- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Blue Rider Press; 1 edition (January 19, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399158723
- ISBN-13: 978-0399158728
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#126,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #31 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Anarchism
- #93 in Books > Textbooks > Social Sciences > Political Science > Political Ideologies
- #102 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Elections & Political Process > Political Advocacy
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The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century 1st Edition
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Praise for THE LEADERLESS REVOLUTION by Carne Ross:
"An impassioned, idealistic critique of the state of global politics and the deepening rift between those with power and those without."
"So bold, so full of incontestable truths and overwhelming convictions, that it should be read by every diplomat, politician and thinking citizen with the courage to pick it up."
—John le Carré
“It’s been a long time since I’ve read a more interesting, informing and inspiring book than ‘The Leaderless Revolution."
“Intriguing … the author provides many fascinating personal insights into the crises not only in Iraq, but also Afghanistan, Kosovo, Mauretania and Sudan.”
About the Author
Carne Ross is the founder and executive director of Independent Diplomat, a nonprofit advisory group that works to foster democracy and supranational cooperation. Prior to his role there, Ross was a British Foreign Service officer for fifteen years. He worked in Bonn, and then for the UK mission to the United Nations (UN). As the UK delegation's expert on the Middle East, he was an early critic of British involvement in the Iraq war, and testified against entry in the Butler Review. After resigning in protest over this issue, he fought for human rights and rule of law in Kosovo. Ross appears frequently on the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera, and has written for various publications, including the Guardian and Slate. He lives in New York.
Top customer reviews
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Ross does not, to be fair, attribute Kelly's death to anything other than suicide. He is silent on the various conspiracy theories, which lay the blame at the door of the government's secret service. Equally, he does not assign sinister motives to governments around the world; he is again no "conspiracy nut". His central premise as to why contemporary governments are powerless to deal with the challenges facing the planet today is simple and attributable to two main causes: venality and irrelevance. The book is largely USA- and UK-centric, but the corruption he describes which exists at the highest levels of government is equally applicable the world over. The powerful business of lobbying as it exists in the USA today as a means of influencing government policy is well set out by Mr. Ross. There are no ground-breaking investigative journalism revelations on this score: indeed, the subject is almost too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel. When dealing with the UK however, I feel Carne Ross has added much of value. His description of how the "old boys network" in the United Kingdom translates into lucrative consultancies and company directorships for no-longer-incumbent politicians is the first time I have seen an old suspicion of mine confirmed so clearly.
Central to his thesis is the belief that all governments, irrespective of political persuasion, have become out of touch and irrelevant to the majority of the populace for two reasons. First it is their relative distance from the people whom, supposedly, they represent; secondly it is due to the inability of any group of "leaders" (elected or not) to distil into sound-bites and political policy the vast and chaotic needs of a nation's populace. He puts it nicely: "For most of us, politics is a spectator sport - we observe, they do."
His thesis strikes at the very heart of representative democracy and the concept of the nation state that most of us in the West have come to accept as normal. He sees both institutions as at best irrelevant and at worst harmful to the general welfare of the population. Most surprising of all, Mr. Ross openly acknowledges that large numbers of the diplomats around the world share this view:
"This is difficult to grasp because we have become so accustomed to the state-based system: the international diplomatic forums with their neatly lettered name cards adorning serried rows at the UN General Assembly or European Council. But reflect for a moment and the absurdity becomes clear: how is it a tiny group of people can possibly know what is best for their country of millions? By extension, it is equally implausible to expect that a collection of such tiny groups, meeting at say the UN or G20, can produce meaningful and effective agreements for the whole globe. The disconnection is simply too great. They are required to assume, to guess. They know it, as I knew it. But it is the rest who believe it."
In my own opinion, Ross is far too lenient in his criticisms of those organisations which are supra-national, like the European Commission and the United Nations and he entirely neglects the harmful and insidious roles played by many NGOs around the world.
His remedy is a simple one. He believes people should take back their own "agency"; that is, interest in and control of their own affairs on a day-to-day basis. He uses the word anarchism, with a small "a", to describe the desired "system". He wastes little time on the theory or history of anarchism, cognisant as he is of the "Shock! Horror! Probe!" reaction that such a suggestion will elicit from most people. Mr. Ross' anarchism is of a much gentler kind than most people think of when they first contemplate the idea. His anarchism is much more centred around community, cooperation, engagement and the need for local organisations to take charge of directing their own affairs rather than waiting for some centralised authority to take control of their lives. He mentions civil disobedience in passing as a slightly more aggressive manner in which people might accelerate the process of taking back control of their futures, but he draws short of endorsing it completely.
The book is a profound mea culpa for what he sees as a wasted, hypocritical and ultimately harmful life as a career diplomat. His honesty is to be admired and his frankness should be acknowledged by all who see in contemporary Western diplomacy only cynical, post-colonial and commercial impulses which serve narrow sovereign interests. The diplomatic arena he describes which is the "norm" in most of the world resembles not so much The Great Game as The Goon Show.
His softly-spoken but radical solution is simple. He says "Throw away the chessboard; cut the ground from under those who would pretend humanity is but chessmen. Cease using the outdated nomenclature of a world that is already receding into history; stop naming; stop dividing."
The last two chapters of the book set out the methods by which Ross believes we can regain control of our political and, to a lesser extent, personal lives. He also describes his own ongoing contribution in this the post-diplomatic passport phase of his life. It is not a dramatic call to arms. It is a gentle, almost understated, portrayal of the small, individual steps that the small individual can take to try to influence the course of events around us. Ross is convinced that if we do not make attempts to change our world, then others, less benign towards us and even more out of touch with us, will make those changes on our behalves. And we will all be the worse for it. Read the book: make up your own mind.
