Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Consent of the Governed

Governments can only govern with the consent of the governed. This is one of the principle concepts underlying the work on nonviolent action of Gene Sharp When the citizens of a state decide they can no longer tolerate the government, they withdraw their support (even silent or tacit support) and the government collapses. This is a principle upon which the idea of democracy flourishes. The governed should be freely and continuously participating in governing, in order for democracy to be functioning appropriately.

The necessity for the consent of the governed was also a basic understanding in Gandhi's thought. He often said that the British didn't take India, the people of India gave the country to them. And Martin Luther King Jr. reminded civil rights workers, "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed".

In time, because the arc of the universe bends toward justice, the governed will throw off unjust and oppressive regimes. Witness Tunis! Witness Egypt! Who will be next? Algeria?

There certainly were costs for many in Tunis and Egypt. Some gave their lives. Even so, Gandhi said, "Freedom of a nation cannot be won by solitary acts of heroism even though they may be of the true type, never by heroism so-called. The Temple of Freedom requires the patient, intelligent and constructive effort of tens of thousands of men and women, young and old."

Those who have experienced social movements in the U.S. should appreciate the value of the dispersed leadership and the constructive efforts of thousands. Public and visible leadership like King are too easily murdered or jailed or exiled. And a movement communicating through social networks can organize quickly and effectively without the difficulty of meeting times and places.

Witnessing the patient adherence
to nonviolence in Egypt in the face of harassment and intimidation; watching the crowds returning again and again to Tahrir Square even when violence threatened; one could only celebrate with the people as they demonstrated to all the world, once more, that determined nonviolent action will bring down a dictator.

I say "once again," because we are seeing nonviolence succeed time after time after time, in our lifetime. In the years since Gandhi, citizens using nonviolent action have changed oppressive governments in the Philippines, Chile, Poland, South Africa, and Serbia. Nonviolent action helped change oppressive and racist laws in the U.S.

It is clear that change is coming. It's in the air. We need it, desperately. The common people are recognizing that governments use war and violence to protect the privileged and to plunder the earth. But nonviolence is the way to freedom for all. Even dictators, even billionaires, even exploiters, can be sent packing. All we need do is withhold the consent of the governed.

Carl Kline

1 comment:

Unknown said...

One aspect I found particularly interesting in the recent political events is how quickly the government is to turn off or take control of citizen's access to the Internet. Right now, Libya has cut off access to the Internet to curtail the current uprisings!