My review of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Allen Lane) appears in today’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. It’s behind a paywall, I’m afraid, but here’s an excerpt [UPDATE: the full review can be found here].
Mishra is one of a small number of contemporary thinkers – his closest peer is perhaps the English political philosopher John Gray, author of Straw Dogs (2002) and The Soul of the Marionette (2015) – who reject the idea of historical progress. “There is no deep logic to the unfolding of time,” Mishra observes, demolishing centuries of Western utopian complacency. Mishra’s targets are those Western thinkers – from Voltaire to the editors of The Economist – who believe, baselessly, that history is leading to the triumph of free-market liberal democracy. It is this “malign illusion,” Mishra says, that has brought us to our present state of woe, and that has left us utterly unprepared to cope with the barbarous forces now returning to power across the globe.
After the Berlin Wall toppled in November, 1989, optimistic Western thinkers calmly awaited a worldwide “convergence on the Western model” – in 1992, The Economist felt sure that “there is no serious alternative to free-market capitalism as the way to organise economic life.” But in the West, as Mishra points out, “the Western model” had already led to genocide and tyranny. For Mishra – as for a handful of other clear thinkers – “the history of modernisation is largely one of carnage and bedlam rather than peaceful convergence.”
For anyone seeking to understand our historical moment, Mishra’s book is, I think, indispensible.