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The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority

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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 devices and a vast information sphere, have mobilized millions of ordinary people around the world.

Originally published in 2014, this updated edition of The Revolt of the Public includes an extensive analysis of Donald Trump's improbable rise to the presidency and the electoral triumphs of Brexit and concludes with a speculative look forward, pondering whether the current elite class can bring about a reformation of the democratic process and whether new organizing principles, adapted to a digital world, can arise out of the present political turbulence.

362 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 2, 2014

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About the author

Martin Gurri

1 book50 followers
Martin Gurri is a former CIA analyst who writes about the relationship between politics and media. He is a visiting fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.

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Profile Image for Murtaza .
669 reviews3,399 followers
February 24, 2019
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 of any writer today at giving a convincing account of the forces of information technology and elite collapse that have given rise to our disorienting and potentially disastrous current political reality.

The elite class specifically created under the conditions of industrial society has been bled of its legitimacy. The hemorrhaging is likely fatal. Under the intense glare of the internet and social media, elites are no longer able to hide their failures or protect their reputations. A passionate, unevenly-informed public has been galvanized by a flood of digital information and the ability of tools like social media to bring elites into close proximity. As a result, we have seen in many cases that the emperor has no clothes. The mandarins of industrial society have been revealed all too often to be inept, morally vacuous and devoid of holding any special knowledge or talent that justifies their status.

At the same time while the newly-empowered public has shown itself capable of tearing down decrepit old elites, it has not exhibited much desire or ability to govern in their place. In most cases it has simply demanded that the class that it is excoriating as morally irredeemable somehow also reform itself and give them what they want. The power of negation itself has become a political rallying cry and raison d’etre. This began with the Arab Spring, the Occupy and Tea Party movements and then reached new heights in Western countries with Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump. As yet, this rolling force of negation shows no signs of plateauing. The old elite is a discredited wreck that is too hidebound to change or evolve, but it is as yet unclear what, if anything, will replace it.

Gurri conceives of our present society as being one the site of an ongoing, irreconcilable war between Center and Periphery. The Center represents the old institutional elites of industrial society while the Periphery could be described as the general public, or at least its motivated and vocal new activists. The concept of a genuine public was suppressed during the peak of the industrial era by mass movements, monopolized communications and ideological systems that were able to shape “the masses” into a manageable form, suited for the needs of an industrial world. The masses in such a system also generally saw the elites as legitimate and competent, and were thus often willing to forgive them when they erred. This was achieved in part by control of information, as well as the genuinely awe-inspiring material changes that accompanied the first generations of industrialization.

With post-industrialization and the loss of control over information by elites, the public has broken out of its old mass-produced shell. It has also shown itself to have a mutinous temper. The elites for their part have predictably viewed the reawakened public as contemptible amateurs who have violated the holy sanctities of industrial society by treading on their own expert turf. They have been slow to realize that these sanctities are now defunct. Many of the solemn accreditations and institutional checks that the old elite used to insulate itself as a class have been shown to be completely superfluous. Reading this book, I recognized myself as a voice from the Periphery that would have surely gone unheard absent the current digital tsunami. While people of the Periphery naturally find it empowering, the Center feels with terror and grief that the barbarians have penetrated the gates.

One of the most important arguments of the book is about the limits of human knowledge, as well as the limits of government to transform society. Many people today expect mere politics to carry for them the crushing burdens of existential meaning and identity. They also seem to believe that politicians can somehow deliver them the high-modernist dreams of utopia, when even fully authoritarian regimes of the past failed at this. Politicians for their part use rhetoric that suggest that they can in fact deliver these dreams. When utopian hopes and promises are inevitably let down, the result is an escalating chorus of nihilism and dejection. This is a reminder that people need to look for meaning somewhere other than the pragmatic business of politics, while politicians must stop speaking like prophets or industrial wizards if they want to have a healthier relationship with the public.

Gurri is predictably damning of elites in this book, but I actually appreciated his critique of the public as well. He lets no one off the hook in his analysis. While he has a bit to say about Trump, he also offers maybe the most damning appraisal of Barack Obama I have read to date, arguing with some justice that Obama set the tone for our present situation. Instead of taking responsibility for the failures of his office and tempering public expectations, Obama raised the rhetoric of politics to lofty new heights. As president he continued to absurdly position himself as an outsider condemning the socio-political system that he presided over, while being unwilling or, more importantly, unable, to alter affairs at a level that matched his soaring words.

I will save more analysis for later, hopefully after interviewing Gurri. Suffice to say however this was a beautiful book on multiple levels. It is provocatively and entertainingly written — every paragraph has some nice turn of phrase or entertaining characterization — and the new Stripe Press edition recently published is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books I’ve read in some time. Gurri has a lot to say about the well-fed political nihilists that he sees as wanting to destroy the very material conditions that led to their creation. He is also a biting critic of the hidebound, demoralized and delegitimized elites who instead of modestly and honestly trying to govern have been reduced to treating the public as a terrifying enemy to hide from.

Gurri has some solutions. He makes a strong case that any path forward has to entail the formation of new, legitimate elite out of the wreckage of the old one. Government also must be brought down from the remote heights to the level of the online public, where it can be demystified and rendered more practical. In short, we need some destruction that is genuinely creative if we are to stave off the looming threat of nihilism that is clearly hovering over our ennervated modern societies.
Profile Image for Book Clubbed.
146 reviews209 followers
April 18, 2021
The first thing I liked about this book was its voice, which is a strange thing to say about a nonfiction book. These authors are supposed to be authoritative truth-tellers, no? Relying solely on data and accepted theories to persuade the reader. Well, not exactly. Despite their use of academic jargon or expertise, any nonfiction author can fall prey to data manipulation, lies of omission, confirmation bias, shortsightedness, professional pride, and any number of other pitfalls.

Gurri, at least, lets us know his particular perspective and what topics fall within the scope of his book. He is not predicting the future, but rather analyzing the present, not an easy assessment when there is a new crisis every week. The writing is clearheaded and persuasive, one of the few social commentators that you might actually want to have a beer with.

Gurri, like any good thinker, is skeptical of his own findings. He constantly points out the shortcomings or plain wrongheadedness of previous ‘experts’ so I’m glad he holds himself to his own standards. Despite others praising him as an oracle, Gurri likes to remind us he cannot predict the future, and that even his conclusions about the past are well-intentioned interpretations, not scripture.

