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The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805044577
ISBN-10: 0805044574
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what seems at the moment a quixotic thesis, Schell argues that warfare is no longer the ultimate arbiter of political power and that a maturing tradition of nonviolent political action offers hope for a peaceful future. Schell, an eloquent antiwar essayist best known for The Fate of the Earth (1982), begins with a study of the modern "war system," which he says proceeds from Clausewitz's premise that wars are fought to secure political objectives. As wars grew increasingly devastating, they became unwieldy means to achieve political ends. Since no political goal justifies annihilation, the Cold War nuclear standoff made the war system obsolete. Meanwhile, people's revolutions were also contributing to the demise of the war system. Citing Gandhi's independence campaign and anti-Soviet dissident movements. Schell argues, not totally convincingly, that political liberation can be achieved by popular will alone, through passive resistance and active construction of civil society. As we enter what Schell calls "the second nuclear age," in which proliferation threatens us with a "nuclear 1914," he warns against the Bush administration's "Augustan" policies of "unchallengeable military domination." Schell proposes instead the development of cooperative institutions to promote four goals: banning weapons of mass destruction, using shared sovereignty to settle wars of self-determination, enforcing an international law prohibiting crimes against humanity and creating a "democratic league." Hard-nosed realists will consider these ideas na‹ve pacifism. But at a time when Americans feel insecure despite overwhelming military superiority, Schell's radical rethinking of the relationship between war and political power offers a fresh and hopeful perspective.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

At the outset of this lucid survey of alternatives to warfare, the author disavows the label "pacifist": he is not opposed to the use of force, but he believes that it has become an ineffective tool for achieving political ends. On this pragmatic basis, Schell builds a case for civil noncoöperation, which he argues has long played a crucial role in deciding otherwise bloody conflicts (among them the American, French, and Russian Revolutions). Showing how nonviolent action proved successful in ending apartheid in South Africa and in dismantling the Soviet bloc, Schell writes with discipline and urgency. It's disappointing, then, that, once he has persuaded us of the need for peaceful solutions, those he offers—such as shared sovereignty—seem disconnected from the realities of politics today.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (July 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805044574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805044577
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to add links

This book, together with William Geider's The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy, and Mark Hertsgaard's The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World, in one of three that I believe every American needs to read between now and November 2004.

Across 13 chapters in four parts, the author provides a balanced overview of historical philosophy and practice at both the national level "relations among nations" and the local level ("relations among beings"). His bottom line: that the separation of church and state, and the divorce of social responsibility from both state and corporate actions, have so corrupted the political and economic governance architectures as to make them pathologically dangerous.

His entire book discusses how people can come together, non-violently, to restore both their power over capital and over circumstances, and the social meaning and values that have been abandoned by "objective" corporations and governments.

The book has applicability to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where the US is foolishly confusing military power with political power.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By thedevilscoachman on June 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book after hearing the author speak at a book signing in Washington, DC. I was quite impressed by the power of his thought, and this book demonstrates the same qualities of well-supported, insightful and frequently iconoclastic analysis. The central premise, as the above reviews note, is that "political power" - which is based upon the consent of the governed and the agreement by political actors to keep promises and to behave within certain rules - and "violence" - which relies upon ruling by fear of harm and actually destroys the social bonds from which actual "power" flow - are at odds, and that ultimately political ends may be more effectively achieved by application of "power," a constructive force, than by "violence." Accordingly, the author argues, the political aims of mass movements of people frequently may be more effectively achieved by non-violent means than violent ones. And lest this example be dismissed by "realists," the author analyzes in-depth examples of non-violent or mostly non-violent "revolutions" that include the Indian independence movement, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the transformation of South Africa from apartheid state to democracy (as well as a host of other, somewhat less-striking examples including the growing democratization of South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc.) Although, in my view, the author does not fully answer one of the central questions posed in response to pacifism - how can a non-violent movement gain political traction when confronted by a totalitarian system that utterly denies the worth of human life?Read more ›
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on January 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Schell's identification of the phenomenon of "people's war," the
bottom-up fight for freedom waged by colonized peoples over the last 250
years is nothing short of revolutionary. The basis of the analytical framework he builds to explicate the different varieties of colonial oppression and local resistance, Schell historicizes people's war in its most important incarnations starting with the Spanish resistance to Napoleon's invasion, moving through Gandhi's non-violent formulation which he developed in South Africa and employed against the British in India, discussing how this form of resistance taken up by Martin Luther King to fight the people's war against the squalid Jim Crow regime in the American South. He notes that over time, "people's war" has been successful more often than it has not, that colonial regimes cannot win against forces which refuse to fight using oppressor's tactics, or use the narrow forms of redress, such as "working through the system," which are offered by those in power under the head of democracy.
He begins by examining the great military strategist Von Clausewitz's theory of warfare. In a section that it perhaps somewhat overlong, Schell takes apart Clausewitz in light of the changes in warfare since Clausewitz's time. Clausewitz did witness the first examples of total war in which every citizen was enlisted in the war as either a soldier or as a possible target of war -- the great "democratic" army of Napoleon, and wrote about it in contrast to prior European wars where relatively small forces of men fought limited conflicts for their aristocratic masters.
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