Recently I read From Democracy to Dictatorship: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation by Gene Sharp. I’d like to write a review of this book, as it deserves its good reputation and wide distribution. Sharp’s book was originally published in Bangkok in 1993 by the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma. Since then the Albert Einstein Institution has overseen translation into many other languages. The book contains a powerful, persuasive statement of principles and actions required to establish freedom in a country ruled by a tyrannical government. The same principles and actions apply to formerly democratic countries that are headed toward tyrannical rule. In these cases, Sharp’s principles can prevent tyranny before it becomes established.

Sharp takes on a hard problem. Because the modern state holds a monopoly on the use of force – that is the definition of a state – political thinkers and leaders have not seen clearly how to defeat a tyranny. Force cannot work because the state has strength sufficient to destroy any organization that tries to use force against it. Non-violent protest seems to fail on the same count: the state can destroy any organization that tries to alter or abolish government without use of force. In the non-violent case, the state’s task seems too easy. If individuals or groups pose any kind of threat to the state or its power, you shoot them, imprison them, put them on trial, massacre them until they no longer threaten you. Consequently, political thinkers and leaders have not seen a clear path from dictatorship to democracy.

Sharp’s book maps out such a path. He explains why properly organized civil resistance renders a tyranny unable to exercise its illegitimate authority. He also explains how to practice civil resistance. Later he includes an appendix titled The Methods of Nonviolent Action. The appendix lists techniques citizens might use to resist tyrannical power. The headings below summarize these techniques:

Methods of Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion

Formal Statements

Communications with a Wider Audience

Group Representations

Symbolic Public Acts

Pressues on Individuals

Drama and Music


Honoring the Dead

Public Assemblies

Withdrawal and Renunciation

Methods of Social Non-Cooperation

Ostracism of Persons

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System

Methods of Economic Noncooperation

Economic Boycotts

Action by Consumers

Action by Workers and Producers

Action by Middlemen

Actioin by Owners and Management

Action by Holders of Financial Resources

Action by Governments

The Strike

Symbolic Strikes

Agricultural Strikes

Strikes by Special Groups

Ordinary Industrial Strikes

Restricted Strikes

Multi-Industry Strikes

Combinations of STrikes and Economic Closures

Methods of Political Noncooperation

Rejection of Authority

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience

Action by Government Personnel

Domestic Governmental Action

International Governmental Action

Methods of Nonviolent Intervention

Psychological Intervention

Physical Intervention

Social Intervention

Economic Intervention

Political Intervention

This outline encompasses 198 specific types of action. Significantly, these methods have guided protesters across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia as they have struggled to free themselves from political slavery and humiliation. They have shown how principles of non-violent civil resistance work in the messy, fearsome and opaque environments that tyrannies create. They have demonstrated that techniques of non-violent resistance are correct in principle, and effective in practice.