Theorist Who Influenced Egypt’s Revolution, A Look Back by Richard Cooperã€€
The writings of Gene Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institute reportedly influenced the young people who organized the mostly non-violent revolution in Egypt. Back in 1982, I reviewed one of his books, Social Power and Political Freedom.
It may be interesting to take another look at what I wrote back then. It was published in some newspapers and newsletters, such as the Long Beach Independent Voice (Long Beach, NY, USA) . Without rereading this book as well
as The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973) which I also possess, I could not say whether my reactions to the book would be the same. I do know that my writing style has changed, having learned to write in a more direct and less pedantic fashion. It wasn’t suprising to be pedantic as I was then a relatively recent university graduate (Columbia 1979).
I mentioned Robert Nisbet, who was my academic advisor at Columbia and economist Murray Rothbard who published much of my early work.Those were the days of writing manuscripts with a typewriter on paper, and distributing carbon or photocopies. A different world.
The review follows. Gene Sharp’s Social Power and Political Freedom by Richard A. Cooper
Gene Sharp of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard is a pacifist, but a pacifist with a difference. For Sharp, nonviolence is an offensive weapon that can be used to resist oppression and end war. Sharp believes that violence corrupts of necessity even the best causes. Nonviolence, in fact, may be more effective than violence in achieving one’s objectives, if properly organized. Like his earlier works (e.g., Gandhi As A Political Strategist and The Politics of), Social Power and Political Freedom is both a work of theory and of practice based on history. It is far superior to the empty moralizing of the usual pacifist tract.
Sharp wisely points out that even the best armed ruler or state is only as strong as the willingness of others to obey.
Moreover, there are in societies what Sharp calls loci of authority ("loci" is the plural of "locus" meaning place). These loci of authority (unions, churches, private interest groups generaly) provide a needed base to resist oppression.
Centralized state power wielding violet weapons reduces the power of other loci of authority in society. I note that the Nazis proclaimed a politicy called Gleichschaltung ( literally meaning that all switches are thrown the same way) in order to "coordinate" all the institutions of German society. Thus economic and even cultural organizations (such as chess clubs) were merged with National Socialist parallel bodies under Nazi leadership. For the same reason, the Nazis copied the Bolshevik commissar system (down to the name) in order to establish party control over the bureaucracy and Army. The reader should turn to the brilliant analyses of Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Robert Nisbet, and Albert Jay Nock in order to comprehend Sharp’s lesson: when you increase state power, you lessen social power.
Sharp acutely analyzes National Socialism. Discussing Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann In Jerusalem, Sharp observes that the Holocaust needed the cover of war and the cooperation of the police and bureaucracies of Germany and the Occupied Territories. Arendt stressed the "banality of evil," as the SS men regarded their work as a job like any other. This point has prompted West German New Leftists to indict "bourgeois" morality and lifestyle as the cause of Nazism.
Norway’s heroic nonviolent resistance to the Nazis is recounted by Sharp. Despite the efforts of Quisling’s Nasjonal Sammling collaborators and the Germans, the Norwegians interfered with their plans and frustrated the "coordination" of Norway. Sharp tells how the teachers refused to cooperate with their "coordination" into a national teachers union with compulsory membership. Neither imprisonment nor casualties broke their will to resist. Their resistance was inspirational for other groups in blocking the creation of a Fascist "corporate state." By corporate state is meantthe formation of business and labor groups into state-controlled organizations, although nominally private.
The struggle for justice in South Africa concerns Sharp greatly. Sharp warns agains violent revolution as it would cause great suffering with dubious possibilities of success. Victory would be hollow, resulting in a new dominant group as in Algeria or Russia. In any case, violence would strengthen the centralized state apparatus of the victors,whether white or black, at the expense (physical and financial) of the rest of society.
Social Power and Political Freedom is an important contribution to a solution of the great problems of our time: warand injustice. I caution the reader that I am not a pacifist, but this book stimulates thought. Sharp has come to abandon socialism as a means because he has seen the power of the state. Read this book, and peacefully think.
About the author: Richard Cooper is an international trade executive with a manufacturing firm on Long Island, New York, USA. He is active in the Libertarian Party www.lp.org on eminent domain and other issues. Hewas chair of the Libertarian Party of New York http://ny.lp.org. He is a life member of the InternationalSociety for Individual Liberty www.isil.org.