Sunday, January 28, 2007

Is There a Place for Doubters at Holy Trinity?

Keywords: Holy Trinity Church; virgin birth; theology; resurrection of Jesus; calling; liturgy; awe, poetry; Robert Bellah; faith; belief; prayer

My church has an e-mail list, and today Carole Clark posted this entry on it:

“Many of us came to HT [ in Toronto; see photo) because we no longer felt that we could
continue in our rather conservative home parishes. We were
questioning so much of what was being taken for granted there. We
started looking around for another church where we would feel more
comfortable. At first we were attracted to HT because of the more
relaxed dress code, seating arrangements and alternative service.
There were lots of social justice issues being addressed and we were
welcomed as participants on the various committees. Yet, we were
still troubled about some of the basic questions. Many of us turned
to the writings of Bishop Spong. Like him, we were able to agree that
we could no longer believe in the Virgin Birth or the physical
resurrection of Jesus, or many of the other Christian beliefs that
shape our church liturgy. Like him we felt that we were theologically
in exile from the Christian church. Some of us welcomed Harper'’s ‘’ because it allowed us to stay in the church
while seeing the Christian story as a set of metaphors which we could
apply to our lives. Lately, some of us have been caught up by the
writing of , who postulates that atheism, is the only position
to take to the world. Some of our community have felt alienated by
their thoughts and have decided that they cannot continue to attend
any church with integrity. Others, like me, are still here, still
questioning, not at all sure of whether I will continue here for much
longer. I, and I’m sure others, would be interested in hearing what
other Holy Trinity people think.”

Here's my answer, which I also sent to some friends who never asked for it and maybe don't particularly want to know:

It's wonderful to have this blunt question put out here in public.
My answer would go something like this:
I have a lot of and very few . I wouldn't know what to
believe, except that nobody will ever be able to understand the mind
of God, or the nature of ultimate reality. We may get closer or
further from understanding but we'll never get all the way there.
Hence whatever I believe is mostly false. I take that as the starting

I also believe (and here I owe much to the sociologist )
that if I could understand the ultimate truth, I would be satisfied.
It is good, whatever it is. Instead of calling that a belief (since
it has no specific referent) I call that "faith." I think I hold that
faith 24 hours a day. But it doesn't tell me what specific doctrine
to hold and never will. I have to go on fumbling in the dark, with
only faith to work with.

On the other hand, there are odd experiences that give me the sense
that there is some kind of guidance available -- indeed, that it is
working all the time. I am being led, in a way, by having particular
challenges put before me and feeling obliged to undertake them. I
guess that's what is sometimes known as a "." It's a dangerous
thing to believe, because over half of the crackpots in the world
have the same cocky belief, and they obviously don't contribute
anything much except to sow dogmatism and self-righteousness in the
world, which we would be better off without. Yet I can't help
believing that I get nudges from time to time from sources that are
not empirically demonstrable, and I try to keep on the lookout for
them. (Dawkins and his ilk must miss out of those hot tips from the
ineffable.) I am never sure whether I'm doing the right thing in
response to these nudges, and I hope I don't go around bragging that
I do. This is an area where one should basically shut up.

Then there is liturgy. Since I don't believe any doctrine anyhow,
it's not necessarily important to improve the , since no
revision will actually get us significantly closer to expressing the
truth. I see the whole thing as . It moves you or it doesn't.
Or it moves you a little or a lot. I used to get momentary goosebumps
and a little shiver of awe once or twice in a good service, and I
think that was helpful for me somehow. That's basically what I go to
church for, plus the pleasure of being in a community. Unfortunately,
both are declining for me lately, for reasons that I cannot explain.
I understand the lack of community; I'm just not putting enough of
myself into the in order to get much out of it. I don't
know, though, why the shiver of is diminishing. I wish it were
not. I don't know that it is an objective indicator that the service
is poorly done; probably other people get their shivers in different
phases of the service and maybe as often as before. It is probably
something in me, not in the service, though I can't be sure -- nor do
I necessarily think that's important. What seems more important is
that my faith is undiminished -- this inarticulate faith in the
goodness of all creation, including the unpleasant stuff. So I keep
going to Holy Trinity about half the time. I think I'd survive
spiritually without going, but it's worth doing. What doesn't count
at all in my calculations is whether to believe in the virgin birth
or such doctrines. Of course, they are poetic , and they
work for a lot of people, so I would not seek to replace them with
scientific statements, though I do believe that science and religious
insights are compatibly part of the same whole reality.

Oh -- and one more proposition that I think probably counts as a
belief: that there is no hole in the universe, no location where God
and love are absent, and no place where the whole thing is not
working properly. The universe is working out just fine; God doesn't
make mistakes, even though I sure cannot figure out what the game
plan is. I guess that's a belief, though it feels more like an aspect
of faith.

Thanks, Carole, for asking the question. I'll forward this to a few
people with whom I have not shared this before. I am working on a
paper on love that actually relates to this, in that it asserts that
is not finite and hence not measurable. I've been stuck working
on it for several weeks, making very little progress. So for me,
please. (And no, I don't know what that will accomplish -- it just
seems like a good idea.)

Metta Spencer

Friday, January 26, 2007

Poor, Dear Max Weber

Keywords: Max Weber; love; Robert Bellah; Paul F. Lazarsfeld; Anthony R. Oberschall; American Sociological Review; friendship; Barry Wellman; empirical indicators.

For about ten days I’ve been working on a paper that I presented in Montreal a few months ago at a conference on love. Indirectly, it got to , who said he liked it but has a couple of criticisms, which I’ve been trying to respond to by revising the paper.

The paper was originally called “What is This Thing Called Love?” and it dealt with a paper that Bellah himself had written about an important paper of ’s. I have something worth saying about love (I think I even posted the paper on the blog a while back) but after working on the thing over a week, I decided last night that what I was saying was going right past Weber. I began re-reading Weber’s original paper, and I think what I wrote didn’t have much connection to Weber’s, though it ought to. If the paper is going to work, I have to connect it up better.

So I went to the Internet and began searching for other papers people have written about Weber. Immediately (the first item on Google Scholar’s list) I found something by and Oberschall in the of 1965. Perfect.

What they show is that Weber was exceedingly ambivalent on several points having to do with empirical research – as well he should be, but not for the reasons that Lazarsfeld and Oberschall think. They complain because he seemed hesitant about using to measure subjective experiences. For their part, they see no reason for hesitation whatever.

Well, I do – when the subjective experience is something that is not scarce because it does not occupy time and space and hence can be infinite. Some things are like that – they are not (subject to the first law of thermodynamics, for example) and so you cannot quantify them. I am sure that Weber never could have explained it as well as , a scientist whom I know and cherish because she’s mainly a peace researcher. She says love is like that. You can have as much of it as you want. She explains why in scientific language.

That’s the point I’ve been trying to make, but it’s a damned hard one to explain clearly.

But here I find Weber troubled by it and also not able to say why. One of the examples Lazarsfeld and Oberschall cite has to do with friendship. An empirical survey researcher will want to measure friendship by making a list of things that people do which demonstrate the extent of their friendship, then creating an index by giving a score based on the sum of the “yes” answers that people give when asked to tick off which of these listed properties they have going for them.

The problem, as I see it, is that some of the people with whom I feel the deepest friendship live thousands of miles away and we don’t have any contact more than once a year, usually less. Also, as once pointed out (based on empirical network research) friendship is not symmetrical. If you ask someone to list his ten best friends, and you go to each of them and ask them the same question, most of the time the ten don’t even name the first person on their top ten list. However, this does not bother people – or at least it would not bother me. I wouldn’t necessarily expect reciprocity because there’s no content in my relationship with most of my own top ten friends. They don’t have to do anything to be on my list. They could be dead, for that matter, and our friendship will still be alive in my mind. Many of the people I love most actually have been dead for dozens of years, but they are still dear to me. According to Lazarsfeid and Oberschall’s methods, my notion of would simply be nuts, but I don’t think it is. I’ll bet most people are like me in this regard. I don’t need to have any empirical events in my relationships for them to be real.

Now if you were asking me to name car mechanics, it would be a different matter. I have been going to a particular repair shop for several years. I should change because I have ample evidence that they are overcharging me. I just haven’t made the move yet, but one day soon I’m going to. Customership (customerhood? customerness?) is not like friendship. I can tell you some qualifications that I expect of a mechanic and it’s pretty empirical. But friendship doesn’t have any empirical indicators and never can.

This is the kind of thing I have to write in that paper but I can see now that it is going to take another week or two to get it down in publishable form. I think I do want to publish it. I think the insight is important.

