The Virtues of Nonviolent Struggle

40 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2017

See all articles by Stephen Wittels

Stephen Wittels

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science

Date Written: May 27, 2017


There is an emerging consensus in the study of mass-based political resistance that successful nonviolent campaigns leave in their wake political conditions suitable for democracy and stability. The following paper subjects this claim to closer scrutiny. Using theory grounded in the study of conflict, revolution, and democratic transition, we make the case that a resistance campaign’s duration is an important driver of its downstream effects. Sudden victory is likely to leave important questions about the balance of capabilities between and within interest groups unanswered. It may also create a destabilizing legitimacy deficit for the entity endowed with the status of incumbency once calm is restored. Further complicating matters, we argue, is the fact that the benefits of struggling en route to victory are not distributed equally across violent and nonviolent movements. To test our precise hypotheses on these points, we examine four post-campaign outcome variables in a large-N framework: levels of democracy, electoral manipulation, coup détat attempts, and violent conflict. With the aid of flexible modeling and sensitivity analysis, we make the case that campaign duration significantly moderates the long-term political effects of mass-based nonviolent resistance, with harder-fought victories yielding more positive outcomes.

Keywords: Nonviolent, Struggle, Democracy, Stability, Resistance, Campaign

Suggested Citation

Wittels, Stephen, The Virtues of Nonviolent Struggle (May 27, 2017). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2017-15, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Wittels (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics