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on 11 August 2012
Anarchists have a bad name. At best, your first thoughts are the rebellious Iroquois hairdo punks wearing leather jackets and listening to the Clash. An ancient picture, really. At worst, and most likely, they are the masked youth carrying vigorous aggression in their eyes. A suited and booted former British diplomat enjoying highlife and business class airline tickets would not be your first guess, surely.

Yet, in his latest book Carne Ross fiercely advocates that various forms of anarchy should be the means and end of what we strive to achieve in building local, regional and international communities. Being honest, if I was introduced to The Leaderless Revolution in that way, I would not have bothered ordering it from Amazon. I would have missed out on a very well-argued and thought-provoking read, too. Convincing? Comme ci, comme ça...

Having been following Mr Ross' work for the past few years, I may say that his career is of some inspiration for wannabe diplomats and young adepts of foreign policy-making and international relations. Fast-tracked to the FCO, he quickly joined the highest ranks of the UK's mission to the UN. Who would not dream about that? (Writing these words, my application to the UN is open in other window.) It would have been an overstatement to say that Mr Ross left the diplomatic corps in a heroic attempt to fight for his moral beliefs. Nevertheless, an underlying explanation why he did it has borne fruit with this latest book.

Strangely-structured - at least these were my early thoughts - The Leaderless Revolution begins with a number of somehow randomly chosen examples of citizens' direct participation or the lack thereof. As an ex-insider in the diplomatic circles, Mr Ross mixes it with some very uncomfortable truths about the uncritical nature of diplomats' work and their blind commitment to the state's "interests". No names are mentioned but establishing them does not pose a challenge. In a way, the book contributes to an already broad literature on the Iraq inquiry and the 2003 invasion's unexpected outcomes.

"Stop naming, stop dividing," encourages Mr Ross when discussing local community-building processes. Yet his book provides exactly that. In a powerful manifesto, the author presents the case for "us" and "them" as the nation-state-centric world is no longer a vision for the future. "Us" the people should take more direct actions rather than relying on "them" the government, the old system. Eventually, nearer to the end, the transformation into a new, post-frontline diplomacy Carne Ross is explained.

Through an engaging narrative, Mr Ross invites the reader to follow his personal experiences, almost as an underlying plot to the book's story. Sometimes dramatic, it is a thorough demonstration of critical thinking about day-to-day, modern affairs across the world. For instance, surprisingly for an anarchist, further processes of globalisation are encouraged in order to deal with major global problems - i.e. "mankind's suicide pill", as Mr Ross calls WMDs.

The Leaderless Revolution does not actually call for a revolution but small actions and changes to everyday patterns of behaviour. German anarchist Gustav Landauer (or, as Mr Ross calls him, "a 19-century theorist") is quoted saying:
"The State is not something that can be destroyed by a revolution, but it is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently."

Even in an unlikely scenario of becoming a devoted anarchist, I would not have been able to advocate in favour of anarchism any better that The Leaderless Revolution tries to, hence the following comment should not be taken as criticism: Mr Ross patiently builds up the narrative explaining how some forms of anarchy, although often not called by its name, are proven more successful than conventional; he challenges old-fashion anarchists and opposes the actions of anti-globalists as misguided. Yet, there is something missing in his defence of anarchism. A clear message that anarchists are good and their intentions are wrongly portrayed by those aiming to maintain status quo, is subtle, timid, almost hidden. There is a need for something much stronger that would change this negative perception. If the author is to follow this path, The Leaderless Revolution is just a step towards his future work on redefining international anarchy, hierarchy and diplomacy (a hypothetical idea). The book has opened my mind to a new angle of thinking, provoked, but has not changed it.

It may be a long process. In the example mentioned a few times in the book, Gandhi's "Salt Satyagraha" and India's independence were separated by 17 years of further struggle. However, like in any committed advocacy, it has been missed that one man's fight for democracy could have also been seen as another man's pursuit of anarchy. Mr Ross is certainly well aware of some shortcomings.