Poor Max Weber. He was deeply depressed most of his life. Lazarsfeld and Oberschall know why – they even say so, more or less. Weber blew up at his father and broke off relations with him, and then the father died. At first Max acted as if he didn’t have any guilt, but within weeks his first nervous breakdown occurred. It is obvious. If you think that there’s any way of measuring love, it certainly wouldn’t include what he did. By every culturally accepted indicator, he was a bad son. So he takes that judgment to heart and feels wrong. He doesn’t have a philosophical framework that allows him to escape that verdict.

I could give him one. He should realize that love is the kind of thing that cannot be quantified. It can go on while its opposite is also going on – anger, hatred, whatever – without being cancelled out, as conserved entities are. But to explain that takes work. I can’t put off some of my other work long enough to finish writing that paper now. I have a magazine to put out. Magazines are conserved. They appear in space and time. They have deadlines. Love and friendship do not.

Poor Max.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Democracy and Development: More on Lipset

Keywords: Seymour Martin Lipset; Aristotle; democracy; development; waves of democratization; United States Institute of Peace; Peace Magazine; Amartya Sen; Meir Amor; Samuel Huntington; famine; Ukraine.

I wrote this piece for the Globe and Mail, but instead they chose to extract passages from my longer post of January 4th, which appears in today’s (Saturday’s) paper. I am a little embarrassed by it, since the editor picked out comments that are about me more than about Lipset. Anyhow, that left me with these left-over reflections to post here, which in fact I think point out’s most important contributions better than did the longer article.

To me, what counts most among his writings are his comparative studies of . No academic has ever done more to show what factors allow societies to sustain stable democracy. In 1959 he proved empirically what had only theorized: Democracy does flourish best in societies with high — especially widespread education.

Democracy has increased globally in three consecutive “waves” — the first between 1828 to 1926; the second from 1943 to 1964, and (as has pointed out) the third from 1974 until about 1992. Since the , some 60 percent of the world’s countries remain at least formally democratic.

These three waves of democratization were never consolidated, however, for after each one some of the new democracies always regressed. By 1993, when Lipset gave his to the , his paper sought to identify empirically the most promising social conditions for keeping democratic countries from reverting to authoritarian or control. It was a rich summary of extensive research. However, despite the strong relationship that contiued to be seen between economic development and democracy, Lipset could not prove which factor was cause and which was effect. That question long remained a topic of debate.

Incontestably, democracy is a . Full, established democracies simply don’t go to war against each other. (They do, however, go to war against dictatorships, and of course dictatorships go to war against each other.) Logically it follows that if all countries were democracies, there would be no more international wars. (And, surprisingly, warfare actually is becoming less frequent as democracy becomes more widespread.)

For years Lipset served as vice-chair of the board of the . As editor of , I always emphasize the connection between , so in 2000, a few months before his fatal stroke, and I interviewed him for the magazine. In explaining the conduciveness of democracy for peace, he said:

“Authoritarian countries can go to war easily because, if the dictator or the one party in control wants to do so, they don’t have to worry about opposition. Democratic states have . For example, in every war that America has fought, with the exception of World War II, in which the Japanese attacked, the country has seen a major anti-war movement that continued into the war.”

We mentioned his early work on development and democracy — the question about the direction of causality. I said,

“One would have concluded from it that economic development was a condition for the growth of democracy, but it did not suggest that democracy was a favorable condition for economic development.... Now has a new book out, . He argues that democracy — including civil freedoms, political liberty, and open dialogue — are prerequisites for sustainable development...”

Lipset replied,

“Until recently there were many people who believed that democracy undermined economic development in poor countries. The empirical research challenges that conclusion, but as to whether democracy actually fosters economic development, I do not think that it had been proved decisively one way or the other. However, Amartya Sen is obviously a first-rate economist, and if that is Sen’s considered opinion, I would accept it. He’s as good at analyzing such things as anybody I know of.”

We talked about Amartya Sen's empirical finding that there are never in democratic countries, as there have been elsewhere. “A government in an authoritarian system,” he mused, “can ignore problems, as the Russians did in the thirties, when millions died in the .”

And so he concluded, “Of course, democracy matters.”

And that’s Lipset’s gift to us all: an immense corpus of research showing in what ways “democracy matters.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Perils of Assisting Democracy

Keywords: democracy; Iraq; Christian Peacemaker Teams; Red Cross; National Endowment for Democracy; Carl Gershman; Ron Paul; NGO; Orange Revolution; Belarus; Russia; civil society; Community of Democracies.

Almost every these days feels obliged to pretend his country is . The word has a nice ring to it. But despite the desire for respectability that motivates such democratic pretensions, activities directed toward spreading democracy meet strong, and growing, resistance. In Iraq today, for example, an American woman was killed for carrying out her mission: to assist the Iraqis in developing democracy. I’m not counting the 3,000 soldiers who have been killed for obediently trying impose democracy on Iraqis whether they like it or not. I see a big distinction between and imposing it with military force. The former sometimes works; the latter rarely does — unless, I guess, the unwilling recipient of this imposition is a totally defeated country, as in the case of Germany and Japan after World War II. Democracy took root there, apparently, whereas elsewhere the use of force generally provokes great opposition, as today in Iraq.

You don’t have to be a to believe that democracy is generally a good thing. The defining trait of neoons is that they are willing to use violence to spread the glad tidings of democracy. Personally, I fully endorse the “assistance” approach, which supports and financial aids democratic opposition groups within authoritarian countries.

Not everyone agrees with me — not by a long shot. Even many peaceniks argue that “we wouldn’t want foreign assistance being given to revolutionaries within our own country, so we shouldn’t be giving it to dissident democrats in authoritarian countries.” Really? We shouldn’t have helped Germans stop Hitler? Or Russians stop Stalin? Or Chinese stop Mao? I can understand extreme pacifists who would refuse to help violent opposition against even dictatorships, but I don’t even know any pacifists who would object ethically to supporting nonviolent resistance to tyranny.

Some people distinguish between government-funded democratic assistance and the private, voluntary assistance provided by s. People who would support the or the in Lebanon or Palestine, for example, would not necessarily want any foreign government-supported organizations to operate there performing the same activities. Libertarians, for example, such as Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, oppose efforts to spread democracy around the world with the support of government. Myself, I’m in favor of nonviolent support for democracy from any government. Violence is where I draw the line — that and the subverting of democracy by interfering with the outcome of elections. It’s fine to help a dissident group make its voice heard where it would otherwise be repressed. It wouldn’t be fine to fund certain candidates or parties in a fair election. So there’s a fine line between assisting democracy rather than corrupting it, and it’s essential to be careful.

But besides these reasonable considerations, there are new obstacles to democracy assistance around the world. A while back, (see photo), the head of the Washington-based , wrote an article in a journal that his organization funds, The Journal of Democracy, describing these new problems. NED is an organization that operates at arms-length from the government, but cooperates with the democracy institutes of the two big US parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. As Gershman points out, there is a trend toward the incorporation of “a ” into international law,

“a growing consensus that democracy is the only system which confers legitimacy upon a government, and a widespread agreement that democracy promotes human rights, development, and peace.

“The practical manifestation of this trend has been a proliferation of democracy-assistance programs funded by governments, multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union, international financial institutions, and independent foundations. Such programs, which have gained broad international support, provide technical and material assistance to governments that are trying to consolidate democracy, as well as to nongovernmental groups that seek to monitor public institutions and processes, promote human rights and access to information, and encourage democratic participation.”

Naturally, not all governments welcome such “assistance.” After the recent “third wave of democratization,” in very few cases was there an overt return to dictatorship. Instead, the “reverse wave” backlash against democracy consisted of a weakening of actual democratic practices, coupled with a superficial liberalization. For example, these “hybrid regimes” usually retain free, but not fair, elections. Parliament is weak, the executive branch dominates, and there is no significant independent judiciary. The new organizations such as NED help opposition groups expand their political space in such constrained situations.

The in Ukraine alarmed the heads of several formerly Communist countries such as Belarus and Russia, convincing them that this contagious movement might sweep them out of power. In reaction, they began a new crackdown against all pro-democracy organizations. Farther away, certain other countries, such as Chavez’s , are equally notable for harassing NGOs. Everywhere, the most common approach has been to require all civil society organizations to register with the government and receive permission to function. They are generally not allowed to receive funds from foreign sources.

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) wrote that over twenty countries have introduced restrictive legislation aimed at weakening civil society. In some places, Gershman notes, the NGOs comply by publicly acknowledging the grants they have received from abroad, and even applying for permission to accept it. If they are denied permission, however, they must then begin finding circuitous methods, such as they previously used when their societies were closed: financing through third parties, running trainings in adjacent territories, and channeling support through exile groups.

