Why Civil Resistance Works: Book Review by Alexandra Lehmann


Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent ConflictWhy Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth. My rating: 3 of 5 stars. This book’s concept is pretty huge and its far-reaching case studies work to prove it. The author does not, however, clearly outline the criteria for a non-violent resistance’s success.

It lacks the mention of the Czech resistance which successfully dealt with Heinrich Himmler, the chief architect of the Final Solution. It also did not mention Sophie Scholl’s led student resistance in Munich, which history has proven a success – if only for its courage and timeless example of what is possible under a dictatorship.

When I attempted to reach the author to ask why she did not include both of these movements (I suppose she did not include the Czech resistance because it was violent), she did not reply. This was too bad, because I would have liked to use some of her ideas in my seminars on German civil disobedience during World War II.

Here is an excerpt that I found particularly helpful:

“The transitions that occur in the wake of successful nonviolent resistance movements create much more durable and internally peaceful democracies than transitions provoked by violent insurgencies. On the whole, non-violent resistance movements create much more durable and internally peaceful democracies than transitions provoked by violent insurgencies. […] We explain the relative effectiveness of non-violent resistance in the following way: nonviolent campaigns facilitate the active participation of many more people than violent campaigns, thereby broadening the base of resistance and raising the costs to opponents of maintaining the status quo. […] In short, we argue that nonviolent campaigns fail to achieve their objectives when they are unable to overcome the challenge of participation.” – Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephen

This may explain why Chenoweth and Stephen did not include the White Rose in their study. I would argue, however, that the White Rose membership grew from three in June, 1942, to eighteen, until their capture in February, 1943. While these numbers are ludicrous if we consider them in the context of today (social media vs. radio, democracy vs. dictatorship), I would like to argue that the White Rose was successful in broadening their base of resistance.


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