As a child Carne Ross dreamed of being in the British Foreign Service. The dream slowly turned into a nightmare as he became convinced that governments and organizations of governments are the problem and not the solution. He thinks people need to represent themselves and set the agenda. Representative democracy represents the elite and the power structure. Our representatives say "elect me and I will solve the problem". But Ross says they cannot. Only we can set the agenda and define what we need and what needs to be done. When we defer to authority we abandon our personal integrity, humanity and empathy. Then we can do terrible things. Stanley Milgram's experiment [...], had actors playing the role of both the authority and the victim but the person being asked to give a "potentially fatal dose of electricity" believed it was real. The experiment showed that ordinary people, if told by an authority to give a "fatal" dose of electricity and if the authority took "full" responsible for the result, 65% would give the potentially "fatal" dose of 450-volts and only one participant refused to go beyond 300-volts. At 300-volts the supposed victim screamed and begged for the experiment to stop.
Ross was one of only two British Foreign Service members to resign over the lies that led to the second Iraq war.
In his preface Ross says, "Things do not seem to be going as planned. The system is broken. Meant to bring order, it formants instead disorder. We need something new. The end of the Cold War was supposed to presage the triumph of democracy and with it, stability. Globalization was supposed to launch everyone upon an eternal rising wave of prosperity. Some called it "The End of History". But history has instead opened another unpredicted chapter... The promise of capitalism seems more and more hollow. As its benefits are ever more unevenly shared, it has created a culture that cherishes much that is worst in human nature. Too much modern work is demeaning or humiliating, or simply boring. Little offers meaning in the exhausting yet often banal race to get ahead or at least to make ends meet, there is little time for others, for the community that seems ever more fractured, or for an ever more poisoned planet... The political class now appears more part of the problem than the solution. Even politicians complain about "politicians." ... In democratic systems, it has become evident what is more obvious in autocracies - power is monopolized by the powerful." Ross then goes on to say... "There are four simple ideas at the heart of The Leaderless Revolution. Together they suggest a radically different approach to conducting our affairs. First is that in an increasingly interconnected system, such as the world emerging in the 21st century, the action of one individual or small group can affect the whole system very rapidly...The second key idea is that it is action that convinces, not words... The third key idea is about engagement and discussion. Again it is a simple idea; decision-making is better when it includes the people most affected ... This hints at the fourth idea that suffuses the argument throughout The Leaderless Revolution, agency, the power to decide matters for ourselves. We have lost agency. We need to take it back... If we take back agency, and bring ourselves closer to managing our affairs for ourselves, then something else may also come about; we may find a fulfillment and satisfaction... No one can claim to know what others truly want. These needs and concerns and dreams can be expressed only through action, shared decision-making and discussion with those most affected, including those who might disagree... We have been silenced by the pervasive belief that there is no better system than the current one of profit-driven capitalism and representative democracy, when in fact our democracy has been hijacked by those with the largest profits."
I was reminded of a cartoon in the New Yorker with two Russians, in large furry caps, walking by the Kremlin Wall and one says, "Life must be a terrible in democracies with nothing but choice-choice choice all the time". I think the problem that Ross does not address is that most people most of the time are terrified of choice and responsibility and we welcome anyone willing to act like an authority. Even though we constantly complain about what "authority" does, we humans created political structure, and if it survives, it has uses. Perhaps some of its value is psychological. We all know, at least unconsciously, that we have a very dark side. If you have any doubts about the dark side than look at the movies we watch, the plays we see, the books we read and the dreams we have. We do some very interesting things with our dark side. One is that we project our sinister qualities into other people and then feel we must punish or control them. If we face our dark side and struggle with it we often get depressed. Paranoia is a great though temporary relief for depression. But, as in our childhood nightmares, something is constantly following us and we cannot escape. So authority gives us the illusion that the leaders can control the bad in other people and ourselves. Like rebellious adolescents we constantly complain about what government etc. does, but quickly retreat to submission out of fear of our own inability to control ourselves and our even greater fear that others won't control of their behavior. I suspect this is the reason that most idealized, democratic and altruistic social experiments (including primitive Christianity) fail. Altruistic social groups that rely on consensus and self-control, Communism for example, usually degenerated into a system of rigorous and punitive control and it was even worse than what existed under the czars. Most revolutions that aim to change social custom end in unacceptable chaos followed by repressive dictatorships. Even non-violent revolutions fail more often than they succeed.
On the other hand I was lucky to be part of three leaderless groups-and all were successful. However they were small groups of 5 to 8 people with similar goals and from similar backgrounds and cultures. Also there was nothing to be gained or lost by being either a leader or a follower. What happened in these groups was that the leadership shifted depending on the topic and everyone seemed to accept this quite easily. Above all we were friends first and discussants second. Is this possible in a large group like church or business or a small city or even a country? I think that is an interesting question. I suspect that if enough of us saw, accepted and adequately trained our dark sides it would be possible. Time will tell.
I do not believe for a minute that the riff raf in the streets were anything but that. Opportunistic vultures, looking for something to do and free stuff for the taking.
The author does point out the starts of past change, The White Coat chapter is especially thought provoking. The common person will blindly obey totally wrong leadership. I see it all the time in local bureaucracies, always accompanied with "I'm just doin my job".
If you think your government is doing fine, you aught to have read. If you think somebody aught to do something about societies ills;
This is something to chew on. Maybe that somebody is you.