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The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  388 ratings  ·  83 reviews
In the words of economist and scholar Arnold Kling, Martin Gurri saw it coming.

Technology has categorically reversed the information balance of power between the public and the elites who manage the great hierarchical institutions of the industrial age government, political parties, the media.

The Revolt of the Public tells the story of how insurgencies, enabled by digital
Kindle Edition, 362 pages
Published June 2nd 2014
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Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most important achievements of a writer is to accomplish the deceptively challenging task of accurately describing present conditions. It is almost impossible to do this satisfactorily from all angles and anyone who tries is inevitably limited by the aperture of their own worldview and experience. I disagree with some of the conclusions in this book, particularly its estimation of the present level of public nihilism. That said, I feel that Martin Gurri has done perhaps the best job o ...more
Sten Tamkivi
This is the must-read book for anyone trying to find patterns in the increasingly online, rapidly shifting and seemingly irreparably polarizing world of modern politics. (Including every concerned Estonian ahead of the March elections). While I was listening to the book still, I found myself bringing it as an example, and recommending to a friend EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The basic construct of Gurri thesis stems from the etymology of the term "authority" from "author" - and explains the dissolution of r
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was very prescient and seemed to foretell the rise of Trump and populism abroad. I don't agree with the thesis, but that doesn't make it a bad book. I read it knowing I would not agree, but still learned a lot. He blames Obama for a lot of the partisan split. Obama and the rise of the information economy. I agree with the latter, but I think politically, it started much earlier. During the Nixon and Reagan eras, there was already a hatred of the elites. Neil Postman writes about how TV ...more
Max Nova
"The Revolt of the Public" is what Tyler Cowen refers to as a "quake book" - I can't see the world the same after reading it. This book is criminally underappreciated, as I write this review it only has 11 ratings on Amazon. Writing in 2014, former CIA analyst Martin Gurri looks out at the world and sees Occupy Wall Street, Brexit, and the Arab Spring and wonders if these populist uprisings are isolated incidents or part of a larger trend (the 2019 edition has an afterword on Trump). The one-lin ...more
Positives first. Gurri presents a thesis that stood the test of time between 2014 and now: the internet gave us access to more information than ever, destroying the authority of the governing elite and encouraging nihilism. Nihilism in this book is the mindset "everything is fucked up so I might as well destroy it all." Gun violence, both the Obama and Trump elections, and the rise of the far right and Antifa are all nihilism in action according to Gurri.

I mostly agree with Gurri's thesis, but G
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Stop me if you've heard this before: "The internet is changing everything, the old institutions can't keep up, they'll soon be swept away and replaced by a new order of liberté, égalité, fraternité."

Well that's not Martin Gurri's thesis, but on a first pass it smells a lot like it. Gurri doesn't really view himself as a prophet or a futurist - he's a lot more concerned with attempting to diagnose trends that are happening now vs. the result of those trends. And what are those trends? A breakdow
Carl Rannaberg
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carl by: Sten Tamkivi
A good book which explains the effect technology and especially internet as communication medium has had on our societies and politics. Martin Gurri explains that public unrests and political turmoil in recent years are caused by the fundamental differences between the networked nature of public and hierarchical nature of authority.
Public has always been a mesh of people, ideas and agendas but before the internet it has been on a local scale. Internet has enabled these local level networks of p
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a purely amazing book, which everyone should at least once read. Especially if someone wants to understand the reasons behind our current political phenomena: why they happened, and why are happening. The author gives remarkable insights, actually very logical insights, which were in front of us all along, but we haven't noticed.
The only reason I gave 4/5, is because its structure: the author analyzes the current political situation from several different angles, but at the end of each a
Adam S. Rust
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Martin Gurri's "Revolt of the Public" is a timely book reflecting on the impact of the internet on political culture. The book argues that the concept of political and intellectual authority is an artifact of information scarcity. With the rise of the internet and information abundance, authority as source of political and institutional power has taken a beating and has led to the rise of a variety of movements rejecting the current state of affairs.

