Notes on Gene Sharp’s ‘From dictatorship to democracy’

Title: From dictatorship to democracy: A conceptual framework for liberation
Author: Gene Sharp

gene sharp democracy

Gene Sharp doesn’t pretend that overthrowing dictatorships is easy. To forgo violence against violent oppressors doesn’t seem possible. But ‘From dictatorship to democracy’ is based on, and has provided a basis for, nonviolent revolution, rooted in the idea that even the most ruthless of tyrants requires loyal subjects.

Violent strategy has its pitfalls:
Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its countermeasures. If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institutions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and maintaining a democratic society.
– Location 172-176, Amazon Kindle edition

It is public support for their dictatorship, that a revolution erodes:
[W]ithdrawal of popular and institutional cooperation with aggressors and dictators diminishes, and may sever, the availability of the sources of power on which all rulers depend.
– Location 378-379

Sharp emphasizes the role of clubs and organizations that are not within the immediate or official reach of the dictatorship, for changing people’s perceptions.
If the dictatorship has been largely successful in destroying or controlling the society’s independent bodies, it will be important for the resisters to create new independent social groups and institutions, or to reassert democratic control over surviving or partially controlled bodies.
– Location 424-426

A dictator’s military, through which his whims are enforced, can be divided by those who recognize the long-term uncertainty of a regime, or who simply lose the stomach for violence.
[T]he stark brutality of the regime against the clearly nonviolent actionists politically rebounds against the dictators’ position, causing dissention in their own ranks as well as fomenting support for the resisters among the general population, the regime’s usual supporters, and third parties.
– Location 559-561

Eventually, a dictator catches wind of a growing opposition, which he could do little about.
The general outlines of the grand strategy would become known to the dictators in any case and knowledge of its features potentially could lead them to be less brutal in their repression, knowing that it could rebound politically against themselves. Awareness of the special characteristics of the grand strategy could potentially also contribute to dissension and defections from the dictators’ own camp.
– Location 877-880

At a time when authoritarianism rears its head all around the world, Sharp’s thesis, of great power ultimately residing in the people, is of practical importance.

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy ‘From dictatorship to democracy’ on Amazon, here.
This document is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

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