Despite positively starting with some common sense arguments, the overwhelming advocacy of anarchism further down the line is what surprised me the most in this book. It would have put me off but, eventually, it did not. Therefore, Dear Reader, I secretly hope that you are coming across this review only upon turning the last page of the book. After all, I have warned you.

The Leaderless Revolution has a point, argues it well but, in my opinion, is not convincing enough to overcome a deeply embedded stigma of anarchism. Not this time, at least.
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on 22 September 2014
This book has been written by someone who has been eye to eye with the 'system'. The main thing to remember with this book is he tells you how it works, with the idea that, like knowing how an engine works means you have the information on how to fix it, -or break it. As someone who worked in the diplomatic corps, he should know. An economist he is not, an activist, he is not that either. i got the strong impression he is someone who suddenly saw a government out to make money from war and he was part of the mechanics that allowed that to happen. The death toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weigh upon him hard. It caused him to resign, and become a lone world in the world of diplomacy. He gives you what he knows, but not directions, not solutions, not really, its not a hand book for revolution, only how the 'jenga towers' work, how to use the system and change things. Personally, i am not sure that is enough now. I finished the book feeling as if i had learned a some valuable things like the government has a system you have to play, but pays little mind to the people on the street, and none to the protesters outside.
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on 24 July 2012
A well written and enlightening book particularly regarding the author's specific experiences in his role as a British diplomat which I found at times quite startling and depressing but not altogether unexpected. The more detached our leaders become from the people they are supposed to represent the less compassionate and benevolent their decision and policy making becomes. I found intriguing the author's observation that as a diplomat you are very much encouraged to detach yourself from what "you" think is right and instead always talk about what "we" think is right but with decisions always entirely framed by what has been deemed "realistic" or "sensible" regarding the country's narrowly defined "interests". It was also counterintuitive how increased rank brings not more freedom to think freely but less as it becomes increasingly paramount that personal views do not deviate from the official line. Our leaders are entirely stuck in the accepted way of thinking, never questioning anything, leading me to wonder where exactly the accepted view of our "interests" came from in the first place. I also found it worrying the confession that "the supposedly democratic forces marshalled to check and balance our policies were pathetically feeble" as no one knows anything like as much as a diplomat on their subject resulting in a monopoly on knowledge and thus morality. These people have so much power over and so little idea of the real suffering they are supposedly addressing.

I very much appreciated the crux of the book that the means are indeed the ends and that each individual must take power and responsibility over their own life by letting their own actions be the governing force and not some blind childish faith that if we give up all our responsibility to someone else they will look after us and do all the thinking for us. However I did remain unconvinced as to the real practicality of the anarchistic approach to a functioning society. It still seems to me that while we need individuals to liberate themselves and take action on what is important to them we are still one species on one planet with basic needs and a moral obligation to take care of one another which could more effectively be done by an agreed process of providing for all the world's people in the most logical robust and effective manner possible. A more scientific approach to resource distribution is an essential attribute of a sustainable society which was lacking in this outlook. Maybe it could be worked out through anarchism but I was not left feeling too optimistic on that point.

All in all I would say that even if not a complete account, any book that broadens one's horizons and encourages real action and critical thinking in an engaging and inspiring way is a success. This book certainly qualified as such for me.
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on 15 January 2012
Frequently described as a "high flying former diplomat", Carne Ross resigned from the Foreign Office over the Iraq War. Being so close to mechanisms of power provided him with an understanding which ultimately shook his belief in our national and international systems of government. Indeed the author admits that he does not come up with his arguments `by way of academic study, or historical research. I know this because I once did it'. Ross's earlier work, `Independent Diplomat', was an exorcism of his institutional past while his latest effort is a far more ambitious attempt to outline a better future for global governance.

