A dissident is a person who actively opposes the established order. The term is most often used to refer to political dissidents, usually against authoritarian regimes (although there are rare uses of the phrase philosophical dissident). Political dissidents usually use non-violent means of political dissent, including voicing criticism of the government, but dissidents can also attempt to displace or overthrow the established government by achieving popular support and sparking a revolution or rebellion. In totalitarian regimes these dissidents are often punished with lengthy prison sentences, execution or economic deprivation.
Similarly, social dissidents openly oppose dominant social attitudes. In so-called democratic societies political and social dissidents are supposed to be free from government pressure, but there have been notable instances of persecution, such as the witch hunts in the United States for communists in the 1950s. It has been widely alleged that the USSR and China, for example, used or use involuntary commitment against dissidents, and there have been significantly less widespread similar allegations against the United States. Few governments tolerate significant criticism.
Militant dissidents are usually in the form of armed paramilitary groups whose aim is usually to overthrow a government or regime, or otherwise impose changes on the established order. Since militant dissidents are almost always militarily disadvantaged compared to the ruling power, such groups usually resort to asymmetric warfare; guerilla warfare, or in some cases, terrorism, to further their cause. Such groups are often denounced as terrorists by the ruling power regardless.
Noted dissidents include Andrei Sakharov, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Wei Jingsheng, and Nelson Mandela.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46