All the Rage
Pankaj Mishra’s global history of political anger
Age of Anger:
A History of the Present
by Pankaj Mishra
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$27 List Price
It didn't take long following the first utterance of those dreadful four words almost no one expected to hear—president-elect Donald Trump—for political shock to give way to an onslaught of analyses of how an event so recently unimaginable had been hiding in plain sight. Like the banking crisis in 2008 and the terrorist attacks of 2001, the surprise was amplified by the sense that all our certainties—political, economic, cultural—seemed to melt before our eyes. While some commentators focused on the short term and the days, weeks, and months leading up to the election, most played the long game, mining the mix of uncomfortable truths and complacent thinking that had festered over the course of decades and looking to the past to understand the present. The glance backward fueled a handful of Amazon sales runs, from Richard Rorty's book-length essay predicting a right-wing ascendancy (Achieving Our Country, 1998) to Sinclair Lewis's dystopian novel of American-style fascism (It Can't Happen Here, 1935).
Pankaj Mishra's valiant attempt to come to terms with our moment may extend the classics boom even further back, at least to the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Dedicating his new book to a reanalysis of Enlightenment thought, Mishra identifies a deep and global anger that continues to inflect aggrieved agents on a number of continents. He pointedly argues that you can't understand the populist fury and racial rage of the new Right without a proper sense of the history of modernity's losers. Cutting across space as well as time, he also notes that the scary turn in European
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