The Limits of Non-Cooperation as a Strategy for Social Change

The application of basic human stubbornness – the capacity to refuse or withhold obedience when faced by a pressing moral choice – is the most widely-researched topic in the field of nonviolence, from explorations of proven methods of civil resistance to the stories of people who have said ‘no’ to taxes or conscription, torture or betrayal. But non-cooperation clearly has its limits in terms of creating social change. As Gene Sharp points out, people’s capacity for this form of action is embedded in human nature, but it is insufficient to achieve the long-term goals of peace and social justice. We have learned how to topple dictators, but not how to replace dysfunctional political systems so that tyranny does not return. We know how to launch new social movements like Occupy and those of the Arab Spring, but not how to sustain their gains by transforming society at large.

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