Carter, April, 2005. Direct Action and Democracy Today. Cambridge: Polity Press. xi + 298 pp. ISBN 0745629369.

A review published in Journal of Peace Research, volume 43, number 4, July 2006, p. 492

pdf of published review

Direct action, also called nonviolent action, is increasingly used around the world, and therefore its relation to political systems and theories is increasingly important. Over 30 years ago, April Carter wrote a key work on this topic. Her new book is not an update but rather a powerful new treatment of the same issues.

The first part of the book deals with the nature of direct action and its connections with social movements and liberal democracy, with a focus on neoliberal globalisation and opposition to it. The highlights of this treatment include confident explanations and dissections of key conceptual issues, numerous examples of direct action from around the world and their relevance to wider debates, and systematic coverage of the views of key theorists.

The second part is more theoretical, though still well supported by examples. Carter looks in turn at theories of liberal democracy, participatory democracy and socialism, extracting themes relevant to direct action, especially justifications for it. Global dimensions remain a central theme. The analysis is wide-ranging and perceptive throughout: this book is the place to turn if you want a convenient summary of theoretical debates on deliberative democracy, globalisation, liberalism and a host of related topics.

Carter is obviously supportive of direct action, but her treatment is based on logic and evidence rather than advocacy. Her astute assessments strongly suggest that theorists have not been paying enough attention to the challenge posed by direct action, a challenge to both systems of power and the ideas that legitimate them. Her book is the definitive contribution to remedy this theoretical neglect.

Brian Martin

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