The Age of Anger: A History of the Present
Pankaj Mishra, 2017
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Mishra accounts for the resurgence of reactionary and right-wing political movements in the late 2010s. He argues that nationalist, isolationist, and chauvinist movements have emerged in response to the globalization and normalization of Western ideals such as individualism, capitalism, and secularism.
Prologue: Forgotten Conjunctures explains that hate mongering against minorities, immigrants and “other” is not new. It happened in Nazi Germany and it is happening under Trump in the USA today.
The Chapter Clearing A Space: History’s Winners and Their Illusions discusses the ethnic cleansing that happened in the Balkans and in Rwanda, as well as the wars in Chechnya, Afghanistan and South American in the 90s is part of the Age of Anger.
The Chapter The Good Barbarian states that historically, “Liberty meant freedom for social mobility for the man of talent.” He argues that not everyone had this liberty, not even in the so-called democratic countries. If you didn’t have money, connections or opportunities you still remained in the same impoverished Socio-Economic class. That lack of mobility is the source of much frustration and anger.
Pankaj Mishra explores the French Revolution and the Philosophy of Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky also exhibited this sense of being downright depressed and angry by society. Mishra concludes that, “Regardless of their national origins and locally attuned rhetoric, these disenfranchised men target those they regard as venal, callous and mendacious elites.” Rousseau to Dostoyevsky express what Trump has in the USA and Brexit has in England.
The tragic fact is that the Modern West can no longer be distinguished from its apparent enemies. We’ve become no better than the very people we demonize and rail against.
The Chapter Loving One’s Self through Others further explores the idea of being a classic outsider that has been uprooted. Mishra talks about the widening gulf between the personalities and philosophies of Voltaire and Rousseau. In Rousseau’s conception, patriotism required segregation of the sexes and military exercises. Rousseau idealized and idolized the Greek City-State of Sparta. His sexism has been an continuing influence unfortunately.
German Cultural Romanticism led to treacherous Political Romanticizing. The ideas of Volk, Kulture and the Fatherland were part of the problem. For Hitler and the Nazi’s their Self-Hatred expanded into hatred of the “other.” They projected their self-loathing onto the so-called undesirables—the Jews, the Homosexuals and the Gypsies. They hated Modernism while loving their own Modern people. These are the Identity Politics of the Elite.
Wounded people define themselves in terms of Ethnic, Religious and Cultural Groups that exclude those who wound them. The Japanese did this during WWII. The Italians did this as well. Mussolini was part of the War of the Bourgeois Mediocrity. Nietzsche’s Superman was interpreted as the Elite. They believed these Men Who Were Above would rise about the Common people. Herbert Spencer believes that society would come into being once the Industrial Society weeded out those deemed unfit and weak.
Savarkar of India had a pathological hatred of foreigners. He placed the Hindus against the Muslims. Putin also hates foreigners. Russia was once against religion. Now Putin uses religion—Christianity—as a weapon against Western Liberalism. Trump has used his threats against the Mexicans and Muslims to bolster a sense of being part of an elite group in the USA. Mishra believes this one of the biggest things that won him the election.
The Chapter Who Are We? The Challenge to American National Identity is a 2004 book by Samuel Huntington that attacks the Hispanic Immigration. He believes that the Hispanics are a threat to the USA’s cultural identity. Trump got his anti-immigration views from this book most likely.
Timothy McVeigh was not a lone psychotic killer like they would have us believe. Extreme hatred of white males against the government has grown considerably the past 30 years. McVeigh had a “cold sharp-edge sword, which froze the wound inflicted.” From the 1970s to the 1990s there has been a steady decline of the Middle Class in the USA. Democracy seems to be following Communism down the road to Perdition,” McVeigh stated.
Mishra doesn’t think that McVeigh was wrong in what saw wrong in the world and the USA. But he disagrees with his violent solution to the problems we now face. Mishra believes that we have to try more peaceful revolutions before resorting to violence.
The world is more Nihilistic than ever. During World WII people thought there was a spiritual rot and a feeling that society is pointless. This feeling of alienation has only grown in the past 80 years. Mishra talks about the Russian Anarchist Bakunin and his philosophies. He explains that the 1880s and 1890s were the beginning of the revolts against the dehumanization imposed by the industrial society. Anarchism was an outgrowth of this oppression.
McVeigh, and many others, were brought up on the American notion that individual freedom was bereft of religious belief. When these angry outsiders become disillusioned, they feel an acute humiliation. They feel bitter, betrayed and angry. McVeigh was the symptom of a much larger cultural problem of anger or rage.
The frustration tends to be with men aged 15-30 who are educated and have lived in urban places. They have suffered many shocks and displacements. They are, ultimately, unable to fulfill the promise of self-empowerment, individualism and outstanding entrepreneurship. Most of those who are self-employed don’t end up like Steve Jobs. They are not drop-out billionaires. No, most are Uber Drivers and the like.
The feeling of Resentment has been echoed in everyone from Rousseau to Camus. Marshall McLuhan declared in 1969 that the Age of Education had come to an end with the widespread influence of radio and television. Resentment is a natural consequence of the pursuit of wealth, power and status mandated by Global Capitalism.
The present democratic or authoritarian democracy is built on the force of fraud. They incite a broader and more apocalyptic mood than we have ever witnessed before. They also underscore the need for some truly transformative thinking about the self and the world.
Although critiques of the book stated that Mishra lacked evidence and relied more on “novelists and poets than historians and sociologists, I believe the book is well worth a read. It is thought provoking at the very least, and that is a good thing.