Ross, now running his own diplomatic consultancy, has transformed into a thinking man's neo-anarchist whose book outlines both the failures of representative democracy in the era of globalisation and ways in which empowered individuals can succeed in the future. The author's central point revolves around the failure of institutions to meet peoples aspirations. While global surveys confirm that while people prefer democracy, as Ross puts it `they are less and less happy with the practice of democratic government'. The nation state represents an archaic and ill fitting answer to multifaceted non-localised issues, brought on by the pressures of globalisation and climate change. From flu-epidemics, to the spread of rioting, he carefully plots the ways in which our interconnectedness has led to problems which require global cooperation to solve. Yet the best efforts at multilateral cooperation have yet to deliver the answers. Ross parallels the enormous rhetoric of the 2005 G8's promise to `make poverty history' with the reality of its `utter failure' to do so with a shortfall in pledges of $20 billion.

The spine of his "nine point manifesto" is the concept of anarchism. Ross traces its political conception to dispel the images of violent and balaclava-clad anarchists who are responsible for a largely false picture of the true movement. Rather than a chaos-filled power vacuum, he envisages a gradual shift towards self-organised systems which he argues are best for the 21st century. Ross argues that `if people do not have responsibility', then we should not `expect them to behave responsibility', while observing the ultimate paradox of well-meaning government that the more it `seeks to act to tackle particular problems, the less that individuals are likely to feel responsible for them'. The power of human agency is fundamental to his argument; "do stuff for yourself rather than asking a government or others to do it; address political concerns directly to those in power; use nonviolent methods and always act as if the means are the end; and embody the political principles you're trying to promote." Ross uses the case study of the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to highlight his belief that sustained participatory or deliberative democracy shows that `better outcomes result when citizens are directly involved in decisions over their own lives'. The author argues that the systems of domestic and international governance will continue to prevail until `those in whose name they claim to function withdraw their consent'.

The withdrawal of consent from the hegemonic modes of governance would appear to be the ultimate barometer of the success of Ross's `Leaderless Revolution'. However the author fails to explain how a global consciousness going beyond "what we don't want" to articulate and promote "what we do - the change we want to see" might actually emerge. Both the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, defining events of 2011, have demonstrated that, in this case, rejecting authoritarian rule and modern capitalism has not in itself resulted in a fundamentally different global dynamic. Ross is correct that if the elites don't address existing imbalances then the people will act; "The less people have agency - control - over their own affairs, and the less command they feel over their futures and their circumstances, the more inclined they are to take to the street." Yet the author admits that `the world is complicated; it requires professionals to sort it out'. Ross makes the excellent point that when Barak Obama promised to `change politics', galvanising millions across America, he meant to change things himself as the President, not the masses, `government is not about mass collective action, only getting someone elected is'.

@jamesdenselow
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on 14 October 2012
A marvellous analysis and possible solutions to the current political and economic mess our supposed leaders are creating.The political class are just out to help themselves and their rich friends.This book calls for real democracy,not the candy floss type which just plays lip service to 'the people'.
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on 15 October 2011
Very well written, very informative and - most importantly - very thought-provoking book. There is something Nietzsche-ian in the quest for the men/women who is aware of his/her powers but also his/her responsibilities. Ross doesn't want to destroy everything. He is not against the old, but he wants a better new. Ross wants a "science of complex systems" and new politics in which the men/women is again in the centre of all attention; not politicians, governments or corporations. Ross doesn't simply repeat that there is something wrong with the world today. He wants to find solutions.
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on 22 January 2012
Carne Ross's worked with the diplomatic corps for 20 years, he's seen how corruption and greed have poisoned politics. This book points towards a better future, a peaceful reclaiming of power by the people, not all out revolution, but a united stand and a chance to work together. Although Ross is vague in his discribtion of how to make this idea a reality, phehaps this book needs to be seen as a spark that will ignite the flames of ideas. An exciting start.
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on 5 October 2011
The author demonstrates that politicians, statesmen and diplomats are commonly duplicitous, delusional and self-serving and that the present global politico-economic system gives little cause for hope - but we knew that already.