Gershman rightly proposes that democratic governments should use political pressure on the governments that are blocking democracy assistance and persecuting activists. He also proposes linkage as a useful political response. “The idea,” he writes, “is to link a state’s treatment of independent civil society organizations to the political and economic dimensions of interstate relations.” In another instance, the repressive Russian NGO law was trimmed back because the Kremlin wanted to avoid embarrassment when it hosted the in St. Petersburg. Gershman proposes that the should explicitly advance the cause of democracy worldwide, and elaborate the . It can help discredit the new assault on democracy promotion.

I heartily agree — with one minor adaptation. If the Community of Democracies, or even the United Nations more broadly, offers this kind of support, it would do well to propose guidelines at the same time, defining the acceptable scope of activities for those offering democracy assistance, and stipulating what kinds of intervention should be regarded as improper. In this case, the legitimacy of the activity will actually be enhanced by having its limits spelled out.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What Comes After Neoconservatism?

Keywords: Doug Saunders; neoconservatives; Seymour Martin Lipset; democracy; tyrants; Ismael Zayer; Kurds; Shia; Ahmed Al-Chalabi; nonviolence; John Bacher; Robert Helvey; Gene Sharp; Michael Ignatieff; Laith Kubba; Iraq; regime change.

My Saturdays begin with excitement: Oh, goody — this is the morning when ’s column will appear in the Globe and Mail. He’s that good.

Last Saturday’s column, “Neocons Sing Their Own Swan Song,” was particularly meaningful to me, since I was about to write an obituary about my mentor, , who is widely reviled as a neoconservative. I have defended Lipset against that charge, but since he apparently never did so himself, I guess it is not up to me to object to that label. The approach that Saunders took is even better. While acknowledging the rout of that movement, which was well-earned, he pauses to point out its good side.

I don’t think neo-conservatives had enough in common to constitute a single, identifiable category. Moreover, their “good sides” were not all equally good; some were deplorable from every angle. Saunders defines them as “an international policy based on morality, on the spread of democracy and open economies, on the removal of tyrants — all coupled with a radically libertarian, small-government domestic policy.”

He asks whether we should miss them. Good question. My answer: I like international policies based on morality (which I equate to human rights). I like democracy and (with qualifications) open economies. I favor the removal of . I don’t much like libertarian, small-government policies. But that does not make me a neocon — not by a long shot — because Saunders omits the main criterion: the neocons’ readiness to use violence in promoting democracy and ousting tyrants. One can — and I do — like both and . The thing is, neither the neoconservatives nor Saunders himself takes nonviolence seriously as a valid, practicable method of “regime change” against tyrants such as Saddam Hussein.

Nor does , whose recent narrow defeat for the leadership of the Liberal Party may reflect the declining credibility of neoconservatism. Yes, it is fair to call Ignatieff a neocon; as Saunders notes, he had favored the regime change of Iraq by military means. I once challenged Ignatieff from the floor after a lecture he gave at the University of Toronto by pointing out that, despite being one of the authors of the “” doctrine, which has now become recognized as international law, his proposals about Iraq had not met one of its main requirements.

“R2P,” as it is called, requires that military intervention be taken only as the last resort, after all other possibilities have been considered. Yet in his articles in The New York Times Magazine, Ignatieff had never even mentioned the possibility of bringing down a dictator through nonviolent means. There were, I said, expatriate Iraqis who wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein through nonviolent resistance, yet Ignatieff had never even mentioned them, let alone supported them. Nor, of course, had the Bush administration.

He looked shocked. “That would be the most irresponsible thing I can imagine,” he replied.

Yeah, sure. Somebody might get hurt that way.

But Peace Magazine, which I edit, was in touch before the invasion with Iraqi expatriates who wanted to bring down the dictatorship by assuming all the risks themselves and asking only moral and financial support from abroad. And that's the answer to militarism; people who want democracy must be in charge of getting it for themselves — nonviolently.

The best approach I know for exposing the true flaw in neoconservatism is to reprint here two articles that Peace published in 2003. One was by me, the other by . Whereas the neocons are now having to acknowledge their mistakes, there is nothing in either of these articles that Bacher or I wish we could retract. Read on.

Ushering Democracy into Iraq Nonviolently
By Metta Spencer

From Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2003, p.8.

“In the United States, apart from a few significant street demonstrations, George W. Bush enjoys enormous support for his war plans. Journalists and pollsters say that this reflects, not some strangely innate blood lust on the part of the population, but two prominent concerns - first, the belief that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (as if the US itself did not) and, second, the fact that Saddam Hussein is, in fact, a tyrant who represses his own people. The organizers of protests do not, on the whole, propose any alternative, nonviolent way of bringing democracy to Iraq. What is there to demonstrate for?

“Point well taken. The UN weapons inspectors will reduce the first concern - about Iraq's arsenal - but the second issue remains unresolved. However much one objects to the American plan, it is also unconscionable to acquiesce to a dictator who destroys the lives of his own people. However, three groups of peace activists do object to the war and the existing sanctions while disclaiming responsibility for liberating Iraq from tyranny.

“The first group includes those who do not consider democracy important to peace (many of them had also acquiesced to the human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of socialism). The second group consists of people who believe that democracy cannot take root in Iraq now, and that whoever replaces Saddam Hussein will be just as bad, if not worse. They cannot, in conscience, support any worthy but hopeless cause. The third group consists of people who believe that the Iraqi people can rid themselves of their dictator nonviolently, but that such a resistance movement would only be compromised by accepting political or financial support from foreign sources - especially the United States.

“This article is addressed primarily to members of the third category. While I understand their qualms about accepting money from such sources as the United States government (which in fact has not offered any), I believe that it is urgently necessary to support the nonviolent activities of an Iraqi opposition movement....

“Here I want, first, to appraise the possibility of nonviolently ousting Saddam Hussein; second, to identify the main opposition groups; and third, to consider the prospects for democracy in a post-dictatorship era.

“The great majority of Iraqis are not enthusiastic supporters of their leader, despite his claims to that effect. In a referendum held October 15, supposedly 100 percent of the voters supported the extension of Saddam Hussein's presidency for another seven years. Of course, there was no alternative candidate on the ballot. Separate boxes were provided for "Yes" and "No" votes, and anyone present could see where the ballots were placed. It would be extremely dangerous to vote against the president. On previous occasions, "No" voters have been known to be arrested and dragged away, never to be seen again. The most that might have been achieved by way of opposition would have been increased voter absenteeism, which would have been less dangerous than to vote "No." Iraqi citizens don't have easy ways of showing their displeasure.

“On the other hand, according to the Norwegian peace activist Jan Oberg, who recently visited , the average Iraqi citizen is better informed about current affairs in the West than Europeans and Americans are about Iraq. Any Iraqi caught with a satellite dish is fined the equivalent of $500, while a person informing against him gets $250. Nevertheless, some satellite reception does take place, and ordinary TV sets show pirated Hollywood movies, documentaries about Israel, summaries of Western newspapers, belly dance shows, live football matches, and speeches by the president. The Internet and e-mail are spreading, though sanctions have limited their proliferation to the number of computers that can be smuggled into Iraq. Baghdad newspapers offer stories about international affairs and about Western artists and writers that are straight translations of BBC material.


“The well-being of Iraq's citizenry will require that two difficult challenges be met. First, the people must rid themselves of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime, and second, a new democratic government must be instituted in a country that is rife with religious, ethnic, clan, and ideological factionalism, and where freedom has never been a way of life. Preparations should be undertaken immediately to implement both of these changes, since if reasonable plans are not undertaken promptly, the opportunities will soon be lost. Indeed, it already is terribly late to start such campaigns.

“I will not even discuss whether the Iraqi people deserve to control the circumstances of their own lives, but will assume that every reader can grasp that significant truth. The question is not whether it is desirable to get rid of a dictator, but whether it is feasible, and whether the successor government will constitute any improvement. That is why the challenge of nonviolently toppling Saddam should not be considered in isolation from the realistic opportunities for the subsequent establishment of democracy. A reasonable argument can be made for favorable outcomes on both issues, though it would be truly wrong to underestimate the extent of the difficulty. There will be serious costs, but all other alternatives may cost even more.

“There is a growing independent movement for democracy both inside Iraq and in the émigré community. For example, on October 22, two astonishing demonstrations occurred at the Baghdad Ministry of Information, where several protestors demanded information about their imprisoned relatives. After they were broken up by police, the Information Minister said he would try to account for the whereabouts of their lost relatives. "Something like this has never happened before," said Wamid Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "It's a very, very important and unusual event."

