How the failures of capitalism have led to “fear, confusion, loneliness and loss”—and global anger.
In this ambitious, deeply researched analysis, social critic and novelist Mishra (From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, 2012, etc.) makes a persuasive argument that industrialism and capitalism have spawned virulent expressions of anger. He sees current upheaval—which fuels the Islamic State group and led to Brexit and Donald Trump’s political success—stemming from the same source “as myriad Romantic revolts and rebellions of early nineteenth-century Europe”—i.e., “the mismatch between personal expectations, heightened by a traumatic break with the past, and the cruelly unresponsive reality of slow change.” Individual freedom can feel terrifying, leading to a desire for an authoritative leader and, as Tocqueville put it, an “insatiable need for action, violent emotions, vicissitudes, and dangers.” Mishra argues against taking an “us-them” view of the world as a contest between Western rationalism and “Islamofascism” but instead blames the current malaise on the West’s insistence on the superiority of Enlightenment philosophy and failure to deliver on its promise of progress. As the author writes, a “promised universal civilization—one harmonized by a combination of universal suffrage, broad educational opportunities, steady economic growth, and private initiative and personal advancement—has not materialized.” Most people, he believes, live fearfully in a world that they see they cannot control; they feel under siege by grisly horrors perpetrated by enemies, by the present and future effects of climate change, and by “arrogant and deceptive elites” who make them feel humiliated. Mishra bases his sage analysis on the “eclectic ideas” of European social theorists, including Dostoyevsky, Arendt, Heine, Marx, and scores of others. He especially highlights the contrast between Voltaire, “an unequivocal top-down modernizer,” and Rousseau, who “tried to outline a social order where morals, virtue and human character rather than commerce and money were central to politics.”
A probing, well-informed investigation of global unrest calling for “truly transformative thinking” about humanity’s future.