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Dissent! Refracted

Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent


Edited By Ben Dorfman

This collection of essays addresses the ongoing problem of dissent from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives: political philosophy, intellectual history, literary studies, aesthetics, architectural history and conceptualizations of the political past. Taking a global perspective, the volume examines the history of dissent both inside and outside the West, through events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries both nearer to our own times as well as more distant, and through a range of styles reflecting how contested and pressing the problem of dissent in fact is. Drawing on a range of authors and international problematics, the contributions discuss the multiple ways in which we refract memories of dissent in cultural, historical and aesthetic context. It also discusses the diverse ideas, images and phenomena we use to do so.
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Barbara J. Falk - The History, Paradoxes, and Utility of Dissent: From State to Global Action

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Barbara J. Falk1

The History, Paradoxes, and Utility of Dissent: From State to Global Action

Abstract This chapter provides a thematic introduction to the political philosophy and intellectual history of dissent, beginning with an examination of definitions, origin stories, and examples. The problematic relationship between dissent and violence is illustrated, along with a discussion of transnationality, historicity, and speed in contemporary dissent. Finally, the chapter concludes with an argument in favor of “leaderful” rather than “leaderless” movements of dissent in terms of maximizing the possibilities for effective and lasting political and social change.

Much of the politics and history of the world has been written from above. In the conventional understanding, grand programs for remaking politics and society, raw calculations of national interest, or decisions to invade territory or petition for peace all emerge from political elites. Even political ruptures and revolutions, where society overflows and renders “politics as usual” unpredictable, are often contained and described in narratives that privilege the few rather than the many. Still, it is dissenters rather than the pragmatic and status quo-oriented consensus of the powerful few that have played the most dramatic and sometimes surprising role in political, economic, and social transformation. Dissent is a double-edged sword. The mere existence and flourishing of dissent is a powerful source of legitimation in democratic societies—locales where free expression and unhindered public association are constitutionally guaranteed, highly valued, and the basis of political systems. Dissent provides, to paraphrase the words of American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, critical voices heard within a larger “marketplace of ideas”—alternative views and values not foreclosed (Healy 2013). This means that dissent can also be powerfully dangerous and delegitimizing, however, particularly when the object of critique is a reigning power elite or political system.

The purpose of this chapter will be to provide a thematic and by no means exhaustive introduction to the political philosophy and intellectual history of ← 23 | 24 → dissent. I will first look at definitions of dissent and provide a set of historical origins. Second, I will pose the contestable and recurring question of violence as necessarily part of the continuum of dissent and its repression. Third, I will look at the experience of dissidents in Central and Eastern Europe as one of the cases of successful dissent par excellence, yet with troubling features. Primary among these troubling features is who gets to be called a dissident and for what reason. It is an issue of paramount importance. Finally, I will move to a discussion of dissent today. I am especially interested in questions of transnationality, historicity, and speed. In conclusion, my meditations will leave off with some observations on the relationship of the few to the many, and the relationship between leadership and dissent.

I. Definitions and Origins of Dissent

The term “dissent” derives from the Latin verb dissentere; literally, to differ in sentiment. The Oxford English Dictionary (1987, vol. 1, 506) suggests a large tent of meanings, including difference of opinion or disagreement, withholding assent, as well as the action of thinking differently. In the history of political theory, dissent connotes both difference of opinion or sentiment with prevailing norms or legal-political structures, as well as disagreement with or even challenge to those norms or structures. Dissent implies both the possibility and the opportunity to engage with and criticize the status quo—literally, to “speak truth to power.” Recognition of and knowledge about dissent is essential to effective social influence, but recognition can be granted to a pseudonym or an organization whose membership is not public—one might make this case about the “Anonymous” digital collective. The possibility of persecution, as Leo Strauss (1952) observed, has required many a great thinker to seek to avoid censorship and write between the lines to avoid incurring danger. Dissent usually implies externality—action apart from the centers of power; although one great form of institutionalized dissent is the judicial dissent in the Anglo-American tradition. Dissent should be intentional, not accidental; critical rather than laudatory; public rather than private (Collins and Skover 2013).2 Dissent is disruptive to be sure: not without ← 24 | 25 → reason do authoritarian regimes constrain or prohibit dissent. At the same time, however, dissent contributes to the texture of democracy: dissent enables self-governance, civic participation, and promotes diversity and tolerance. Finally, dissent is normatively positive—branding something as “dissent” is at least partly an exercise in legitimation (Collins and Skover 2013).

Dissent is also a category narrower than resistance. Resistance includes everyday activities, such as absenteeism from work, deliberately low productivity, or simply deliberate retreat into the private sphere. What makes resistance political, however, and perhaps transforms it into dissent, is its purposeful and public nature. Dissent requires entering public space and living “as if,” in Václav Havel’s (1991) famous formulation. Still, there is no clear-cut line between resistance and dissent. They are poles on a continuum.

Dissent is inherent in the canon of political thought. Dissent in its public and political form is part of what separates philosophy from political philosophy. The earliest protagonists and interlocutors of political philosophy were themselves dissidents. During his trial, Socrates’ famous refusal to renounce his pursuit of the truth via his dialogical investigations initiated the canonic narrative of speaking truth to power. Indeed, even conservative Straussian methodology makes it clear that persecution was inherent in the art of writing and philosophizing—the pen was considered as dangerous to ancient and medieval authorities as the sword (Strauss 1952). To dissent was not simply to advance alternative ideas. It was also to challenge existing political structures. Put in twentieth century language, anti-politics inevitably becomes political (Konrad 1987; Falk 2003a).

Modern dissent, however, has at least three overlapping origin stories: first, with the rise and consolidation of the post-Westphalian state; second, with the emergence of religious dissent and the ensuing debate on toleration; and third, with a one-step forward, two-steps back (and violent) emergence of liberalism.3 ← 25 | 26 → However, we cannot speak of dissent in terms of organized communities or subcultures acting in concert against monarchical or nascent state authority before the English Civil War and, on the continent, before the conclusion of the Thirty Years War with the Peace of Westphalia (Hill 1980). Early views on toleration, beginning with Locke’s Letter on Toleration (Epistola de Tolerantia), primarily concerned religious dissent. After all, prior to the Reformation and subsequent wars of religion that raged across the continent, diversity in belief was considered apostasy to be eliminated. Over time, the idea of protecting difference of opinion and enshrining that protection legally was intimately intertwined and logically connected to liberalism and republicanism. State sovereignty, originally a political answer to religious discord and a means of guaranteeing continuity from one monarch to another (Bodin), was later re-fashioned to ensure obedience to authority in exchange for protection (Hobbes), and finally became the mechanism that enabled legal relationships between and among states (Grotius). By the nineteenth century states would become both the targets and agents of reform, and sovereignty would be seen as vested with citizens, rights-bearing individuals who in France and America had already demonstrated their propensity to resist tyranny and foment revolution. At its core, dissent fundamentally depended upon the existence of minority communities who were willing to challenge sovereign authority over them.

