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Garton Ash and Urquhart on civil resistance

Timothy Garton Ash

Just out in The New York Review of Books is an essay by Brian Urquhart on recent work by the British journalist and political thinker Timothy Garton Ash. This includes a 2009 volume from Oxford University Press, Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, the result of an Oxford University project on civil resistance.

Urquhart spends quite a bit of time exploring the limitations of civil resistance movements, and their mixed record of success historically. He’s doubtful that such movements are likely to be wholly nonviolent:

Civil resistance is seldom, if ever, a force that acts entirely on its own. As Adam Roberts explains, there is “a rich web of connections between civil resistance and other forms of power,” sometimes including force, violence, or the threat thereof.

Yet he concludes quite eloquently, with Garton Ash, that civil resistance of some kind is going to be necessary to overcome the barriers that continue to prevent the democratic capitalist order from meaningful action on the environmental crisis:

Garton Ash also reminds us that while serious progress has been made in the art and method of radical political change, we cannot count on the automatic survival and growth of democracy, nor indeed on the self-correcting capacity of a predominantly capitalist system. We also face urgent global problems to which we have scarcely started to look for solutions. The popular political involvement that was the lifeblood of civil resistance movements, as well as determined and courageous leadership, is now desperately needed nearer home.