Nonviolent Revolutions: Civil Resistance in the Late 20th Century

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NONVIOLENT REVOLUTIONS: CIVIL RESISTANCE IN THE LATE 20TH CENTURY Sharon Erickson Nepstad Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011 200 pages, paper, $24.95

Sharon Erickson Nepstad attempts to identify and explain in broad terms the factors that play the most critical roles in the success of a nonviolent revolution. In attempting such an ambitious project she does an excellent job of conveying her passion and grasp of the field in a manner that is both easily understood and well organized.

It is the author's contention that the chances of success in nonviolent revolutions are influenced by the underlying factors present in the political environment. Nepstad argues that nonviolent revolutions are not simply a quieter form of violent revolutions (p. 5). While violent revolutions follow a path of open resistance against a ruling regime, nonviolent revolutions attempt to overthrow undesirable regimes by withdrawing support and legitimacy, leaving those regimes starved of the resources necessary for continued existence (p.8).

Nepstad admits that her study does not incorporate firsthand accounts, but relies on reviews of the existing literature of accounts of nonviolent revolutions. She argues that a comparative literature review offers the unique ability to take a broad view of the phenomena for effective analysis (p. xvi). The brief accounts presented on the nonviolent revolutions in China, East Germany, Panama, Chile, Kenya, and the Philippines support her argument. The reader is able to easily identify similarities and divergences between the cases and follow Nepstad's line of analysis.

However, the briefness of her cases studies leaves the reader with a sense of oversimplification or incompletness. There is a sense of temporal dissonance. For example, in the section regarding nonviolent revolutions, Nepstad compares the successful revolution in Chile against Pinochet with the unsuccessful revolt against Noriega in Panama. But the section does not address the length of time that the peoples of each state suffered under their respective regimes, or the extent ofthat suffering, for easy comparison.

In the section regarding nonviolent revolutions against dictators, the author compares the unsuccessful revolt in Kenya against President Daniel arap Moi with the successful revolution against Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. Yet, only the Kenyan account adequately considers ethnic cleavages (p. 96-97). The Philippines is not a homogeneous state and yet only the contribution of religious leaders is considered. Why not address ethnic cleavages in all six cases? Why has she chosen to focus on religion (p. …