Search­ing for mean­ing in a world gone wrong

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The Ship­wrecked Mind: On Po­lit­i­cal Reac- that the de­vel­op­ment of phi­los­o­phy could be taken up again.

One fas­ci­nat­ing chapter, called From Luther to Wal­mart, ar­gues that in pur­suit of in­tel­lec­tual and emo­tional com­fort we have from time im­memo­rial “fab­ri­cated myths to con­vince our­selves that we un­der­stand the un­der­ly­ing pro­cesses by which the world took on its cur­rent shape”. The most com­monly con­cocted myths in his­tory, he points out, use the idea of civil­i­sa­tional de­cline to “give tem­po­ral rea­sons for why life is so hard”.

Chris­tian­ity was the first world­view to turn its back to­tally on such think­ing, break­ing into tra­di­tional the­o­ries of time to de­clare a bright and re­demp­tive fu­ture. And yet here we are 2000 years later, with pow­er­ful Chris­tian philoso­phers such as Alas­dair Mac­In­tyre, still wait­ing for a fig­ure who will not re­turn us to medieval think­ing but lead us to a nur­tur­ing, moral com­mu­nity be­yond the with­er­ing ef­fects of in­di­vid­u­al­ism, lib­er­al­ism and cap­i­tal­ism.

Con­trary to the cliche, no se­ri­ous “re­ac­tion- ary” thinker, Lilla points out, has con­vinc­ingly ar­gued for a re­turn to a more glo­ri­ous road not taken. His book — like two ear­lier ones, The Still­born God: Re­li­gion, Pol­i­tics, and the Mod­ern West and The Reck­less Mind: In­tel­lec­tu­als in Pol­i­tics — is not polem­i­cal so much as care­ful, seek­ing to un­der­stand the re­cent and ap­par­ently sud­den rise of pop­ulism and the right around the world.

Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger: A His­tory of the Present, by con­trast, is a pow­er­ful polemic. Mishra is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to The Lon­don Re­view of Books, The New York Times Book Re­view and The New Yorker. He is a fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety of Lit­er­a­ture in Lon­don, where he lives, and is one of that ex­cit­ing tribe of thinkers, born and bred within the wide In­dian world­view, whose anal­y­sis is only sharp­ened by ad­vanced train­ing in West­ern crit­i­cal thought.

He fin­ished writ­ing the book, he wrote in a column for The Guardian that co­in­cided with its re­lease, as Bri­tain was vot­ing to leave the EU and Don­ald Trump was elected Pres­i­dent. In

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