We’ve all heard the argument before: However “nice” the use of nonviolence may be, in the real world violence is necessary — and ultimately more effective, so the thinking goes — for challenging a brutal regime, fighting injustice or defending against an armed opponent. But what are the actual effects of adding violence to a movement’s repertoire of resistance strategies?
Previous scholarship has been inconclusive on this question of so-called “radical flank effects,” as studies tend to focus on individual cases and also reflect collective confusion over what is meant by “radical.” Does it, for instance, refer to the means used or the ends sought?
Focusing, therefore, on violent — as opposed to “radical” — flanks, researchers Erica Chenoweth and Kurt Schock sought to bring clarity and systematic analysis to bear on this question of positive versus negative violent flank effects. In a 2015 article for the journal Mobilization, they examined all nonviolent campaigns from 1900-2006 with radical (i.e. “maximalist”) goals — such as the “removal of an incumbent national government, self-determination, secession, or the expulsion of foreign occupation” — to see how the presence or absence of armed resistance affected the success of these nonviolent campaigns. Their findings offer compelling evidence that violence is not generally a helpful addition to nonviolent resistance movements.