The Book

David Korten’s classic bestseller, When Corporations Rule the World, was one of the first books to articulate the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy. Now, ten years later, Korten shows that the problem runs deeper than corporate domination—with far greater consequences.

In The Great Turning, Korten argues that corporate consolidation of power is merely a contemporary manifestation of what he calls “Empire”: the organization of society by hierarchies of domination grounded in violent chauvinisms of race, gender, religion, nationality, language, and class. The result has been the same for 5,000 years, fortune for the few and misery for the many. Increasingly destructive of children, family, community, and nature, the way of Empire is leading to environmental and social collapse.

The Great Turning makes the case that we humans are a choice making species that at this defining moment faces both the opportunity and the imperative to choose our future as a conscious collective act. We can no longer deny the need nor delay our response. A mounting perfect economic storm is fast approaching. A convergence of climate change, peak oil, and the financial instability inherent in an unbalanced global trading system will bring an unraveling of the corporate-led global economy and a dramatic restructuring of every aspect of modern life.

We cannot avoid the unraveling. We can, however, turn a potentially terminal crisis into an epic opportunity to bring forth a new era of Earth Community grounded in the life-affirming cultural values shared by most all the world’s people and eloquently articulated in the Earth Charter.

The Great Turning is an essential resource for those who understand this need and are prepared to engage what Thomas Berry calls the Great Work. It cuts through the complexity of our time to illuminate a simple, but elegant truth. We humans live by stories. We are held captive to the ways of Empire by a cultural trance of our own creation maintained by stories that deny the higher possibilities of our human nature—including our capacities for compassion, cooperation, responsible self-direction, and self-organizing partnership.

Changing our future begins with changing our stories. A work already underway, it ultimately calls out for the participation of every person on the planet. The Great Turning points the way to the inspiring outcome within our reach.

Table of Contents

Chapter Summaries

Prologue: In Search of the Possible

Part I: Choosing Our Future
1. The Choice
2. The Possibility
3. The Imperative
4. The Opportunity

Part II: Sorrows of Empire
5. When God Was a Woman
6. Ancient Empire
7. Modern Empire
8. Athenian Experiment

Part III: America, The Unfinished Project
9. Inauspicious Beginning
10. People Power Rebellion
11. Empire’s Victory
12. Struggle for Justice
13. Wake Up Call
14. Prisons of the Mind

Part IV: The Great Turning
15. Beyond Strict Father Vs Aging Clock
16. Creation’s Epic Journey
17. Joys of Earth Community
18. Stories for a New Era

Part V: Birthing Earth Community
19. Leading from Below
20. Building A Political Majority
21. Liberating Creative Potential
22. Change the Story, Change the Future

To purchase The Great Turning

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The Discussion Guide

There are many ways to facilitate a deeper discussion of the ideas presented in The Great Turning. Our hope is that your discussions not only plumb the intellectual understanding of the ideas in The Great Turning, but also connect participants to their personal experiences of the larger influences of Empire, and create new stories based on the principles of Earth Community.

The discussion guide is designed for five, two-hour sessions, which are aligned with each of the five parts in the book. Each session includes: a synopsis of the major ideas within the chapters, whole group discussion questions to explore intellectually, and questions for small groups and dyads (groups of two) to explore more personally.


What others are saying

“A must read for everyone who yearns to create a positive human future. In When Corporations Rule the World Korten called attention to the corruption of corporate-led economic globalization and helped to launch a powerful global resistance movement. In The Great Turning he tells us that the scourge of economic globalization is but a contemporary manifestation of 5,000 years of rule by imperial elites. It is a wise, profound, and practical book filled with fresh insights and is destined to be even more influential than Korten’s previous contributions.”
– Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop

“Deep change starts with a story that shines light on the truth of the human past and shows a way forward. In The Great Turning, Korten sets forth a compelling, devastating, and ultimately profoundly hopeful story that addresses this need and provides a framework for the new, unifying political conversation our nation so desperately needs. A must read for every person of conscience.”
– Van Jones, Executive Director, Ella Baker for Human Rights

“What a gift David Korten has given us with this prophetic book! Korten stands as an insider-outsider to American culture, able to mirror back to the American empire of power and money what an ugly face it shows to the rest of the world. In this well-written and thorough story of the crises of late Modernity, Korten gives us a beautifully reasoned, carefully researched look at why we absolutely have to turn away from imperial power and wealth and, instead, create an Earth Community. This is a must-read for activists, for lovers of contemporary American studies, and for Cultural Creatives.”
– Paul H. Ray, co-author of The Cultural Creatives

“David Korten has produced a masterpiece! Fascinating, compelling, wonderfully readable, and broad-reaching in its arc of history and significance, The Great Turning will keep you up nights reading, fill your notebooks with insights, and give you the ammunition to win the water cooler wars.”
– Thom Hartmann, Air America talk show host, author of What Would Jefferson Do?