“One émigré leader is an exiled journalist, Ismail Zayer (see photo), who lives in the Netherlands. He coordinates a nonviolent democratic opposition group, "No to Saddam," which advocates a "third choice" - neither war nor keeping Saddam in power. Zayer supports human rights everywhere and claims that "nonviolence is a new trend in Arabic politics. We are aware of Palestinian nonviolence and are trying to team up with them." Zayer believes that the power of Iraq's leadership is crumbling. He is working with supportive organizations in the United States - especially the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, D.C. - a small, private nongovernmental organization headed by .

“In Virginia last January DuVall's organization held a session on strategic nonviolent conflict. Iraqi Kurds met with organizers of nonviolent struggles from South America, the US Civil Rights Movement, Chile, Poland, Mongolia, and Serbia.

“DuVall and his colleague - both scholar-activists who have studied numerous historical cases of nonviolent resistance - are training Iraqi exiles who are willing to work for a nonviolent overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Ackerman is chair of the board of overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. With the recent example of the successful overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in mind, they maintain that a similar kind of civilian insurrection is a realistic way for Iraqi people to topple Saddam.

“They represent a minority view. Most of the recognized Iraqi opposition groups expect that the United States will lead a coalition to unseat the dictator, and believe that nothing short of armed force from abroad will accomplish such a change. The power of nonviolent resistance has never been comprehended widely and even when it has proved successful, people often tend to discount it as a fluke or attribute it to other factors. Ackerman and DuVall, strongly influenced by the eminent peace researcher , maintain that the success or failure of nonviolence depends on choices made among a vast number of techniques. The goal is not to make a symbolic point, but to triumph by strategically using methods that work precisely against the circumstances that are holding tyranny in place. Nonviolent strategies require the same kind of intelligence as the planning of military engagements. Fortunately, their victims ordinarily are far fewer.

“Ackerman and DuVall acknowledge that Saddam's rule may be as brutal as that of any dictator since Stalin. On the other hand, he does not enjoy the support that Stalin had - an entrenched party system, backed by ideological zealots. Instead, his hold on power depends more on personal loyalties, material rewards, and mortal penalties. If a campaign against him began with civilian-based incidents of disruption that were dispersed around the country, offering no convenient targets, then any crack-down would depend on the outermost, least reliable members of Saddam's repressive apparatus. If the resisters made it clear to police and soldiers that they were not viewed as the enemy, then the realization that Saddam was being opposed openly would lessen the danger of carrying out further acts of resistance. As opposition became more visible, there would be new places for defectors to meet.

‘Saddam recognizes that he can't fight a battle to repress a population on all fronts,’ says Ackerman. ‘He has to terrorize to get compliance. The more people he employs to terrorize the population, statistically speaking, the more unreliable his security force. There are elements of the Iraqi Republican Guard he is afraid to have in Baghdad.’

“Ackerman and DuVall point out that when a nonviolent movement begins, most people think success is impossible, because they can just see the costs of resisting, rather than the costs that the resisters can impose on those in power. Dictatorial regimes are only as tolerant as required to maintain the façade of internal or external legitimacy. Not only gentle, polite regimes have been overthrown, but also some that brutalized their opponents.

“‘Strategic nonviolent action is not about being nice to your oppressor, much less having to rely on his niceness,’ say Ackerman and DuVall. ‘It's about dissolving the foundations of his power and forcing him out. It is possible in Iraq.”

“But what then? There would be no point in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, only to see him succeeded by another dictator who would rule the same way. Therefore, whenever preparations are made to launch a nonviolent resistance movement, plans must be laid for establishing a democratic regime that will hold together over the long term.


“The prospects of attaining cooperation among the disparate Iraqi political groups seem bleak. Opposition political groups cannot openly function within any part of Iraq that is controlled by Saddam Hussein's government. Indeed, the secret police includes a significant fraction of the population (as in Romania under Ceaucescu and East Germany during the Communist regime), making private discussions of political matters dangerous. Even remote Iraqi villages that lack electricity are well supplied with political informants.

“Not only does the regime repress political criticism, but the opposition groups themselves are so divided that pluralistic politics would be difficult, even if circumstances permitted openness.


“The , who constitute 19 percent of the Iraqi population, live in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region (KAR) of northern Iraq. That region was established in the 1970s but relations were always tense and, during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Kurdish guerrillas attacked the Iraqi regime, with help from Iran. In retaliation, Saddam Hussein waged war against the strongholds of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), even using chemical weapons in thousands of villages. After the 1991 Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush incited rebellion among the Kurds, without providing assistance for their troops against Saddam's forces. The Kurdish insurrection was crushed and some 1.5 million Kurds fled into Iran and Turkey. Baghdad forces regained control of the autonomous region, but then Western troops forced them out of the security zone. Today, most Kurds mistrust the United States, expecting that Washington might grant Turkey even greater influence in northern Iraq in exchange for the right to use Turkish land as bases for military action against Iraq. For its part, the Turkish government is anxious not to encourage Kurds, since many issues with their own separatist Kurds remain unresolved.

“The two main Kurdish parties in KAR - the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - have sometimes fought against each other. For example, in 1996 the KDP sought aid from the Iraqi troops to gain control of PUK land. However, the two parties now are sharing power in a relatively civil way. Together they have a total of about 40,000 troops, which the Americans view as potentially comparable to the oppositional function of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. However, the Kurds may be unwilling to undertake any such risks, especially now that they enjoy significant levels of freedom and are prospering from access to the cheap fuel and profits of oil smuggling operations that the Iraq regime encourages.

“Besides, despite their strength in numbers, the Kurdish parties have apparently been losing influence within the opposition groups and are not thought capable of leading a movement to overthrow the regime. To do so, they would have to compromise with other ethnic groups - notably the Arabs, Turkmens, and Assyrians, all of which have expatriate communities and political groups.


“The make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people. (The ruling group in Baghdad has long been dominated by Sunni Muslims - a group that constitutes only 16 percent of Iraq's population.) Mostly based in the south, the Shia are unlikely to cooperate with a US-led invasion, since they reportedly doubt that it is the way to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In 1991 they did participate in an uprising against the Iraqi president, along with other groups, but this effort was crushed, with the loss of tens of thousands of lives, mainly because the US did not offer military help, despite having incited the insurrection.

“The Shiite opposition is supported by Iran and continues to maintain a military organization of between 7,000 and 15,000 men. Their organization is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is based in Tehran. There are also other Shia groups functioning within Iraq. Not surprisingly, at a meeting of opposition groups in London this fall, the Shiite delegates stated that they did not want a federation in Iraq, and that nothing would succeed in replacing Baghdad as the capital of the country.


“The entire exiled Iraqi opposition movement comprises mostly Kurds and Shiites, but it also includes ethnic and secular communities, such as Turkmens, Assyrians, and Communists. The largest effort to coordinate these various communities has taken place within an umbrella organization, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which was formed in 1992 and is now the best-known organization. It is based in London.

“Washington has attempted in the past to consult with opposition groups, to support and to increase unity among them. In 1998 the US Congress authorized expending nearly $100 million for anti-Saddam activities, but not for combat training. A large portion of the money was to be distributed to the INC, which produces satellite TV programs for Iraq. However, the organization's accounting procedures came under attack and most of the money was never administered.

“Indeed, some observers are apprehensive about the quality of leadership available within the entire spectrum of exiled Iraqis. The Sunday Herald in Glasgow even ran an article by Cambridge lecturer Glen Rangwala, titled, "Unveiled: The Thugs Bush Wants in Place of Saddam," that named the most probable successors of the Iraqi president. One is a former general, Nizar Al-Khazraji, who led the Iraqi army during the invasion of Kuwait and who is the most senior figure ever to have defected from Saddam's regime. He has been blamed for the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1980s - a charge that he calls a calculated smear. Another influential Iraqi is Ahmad Al-Chalabi, a former banker and Shia who fled to London in 1989 under charges of embezzlement. He took over the INC for a while and is still often referred to as the "future president of Iraq," despite the fact that about half the money the US gave to the INC during his leadership was not properly accounted for. He remains popular among some factions of American strategists.

“By this past summer, as the Bush administration was gearing up for war, many doubts were emerging about the merit of "changing the regime" unless it was clear what kind of democratic regime would replace the dictatorship. In May, a three-day conference was held in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, under the auspices of a British organization, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. There were 130 participants - academics, clergy, journalists, chieftains, and students from three universities and different ethnic, ideological, and religious backgrounds - who called for sanctions to be lifted, for the development of civil society, for democratic reforms, and for an integration of the whole region, modeled after the European Union.

“In July, the US State Department began holding "working group" meetings to bring the Iraqi factions together. These meetings included the INC (which continues to enjoy strong backing from Washington), plus the Kurdish parties; the London-based Iraqi National Accord (which comprises former members of the ruling Ba'ath Party); the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the main Shiite Muslim organization.