Gurri argues, persuasively, that the overload of information presented to us now too often turns us into nihilists. That is, every politician is corrupt, every big news story a conspiracy, and any technological progress surely a sign that we will soon constitute a permanent underclass to our robot overlords. We are furious, collectively, but we present no alternatives for society.

Recent developments make it hard to argue with him. Young men who find no value in living senselessly shoot up public areas. We complain about the two-party system and then get locked into partisan arguments. A significant portion of the country would rather believe that the deep state cut Trump’s legs out from under him rather than… what, exactly? Call people by their pronouns? Acknowledge institutional racism? Have a real conversation with their wife?

However, Gurri does not acknowledge the positives that come with the internet-triggered flood of options. We can watch any comedy we want to, not just the basic bullshit Comedy Central used to offer, with no filters or corporate pressures. Alternative political podcasts, beholden to no one, replace the dying radio industry. Entertainment has been democratized, freeing us from the husk of sitcoms. Everyday people are hijacking the stock market or investing in crypto, penetrating a market previously held only by the elites.

Individually, these may seem like small things compared to a political revolution. However, when all aspects are considered (and I only listed a small player of changes), the individual has never possessed greater freedom of expression. We may be locked in a capitalistic market, yes, but we are aware of this, and we can leverage our force against the market.

The boundaries grind against the center, yes. But in the grinding, sparks of hope fly off, and individuals seize the opportunities previously vacated by institutions.

Listen to full episodes here.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
July 2, 2019
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 made everyone a sofa expert and raised challenges to the political establishment. I do think it's gotten worse and this is a really interesting account of how the glut of information sources has made us less trustful of authority, leading to populist revolts.
Profile Image for Sten Tamkivi.
84 reviews139 followers
February 6, 2019
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 respect for hierarchical, "elite"-driven leadership structures in the public (not just politics, but big companies, academia, etc) through how the authorship and media access has decentralized.

Most importantly, the author is not a doomsayer, he expresses his sincere concern for the future of liberal democracy, and seeks and explores possible solutions to glue the societies together again -- while not taking a pompous position of being able to predict the future, or offer overly simplistic solutions. His advice touches ideas like better expectation management (how public officials should refrain from projecting their ability to fix anything from certain, but rather instill a culture of experimental trial and error), balancing the public issues with personal ones better (as people can't relate to "unemployment changed to 5.6%", but can understand what it means if their neighbor loses or gets a job), etc.

Gurri is a former CIA analyst with a fantastic skill to take a sober, balanced bystander look of the unfolding phenomena in public space, and do it in enjoyable, colorful English. Let alone the fact that he built his hypothesis around unfolding events back in 2013 - way before Trump and Brexit. (The Stripe Press edition of the book has a few extra chapters on "what happened since" added in 2018).

I'm now scanning the internet for more ongoing Gurri feeds, interviews and podcasts to not lose touch with his ideas from here.
Profile Image for Max Nova.
420 reviews172 followers
May 26, 2019
"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-liner version is "The internet and social media make the failures of government policies overwhelming apparent and are eroding the legitimacy of our ruling institutions and elites, opening our society up to a nihilist death spiral." There's a lot to unpack there, but Gurri backs it up with incisive and eminently quotable analysis. I'm typically reluctant to get onboard with sweeping theories that explain everything, but his work lies firmly in the tradition of James Scott's "Seeing Like a State" (also heavily influenced by Ormerod's "Why Most Things Fail") and it is my generation that is leading the charge into our nihilist future. Gurri's book encapsulates the elite anxieties and nihilism of my time as a Yale undergraduate (2008-2012) in a way that I haven't seen anywhere else. "They disdained specifics — ideology, policy — but excelled at lengthy menus of accusations" - Gurri gets it. Here's his thesis in his own words:
The failure of government isn’t a failure of democracy, but a consequence of the heroic claims of modern government, and of the constantly frustrated expectations these claims have aroused. Industrial organization, with its cult of the expert and top-down interventionism, stands far removed from the democratic spirit, and has proven disastrous to the actual practice of representative democracy. It has failed in its own terms, and has been seen to fail, and it has infected democratic governments with a paralyzing fear of the public and with the despair of decadence.
You can see why I love this guy! But he really reeled me in with an unexpected detour into the realm of my 2017 reading theme on the "Integrity of Western Science." Here's Gurri on the state of modern science:
Much has been claimed for the scientific method, but the only method to which all scientists subscribe is the peer review process. It too has been under strain. Peer review presupposes the existence of independent-minded experts who evaluate manageable data sets. Often, in the age of the Fifth Wave, neither condition applies. Scientists today work in teams, and the subject matter can be so specialized that only a handful of individuals will be able to understand and review the literature. Authors and reviewers can trade places in a chummy circle of mutual admiration and protection. In extreme cases, this constriction of knowledge leads to what one analyst has called “research cartels,” which actively stifle minority or unorthodox views... The peer review process, relic of a simpler time, has thus become progressively less able to guarantee the integrity and legitimacy of research in many fields of science.
Am I dreaming? Pinch me! Martin Gurri, you get me. For those paying attention, there are even whispers of Moldbug in here. Does this sound like "The Cathedral" to you?
Vast amounts of money have been poured into science and technology research and development: around $400 billion in the US alone for 2009. The price of affluence has been the centralization and institutionalization of research. An iron triangle of government, the universities, and the corporate world controls the careers of individual scientists... Government favor is the single most important factor in science research today. It’s disingenuous to imagine that such favor would be granted without considerations of power and political advantage.
This book is a masterclass on the sources of legitimacy in our social institutions and Gurri's analysis is devastating. He's got these incredible lines like "Uncertainty is an acid, corrosive to authority," and:
The word “progress” itself has become impolite, an embarrassment. Nobody has a clue which way that lies.
Gurri leads us pretty far into the desert. Does he give us any hope of escape or survival? Well, this is the best he's got:
The quality that sets the true elites apart — that bestows authority on their actions and expressions — isn’t power, or wealth, or education, or even persuasiveness. It’s integrity in life and work. A healthy society is one in which such exemplary types draw the public toward them purely by the force of their example.
Sounds a bit like motherhood and apple pie to me, but I suppose he's not wrong. In any case, this book is required reading if you're trying to understand our moment in time.

Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/revolt-public
Profile Image for Annie .
83 reviews6 followers
October 23, 2019
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 Gurri tried too hard to take a contrarian stance over maintaining fairness. Gurri attacks Obama as if he has personal issues with him, citing quotes where Obama appealed to antiestablishment sentiments. Regarding Trump, Gurri asks his readers to overlook Trump's enflaming rhetoric and see that his presidency is a quite typical conservative administration. Trump's Twitter, on the other hand, is his savvy usage of modern information dissemination. I am simplifying Gurri's arguments. However, just by my impressions, Gurri failed to acknowledge Obama's policies also ended up being quite typically liberal and though Trump came to power through the denial of the ruling elites, he now wields their power and should be held to the same standard.

I want to acknowledge my currently leftist worldview and my biased exposure to liberal media and leftist opinions. While reading this book, I tried not to label Gurri and discovered we share a lot of values. He understands and recognizes inequity and poverty. In the "Choices and Systems" chapter where he prescribes possible solutions, he advocates a vaguely socialist system of giving power back to the people through technology and transparency. We want a lot of the same things! Yet for someone who is writing about information enflaming the public, Gurri underestimates the importance of the culture produced by the information. He poses the ultimate dilemma to be between liberal democracy and authoritarianism, but the alternative option of a liberal democracy where the authority figures take turns attacking the opposing party's voter bases doesn't seem ideal either.

There are many more nuances that I had feelings about, but those can only be covered by reading the whole book. The thesis is well-supported to the point of pedantic, but constructing an argument takes a lot of information and Gurri deserves massive props for assembling this beast of a book. Now, because of this bulk of information, Gurri's call to action may be lost. To TL;DR his solution: elites should exhibit greater integrity, governing systems should build tools for transparency and potentially participation, and we the public need to have more realistic expectations about what the government can do for us. Still making up my mind on how I feel about these solutions, but they seem reasonable and optimistic with my current world view.

5/5 thesis, but -1/5 for how hard the information was to absorb at times and -1/5 for the gaps above that I wish were addressed.
Profile Image for jasmine sun.
139 reviews156 followers
November 8, 2020
there are three kinds of great books. there are those that resonate emotionally, usually fiction; books that inform or illuminate complex issues; and those that provoke, producing ideas i can't stop thinking about, even i'm not totally convinced.

the revolt of the public is firmly in the third category. i came into this book skeptical: gurri, after all, is a retired cia analyst and mercatus center affiliate. ideologically, i do not trust him. but as i read on, he lays out an unintuitive but fascinating case for the rise of populism:

1. in the internet age, elites have lost control over information flows
2. democratized information reveals their imperfections and the ruse of expertise
3. newly informed publics deem elites (politics, media, corporates) illegitimate
4. empowered by the same digital tools, they respond with nihilism
5. we are now embroiled in cycles of negation, but no legitimate alternative

gurri's framework makes clear sense of the relationship between the affordances of digital networks and the "crisis of authority." it's a hypothesis supported by myriad historical and modern examples (this is where the cia background pays off), and despite being information-dense, it's made engaging by gurri's captivating (and often dramatic) rhetoric.

but my main beef with the book is his (unsurprising) failure to address structural oppression and material drivers of change. for example, he characterizes revolt as a misalignment between the expectations and capabilities of government, and suggests we all get more realistic. but this critique conflates two kinds of policy failures: first, sweeping government programs (e.g. obama's stimulus bill) with mixed results; and second, straightforward democratic abuses like police brutality and voter suppression. by making the totally reasonable claim that the world is complex, gurri absolves bad decisions as mere "oopsies," and plays into the nihilism of not asking for reform at all.

still, i highly recommend this book to everyone with a mild interest in media, politics, or movements. i'd probably accompany it with other analyses of democracy and its discontents: e.g. twitter and tear gas; the democratic paradox; women, race, and class; so many more i haven't yet read. the revolt of the public presents one vivid part of the picture - just not a complete one.
Profile Image for Rachel.
159 reviews31 followers
January 11, 2021
I finished this book the night before protestors stormed the US Capitol. I've seen people on twitter deride those who compared these riots to the protests in Egypt or BLM, but what they don't see is that it's not about the specific circumstances or conditions here, it's about the pattern. And I can't stop seeing it.

This book describes the fraught political circumstances of the last decade, the series of uprisings and continuous outrage that never bring actual change. The leadership vacuums. What's remarkable is that this was written only with a view of 2011, before... well. The rest of the decade. Before Trump, Brexit, BLM.

The availability of information has led to our governments and institutions losing legitimacy - legitimacy they didn't necessarily show that they deserved, but that they possessed due to the monopoly on information they held before. The book makes a terrific and understated comparison between companies, with their natural cycles of death leading to evolution and growth in the ecosystem, and zombie governments that never die. The book further offers a bold hypothesis: this conflict between authority (/ hierarchy / the center) and the public (/ sectarian / the border) is ceaseless, and now and in the future, governments will work against the public (though never explicitly)- relations with foreign countries only matter insofar as they affect the public's perception of the government. Whoever controls the narrative has power.

The book as a whole feels accurate and relevant, and provides a valuable frame for understanding our present circumstances. Really, it feels almost obvious in retrospect, but of course I couldn't have articulated any of these ideas before.

My main (and only) reservations about the book: I'm not sure about the viability of the proposed solutions (the evolution of governance; an acknowledgement of institutional limitations in a complex system - I'm all for realism and truth, but this seems almost like courting political death). I'm also curious about how (and whether, at all) this pattern manifests in other regions that have so far mostly escaped political tumult - China and Singapore come to mind.
74 reviews
July 8, 2020
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. It vacillated between a defense of Trump and old man yelling at clouds. I like his pointed criticism of the media, because it's accurate, but most of the section was rubbish. The final conclusion that we need a new honest elite class was nonsensical. Overall I think this guy had one interesting insight and packed it with a lot of partisan rhetoric and rubbish. It's worth considering the thesis, but not necessary to read the book.
Profile Image for Joseph.
129 reviews54 followers
March 20, 2016
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 breakdown in the means of information control that large institutions relied upon to maintain their claims of authority, and as a result, a large-scale willingness on the part of the public to question or deny said authority. Religion, government, science, news media, and any other trusted authority becomes suspect as your average individuals find themselves awash in a sea of information which can support or critique the institution's claims, but is crucially never in control of the actual institution, and to which the institution cannot react quickly enough to remain ahead of.