“Here is the book we have been waiting for. The Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Community may well be the bravest and most radical of David Korten’s ground-breaking books. It is brave in its sweeping breadth of vision, and radical in going to the root of the corporate pathologies his previous works unmasked. Here Korten provides powerful tools for an understanding of Empire and shows, that in learning to recognize its logic and its enormous cost, we gain a perspective on Empire that opens us to the possibility of choice. We are not doomed to domination and suicidal competition. We can choose another story for ourselves–Earth Community. This is the Great Turning.”
-Joanna Macy, author of Coming Back to Life

“At a moment when the political discourse is obsessed with immediacy, David Korten calls us to pause and reflect upon what it means to be fully human. The Great Turning situates us in history while calling us to transcend its limitations. As one reads this rigorous book, one is moved by its sacredness. The spiritual reflection with deep political and economic implications demands we move with grace and dignity into the new space of equity, dignity and above all abiding love. In the end, may we all be turned.”
– Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, author of Urbansouls

“This book is a kind of bible to the 21st century. Employing history, psychology, economics, spirituality, and common sense, Korten not only critiques the dilemma we are in as a species, he also shows us doable and workable ways out of our morass. He has created a tour de force – a call to compassion as much as a blueprint for survival, a revelation of where we might travel if we have the moral imagination and the courage to choose and act wisely. Bravo!”
– Matthew Fox, educator and theologian, author of Original Blessing and A New Reformation

“David Korten has done it again!! Through careful and painstaking historical analysis, personal reflection and myth-busting, The Great Turning challenges U.S. citizens to a new level of awareness of what has been and what can be. A must read!”
– Tanya Dawkins, Founder/Director, Global-Local Links Project

“If you read only one book on how to address the looming ecological and social crises facing humanity, make it this one! Korten fearlessly grapples with ‘the big picture’ and goes beyond merely diagnosing the problem (which he does with great precision), as he outlines a positive and realistic plan for actually creating a just and sustainable global society.”
– David Cobb, 2004 Green Party U.S. Presidential Candidate

“I love this book! David Korten has done it again – created a masterpiece of big-thinking to help us find our way in this death-or-life historical moment. With fascinating analogies, intriguing stories and eloquent analysis, Korten engages and emboldens us to believe that we can trust and cultivate the best in ourselves and, despite the lateness of the hour, choose life.”
– Frances Moore Lappé, author of Hope’s Edge and Democracy’s Edge

“This is the book that needed to be written. Weaving together culture patterns, politics, economics, and history, Korten demonstrates how U.S. history is NOT the democratic model that all politicians and pundits “recall.” It is, in actuality, a legacy of imperial power and control. The time has come for a change…we need to move on and empower a different kind of story!”
– Georgia Kelly, Founder/Director of Praxis Peace Institute

“Korten cuts through the lies and hypocrisy to show that the rabid right, far from being conservative defenders of family values, is engaged in a war against children, families, communities, democracy, and life. Instead of the self-serving greedheads and boneheads now in charge, imagine a world guided by the deeply held values that most Americans share. The Great Turning has the power to turn our country, and the world, to this more positive course.”
– Jim Hightower, syndicated columnist and radio host, author of Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

“David Korten never fails to shake me out of my complacency, and reveal complacencies I didn’t even know I had. This work is a stunning and compassionate tour de force, calling on history, science, economics, and our human goodwill to illuminate the fact that we are at a fundamental choice point. I can’t stop thinking about the issues he raises, nor what I’m going to do with my awakened consciousness. Thank you, David.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley, author of the bestsellers Leadership and the New Science and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

The Great Turning is a profound and inspiring masterpiece that illuminates the cultural, social, and political significance of the contrasting worldviews of the classic materialistic-mechanistic Newtonian physics and modern holistic-quantum physics. Korten eloquently points to the necessity of abandoning the dominating power-oriented plutocracy of Empire in favor of a life-enhancing, continuously diversifying, cooperatively integrated Earth.”
– Prof. Dr.h.c.Hans-Peter Duerr PhD, former Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Physics, Munich; Winner, Alternative Nobel Prize 1987

“With the majesty of a George Lucas movie, Korten’s epic tale, which pits Earth Community against Empire, weaves together the great social movements of our time. It inspires us at this crucial point in history to fulfill our destiny as thinking, acting and loving human beings.”
– Judy Wicks, Proprietress, White Dog Cafe and co-chair Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE)