I read books such as this because all suggestions are welcome when the prognosis for humanity is depressing, but I'm afraid that the present contribution fails to offer the credible alternative which its title implies. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the author hopes that in future "ordinary people will take power" and he quotes Gandhi's salt march by way of illustration. However the jury is still out on the eventual outcome of the Arab Spring and, more generally, it is unlikely that popular movements will invariably prove beneficial.
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on 10 July 2012
In this book, the anther tried to explain the root of all the political instability we are witnessing these days in all over the world, providing specific points any people need to consider before moving towards any political change referencing historical accidence that many of ordinary people may not now while the author was in direct contact with as a former diplomat.
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on 21 November 2011
A gorgeously written book, in parts staggeringly superficial, yet championing a truth that might transform the world.

In lazer sharp prose, Ross illuminates the importance and relevance to our current world of several ancient truths:

*Actions speak louder than worlds.
*The individual does have the power to effect meaningful change.
*Participatory democracy can be strangely beautiful to experience, and giving regular folk the agency to take political decisions can be a highly effective way to solve local problems.

Ross aruges that if we are to make the world a better place, we as individuals need to physically engage with problems, as opposed to merely supporting good causes by donations and signing e-petitions.

Despite the books stellar qualities, Im only awarding 4 stars, as I fear theres a chance the work will have a net negative effect. So obviously sincere, this book may bewitch good natured people into effectively joining with free marketeers in their battle to minimize the benevolent (and tax raising) power of the state.

Similar to Le Carre who also served as a diplomat, Ross openly admits he's still traumatized by the harmful actions he participated in and witnessed on behalf of the state.

There's two token sentences saying many of those in public service are good people, but over half the book is relating stories showing the corruption and impotence of politicians, civil servants, journalists, NGOs, multilaterals and most of all the state. Ross even goes as far as to invent a half baked theory suggesting that even with the best of intentions its often impossible for the state and the current system of internal diplomacy to produce good outcomes, due to various supposed inherent contradictions. My own experience is that the folk involved in public service are, on average, far more generous, honorable and honest than most in the private sector where Ive spent most of my career.

Ross's own NGO , Independent Diplomat, has a great track record and he obviously has outstanding operational skills. But when it comes to offering an overall explanation of how the world works, a graduate student with good instincts good do far better. A few examples of the authors specific mistakes.

Early on Ross suggests that free market dogma is beginning to be used to offer moral justification for the suffering of others. In fact its been like this right from the start. When Smith laid the ground work for our modern conception of capitalism, he was practicing moral science. All the decent morality was lost under the baleful influence of Ricardo and others as they refined Smiths theories in raw free market dogma. So much so that as early as the 1840s, the free market rag "the Economist" opposed intervening to help the millions starving to death in the Irish potato famine, on the moral grounds that we'd be "interfering with the laws of nature."

Later on in the book Ross unequivocally states that opening ones countries to the imports of another is a good thing. Im not sure displaced workers thrown onto the scrapheap would agree. To support his extraordinary claim he cites that contemptible mouthpiece of the superclass , "the Economist".

Overall Ross gives the impression that in the last few years its only in a handful of cases that authorities have undertook effective efforts against poverty and mass violence. In fact there have been thousands of such cases, often involving the state, NGOs, mulitarals and local communities working in partnership. The excellent, freely available "2011 World Development Report" is a good source to find out whats been going on.

A better solution to the worlds problems is not to weaken the state in favour of anarchism as Ross wants, but to do the opposite, while also ensuring individual agency is protected and encouraged. A far, far superior new book on this is "The Courageous State" by Richard Murphy. In the 1950s and 60s, States in the developed and much of the developing world were successful not only in paying back the massive war debts, but also in reducing inequality and keeping unemployment very low (nicely under 1 million in Britain). They were guided by the principles of Lord Keynes, a man who wanted an active state but also recognized the value of decentralization and engagement.

Having said all that, I still recommend this book; I've never read a stronger case for the importance of personal engagement and the value of agency for all.
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