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

Overview

"This book mounts perhaps the most impressive argument ever made that there exists a viable and desirable alternative to the continued reliance on war." -The New York Times

At times of global crisis, Jonathan Schell's writings have offered important alternatives to conventional thinking. Now, as conflict escalates around the world, Schell gives us an impassioned, provocative book that points the way out of the unparalleled devastation of the ...

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Overview

"This book mounts perhaps the most impressive argument ever made that there exists a viable and desirable alternative to the continued reliance on war." -The New York Times

At times of global crisis, Jonathan Schell's writings have offered important alternatives to conventional thinking. Now, as conflict escalates around the world, Schell gives us an impassioned, provocative book that points the way out of the unparalleled devastation of the twentieth century toward another, more peaceful path.

Tracing the expansion of violence to its culmination in nuclear stalemate, Schell uncovers a simultaneous but little-noted history of nonviolent action at every level of political life. His investigation ranges from the revolutions of America, France, and Russia, to the people's wars of China and Vietnam, to the great nonviolent events of modern times-including Gandhi's independence movement in India and the explosion of civic activity that brought about the surprising collapse of the Soviet Union.

Suggesting foundations of an entirely new kind on which to construct an enduring peace, The Unconquerable World is a bold book of sweeping significance.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Jonathan Schell, a columnist at The Nation and a longtime advocate of nuclear disarmament, is not a cautious soul. In The Unconquerable World, he argues that what we are witnessing today is nothing less than the end of armed conflict as we know it. The ''war system'' that long pitted nations against one another is dying, undone by politics and the development of ever more potent weapons. A new, nonviolent approach to politics is about to take its place. — Jonathan D. Tepperman
The Los Angeles Times
… the main thesis of Jonathan Schell's new book may sound eccentric, even provocative. The author argues that by reaching its mind-boggling proportions and its destructive potential in the 20th century, war and mass violence have bankrupted themselves as instruments of international policy. What is more, they bankrupted themselves not only morally but also pragmatically: They stopped bringing results that were usually expected from them by politicians or communities using them against their neighbors to win new territories and resources, subjugate populations, create "security zones" or obliterate challengers for regional domination. Schell claims further that the 20th century, "the century of terror," was also a century of strenuous nonviolent action that proved its surprising effectiveness in the face of seemingly overwhelming power. Taken together these two developments provide humanity with an unprecedented opportunity. If we play our cards well, we may retire war for good and enter an era of lasting peace and cooperation. — Jaroslaw Anders
The Washington Post
Just as it was the supposed super-hawk Reagan who alone agreed with Schell's refusal of nuclear deterrence, it would now take a true conservative to heed the counsel of The Unconquerable World and conserve our blood, treasure and reputation for intelligent statecraft by handing over power to the Iraq Governing Council immediately, with our very best wishes. — Edward Luttwak
The New Yorker
At the outset of this lucid survey of alternatives to warfare, the author disavows the label "pacifist": he is not opposed to the use of force, but he believes that it has become an ineffective tool for achieving political ends. On this pragmatic basis, Schell builds a case for civil noncoöperation, which he argues has long played a crucial role in deciding otherwise bloody conflicts (among them the American, French, and Russian Revolutions). Showing how nonviolent action proved successful in ending apartheid in South Africa and in dismantling the Soviet bloc, Schell writes with discipline and urgency. It's disappointing, then, that, once he has persuaded us of the need for peaceful solutions, those he offers -- such as shared sovereignty -- seem disconnected from the realities of politics today.
Publishers Weekly
In what seems at the moment a quixotic thesis, Schell argues that warfare is no longer the ultimate arbiter of political power and that a maturing tradition of nonviolent political action offers hope for a peaceful future. Schell, an eloquent antiwar essayist best known for The Fate of the Earth (1982), begins with a study of the modern "war system," which he says proceeds from Clausewitz's premise that wars are fought to secure political objectives. As wars grew increasingly devastating, they became unwieldy means to achieve political ends. Since no political goal justifies annihilation, the Cold War nuclear standoff made the war system obsolete. Meanwhile, people's revolutions were also contributing to the demise of the war system. Citing Gandhi's independence campaign and anti-Soviet dissident movements. Schell argues, not totally convincingly, that political liberation can be achieved by popular will alone, through passive resistance and active construction of civil society. As we enter what Schell calls "the second nuclear age," in which proliferation threatens us with a "nuclear 1914," he warns against the Bush administration's "Augustan" policies of "unchallengeable military domination." Schell proposes instead the development of cooperative institutions to promote four goals: banning weapons of mass destruction, using shared sovereignty to settle wars of self-determination, enforcing an international law prohibiting crimes against humanity and creating a "democratic league." Hard-nosed realists will consider these ideas na ve pacifism. But at a time when Americans feel insecure despite overwhelming military superiority, Schell's radical rethinking of the relationship between war and political power offers a fresh and hopeful perspective. (May 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Liberally quoting political philosophers and politicians ranging from Jefferson and John Quincy Adams to Clausewitz, Gandhi, and Hannah Arendt, Schell embellishes and updates his strong views in favor of nuclear disarmament and related themes about which he has already written prolifically (e.g., The Fate of the Earth; The Unfinished Twentieth Century). In this provocative if overlong book, he concentrates on the history of war, the