“Not many of these groups see eye to eye. The question is, can a viable democratic regime be created from such material? The prospects are not promising. At our press time in mid-December they had just convened a long-delayed conference in London. Some 300 delegates attended, representing the whole political spectrum of parties, plus ethnic and religious groups. They promised to keep working toward a common program. The attitude in the United States remains mixed. Some strategists, skeptical about the capacity of expatriate political groups to work together, prefer the idea of fostering a coup by Iraqi military leaders. Yet others prefer turning post-Saddam Iraq over to the United Nations as a protectorate (perhaps along the same lines as Kosovo) to evade the (to them) distasteful task of "nation-building." The prospect of unseating the regime by nonviolent means and instituting a truly democratic regime is rarely considered.


is an Iraqi who works in Washington D. C. with the , a nonprofit organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. The Endowment is governed by an independent, nonpartisan board of directors. Although some émigré Iraqis worry about Kubba's closeness to the US State Department (they demand that any opposition group remain financially and politically remote from American influences) others worry about the opposite problem - that, apart from the Kurds, no Iraqi democratic opposition groups receive financial help from the US government.

“Kubba believes democracy is possible in all Muslim countries, including Iraq. He maintains that there is nothing in Islamic texts and traditions to interfere with democratization, for the cultural obstacle is not religious, but only a deficit of modernity. Eventually there will be a regime change in Iraq, but none of the options suggested to date is workable, in his opinion, so he offers the following proposals of his own.

“The fragmented communities of Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis must manage a transition that is difficult, Kubba says, but not impossible. The important thing is to create an inclusive interim power-sharing administration that will maintain order while allowing all the interest groups to express their ideas. The most urgent step will be to hold a constitutional assembly and plan for a free, fair referendum on ratification, while maintaining law and order.

“The last thing Iraq needs is another strongman, says Kubba. Instead, the interim administration should have three temporary councils. One would function as a lower house for deputies appointed or elected by political groups. Opposition organizations, whether in exile or in northern Iraq, could fill up to three-quarters of its 200 seats.

“The second council would be a sort of senate, with 100 seats mainly for tribal, religious, and ethnic dignitaries. It would give traditional leaders a role and ensure the inclusion of minorities such as Turkmens, Chaldeans, and Assyrian Christians. These two councils would nominate members of the constitutional assembly, but should stay out of administrative matters.

“A third council would handle national security and control weapons and armed men, preventing the outbreak of private warfare. It would include officers from the current Iraqi military and security establishment, plus representatives of the political opposition organizations named above. Kubba proposes allowing most of Saddam's ordinary civilian bureaucrats, as opposed to secret police, to keep their jobs.

“Overseeing the transition would be a three-member presidency with authority over the three temporary councils. There would be one senior figure from the north, the centre, and the south - all with untarnished records of integrity. The presidency would appoint cabinet ministers, consulting with the KDP and PUK regarding nominations concerning the north and with the SCIRI regarding the south.

“Kubba acknowledges that this plan will not please everyone, but says it would allow for a legitimate and legal transfer of power. It makes existing armed groups part of the solution rather than part of the problem.


“George W. Bush can prevent a war against Iraq merely by deciding not to launch it. He can also improve the quality of life for ordinary Iraqi citizens by agreeing to end the harsh sanctions that have killed so many people - especially innocent children. But neither of these decisions alone would bring democracy and human security to the Iraqi citizens. Basically, the people must claim those rights by their own efforts, ousting the dictator and establishing a better government in which old ethnic, ideological, and religious enmities are constrained within pluralistic tolerance.

“This can be done. It cannot be done overnight, and it cannot be done at all without moral and financial support. DuVall's Center for Nonviolence hopes eventually to have a $100 million private endowment to challenge dictators, but the money does not exist for that purpose yet. Nongovernmental organizations and, especially, governments themselves have little faith in the potential of nonviolent resistance. Too often, they are afraid of appearing naïve by supporting a cause that has little chance of success. No one can be sanguine that Iraq's dictatorship will collapse easily or without imposing pain on the domestic opposition. However, the cost of supporting an autonomous nonviolent movement calling for democracy is a pittance in comparison to the probable alternative - war - whereas the payoff is enormous in terms of lives potentially saved, and as a way of recovering the respect and trust of Muslims throughout the world.

“It's a promising investment. So far, however, no government has offered recognition or support comparable to that devoted to ousting Milosevic. Private sources of assistance are even less available, but unless democratic peace activists support their true allies among Iraqis, public opinion will waver and fail to block Bush's war plans.

“In mid-December, however, US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a major American policy shift that, if fulfilled, will certainly bear upon these issues. According to Powell, the US will henceforth not play favorites, aligning with some Middle Eastern autocrats while demanding that others introduce reforms. He declared that the rulers of oil-rich Persian Gulf countries have failed to bring either democracy or prosperity to the Arab world. ‘I no longer think that is affordable and sustainable. America wants to align itself with the people of the Middle East.’ It will promote democratic change and social reforms throughout the region.

“If this really is the US policy it may have been designed to mollify Arab indignation over the US double standard (attacking Iraq while retaining other Islamic dictators as allies). Nevertheless, a universalistic policy of reform will be welcomed by the despairing Arab populations. It will also create new opportunities and challenges for peace activists. We should promote nonviolent ways of attaining these goals ourselves.”

The second article, by John Bacher, appeared in Peace Magazine shortly after mine.

Robert Helvey's Expert Political Defiance
By John Bacher

From Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2003, p.10.

“You know the names of plenty of military leaders (Eisenhower and Mountbatten, for example) who vanquished dictators - but I'll bet you never heard of Robert Helvey. You should. He's a rugged, retired US colonel whose adventures could make a terrific Hollywood epic. Moreover, he offers an answer to the main problem that we are all confronting - how to help the Iraqi people get rid of a dictator without violence.

“Helvey is experienced and credible. Most recently he has given preliminary training to 50 leaders of a democratic Iraqi opposition organization called "No to Saddam," which is committed to dissolving the dictatorship through such means of resistance as massive strikes. And for several years before, he was training democratic opposition movements in Burma and in Serbia. His work was crucial in OTPOR's overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. I will describe his work in all three countries: Burma, Serbia, and Iraq.


“From 1983 until 1985 Helvey was a US military attaché at the American Embassy in Rangoon, where he was dismayed by the futility of armed resistance to the brutal dictatorship of Burma. An armed struggle had continued without success for over two decades. The democratic protesters were outgunned by Burma's military rulers, whose 400,000 troops were well-supplied by Communist China, and who had profits from the narcotics trade and foreign corporations involved in logging, mining, and petroleum development.

“Helvey could see no way of resisting the junta, and that fact haunted him throughout his last year of military service, which he spent as a fellow at Harvard's Center for International Affairs. One day he saw a poster advertising a talk on nonviolent sanctions, to be given a few hours later by the leading theorist of nonviolent resistance, Gene Sharp. Greatly impressed by Sharp's analysis of how to acquire political power without war, Helvey immediately recognized the value of such methods for Burma's democrats, who were being slaughtered.

“From conversations with Sharp and like-minded colleagues at the Albert Einstein Institution, Helvey learned a systematic strategy of resistance. For example, he learned to avoid exposed situations that could lead to heavy casualties such as the protest in 1988 when 3,000 unarmed students were massacred in Rangoon. He came to see that even greater pressure could be applied to the regime with less risky tactics, such as having people simply stay at home during a general strike.

“After retiring from the army in 1991, Helvey gave a speech in Washington, using Sharp's insights and adding his own. A member of the audience later offered to pay his way to Burma to spread his message. With this funding, from 1992 to 1998, he made 15 trips to the Thai-Burmese border to meet with more than 500 members of the National Council Union of Burma, a pro-democracy umbrella group. On eight occasions, Helvey taught a six-week course, seeking to build confidence, identify the dictatorship's major weaknesses, and form pressure groups. This is hard to do in Burma, where unauthorized meetings of more than five people are banned. He stressed that nonviolent struggle, "like military struggle, is both an art and a science. To be effective, it must be studied and carried out with skill and discipline." His students prepared strategic plans for facing certain dangerous situations. Helvey bought air time on Radio Norway's shortwave broadcasts, and cassettes of his resistance message were distributed underground in Burma.

“Many of those attending Helvey's course had been officers in armed resistance groups for many years and were skeptical about nonviolence. For example, Auun Nang Oo, who is now a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Nonviolence, was astonished that a career soldier could hold such views. Another unbeliever was General Bo Mya, the leader of the Karens, the biggest national minority. At first he would just grumble and grunt that he "wasn't interested in doing the work of cowards." To change such attitudes, Helvey coined the more militant-sounding phrase, "political defiance," which won Bo over and caused him to ask Helvey to train more Karen leaders.

