Diplomat Carne Ross: an Anarchist? The Leaderless Revolution [Book Review]

Photo of the book "The Leaderless Revolution"

My copy of the book and my notebook in bed together

A lot of old-truths/hippie-Gandhi-kind-of-stuff in an unexpected wrapping: a nice suit. Carne Ross, the author of “the Leaderless Revolution” was an insider of the political elite, the tip of power, but resigned after critically testifying about the British involvement in the Iraq War.

He continues to be critical of governments, politicians, diplomats and the UN’s abilities to solve the key issues of our time. One comment in his book stood out to me as particularly discouraging:

“In five years working on Iraq not once had I set foot in the country, yet at the UN, I was called Britain’s Iraq ‘expert’.” Carne Ross: “The Leaderless Revolution” (2011).

Ross writes on his personal website about a “deepening interest in alternate systems of organising our affairs, in particular anarchism.” If his book is in any way a reflection of anarchist ideas, as the title suggests, it is a more drawing-room fittet version of anarchism. He mentions several times that he does not call for violent action, although I don’t think any of us were imagining former British diplomat Carne Ross in a rage frenzy, throwing molotov cocktails, overthrowing the government.

Carne Ross "the Anarchist" in a frenzy to save the world aka the old cartoon "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"

Carne Ross “the Anarchist” in a frenzy to save the world aka the old cartoon “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” via creative commons (photo credit: Flikr user Toho Scope)

The book is a child of the Occupy Movement, which was a source of inspiration for Ross and an example of the kind of leaderless revolution the title refers to. The introduction is stacked with descriptions of the severity of the biggest issues of our time (quite depressing, necessarily so):

Climate Change, Terrorism, Ceaseless Wars, Reoccurring Financial crises

It successfully expresses the mounting unease and feeling of injustice leading up to the Occupy movement. But what saves the book, and your mood while reading it, is that it also captures the type of momentum that sprung from Occupy: a need to act.

While Ross does not precribe any substantive solutions to the grave issues he lists, he does give the reader a suggested new way of approaching them; a method.

“Gradually then, and by force of good example, self-government of the many by the many can become the norm” (Ross, 2011).

The advice Ross gives has an incredible pragmatic quality despite the idealism that is an underlying premise for writing such a book and having that kind of career.

Ross appears to be one of those writers whose greatest achievements are not only their thoughts but their actions in particular. Ross is the founder of the non-profit The Independent Diplomat, which I have been curious about ever since I started researching civil society and Diplomacy. The Independent Diplomat is an interesting hybrid working in a field of traditional diplomacy but with a radically new method: by independent non-profit advisory, not affiliated with one particular state.

“The Leaderless Revolution” adresses the core issues and injustices that I think most of us can sense deep down but all too often find it convenient to forget about. The book is captivating and perhaps all the more so because it affirms several of the impressions I have gotten in my early research:

1. Many of us feel and know that there are big problems in our world that we can only solve together. Examples are: Our Broken Planet, Rising Inequalities, War and Oppression.

2. Current configurations of power are sadly not providing these solutions, nor is it likely that they will create institutional reform to solve the problems. Ross points out: “as turkeys will not vote for Thanksgiving or Christmas these institutions will not reform themselves.” (Ross, 2011)

3. There is no big miracle-cure. The only way to start solving the issues is by getting to work, start doing a better job of solving them ourselves.

Those were some of my thoughts that happen to overlap with those expressed in “the Leaderless Revolution”. For more info take a look at the 9 principles to guide action, that Ross lists:

  1. Excavate your convictions
  2. Who’s got the money and who’s got the gun?
  3. Act as if the means are the ends
  4. Ask, don’t assume
  5. Address those suffering the most
  6. Everyone gets to decide
  7. Big picture, small deeds
  8. Use non-violence
  9. Kill the king!

He calls the 9 principles “9 ways to start your own revolution”. He explains them more in depth in this interesting interview with Bill Moyer:



  1. rshdrshd

    Thank you for this brief and yet in-depth discussion about Carne Ross and his perspectives on diplomacy. I’ve seen a couple of videos with him discussing what lead him to quitting his post, but I never really understood his perspectives on how to make diplomacy better. Great post!

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