Historically, I suggest that dissent in its distinctively modern character begins with toleration. This was not really an auspicious beginning, because, as thinkers as diverse as Wendy Brown (2006) and John Gray (1995) have argued, toleration does not connote a pre- or proto-liberal multicultural acceptance of the Other. Rather, the object of what was to be tolerated was considered a priori to be inferior. Still, in toleration there is a line of reasoning that wends from John Milton and John Locke through to Oliver Wendell Holmes, especially regarding the necessary relationship between toleration and freedom of expression. We believe in a Holmesian “marketplace of ideas” not because we relativistically think all ideas have some value (after all, does European fascism have some sort of positive provenance?) or because we skeptically cannot discern the good from the bad, but because acceptance of odious ideas or the individuals or groups that espouse them confirms that we have the ability to reason and to debate in the public sphere. We ← 26 | 27 → know historically and currently that freedom of expression is absolutely critical to dissent. If not allowed, claiming such expression is the first and foremost activity of dissent. Dissent is as much about the process of free expression as it is about the actual content.

During and after the English Civil War, included among the belligerents and refugees of that conflict (using contemporary parlance) were the many marginal Protestant religious sects that left England and Scotland for the New World to establish, ironically, what turned out to be internally repressive communities in the name of religious freedom and tolerance. Not without good reasons were they called Puritans. As Albert Hirschman (1970, 106–10) suggests, they exited, taking both their voice and loyalty to America.4 Yet in their “Citty upon a Hill,” to quote John Winthrop (1965), they intertwined utopian impulses toward God-given equality with a pragmatic commitment to a severe though effective ethic of hard work and individual responsibility—most particularly in one’s lifelong accounting to the Almighty. These early dissenters were outsiders who sought religious autonomy and expression. Their questioning of religious belief nonetheless did not encompass a wider spirit of tolerance. American historiographical emphasis on the triumph of liberalism has tended to recast Puritanism as anticipatory liberalism (Rosano 2003, 33). Perhaps. Puritans dissented in the name of religious freedom. They were also, however, profoundly judgmental about each other and exclusionary towards others—think of the Salem witch trials as a means of dispensing justice, or attitudes of early settlers toward native communities, defined as savages occupying a terra nullius that could only belong to the banner-carriers of “civilization.” Almost one hundred and fifty years elapsed between Winthrop penning his famous sermon, “Christian Charitie: A Modell Hereof,” en route to the “New World” and the publication of Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense. Winthrop excuses social and political inequality and hierarchy as evidence of divine providence. By the time Paine wrote, the public sphere was thick with discussion of man’s inalienable rights—discourses that would underlie ideas of basic equality.

On the continent, meanwhile, a republic of letters formed a kind of virtual community of those privileged enough to be both literate and engaged. The free ← 27 | 28 → circulation of ideas spread alongside social scandal and vituperative gossip in the salons of pre-revolutionary France, as well as among religious reformers who fled to Geneva, and in personal correspondence among a range of interlocutors—Rousseau, Hume, and Voltaire, among others. Nascent capitalism played a role here. Jürgen Habermas (1994), for example, weaves together the many strands of the emerging public sphere: the explosion of literary and political broadsheets, reading societies, publishing companies, salons, as well as the cafés and coffee houses where the bourgeois could interact, argue, eat together, and imagine other possibilities of political and social organization.5 Perhaps ironically, it was the creative destruction wrought by capitalism which made this possible. It expanded the public body at the same time as it excluded and repressed others through the burdens of wage labor. Nonetheless, this central contradiction—between the liberal republican ideology of the modern state (best originally expressed in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights) and the economic exploitation and intensive/extensive growth that capitalism made possible—has provided fodder for the mill of dissent ever since. In the U.S. particularly, waves of dissenters—from abolitionists to anarchists, from labor activists of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) and the Civil Rights Movement to the Women’s and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Rights Movements—have sought the actual fulfillment of the promise of the American dream for everyone (as opposed to for elites privileged by economic and historical advantage [Kazin 2011; Kazin 2014]). Whether or not such dissenting movements either abhorred or advocated violence to achieve their results has long been a subject of debate and political prosecution in both Europe and the U.S.

II. Violent and Non-Violent Dissent

From its earliest origins, it was and still remains difficult to separate dissent from violence. Indeed, working at a military staff college for mid-career and senior officers, I jokingly tell students and colleagues that I research and write about “regime change from below;” that is, in order to distinguish my research from state-sponsored (and usually violent) regime change. In the public sphere, and particularly in the media, we often play fast and loose with the terminology of dissent, partially because we normatively choose to attach the label “dissent” and “dissident” to sub-state activism of which we approve. Indeed, we valorize dissent ← 28 | 29 → and consider it worthy and deserving of the label when it is anti-authoritarian, inclusive, liberal in character. We also prefer it to be non-violent. Indeed, there is a burgeoning literature on not only the moral legitimacy of non-violence but on its superior efficacy as well, such as Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World: Why Peaceful Protest is Stronger than War and Erica J. Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Schell 2005; Chenoweth and Stephan, 2013). There are moral, pragmatic, and compelling evidentiary arguments to endorse non-violent rather than violent dissent across differing geographic and historical contexts (Kurklansky 2006; Jahanbegloo 2014). Chenoweth and Stephan (2013, 10) argue that nonviolent campaigns offer a “participation advantage over violent insurgencies” because of lower “moral, physical, informational, and commitment barriers” to participation. Mobilization is easier; participation higher and more representative, disruption to the polity is greater while physical infrastructure is less harmed. The resulting transition is more durable with a lower probability of civil war.