“Gene Sharp joined Helvey at the request of the American Friends of Democracy in Burma. Both men met students who had faced ghastly experiences, including imprisonment, solitary confinement, torture, dangers to family, and executions of relatives and friends. Yet none of them seemed hardened and hateful, but all "seemed determined to bring an end to this massive oppression, hopefully by political defiance rather than a continuation of a long war."

“Helvey's training was to have a noticeable impact on the Burmese opposition. In 1997, the All-Burma Students Democratic Front ended its support for armed struggle and endorsed the strategies of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Su Kyi. She had been elected president of Burma in 1990 in an election nullified by the country's military rulers. Now new tactics were employed, such as lightning-quick street protests, sit-ins, and the distribution of leaflets before troops could arrive.

“Helvey stayed in touch with Burma's opposition even after his main work shifted to the training of youthful democrats in the former Yugoslavia. Until the spring of 2001, difficulties in Burma were compounding because Aung San Su Kyi was kept under house arrest. As he explained to me, "Politics in Burma have always been personalized and Aung San Su Kyi is the symbol of the entire pro-democracy movement. Without her, the movement has not demonstrated the ability to take on strategic struggle."

“Because her release was so important, it became a condition for the ending of many restrictions on foreign aid to Burma. Helvey explained that

‘Aung San Su Kyi's release was in response to international pressure, especially Japan's forgiving some of the country's extensive debt. The rulers showed they kept their part of the bargain by allowing her to move around the country to open the offices of her party, the National League for Democracy. In doing so, she spoke to large demonstrations, which showed her popularity to be stronger than ever. I think that these visits are a sign of what is to come in the future.’

“Helvey sees one hopeful sign in an incident of December, 2002 in the state of Arakan, 535 km west of Rangoon. A line of fire trucks had been sent to disperse a crowd of 20,000 people who had gathered to welcome Aung San Su Kyi. Faced with this threat, she suddenly leapt out of her car and jumped onto a fire truck. From here she berated the security forces, telling them that their real job is not to bully the people of Burma but to serve them. The people applauded and faced the fire trucks and police, who backed off.


“Helvey's success with Otpor, the youthful democratic opposition in Serbia, benefited from a temporary consistency and coherence in American foreign policy during the Clinton presidency, which actually pursued the strategies advocated by Gene Sharp. That policy was clearly and openly articulated in a memorandum to the US Congress, written by Daniel Server, director of the Balkan Initiative of the US Institute for Peace. This organization, founded in 1984 and funded by the US Congress, promotes a variety of perspectives favoring peace and human rights. It focuses on civil society, humanitarian assistance, and intercultural dialogue.

“Server made his request for funding in an open document available freely on the Internet. Eventually Congress approved around $45 million. In order to make its objectives appear sinister, Milosevic's secret police slightly falsified his policy document, replacing the US Institute for Peace letterhead with that of the CIA and marking it as TOP SECRET. Helvey recalls that such ploys were based on the correct understanding that "the easiest way to destroy a movement is for the CIA to taint it."

“Many elements in a nonviolent Yugoslav democratization strategy, such as radio broadcasting and aid to democratic groups, were already in place before Server formed the clear, coherent new policy. One benefit of this clarity was to counter the conspiracy theory that accused the US of wanting to keep Milosevic in power. Server employed every element of Sharp's nonviolent strategy for destroying a dictatorship, with the full support of President Bill Clinton's administration. Sanctions were applied in a more targeted fashion. For example, they were not applied to municipalities that voted to support opposition politicians. The National Democratic Institute commissioned polls for Serbian political parties that found that 70 percent of the country viewed Milosevic unfavorably. A series of radio transmitters, called the "Ring Around Serbia," were constructed in neighboring countries to beam in the BBC, the Agence France-Presse, and Voice of America.

“The US Treasury Department was able to trace the movement of Milosevic's funds. Billions of dollars were being laundered through two major Cyprus banks. Cyprus agreed to freeze these assets.

“With the US policy toward Yugoslavia then being written on the basis of Sharp's nonviolent strategies, it was logical that one of his leading colleagues, Robert Helvey, would be assigned the role of building the skills of the nonviolent opposition. The National Republican Institute asked Helvey to undertake the training of Otpor. He began this project in the Budapest Hilton Hotel, with an original core group of only 12 people. Helvey was not paid for his efforts, though his expenses were covered. He began his course by discussing the basics of strategic nonviolent struggle. Srdja Popovic, one of the students, recalls having memorized many of his lectures - especially the opening words, ‘Removing the authority of the ruler is the most important element in nonviolent struggle.’

“Helvey asked Otpor's leaders to analyze the "pillars of support" that sustained the regime, such as control of the media and the country's security forces. The training sessions strategized on how to develop support from a wide spectrum of Serbian citizens, including people within government itself.

“In his lectures, Helvey called violent incidents ‘contaminants to nonviolent struggle," using the metaphor of a car's gas tank contaminated by moisture so that eventually the engine may not run at all. Violence causes "a lot of people who joined your movement because it was nonviolent … to start backing away.’

“Another objective of the training was to overcome fear. Though his students were courageous, Helvey's challenge was to persuade more ordinary Serbs to join in. To handle fear, marchers would touch each other after frightening events, such as the clicking of bayonets, or the beating of batons. Chanting and making noise, he explained, can drown out threatening sounds. Similar impacts are gained from holding banners, which divert attention from threatening soldiers.

“Giving demonstrators minute tasks is another way to overcome fear. Some were employed in keeping protest lines straight. Sign holders were instructed to keep their signs at particular angles. Others were assigned to give warnings of police attacks. Another task for marchers was to carry water.

“Helvey also prepared his students for the real physical suffering many would experience from Yugoslav security forces. It was explained that protesters should prepare first aid and be ready for the first sight of blood after police attacks. Some lessons came from Martin Luther King's training in churches during the civil rights movement, which taught activists to fall down and cover their heads when being beaten.

“Following Helvey's training, Otpor launched a massive recruiting campaign. The regime retaliated, beating and arresting scores of activists within a few weeks. Many recalled Helvey's advice not to respond violently to these attacks. The sight of police abusing young nonviolent demonstrators helped to swell Otpor's ranks into a movement of 70,000 activists. Prominent athletes, representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and even judges joined in. To move the elderly away from their support of Milosevic, Otpor took up pensioners' causes. They sent flowers to the military on Army Day. Such tactics recruited sympathizers in numbers that would not be apparent until the final days of the regime, when soldiers and police stood by while massive crowds stormed the Serbian parliament.


“Almost a year after the successful nonviolent Serbian Revolution of 2000, a seminar began planning to oust the Iraqi dictatorship through similar means. It was offered by the Center for Nonviolent Conflict, Freedom House, and the US Institute for Peace, and was followed by a session in Washington in May sponsored by the Iraqi Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Here Helvey's military experience helped persuade skeptical Iraqi exiles that nonviolence is a viable approach.

“The Gulf War and the subsequent containment efforts against Iraq, says Helvey, ‘only dealt with a symptom of the problems posed by Saddam Hussein. It did not solve the problems of regional security, instability, genocide, and tyranny. Since the war ended, tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens have been killed. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent keeping Saddam's aggressive desires in check, and the regime remains unstable.’


“Helvey's strongest supporter at the May strategy session was (see photo), whose campaign was called "No to Saddam." Zayer advocated a counter-referendum to match Saddam's planned October referendum. Unfortunately, his effort was not assisted by other countries and only thousands of Iraqis took part - far short of the millions he had hoped for. Zayer bravely continues working for the nonviolent defeat of the Iraqi dictatorship. He met with European human rights activists and parliamentarians, asking them to send election monitors to future Iraqi elections and to support nonviolent regime change in Iraq, in an approach called ‘The Third Choice.’

“In a phone interview from his home in the Netherlands, Zayer pleaded that, ‘To achieve the third choice, we need help. Not with armies or with money. We need help in the form of nonviolent training to protect ourselves from Saddam and his agents. We can do it, but we need help now.’

“Unfortunately, not many people are listening. Helvey has been unable to make much progress in training Iraqi exiles in ‘political defiance.’ The next step would be for them to sit down together and identify the key props to Saddam's dictatorship so they can be undermined.

“In October, relatives of the disappeared did protest in Baghdad. Meanwhile, back in Washington Server was trying to get momentum going for a coherent strategy of nonviolent regime change. At the US Institute for Peace, he convened a meeting of experts on Iraq and those skilled in confronting dictatorships, and he published their findings. They suggested numerous new American initiatives, such as tracking down secret bank accounts, targeting sanctions more clearly to hit the powerful, and curbing the smuggling that pays for Iraqi weapons.

