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How Nonviolence Protects the State Paperback – May 1, 2007
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"As a nonviolent activist, perhaps I should have been offended by the title of Peter Gelderloos' new book, How Nonviolence Protects the State, or by chapter headings like 'Nonviolence is Deluded.' And yet upon finishing this book, which attempts to systematically tear down many of the values and strategies to which I've devoted the last 20 years of my life, I found myself strangely exhilarated: the revolution is alive." -- Sue Frankel-Streit, review on Richmond IMC
"Instead of always assuming that a particular choice is morally superior, activists have to constantly reevaluate their tactics and critically examine how they act, a process that could be aided by a reading of How Nonviolence Protects the State." -- Grand Rapids IMC
"Peter Gelderloos's How Nonviolence Protects the State, finishes off where Ward Churchill's classic, Pacifism as Pathology, began. In this indictment, he makes a strong argument for the diversity of tactics, while illuminating how the ideology of pacifism leads us not to social justice, but rather, the peace one finds in cemeteries. A 'must read' for revolutionaries struggling to be effective against the government's 'War on Terror,' in which one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist." -- Ann Hansen, Author, Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerilla
"Peter's exploration of how power is upheld by the privileged through ideological nonviolence challenges white middle class activists to question if they are truly committed to solidarity with oppressed peoples." -- Jason Lydon, Congregational Director, Community Church of Boston
"Thoroughly-researched and extremely well-argued, How Nonviolence Protects the State is a potent antidote to the insufferably self-serving sanctimony which has for far too long been able to pass itself off as a 'principled opposition' in the United States. Essential reading for anyone seriously committed to the attainment of constructive change." -- Ward Churchill, Author, Pacifism as Pathology
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Drawing on large historical events, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, Gelderloos shows how pacifists and nonviolent protests have not achieved the same results that active resistance has. At a time when everyone in the world, except for the US government, is realizing that US troops need to leave Iraq now, Gelderloos' book argues how ineffective the current peace movement has been at stopping the war and creating any sort of political change. Before the war broke out over four years ago, "[s]ome groups, like United for Peace and Justice, suggested the protests might avert the war. Of course, they were totally wrong, and the protests totally ineffective. The invasion occurred as planned, despite the millions of people nominally, peacefully, and powerlessly opposed to it." So how do we switch our peace movement from marching in the streets to actually resisting our government and creating change?
It is this question that Gelderloos has a difficult time answering. How Nonviolence Protects the State is not meant to change any minds. Instead, it reads as a reassurance for those who already know the ineffectiveness of peace movements. Gelderloos' language is aggressive at times, as he conflates peace activists with "good sheep." But perhaps this is his point. Maybe if we started to realize that marches and nonviolent protests were ultimately tools of society to make people feel as if they are creating change, then we would actually find a way to resist our government and create the change we want on our own terms. Covering a diverse range of topics, from how nonviolence is racist to how nonviolence is patriarchal, How Nonviolence Protects the State is an important book to read for anyone who recognizes the ineffectiveness of peace activism today. And while the text doesn't provide many answers, it does inspire the reader to reconsider her notions of "activism" and "change."
In his book, Gelderloos makes a fearless though at points flawed argument against not simply pacifism, but the philosophy of nonviolence in the context of social change. Many are likely to find such a position to be an implicit advocacy of violent action, and thus marginal, at best. But a careful read of the philosophical construct is certain to get you pondering.
Utilizing a constellation of historical references, judicious citations and old-fashioned polemic, the author lays a variety of crimes at the feet of nonviolent philosophy. The blemish to this construct, aside from the rhetoric which Gelderloos acknowledges is a forceful, even vitriolic, criticism of nonviolence, is that it doesn't seem to acknowledge nonviolence's role as one of a diversity of tactics. While some of Gelderloos' claims have merit, some examples and painting of interests engaged in modern politics seem oversimplified to prove a point, rather than stated to dissect the real complexities of human interaction and history. And, though he gives many reasons why the philosophy of nonviolence may be racist or sexist, he doesn't adequately refute longstanding critiques of rambunctious factions being mostly composed of young, white men without a real grasp of gender or racial justice politics either.
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I even agree with the book's thesis, but am alarmed at his uses of example to prove his point.Read more