Nonviolence in Political Theory

Nonviolence in Political Theory

Nonviolence in Political Theory

Nonviolence in Political Theory


Develops a coherent theory of nonviolent political action in the context of Western political theory.

From Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to toppled communist regimes in Eastern Europe and pro-democracy movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, nonviolent action has played a significant role in achieving social and political change in the last century. The Arab Spring revolutions, particularly those in Tunisia and Egypt, and the Occupy movement in the US and UK demonstrate that nonviolence continues to be a vital feature of many campaigns for democracy, human rights and social justice.

Ian Atack identifies the contribution of nonviolence to political theory through connecting central characteristics of nonviolent action to fundamental debates about the role of power and violence in politics. This in turn provides a platform for going beyond historical and strategic accounts of nonviolence to a deeper understanding of its transformative potential.

Key Features:

  • Explores the philosophical presuppositions behind nonviolent political action
  • Examines the tensions between nonviolence and pacifism in international politics
  • Uses Gramsci and Foucault to critically analyse consent as the basis of political power
  • Distinguishes between civil resistance and transformative nonviolence


Nonviolence has been a central feature of my research and teaching in Peace Studies for more than ten years and for even longer as a basis for my practical involvement in campaigns for peace and human rights. It is through campaigning, teaching and research that I became interested in exploring the deeper connections between nonviolence as a form of political action and some of the central issues of political theory, concerning the role of power and violence in human affairs.

Much of the writing about nonviolence has focused on chronicling and documenting its uses in specific campaigns or political events, sometimes as a core element of significant social and political change; in other cases, to be supplanted by various forms of political violence; and, in some instances, to be defeated or crushed by more powerful political opponents. Efforts to assess the reasons for these successes and failures, and to provide a more strategic and systematic approach to using the methods of nonviolence effectively, have also been prominent in the literature on nonviolence. These discussions have been shaped, to some extent, by the distinction between so-called principled and pragmatic proponents of nonviolence – the former, basing their commitment to nonviolence on ethical or, perhaps, religious principles; and the latter, on evaluations of its political effectiveness.

My aim in this book is to take these discussions and debates to another level. Nonviolence as a form of political action necessarily connects to some of the core themes in political theory, concerning forms of political organisation, the relationship between the individual and the state and the role of violence and coercion in political institutions and processes of social change. in other words, it encompasses issues and concerns that go beyond a specific focus on documenting historical examples of nonviolence, or its distinctive characteristics as a form of . . .

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