The Great Turning is a work of amazing scope and depth. David Korten powerfully addresses the great challenge for humanity at this critical juncture in history: shifting from domination to partnership as the guiding principle for personal, economic, and political relations. Passionately, and with his customary attention to solid evidence, he traces the tension between these two underlying human possibilities. This is a wise and much needed book that shows we can create cultures where our enormous human capacities for joy, caring, and cooperation are realized.”
-Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade

“This is a hugely important book, and hugely impressive! I imagine it reaching far beyond Korten’s existing readership.”
-Raffi Cavoukian, singer, author, ecology advocate, founder of Child Honoring

“In this major work, inspired by a compelling spiritual and ethical vision, The Great Turning argues persuasively that the 21st century presents humanity with a unique opportunity to break with its violent past and to create a just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful future. David Korten skillfully combines ecological, economic, social, psychological, and cultural analysis in order to issue a powerful summons to local communities and the emerging global civil society to lead the way. ”
-Steven C. Rockefeller, Co-chair, Earth Charter International Steering Committee

“An epic work. Exposes the myths that divide us and frames the stories that can bring us together.”
-Danny Glover, Activist and Actor

“David Korten has presented a clear blueprint for a powerful emerging majority. This book will help to change America for the better.”
-Dennis J. Kucinich, US House of Representatives (D-Ohio)

“David Korten’s ideas are tools, like picks and shovels, that help us dig under the surface of our pessimism and fear of change. What we find is a deep core of hope for the Earth as Beloved Community and the ability to embrace the individual and collective kuleana (Hawaiian for responsibility) for our choices and their consequences.”
– Puanani Burgess, Hawaiian storyteller and poet

The Great Turning is smooth, brilliantly researched, and gripping. David Korten has constructed a story of hope and insight. Alert the Democrats! Here is a blueprint for a vision they are born to promote to the world. Look for the section on Empire’s War on the Family. The ending inspires poetically. Things aren’t hopeless, the world is truly turning and all we need do is push ourselves along together.”
– Dal LaMagna, Founder and former CEO, Tweezerman

“David Korten is a militant for Life, Earth, and Community. This ground-breaking book provides the holistic overview of a 21st Century revolution and evolution that can inspire the ordinary citizen to act and transform the activist into a long-distance runner.”
– Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit activist, co-author of Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century

“Throw away the technological fixes of Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs and enter Korten’s world where communities organize to secure their rights and build a better world. I know of no writer who better embraces the wisdom of such a broad spectrum of thinkers to create new understanding, new possibilities, new inspiration, new hope.”
– John Cavanagh, director, Institute for Policy Studies, board chair, International Forum on Globalization, and co-author of 12 books on the global economy

“This is indeed a spectacular book. The Great Turning supports our most open-hearted evolutionary process. I will buy several cases.”
– Bill Kauth, co-founder of the ManKind Project and author of A Circle of Men

“Brilliant. Challenging. Inspiring. Practical. Spiritual. Intelligent. Once again David Korten challenges us with his keen analysis, and elegant wisdom-a clear call for sustainable social transformation and a timely invitation to live a different story. Korten gives us exactly what we need to address our paralysis and fear. Read this book and be inspired to make a difference. I look forward to using The Great Turning in my education and public witness work. Korten’s voice deserves to be heard far and wide.”
– The Very Reverend Bill Phipps, moderator United Church of Canada (1997 to 2000)

“Not only are we the ones we have been waiting for, THIS is the book we have been waiting for! It provides the context and stories that have been missing, leaving us with piecemeal analyses and solutions. The framework of the 5,000 year history of the Empire is a powerful eye-opener about the deliberateness of enslavement and oppression. Off and on, I heard in my head the words, the emperor has no clothes…”
– Jan Roberts, Director, Earth Charter USA Communities Initiatives

“David Korten has done it again! The author of When Corporations Rule the World has written the exact right book for the political moment. The Great Turning is nothing less than a blueprint for a spiritual and social revolution to save the planet and humans from ourselves.”
– Maude Barlow, National Chairperson, Council of Canadians and author, Too Close for Comfort

“Once you dive into this book, you’ll want everyone you know to read it. It is a powerful source of inspiration and guidance for those already turning to Earth Community and it can help those embedded in Empire’s institutions see more clearly the choices before them.”
– Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director, Co-op America.

“Activists will love this book, as will progressives and environmentalists dedicated to moving the world forward into a better place. Parents who care about their children’s futures must read this book. Those who support corporate dominance, empire, violence and inequality will hate this book, though, for it sheds light on dark places and empowers the reader to wake up, take action and change things.”  >>More
Marie D. Jones,