Resistance can't be tweeted: Social and political change is built on readingRoundup
tags: social media, reading, public engagement, liberal education
Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale and the author of "Liberal Racism" (1997) and "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York" (1990).
Finishing what the Mueller report necessarily left unfinished will require a lot more than a determined House Judiciary Committee, a miraculously reformed Senate, and a few prosecutions by U.S. attorneys. It will depend on millions of Americans doing a lot more than writing columns like this and sharing them with virtual friends or followers. Congress isn’t going to uphold the rule of law unless public resistance to current arrangements moves far beyond tweeting, texting and even signing petitions. But how far? And how?
History offers some answers to the first question: Social and political movements led by Mahatma Gandhi, Adam Michnick, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and the founders of the American republic reconfigured and in some cases replaced armed empires, national-security states and regimes built on grinding inequality and corruption.
The second question -- How did they do it? -- has two surprising answers: First, these movements and leaders did it for the most part without violence: Even the American Revolution "was effected before the War commenced ... in the Minds and Hearts of the People," wrote John Adams. Second, the best leaders and followers prepared for resistance and reconstruction with reading and reflection. American founders read Edward Gibbon on the Roman Empire's decay and John Locke and others on enlightened self-governance. Martin Luther King read the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and Gandhi on civil disobedience.
One of the best accounts of how that happened and what ensued from it is in the late writer Jonathan Schell's "The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People." Schell, who died five years ago last month, recounts how future leaders who read history, philosophy and religion decided that power flows ultimately not from the few who are daunting, dazzling or wealthy but from seemingly powerless masses who stop obeying and who reconfigure their lives together without official permission or reward, through disciplined non-cooperation that’s nonviolent but all the more effectively coercive.
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