Like Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., Gene Sharp was influenced by Mohandas K. Gandhi, A. J. Muste, and Henry David Thoreau when he decided to devote his life’s work to non-violent political struggle against repression and tyranny.
Sharp’s key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects’ obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.
In Sharp’s view, all effective power structures have systems by which they encourage or extract obedience from their subjects. States have particularly complex systems for keeping subjects obedient. These systems include specific institutions (police, courts, regulatory bodies), but may also involve cultural dimensions that inspire obedience by implying that power is monolithic (the god cult of the Egyptian pharaohs, the dignity of the office of the President, moral or ethical norms and taboos). Through these systems, subjects are presented with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracism) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence the extent of their obedience.
Sharp identifies this hidden structure as providing a window of opportunity for a population to cause significant change in a state. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie (1530 – 1563), that if the subjects of a particular state recognize they are the source of the state’s power, then they can refuse their obedience and their leader(s) will be left without power.
Tangentially, they who passively accede to violence and those (state or corporate) who wield it are themselves complicit in perpetrating the oppression that comes of it. A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves!
“Peace, peace…men cry “Peace!” But there *is* no ‘peace’. Is peace so sweet and life so dear that we would purchase it at ANY cost? I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty…or give me death!” -Patrick Henry-