Still, the full scope of dissent is much more problematic. Dissent, as suggested earlier, is part of a larger continuum that includes not only private rebellion, traditions of public passive resistance and civil disobedience (from Thoreau to Gandhi’s satyagraha), but also violent sub-state activism as well. Concern for property, a counter-revolutionary zeal to protect privilege post-1789, and the emergence of laboring classes—urban, pauperized, and without voice—all resulted in an early equation of dissent with violence.6 Dissenters were called terrorists early and often. Not without reason did Marx see violence as a necessary accompaniment to every revolution—in the first volume of Das Kapital he memorably states, “…force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one” (Marx in Tucker 1978, 436). Georges Sorel, in Réflexions sur la violence, theorized that violence was not only necessary to political will and direct action, but was also purifying (1910). John Keane (1996) reminds us that civil society contains uncivil society. In short, dissent and violence have, in the past and in the present, been regular bedfellows. One the one hand, violence can be seen as human failure: especially to the extent violence has accompanied revolutionary socio-political change—decolonization, superpower disputes, and insurgency and civil war—violence does often beget violence. ← 29 | 30 →

Still, violence can yield results. Chenoweth and Stephan (2013, 11) note that while one in four nonviolent resistance campaigns since 1900 was a failure, more than one in four violent resistance campaigns have succeeded. What they call “violent insurgencies” are more likely to succeed when featuring widespread popular support and some form of external sponsorship (note how when the adjective “violent” is involved the predicate noun is often more pejorative.

The relationship of dissent to violence is a discomforting one. Collins and Skover (2013, 68–9) want to separate the two (specifically excluding violent behavior from dissent). They maintain that the rhetorical value of dissent is devalued by violence and that perpetrators of extreme violence may seek to overthrow rather than reform the systems they oppose. Still, they draw the same distinction as many of their interlocutors: that targeted harm to property is of a different scale and effect than harm to people, especially innocent people. The relative powerlessness of the person or group responsible for political violence, combined with an overall acknowledgement of the rule of law and acceptance of punishment are mitigating factors that also require careful consideration (Collins and Skover 2013, 70). One would be best advised to keep in mind Max Weber’s (1981, 125–8) advice to those seeking politics as a vocation: to supplement an ethic of ultimate ends with an ethics of responsibility in order to temper possible illusions of ethical legitimation of violence for “higher” ends.

I would like to provide some context by looking at the example of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. In this case, the majority was powerless in favor of a minority, both of whom were racially defined. Mandela, it must be remembered, never gave up his commitment to violence while imprisoned. Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the Apartheid government in South Africa declared a state of emergency. The African National Congress (ANC), then an illegal organization, moved from peaceful non-violent dissent to a strategy of targeted violence through the creation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the ANC’s military wing. As undergraduates and anti-Apartheid activists in the early 1980s, fellow students and I used to debate the utility of force. It was difficult to square the impossible circle: we decried state-sponsored violence in Central America, opposed the madness of nuclear arms, yet still defended the ANC’s tactics. This got to the point, though: the Apartheid regime tried to make the renunciation of violence a precondition of Mandela’s release—a precondition to which he never assented (Meredith 2010; Sampson 2011). In the end, of course, Mandela’s great achievement was the relatively peaceful end of Apartheid, the 1994 elections, his tenure as president, and the difficult process of reconciliation that followed (relatively peaceful events). As much of an emissary of peace as he ← 30 | 31 → became, however, perhaps the greatest illustration of Mandela’s political genius was his understanding that by holding the violence card firm, the ANC could renounce violence on its own terms.7 That is, especially as the security and military apparatus of the Apartheid state always wielded the preponderance of power.

Many writers today—most notably Paul Collier—see civil wars and rebellions as effectively failed movements of dissent; movements ultimately driven more by greed than grievance (Collier and Hoeffler 2004; Collier 2007). To muddy the waters even further, some of the groups listed as “terrorists” by states and international organizations also provide health and social services—Hezbollah in Lebanon is a prime example. Moreover, organizations such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) have degenerated from a rural protest movement based on Marxist premises to a large-scale drug export operation functioning on extortion rather than consent. Still, what if strategically targeted violence is as historically effective, at least at times, as peaceful dissent? What if avenues for peaceful dissent have led nowhere, leaving violence as one of the few options available aside from capitulation and acquiescence? Context, as the case of South Africa illustrates, matters. One might be tempted to suggest that revolutionaries and those whose intention is the wholesale replacement of a regime ought not be considered dissenters. This might make sense in democracies where the avenues for civil disobedience and dissent are plentiful. Much of global dissent occurs in undemocratic contexts, however, or where democracy is failing or tilting dangerously toward authoritarianism (for example, the Russian protest movement of 2012 and the 2014 Maidan protests in Ukraine). There, dissent only through word or peaceful demonstration might be too much to expect.

III. Cold War as Dissent

If one were to write a longue durée history of dissent, a special chapter in the volume would need to be devoted to the alternative civil societies, parallel polei, second or alternative cultures, and self-organized societies of Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War (Konrád 1987; Benda 1988; Kuroń 1981; Skilling 1989; Skilling and Wilson 1991). In my opinion, authoritarian communist regimes were never as successfully totalitarian as Hannah Arendt (1976), or Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski (1965) suggested. Still, there was a fusion of party and state, combined with a command economy and rigid ideology that dictated a ← 31 | 32 → narrow, controlled, and highly scripted form of mandatory political participation (one encapsulated by Václav Havel’s [1991] greengrocer in his rote placement of the sign, “Workers of the World Unite,” in the shop window). Homo Sovieticus lived in an ersatz public sphere, a world dictated by ideology, a world of appearances that, like living in Plato’s cave, could be easily mistaken for reality. The greengrocer’s action from Havel’s prose, so minor and routine, signaled his base obedience, but also his complicity with the regime. When he removed the sign, he was not unlike the man in Plato’s cave who steps out into the sunlight for the first time. Human virtues long suppressed—self-realization, freedom, authenticity, and an explosion of diversity in cultural, social, and political forms—were the necessary result.

The mechanics of text, the slow and artful nature of samizdat production and circulation was limited in one sense, but illustrated the unlimited potential and power of the written word (samizdat were hand-produced dissident pamphlets). Not unironically, samizdat privately disseminated through alternative networks provided a great illustration of Foucault’s (1980) equation of power and knowledge, as well as Scott’s (1990) more recent claim that forms of dissent are sometimes disguised or hidden. Before the Internet and the explosion of communications technologies, samizdat demonstrated that the circulation of ideas via the printed word was no mean feat. The circulation of text enabled many things at once, which at first seem very limited and local. As Jonathan Bolton (2012, 191) describes, samizdat helped birth the creation of a “circulatory system of a social grouping—a network of interlocking contacts, finite but unbounded…essential to a community’s self-definition.” The production of samizdat and the circulation of tamizdat, with concomitant debate and decision-making, eventually made possible the full articulation of an oppositional identity (Bolton 2012, 117; Kind-Kovács and Labov 2013).

