A look at our an­gry world

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - ALEX GOOD

In the af­ter­math of such po­lit­i­cal shocks as Brexit and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as U.S. pres­i­dent, we have be­gun to see a surge in books at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand this an­gry new world.

In “Age of Anger” Pankaj Mishra takes a broad sur­vey of po­lit­i­cal thought in the mod­ern pe­riod in or­der to find some an­swers. Be­gin­ning with the con­flict be­tween the the­o­ries of Voltaire and Rousseau, he tracks the in­tel­lec­tual his­tory of the strug­gle be­tween moder­nity and its dis­con­tents.

Moder­nity, in this ac­count, has played out like a sec­u­lar form of the Rap­ture, with a few win­ners and a great num­ber of peo­ple left be­hind. The dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy has been that of progress, but progress de­fined in a nar­row way that mainly op­er­ates to ben­e­fit a mi­nor­ity. It is a neo-lib­eral, glob­al­ist, ma­te­ri­al­ist form of progress, driven by an in­sa­tiable will-to-power. Its hero is an aso­cial, tech­no­crat en­tre­pre­neur: the baby­faced bil­lion­aire in the Sil­i­con Val­ley man­sion.

But progress pro­duces far more losers than win­ners, more Uber drivers than Über­men­schen. And not only are “de­feat, hu­mil­i­a­tion and re­sent­ment more com­mon­place ex­pe­ri­ences than suc­cess and con­tent­ment,” but in an age of grow­ing in­equal­ity and eco­nomic stag­na­tion, sec­ond place has be­come a fall into an abyss, with no re­al­is­tic hope of bet­ter­ment.

The “dis­in­her­ited and su­per­flu­ous” feel be­trayed by mod­ernism’s empty prom­ises. Progress, for them, is the god that f ailed. They are filled with a bit­ter spirit of envy and re­sent­ment, and find so­lace in moral­ism, trib­al­ism or ni­hilism. “Thus, the trolls of Twit­ter as much as the dupes of ISIS lurch be­tween feel­ings of im­po­tence and fan­tasies of vi­o­lent re­venge.”

Mishra cov­ers a lot of ground in “Age of Anger,” link­ing to­gether the var­i­ous forms dis­con­tent has taken — from Ro­man­ti­cism to ter­ror­ism — and weav­ing them into a truly global view.

Age of Anger: A His­tory of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra, Far­rar, Straus and Giroux, $38.

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