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The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People [Hardcover]

Jonathan Schell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

25 Mar 2004
Throughout history civilisation has been shaped by war. Now, after a century of unprecedented devastation, it seems humankind is preparing to embark on another cycle of violence. Are we condemned to be in a state of perpetual warfare?Jonathan Schell has consistently been one of the most influential and eloquent voices in the debate about global warfare and the arms race. His bestseller, The Fate of the Earth, focussed on the case for nuclear disarmament and may have halped shape two decades of thinking about man?s relationship with agents of destruction. Now, as the international order is once more in a state of upheaval, Schell has written another provocative book that aims to point the way out of the bloodshed of the twentieth century.Schell strives to show how the underlying dynamics of history have often been shaped not by military actions, but by battles for the hearts and minds of the people. His close re-examinations of the British, French and Russian revolutions, the collapse of Soviet power in eastern Europe in 1989, the war in Vietnam and other key moments in history illustrate how all these events can be understood in a new way when viewed through the prism of non-violence. Schell?s aim is to show that there is, and always has been, an alternative to war as a way of directing human society.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st Edition edition (25 Mar 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713997664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713997668
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.2 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,074,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Author of several works, including The Time of Illusion, The Fate of the Earth, and The Village of Ben Suc, Jonathan Schell has been a contributor to The Nation, The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic, and Foreign Affairs, and has taught at Wesleyan, Princeton, and Emory, among other universities. Currently a Visiting Professor at Yale and the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute, he lives in New York City. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Some of the most important changes for the future of war have come from within war itself. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courageous, well researched and readable. 21 Aug 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To write a book about nonviolence in the wake of 9/11 takes a rare sort of intellectual bravery. But Schell, who spent more than a decade researching and writing the book, pulls no punches. "In a steadily and irreversibly widening sphere, violence, always a mark of human failure and a bringer of sorrow, has now also become dysfunctional as a political instrument," he writes.
This is more than a book supporting pacifism. Schell does not argue against military intervention per se. Rather, his thesis is that military power is not only becoming an increasingly ineffective political tool, but one that creates more problems than it solves.
This is an important, accessible book, that will no doubt join the works of Paul Kingsnorth and Naomi Klein as one of the 'must reads' for those involved in the anti-globalization movement.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Restores Faith, Non-Violent Restoration of People Power 13 Sep 2003
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to add links

This book, together with William Geider's The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy, and Mark Hertsgaard's The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World, in one of three that I believe every American needs to read between now and November 2004.

Across 13 chapters in four parts, the author provides a balanced overview of historical philosophy and practice at both the national level "relations among nations" and the local level ("relations among beings"). His bottom line: that the separation of church and state, and the divorce of social responsibility from both state and corporate actions, have so corrupted the political and economic governance architectures as to make them pathologically dangerous.

His entire book discusses how people can come together, non-violently, to restore both their power over capital and over circumstances, and the social meaning and values that have been abandoned by "objective" corporations and governments.

The book has applicability to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where the US is foolishly confusing military power with political power. As he says early on, it is the public *will* that must be gained, the public *consent* to a new order--in the absence of this, which certainly does not exist in either Iraq or Afghanistan, no amount of military power will be effective (to which I would add: and the cumulative effect of the financial and social cost of these military interventions without end will have a reverse political, economic, and social cost on the invader that may make the military action a self-inflicted wound of great proportions).

Across the book, the author examines three prevailing models for global relations: the universal empire model, the balance of power model, and the collective security model. He comes down overwhelmingly on the side of the latter as the only viable approach to current and future global stability and prosperity.

A quote from the middle of the book captures its thesis perfectly: "Violence is a method by which the ruthless few can subdue the passive many. Nonviolence is a means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few."

Taking off from the above, the author elaborates on three sub-themes:

First, that cooperative power is much greater, less expensive, and more lasting that coercive power.

Second, that capitalism today is a scourge on humanity, inflicting far greater damage--deaths, disease, poverty, etcetera--that military power, even the "shock and awe" power unleashed against Afghanistan and Iraq without public debate.

