From Brexit and anti-immigrant fervor in Europe and the United States to acts of outrageous terrorism by ISIS to mass shootings in Paris and Las Vegas to the rise of authoritarian figures in Hungary, Brazil, India, Turkey, the Philippines and, yes, the United States, this is, as the award-winning Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra theorizes, an age of anger that prevailing political, economic, and social structures appear incapable of ameliorating.
But our era is hardly unique. Blending careful scholarship with a novelist’s gift for narrative, Mishra uses the works of Rousseau, Tocqueville, Herzen, Bakunin, and other thinkers to trace the roots of the present zeitgeist to illustrate that what is happening now has “the same source as the myriad Romantic revolts and rebellions of early nineteenth century Europe: the mismatch between personal expectations, heightened by a traumatic break with the past, and the cruelly unresponsive reality of slow change.” While more people in the world today experience more freedom than ever before, many are unable to realize overhyped ideals of individualism, prosperity, and social mobility. A failure of global society is that there is more longing than can be realized, leading to frustration and resentment, particularly among educated young people. As Mishra shows, the seeds of revolt are more likely to germinate when people are disappointed, disenchanted, and disenfranchised.
Such conditions are also exploited by demagogues who promise to restore security and safety in an insecure, unstable world, usually by harkening back to some glorious past and a mythic collective identity. With Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra further cements his reputation as an astute and insightful analyst of contemporary society.