Gene Sharp (born 21 January 1928) is Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is known for his extensive writings on nonviolent struggle, which have influenced numerous anti-government resistance movements around the world.
Sharp was born in Ohio, the son of an itinerant Protestant minister. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences in 1949 from Ohio State University, where he also received his Master of Arts in Sociology in 1951. In 1953-54, Sharp was jailed for nine months after protesting the conscription of soldiers for the Korean War. In 1968, he received a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory from Oxford University.
Sharp has been a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth since 1972. He simultaneously held research appointments at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs since 1965. In 1983 he founded the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organization devoted to studies and promotion of the use of non-violent action in conflicts worldwide.
Gene Sharp described the sources of his ideas as in-depth studies of Mohandas K Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau to a minor degree, and other sources footnoted in his 1973 book "The Politics of Nonviolent Action" which was based on his 1968 PhD thesis. In the book, a "three-volume classic on civil disobedience", he provides a pragmatic political analysis of non-violent action as a method for applying power in a conflict.
Sharp's key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects' obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.
In Sharp's view, all effective power structures have systems by which they encourage or extract obedience from their subjects. States have particularly complex systems for keeping subjects obedient. These systems include specific institutions (police, courts, regulatory bodies) but may also involve cultural dimensions that inspire obedience by implying that power is monolithic (the god cult of the Egyptian pharaohs, the dignity of the office of the President, moral or ethical norms and taboos). Through these systems, subjects are presented with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracism) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence the extent of their obedience.
Sharp identifies this hidden structure as providing a window of opportunity for a population to cause significant change in a state. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de la Boétie, that if the subjects of a particular state recognize that they are the source of the state's power, they can refuse their obedience and their leader(s) will be left without power.
Sharp published Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential in 2005. It builds on his earlier written works by documenting case studies where non-violent action has been applied and the lessons learned from those applications contain information on planning non-violent struggle to make it more effective.
For his lifelong commitment to the defense of freedom, democracy, and the reduction of political violence through scholarly analysis of the power of nonviolent action, The Peace Abbey of Sherborn, MA awarded him the Courage of Conscience award on April 4, 2008.
Sharp has been called both the “Machiavelli of non-violence" and the "Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare”. It is claimed by some that Sharp's scholarship has influenced resistance organizations around the world. Most recently, it is claimed that the protest movement that toppled President Mubarak of Egypt drew extensively on his ideas, as well as the youth movement in Tunisia and the earlier ones in the Eastern European “Color Revolution” that had previously been inspired by Sharp's work.
Sharp's handbook "From-Dictatorship-to-Democracy" served as a basis for the campaigns of Serbia’s Otpor (who were also directly trained by the Albert Einstein Institute), Georgia’s Kmara, Ukraine’Pora, Kyrgyzstan’s Kelkel and Belarus’ Zubr. Pora’s Oleh Kyriyenko said in a 2004 interview with Radio Netherlands:
"The bible of Pora has been the book of Gene Sharp, also used by Otpor, called: From Dictatorship to Democracy. Pora activists have translated it by themselves. We have written to Mr Sharp and to the Albert Einstein Institute in the United States, and he became very sympathetic towards our initiative, and the Institution provided funding to print over 12,000 copies of this book for free."
Sharp's writings on "Civilian-Based Defense" were used by the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian governments during their separation from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Albert Einstein Institute’s web site offers many of Gene Sharp works for download, in English and in over sixty translations.
The Iranian government charged protesters against alleged fraud in the 2009 elections with following Gene Sharp's tactics. The Tehran Times reported: "According to the indictment, a number of the accused confessed that the post-election unrest was preplanned and the plan was following the timetable of the velvet revolution to the extent that over 100 stages (tasks) of the 198 steps of Gene Sharp were implemented in the foiled velvet revolution.”