Third, and he draws heavily on Hannah Arendt, here a quote that should shame the current US Administration because it is so contradictory to their belief in "noble lies"--lies that Hitler and Goering would have admired. She says, "Power is actualized only where word and deed have not parted company, where words are not empty and deeds not brutal, where words are not used to veil intentions but to disclose realities, and deeds are not used to violate and destroy but to establish relations and create new realities."

Toward the end of the book the author addresses the dysfunctionality of the current "absolute sovereignty" model and concludes that in an era of globalization, not only must the US respect regional and international sovereignty as an over-lapping authority, but that we must (as Richard Falk recommended in the 1970's) begin to recognize people's or nations as distinct entities with culturally-sovereign rights that over-lap the states within which the people's reside--this would certainly apply to the Kurds, spread across several states, and it should also apply to the Jews and to the Palestinians, among many others.

On the last page, he says that we have a choice between survival and annihilation. We can carry on with unilateral violence, or we the people can take back the power, change direction, and elect a government that believes in cooperative non-violence, the only path to survival that appears to the author, and to this reviewer, as viable.

This is a *very* important book, and it merits careful reading by every adult who wishes to leave their children a world of peace and prosperity. We can do better. What we are doing now is destructive in every sense of the word.

Other recommended books with reviews:
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025
Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik
Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart
The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win It Back
A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship
59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, thought-provoking work 9 Jun 2003
By thedevilscoachman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked up this book after hearing the author speak at a book signing in Washington, DC. I was quite impressed by the power of his thought, and this book demonstrates the same qualities of well-supported, insightful and frequently iconoclastic analysis. The central premise, as the above reviews note, is that "political power" - which is based upon the consent of the governed and the agreement by political actors to keep promises and to behave within certain rules - and "violence" - which relies upon ruling by fear of harm and actually destroys the social bonds from which actual "power" flow - are at odds, and that ultimately political ends may be more effectively achieved by application of "power," a constructive force, than by "violence." Accordingly, the author argues, the political aims of mass movements of people frequently may be more effectively achieved by non-violent means than violent ones. And lest this example be dismissed by "realists," the author analyzes in-depth examples of non-violent or mostly non-violent "revolutions" that include the Indian independence movement, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the transformation of South Africa from apartheid state to democracy (as well as a host of other, somewhat less-striking examples including the growing democratization of South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc.) Although, in my view, the author does not fully answer one of the central questions posed in response to pacifism - how can a non-violent movement gain political traction when confronted by a totalitarian system that utterly denies the worth of human life? - his thoughts on non-violent mass movements are fascinating and thought-provoking, and shed much needed light on largely non-violent political transformations - like the collapse of the Soviet empire or the democratization of South Africa - that have been taken for granted. Thus, while I am not entirely convinced of some of his points, I believe that the author has framed a very interesting political argument, one which cannot be dismissed out-of-hand and must be answered by those who feel that the liberal application of violence by the United States is helping to make the world a safer place.
Not by any means an easy or a quick read, this book is very worthwhile and good material for thought whether you tend to agree with the author's perspective or not. Recommended.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power In The People 17 Jan 2004
By Panopticonman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Schell's identification of the phenomenon of "people's war," the
bottom-up fight for freedom waged by colonized peoples over the last 250
years is nothing short of revolutionary. The basis of the analytical framework he builds to explicate the different varieties of colonial oppression and local resistance, Schell historicizes people's war in its most important incarnations starting with the Spanish resistance to Napoleon's invasion, moving through Gandhi's non-violent formulation which he developed in South Africa and employed against the British in India, discussing how this form of resistance taken up by Martin Luther King to fight the people's war against the squalid Jim Crow regime in the American South. He notes that over time, "people's war" has been successful more often than it has not, that colonial regimes cannot win against forces which refuse to fight using oppressor's tactics, or use the narrow forms of redress, such as "working through the system," which are offered by those in power under the head of democracy.
