Review by Choice Review
Mishra (Royal Society of Literature, UK) offers a book on the origins and history of modern political hatreds and on the causes of what he calls the global civil war. His narrative embraces different societies in their quest for modernization, from the 18th century to the present. Methodologically, he uses novelists and poets from different countries more than historians and sociologists as a main source of information and as food for thought. His argument is based on absolute and relative deprivation in the context of modernization. According to this vision, modernization creates social and national groups of winners and losers. From those later groups arise rightist, leftist, and religious radicals. Among those groups disaffected by modernization we should search for answers to current questions, among which are what causes ISIS and what emboldens political populism. The author, who identifies himself as a stepchild of the West, feels sympathetic to both sides of the debate between modernization's advocates and victims. He calls for putting at the center of analysis not only abstract ideas but also subjective experience of irreducible human beings, their fears, desires, and resentments. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. --Simeon Mitropolitski, University of Ottawa
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review
across the world, a spirit of anarchy is in bloom - an aimless desire to smash the liberal order, with only the distant, inchoate hope that a better world will emerge from the wreckage. That spirit apparently motivated many Trump voters, who didn't mind that their tribune spoke in clownish generalities, possessed no relevant experience and exhibited an itchy trigger finger. Many of these voters admitted, with little compunction, that they wanted to implant his brash persona in the seat of power to shock the system, because the system deserved a shock. That sentiment inspired Brexit, which passed over warnings of financial doom, and it has transported populists to the cusp of power across Europe. In Pankaj Mishra's telling, a near identical craving for blind revenge leads confused teenagers to join ISIS. He calls it a "broader and more apocalyptic mood than we have witnessed before." This is an important, erudite and flawed book about the deepest roots of this inflamed moment, which was shipped to the printer before the outcome of the American election. The fact that the book contains only a smattering of references to the new president strangely enhances the credibility of its doomsaying. Mishra didn't scramble for a theory to fit the facts. He has a highly developed understanding of the psychic and emotional forces propelling illiberalism's spread across the globe, a movement united by a sense of disappointment, bewilderment and envy - the spiritual condition that Nietzsche diagnosed as ressentiment. An anger that Mishra both interprets and shares. This book presents itself as a "history of the present." His premise is that broad swaths of the globe are retracing the past, reliving the same traumas and violent dislocations that accompanied Europe's transition to modernity in the 18th and 19 th centuries. A trauma felt most acutely by the "young man of promise" in the countries late arriving to capitalism and Enlightenment, especially Germany and Russia. The prospect of freedom and cultural transformation stirred unachievable expectations, which predictably ended in humiliation and rage. This self-righteous West, Mishra argues, obscures its "own bloody extraordinarily brutal initiation into political and economic modernity," as it arrogantly presses the rest of the world to make that same difficult progression. There's more history than present in Mishra's telling. Just when lessons from the past seem to be building toward a point about ISIS or globalization, he layers on another digression about Dostoyevsky or Ataturk. This tendency can be frustrating - and one begins to suspect it is a crutch, since our current spate of anarchists, populists and terrorists are so much less theoretically minded and articulate than their antique antecedents. It's a strange imbalance, but Mishra writes with enough style, energy and incision that he carries the reader through. The antihero of Mishra's tale - the prophet who best anticipated the crises of our times - is Jean Jacques Rousseau. And a primary source of his greatness is his hatred of Voltaire. Mishra paints Voltaire as the archetypal elite intellectual, and the worst villain of them all. Voltaire celebrated reason as society's highest virtue. That is, he believed that society should reward talent and brains, not inherited titles. He trumpeted trade and consumerism in language that anticipated the 1990s boosters of globalization. His writings and personal example set terms for the liberalism that would ultimately prevail in Europe. All this, in Mishra's view, makes Voltaire a world historic hypocrite. Mishra charges Voltaire with creating a society that benefited thinkers like himself, at everyone else's expense. Voltaire preached tolerance but cozied up to authoritarians, especially Catherine of Russia, and apologized for their violent misdeeds. Thanks