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A. 1.a.i. Classic Works on Theory of Nonviolent Action

Volume One -> A. Introduction to Nonviolent Action -> A. 1. Theory Methods and Examples -> A. 1.a.i. Classic Works on Theory of Nonviolent Action

The books and essays included in this sub-section are now seen as key texts in the evolution of the theory of civil resistance in the first half of the 20th century. A seminal work by Gandhi on resistance in South Africa is listed here, but his other writings have been indicated under A.2. This sub-section also mentions anthologies incorporating some classic texts.

Ballou, Adin, Christian Non-Resistance, [1846], Ed., with an introduction by Lynn Gordon Hughes, Providence, Blackstone Editions, 2003

 (reprinted in 1910 by the Universal Peace Union, and online at

Ballou distinguishes his brand of Christian moral resistance to evil from both secular interpretations and from the ‘”passive obedience and nonresistance” imperiously preached by despots to their subjects’. He was active in the Anti-Slavery campaign in the USA together with William Garrison. While Garrison changed position and ultimately supported armed struggle to free the slaves, Ballou maintained his commitment to nonresistance. He had a direct influence on Tolstoy, and is therefore part of the broad tradition of nonviolent resistance

Case, Clarence Marsh, Nonviolent Coercion: A Study in Methods of Social Pressure, [1923], New York, Garland, 1972, pp. 423

Early sociological study of nonviolent action in social movements, and of Gandhian strategy.

de la Boetie, Etienne, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, [1554], Montreal, Black Rose Books, 1997

Frequently cited in discussions of the ‘consent’ theory of power. The accuracy of this ‘Gandhian paradigm’ of Boetie has been questioned (see Randle, Civil Resistance (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements) , p. 31), but Boetie has been used in the past by religious dissidents and from the 20th century by exponents of unarmed resistance. For discussion of his Renaissance context, (see Bleiker, Popular Dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics (A. 1.a.ii. Theories of Civil Disobedience, Power and Revolution) pp. 51-73).

Translations: French
de Ligt, Bart, The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Revolution, [1935], New York, Garland, 1972, pp. 308

and London, Pluto Press, 1989 (with Introduction by Peter van den Dungen), pp. 306.

Classic argument for nonviolent resistance from an anarchist anti-war perspective, with a broad historical perspective, and giving more emphasis to examples of unarmed resistance in the socialist tradition (for example 1905 in Russia) than much of the early literature.

Gandhi, Mohandas K., Satyagraha in South Africa, [1925], Ahmedabad, Navajivan, 1950, pp. 348

Gandhi’s account of the seminal civil disobedience campaigns against legislation discriminating against the Indian population, and the evolution of his strategy and theory of ‘satyagraha’.

Gregg, Richard B., The Power of Nonviolence, [1935], revised 3rd edition, London, James Clark, 1960, pp. 192

Classic analysis of ‘moral jiu jitsu’ as the basis of nonviolent resistance, and in particular of Gandhi’s interpretation and strategy of nonviolent action (‘satyagraha’). The updated second edition includes material on unarmed resistance during World War Two in Norway and Denmark, and on the US Civil Rights Movement.

Griffith, Arthur, The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, [1904], Dublin, University College Dublin Press, 2003

(The 1918 edition, which includes references to the unarmed campaign for independence in Finland, is now online.)

This brief book – originally a series of articles – was influential in Ireland and translated into a number of Indian languages, and was almost certainly read by Gandhi. Whilst the historical accuracy is questionable, Griffith’s account was important in conveying the idea of nonviolent resistance. Csapody, Tamas and Thomas Weber, ‘Hungarian Nonviolent Resistance against Austria and its Place in the History of Nonviolence’, Peace and Change, vol. 32 no. 4 (2007), pp. 499-519, analyses the influence of Griffith’s interpretation.

Holmes, Robert L. ; Gans, Barry L., Nonviolence in Theory and Practice, [1990], 2nd edition, Long Grove IL, Waveland Press, 2005, pp. 381

Reader with excerpts on religious roots of nonviolence and classic writings on disobedience, including Socrates, as well as Thoreau, Tolstoy and Gandhi on nonviolent resistance.

Shridharani, Krishnalal, War Without Violence, London, Gollanez, 1939, pp. 288

Reprinted by New York, Garland, 1972, pp. 351.

Respected early analysis of satyagraha with emphasis on strategy. Also comments on role of nonviolent action in democratic states in resisting an invasion.

Sibley, Mulford Q., The Quiet Battle: Writings on the Theory and Practice of Nonviolent Resistance, Garden City NJ, Doubleday, 1963, pp. 390

Still useful compilation. Part I ‘Foundations’ includes extracts from ‘ancient religious statements’, Boetie, Godwin and Shelley, Gandhi, Case and Gregg; Part II covers unarmed resistance in classical Roman times, the general strike, Hungary 1849-67, resistance in Norway during the German Occupation and the 1953 Vorkuta (prison camp) strike in the Soviet Union; Part III provides extracts on principled nonviolent power, including colonial Pennsylvania, South African resistance in the 1950s, the US Civil Rights movements, direct action against war preparations and the possibilities of nonviolent national defence.

Thoreau, Henry David, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, 1846

also entitled ‘Civil Disobedience’. Essay available in some editions of Thoreau’s Walden, in many anthologies and online.

Tolstoy, Leo, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence, Philadelphia PA, New Society Publishers, 1987, pp. 426

Collection illustrating Tolstoy’s Christian anarchist-pacifist perspective, stresses individual refusal to fight in wars. Omits ‘Letter to a Hindu’, which reflects on why millions of Indians submit to a small number of British rulers and which is available in Peter Mayer, ed.,The Pacifist Conscience, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966, pp. 166-76. See also Leo Tolstoy, Government is Violence, Phoenix Press, 1990, which includes essays on anarchism and nonviolence.

Zinn, Howard, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace, Boston, Beacon Press, 2002, pp. 202

Broad historical survey, ranging from Buddha to Arundhati Roy, and including Thoreau and Albert Camus, ‘Neither Victim nor Executioner’.