Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp books and biography

Gene Sharp

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Gene Sharp (born 21 January 1928) is a political scientist, author and founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organisation which studies and promotes the use of nonviolent action.

Sharp's influence on struggles world-wide

Sharp's scholarship has influenced resistance organizations around the world. Most recently and notably, his work has affected youth movements in the Eastern European color revolutions. Sharp's handbook From Dictatorship to Democracy served as a basis for the campaigns of Serbia's Otpor (who were also directly trained by the Albert Einstein Institute), Georgia's Kmara, Ukraine's Pora, Kyrgyzstan's KelKel and Belarus' Zubr.

As Pora's Oleh Kyriyenko said in a 2004 interview with Radio Netherlands,

"The bible of Pora has been the book of Gene Sharp, also used by Otpor, it's called: From Dictatorship to Democracy. Pora activists have translated it by themselves. We have written to Mr Sharp and to the Albert Einstein Institute in the United States, and he became very sympathetic towards our initiative, and the Institution provided funding to print over 12,000 copies of this book for free."[1]

Sharp may also have influenced the Orange Alternative movement fighting communism in the People's Republic of Poland (founded 1983), since it used methods mentioned by Sharp, though it's not clear whether its founders knew of his work. Sharp's book Civilian-based Defense, was used by the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian governments during their separation from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Albert Einstein Institution recently advised opposition forces in Venezuela as how they should proceed in the effort to recall Hugo Chvez[2][3]. The Albert Einstein Institution has received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy[4][5] — an organization of which one of its founders, Allen Weinstein, said "...a lot of what we do today was done covertly by the CIA 25 years ago."

The Albert Einstein Institution's web site contains many works by Gene Sharp, in English and in over sixty translations.

Sharp's theory of nonviolent resistance

Sharp's best known book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973), provides a pragmatic political analysis of nonviolent action as a method for applying power in a conflict.

Sharp's key insight is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state - regardless of its particular structural organization - is derived from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure is based on the subjects' obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). Therefore, if subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.

In Sharp's view all effective power structures have systems by which they encourage or extract obedience from their subjects. States have particularly complex systems for keeping subjects obedient. These systems include specific institutions (police, courts, regulatory bodies) but may also involve cultural dimensions that inspire obedience by implying that power is monolithic (the god cult of the Egyptian pharaohs, the dignity of the office of the President, moral or ethical norms and taboos). Through these systems, subjects are presented with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracization) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence the extent of their obedience.

This is ultimately related to nonviolent resistance because it is supposed to provide subjects with a window of opportunity for affecting change within a state. Sharp cites the insight of tienne de La Botie, that if the subjects of a particular state recognize that they are the source of the state's power they can refuse their obedience and their leader(s) will be left without power.

The 18th century philosopher David Hume wrote about the same concept in his Essay 4: Of the First Principles of Government. Noam Chomsky refers to this point of view as Hume's paradox [6].

Gene Sharp's latest work, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potentialwas published in June, 2005. It builds on his earlier written works by documenting case studies where non violent action has been applied, and the lessons learned from those applications, and contains unprecedented information on strategically planning nonviolent struggle to make it more effective.

Some of Sharp's books are available from Extending Horizons Books, an imprint of Porter Sargent Publishers Inc.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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