Still, the normative labeling of dissidence, perhaps only possible through the lens of Cold War triumphalism, reflects the dominant liberal perspective of the victors rather than the vanquished. There is a heroic narrative—my own work is guilty of this as much as any other—of telling the tale of the dissidents of Solidarity and Charter 77 in a manner that privileges the anti-authoritarian, indeed liberal, character of alternative civil societies while assuming without question that the U.S. and its allies in Europe and elsewhere were on the side of the angels, even while they were engaging in a little regime change on the side or supporting dirty wars in the name of anti-communism (Falk 2003a). My current work, on the American communist party, is a personal and longer-term effort to peel back another layer of the onion. To understand how the construction of friends and ← 32 | 33 → enemies, both domestic and international, was part and parcel of the Cold War. Both East and West engaged in the demonization of internal enemies as dangerous Fifth Columns operating covertly on behalf of the external foe, and persecuted and prosecuted those rightly or wrongly associated with the other side to the point of occupational harassment, continual surveillance, imprisonment, deportation, and even death. Indeed, my current project looks at the many “true believers”—the leaders of the CPUSA in the late 1940s and early 1950s that were put on trial for allegedly conspiring to teach and advocate the violent overthrow of the US government—as “dissidents” in their own right. Many American communists, at considerable personal risk, challenged the American state to end racial segregation, establish women’s and tenants’ rights, as well as advocating free medical care, progressive labor legislation, and fair employment practices decades before such policies were supported by mainstream groups or eventually implemented. Interestingly, it was not the CPUSA that advocated or implemented tactics of violence in twentieth-century America. Rather, political violence was the hallmark of anarchist assassins and bomb-makers much earlier in the century, or groups like the radical Weather Underground in the early 1970s. Not all CPUSA leaders were “clean”—we now know, thanks to declassified evidence and a range of scholars that many of the true believers who saw the USSR through rose-colored glasses did engage in espionage or act as willing accomplices or agents of influence in one manner or another (Klehr, Haynes, and Vassiliev 2009). We also know, however, by peeling back the layers of the onion of dissent in Central and Eastern Europe, that organizations such as Solidarity were funded covertly by the CIA (Fischer 2012). Movements were penetrated by those who willingly, or more often under some threat of reprisal, informed or, in the American parlance, “named names” to state security agencies (Stan 2009; Bruce 2010). In the former East Germany, the level of societal surveillance reached such heights and was of such variegated quality and utility, even by the Stasi’s own standards, that it is impossible to be a purist and exclude those who informed from the category of dissent. Many cooperated not out of enthusiasm but for fear of the consequences if they did not (Bruce 2010, 148).

In the post-Cold War debate about whether what happened in Eastern Europe was a revolution or restoration, it seems now we can say the answer is both/and. In one sense, as many analysts of the region have pointed out, it was a revolution in the idea of revolution, divorcing all-encompassing social and political change from violence (Roberts and Garton Ash 2009; Falk 2013; Falk 2003a; Falk 2003b; Nepstad 2011). The relatively peaceful end of the Cold War and the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa were true high points in a largely violent century. What ← 33 | 34 → happened in the East-Central Europe with the emphasis on local and independent decision-making and practices outside the long arm of the party-state, reaffirmed the transformative ideas of liberty, equality, and solidarity of the French Revolution and the later binding of freedom with democracy. Ironically, before 1989 the dissidents had no intention to overthrow the entire edifice of communism. Their goals were more modest—allowing for independent self-governing trade unions, or holding their governments to account for the human rights protections they had guaranteed would be respected in the Helsinki Accords. Nevertheless, the mere fact of systemic collapse does not erase or taint the legitimacy of their dissent.

In another respect, the fall of communism was the conclusion of a world-historical project, another heir to the Enlightenment. Dissidents and their movements in Central and Eastern Europe were also part of a longer continuum of what Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (2009) call “civil resistance” and Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler (1994), along with practitioner Gene Sharp (1973; 2003; 2010), have called “strategic nonviolent conflict”—the use of “people power” to bring down imperial projects, authoritarian governments, and exclusionary policies, which includes the non-violent elements in Russia’s “First” revolution in 1905–1906, the Indian independence movement, the American Civil Rights Movement, mass public mobilization against the rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and against General Augusto Pinochet in Chile in the 1980s, and the more recent “colored” revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Burma (Nepstad 2011).

The regime-change of 1989–1991, however, also contained another powerful current of restoration and rehabilitation—Tsarist-style authoritarianism in Russia, or what Vladimir Putin euphemistically calls “managed democracy” (a rampant form of crony capitalism effecting the privatization of the wealth of nations into the hands of a few and enough state-directed persecution and violence to promote societal quiescence). Here, energy revenues reinvented a social contract and survivalist impulse: a decent life is possible if you keep your head below the parapet. Even as liberal urbanites who benefited from Russia’s energy-fueled economic resurgence have increasingly disengaged their support for the regime—for a number of months in 2012 taking to the streets in protest—there remains a silent Russian majority, somewhat poorer and disconnected from Moscow, that sees in recent expansionist Russian foreign policy and nationalist and exclusionary domestic policy the resuscitation of great power and pride after two decades of post-Soviet shame. Sadly, the reality remains that the dissident experience of mid-to-late twentieth century Mitteleuropa is set comfortably in the past, whereas ongoing efforts to oppose authoritarianism in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Central Asia rest uneasily in the present. ← 34 | 35 →

IV. Contemporary Dissent: Transnationality, Historicity, and Speed

This continual experience of temporal and liminal dislocation brought by the end of the Cold War, combined with the tempo of social, economic, and cultural globalization and the explosion of late twentieth-century communications technologies, forces a further probing of the intersections of geography and culture—beyond the specific histories of dissent and dissidence in Europe and America. To what extent can we speak today of the transnational meaning and trans-historical relevance of these experiences of dissent to past and current movements outside the European, white-settler universe? What about the almost simultaneous emergence of multiple movements and sites of protest, and indeed the contemporary emergence of transnational movements of dissent, as witnessed in the anti-globalization movements of the late 1990s—the global environmental movement or the Occupy Movement, for instance? We used to speak of alternative civil societies bounded by state and regime borders. Now we speak of “transnational” or “global” civil society.