These movements are described by Gurri as nihi
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was confused by the Occupy protestors in 2011. There were tens or maybe hundreds of groups camping in different cities through cold winter months, but I never could quite figure out the specific policy changes they wanted to see. I remember having similar thoughts when the Tea Partiers were popular in 2009, and with the Women's March in 2017. There are a lot of these ill-defined popular movements. The Yellow Vests in France might be another good example.

In The Revolt of the Public, Gurri argu
David Wunderlich
I found this book somewhat frustrating. I think the overarching thesis about people been disillusioned with elites and using social media to organize various kinds of protest against them is broadly correct.

However, there were a thousand details in the book that were either wrong, misleading, incomplete, or otherwise less than completely accurate. A lot of ground the book covers is outside my area of expertise, but when it did get into places where I have some knowledge, there were enough error
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Do yourself a favor - if you read this, just avoid the reconsiderations chapter. While the rest of the book has maybe a few errors and is a bit harsh on Obama, the overall thesis struck me as spot on. However, when Gurri attempts to apply his thesis to post-2016 issues, he could not be more off-base. My opinion is almost certainly colored in part by knowledge of events more recent than the publication of the addendum, but even with a consideration of the facts available when Gurri wrote the adde ...more
Michael Kraitsberg
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Nice and well intended description of certain current global trends.
Still, the analysis lucks historical, philosophical or any other depth, when everything is assumed to be caused by a certain IT advances. And about the future the author confesses to be as clueless as anybody else.
Jordan Peacock
Thesis is solid. execution uneven.
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this after Matt Clifford cited the book in one of his "Thoughts in Between" blog posts. It is a very dense book and just listening to it I could tell that I would need to reread it just to grasp all of its concepts.

I think the first edition was published in 2014 and sourced many of the failures of the Elites at that time in fueling a revolt of the public. I can't do it justice in a review of an audiobook, but he is very precise in his terms. For instance, the public doesn't represent the
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: annual-faborites
It's shocking to me that this book isn't more popular. It's a necessary book for anyone trying to understand the failure of authority in the modern world. Weirdly published by the Stripe Press, the book has a simple thesis: modern government claims too much authority, and it can't achieve that ambition. Worse, as the elites lose their monopoly on information, these overreaching promises become trivially falsifiable. This leads to a vortex, making it harder and harder to build positive visions fo ...more
Taylor Barkley
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book. Lots to think about and offers a compelling reasoning for why we are where we are as a society, at least politically. It’s up there with Coming Apart and The Righteous Mind in terms of offering a lens for world events. His conclusions seem to flow directly to McCloskey’s work.
Nelson Rosario
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reason
Stop everything and go read this book.
Weird book. The general thesis feels right to me. The universal loss of authority/legitimacy definitely feels real, and I think it's a fantastic insight. The latter part of the book really fell apart. His critiques of Obama seemed out of place and really forced. His assertion that democracy failed because it overpromised and under-delivered felt like more a libertarian thesis than an objective analysis. The Trump addition was the worst part by far and I don't understand why it was even written. ...more
Jun 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid thesis: the information technologies of the 21st century have enabled the public to break longstanding power hierarchies. The result has not been a completed, fully successful revolution, but more like the long period of political instability that preceded the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.

Whether or not we will have / have had a 21st century event akin to the Peace of Westphalia remains to be ascertained.
Lee Barry
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading "William S. Burroughs And The Cult of Rock 'n' Roll" contemporaneously, I realized we now actually live in a Burroughsian dystopia (Blade Runner: a movie), but much more realistically nihilistic. There's an odd circularity between radicalism in the avant-garde and rock 'n' roll which emerged in the 50s and the current shades of political anarchy. A walk through any affluent city is now like dystopian cinema. Over time, comments such as "it was like something I saw in a movie" ha ...more
Kevin Whitaker
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: policy
The simple thesis of this book: 21st century information technology enabled the amateur “public” to break power of old political hierarchies. I picked this up on a few good recommendations from writers I like, and the big idea is very compelling, but I found most of it hard to get through. The style annoyed me in an academic-but-trying-to-also-be-something-else way, but it's very prescient for a 2014 book.

