June 26, 2017
Read the whole piece here. By Maria J Stephan and Timothy Snyder, for The Guardian. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images.
After the spread of democracy at the end of the 20th century, authoritarianism is now rolling back democracy around the globe. In the US, supporters of democracy disarmed themselves by imagining an “end of history” in which nothing but their own ideas were possible. Authoritarians, meanwhile, keep practicing their old tactics and devising new ones.
It is time for those who support democracy to remember what activists from around the world have paid a price to learn: how to win.
Modern authoritarians rely on repression, intimidation, corruption and co-optation to consolidate their power. The dictator’s handbook mastered by Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Maduro in Venezuela, Zuma in South Africa, Duterte in the Philippines and Trump here provides the traditional tactics: attack journalists, blame dissent on foreigners and “paid protestors,” scapegoat minorities and vulnerable groups, weaken checks on power, reward loyalists, use paramilitaries, and generally try to reduce politics to a question of friends and enemies, us and them.
Yet tyrants’ tactics require the consent of large numbers of people. The first lesson, then, is not to obey in advance. If individuals make the basic effort to consider their own sense of values and patriotism rather than subconsciously adjusting to the new reality, aspiring authoritarians have a major problem. Good citizens will then ask: but what should we do? History provides an answer: civil resistance.
Unarmed civilians using petitions, boycotts, strikes, and other nonviolent methods have been able to slow, disrupt and even halt authoritarianism. Civil resistance has been twice as effective as armed struggle. Americans will remember the historical examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and perhaps the peaceful east European revolutionaries of Solidarity in Poland and Otpor in Serbia. Many of us have overlooked the more recent examples of successful civil resistance in Guatemala, South Korea and Romania.
Civil resistance works by separating the authoritarian ruler from pillars of support, including economic elites, security forces, and government workers. It attracts diverse groups in society, whose collective defiance and stubbornness eventually elicits power shifts.
Mass, diverse participation empowers reformers and whistle-blowers and weakens the support base of hardliners. The best gauge of the health of a resistance movement, then, is whether the size and representativeness of active participation are growing.