How well do concepts such as civil disobedience, the self-constitution of civil societies separate and apart from the state, Adam Michnik’s idea of “new evolutionism,” or Havel’s suggestion of the “power of the powerless” conceptually stretch and meaningfully “travel” elsewhere (Havel 1991; Michnik 1985)? Why delete the question mark, when this is a question? Are we engaged in a form of Orientalist magical thinking when we interpret what is happening in the Arab Spring through the lens of prior European and American experience? Effectively, due to imperialism, the transformative reach of industrial and post-industrial capitalism, and post-Cold War globalization, the entire world has been conquered by the weight of European structures of domination, culture, and the Enlightenment. At the same time, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are not simply the handmaidens of “Western” conceptions of rights. After all, there are strong universalist arguments to be made about at least a de minimus list of rights immune from charges of cultural relativism, and the absolute “right to life, liberty and security of the person”, to quote from the Canadian constitution, ought to be at the top of the list.8 ← 35 | 36 →

Regardless of my own specific, historically and geographically limited research, dissent, in the contemporary sense, is an unmistakably universal phenomenon. This is particularly true in view of the geography of dissent and significant levels of political protest over the last decade: Bahrain, Bulgaria, Burma, China, India, Iran, Israel, Greece, Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine, and the United States. Democratization and civil society recipes, as cooked up by aid agencies and NGOs, do not succeed when historically decontextualized, to be sure. Past experiences, under spatially and temporally different circumstances, with a working vocabulary of concepts and organizational tactics, require sensitive, constant, and specifically contextual cultural translation. Ideas about civil society organization, social mobilization, civic activism in the public sphere, non-violent resistance to authoritarianism in its many guises and historical cloaks, democracy, and human rights are not, in the twenty-first century, confined to Europe or its dominions overseas. Yes, a maddening level of conceptual stretching has and will continue to occur. Looking specifically at how the theoretical and practical innovation of the Central/East European dissidents “traveled” in the post-communist world, I spent some time looking at the Middle East both just before and just at the beginning of the Arab Spring. I concluded, that to suggest democracy or human rights is incompatible with Islam or Arab cultures is a breathtakingly narrow—indeed an Orientalist—view (Falk 2013). Ideas about human rights, non-violent change through civic participation and resistance, and democracy are today the collective property of humanity. To assert otherwise is not cultural relativism. It is to excuse criminal behavior, to paraphrase Canadian women’s rights journalist Sally Armstrong (2013).

Looking beyond the Middle East and North Africa, we see the further globalization of contemporary tactics and strategies of dissent, in places as far apart and diverse as Burma and Brazil, China and Cuba, India and Iran, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. Contemporary communications technologies and social media have made possibilities for dissent much more rapid and globally networked. Much was made in the mainstream media about the role of social media in Iran’s Green Movement and during the Arab Spring, Occupy Movement, and the recent waves of protest in Europe and Israel. Coordination was made possible with Twitter and Facebook; tactical creativity was shared through text messages; imagery was uploaded directly onto YouTube for global consumption. Yet social media, according to Krastev, has also contributed to “protest frustration.” Here, social networks engage in a downward spiral of mutual incrimination and conspiracy theory—as occurred in Russia following the 2012 protests (Krastev 2014).

Moreover, those same technologies provide state institutions and apparatuses new platforms for control and repression, intersecting the knowledge potential of ← 36 | 37 → “big data” with levels of surveillance and resulting power that would make Orwell or Foucault shudder (Morozov 2011). Bentham’s Panopticon is a global reality, and we are all captured in a diffuse web of power exercised in a regulatory and administrative manner. That provides all the more reason for the need to update and safeguard law and policy—nationally and transnationally—regarding freedom of expression. There are intrusions on our liberty today that John Stuart Mill could never possibly imagine in his construction of the harm principle—insidious invasions of privacy and tentacles of security governance that seem more at home in the realm of Aldous Huxley (Mill 1979). Where we situate ourselves with respect to this brave new world can be arrived at by our own mental shorthand answers to what we think about the revelations of Wikileaks or whether Edward Snowdon is to be decried as a traitor or celebrated as a whistle blower (Cole 2014).

As much as things change, it is nonetheless important not to think of the past as overly culturally and nationally bounded, trapped in technologies that were not far past Gutenberg when it came to the publishing and circulation of texts and ideas. When interviewing former dissidents in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, one of my questions focused on who or what influenced their views. Who and what did they read? Their answers were complex: they cited Thoreau, King, and Gandhi, as well as Arendt and Orwell. They were globally aware and well read. The lack of a consumer-oriented culture meant they devoted considerable time to reading. Yes, they were steeped in Marx and Lenin—more than a few began as revisionist, humanist Marxists—but in Locke and Hegel as well. Tellingly, and importantly, they read each other: despite the authoritarian, ideologically rigid, and constraining nature of the regime, via samizdat, tamizdat, smuggling (often with the able assistance of Western embassies and agencies) and personal travel, and with some determination and no small amount of personal risk, they had access to a lot of material. They established flying seminars and universities. Because of the actions of the Jan Hus Foundation in Czechoslovakia, you could earn credits toward an Oxford degree under the very noses of the authorities (Day 1999). Reflection and discussion were inseparable from action.

Indeed, historicity and historical awareness is absolutely essential for effective dissent in the twenty-first century. Much can be accessed via the Internet, but not in all states, given national firewalls such as those erected in China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Moreover, the presence of information does not equal accuracy or access; description does not equal analysis (measuring the effectiveness of dissent is a difficult proposition in any event). An accessible and usable past means knowing when innovation is urgently required, and when re-inventing the wheel is a waste of time. In the fall of 2011, I was fortunate enough to be in New York ← 37 | 38 → just as protestors began occupying Zucotti Park in lower Manhattan, giving both name and voice to the “99%.” After wading through the tented settlements, reading signs, talking to the earnest Occupiers while literally tripping over computer cords, wires, and journalists (by mid-October, there were as many journalists as occupiers), I found the “library”—a bunch of plastic bins in a corner of the park. In one of the bins was a copy of David Caute’s (1979) magisterial analysis of McCarthyism, The Great Fear, alongside a “do it yourself” guide to commodity futures trading. Both were perhaps essential reading for understanding America’s past episodes of repression as well as the greed and irrational exuberance that led to the global financial meltdown of 2008–9. Nobody was reading, though; they were busy doing. It bears remembering that Wall Street has a rich background as prime real estate for dissent, and that movements stressing participatory democracy, civil disobedience, non-violence, and social justice have been around for centuries in America. Many of the Occupiers, in the more than two hundred years’ worth of old media content they generated, spoke of popular disenfranchisement and the over-privileging of elites (in these two respects, not unlike the Tea Partiers), as well as social justice, participatory democracy, and civic engagement. Based on my observation, they seemed determined to reinvent the wheel of dissent, something that has been rolling along nicely for centuries. Indeed, a book published at the same time, Michael Kazin’s (2011) American Dreamers, advanced the thesis that the indigenous, Made-in-America Left—abolitionists, feminists, socialists, anarchists, and even communists—had changed the face of the country forever and made a lasting impact on American society and its values.