This destructive power of information can take many forms, but Gurri, as a classical liberal democrat, is primarily concerned that democracy in its current form cannot survive the onslaught, pointing not only to tech-boosted revolutions in the Arab Spring, but also strongly sectarian movements from within democracies themselves, such as Israel, Spain, Britain, and the US (think of Occupy Wall Street and to some degree the Tea Party). Gurri points to the fact that most of these movements weren't made up of people you would consider the least privileged in society, but largely people of privilege, some among the most privileged in society. He finds their demands - when they actually produced demands - to be largely woven around two seemingly contradictory ideas: that government was broken and riddled with corruption, but that government could also provide almost anything. Gurri (not unconvincingly) makes the case that this is a symptom of the breakdown between the claims of government and the practical results they offer. These sectarian movements superficially believe claims of government's ability to provide health, comfort, and purpose for all, while at the same time noticing the disconnect between these claims and the future they received. Well, if the government can do all of that, then why isn't it? It must be primarily due to corruption and malefactors. The idea that the claims of authority and legitimacy themselves could be questioned doesn't appear.

On the whole I liked this book. Gurri's thesis seems carefully balanced enough to be uncontroversially accurate, and most of his observations ranged from thought-provoking to banally obvious. However there were a few nitpicks I had. I don't think they really detract from the main body of the book, but they did still pull me out of his argument. For one, near the beginning Gurri provides an ad hoc story of how humans react to different streams of information, and how authority benefits from absolute control of information. As a simplistic model to draw attention to the difference between the late 19th century and the emerging digital society it's very illustrative and useful. If it purports to be history it's... problematic. Fortunately I'm not sure he intended it to have any historical explanatory power, and his thesis is unaffected by one taking the former reading. Secondly, some of his analyses of science felt weak. Perhaps it's just because I'm in a bubble and am friends with and work with scientists, but I didn't know people in general held science up as an infallible, inerrant source of knowledge. Doubt and uncertainty are the cornerstones of the scientific method, regardless of what the occasional pundit will tell you. Note also that I'm decidedly not saying that your favorite blogger's "epic takedown" of vaccines or climate change is worthwhile because "he's just doubting the narrative and searching for truth". I'm not interested in building an unquestionable ivory tower priesthood of experts, but expertise absolutely exists. Finally, and most disappointingly, I am always disappointed in books or articles that talk about the transformative/revolutionary power of networks since they almost never take the time to offer even the most cursory analysis of the networks themselves. And the idea that networks themselves are too open to be a probable source of exploitation is shockingly naive of the public sector and corporate ownership and mutation of the network infrastructure. To quote from Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software:
"The physical structure of the Internet presents a suggestive story about the concentration of power - it contains "backbones" and "hubs" - but power on the Internet is not spatial but informational; power inheres in protocol. The techno-libertarian utopianism associated with the Internet, in the gee-whiz articulations of the Wired crowd, is grounded in an assumption that the novelty of governance by computer protocols precludes control by corporation or state. But those entities merely needed to understand the residence of power in protocol and to craft political and technical strategies to exert it."

I'm not looking for a dissertation on the soft power of networks and how it interacts with public perceptions of transparency and openness, but I would really like even the simplest of hedges to theses like these, to note that ownership of physical infrastructure and protocol is still an avenue of the application of power and authority, and that it may change the shape of the problem. On the whole I think Gurri makes a pretty compelling case, but these nitpicks, especially the last one, held me back from giving it that final star.
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 6 books42 followers
April 19, 2022
This is a fascinating and important book. Gurri’s thesis is worth examining and reexamining. While he probably overstates its explanatory power; it goes far in explaining and tying together many of the events in the last decade.

The essential idea is that the digital revolution has swept away the authority of traditional institutions leading to a public that is more and more negating and rejecting these institutions. In so doing he links together Egypt’s Tahrir square, the Arab Spring, the Indignados movement in Spain, Obama, the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, the Tent Protests in Israel, Brexit, and the rise of populism and figures like Trump. At first glance it seems bizarre to link such disparate things, but Gurri’s idea is that these can be explained by the crisis of authority caused by what he calls the Fifth Wave, or the information tsunami.

The thumbnail sketch is that the authoritative institutions of elites have long governed our world by controlling information. The government, media, academia, corporations, religious institutions enjoyed a near monopoly the creation and dissemination of information. This gave these institutions legitimacy and authority. But much like the printing press destabilized the creation and control of information in the 15th and 16th centuries, new digital and network technologies have empowered the public to upend the established order.

Gurri loves to point out that in the year 2001 the amount information created doubled all the information that had ever previously been created in history. And then 2002 doubled 2001. This is why he characterizes the digital revolution as an information tsunami. This wave came in fast and high – and washed away the foundations of the established institutions.

The digital revolution lowered the barriers of entry for anyone wanting to create or distribute information. Information was being created by everyone and could be shared by anyone. Experts didn’t need a Ph.D. and bloggers didn’t have to be Walter Cronkite. The ‘guild’ of information creation and control was broken open and anyone could enter: and almost everyone has. With this, however, all the conceits, errors, and mistakes of the established order get exposed. And elite and institution failure is everywhere. From scandals and corruption to the false promises of utopian ideologies; every mistake, every failure has it is proverbial 15 minutes of fame.

This all leads, argues Gurri, to the erosion of the authority and legitimacy of these institutions and the elites running them. The public is angry, dissatisfied, and disillusioned. It wants change. But the public, as a public, doesn’t have a positive alternative to propose. The public is a many, not a one. It is endlessly fractured and dispersed. While it can come together, it seems to be able to only to do so to repudiate. It is, as Gurri says, always against. We see this in Cancel Culture: the twitter-sphere just calls for people’s heads, for trivial and grotesquely awful behavior alike. It offers no chance of redemption, no hope for forgiveness and rebuilding. Just rejection.

And this is, I think, one of the most interesting parts of Gurri’s thesis. The public revolts, but only offers negation and nihilism. The system must be torn down, “defunded,” or the swamp drained, but no alternative is in the offing. We must reject new things: be it immigrants or technology. The world must be destroyed in order to save it.

