Why Civil Resistance Works


wcrWErica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, August 2011).

~Winner of the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order~

~Winner of the 2012 American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award given annually for the best book on government, politics, or international relations~

~A 2011 Book of the Year, The Guardian~

Though it defies consensus, between 1900 and 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts. Attracting impressive support from citizens that helps separate regimes from their main sources of power, these campaigns have produced remarkable results, even in the contexts of Iran, the Palestinian Territories, the Philippines, and Burma.

Combining statistical analysis with case studies of these specific countries and territories, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan detail the factors enabling such campaigns to succeed-and, at times, causing them to fail. They find that nonviolent resistance presents fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement, information and education, and participator commitment. Higher levels of participation then contribute to enhanced resilience, a greater probability of tactical innovation, increased opportunity for civic disruption (and therefore less incentive for the regime to maintain the status quo), and shifts in loyalty among opponents’ erstwhile supporters, including members of the military establishment. They find successful nonviolent resistance movements usher in more durable and internally peaceful democracies, which are less likely to regress into civil war. Presenting a rich, evidentiary argument, this book originally and systematically compares violent and nonviolent outcomes in different historical periods and geographical contexts, debunking the myth that violence occurs because of structural and environmental factors and is necessary to achieve certain political goals. Instead, Chenoweth and Stephan find violent insurgency is rarely justifiable on strategic grounds.

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Web Appendix and Replication Data

Praise for Why Civil Resistance Works:

Read Amitabh Pal’s review in The Progressive (October 2011).

“This is the first major scholarly book that makes a well-supported argument that, contrary to what many people believe, nonviolent resistance is more effective than armed resistance in overthrowing regimes, an advantage that is maintained even when the target is not democratic.” — Robert Jervis, Professor, Columbia University

“After the breathtaking events of 2011, can anyone doubt that non-violent civil resistance is an effective tool for political change? In this provocative, well-written, and compelling book, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan demonstrate that non-violent civil resistance is usually a better way to force political change than taking up arms. They identify the conditions that favor its success, and provide a convincing explanation for why non-violent resistance is so effective. The analysis is rigorous yet accessible and their conclusions have profound implications for anyone seeking to understand—or promote—far-reaching social and political reform.” — Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University

“Chenoweth and Stephan offer a fresh, lively, and penetrating analysis of the conditions under which non-violent resistance succeeds or fails. Using a wealth of data and in-depth case studies, they show that the scholarly emphasis on forceful approaches is misguided: non-violent movements are often better able to mobilize supporters, resist regime crackdowns, develop innovative resistant techniques, and otherwise take on, and defeat, repressive regimes and build durable democracies.” — Daniel Byman, Professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution

“This is social science at its best. Years of critical study culminate in a book on one dominating issue: how does nonviolent opposition compare with violence in removing a regime or achieving secession? The authors study successes and failures and alternative diagnoses of success and failure, reaching a balanced judgment meriting careful study.” — Thomas C. Schelling, Harvard University, Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics

“Rigorous…startling…a must-read.” –Doug Noll, The Doug Noll Show & The Peacemakers Bookshelf