"If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all." ~ Virginia Woolf
Pulling the Plug on the State
Exclusive to STR
November 14, 2006
By January 1, 2025 , every American who is determined to live free shall do so. Those who are content with their chains are welcome to keep them, but we who must be free will have our own centerless legal system and free institutions that are not subject to the State.
Let's start talking in more detail about how to achieve this goal, using Nonviolent Struggle (see 'Creating a Free America'). Our task is to:
- ' weaken the power of the State, and
- ' strengthen ourselves and our free institutions until we can compel the State to recognize our right to opt out. So we need to examine the sources of political power. (The following material is adapted from Waging Nonviolent Struggle and Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points.)
Mao Zedong said that power comes from the barrel of a gun, but the truth is somewhat more complicated. Gene Sharp identifies the following six major sources of political power:
- ' Authority, or perceived legitimacy. This is the quality that leads people to voluntarily obey commands, accept decisions, accede to requests, or follow suggestions.
- ' Personnel. This is measured by the number of people who obey, cooperate with, or give assistance to the rulers. This includes people working within the government and allied institutions, as well as the proportion of cooperating persons in the general population.
- ' Skills and Knowledge. This is the availability of needed skills, knowledge, and abilities among those persons cooperating with the rulers.
- ' Material Resources. Control of money, land, computers, communications, transportation, natural resources, etc., which the rulers can use for their own purposes.
- ' Intangible Factors. These are psychological, cultural, and ideological factors that promote obedience to and cooperation with the rulers. They may include habits, traditions, religious beliefs, language conventions, fear of foreign threats, a sense of belonging, and so on.
- ' Sanctions. Mao's favorite source of power: punishment of those who disobey, typically by seizure of assets, imprisonment, or execution. In most cases it is the fear of sanctions, rather than the sanctions themselves, that is the actual source of power. Governments may also apply sanctions indirectly through third parties; for example, if your children don't receive all the vaccinations the state government demands, they won't be allowed to attend even a private school.
Although I've described these sources from the viewpoint of the rulers' power, they are also the sources of power for the resistance. Authority ' not of the official sort, but earned respect ' can be a tremendous source of power for the leaders of a nonviolent struggle. Gandhi had little in the way of material resources, but he could call for a boycott and have millions of people willingly comply with his request. As its numbers increase, the resistance may also be able to apply (nonviolent) sanctions of its own; these include picketing, 'haunting' of officials, and social or economic ostracism.
To a large extent this political power is channeled through institutions and organizations, called Pillars of Support. Pillars of support for a government may include :
- ' the educational system;
- ' organized religion;
- ' the news media;
- ' the banking system; and
- ' big business.
These are external pillars. Recognizing that governments are themselves composed of various sub-organizations, we may also identify pillars of support within a government, upholding the power of the executive:
- ' police and military;
- ' the courts;
- ' the bureaucracy.
All of these organizations are made up of individuals who can be influenced. If these individuals can be persuaded to lessen or withdraw their support for the State, the pillars are weakened, and the State's power is diminished. If they can be persuaded to support the resistance, its power is thereby increased.
To carry out a successful nonviolent struggle, we need to understand the specifics of the sources of power for the U.S. Federal government and state and local governments, so that we may work to erode these sources. We also need to assess potential sources of power for the resistance and for our alternative institutions, in each of the six categories. We need to understand which pillars of support are most important to maintaining State power in this country, and how they may be influenced, so that we may use our limited resources most effectively in undermining support for the State.
In military terms, we need solid intelligence about both the battlefield and our opponent, to guide our strategic planning. I'll be asking you to help with that in my next article, when I discuss the Strategic Assessment that will inform our strategic discussions at Beyond Ballots or Bullets.