Three things I learned:
1. The decline of "authority" can be seen in our company names toda
Jim Rossi
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
For me, this book started out as profound and fascinating and I recommend taking a look for that reason. I read it as research for my own upcoming book on Echo Chambers. That being said, the author lost me about 200-300 pages in. The author's a great thinker, more iconoclastic and illuminating than authors I've read on similar topics like Franklin Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, and related mainstream media cardboard cutouts, but I think this book would have benefited from a strong editor to make it a l ...more
James Giammona
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really great framework (from 2014!) that gives a framework to understand the erosion of legitimacy and authority of elite institutions around the world from the arab spring, to climate science, to occupy wall street to the rise of extreme politicians around the world.

Basically, this is caused by the breakdown of the elite's information monopoly by the internet.
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Important reading. Gurri's theory is an exceptional and in many ways echos the ideas of T.A.Z, but in a more contemporary approach.
This is one of the most penetrating and even-minded analyses of a social epoch that I've read to date.
Russel Henderson
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
An impressive and important book highlighting the changes wrought by the democratization of information and the loss of authority of "elites." Gurri argues that the changes wrought by the internet, smartphones, social media and more have delegitimized figures of authority, be they democratic or authoritarian leaders, bureaucrats, traditional media, credentialed scientists and academics, and business leaders by demonstrating that they fail, or are perceived to fail, to deliver what they claim the ...more
Juan Cantú
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unpretentious. Encompassing. Honest. Well structured. That's what I can say about this massively underappreciated book. This is that hidden gem you stumble upon that you can read and all of a sudden start to make sense out of this overwhelmingly inexplicable reality.

The fact that this is a re-hash of a 2014 book makes it all the more impressive. Here, one snippet. He literally predicted Donald Trump in 2014:

"After [Obama's] defeat in 2010, the president decided on a strategy that placed the pub
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very perceptive and insightful look at our current state in history. The events subsequent to this book, like Trump's presidential election, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter match Gurri's analysis and prediction to a tee.

I love Gurri's metaphor for describing "the public". Imagine everyone together facing a giant mirror large enough to reflect back on the whole population. That was how we could see ourselves 50 year sago. But then the mirror fell over and shattered into pieces. The public today, l
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophypolicy
This book is a little bit rough around the edges and a little bit repetitive but I found the basic message compelling: The ease of getting and sharing information in the internet age is causing a "revolt of the public". Elites of all kinds (political, scientific, academic, etc.) are no longer able to maintain a monopoly on legitimacy and find themselves constantly challenged by an angry and restless public.

The public has very high, almost impossible expectations and is genuinely outraged every t
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21 likes · 11 comments
“Following the horrors of 9/11, Fukuyama and his ideas were derided as triumphalist nonsense. But he was only half wrong. Fukuyama, a Hegelian, argued that Western democracy had run out of “contradictions”: that is, of ideological alternatives. That was true in 1989 and remains true today. Fukuyama’s mistake was to infer that the absence of contradictions meant the end of history. There was another possibility he failed to consider. History could well be driven by negation rather than contradiction. It could ride on the nihilistic rejection of the established order, regardless of alternatives or consequences. That would not be without precedent. The Roman Empire wasn’t overthrown by something called “feudalism”—it collapsed of its own dead weight, to the astonishment of friend and foe alike. The centuries after the calamity lacked ideological form. Similarly, a history built on negation would be formless and nameless: a shadowy moment, however long, between one true age and another.” 2 likes
“What happens when the mediators lose their legitimacy—when the shared stories that hold us together are depleted of their binding force? That’s easy to answer. Look around: we happen. The mirror in which we used to find ourselves faithfully reflected in the world has shattered. The great narratives are fracturing into shards. What passes for authority is devolving to the political war-band and the online mob—that is, to the shock troops of populism, left and right. Deprived of a legitimate authority to interpret events and settle factual disputes, we fly apart from each other—or rather, we flee into our own heads, into a subjectivized existence. We assume ornate and exotic identities, and bear them in the manner of those enormous wigs once worn at Versailles. Here, I believe, is the source of that feeling of unreality or post-truth so prevalent today. Having lost faith in authority, the public has migrated to the broken pieces of the old narratives and explanations: shards of reality that deny the truth of all the others and often find them incomprehensible.” 1 likes
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