Carne Ross - The Leaderless Revolution
Carne Ross was – as the author biog on the dust jacket of his book tells us – Britain’s Iraq WMD and sanctions expert at the UN. He’d been fast-tracked through the diplomatic service in the company of a select crew of high-fliers, who learned to always say “we” instead of “I”, who enjoyed their highly privileged status and whose actions (Ross is entirely honest about his own involvement) led to the deaths of many innocent people.
The Leaderless Revolution: how ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century tells the story of his increasing disillusionment with diplomatic processes and outcomes and, ultimately, the realisation that, because governments of nation states are powerless in the face of global problems, the nation state itself may be headed towards obsolescence.
Having delved into the history of anarchism, Ross suggests that its time has come (John Kampfner’s excellent Guardian review of this book says he “bravely advocates the term anarchism”, though I’m unclear why this is “brave”).
Anarchism - he differentiates this from anarchy which, in one of his chapter headings, = chaos - implies that
people can be trusted successfully to manage their own affairs, to negotiate with one another, to regulate their own societies from the bottom up – by moral rules, rather than coercion and punishment. (pp 210-211)
the existence of government reminds us … that other people are not to be trusted.
Towards the end of a book packed with illuminating, shocking tales from international government, Ross - having previously specified that direct action includes volunteering at a local school, but not signing an e-gov petition (in the former case I’m doing something, in the latter I’m agitating for someone else to do it) – provides nine principles for action.
- “Excavate your convictions”: work out what I really care about.
- “Who’s got the money? Who’s got the gun?”: who has the power to influence this and who/what is/are going to get in my way?
- “Act as if the means are the ends”: ie: do something that makes a difference now, not in the future.
- “Refer to the cosmopolitan criterion”: listen to others when they say what their needs are.
- “Address those suffering the most”: engage with others; find out what’s going on; donate/help out in any way I can.
- “Consult and negotiate”: again, talk to people. Directly, rather than through representatives.
- “‘Big picture, small deeds’” (Ross is quoting the innovation company ?What If?): Remember the big things I want to change, do small things every day towards that goal.
- “Use non-violence”: The most cogent argument against violence (although, being a 4’11” female wimp, the practice of violence isn’t one I’m naturally attracted to) I’ve read is Stuart Christie’s. Christie, once “Britain’s most famous anarchist”, was caught carrying explosives intended to be used to assassinate General Franco. In Granny Made Me an Anarchist he wrote:
“The inescapable problem with violence … is that no matter how just the cause or selflessly idealistic the motives, there is the ever-present danger that it can quickly become a brutal, self-serving and self-perpetuating process which fatally undermines and destroys any possibility of the intended beneficial outcome.”
- “Kill the king”: Earlier in the book, Ross explains why chess is an inappropriate - if widely used- analogy for the process of conducting international relations (we covered a lot of game theory when I studied IR back in the 1980s). Here, he employs the ultimate aim of chess - presumably with some sense of irony, given the previous principle - as a metaphor for keeping one’s eye on the ultimate aim of any action:
“A campaign to end genocide, richly adorned with expensive video and glamorous celebrities is worth nothing if it doesn’t save a single life.”
“The greatest paradox faced by any proponent of an anarchist approach to life is this. Anarchism rejects authority, it rejects hierarchical institutions; it rejects the state. The goal cannot be defined neatly, as a concrete system or a state of affairs. It is instead a method, a process, a means – which is itself an end. And by its nature, no one can define where that process may lead. Critics can paint that blank canvas with nightmares; I can suggest instead a future of cooperation, justice, mutual understanding and a deeper sense of purpose upon this crowded planet. If this path is taken,...”—Carne Ross
The Leaderless Revolution
“Gustav Landauer, a 19th-century theorist, once said, The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.”—Carne Ross
The Leaderless Revolution
Carne Ross on the Future of Diplomacy
Our first in a series of interviews on the future of diplomacy with Carne Ross, former senior British diplomat, founder and director of Independent Diplomat and author of The Leaderless Revolution: How ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century.