practice of nonviolence in violent environments, and the changed world of international politics after the fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11. He argues that the United States cannot and should not be the world's policeman because it is counterproductive to world peace. His solution is fourfold and controversial: a worldwide treaty abolishing nuclear weaponry, a "program of international intervention" that substitutes confederation and multiple national identities for monolithic sovereignty, collective enforcement of a prohibition against "crimes of humanity," and the formation of a "democratic league to support democracy worldwide and to restrain existing democracies from betraying their principles in their foreign policies." Readers will be left with questions concerning the meaning and practicality of Schell's ideas and also might take issue with his selective discussion of the history of war, which avoids events that don't support his ideas (there is very little discussion of World War II and of the U.S.-led NATO attack on Miloevic''s genocide against Bosnian and Serbian Muslims). For larger public libraries and many academic libraries.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
In what seems at the moment a quixotic thesis, Schell argues that warfare is no longer the ultimate arbiter of political power and that a maturing tradition of nonviolent political action offers hope for a peaceful future. Schell, an eloquent antiwar essayist best known for The Fate of the Earth (1982), begins with a study of the modern "war system," which he says proceeds from Clausewitz's premise that wars are fought to secure political objectives. As wars grew increasingly devastating, they became unwieldy means to achieve political ends. Since no political goal justifies annihilation, the Cold War nuclear standoff made the war system obsolete. Meanwhile, people's revolutions were also contributing to the demise of the war system. Citing Gandhi's independence campaign and anti-Soviet dissident movements. Schell argues, not totally convincingly, that political liberation can be achieved by popular will alone, through passive resistance and active construction of civil society. As we enter what Schell calls "the second nuclear age," in which proliferation threatens us with a "nuclear 1914," he warns against the Bush administration's "Augustan" policies of "unchallengeable military domination." Schell proposes instead the development of cooperative institutions to promote four goals: banning weapons of mass destruction, using shared sovereignty to settle wars of self-determination, enforcing an international law prohibiting crimes against humanity and creating a "democratic league." Hard-nosed realists will consider these ideas naïve pacifism. But at a time when Americans feel insecure despite overwhelming military superiority, Schell's radical rethinking of the relationship between war and political power offers a fresh and hopeful perspective.
Kirkus Reviews
What if they gave a war and nobody came? Or: Is there anyone in the room who’s not in favor of world peace? Schell, the always distraught author of Fate of the Earth (1982) fame, seems to worry that, in the wake of September 11, plenty of his compatriots are ready to trash the planet to root out the perps, responding to an unstable and unfriendly world "by pursuing the anachronistic, Augustan path of empire." Bad idea, Schell enjoins: a lot of people could get hurt, and indeed the whole world could be turned into a smoking husk if "just a few dozen of the world’s thirty thousand or so nuclear weapons" were somehow put to use. Instead, he urges, the way to get justice accomplished is to put the lessons of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to work: to resist evil through nonviolent means. Granted, the world would be a more just and lovely place if, instead of caving in to Osama bin Laden’s bunch, the Afghan people had "declined to do the will of the conqueror and, taking a further step, organized itself politically to conduct its own business"--but, as George Orwell once observed, people being beaten and bombed are more likely to do whatever it takes to stop their tormentors from causing further harm, including making a few accommodations. Schell is poetic, outraged, and always idealistic, and at times his arguments threaten to sway the skeptic--as when he offers a novel if highly selective reading of the American Revolution, arguing that nonviolent resistance was as important to the rebel cause as Washington’s cannons. Still, even the most starry-eyed reader is likely to wonder at the likelihood of America’s (or, for that matter, al-Qaeda’s) laying down arms just at the moment, or at theutility of confronting a Mohammed Atta with a daisy, or, indeed, whether the present state of affairs is really the path toward "annihilation," or just an unfortunate blip on history’s radar screen. A hortatory blend of wishful thinking and old-fashioned one-world polemic: likely to convince only those already converted to the satyagraha cause.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805044577
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 704,953
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Author of groundbreaking works, including The Fate of the Earth, The Village of Ben Suc, and The Gift of Time (0-8050-5961-X), Jonathan Schell is a regular contributor to Harper's, Foreign Affairs, and The Nation. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Unconquerable World:

The twentieth century produced the most extreme violence that the human species had ever visited upon itself. It was natural—indeed, a necessity—that people would react against that violence, would seek ways to overcome it, to escape it, to go around it, to replace it. In earlier times, violence had been seen as the last resort when all else had failed. But in the twentieth century, a new problem forced itself on the human mind: What was the resort when that last resort had bankrupted itself? Was there a resort beyond the “final” resort? Nuclear deterrence and people’s war were two groping, improvised, incomplete attempts to find answers to this question.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Towers and the Wall 1
Pt. 1 Violence 11
1 The Rise and Fall of the War System 13
2 "Nuclear War" 47
3 People's War 63
Pt. 2 Nonviolence 101
4 Satyagraha 103
5 Nonviolent Revolution, Nonviolent Rule 143
6 The Mass Minority in Action: France and Russia 164
7 Living in Truth 186
8 Cooperative Power 216
Pt. 3 The Civil State 233
9 The Liberal Democratic Revival 235
10 Liberal Internationalism 265
11 Sovereignty 280
Pt. 4 The Shapes of Things to Come 303
12 Niagara 305
13 The Logic of Peace 332
Notes 389
Acknowledgments 415
Index 417
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