Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Freedom is not free

Our data suggests that recourse to violent conflict in resisting oppression is significantly less likely to produce sustainable freedom, in contrast to nonviolent opposition, which even in the face of state repression, is far more likely to yield a democratic outcome.
--Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman (2005)

Those who support war and war budgets tell us that "Freedom is not free," claiming that freedom is correlated positively to how much we spend on war and how willing we are to wage it. These people often ask what they regard as a crucial question about a candidate: Does s/he have the stomach to do what must be done? The costs will be high in blood and resources. We may lose many lives and take many lives, and we will spend ourselves into extreme debt if necessary, even go broke for generations if we must, but we will never waver in defense of freedom.

Except that war and violence are the stupidest, costliest, most immoral, and least effective ways to seek freedom or defend it.

We had no real idea of this pre-Gandhi. Even post-Gandhi, since it took him 28 years to liberate India, we assumed nonviolence was always slow, and allowed for ongoing occupation until the occupier sailed away at his own timeline. The AK looked good to the decolonizing world. The Bomb looked best to the US.

Then came the lightning fast campaigns of the Civil Rights movement as they added the prong of civil resistance to the long, slow NAACP legal work. Suddenly, victories were coming in months or a year, not decades. And at the national level, as the study by Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman shows, speed and effectiveness ramped up, often tossing out dictators in months or just a couple of years, but sometimes even in weeks or even days.

What does freedom cost using nonviolence?

It still requires risk to life and limb by nonviolent resisters, though casualties are never as bad as when violence is used by the challengers.

It costs freedom for the nonviolent resisters who are incarcerated.

Campaigns and movements still need funding, though one Trident submarine could fund all the social movements described in all the 67 regime changes in the Freedom House study. Freedom is not free, but nonviolence is certainly the blue light special for humankind.

Karatnycky, Adrian; Ackerman, Peter (2005). How freedom is won: From civic resistance to durable democracy. New York: Freedom House.

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