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Nonviolent resistance

Definition and guide: Nonviolent action
4 min read
Last update: Feb 15, 2024

In this guide, you will learn what nonviolent resistance is and how to organise a nonviolent action.

What is nonviolent resistance?

Nonviolent resistance (NVR), or nonviolent action, sometimes called civil resistance, is the practice of achieving goals such as social change through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, satyagraha, constructive program, or other methods, while refraining from violence and the threat of violence. This type of action highlights the desires of an individual or group that feels that something needs to change to improve the current condition of the resisting person or group.

Nonviolent resistance is often but wrongly taken as synonymous with civil disobedience. Each of these terms—nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience—has different connotations and commitments. Berel Lang argues against the conflation of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience on the grounds that the necessary conditions for an act instancing civil disobedience are: (1) that the act violates the law, (2) that the act is performed intentionally, and (3) that the actor anticipates and willingly accepts punitive measures made on the part of the state against him in retaliation for the act. Since acts of nonviolent political resistance need not satisfy any of these criteria, Lang argues that the two categories of action cannot be identified with one another. Furthermore, civil disobedience is a form of political action which necessarily aims at reform, rather than revolution. Its efforts are typically directed at the disputing of particular laws or groups of laws while conceding the authority of the government responsible for them. In contrast, political acts of nonviolent resistance can have revolutionary ends. According to Lang, civil disobedience need not be nonviolent, although the extent and intensity of the violence is limited by the non-revolutionary intentions of the persons engaging in civil disobedience. Lang argues the violent resistance by citizens being forcibly relocated to detentions, short of the use of lethal violence against representatives of the state, could plausibly count as civil disobedience but could not count as nonviolent resistance.

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  • Move the external resources to more relevant articles: The external resources list below contains lots of valuable information. However, not all of it is directly relevant to nonviolent resistance. We have more specific pages that those guides would fit better on.

(Non-)violence in activism

Satyagraha; 'holding firmly to truth' / moral or ‘principled’ non-violence.

Satyagraha is a form of non-violent resistance that was conceptualised and practised by Gandhi. Please add links.

Non-violent property destruction and sabotage / the Shambala Warrior prophesy.

Is it possible to cause property destruction and / or sabotage from a deep place of peace and compassion for those that would benefit from the damage?

Here is one perspective: the Shambala Warrior prophesy. The essence of this Tibetan Buddhist prophesy is that deeply compassionate and well-trained people will enter the centres of power and dismantle the ‘weapons’ that are destroying the planet (these don't have to be literal weapons; they could be destructive machines related to fossil fuels).

External resources

The Case for NVDA

Theory and Philosophy of NVDA

Guides and Tips

Resources for NVDA Training

Please make sure to check the legal situation in the place you are taking action. Legal information may date and is never a substitute for legal advice.

Safety and Resilience

Case Studies

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