Nuno Monteiro

A theory of political violence

Nuno Monteiro
20/09 2019
12:15-13:15, The Skybar at the Campus House at SDU, Odense


by Dr. Nuno Monteiro, Director of International Security Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University (US)


The philosophical and empirical study of politics revolves around two central topics: violence and political order. When does political violence contribute to the creation of a peaceful political order? A Theory of Political Violence presents an integrated framework for understanding how political violence – from terrorism to insurgency, to civil, conventional, and nuclear war – can help generate political order, by examining the social and political conditions under which violence can succeed in producing a stable peace. A Theory of Political Violence operates at three levels: socio-political, strategic, and tactical. At the socio-political level, the book examines how the sociology of the actors involved in violence conditions the odds that it will subside and give rise to a stable peace. Three key factors emerge: the level of political polarization between the sides involved in the fighting; the degree of institutional integration of each organization deploying violence; and the size of the smallest organization capable of presenting a threat to the political goals of others. The higher the level of polarization, the lower the degree of institutional integration of the adversaries, and the smaller the size of the group necessary to generate a threat, the less likely that violence will subside and a stable political order emerge. Turning to the strategic level, A Theory of Political Violence explores an abstract typology of ways in which violence can, alongside non-violent means, lead to political outcomes – through destruction, control, or transformation of the adversary. Each of these strategies will, depending on the sociology of the conflict and the nature of the political goals in play, be more or less likely to conduct to the emergence of a peaceful order. Finally, at the tactical level, A Theory of Political Violence examines a spectrum of possible forms of violence, from indiscriminate (random) violence, to categorical violence, to individual selective violence. These tactics vary in the extent to which they require information and competence in the use of violence. Different tactics have different effects on the odds of victory through each of the strategies discussed above. A Theory of Political Violence concludes by examining the consequences of an integrated theory of violence for four topics: grand strategy, state-society relations, legal theory, and ethics.


Dr. Monteiro’s research focuses on International Relations theory and security studies. He is the author of Theory of Unipolar Politics and Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Proliferation (with Alexandre Debs), published by Cambridge University Press in 2014 and 2017, respectively.

His work has been printed in the Annual Review of Political ScienceCritical Review, International OrganizationInternational SecurityInternational Theory, and Perspectives on Politics; and his commentary has appeared in numerous outlets including the GuardianForeign Affairs, the National Interest, and Project Syndicate.

At Yale, Dr. Monteiro is also a research fellow at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and a fellow of Branford College.

He is originally from Portugal and earned his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 2009.