“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come,” wrote Carl Sandburg in his 1936 poem The People, Yes. The line was later misquoted as it morphed into a ubiquitous antiwar slogan during the 1960s, appearing on bumper stickers, in the lyrics of a Monkees song and as the title of a 1970 film.
On Friday, that famous quote was nearly realized in Libya. As the New York Times reported, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a senior army officer, called for a military coup, and no one showed up.
“The army is in its headquarters, and Khalifa Hifter has no authority,” said Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who mocked the coup attempt. “No military units have moved to touch any institutions.”
This unusual episode, or perhaps it’d be better called a non-episode, has something to teach us about the true nature of power — namely, that it ultimately rests on consent.
“Power is never the property of an individual,” explains Hannah Arendt in On Violence, “it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”
When ordinary people, or soldiers in the case of Libya, systematically withdraw their consent and refuse to cooperate with someone who appears to be in power, as Gene Sharp has written, “the man who has been ‘ruler’ becomes just another man.”
If only stories like this were not so odd — and military units more regularly refused to move, or go to war, or crackdown on protesters — we could pull back the curtain on the seemingly omnipotent Obamas, Putins and Assads of the world and embrace our own agency to effect change.
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Waging Nonviolence is hiring a writer to interview leading movement figures and analysts and produce one Q&A-style article per week. The writer will work with our small editorial team to identify the interview subject each week. For the most part, we’ll be looking to hear from activists, organizers and scholars who can shed light on… More
Could it be that military did not respond to Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter call because the “military” is financed by the US and French?
“What I have done all these months, I did as a Jew. And like all the Jews of the world, I was worried. Despite legitimate anxiety is an uprising to be welcomed with favor, we were dealing with (Qaddafi), one of the worst enemy of Israel,” Bernard-Henri Levy said during his address to the French Jewish lobby CRIF.
Arendt went to describe “power” as collective action. And, collective action is essentially based on social relationships, such as individual consent. Legitimacy is consent on the societal level. This has all just played out in Ukraine. Neoliberals in the Western media have gone into overdrive to portray the Ukrainian uprising as a “coup” of a “legitimate” goverment . In the end it all boiled down to legitimacy, among Ukrainains as a society. And the consent of many Eastern Ukrainians, including his own ruling Party of Regions. Libya is extraordinary in that the people who wanted to do it the nonviolent way – change the world without taking power — prevailed. This is a big step forward toward self-government, both on the individual and societal level for Libya. It saddens me that in Ukraine, the nonviolent majority did not prevail. I think that the violence has harmed the chances of the Ukrainian people for true self-governance moving forward. Unfortunately, one consequence of the violence is that the Ukrainian people will continue to be ruled by the “representatives” of others. It will be interesting to see if this nonviolence can create some more political momentum for self-governance in Libya.