Importantly, Gurri points out this rejection is not explained by economics: many of these movements and protests originate in the middle-class, the well off. This is not the revolt of the proletariat. Nor is it merely an issue of throwing off authoritarian regimes. Again many of these protest movements are in the freest democracies in the world. What explains and unites all these movements, if Gurri is right, is a worldwide rejection of elite and established institutions. In the eyes of public, these institutions have no more legitimacy and no more authority. But the public has nothing to offer to replace them.

Towards the end of the last chapter, Gurri gestures at some positive ways forward. Nevertheless, the picture he paints is a scary one. Far more so because I think he’s right in a lot of ways. That said, Gurri presents this as a thesis to be continually tested, not just accepted.

Covid and the responses to it, by the traditional authorities and the public, will likely prove to be an interesting test of his thesis. In the short term it appears to give the elites the veneer of authority and legitimacy. They have the answers. They issue mandates. They are doing something. Listen to the Science. So far the public has gone along—whether out of fear of the virus or out of a newfound respect for these authorities. But over the medium and long term, if Gurri is right, the failure (inevitable or not) to contain the pandemic will undermine the authority and legitimacy of these institutions even more. I think we can see that already in the attention and gleeful repudiation of the politicians caught breaking their own lockdown rules.

I’m not sure Gurri is right about everything; indeed, I’d bet he’s wrong about a lot. But I find his overall thesis and explanation of it intriguing. It seems to explain a lot of events and how they connect in some fundamental ways. It is worth a good long think.
Profile Image for Carl Rannaberg.
118 reviews82 followers
February 13, 2019
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 people and interest groups to unite and form movements which have effects on global scale.
Our form of governments and other authoritative instances like media are coming from industrial age where hierarchy was natural and the public relied on the authority to be informed and organized. As the authority was the gatekeeper of information public didn't know how glueless our governments actually are on making changes on global scale. Gradually with the improvements in communication technology and evolution of the media people have gotten much more aware of the flaws in our current systems and lack of ability in "experts" who have the false sense of confidence in their ability to understand the cause and effect in our societies and systems in a global scale.
Having the visibility to the flaws of authority and the ability to self-organize using modern communication channels has brought us to this point in history where many people have the desire to blow up the current system without having a proper replacement waiting. Many recent regime changes has shown that the public has the ability to push out the incumbents from power and fall for the sweet-talk of the populist politicians who claim to be outside the current system but are as clueless as their predecessors.
First half of the book dragged on with too detailed descriptions of the self-organized movements and revolutions but eventually arrived in a much better place with explanation of crisis of the authority which I described above.
Although this book was originally written in 2014 it has an additional chapter which analyses the Brexit and election of Trump.
Profile Image for Csaba.
23 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2019
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 angle he always concludes the same. Thus, the book constantly reiterates its key message over and over again, which becomes infuriating after a while. In my honest opinion, the last 40 pages could've been reduced to a minimum, or completely left out.

But all in all, I highly recommend this outstanding book, it was worth reading it. If you decide to read, I suggest taking your time!;)

Thank you Mr. Gurri for this book!
117 reviews3 followers
March 4, 2019
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 errors that it makes me question a lot of the rest of the book.

Therefore, I wish that someone else would write a similar book with the same bottom line but with far, far better supporting material.
Profile Image for Victor Wu.
34 reviews30 followers
March 26, 2021
This is an unconventional but deeply incisive analysis of our contemporary social epoch, dominated by information technology and institutional decay. Gurri's thesis is essentially that these two trends are intimately connected, with the digital proliferation of information undermining traditional bases of authority and legitimacy claimed by mediating institutions from government to news to science. Written by a former CIA analyst, The Revolt of the Public is refreshingly free of academic jargon and scholasticism while still providing a conceptually innovative framework through which to help understand events. Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop until I'd finished.
Profile Image for Adam S. Rust.
43 reviews5 followers
November 13, 2018
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 nihilistic because of their rejection of the legitimacy of the institutions running society. Gurri convincingly shows that this political style has gone global, stylistically unifying seemingly disparate movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Israeli Social Justice Protests of 2011, and U.S. Tea Party Movement.

Gurri contends that many of these movements find themselves in a bind as their critiques are premised on the fundamental rottenness of the system, even as they demand these rotten institutions usher in their preferred utopian projects. The one group that can be said to have meaningfully succeeded is the U.S. Tea Party, whose rejection of government regulation and taxation fit in comfortably with the right most wing of the U.S. Republican Party. Donald Trump, analyzed by Gurri in the book's excellent 2018 post-script the second edition, can be seen as an extension of the Tea Party's institutional nihilism.

The book has some limitations. It mentions Black Lives Matter only in passing, even though it could be argued that Black Lives Matter's political demands for the reduction of state power in the criminal justice system have, like the Tea Party, had some political success. If the shared anti-statism of Black Lives Matter and the Tea Party (or for that matter, Brexit) are the only way to mount a successful mass movement in the age of internet, we are probably heading towards a deeply anarchic political future. A future in which Gurri's proposed solutions to the problems posed by nihilistic internet politics, (e.g., using the internet to make the legislative and regulatory process more open to public comment) feel insufficient to resolve the issues.

These criticisms aside, this is a timely book on an important topic. Also, in addition to being a fascinating read, the book is beautifully put together by Stripe Press. So if looking good while reading well is a bonus, definitely consider that in the positive column.
Profile Image for Sebastian.
124 reviews12 followers
March 19, 2019
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 argues that at the end of aughts elites lost their monopoly power on information -- and "once the monopoly on information is lost, so too is our trust" (24), resulting in a terminal decline of our institutions. Twitter and blogs means that for any assertion, there will be innumerable points made visible both for and against a particular idea and skepticism will hang over any authoritative judgement [contrast this against a top-down world of several authoritative media sources that report roughly the same content]. And so any program of activity from the elite Center triggers a response from the Border sects (70) who will find a flaw or alternative and rally around negation of the positive proposal. The Tea Party and the Yellow Vests and the Occupy protestors are emblematic of this fractured era. Mobilized by distrust of big government or French big government or the financial system, these movements don't seek to govern but only to negate.

