The Revolt of The Public

and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium

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This book was originally published in 2014. The author, Martin Gurri, brought out this second edition in 2018, updating it with the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. And with a new introduction by Pun Salad fave Arnold Kling. Who leads off with:

"Martin Gurri saw it coming."

And, reading it in early 2022, after witnessing subsequent (mostly Covid-related) "revolts of the public", I can only add: "Boy, did he ever."

Gurri's thesis is that technology (mainly the Internet and inexpensive access thereto) has radically transformed the relation between "elites" (government, political parties, mainstream media) and the "public": roughly, the rest of us, as reflected in spontaneously-created groups motivated by a uniting cause. This is a worldwide phenomenon, and Gurri goes into detail on a few manifestations: Egyptian uprisings in 2011, Iranian uprisings in 2009, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street…

Which is kind of the problem. When was the last time you thought about Occupy Wall Street? Gurri notes that such movements derive their power by being "anti", often breaking into the nihilistic. Having no positive program to offer, they can flame out, get co-opted, vanish into irrelevancy. But it's the nature of this new dynamic that implies that the next uprising will be coming around the corner soon enough.

Gurri notes the fundamental problem with the elites; they, like the fabled emperor, really do have no clothes on. They pretend to certainty, where there is none to be had. They predict badly. They boldly lead us into blind, dark alleys. Double standards, scapegoating, and hypocrisy are common. They have a barely concealed contempt for the great unwashed. And this is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone.

What to do? Ideally, elites should exhibit more humility and honesty. Politicians should explicitly disavow "only I can fix it" messianism. And the rest of us should knock off the nihilism. Whether it's the nihilism of the cranky solitary blogger (ahem), or the nihilism of tear-it-all-down tribalism. It would be nice to see progress in that area, but … nope, I can't see it either. At least not in the short term.

The hardcover book has a (frankly) garish color scheme (heavy use of magenta), and contains color photographs. Unusual! It is published by Stripe Press, an innovative small publisher in San Francisco. (I have another one of their books, Where is my Flying Car? on my to-be-read stack.)

Last Modified 2024-01-17 4:05 PM EDT