Mon 9 Apr, 2012 09:05 am
The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century
by Carne Ross
Publication Date: January 19, 2012
The Leaderless Revolution explains why our government institutions are inadequate to the task of solving major problems and offers a set of steps we can take to create lasting and workable solutions ourselves. In taking these steps, we can not only reclaim the control we have lost, but also a sense of meaning and community so elusive in the current circumstance. In a day and age when things feel bleak and beyond our control, this powerful and personal book will revive one's sense of hope that a better, more just and equitable order lies within our reach-if only we are willing to grasp it.
2 READER REVIEWS
The philosophy outlined here presaged the sudden appearance and force of the Occupy Wall St. movement. Written with courage and candor by a former instrument of a nation (British diplomat, envoy to the UN}, it's revealing that the author not only regrets his past involvement with falsely justified and failed policy, but that he has come to reject the very notion of nation states' ability to solve any serious problems at all. Mr. Ross adroitly weaves in a narrative of his personal experiences, describing his attempts to mediate crises in the Balkans and the Middle East; hamstrung, as he came to understand, by his immersion in a myopic culture of modern noblesse oblige. There's insights throughout and even a constructive reinterpretation of the "Golden Rule" to be considered. I recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about why the multi-dimensional challenges we're facing aren't going to be addressed effectively by anyone in positions of power - now or evermore. Instead you'll learn how you might act yourself from your own convictions, and along with many others doing the same, effect the change we need.
By Joanna Daneman (Middletown, DE USA)
The thesis of this book is that the world has become so large, so unwieldy, that certain mass events can shift political power away from the traditional governments and into the hands of the people, or at least people who previously were a powerless minority in the scope of world politics.
That's a powerful statement and there seems to be a lot of merit in the idea. For example, let's take the rise of Iran, whose leaders have no real connection to the power base of the mid 20th century, or the Islamic "Spring" that spread across the Mideast in 2011. The author contends that these revolutions are essentially leaderless and spring from discontent in the masses.
One idea is that rather than use rational thought, people simply copy what others are doing, and that's probably very true as well, whether it's in buying power or political movements. However the author seems to minimize the rise of one creative, ruthless, focused, persuasive and charismatic person at a time of disorder (I'm thinking of Hitler or Stalin) and seems to want us to believe that all revolution is grass-roots based, when there is also a case for agitation done at levels that are beyond the scope of the evening news reports or general knowledge. Admittedly, that is the conspiracy theory problem which is no more believable than mass, unorganized uprising with no focus point of leadership.
The author quotes legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who makes an observation that the more dispossessed a group is from power, the more extreme their decisions become, and that when groups join in discussion, the end result is a greater polarization, not unity (which sounds a great deal like the quote from Noam Chomsky that the end result of all communication is misunderstanding.) And there is another telling datum; that when the decision has no real bearing on an outcome, the polarization is inevitable, in other words, there is no payoff for reaching an agreement.
However, the observation that a dispossessed group may be more liable to be extreme, is perhaps only superficial. The question is, who are the people meeting and agitating for change? It is dangerous to lump all people together in a collective because the overall group may be represented by a very small number of people with an agenda and an axe to grind--and perhaps a more extreme point of view than the overall viewpoint of their cohort. A good example of this is our very own American revolution. It was a relatively small number of people at first who felt that the British rule and taxation were repressive. The vast majority were happy to go along to get along. As the issue polarized, about 40 percent of colonists took up the side of independence and eventually the actual number of loyalists dropped to a minority, but at first, when there was discussion and meeting about the issues of taxation and a lack of representation in England, it was not an overwhelmingly large number of people.
However, I found one thing missing and that is the observation that in times of confusion and economic disarray, often a sort of warlord or gang of power arises, and this seems rather constant in history. Rather than "the people" achieving more liberty by shaking off traditional and established power centers, the end result is less liberty and more trauma.
The hopeful examples that Ross quotes in the book (the Porto Allegre Experiment and the Post-Katrina community rebuilding where more parties who were previously dispossessed were involved) ARE hopeful, but there was an underpinning of a rule of law (the ability for decisions to be implemented by a framework of law that would enforce or agree to the outcome) is not really discussed in proper detail. In other words, the will of the people has to have a component of law outside the mob that can support local governance. For example, the US Constitution leaves much power in the hands of the individual states, and has enumerated powers that limit its own power to compel the people directly. This seemed to me to be a necessary component in a transfer of power to more decentralized and local governments, and perhaps the outcome in other places where there is a breakdown of centralized rule and the establishment of local power is not consensus but a rise of local strong-arming. Just read your history.