to his connections, he lived a cosseted life and made a small fortune from financial speculation and the watches he manufactured. Voltaire is portrayed as the spiritual forefather of Davos, Thomas Friedman and all the other clubbable paragons of neoliberalism. Mishra calls him a "paid-up member of the globally networked elite." Rousseau, the graceless outsider, could see straight through Voltaire's cosmopolitan suavity - and he shredded him. More to the point, he understood the underlying pathologies of the rising capitalist civilization that Voltaire championed. The market society, Rousseau warned, would dangerously unmoor individuals. He saw how humans aspired to surpass one another in wealth and status, which meant they were capable of great cruelty. The modern world weakened religion and the family, the emotional buffers that provided comfort. Without these supports, individuals came to depend on the opinions of others for their sense of self-worth, which inflicted terrible cases of insecurity, envy and self-hatred. This, in Mishra's argument, remains the nub of the world's problems: "An existential resentment of other people's being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness, ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism." There's no doubting Rousseau's prescience. His criticisms of finance and warnings about inequality are proto-Piketty. But he's a troubling hero. Isaiah Berlin called him the "greatest militant lowbrow in history and guttersnipe of genius." Rousseau celebrated militarism and xenophobia. He unabashedly held up Sparta as his ideal. Mary Wollstonecraft, and generations of subsequent feminists, have charged him with contributing to misogyny in its modern form. Mishra knows all this and should be far warier of his own attraction to Rousseau - but that would require him to admit a central lapse in his own argument. Mishra persuasively damns the arrogance of neoliberals, but let's say a few kind words for neoliberalism. On the whole, thanks to the advance of capitalism, we live in a world with less abject poverty, less disease, less oppression and greater material prosperity. Mishra dwells in the realm of ideas and emotions, which get short shrift in most accounts of global politics. So it's bracing and illuminating for him to focus on feelings, what he calls "the wars in the inner world." But he doesn't have much to say about the material reality of economics and politics other than angry bromides about the "Western model" and broad, unsupported statements about stagnation. (A sample of his glibness: He notes that "most people have found the notions of individualism and social mobility to be unrealizable in practice." Why then, we might ask, do so many keep trying for it?) Mishra can't find the redeeming qualities in liberal democracy and he can't posit anything to replace it with - which explains why he must resurrect the repulsive Rousseau, brushing aside his least appealing ideas. Like Rousseau, Mishra sympathizes with traditional society. But it's impossible to defend traditional societies without accounting for their misogyny and xenophobia, which are hardly incidental features. Mishra can't bring himself to make the case, which means he has no hint of prescription for the crisis he dedicates his book to describing. When the galleys of "Age of Anger" arrived, I dived for them. They slipped through the mail slot just after the Trump victory rocked my own faith in progress. Liberalism has no choice but to sincerely wrestle with its discontents, to become reacquainted with its moral blind spots and political weaknesses. Technocracy - which defines so much of the modern liberal spirit - doesn't have a natural grasp of psychology and emotion. But if it hopes to stave off the dark forces, it needs to grow adept at understanding the less tangible roots of anger, the human experience uncaptured by data, the resentments that understandably fester. A decent liberalism would read sharp critics like Mishra and learn.n franklin foer is a correspondent for The Atlantic and former editor of The New Republic. His book "A World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech" will be published in 2018.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [January 1, 2017]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* While contemporaries anticipated global progress, American philosopher George Santayana warned of an impending lava-wave of primitive blindness and violence. In recent history, Mishra sees that lava-wave and seeks to understand it. He finds essential interpretive insight in the eighteenth-century clash of the rationalist Voltaire and the romantic Rousseau. Challenging Voltaire's desire to create a society of individuals governed by enlightened self-interest, not religion or tradition, Rousseau warned that such a society would strip men of their wholeness, their virtue, while locking them in invidious competition. From Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Tocqueville, and others, Mishra gleans evidence that Voltaire's heirs have indeed let loose a dangerous dynamic by fostering widespread hopes that only a privileged elite can satisfy. Frustrated masses uprooted from faith and historic communities have joined lava-wave authoritarian movements, or descended into resentful (often violent) personal victimhood. Hence, the aggressive nationalism that sparked Europe's Great War of 1914-18; hence, the murderous racism that built Auschwitz; hence, the brutal class antipathies that created the Gulag. Sadly, Mishra sees this same lava-wave drama playing out again in the twenty-first century, not only in Asia and Africa but also in a Europe shattered by Brexit and an America rallying behind Donald Trump. A disturbing but imperatively urgent analysis.