Building Integrity through Nonviolence Practice

By Dr Roberto Baldoli, Fellow of the Center for European Governance, University of Exeter  and Claudio M. Radaelli, Professor of Public Policy, University College London

Fighting corruption through monetary incentives and sanctions has shown many limitations. Given certain conditions, this approach can even undermine social trust. The shift from anti-corruption to integrity is a key step to overcome these limitations and side-effects. Yet, the focus in the field of integrity is still on institutions or personal conduct. Can we imagine a different way to look at integrity, which creates resilient communities and builds strong institutions from the bottom-up? We make the case for nonviolence as practice.

The Oxford dictionary defines nonviolence as ‘the use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change’. This force for change is already playing an important but too often unrecognized role in fighting corruption. From the Philippines to India, from Afghanistan to Romania, nonviolent resistance unleashes people power against corrupted governments. Civil society manages to force corrupted governments to resign through stunning work of erosion of the social and political pillars that support corrupt power.

These achievements are important, but nonviolent practice offers more than this. The integrity debate is a perfect illustration of the causal effects of nonviolence. To see this, we begin by observing that nonviolence properly understood, and contrary to conventional wisdom, is not a protest, it is a constructive programme. When it responds to corruption, at the micro level it is embodied in practices that give power to individuals. The power to add to history, even if only with a single act of disobedience that says NO to what has happened until now, the power to offer a hunger strike as vehicle of a dialogue, the power to show how a given corrupt condition can change with a constructive programme. This builds up confidence, resiliency and vision of what is and ought to be. At the collective level, nonviolent practices build integrity bottom-up rather than through top-down implementation of principles, ethics and regulatory benchmarks.


This approach starts from the citizens, through a refusal to be led by human fragility and power relations, as the Italian philosopher Aldo Capitini explained. This is not a change in faith; it is a practical opportunity to act differently, hence we talk of nonviolent practice. Nonviolence brings to society a means-oriented approach to the ends (as Karuna Mantena explained), developing transformative actions that build integrity into every social and political process in a society. Underlying this practice is a causal chain: individual nonviolence – social resilience – institutional integrity – reduction of corruption. It empowers each actor involved in the many processes of society, especially but not exclusively with the many techniques listed by Gene Sharp.

Empowerment is not simply limited to the civil society. It is key that public managers too be empowered to know what to do in certain cases to disrupt the bad institutional work (such as whistle-blowing, working slowly and civil disobedience) and to create the new one. These practices represent a step beyond mere education; they are precious opportunities for the different groups and actors to be heard and raise from fear and passivity. Besides, nonviolence includes in the system more and more people through new mechanisms that makes a community extremely resilient, like the ones studied in the context of civilian resiliency in ferocius civil wars Latin America by Oliver Kaplan.

What role can third parties play from this approach? Certainly, not to impose benchmarks based on top-down interpretations of integrity to communities. They have the chance to work among them and operate like radars, discovering the examples of integrity. They can cultivate and diffuse mechanisms already in place to include everybody in the decision-making process. Along this path, third parties can really empower communities and create the sandwich effect described by Shaazka Beyerle and Maria Stephan.

The aim is the integrity of a society through the inclusion and participation of all its parts in an open, constructive programme for our troubled new century.




Posted in Integrity Blog, Uncategorized

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