So now we live in a world of liberum veto. Things didn't end so well for Poland:

I haven't been so depressed after finishing a book in a long time. There's more to the argument here, but it seems like we are in for a long and frustrating decline as a culture of strident criticism robs our institutions of their legitimacy and our interactions with others of respect.
Profile Image for Lee Barry.
Author 19 books14 followers
November 10, 2019
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" have become completely logical: Our world may, in fact, be a screen for our own collective inner turmoil. So I see it as a global malaise of our collective soul, as would as has been typically channeled through artistic expression.

I recommend Strauss-Howe's "The Fourth Turning", which sets a framework for Gurri's "Fifth Wave" theory. That book now has a cult following, as if it was based on conspiracy theories. But it isn't--it's a well-researched book on generational theory. People have appropriated it as the playbook for a Revolution because, theoretically, they happen in Fourth Turnings, and a Revolution is a form of the hastening of the First Turning. Again, I see this as a failure to break free from patterns of history.

The book design is very cool, with web-style formatting of the text (no first-line indents and large spacing between the paragraphs), and glowing hot pink typography and text blocks for a sinister, ironic quality.
8 reviews1 follower
May 4, 2020
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 addendum, holy smokes that was a bad take.
Profile Image for Michael Kraitsberg.
57 reviews1 follower
October 31, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Daniel Erspamer.
176 reviews
June 19, 2021
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's at least 100 pages too long. I really struggled to get through it at many points. Which is a shame because I think the content is pretty important. I had the chance to visit with Gurri recently, and I think his insights are fascinating.
586 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2023
I went in with high hopes, as this book has gained a sort of cult following on the idea that Gurri predicted the sociopolitical changes of the last 10+ years. Gurri wrote the book in 2014 and observed the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring, and other similar movements. He argues that:

1) the information age is here, where members of the public challenge traditionally "elite" knowledge (politicians, scientists, journalists, etc), form online movements and social groups, and generate their own knowledge

2) critiques without constructive ideas are on the rise, where challengers to an established system point out laundry lists of flaws in the system without suggesting solutions (he labels this "nihilism", which doesn't quite seem like the right label to me... nihilists think that life is meaningless and all moral frameworks can and should be rejected; Occupy Wall Street thinks that the system is unfair).

On the one hand, both ideas seem to be true for sure. However, I don't really see this book as a grand, incisive analysis. Also, he is quite angry, writes in an odd manner (that in at least one place looks like flagrant sexism), and often hides his thesis statements in the middle of jumbled prose. My critiques follow.

1) On the Information Age:
First, of course the internet has led to an information age. I don't really see this as much of a surprise or as a very insightful point. Perhaps I am being unfair, though, and his insights in 2014 were indeed novel (in the same way that Shakespeare invented sayings that now seem trite in his plays).

Second, he makes a big deal of the idea that the public is losing trust in authority figures through events like ClimateGate (where high-profile scientists' emails were leaked, and the scientists come off very badly). In general, I think this is true and insightful. But the degree to which the public has lost trust in authority varies hugely by field. Take a look at opinion polls about the most trusted professions: doctors and scientists are still very highly trusted while trust for politicians and journalists has plummeted.

Third, Gurri emphasizes that current elites (PhD scientists, politicians, doctors) hate the idea that grubby memebrs of the public will invade their rarified space and try to claim authority without getting PhDs or MDs etc. Again, I think this is probably a little bit true-- but maybe scientists hate climate deniers because they are full of hot air, and doctors hate antivaccers because they are killing children. Elites resent faux-expert members of the public ~25% because elites like power and 75% because a misinformed public masquerading as experts literally causes death.

2) On "Nihilism"
First, he paints Obama as a "criticize without solving" president, arging that Obama got elected on the seductive allure of laundry lists of critique, emphasized his position as an outsider, and did not achieve much during his presidency due to this mindset. I disagree. First, racism played a big role in his candidacy and presidency. Second, he pointed out real problems and came up with real, wonky, policy solutions-- if anything, he was TOO wonky as a president.

Second, I don't think it is the JOB of public protesters to solve difficult policy problems. Gurri makes a big deal of middle-class young people protesting expensive housing, but he critizizes them for not providing a solution. But is it not their job to enact housing policy! The public's job is to elect people who will enact solutions. On the othe rhand, I wholeheartedly agree that our elected officials can and should offer solutions )not just critiques).

On the Style of the Book as a Whole
This book is written in an extremely odd manner. The author lets his own biases and vitriolic feelings bubble to the surface on what feels like every other page. It is written, it feels, with fire and anger. On the one hand, it's sort of entertaining to have such a unique voice. On the other hand, it feels needlessly angry. Sometimes, it is sexist. Other times, it seems racist by omission (failing to mention that Obama's candidacy and presidency were marked by crazy racism). In several cases, he writes some vicious or angry statement which I immediately saw to be BS, which made me distrust his other confident claims. Consider the following quotes and decide for yourself:

"The magisterial tones of Walter Cronkite, America’s rich uncle, are lost to history, replaced by the ex-cheerleader mom style of Katie Couric."
-----> Really? Katie Couric is extremely respected. Here, he is being angry and sexist.

“What Napster is doing . . . is legally and morally wrong.” The immoral act in question, let’s recall, consisted of teenagers exchanging music files.
-----> Here he argues that music executives are overreacting to Napster, because they hate the idea that non-elites are getting into the business of distributing music. He scoffs that these executives call napster morally wrong. Look-- I am no fan of music executives, and I loved Napster, But it is kind of.... wrong.... to get products for free that artists produced to sell.

Here he reports on a memo produced by the London police after major riots. He says that the memo seethed with repressed outrage that members of the public could outsmart the police. The memo reads:
“'The events of August demonstrated how social media is now widely used as a planning and communication medium by people intent on causing disruption. [ . . . ] The MPS could not comprehensively monitor social media in real-time and was therefore not in a position to be moving ahead of events. Specifically, there was insufficient resilience in both trained staff and technology, to review, capture, and download the vast volume of open source data which needed to be processed.'
Then Gurri adds his commentary: The words could have been written by a mandarin in the ruling hierarchies of Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, or Israel. They seethed with repressed outrage. That someone “intent on causing disruption” should out-communicate and outsmart the authorities was a violation of the natural order: a trampling of the sanctities.
What? I'm not sure we are reading the same memo. Nothing in that memo seethes with repressed outrage. It reads, to me, like the police realizing they need to improve.

