He armed his diverse followers with a list of 198 of what he called “nonviolent weapons” of protest and noncooperation to disrupt or even paralyze oppressive authorities.
“In South America, they’re not tweeting Che Guevara; they’re tweeting Gene Sharp,” said the Scottish journalist Ruaridh Arrow, who made an acclaimed documentary film about Dr. Sharp in 2011, “How to Start a Revolution,” and wrote his biography, to be published this year.
Mr. Sharp urged protesters, among other things, to adopt a singular color (orange in Ukraine) or a symbol (Serbian housewives banging pots and pans). Other weapons of organized civil disobedience, he said, include boycotts, mock funerals, hunger strikes and what he called “dilemma protests,” which hornswoggle governments into counterproductive responses.
Weapon No. 57 was what he called “Lysistratic nonaction,” the name derived from Aristophanes’ antiwar play “Lysistrata,” in which ancient Athenian women withhold sex from belligerent men until they agree to renounce aggression.
His philosophy could be reduced to two axioms:
First, autocracies are vulnerable to being undermined because “dictators are never as strong as they tell you they are,” he said in Mr. Arrow’s film, “and people are never as weak as they think they are.”
Second, while limited violence against dictatorial governments may sometimes be inevitable, violence provokes more violence, a strategy that gives dictators an advantage.
While Gandhi’s death in 1948 galvanized a young Dr. Sharp to begin preaching nonviolence, he was no pacifist. He admired Gandhi less for his ethical commitment to the cause than for his rejection of passive submission and his tactical success with nonviolent alternatives.
Characterized variously as the “Machiavelli of Nonviolence” and the “Clausewitz of Nonviolent Warfare,” Mr. Sharp argued that nonviolent resistance draws its strength from basic human nature.
“It doesn’t build on the capacity of people to love each other and turn the other cheek,” he told The Boston Globe in 1983, “but on people’s capacity to be stubborn and cussed, and we’re all good at that.”
Dr. Sharp worked out of his East Boston townhouse (where he cultivated rare orchids); it had doubled as his institution’s cramped headquarters since funding began withering in 2004. The tipping point was a fallout with his chief benefactor, Peter Ackerman, a Wall Street investor, who began another organization to promote nonviolence.
Dr. Sharp was little known in the United States, but abroad he was a Forrest Gump of popular revolutions, turning up to observe insurgencies from Tiananmen Square in Beijing to Tahrir Square in Cairo. He advised Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on peaceful protest.
His Oxford thesis, published in 1973 as “The Politics of Nonviolent Action: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation,” became a manual for revolutionaries everywhere.
Another of his 30 or so books, “Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System” (1990), was invoked by government officials in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1991 as they regained independence from the Soviet Union.
“I would rather have this book than the nuclear bomb,” Audrius Butkevicius, the former Lithuanian defense minister, once said.
Gene Elmer Sharp was born on Jan. 21, 1928, in North Baltimore, Ohio, to Paul Sharp, an itinerant Protestant minister and high school English teacher, and the former Eva Allgire, an elementary-school teacher.
He received a bachelor’s degree in social science from Ohio State University in 1949 and later earned a master’s in sociology there.
Dr. Sharp, who never married, is survived by a brother, Richard.
During the Korean War, rather than declaring himself a conscientious objector, Dr. Sharp refused to cooperate with his draft board because he opposed conscription altogether. Sentenced to two years in prison for draft dodging, he served nine months.
But his protest and his first book generated a sympathetic response from Albert Einstein, prompting Mr. Sharp to name his institution after him. Einstein, who died in 1955, wrote the foreword to Dr. Sharp’s first book, “Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power: Three Case Studies,” published in 1960.
“My activist experience was limited to one lunch counter sit-in in Columbus, Ohio, and my civil disobedience to conscription, which didn’t do much to get rid of the war system,” Dr. Sharp told Reason magazine in 2011. “I only felt that I was maintaining my own integrity there. I was out to move beyond that.”
After prison, to pay his rent in Brooklyn, he held various jobs, including operating an elevator in a hospital and rat-proofing apartments in Harlem.
After serving as a secretary to the Dutch-born American pacifist A. J. Muste, he left for London to become an editor of Peace News, a weekly. He distributed leaflets and pamphlets promoting nuclear disarmament that were among the first to popularize the universal symbol of the peace movement, the circular logo designed by the British artist Gerald Holtom using semaphore signals for N and D.
Mr. Sharp later studied at the University of Oslo and at Oxford, where he earned a doctorate in 1968.
In addition to founding the Einstein Institution and serving as its senior scholar, Mr. Sharp was a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a researcher at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard.
Mr. Sharp generally argued that the United States should avoid involvement in indigenous revolutions. Nonetheless, Iran accused him of having links to American intelligence agencies, and Hugo Chavez, the leftist former president of Venezuela, called him a tool of President George W. Bush.
Mr. Sharp believed that dictators of every political stripe were empowered by the willing obedience of their subjects, and that his nonviolent alternatives to revolution were open to everyone.
“In the U.S., during the civil rights struggle, both sides used these techniques,” he told the magazine The New Statesman in 2013. “In the bus boycott, when black people organized car-sharing in protest against segregation, their opponents refused to sell them gasoline and canceled insurance policies on their cars. I don’t think that was a wonderful thing to do, but it’s certainly better than lynching.”
He added, “Governments won’t have to fight terrorism anymore if the people who might have been terrorists learn to use this kind of struggle instead.”
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