Martin Gurri on the Revolt of the Public

Published: Thu 28 May 2020
Updated: Tue 22 November 2022
By steve

In misc.

I love long-form interviews, especially when driving or otherwise unable to read. I listened to The Econtalk Episode in which Russ Roberts talks to Martin Gurri about his 2014 book, “The Revolt of the Public”. You can read the highlights here.

The basic thesis is that Poltical Taylorism has had its day, and that our political elites don’t know how to move out of a 20th Century mindset in which they are at the top of a pyramid in which they control everything, but especially information.

I can’t do justice to the interview, let alone the book (which I have not read, but would like to: it’s in my Goodreads list) in a short blog post, but if spending ten minutes writing this allows a few more people to benefit from the Gurri’s insights I felt it would be time well spent.

Martin Gurri is a former CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] analyst, a US citizen, but also an immigrant from Cuba. He keeps saying that he is not a revolutionary, but he is clearly not a fan of the status quo. He argues that the general distrust of politicians does not arise from people’s lack of the basic necessities, but actually from their arrogance and lack of morality: something that cannot be fixed with bread and circuses, however hard the elites try. Mind you, free Netflix for everyone would go a long way …

The interview is wonderfully wide-ranging. Where else could you find the 30-years War, the 30 pesos protest in Chile, the 30 Years War in 17th Century, the Treaty of Westphalia, Brexit, the Arab Spring, Daniel Ortega, the 1968 global protest movement, the Bolshevik Revolution, Occupy Wall St., annihilism, les gilets jaunes, and protests in Tel Aviv, Arnold Kling all used to illustrate the underlying argument that Gurri presents. Trump is mentioned, but only fleetingly.

Gurri talks about “flattening the pyramid” as the way forward: shortening the chain between rulers and the ruled. I am not convinced that this is enough, although I don’t pretend to forecast how things will pan out. Popular revolution has always ended badly, with just another oligarchy at the top. The Internet is a big thing, but most individuals are apathetic (or, to be less judgemental, rationally ignorant) and still just want to have a quiet life and enough to eat and drink. Bryan Caplan has written eloquently on this.

An example quote to whet your appetite:

I think there needs to be something more fundamental than that, or let’s say, less structural than that. And, that gets back to the Yuval Levin point, which is: there is something broken with our elites today. As is almost—wanders into an area which I find very tricky, which is morality. All right? But, in the end, politics is determined by morality, by what we think is right and wrong.

And, as a bonus, we get to hear why Russ Roberts is a great fan of the Netflix series “The Crown.”

Follow-up links

Gurri’s Blog [Unread by me as yet!]

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