Enduring Impact of Civil Resistance

In 50 out of 67 (75%) systemic transitions between 1972-2005 the force of civil resistance was a significant factor

Outcomes of Political and Economic Transitions

1. Top down (powerholders-driven) transitions- 14 countries:
  • 14% (2) of these countries are free, 8 are partly free and 4 are not free*
  • 50% experienced moderate/high economic growth**

2. Bottom up (civil resistance-driven) transitions- 50 countries:

  • 64% (32) of these countries are free, 14 are partly free and only 4 are not free*
  • 80% experienced moderate/high economic growth**

*"How Freedom is Won. From Civil Resistance to Durable Democracy” – Karatnycky and Ackerman (Freedom House study 2005)
**“Nonviolent Democratization: A Sensitivity Analysis of How Transition Mode and Violence Impact the Durability of Democracy”  Johnstad (Peace & Change, July 2010)

Though more research is required, civil resistance can create and leave behind a legacy of defiance in the form of sociocultural practices, political tradition, generational stories, and individual or collective memories that a population may unconsciously and instinctively draw from during future crises. This attests to the continued importance and relevance that civil resistance may have in other, yet to come, pivotal moments of a nation’s quest for freedom. It therefore is not a coincidence that Poles who lived under the communist oppression during the twentieth century looked to their nineteenthcentury progenitors of nonviolent actions to develop their own effective, but also surprisingly similar, repertoires of nonviolent methods of resistance. Likewise, Burmese and Algerians at the end of the 1980s and during the 2000s, and Egyptians in 2011, have deployed an arsenal of nonviolent strategies and tactics startlingly reminiscent of the resistance activities that their predecessors relied on during their nationalist struggles decades ago. A careful analysis of nonviolent tactics, particularly those categorized as nonviolent creative intervention that involve parallel institution building, can offer useful insights into the longer-term impact of civil resistance on political change. As some chapters indicated, the tactics that developed civic, cultural, and political organizations and institutions during quieter resistance phases—if not undermined or destroyed by an armed conflict— might have helped with state building and generated a more tranquil post - independence political order.


While stopping short of making the general claim that civil resistance leads to more peaceful societies in the postconflict period, a number of cases in this book do point to the practice of nonviolent contestation as creating a more propitious and peaceful environment for state formation. In these examples, civil resistance contributed or led to the emergence of a more inclusive, participatory, and less violent postindependence political and constitutional order than likely would have been the case had violent resistance been used. This argument suggests that civil resistance can be “an incubator of democracy.” Recent quantitative findings reinforce this view by showing that political transitions brought about through bottom-up, nonviolent mobilization have better prospects for leading to the establishment of freer societies and more durable democracies than do transitions that come about through armed struggle, international military intervention, or change of power among powerholders. This is because armed struggle usually requires martial values as well as hierarchical, secretive, and elitist leadership combined with skills in destroying, maiming, or killing an adversary. Victorious rebel leaders tend to bring all of these virtues and modi operandi into the new regime. At the same time, nonviolent movements generally require building broad coalitions across various segments of society and mastering skills of negotiation, rational deliberation, compromise, and moderation—the features that are propitious for and constitute an important harbinger of a democratic governance.


Consequently, not only does civil resistance provide a population with the means to wage a struggle or lay the foundation for the emergence of nascent state institutions, it also summons and engenders a psychologically constructive power that can create, shape, and strengthen a population’s national identity to guard its cultural or societal fabric against foreign domination, assimilation, or annihilation.