He begins by examining the great military strategist Von Clausewitz's theory of warfare. In a section that it perhaps somewhat overlong, Schell takes apart Clausewitz in light of the changes in warfare since Clausewitz's time. Clausewitz did witness the first examples of total war in which every citizen was enlisted in the war as either a soldier or as a possible target of war -- the great "democratic" army of Napoleon, and wrote about it in contrast to prior European wars where relatively small forces of men fought limited conflicts for their aristocratic masters. What Clausewitz could not see was that with the emergence of the atomic bomb, total war was extended beyond competing nations, their peoples and ideologies, to include the entire world and the possible destruction of humanity. He notes, as does Jeremi Suri does in his history of the post-nuclear age, POWER AND THE PEOPLE, that the possession of nuclear weapons and the protests such weapons engendered (including the proxy wars fought by client states which became a feature of the post WWII landscape and were much more likely to end a global conflagration than skirmishes before the bomb) ultimately served to push together the Soviet Union and United States out of fear of their own people.
Schell also discusses various theories of power, including the Hobbesian justification of power, the Weberian observation that the state holds power by reserving the right to violence. He upends a lot of this theory by noting that fear and intimidation only work for so long. Eventually people begin, like water freezing in a crack in the sidewalk, to break apart the structures of such regimes. He discusses how Vaclav Havel and his friends during the Soviet occupation initiated a small scale alternative "government" which sought to deliver minimal social goods, a stop that worked to give citizens a way to see they could exert control over their own lives even in the shadow of the totalitarian state. This strategy that has been used since the American elite formed the Committees of Correspondence and the Continental Congress to throw off the oppressive economic policies of their colonial masters. The "people's government" was in place and thus Washington's task was to outlast his opponents so that this government could take its rightful place -- a strategy which has been used in successful "people's war" ever since. Once the state is made irrelevant, it ceases to exist, an analysis growing out of Hannah Arendt's discussions of power.
It is hard to do justice to a work like this in a short review. Schell advances a fairly radical theory here, but his evidence is sound, his argument is clear and straightforward (although a bit repetitive). Perhaps most compelling in this age of "terror," Schell helps us see that resistance against colonial powers and homegrown totalitarian regimes has a long history, and that for the most part, that people's war has been successful.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars People Power 31 Oct 2003
By Richard H. Burkhart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Through incisive historical analysis, Schell demonstrates that people power has been ignored to our own peril. In the modern world people simply won't settle for the neo-colonial status assigned to them by the corporate globalization / militarization machine. Just think about the war in Iraq and the new regimes in South America, for example, or the collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun. And WMD have made the old and disasterous paradigm of all-out warfare obsolete.
Schell traces people power through the American, French, and Russian revolutions, onto Gandhi's non-violent action and Mao's peoples' war. What is amazing is that even the most violent and repressive regimes have eventually collapsed non-violently. Often the greatest violence has come during the drive to establish a new order.
Schell also suggests that we need to update the principles of liberal democracy. For example, respect for individual rights may need to be extended to include group rights, responsibilities, and power sharing. He cites the settlement in Northern Ireland as an example. This is, of course, tricky business, but he makes a compelling case that we need to be more flexible and far sighted in our concepts of democracy.
Schell, now a columnist for The Nation, is a creative thinker and analyst of the first order - a true public intellectual.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars People Power Explained 23 Jan 2007
By Ryan Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a compelling book with well-supported arguments. "The Unconquerable World" explains why ventures such as the U.S. in Iraq are doomed to failure.

My favorite section is the one dealing with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Modern American myth has it that the U.S. was solely responsible for the "defeat" of the USSR - through Afghanistan, the insane weapons race, etc. While these surely had their contribution, Schell describes the rise of people's movements in Eastern Europe that, without actively intending to bring about the demise of their oppressor, did just that.

I highly recommend "The Unconquerable World" for anyone wishing to understand social and political change, and the very real possibilities of non-violence as a path for these changes.
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