Learning from the past has never been more urgent. After Iran’s “stolen elections” in 2009, I had the opportunity to learn from and meet with a group of Iranian student activists at the University of Toronto. They wanted to know more about Solidarity in Poland. Long before the Iranian blogosphere, Polish activists in Solidarność were communicating via a panoply of self-created free and independent media: newspapers, bulletins, magazines, posters, and political cartoons. What could these students learn from creating an independent civil society in the face of regime crackdown? In one sense the task of the Iranians in terms of communication was easier. The stakes were nonetheless much higher—imprisonment in Teheran’s notorious Evin Prison and a potential death sentence are definitely harsher outcomes than those faced by any dissidents in the post-Stalinist era.

Because of the emphasis on speed in our current context—instant communication by smart phone, the myopic amnesia characteristic of the twenty-four hour cable news cycle, the short-term thinking of politicians, and the immediate gratification promised by easy credit and consumer capitalism—there is a bizarre ← 38 | 39 → expectation that dissent will somehow produce immediate results. Historically revisionist and mistaken readings of past episodes of dissent have informed policy makers and pundits alike in believing that a crowd toppling a few statues and/or forcing an ailing dictator to retire early might generate successful regime change or democratization on the quick and cheap. Perhaps this is why dissent increasingly takes the form of global street protest. Ivan Krastev (2014) has examined protests from 2011–2104, from “Occupy Wall Street” to Vladimir Putin’s “Occupy Crimea,” and suggests some disturbing trends for both the future of dissent and democracy. This new wave of politics—amplified through social media and global interconnectedness—offers more in terms of moral indignation than actual ideology or programmatic alternatives. In Canada, dissent has generated some corporate and political responsiveness: executives and think tanks suggest that “social license” is needed to generate community support for development, independent of regulatory processes. Dissent for the sake of dissent risks reducing the whole enterprise to a large-scale NIMBY-ism (“not in my back yard”) that can undermine longstanding structures of political representation necessary for democratic functioning (Gerson 2014).9

The protests have generated the shared experience of revolt. They have created senses of resistance, and their experience has certainly been recorded and shared in public space, both real and virtual. However, the jury is out as to whether their protagonists will define demands consonant with political inclusion, transparency, and accountability or only in terms of lifestyle improvement. Krastev’s concern is that the current wave of global protest, unhinged from the state yet devoted to the extravagances that define capitalist success, has a decidedly consumerist and libertarian flavor. On the other side of the coin, Naomi Klein (2014; 2008; 2000) has passionately and repeatedly argued that contemporary protest politics, emerging with the alter-globalization protests of the late 1990s and early 2000s, signal the rejection of market-based capitalism and its many failures—from the hollowing out of the middle class to the exploitation of developing world workers and global environmental destruction.

As I see it, history ultimately reminds us that while it is exhilarating to focus on the peaks of dissent—the euphoric moments of mass social mobilization when civil engagement is highest and anything seems possible—the reality is that such ← 39 | 40 → moments are often preceded by many failed efforts, violent repression or various turns to and/or against violent tactics, ideological confusion, social apathy, fear, and disillusion. The story of Solidarity might begin in the Gdańsk shipyards of August, 1980; it has concrete origins. But the organization is nonetheless the successor of so many previous efforts that if you wanted to be fully accurate, you could trace its origins back to the dismemberment of Poland in the late eighteenth century, the failed insurrections of the nineteenth century, the intellectual ferment of the Polish intelligentsia between the wars, the Polish October of 1956, the student protests of 1968, the workers’ protests in 1970–71, the formation of KOR following the Radom-Ursus riots of 1976, or the Pope’s visit in 1979. All these previous “moments” of social mobilization, peaceful or violent, political or decidedly not, played bit parts in the Polish dress rehearsal to Solidarity. This diversity of origins is instructive.

V. Dissent and Leadership

The issue of dissent and leadership is controversial, especially in the aftermath of the global Occupy movement and the more recent protest movements. Krastev’s diagnosis is bleak: they are leaderless and ideologically rudderless, embodying a kind of “participation without representation” wherein the protestor wants community and democracy but trusts neither politicians nor elections (Krastev 2014). Back in 2011, the protest narrative suggested they were not as leaderless as the media contended—they were, in fact, leaderful, and all empowered via social media to communicate. Consensus and voice were highly valued, while charismatic leadership was eschewed. The “general assemblies” in Zucotti Park relied on local participation and debate. Still, one of the criticisms levied at Occupy was that its ineffectiveness was linked to its real and perceived lack of leadership. The underlying approach was to not sacrifice the range of issues or lose the radicalizing participatory ethos: fair enough. Nevertheless, my own research tilts towards the importance of leadership in movements with the long-term goal of building sustainable change, especially at critical junctures of mass mobilization and global media attention. Although the debates about leadership with respect to Occupy continue, and are linked with critiques that the movement(s) failed to concretize their grievances with policy-prescriptive demands, Occupy did have lasting results. The catchy sloganeering of the “99%” versus the “1%” has dramatically changed public discourse. It has put income inequality and tax reform on the agenda for the first time in decades. It has made protest catchy. In any event, Occupy’s lingering effects are still not known. The transformation of language has altered the parameters of the discussion in the short run; in the longer run, a genre ← 40 | 41 → of scholarship is emerging to answer Occupy’s critics’ claims that the movement required substance or that concrete economic analysis and new policy agendas are needed (Malleson 2014, Piketty 2014).

However, the extent to which protest movements distrust elites to the point of eschewing the necessary social trust for effective representation and leadership, it would seem difficult to navigate a path to lasting results. There is a spirit of anarchistic and libertarian revolt against the very notion of being governed—here is where the Tea Party in the United States meets the disillusioned and cynical anarchist. Krastev decries the comparison of today’s wave of protest to 1848, even suggesting that they are the negation of noble nineteenth century demands for universal suffrage and political representation, because angry crowds are not about the hard work of obtaining a voice and working in or even developing new political institutions, but about regime downfall and defeat as an end in itself.

