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Nonviolence in Political Theory

Iain Atack

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

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.

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.

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




Chapter 1: The Theory and Practice of Nonviolent Political Action

Chapter 2: Political Theory, Violence and the State

Chapter 3: Nonviolence, the State and Civil Resistance

Chapter 4: Nonviolence and Political Power

Chapter 5: Structure, Agency and Nonviolent Political Action

Chapter 6: Pacifism and Nonviolence



About the Author

Iain Atack is Assistant Professor of International Peace Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin and editor of The Ethics of Debt ‘Forgiveness’: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the Third World Debt Crisis.


This timely and lucid analysis of the significance of nonviolence is innovative in what it adds to political theory. It is also significant for what it adds to understanding the power of nonviolence to direct the processes of social and political change currently sweeping the globe.

- Professor Tom Woodhouse, Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK