Gandhi Was Right

September’s Atlantic magazine has a breakdown of how countries fared after the takedown of an authoritarian government.

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It is by now a truism that ousting an authoritarian regime is often far easier than sustaining freedom afterward. A recent study from the human-rights organization Freedom House argues that “people power,” rather than top-down reform or armed revolt, has the best chance of achieving that result. Researchers examined sixty-seven such political transitions over the past thirty-three years, and found that those countries in which regime change was brought about by nonviolent civic resistance were more likely to be “free” or “partly free” today than countries in which political elites alone had launched the transition or opposition groups had used violence to topple the government. Five of the forty-seven countries that experienced generally peaceful transitions are currently rated “not free,” compared with four of the twenty countries in which the opposition employed violence. As for Iraq’s future, the study offers no guide: only three of the transitions examined were driven by external interventions, with one state (Panama) currently rated “free,” one (Bosnia) “partly free,” and one (Cambodia) “not free.”

View the entire report “How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy,” (pdf) here.

12 thoughts on “Gandhi Was Right

  1. There are two prominent countries which used violent armed resistance for freedom, and both are doing very well. They are: US and Israel.

    M. Nam

  2. Economically speaking, Israel is doing well.

    But I beg to differ that Israel used force to gain independence. To maintain independence, they relied on force. However, they gained it peacefully from Britain.

    (I’ll grant you that there were militant attacks by Israel on the British, much in the same manner of Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh in India, but that does not mean they gained freedom forcibly)

  3. Israel and America revolutions who came had internal debates and had an intellectual framework (Zionism and Enlightenment) in place before they started shooting.

    You can’t start shooting without first dealing with the grander questions of what you aim to bring about. Was there a consensus on what role religion will play in Post-Saddam Iraqi government and what they would do about the competing interests of the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. The role of women?

    Israel has a problem, but it is not a failed state though.

  4. Israel has a problem, but it is not a failed state though.

    Despite Israel’s problems it has not failed as a state. Overall, the protection of its citizens has been the primary concern.

    With the hostility it faced since its inception, Israelis have had no choice but to be unified. Any internal weakness would have meant the destruction of the country.

  5. tef writes:

    Israel and America revolutions who came had internal debates and had an intellectual framework (Zionism and Enlightenment) in place before they started shooting.

    Yes – this was the key. Violence has to be preceded by intellectual debate in order for it to not degenerate into barbarism.

    Apart from the Palestinian issue: Israel is doing good in all fronts. The quality of life is much much superior to even its oil-rich neighbours.

    Gandhi was right about many things, but hopelessly wrong about others.

    M. Nam

  6. A few years ago, at the beginning of the Iraq debacle, I remember reading a newspaper column by the National Review’s Jonathan Goldberg, whom I would normally ignore. He gave an historical overview of the long-term stability of countries when they had coups or foreign interventions, and according to him, countries have only succeeded in their transition to democracy if most of the population was middle-class before the event. It was a total economic analysis, saying people had to have a certain standard of living for democracy to work, and that this was why Iraq was going to fail miserably. So I wonder if you overlaid the two graphs whether they would match up.

  7. The concept of people power and non-violence seems like a great idea when the oppressors are either (i) colonialists who are governed by even the slightest sense of morality and are hence “shameable”, such as the Brits in India (and maybe the French in Indochina or Algeria…though of course non-violence was never really tried there).


    (ii) a local oppressive regime where the ruling powers actually care to some degree about their country and its people so that they’re not willing to shed unlimited blood to stay in power.

    Given these conditions, non-violence worked in places like India and the Phillipenes. It may even have worked against the French in their former colonies. And it I suspect that it would work against Israel in the occupied territories (though it’d have a better chance if there weren’t endless apologies for suicide bombings…the importance of external moral oppribrium, or the lack thereof, as an influence on a conflict applies to the opressed as well as the opressor).

    But the concept starts to fall apart when the oppressors have brutal power, the willingness to commit atrocities beyond the pale and a total disregard for anyone else’s opinion. This is especially true in totalitarian regimes where every power and aspect of the state is designed to preserve the regime, no matter what the price. It’s pretty hard to see how people power would work against regimes like Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq or North Korea (or against the Nazis if you had the misfortune of being occupied by them).

    I suspect that there are many in-between situations where peaceful approaches and non-violent coercion, from both within and without, could make some headway. Places like China, Sudan and Russia come to mind. But I suspect that with the hardcore cases, nothing but external violence would do it. Now I think that one may still be against such external violence for many reasons and there’s a lot of justification in opposing the Iraq war. But I think that if you think that, you have to be willing to accept that the small number of truly horrible regimes may last a lot longer than people would like. With North Korea, the point is of course moot since they have nukes.

    Back to the report, it seems to say that non-violence works great in scenarios predisposed to non-violence and in such scenarios, violence is bad (or at least ineffective in the goal of freedom). It doesn’t strike me as a particularly remarkable conclusion.

  8. What BS. Algerians killed tens of thousands of people before they got their independence from France and we all know how great Algeria is doing. There are numerous countries which fought violently for independence and are not doing that well.

    But I beg to differ that Israel used force to gain independence. To maintain independence, they relied on force. However, they gained it peacefully from Britain.

    Also Israelis did fight for their independence. There was no peaceful UN Partition. The UN Partition actually created a state of Palestine on 50% of the land and a state to be shared equally by the Israelis and the Palestinians on 50% of the land. The Arabs foolishly did not want to share anything with the Israelis and they sent in their armies (they believed that the whole land belonged to them and didnt want to share anything with the Israelis) Israel of course won a bloody war, kicked out a million Palestinians and declared a sovereign state of Israel on the whole land which was recognised by Russia, US and the UK. If Israel had not used force in response to the Arab invasion after the UN Partition there would be no Israeli state as all of them would probably have been kicked out Alternately if the Arabs armies had not invaded, there still would be no Israel and half of modern day Israel would be Palestine and half of modern day Israel would be shared by the Israelis and Palestinians (with Palestinians in a numerical majority with their strong birth rate) in accordance to the UN Partition plan.

    Either way without the use of force, there would be no Israel according to the UN Partition.

  9. The graph by the Atlantic is a good example of a lack of integrity in information displays as Edward Tufte would put it. Note how the length of every colored strip is identical, even though each represents a different total. A more honest graph would look like this.