The Force of Nonviolence: The Ethical in the Political (Hardcover)

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“Judith Butler is the most creative and courageous social theorist writing today." – Cornel West

“Judith Butler is quite simply one of the most probing, challenging, and influential thinkers of our time.” – J. M. Bernstein

Judith Butler’s new book shows how an ethic of nonviolence must be connected to a broader political struggle for social equality. Further, it argues that nonviolence is often misunderstood as a passive practice that emanates from a calm region of the soul, or as an individualist ethical relation to existing forms of power. But, in fact, nonviolence is an ethical position found in the midst of the political field. An aggressive form of nonviolence accepts that hostility is part of our psychic constitution, but values ambivalence as a way of checking the conversion of aggression into violence. One contemporary challenge to a politics of nonviolence points out that there is a difference of opinion on what counts as violence and nonviolence. The distinction between them can be mobilized in the service of ratifying the state’s monopoly on violence.  

Considering nonviolence as an ethical problem within a political philosophy requires a critique of individualism as well as an understanding of the psychosocial dimensions of violence. Butler draws upon Foucault, Fanon, Freud, and Benjamin to consider how the interdiction against violence fails to include lives regarded as ungrievable. By considering how “racial phantasms” inform justifications of state and administrative violence, Butler tracks how violence is often attributed to those who are most severely exposed to its lethal effects. The struggle for nonviolence is found in movements for social transformation that reframe the grievability of lives in light of social equality and whose ethical claims follow from an insight into the interdependency of life as the basis of social and political equality.

About the Author


Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory and the University of California, Berkeley,  and holds the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School/EGS. She is the author of Gender Trouble; Precarious LifeFrames of War; and Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly.

Praise For…


“As a strategy of resistance and protest, nonviolence is often seen as passive and resolutely individual. Butler’s philosophical inquiry argues that it is in fact a shrewd and even aggressive collective political tactic.”
New York Times

“Perhaps the most influential and widely travelled feminist in the Western academy … [Butler] carefully, with assertive toughness, combats the hatred, fear and rage of those who respond violently to her continuous commitment to confronting normative patterns of coercion with calls for concerted actions of resistance.”
—Lynne Segal, Times Higher Education

“Judith Butler lucidly enumerates the obstacles nonviolence faces in a time when it is sorely needed. Drawing on works from Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, and Sigmund Freud, she makes a fresh new case for what destructive obstacle our pervasive individualism is to nonviolent action—and the change possible with it.”
—John Freeman, Boston Globe

“[The Force of Nonviolence] walks us through a route of emancipation that has not been approached previously, but which seems, once pursued, recognisable and familiar.”
LSE Review of Books

“Drawing on thinkers from Sigmund Freud to Frantz Fanon, Butler untangles deep-seated misunderstandings about what constitutes violence and nonviolence, to suggest new paths forward.”
Jewish Currents

“Vital, and chillingly timely.”
—Hettie Judah, i newspaper

“Judith Butler has achieved a status that few other living academics have acquired: For each published work that she issues, reams of discussion and critique are produced in response, so much so that they have engendered microdisciplines in the many fields in which she is an expert: gender, politics, literary studies, and more.”
—Francis Wade, Nation
Product Details
ISBN: 9781788732765
ISBN-10: 1788732766
Publisher: Verso
Publication Date: February 4th, 2020
Pages: 224