 1988.
Substantially expanded second edition (with two new chapters) of his influential 1974 short book. His delineation of ‘three dimensions of power’ has influenced debates about power in the social sciences, and provided a reference point for some debates about resistance to domination.
Also available in Mary Alice Waters, ed., Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York, Pathfinder Press, 1970; and in The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, 14 vols, London, Verso Books, 2011.
Discusses the evolution, nature and significance of the (predominantly unarmed) 1905 Revolution in Russia, and reflects Luxemburg’s emphasis on the importance of popular initiative and cooperation, as opposed to centralised party leadership – themes developed in her pamphlets ‘The Russian Revolution’ and ‘Leninism or Marxism’, both republished in 1961 under those joint titles (Ann Arbor paperback, University of Michigan Press). The standard study of Luxemburg is: Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg, Oxford University Press, 1966 and 1969 (abridged edition).
Explores standard philosophical writings on civil disobedience and queries the assumption of political obligation in contexts of major injustice and oppression, such as slavery and segregation.
Influential intellectual oppositionist in Poland from the 1960s to the 1980s argues for adhering to nonviolent methods for moral and political as well as pragmatic reasons (i.e. threat of Soviet military response to a violent uprising).
Critiques individualist liberal theories of civil disobedience, including the notion that civil disobedients should willingly accept punishment (pp. 57-60 and 161-2). Rather ‘political disobedience ... may be the only way in which freedom and equality can be preserved’, and minorities have the right to refuse or withdraw consent.
Chapter Six, ‘Duty and Obligation’ (pp. 333-91) of this extremely influential philosophical restatement of liberal principles explores in depth the circumstances in which civil disobedience is justifiable in a liberal democracy. He summarises this argument in ‘The Justification of Civil Disobedience’ in Bedau, Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice (A. 1.a.ii. Theories of Civil Disobedience, Power and Revolution) , pp. 240-55.
Antonio Gramsci, the prominent Italian Marxist activist and thinker who died in 1937, is known for his elaboration of the Marxist theory of ideology and hegemony, and has been consulted by students seeking inspiration from Marxist thought – for example in Poland and South Africa in the 1980s. Gramsci’s major work, Prison Notebooks, is by its nature long and disjointed, and its interpretation subject to debate.
Concise philosophical examination of disobedience within types of democracy by scholar now better known for writings on animal rights and radical arguments about responsibilities of the wealthy to the poor. Ends by briefly applying the principles to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.
Skopcol is well known for her theoretical contribution to the theory of revolution, stressing the role of the state (States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China, Cambridge University Press, 1979), here she applies her framework to the Iranian Revolution of 1977-79.
Well-known exponent of the theory and history of resistance and revolt. In later part of book discusses whether the events in the Soviet bloc in 1989-91 count as revolutionary, and the possibility of nonviolent revolution.
Series of essays discussing issues of obligation and disobedience from a standpoint emphasising citizens’ obligations and with an awareness of the traditions of the labour movement (‘Civil Disobedience and Corporate Authority’ for example discusses the right to strike) and concepts of honour and solidarity.