“Though his nonviolent strategies are ignored by the Bush Administration, Helvey has emerged as one of the most persuasive critics of war against Iraq. He asks,

‘What is the sense of urgency now for a war that wasn't there a year ago? What is the reason to go to war and not give nonviolence a try? If we have a commitment to democracy in this region, it would be better if the people did it themselves, through nonviolent methods, rather than its being imposed on them by the US military. We may be opening a Pandora's box by invading Iraq. After the victory there would be many extremist groups who would exploit the situation and use violence to foster their ends.’

“But few journalists contact Helvey at his home in West Virginia. His efforts to mobilize support for the Iraqi nonviolent opposition do not appear in the news and are ignored by most of the mainstream peace movement. And we get war instead.”

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Remembering Seymour Martin Lipset

Keywords: Seymour Martin Lipset; Trotskyist; The First New Nations; Philip Selznick; Elsie Lipset; Earl Raab; Free Speech Movement; Clark Kerr; Stein Rokkan; Party Systems and Voter Alignment; Ann Swidler; Alex Inkeles; Henry Kissinger; John Birch Society; Agrarian Socialism; Continental Divide; Sydnee Lipset; Henrique Cardoso; Francis Fukuyama; Carl Gershman; National Endowment for Democracy; Dick Roman; Jason Lakin.

died on New Years Eve — December 31, 2006. He was 84. Many people will write about his intellectual productions, for when I checked last, he was the most frequently cited writer in American academia. He was my mentor, and what I’ll write about is mainly my personal recollections of him. I was his research assistant for about five years, both in Berkeley and at Harvard. Though he was not quite a decade older than I, I regarded him as a father figure, for he was already famous when I went back to college after a ten-year hiatus.

All along, I liked and respected Marty, and I owe him more than I can say. He was generous, not just to me but to the world in general. I never once heard him say anything mean-spirited about another human being.

I can’t remember exactly when we met, though it was probably in 1962. As a single mom I needed lots of part-time jobs, and one summer I worked at the Institute of International Studies in Berkeley. Lipset was its director and my job was to type and proofread manuscripts, one of which was his book . I remember very little about its content, for the commas and footnotes required most of my attention. I did recognize in it Lipset’s enduring preoccupation with the circumstances under which develops.

Later, as a graduate student, I hit the jackpot. Working at the Survey Research Center I heard that Lipset had a box of IBM cards about a survey conducted in eleven Indian universities that he wanted analyzed. I got the job. His new research project was housed in the basement of Phil Selznick’s Center for Law and Society.

Eight or ten of us grad students worked there. Lipset was a big guy who had to stand stooped over to keep from bumping his head in that office. This was his comparative study of around the world. My own part of it became a boondoggle: I was paid for the work; I got course credit; I made it into my MA thesis; and just before I was to it turn in, the department changed the rules so I could hang onto it and make it into my Ph.D. dissertation. Along the way, Marty got me a fellowship for one year to work on it. I knew little about higher education in India, or about Indian politics, yet it was an ideal project for me. I was to finish it at Harvard in 1969.

I started doing editing jobs for him. Sometimes I’d bring a manuscript up to his house in the Berkeley hills. There I became acquainted with his wife Elsie and with Earl Raab, who sometimes came to work with Marty on one of their joint studies. Once I arrived with a manuscript for the special issue of Comparative Education Review that he was editing. I found him staring intently at something in his front yard, completely motionless for a long time. I asked what he was doing.

“I’m trying to see it move,” he replied. He was watching young bamboo plant, which had grown four inches that morning. If he watched closely enough he expected to catch it growing.

While our study of student politics was in full swing, the broke out and disrupted the normal operations of the Berkeley campus. It is hard to say what it was really about, since every day a new set of grievances would emerge, extending far beyond the issue of free speech. There were objections to the impersonal, and imperial, nature of governance that kept students in a subordinate status, whereas the administration functioned in loco parentis.

The initial protests were basically rather civilized, led by well-groomed, Grade A students. The “FSM’s” most famous incident occurred when students sat surrounding a police car and were arrested. This was classic civil disobedience, in contrast to the crude and dangerous struggle that developed a few years later, when fire-bombings as tear-gassings would become an everyday occurrence, provoked not by students but biker gangs.

During even the FSM period, Marty’s position seemed obviously painful, though I did not discuss it with him. Most of the sociology department, including his colleagues, supported the student protests, whereas he was a close friend of the university’s president, , the bete noir of the movement. Neither then nor later did I hear Lipset say anything critical about anyone, but he was engaged in a comparative international study of exactly this phenomenon and he was not inclined to take the protesters’ side overtly. Whatever conciliatory interventions he may have made behind the scenes clearly did not succeed, and he was increasingly vilified on campus. For example, one day in the library, I was carrying a parcel addressed to him, which a nearby student scrutinized. He said, “Oh, you have something for ? I hate the bastard!” I’ll bet he’d never laid eyes on Lipset.

That term Marty moved to Harvard and never returned to Berkeley. Yet I never heard him speak of the period with anger, which he had reason to feel. I never understood what people had against him, especially since the people who worked for him voiced few substantive criticisms. (Sometimes they complained of being insufficiently acknowledged for their contributions but most of us knew that we were giving only trivial help at best.) Eventually I developed two theories to account for his undeserved unpopularity.

First, he was interpersonally a bit awkward. He wasn’t one to hail you in a hearty way, and maybe that made some people consider him gruff. My best conversations with him were by phone. He would call and talk for an hour at a time, clearly enjoying it — because, I think, he didn’t have to look at me. (Maybe he was even doing something else at the same time. He could multi-task like nobody else; I was in his office once when he was giving a telephone interview to Time Magazine while also reading a student’s paper.)

The second reason some radicals resented Lipset was that his politics had changed gradually in ways that they regarded as a betrayal. The young Marty had been a , but in his old age he was sometimes called a — an identity that he apparently neither claimed nor resisted (though I have heatedly denied it on his behalf). It would be hard to pin dates on this political trajectory, but I remember that he was already writing speeches for ’s presidential campaign in 1968. (At least someone told me so — he never bragged, so he never mentioned it in my presence, possibly because he knew I preferred the anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy.)

Throughout the next year or so, Marty kept sending me manuscripts to edit in Berkeley. I remember especially the fine article he and wrote to introduce their edited volume, Party Systems and Voter Alignments. They kept folding extra dimensions into their model until it got too complicated for my poor brain (particularly since it involved ’s a-g-i-l paradigm) but the first phases of the theory were clear. For example, the obvious distinction between territorial and functional types of cleavage is still useful. (Unconsciously, I must have drawn on that later when proposing a voting system that might reduce secessions.) Lipset and Rokkan explained the lasting political cleavages in Europe and America as resulting from two revolutions — national and industrial. The national transformation (e.g. the French Revolution) resulted in center-periphery conflicts between the national culture and various subsidiary ones, such as religious, ethnic, and linguistic struggles, plus the church-state conflict. The economic revolution gave rise to conflicts between landholders and industrialists, and later to class conflicts between capitalists and workers.

In 1967 I moved to Harvard to work for Marty and write my dissertation, which he supervised. He had three offices there — one at the , one at the School of Government, and one in William James Hall, where most of the social sciences were based. I shared his International Affairs office with until she moved to Berkeley to enter graduate school.

In those days the Center for International Affairs was occupied largely by Henry Kissinger and his staff and thirty foreign fellows. They filled several offices around ours, across the large central hall where distinguished-looking people gathered to drink sherry before lunch. Kissinger had a huge budget to bring high-ranking foreigners to Harvard for a year at a time. Their only duty was to attend a seminar in which each one would present at least one paper. I usually ate with them in the lunch room, and often Marty ate there too with his friend , who was carrying on a large comparative study of modernization over in William James Hall.

There were other parties too in the central hall outside Lipset’s office. Samuel Huntington, for example, always brought to his social functions several women who wore huge, stylish hats. This place was nothing like the Berkeley I’d left, where every public place was filled with people sprawled sullenly, expressing their disdain for the Vietnam War. Harvard was home to and , who were famously strategizing the course of that war.

Lipset was not. His orientation was less that of a policymaker than of an inquisitive observer with a natural equanimity that kept him from becoming agitated about the political dramas of the 1960s. His close friend Alex Inkeles engaged in public debate with Henry Kissinger, including in one forum held in a stadium to accommodate the large audience. His objective was to provide dispassionate analysis of the war and to give voice to opposition to the war on analytic grounds rather then purely emotional ones. I was surprised when I heard that Lipset was backing Hubert Humphrey, who as vice-president in Lyndon Johnson’s administration had revealed little of his previous progressiveness — at least with respect to the war, which was the issue of highest priority during that election.

