A look at our angry world
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.