How can we explain the origins of the great wave of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world? In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra answers our bewilderment by casting his gaze back to the eighteenth century before leading us to the present.
Mishra's ambitious tracing of the philosophical roots of global political outrage situates the current moment within the long history of ressentiment, the moralizing and self-righteous revenge of those without power ... If Mishra's philosophical net seems awfully wide, his long view of modernity and its discontents is also provocative, providing a broadly conceived idea of how the conditions of political outrage and its often aestheticized expression have developed over the past three hundred years ... Age of Anger is especially scornful of clash-of-civilizations theorists and West-versus-the-rest apologists, who see the political anger of the Middle East as confined to one part of the world ... The scope of Age of Anger is ambitious, and rather than an exacting account of intellectual history, it offers a kind of vast cultural portrait. The result is what is at once most fascinating and exasperating about Mishra's project: In fusing biography and historical survey his story vacillates between sweeping perspective and intimate detail, and the push and pull of long history and close-up viewpoint sometimes give the book a herky-jerky pace. Nevertheless, it's a brilliant work.
To grasp the fear and desire behind violent reaction, Mishra contends, we need not just Karl Marx and Thomas Piketty, but also analysts of the psyche and spirit ... A self-proclaimed history of the present, Age of Anger also feels like a blast from the past. In its literacy and literariness, it has the feel of Edmund Wilson’s extraordinary dramas of modern ideas but with a different endpoint and a more global canvas. Mishra reads like a brilliant autodidact, putting to shame the many students who dutifully did the reading for their classes but missed the incandescent fire and penetrating insight in canonical texts ... he holds out no defined alternative. It is unclear whether Mishra feels the chief flaw lies in modernity’s failures—its false promise to liberate everyone—or in its successes, and the devastation that has accompanied them ... If intellectual history matters in this parlous situation, then getting Rousseau right does, too. Interpreting him, as Mishra does, as nostalgic for ancient liberty or protective of interior freedom in the face of the modern catastrophe, will ultimately not work.
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 ... 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 ... 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.