The Oxford-educated philosopher illustrates his points by referring to real-life examples of nonviolent resistance -- from ancient Rome to modern Manila. In ``The Politics of Nonviolent Action'' Sharp traces the often-neglected history of nonviolent boycotts, strikes, symbolic protests, and organized disruption.
Unlike Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, both of whom sought spiritual reconciliation and education, Sharp's ``end product is success,'' says Michael Nagler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. `` . . . He invites people to use his techniques without making nonviolence a way of life.''
Many observers applaud Sharp's pragmatism. ``He's taken the concept of nonviolent action off the pedestal,'' says Paul Wehr, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Colorado, Boulder. ``The peace movement has had too little concern for alternatives. But that's changing, because people like Sharp are doing so much research.''
But others think Sharp's avoidance of morality and religion has gone too far. One colleague criticized Sharp's admiring study of Gandhi's political wisdom in ``Gandhi as a Political Strategist''; he feels that Sharp failed Gandhi by failing to assess the crucial role of religion in Gandhi's political action.
And Dr. Nagler regrets that his colleague sacrifices the power of conviction in his pursuit of the power of numbers. ``Gene's so concerned not to appear flaky,'' he says. ``He's afraid the policy people -- and it's the policy elite he's really aiming at -- will reject what he has to say without even considering it.''
Sharp defends his approach. ``I'm insisting on protection rather than trying to change the world,'' he says, adding that if it is ever to succeed, nonviolent action must work for ``people who don't necessarily believe as you do.''
In his most recent book, ``Making Europe Unconquerable,'' Sharp tries to convince ``nonbelievers'' that nations should look into nonviolent defense alternatives. He argues that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be replaced by civilian-based defense (not to be confused with civil defense, often identified with the preparation of bomb shelters). Such a defense strategy, he explains, would prepare populations in noncooperation and defense so they would be nettlesome and perhaps ``unconquerable'' by an invader such as the Soviet Union.