What is extraordinary about contemporary waves of protest is the scale of participation. Over two million Spaniards took to the streets in 2011, over one million in Brazil in 2013 (Krastev 2014). Over a million Egyptians marched in 2011 to force Hosni Mubarek from power; two years later an equally large number protested against the government of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Global protestors are also globally aware and respond to one another. Yet for all the speed, connectedness, and high numbers, there have been many disappointments. Syria is a disaster; Putin is still in the Kremlin; in Egypt the military is back in power. Still, though Ukraine may be subject to an increasingly troubling civil conflict and Russian-sponsored destabilization, the Euro-Maidan protests effectively toppled a corrupt government, and Tunisia is an impressive success that merits more attention. In Ukraine, there were clear demands, most particularly the signing of a free trade deal and association agreement with the EU. Tunisia, structurally better off than many of its neighbors, with a relatively prosperous and educated middle class, has fared better, including the rise of more competent and creative leaders. Interim president Moncef Marzouki and his advisors are currently championing the creation of an International Constitutional Court, which would be responsible for monitoring and adjudicating access to power, especially during difficult political transitions. Both examples illustrate the importance of ideas, and leaders to carry ideas forward.

One can absolutely sometimes mobilize a population without leaders. No particular individual may be necessary. History has involved many instances of spontaneous popular action (ask the women who marched on Versailles in the October Days of 1789). Inspiration may nonetheless be needed. There needs to be a method to articulate objectives and goals. Leadership concentrates ← 41 | 42 → that articulation, personalizes inspiration, and allows for interlocutors—the “power” that “truth” is speaking to—and regularized means of establishing trust or recognizing the potential of an adversary. To paraphrase Pierre Bourdieu (1980, 59), when you enter a field of action, you have to accept the habitus that comes with the game. As Bourdieu states, “[…] undertakings of collective action cannot succeed without a minimum of concordance between the habitus of the mobilizing agents (prophet, leader, etc.) and the dispositions of all those who recognize themselves in their practices or words….” Moreover, you need to convince others, the “free riders”—those on the edges of burgeoning social movements who see no need to act—because the costs must be willingly borne by others. Leadership helps solve the collective action problem. Leaderless, you can change the conversation (as the various Occupy movements clearly did), but not legislative or institutional structures, as these structures function with elites and leaders at the helm. You need someone to be representative, to in fact represent rather than summarize or paraphrase the whole. Representation can be likened to mutual translation of a mass or movement to an elite and vice versa, an organization of interests so that bargaining and mutual gains are possible, demands can be concretized, and progress, however mundane and protracted, can occur. The battle for meaningful change becomes otherwise too utopian, too Sisyphean, and less likely to succeed.

One example is sadly illustrative: in a country of only 9 million, 450,000 Israelis took to the streets in 2011 demanding social justice and won the support of 80% of Israelis; but just as quickly as the carnival began, it ended (Shavit 2013, 358–359). Without effective leadership that could translate into political representation, and absent anything except amorphous demands, dissent quickly dissipated. That Israeli moment of hope has now been eclipsed by renewed conflict and retrenchment.

Like it or not, collective memory gravitates toward the hagiography of great leaders. It is often the case that someone is at least inspiring a movement, even if there is not an emerging leader, be she an historical figure or a contemporary actor. Leaders particularly skilled in the art of negotiation, i.e. compromise and mutual recognition, with an ethical and principled sensitivity toward justice in all forms—procedural, substantive, distributive, retributive, reparatory, transitional, and historical—have had the most impact and remain the subject of public adulation and serious scholarship. The examples are legion, and quite often come from the world of resistance and dissent: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, for example. However, there are also lessons from movement and leadership failures. These need to be equally studied and absorbed. Moreover, leadership and movement failure cannot be solely understood with reference to ← 42 | 43 → the tactical, operational, or strategic decisions or interplay of leaders and movements. Regime commitment to violence, the penetrability of international condemnation or even awareness, the enduring importance of historical legacies, and cultural variation all play a role that cannot be underestimated.

Arguing for the presence of leadership is not the same as suggesting that the current conventions about leadership or the literature on the topic—dominated as it is by sociology and by researchers in business programs—is up to the task. Historically, literature has focused on nebulous immeasurables such as traits, skill, and style as well as modalities that suggest approaches be situation-based, goal, path, achievement or participation-driven, collaborative, or results-oriented with lofty goals such as organizational excellence or transformation (Northouse 2004). Now-popular paradigms focusing on transformational leadership focus precious little on political or social transformation, as case studies are again dominated by the fields of study where leaders are considered to determine urgent material consequences—such as profit or shareholder value in market capitalism, or life-and-death, victory-or-defeat decisions in militaries. It goes without saying that such organizations are not structurally set up to value dissent in any variety. One of the approach’s progenitors, James McGregor Burns (1978), does refer to Gandhi as a classic example of transformation leadership, whereby the hopes and dreams of the Indian independence movement were vested in one highly symbolic individual who in turn transformed both himself and the movement he led. One research prescription would be to plumb this literature for relevance to the social movement literature and vice versa. Archie Brown (2014, 148) has recently authored a significant tome on political leadership with chapters on transformational leadership, which he defines as playing “a decisive role in introducing systemic change,” as well as revolutionary leadership. However, his analysis is one that might be characterized as “thick description” by historical case and example. He does not engage with the larger leadership sociological literature, but does mention that within the disciplines of politics and history, the topic is far too myopically dominated by studies of presidential leadership in the United States, hardly a genre conducive to examining dissent.

A final example of the importance of leadership, which also nicely contrasts regime change from below with state-sponsored regime change from above (military or international intervention), is to examine the effectiveness of singular actors in extraordinary circumstances and how they can touch a global public nerve. Actual armies, or their equivalents in humanitarian and development aid, turned out to be effectively powerful in implementing lasting changes necessary for the actual improvement of the lives of girls and women in states such as Iraq, ← 43 | 44 → Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But none of those armies have been as effective, I contend, advocating the importance of girls’ education and women’s rights as the efforts of a single young woman, Malala Yousafzai (Yousafzai 2013; Armstrong 2013). This is a young woman who has been violently attacked, but who has also, with grace, voice, and maturity, accepted the mantle of leadership, one that has now been recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize. Her enduring popularity is not simply a reflection of the symbolic nature of the violence she suffered, but rather about her principled response and stubborn refusal to allow her enemies any level of enduring success in stifling her message.


