Pulling the Plug on the State
Exclusive to STR
November 14, 2006
start talking in more detail about how to achieve this goal, using
Nonviolent Struggle (see “Creating
a Free America”).
Our task is to:
power of the State, and
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
Struggle: 50 Crucial Points.)
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:
or perceived legitimacy. This
is the quality that leads people to voluntarily obey commands, accept
decisions, accede to requests, or follow suggestions.
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.
This is the availability of needed skills, knowledge, and abilities
among those persons cooperating with the rulers.
Control of money, land, computers, communications, transportation, natural
resources, etc., which the rulers can use for their own purposes.
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.
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.
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.
a large extent this political power is channeled through institutions and
organizations, called Pillars
Pillars of support for a government may include
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:
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.
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
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.
Kevin S. Van Horn, Ph.D., is a computer scientist living in Orem, Utah. At age 11 he became a proto-libertarian when he first began studying and thinking seriously about issues of government. He has been a market anarchist for about two decades now.