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How can we explain the origins of the great wave of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world - from American 'shooters' and ISIS to Trump, from a rise in vengeful nationalism across the world to racism and misogyny on social media? In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra answers our bewilderment by casting his gaze back to the eighteenth century, before leading us to the present.
He shows that as the world became modern those who were unable to fulfil its promises - freedom, stability and prosperity - were increasingly susceptible to demagogues. The many who came late to this new world or were left, or pushed, behind, reacted in horrifyingly similar ways: intense hatred of invented enemies, attempts to re-create an imaginary golden age, and self-empowerment through spectacular violence. It was from among the ranks of the disaffected that the militants of the 19th century arose - angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally.
Today, just as then, the wider embrace of mass politics, technology, and the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast many more billions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity - with the same terrible results
Making startling connections and comparisons, Age of Anger is a book of immense urgency and profound argument. It is a history of our present predicament unlike any other.
In an impressively probing and timely work, Mishra, a novelist and cultural critic (A Great Clamour), illuminates intellectual patterns from the past 200 years that help explain our volatile present. In an age where tribal nationalism is on the rise and aggressive right-wing leaders are in power in Turkey, India, and the U.S., Mishra examines the modern world from the perspective of those left behind or rendered superfluous. He pays particular attention to the Enlightenment in 18th-century France and the clash between Voltaire s meritocracy and Rousseau s warning against a commercial society based on mimetic desire, as a game rigged by and in favor of elites. Mishra shows how Rousseau s ideas presaged German Romanticism, subsequent revolutions throughout the world (both failed and successful), and today s Hindu and Chinese nationalists. Mishra also discusses the relative latecomers to modernity in Europe (Germany, Russia, Italy) who sensed capitalism s downside; the Asian leaders who saw themselves as modernizers in a hurry ; and the reaction against modernity in the writings of Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Iranian novelist Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, and many others. This exploration of global unrest is dense, but it s so well-written and informative that it manages to be highly engaging.