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2017 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Perkins puts his erudite but approachable speaking style to good use in the audio edition of Mishra's title on the philosophical heritage behind a recent wave of aggressive nationalism around the globe. Perkins resists the temptation to focus on caricature accents in reading the text, which includes extensive quotations from a range of historical figures hailing from diverse places. However, he does utilize tone and pitch to convey the stances and temperaments of these leaders, which makes it easier for listeners to grasp points about the sweeping divide between the elitism of Voltaire and the natural-man ideals of Rousseau and follow passages drawing out common threads in the diatribes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the pronouncements of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Perkins and Mishra complement one another, making this intellectually challenging material easier to comprehend. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
The world has never known so much prosperity for so many people. Yet every day we are inundated with news of discontent on a global scale. We have all witnessed terrorism, both at home and abroad, mass protests on a dizzying array of issues, and the unnerving rise of political elites intent on propagating a narrative of us vs. them. Why? This is Mishra's (From the -Ruins of Empire) attempt at an answer-and it is a compelling one. History has lessons to teach us. Fascinating parallels between the resentment and anarchy experienced in times past and our current time of social trial suggest we need to reconsider what we have been told about those who hate the Western world. The book is read by Derek Perkins, and it is flawlessly executed. VERDICT Donald Trump, Rousseau, -Voltaire, Marx, Bakunin (and others), and the forces that animate their ideas are brilliantly synthesized in this explanation for what lies beneath the rage we see flashing across our television and computer screens. Highly recommended. ["This complicated analysis of a complicated issue will appeal to readers with a background in political, economic, and philosophical history": LJ 2/1/17 review of the Farrar hc.]-Denis Frias, -Mississauga Lib. Syst., Ont. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
How the failures of capitalism have led to "fear, confusion, loneliness and loss"and global anger.In this ambitious, deeply researched analysis, social critic and novelist Mishra (From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, 2012, etc.) makes a persuasive argument that industrialism and capitalism have spawned virulent expressions of anger. He sees current upheavalwhich fuels the Islamic State group and led to Brexit and Donald Trump's political successstemming from the same source "as myriad Romantic revolts and rebellions of early nineteenth-century Europe"i.e., "the mismatch between personal expectations, heightened by a traumatic break with the past, and the cruelly unresponsive reality of slow change." Individual freedom can feel terrifying, leading to a desire for an authoritative leader and, as Tocqueville put it, an "insatiable need for action, violent emotions, vicissitudes, and dangers." Mishra argues against taking an "us-them" view of the world as a contest between Western rationalism and "Islamofascism" but instead blames the current malaise on the West's insistence on the superiority of Enlightenment philosophy and failure to deliver on its promise of progress. As the author writes, a "promised universal civilizationone harmonized by a combination of universal suffrage, broad educational opportunities, steady economic growth, and private initiative and personal advancementhas not materialized." Most people, he believes, live fearfully in a world that they see they cannot control; they feel under siege by grisly horrors perpetrated by enemies, by the present and future effects of climate change, and by "arrogant and deceptive elites" who make them feel humiliated. Mishra bases his sage analysis on the "eclectic ideas" of European social theorists, including Dostoyevsky, Arendt, Heine, Marx, and scores of others. He especially highlights the contrast between Voltaire, "an unequivocal top-down modernizer," and Rousseau, who "tried to outline a social order where morals, virtue and human character rather than commerce and money were central to politics." A probing, well-informed investigation of global unrest calling for "truly transformative thinking" about humanity's future. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.