The End of Protest: How Free-Market Capitalism Learned to Control Dissent by Alasdair Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In years past, severe economic downturns and unfair political practices led to protests and riots. In The End of Protest, author Alasdair Roberts asks why there aren’t more protests now, particularly after the economic crash of 2008. This is a question I have asked as well. Where was the outrage? Sure, we saw people talking on television, saw posts on the internet, but why hadn’t people taken to the streets with pitchforks and torches the way they had in the past? Roberts attempts to answer this question.
Now, full disclosure: I read this book a little a while ago with the intent to review it then, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it has taken me quite a while to get around to writing this review. It turns out that this time has changed my initial perspective on the book and has provided much more valuable insight into Roberts’ message, and ultimately I feel that I can provide a much better review now than I initially could have.
Roberts’ prose is a little confusing at first. While he seems very direct and straight to the point, there are times when it feels more like he’s stalking the point and takes forever to actually get there. Still, it is clean with few errors and easy to read, making it easy for the layman to pick up and understand.
In this book, Roberts details the rise of protests, particularly with the Industrial Revolution, saying that at that time, protests had practically become an expected part of life, but had become disruptive to the establishment. This led to the creation of a standing police force. That’s right. Roberts proposes that the original purpose of the police was not to serve and protect the people from crimes. The police were actually created to quell protests and keep the established order running without disruption and maintain free market principles. This was something that I met with skepticism. I did not consider it outside the realm of possibility, but also didn’t feel that Roberts really provided enough evidence for this claim.
That is, until the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri last year. Observing not only the initial attack by the police, but the police response to the growing protests, not only there but in other places as more and more police-involved shootings occurred, immediately made me think of this book. Indeed, the police seemed to primarily be acting as an anti-protest unit with little or no concern for public safety. Life actually added weight to Roberts’ argument.
Roberts continues, following other protests and responses to them, up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. He argues that Occupy Wall Street tried be different to avoid past protesting problems, and while it was the result of a seething and legitimate anger, failed primarily due to this lack of centralized leadership intended to combat the monitoring and intimidation tactics now used to quell protest and prevent organizing before they even get going. When no one could be on the same page, they couldn’t even agree on a date for when the protest should take place until the Canadian firm Adbusters finally stepped up and said it would start on September 17, 2011. After the media refused to cover it initially and only did after the voices grew too loud, then began to sweep it under the rug and add more distractions to take people’s attention away. Bread and circuses.
While a good study on the history protest and the responses to it, the book is ultimately lukewarm in its tone and rather myopic in the scope of protests it studies. Roberts focuses primarily on economic-based protests of the United States and Great Britain, and does not cover protests that started for other reasons or in other areas (like France; now the French are people that know how to riot!). In addition, this book is preaching to the choir. It’s likely going to be read by people that already agree with the premise, and will probably be avoided by those who don’t already agree with it.
It’s an okay study, and Roberts makes and backs up his point well, but is ultimately a letdown and won’t reach those that really should be reading it.
The End of Protest by Alasdair Roberts get 3 picket signs out of 5.
Note: A free copy of this book was provided to this reviewer by the publisher through NetGalley. This did not in any way affect the content of this review.