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Gene Sharp

[ by Charles Cameron ]

I was impressed by him in London in the early sixties.

Okay, I was young and impressionable. But others have noticed him more recently, too: Hugo Chavez accused him of being a conspirator with the CIA, and the Iranians thought he, George Soros and John McCain were in cahoots.


Gene Sharp has been in the news quite a bit recently [1, 2, 3, 4], because he pretty literally wrote the book on non-violent resistance.

The young leaders of the Egyptian revolt that toppled Mubarak studied tactics with members of the Serbian Otpor youth resistance who topped Milosevic, Otpor studied tactics in the writings of Gene Sharp, specifically his 90-page pamphlet From Dictatorship to Democracy [download as .pdf]. Sharp wrote that handbook for use in Burma, where it was apparently translated at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi — who once cautioned her readers that that phrase they kept hearing wasn’t “jeans shirt”, it was “Gene Sharp”.

And before that, he’d penned his masterful 900-page, three-volume work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action

I told you he was impressive.

Recommended reading:

From Dictatorship to Democracy is now available in Amharic, Arabic, Azeri, Belarusian, Burmese, Chin (Burma), Jing-paw (Burma), Karen (Burma), Mon (Burma), Chinese (Simplified Mandarin), Chinese (Traditional Mandarin), English, Farsi, French, Indonesian, Khmer (Cambodia), Kyrgyz, Pashto, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Ukrainian, Tibetan, Tigrigna, and Vietnamese.

7 Responses to “Gene Sharp”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    Charles, you are a true benefactor and linker of disparate and occulted knowledge.  Why have I never heard of this man?  People write about 4GW.  This man seems to be one of the major theorists of the sort of politico-civil operation that has been so effective in recent decades.  Yet in all the 4GW writing I have looked at, I have not seen this man’s name.  Is there a whole body of expertise that the military should be aware of that it is missing out on?  After all, an occupation force is likely to run into the tactics and strategy this man developed and promoted.  

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Lex:
    He hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed.  He taught at Harvard for almost thirty years.  And there’s this, from an interesting piece about him in the Ohio State University Alumni website:

    Ironically, the military understands Sharp’s work best. “I’ve basically given up on [peace activists],” he said. “They think you get rid of war by refusing to take part and protesting. No! You get rid of war when people have something else they can do more effectively.”
    Robert Helvey, a career military man, recruited Sharp to help train Burmese activists in their underground campaign against the military government. Sharp wrote the document that became From Dictatorship to Democracy, a concise restatement of his other work. The 88-page primer has been translated into dozens of languages. Some of his most eager readers are dictators and their henchmen. That’s a good thing, he said. “They’ll know what they’re up against. They will know that so many dictatorships have been brought down with the aid of these methods.

    In general, though, I’d say it was easy for many people to miss out on him because (a) nonviolence doesn’t look at first glance like a winning strategy, and (b) he’s not looking for publicity, he’s looking for impact.  Which is why that same Ohio State piece can call him "probably the most important person you’ve never heard of."
    I suspect that’s about to change…

  3. Eddie Says:

    LG, Not only should our military be better aware of non-violent resistance from the master himself (The website is packed with useful materials, videos, etc), our policymakers should learn more to be able to more ably support people on the ground using Sharp’s materials instead of playing catch-up or worse.Without Sharp, our country would have been far less successful in making the most of the spread of democratic ideals and principles around the world since the 1980’s. Its fantastic to see his methods reach their third apex (Eastern Europe in the 90’s and 00’s and now in the Middle East).Thank you for posting about him Charles! 

  4. Lexington Green Says:

    Norman Borlaug was "the most important person you’ve never heard of." But this man is obviously a very significant player.

  5. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I came across Sharp a few months ago. His Albert Einstein Institute has an interesting collection of downloadable PDFs: http://aeinstein.org/organizations90b2.html
    It includes 198 methods (or tactics) for "nonviolent action": http://aeinstein.org/organizations/org/198_methods-1.pdf
    And a single page handout about what nonviolent action is and is not: http://aeinstein.org/organizations/org/misconceptions.pdf
    All quite Clausewitzian.

  6. Rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods and the OWS library | Brainstormers on the open Web Says:

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