Anyway-- make of this what you will!
Profile Image for Anton Cebalo.
23 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2022
The Revolt of the Public is a prescient book in these trying times. Describing what he calls the "Fifth Wave," Gurri begins by emphasizing the remarkable acceleration of information the internet has brought.

Those that say it is like the television or the newspaper are simply not paying attention or don't want to. Information, once led by the top-down industrial model of 'we talk and you listen,' has dispersed from the ground-up. The infosphere's rise has produced calamity for all authority, and because it lacks unity, it has naturally taken on the form of negationism and nihilism. The result has been, to put it simply, chaos: with no clear programme, the ascendent public has toppled all that was once holy and authoritative. Trust levels in all spheres of life have consequently nosedived. The book is about documenting this transformation.

In all, the central thesis of the book is correct. The so-called Fifth Wave is real and it is a shift that is as historic as the printing press. But, just like the printing press, it will take a long while before things settle to a happy new medium. The printing press produced violence and sectarianism never seen before during the Reformation. As Gurri puts it, "the old world is dying, and the new one is yet to be born." I think about this line quite a bit.

Elites across the Western world and beyond have been stupefied by this development. But rather than address this core problem, and create space for the public, they have instead chastised it in an effort to subdue its fervor. In his closing remarks, Gurri makes a prediction: "[The federal government] will treat the American public like an enemy and deal with foreign enemies mostly to impress the public." Writing in 2014, this does seem incredibly on the mark.

Because of the book's strong thesis, I want to love all of it. Yet, I cannot help but be frustrated by Gurri's writing style at times. It is so often repetitive. I understand he wants to drive the point home, but sometimes a strong point does not need to be mentioned multiple times in the same chapter for affect. I also don't need to be reminded of it repeatedly later in the book. The book also suffers from a serious lack of historicization at times. There are just too many gaps. A proper exploration of capitalism's hand in this development is absent. Unsurprisingly, the book makes little to no mention of the internet's tendency toward monopolization, and how algorithms have directed human behavior and flattened discourse. Sometimes he also relies on what I would call 'pop Silicon Valley philosophy' where robust analysis should be.

It is clear that Gurri is not a historian, but nonetheless has tapped into the correct frame to understand the moment we've living in. It is something that every future movement of power, wherever it asserts itself, will have to contend with. Even if you're not consciously in dialogue with this problem, you still are because it's everywhere. It is an entirely new sphere of existing-in-the-world and it has its tentacles in every facet of life. Even though the book has some serious gaps, I still think it can be a possible springboard for all kinds of exciting scholarship and imaginations of the future.

The central problem of today is that Western liberal democracy is a "body without a soul." Nobody trusts anything and authority in all spheres of life is severely damaged. And, reversely, the public is a 'soul without a body' that doesn't know what it wants. Out of this, what will emerge is unknown: perhaps a new, open form of governance or ceaserdom or nihilism or further anti-social atomization. I personally don't share his optimism that we will arrive at the optimal outcome.

3.5-4 / 5 stars
Profile Image for Ben Peyton.
142 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2021
This was a super interesting book and I'm afraid a lot of people this book is targeted at are not going to care or its message. The basic premise is that starting sometime in the early 2000s we entered a new era driven by the ever-growing influence of information and communication provided by the internet. The internet makes so much more information and allows individuals to communicate so much easier now than ever before that people are losing faith in past institutions and authority figures. While the internet is allowing people to organize around smaller and smaller niche topics and interest areas this is coming at a cost. Specifically, these tools are tearing down the ideas of liberalism and representative democracy because the structures we built in the early 1900s to fight for those ideas and to spread them are not designed to handle this new world. The old structures are very top-down, hierarchical, elite-driven, and authority-driven. This isn't necessarily bad, it's just that when the new world doesn't want structures like that and doesn't understand why we need them. This is causing more and more friction between the "public" and institutions the public looks to mediate societal issues. Gurri, I think, places equal blame at the feet of both the public and the institutions and the people who lead them. The public is demanding government fix an ever-growing list of concerns and grievances without giving any meaningful suggestions on how to do so mostly because the public doesn't agree on those solutions. While at the same time, for the last thirty years, the elites failed time and again to show they know what they are doing, have any idea what is going on, or any idea how to fix the current problems. I think Gurri's biggest concern is that this current environment is causing people to take very nihilistic positions. Basically, if the system isn't solving my grievances, we should just burn it all down and start again. This is a terrible idea, for lots of reasons, but it doesn't matter because, logically, this is the end result of the current political environment for lots of people.

And I can't believe I've gotten to this point without mentioning that this was written in 2014. This book is worth buying the new edition if only for the epilogue that Gurri added on the Trump presidency. I think this is the chapter that will give people on the left the most heartburn. I think the main takeaway is that people on the left never took the time to learn why and how Trump won in 2016. We were spoonfed conspiracy theories of four-years that were to explain to us that Trump didn't actually win but the election was stolen. What this did is prevent the left from fully understanding why people voted for him, why people didn't vote for Hillary, and why we almost repeated the same disaster again in 2018. It prevents us from seeing the world as it really is.

At the end of the day, according to Gurri, it is up to the public to save these institutions and we can do it by making the right choices and who we elect to lead us. We can't elect people who take part in nihilism and who want to promise to build bigger and bigger policies to solve every last problem. According to Gurri, we need leaders who are honest about what government can do and the courage to implement challenging ideas while being truthful that those ideas may fail because the world is a complex place.
Profile Image for James Murphy.
982 reviews168 followers
December 3, 2021
Gurri's thesis in this interesting book is that in the digital age our access to information and to the internet is leading to a rejection of authority. His concern is the global decline of democracy. As he sees it, the ubiquity of information, right or wrong, sincere or fake, is causing the crumbling of authority. Powerful points of digital reference held in common by like-minded groups within the public are causing a distrust of hierarchies felt to be failing them by not delivering better ways of life. The traditional centralized powers and top-down governance oriented toward the masses is giving way to a revolution in the nature and content of communication through digital platforms which are empowering the individual. Political discussion through digital space is direct rather than mediated through traditional outlets. It therefore drives opinion. The upswell of information in the hands of every citizen allows the public a longer reach with which to acquire new understandings, again right or wrong, which help to subvert the legitimacy of legal governments. Authority is eroding, sometimes with devastating effect. The general unrest of 2011 was one result of all this. That year saw the Arab Spring, similar protests in Tel Aviv and Madrid, and riots in the UK. The U. S. experienced the Occupy Wall Street movement. All these events were inspired by a groundswell of groups networking on digital platforms and using them as tactical tools in direct confrontations with established hierarchies.