Ann and I worked together on Marty’s new study of the radical right, especially exploring the , sometimes attending public lectures by its founder, Robert Welch, sometimes presenting ourselves to recruiters, who would impart their conspiratorial insights to us. The Society promoted self-reliant individualism and local government, without income taxes. It was intensely anti-internationalist, arguing that many American presidents (notably Eisenhower) had been agents of the Communist Party, which itself had been founded in the nineteenth century by an older conspiracy, the Illuminati, which still controlled it.

Lipset had collected masses of data from several sources about radical right groups. What became apparent was that the radical right had two fairly distinct components: first, a type of economic conservatism (e.g. opposition to “big government” and a desire for economic individualism as opposed to the welfare state) and second, a “monistic” search for bad guys — say, blacks, Jews, or Communists — to blame for all the world’s problems. Some radical right-wingers such as the John Birch Society displayed both traits. Others, on the other hand, while also being monist bigots, actually wanted the economic supports of a welfare state. These, whom we called “Rednecks,” were more often uneducated persons of lower social class. (Anyone familiar with Lipset’s earlier work on working class authoritarianism might have anticipated this explanation.)

It would be hard to find a right-wing platform that would appeal to both the John Birch types and the Rednecks. Besides these two categories, we identified two other distinct constellations: what we called the “Old Guard,” who were conservative about economic matters but tolerant about social issues, such as civil liberties and other aspects of democracy, and finally the “Consistent Liberals,” who supported an active government addressing economic issues and promoting democracy, civil values, and egalitarian tolerance. We ourselves, of course, belonged in this last group. In 1970 Lipset and Raab published the book as .

By then Lipset, Inkeles, Ann and I had all moved back to California. In Marty’s case, the move was motivated by his concern about his wife Elsie, who had a slow-growing type of lung cancer that would require surgery repeatedly. She had never liked New England, so they moved to Stanford and lived there twelve years before her death. I was no longer working with Marty, but instead with Inkeles on a textbook.

In 1971 I took a position at the University of Toronto, where I learned certain aspects of Marty’s career that were news to me. He was still a major figure in Canadian sociology, having written his Ph.D. thesis about a socialist farm movement in Saskatchewan and then having taught in the U of T sociology department for two years. One of the first things I needed to do was read his book, and assign it to my own undergraduates.

Lipset had chosen this research project because of his consuming interest in a problem that continued to fascinate him all his life: Why does the United States have no socialist party? Since a socialist party, the CCF, had actually emerged in the wheat-growing province of , he hoped to learn from their experience and help apply it to other wheat-growing states below the border. The CCF arose, he found, in a democratic, activist society where farmers learned by forming collective organizations to operate grain elevators and to pool their wheat sales through a single marketing board. Yet when the CCF actually came to power, it did not carry out many of the radical proposals its members had cherished beforehand. It did implement a provincial medical care system, but in other ways it restrained itself. Lipset attributed its hesitancy to a natural democratic desire to maximize votes when the electorate was far from unified. He recognized that democracy itself would always constrain socialism.

Lipset’s basic question was far from conclusively answered, and later he came to believe that the Canadian electoral system played a bigger part in the emergence of socialism than his book had suggested. And yet, even that answer was not his final opinion. Eventually he wrote another book with Gary Marks, It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, grappling with the question, and by then he had again de-emphasized the importance of the electoral system. Instead, he concluded, there were basic values — especially individualism — in the United States that impeded any enthusiasm for collective answers to societal problems. If that was his final word on the subject, he left plenty of aspects for other sociologists to explore further. In the meantime, the CCF had institutionalized itself as the and was a significant player on both the federal and provincial levels across Canada. It is a quintessential social democratic party resembling those so widespread in Europe.

Living in Canada, my encounters with Marty became infrequent. Serving on a committee at my college, I was able to invite him here for a week once to give a series of lectures and television interviews. I was becoming fully engaged in peace and disarmament work, and was glad to see that Marty was also active, both in such Jewish organizations as University Professors for Peace in the Middle East, and as a board member of the new U.S. Institute of Peace. In San Francisco once I saw them socially and mentioned to Elsie that I admired a newspaper article Marty had written proposing a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She said she actually disagreed with him on that matter; I think it was because of her increasing observance of Judaism and her commitment to Israel but I did not press her for an explanation. Soon thereafter she died.

I was invited to contribute a couple of articles that kept me familiar with his work. One was a piece on education and democracy for an encyclopedia he was editing on democracy. It was far harder than I expected. Amazingly little had been written on the subject. The best articles were some of Marty’s own, dealing with the importance of intellectuals in a democratic society. The obvious approach would be to show the importance of varying levels of education in a society. What is more interesting, however, is the recognition that different types of education have different effects. People trained for narrow professional specializations are not inclined to stray far beyond their expertise by supporting political criticism. On the other hand, intellectuals educated in the humanities or social sciences define their roles broadly and therefore tend to become engaged, especially in leftist politics.

Marty’s comparisons of Canada and the United States continued to fascinate him and in 1990 he published another book on the topic, , which a journal asked me to review. It was a brilliant study, easy to praise — and yet I also had to write a caveat:

“While writing this book, Lipset could not have anticipated (or at least, no one else in Canada did) that within two years the nation would be on the verge of breaking apart.

“Lipset treats American-style ‘anti-statism’ as the chief impediment to an effective national government. Since Canadians are not known to harbor such opposition to strong government, nothing in Continental Divide would lead one to expect the Canadian government to be in such a crisis. The cohesion of Canada is at risk — and not just from the threat of Quebec separatism.”

In Miami in 1993, Marty delivered his presidential address to the American Sociological Association. Some feminists had tried to keep him from receiving this honor, but Ann and I declared firmly that all such criticism was unfair. He was a good man. Yet every famous person’s reputation seems to acquire a life of its own that’s hard to correct.

Nobody besides Marty has ever been both president of the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association. His ASA address was called, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited.” The initial paper on this subject had been a remarkable breakthrough, identifying various factors that made democracy more likely. In the meantime, a whole new wave of democratization unexpectedly had taken place, including the transition of Communist countries to democracy. His paper appraised these circumstances. He also organized a panel there with other analysts, including the pessimistic Samuel Huntington, who had also written about the new democratic trends but was predicting by then that the “clash of civilizations” might overwhelm these fledging projects of freedom.

I hadn’t seen Marty for several years, and it was good to meet his new wife, Sydnee, an energetic, lively woman who had been a TV producer in San Francisco until they married and moved to George Mason University in Virginia. I liked her immediately.

There was one other good visit with Marty after that when he received an honorary doctorate at the University of Toronto. I organized a faculty dinner in a restaurant for him and we had a chance to tell him how much he meant to us all.

But in 2001, before the terrorist incidents, Marty underwent valve surgery on his heart. Although the operation was successful, it caused a severe brain hemorrhage from which he would never recover. He was in hospital for many months and we were asked to write letters to him that would exercise his long-term memory. We letter-writers were called “Team Lipset,” but it was not an easy responsibility. I sent e-mails about Canadian political events. Once or twice I phoned, which was a bad idea. Having to talk or even listen was too difficult for him, and he abruptly told me to end the conversation. I knew I shouldn’t be hurt by it, but I couldn’t help it. Having known him as a kind, patient person for so many years made me terribly sad about this. Eventually, however, he moved home to their apartment in Virginia, to be tended by nurses.

Three years ago the National Endowment for Democracy inaugurated a “Seymour Martin Lipset Democracy Lecture Series” and struck a large medal to award Marty. They planned to hold one lecture every year, delivered both in Toronto and Washington. I went down for the first one, by the former Brazilian president, . But first I went to the Lipset apartment in Arlington.

Marty’s condition was worse than before. As I entered and began removing my coat, Marty was sitting propped up, and he called out “Hello, Metta!” Probably his nurse had told him to say it because that was the most he had to give. Mostly his eyes were closed and when he opened them, I doubted that he was seeing anything at all. Sydnee said that he understood everything that was said, but I don’t know how she could tell. Carl Gershman and his staff from the NED arrived to visit with Marty, but he wasn't able to respond at all. Later that evening, Sydnee received the medal for him at the ceremony.

The next two “S. M. Lipset Democracy Lectures” were in Toronto. Sydnee came for the first one, by . and I had brunch with her and I drove her to the airport, promising to meet her in San Francisco, where she sometimes visited her invalid mother. I phoned once in her absence and the caregiver held the phone to Marty’s ear so I could thank him for being in my life. Of course, he said nothing.

And now he is gone. He had been an invalid, experiencing pain, for over five years. It was past time for him to go. In the meantime, his former research assistant, , had written the book that he had been preparing, The Democratic Century. It’s a fine study. It’s not quite up to Lipset’s own level — but then, no one would expect that of any other sociologist. He was singular — an extraordinary human being.

Goodbye, Marty. Thanks for everything.