In This Review

Disruption: Why Things Change
Disruption: Why Things Change
By David Potter
Oxford University Press, 2021, 336 pp

Political life in ancient times and more recent eras has been shaped and transformed by a series of grand disruptions: the collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of Christianity and Islam, the upheavals of the American and French Revolutions, and the rise and fall of fascism and communism. With an eye on today’s global convulsions, Potter seeks to illuminate the patterns formed by these disruptions. He notes that they all began with failures, dysfunctions, and mistakes made by defenders of the “old order” at the time. He argues that although the instability of large-scale political orders emerges from long-term economic and technological shifts, ideas and ideology matter just as much. The replacement of one world-shaping political order with another has always required strategy, leadership, and ideological struggles driven by the search for legitimacy. It is less the downtrodden and dispossessed who reshape political life than activists and charismatic leaders who latch on to potent new ideas and build new coalitions. Potter’s message to the defenders of the current era’s liberal order is to redouble their efforts to make the modern liberal state a professional servant of the people.