The book was originally published in 2014. It must have seemed prescient then. This new edition, published in 2018, contains a long final chapter extending these ideas as demonstrated by the the election of Trump and the Brexit vote. The ultimate result of the revolt is a creeping nihilism, already visible in leaders and governing bodies. Surprisingly, he considers Obama and Trump to be not as opposite as we'd think. Trump has always been in full-tile nihilist mode. Obama came by his in trying to accommodate a public rejecting his programs.

I guess this is what you'd call a baggy book. One comment about it I agree with is that Gurri could've used an editor. He states his messages over and over until they become mantras. For that reason the book's too long and becomes a little tedious. Still, he's mostly convincing, even if we don't believe every word of it. After all, we can see on our television screens what he's writing about. Where this is headed, where our access to all this information and fake news and post-truths will eventually take us, he says, is a deepening of the nihilism and governmental paralysis. He offers remedies and adjustments, but they require hard work. I'm not sure he's confident our hierarchies are up to it.
Profile Image for Andrew Carr.
471 reviews100 followers
November 11, 2021
There's much to appreciate about this book, but ultimately it left me unsatisfied.

Perhaps it's a question of timing. Gurri wrote the book in 2014, well before Trump and Brexit, with the Arab Spring fresh, and even Facebook and Twitter seemed far more innocuous back then. As an attempt to grab the readers attention and say 'The changes in how we get our information really matter', this book succeeds.

Gurri argues we're seeing a 5th wave, built on digital technology, which is destroying the accrued legitimacy of authority while not leaving anything substantive in its place. At times the analysis shines, both in pulling back some of the nonsense written about the Arab Spring, as well as noting the nihlistic and middle class nature of many western protesters who seem more interested in destruction as a salve to how they feel, than the harder work of actually contributing to social change on the issues they care about.

At times however, this same analysis also goes beyond a sustainable point. Gurri seeks to show government can no longer function properly, so he at times overstates its flaws and problems (while concentrating such claims especially on the US experience). He needs to show universality for his claims, leading to a grab bag of cases where Spain, Thailand, Venezuela and Libya are all treated as motivated by the comparable power of the internet, ignoring the vast historical cycles at work in some of these places long before anyone got online.

Gurri also has a desire to make his work be seen as 'analysis' and not 'speculation'. This is admirable, but not always effectively implemented. Notably at one point he offers a 'null hypothesis', which suggests that if he's wrong people would simply accept authority and life would carry on in End-of-History fashion. Yet this is far from the only plausible alternative. As the cases listed above should suggest, it is just as likely that revolt and rebellion are common features of human experience, often tied intimately to local conditions and histories, and while the internet can exacerbate them, it's hardly the cause.

Still, I can see why some admire this book so much. It certainly sparkles in places and sections, and if nothing else as an account of a chaotic last decade it is a worthwhile read. But 'saw it coming'? I'm not so sure, nor do I think it offers much to help us see what might next be down the road.
Profile Image for Evan.
581 reviews10 followers
March 17, 2020
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 people, even when the public claims to. The "people" and the "public" are different, although the public often claims to be the people. Some of the failures included scientific institutions, such as peer review, and its failure in climategate and in 2009 L'Aquila earthquake (Italy). He cited failures of government in both the Bush (Iraqi War) and Obama (Failure of stimulus, ACA website) presidencies. He cited the failures of governments in numerous other countries.

Then, he explains how digital information access is leading to negation, nihilism, and attacks on representative democracy.

I think he added a few more chapters in 2018 to discuss Brexit, Trump's election, and the rebuke of traditional Elites. I hate to summarize him, but I think he identifies part of the problem as being the claims by politicians that government can do everything, while government has shown repeatedly that it can't. This leads to distrust in the government and calls of negation by disaffected groups. To remedy this, we need leaders to be honest, humble and realistic about what government can do. Such steps would lead to restored trust in government and strengthening of representative democracy.
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
981 reviews896 followers
January 20, 2022
W/o any doubt, one of the most challenging books to assess in the last 3-4 years.
On one hand it's full of good points and valid observations, on the other one - the are clear understatements, heavily biased statements and claims that are simply false (example: "Janukovych - a democratically chosen president of Ukraine") :( My suggestion is - read through and make your own mind (about what you think about it).

What did I like?
1. The book was written in pre-Woke era, but it confirms many of the symptoms that have escalated in the forthcoming years
2. The criticism of Obama - until some point it's just and deserved
3. At last but not least - good dissection of what is now known as "outrage culture"; come comments are painfully honest and should be read aloud; thank you for that

What was 'meh'?
1. At some point the criticism of Obama became ... hmm, personal? The author kept iterating pretty much the same points over and over? Why?
2. I think that the author should (re)read the definition of nihilism. He seems to have a big problem with that.
3. I totally agree that the anti-Trump campaign is a good example of public alarmism and over-exaggerated doom-speaking, but the narration about Trump presidency doesn't look fully objective and honest.
4. The last 25% doesn't bring anything new to the table. Waste of time.

I'll pass on 'star' rating, but I think you won't regret reading this book. There'll definitely be a lot of content you won't agree with, but it's thought-provoking enough to consider it a good pay-off.
21 reviews
April 2, 2022
The precis of Martin Gurri's book is long-winded yet important: the widespread availability of primary information through social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit) stresses and distorts the traditional and hierarchical relationship between authorities (government, political parties, corporations, news) and the public-at-large. This rapid diffusion of information highlights the painfully visible gap between these institutions' claims of competence and their actual performance and, most importantly, poses an existential challenge to the legitimacy of these institutions. Amidst this crisis of authority (the author's term, not mine) emerges anti-establishment figures (e.g. Donald Trump) and parties (e.g. The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street) arise that reject and negate the status quo. This further increases the rift between the authority and public and reflexively generates greater political and cultural turbulence.

I think this book could have been a long-form Atlantic article (and a couple hundred pages shorter), but Martin Gurri's Revolt of the Public would have been more interesting if extended to other historical information revolutions and authority upheavals (e.g. the printing press and Roman Catholic Church).
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