Berrett-Koehler, 2007

ISBN: 978-1887208086

Reviewed by Moragh Mason
(review pertains to the 2006 edition)


David Korten wrote this book several years ago, but it is probably even more relevant – and urgent – today.  He sees us at a crossroads, and the choice we make will result in either The Great Turning of the title, or The Great Unravelling.

According to Korten, we are coming to the end of 5,000 years of dominator culture, which he calls Empire, in which fear, aggression and unbridled competition have been to the fore.  We now have the possibility of moving into an Earth Community culture, where partnership and cooperation are the keynotes.

One of the best parts of the book for me was his analysis of the levels of consciousness in the world today and how, to put it bluntly, we need to grow up and operate from a mature rather than an immature level  (Chapter 2 – The Possibility). He sees Cultural and Spiritual Creatives playing a major role in encouraging this transition.

Part 3 ‘America – the Unfinished Project’ is obviously geared to US readers, but given the part the US plays in world affairs it has relevance for us all. The final chapter of that part – ‘Prisons of the Mind’ – is a brilliant exposé of the reality behind the stories of Empire.

In the final part of the book, Korten proposes new stories for the Earth Community.  He admits to them being works in progress.  They are not familiar, like the imperial stories we are used to, but he points out that Empire has been honing its stories to perfection for millennia.  In many ways, the language of Earth Community is new to us, and as with any language that is not our mother tongue, we feel less comfortable and less confident using it.  And yet perhaps it was really our first language, long-forgotten because it was replaced by that of Empire so long ago.

GreenSpirits will notice some familiar terms here and Korten does indeed dedicate the book to, amongst others, Riane Eisler, Joanna Macy and Thomas Berry.  More surprisingly, perhaps, he also dedicates it to George W Bush – for opening his eyes to the imperial shadow side of US democracy.

By its very nature, Empire will not give up its power lightly but, drawing on research from the field of biology, Korten shows that there have been many occasions in the past when the natural world has been faced with the devastating consequences of unbridled competition.  In such situations, Nature has learned quickly that the only way to survive is to learn the art of cooperation.  Faced with the same challenge, we can surely do likewise.