Dissent can be thought of as the highest form of political participation. This is a counter-intuitive conclusion, given that we think of dissidents as external to the established structures of power. Dissidents and dissenters are usually political part-timers. However, dissidents and dissenters are the concerned amateurs that take risks beyond the daily ebb and flow of life, regardless of the type of government they support, oppose, or wish to change. Democracies rest upon the consent of the governed, as Locke (1965) reminded us long ago, or even the dissent of the governed, as suggested by Collins and Skover (2013). The rancorous many that can withdraw their consent to the powerful few, or larger constellations of dissent, can eventually impact the many. That is, either inside or external to the institutions and practices of power. Indeed, this is exactly what Havel (1991) had in mind when he spoke of the power of the powerless. That this is the case even in the most authoritarian—indeed totalitarian—regimes is an extraordinary testament to both the importance of dissent, and its lasting impact. Often it is the dissidents and dissenters that are accused of sedition and even terrorism, even when they argue for loyalty to the patria if not the regime.

Regardless of regime type, American legal scholar Cass Sunstein (2003) suggests dissent as an antidote to three contemporary social phenomena: conformity, social cascades, and group polarization. Pressures to conform are amplified by the influence of those who confidently display authority as well as the seemingly unanimous views of others: in such circumstances, dissent can play an outsized role and temper or even change majoritarian views (Sunstein 2003, 14). Cascade effects occur over time when at first a few and then many people engage in similar behavior or action—from consumer purchases to religious conversions—on the basis of the perceived rightness of the action or expected social approval. Deliberative groups—from juries to political parties—often end up taking more extreme positions as a result of deliberation based on ingroup thinking or other partial ← 44 | 45 → or incorrect modes of information (Sunstein 2003, 10–11). Effectively, Sunstein extends Mill’s argument regarding the tyranny of the majority from the context of law and politics into the broader public sphere. In so doing, he demonstrates that promoting and protecting rather than persecuting dissent not only serves public and political interests, but private interests as well.

The above meditations on the purposes, theoretical origins, and past episodes of dissent are but a sketch of dissent’s enduring internal and existential contradictions. These include the delicate balance between the social tension dissent necessarily introduces and potentially amplifies and the well-functioning of society that dissent promotes, the effectiveness or anathema of violence, and the necessity of individual leadership for lasting collective action. Thinking of what Timothy Garton Ash (1999) has called the “history of the present” and into the future, we can see, given the impact of the speed and immediacy of social media, the transnationality of action, and the emergence of a truly global civil society, the current and future challenges of dissent. Freedom of association—and in that context, dissent—remains an essential litmus test of health in mature democracies, and a fundamental demand at critical moments of transition to democracy. Lockean consent of the governed is only meaningful if the governed can dissent and the polity still survives. Even when it does not—as dissent can give way to revolution, and has done so in the past—this is no reason to disallow the full range of free expression from discord to rebellion. Dissent will continue to allow us to test the validity of our political and social foundations; it will confront us with new and heretical ideas, challenging us to assume Weber’s ethic of responsibility. As Hannah Arendt (1974, 247) suggested in her discussion of the vita activa, political action is ontologically rooted in the full range of human existence from natality until death. Only with the possibility for and of dissent can the full experience of our capacity for political action be realized.


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1 The author wishes to sincerely thank Ben Dorfman and all those who worked on the Dissent! conference for the kind invitation to attend, and for encouraging me to “translate” my address into this chapter. Thanks also to Matthew Poggi and Bahar Banaei for indefatigable research assistance and for Jules B. Bloch for his usual careful scrutiny of my arguments.

2 Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover recently challenged twenty-two academics and public intellectuals—whom they call Informationis Personae—in the United States to answer a series of questions on judicial dissent, peaceful protest, civil and uncivil disobedience and political violence, particularly with reference to American examples. Interviews were conducted from 2004–2012 with the following individuals: Randy E. Barnett, Todd Gitlin, Sue Curry Jansen, Hans A. Linde, Jon O. Newman, Steven H. Shiffrin, Nadine Stroessen, Noam Chomsky, Steven K. Green, Sut Jhally, Catherine A. MacKinnon, Martha C. Nussbaum, Faith Stevelman, Michael Walzer, Howard Zinn, Phil Donahue, Kent Greenawalt, Anita K. Krug, Ralph Nader, Frederick Schauer, Geoffrey R. Stone and Cornel West (Collins and Skover, 2013).

3 As a competing origin story, I would suggest that Marxism, as both an alternative explanation of history and praxis, “distorted” these intertwining trajectories of dissent because conflict was reduced to class conflict as a) materialist in basis and structural in origin; b) historically inevitable, and thus leading to revolutionary violence; c) resulting in a utopian future with a teleological drive to better humanity. In the process, liberal “rights” such as freedom of expression and conscience/belief were sidelined as both epiphenomenal and inconsequential. At the same time, the path to liberalism as a defining feature of political culture has hardly been peaceful: each previously unrepresented (or worse, unconsidered) group demanding enfranchisement or rights in the public sphere was met with violent and ideological backlash prior to and continuing even after political recognition—women and visible minorities are a case in point, and the same processes continue today with LGBTQ communities.

4 Hirschman argues that American political culture has historically favored “exit” over “voice”—leaving behind the conflicts of the “old” world—and that this persisted through the idea of the frontier and the persistent widespread belief in upward mobility. In another sense, however, American dissenters exited the “old” world and then exercised “voice” through their utopian immigrant impulse, and “loyalty” to the new world they had created.

5 Habermas’ work, especially after its English translation, had a profound and continuing impact on the post-Cold War “turn” away from the state to civil society (Calhoun 1994; Cohen and Arato 1992; Seligman 1992; Keane 1998).

6 Arguably this equation reaches back much further, to the Luddites in England and even earlier medieval peasant rebellions across Europe. To equate dissent with violence was also to justify its oppression in the name of order, stability, and progress. See in particular Hobsbawm (1962) and Thompson (1980).

7 Ultimately, this was achieved with what became known as the Pretoria Minute, after a meeting on August 6, 1990 the ANC signed an agreement suspending the armed struggle launched nearly thirty years previously (Meredith 2010, 413).

8 Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, effective since 1982 as part of Constitution Acts 1867–1982 and the repatriation of the Canadian constitution from the United Kingdom, states “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence has put great emphasis on this section, and has interpreted in broadly and substantively.

9 In the Canadian context, the term “social license” was coined in 1997 by British Columbia mining executive Jim Cooney: at the time extractive industries in the province were subject to considerable social protest and environmental criticism over practices which were significantly damaging to the province’s wilderness, particularly the clear-cutting of old-growth forest (Gerson 2014).