Pankaj Mishra chronicles present through past

pankaj-mishra-chronicles-present-through-pastNEW DELHI: Eminent Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, in his new book, traces the origins of present-day global maladies like the rise of far right-wing parties, ISIS’ nihilistic violence and growing mass disenchantment by casting his gaze back to the late eighteenth century.

Titled “Age of Anger – A History of the Present”, the book justifies the 47-year-old writer’s “the heir to Edward Said” tag as he offers enriching explanations of the pressing issues facing the world through past and argues incisively that there is not much new in the “divided modern world” except the history that is either forgotten or is intentionally ignored.

Debunking the vapid ‘free versus unfree’, ‘the west versus Islam’ binaries of the clash-of-civilization theorists and other experts who resort to them while explaining global upheavals, Mishra cogently argues that the roots of today’s “universal crisis” lie not in religious extremism but in the West’s “extraordinarily brutal” experiment with modernity and its blind replication elsewhere.

“The unprecedented political, economic and social disorder that accompanied the rise of the industrial capitalist economy in nineteenth century Europe, and led to world wars, totalitarian regimes and genocide in the first half of the twentieth century, is now infecting much vaster regions and bigger populations,” he writes.

He says that large parts of Asia and Africa were now plunging deeper into the West’s “fateful experience of modernity”, that the regions were first exposed to through European imperialism.

Invoking Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Tocqueville among others, Mishra shows how the history of modernization is largely “one of carnage and bedlam” rather than peaceful convergence.

He asserts in the 406-page book published by Juggernaut Books that politics of “violence, hysteria and despair” was by no means unique to Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Communist Russia.

Noting that the world has witnessed some “historically recurring phenomena”, Mishra says that early nineteenth century’s great economic and political revolutions which promised freedom, liberty and widespread equality through growth, industrialization and nation-building cast billions adrift, leaving them “uprooted” from tradition but still far from modernity.

He informs that it was from among the ranks of these uprooted that the militants of the 19th century arose – angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists in France and Spain.

Drawing a connection between the two distant eras, Mishra goes on to add that it is only by examining their fears, resentments and hatred that our own “age of anger” can be truly understood.

“Much in our experience resonated with that of people in the nineteenth century. German and then Italian nationalists called for a ‘holy war’ more than a century before the word ‘jihad’ entered common parlance,” he writes.

Mishra declares that in the age of globalization which dawned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, political life became steadily clamorous with unlimited demands for individual freedoms and satisfactions.

“Globalization has everywhere weakened older forms of authority, in Europe’s social democracies as well as Arab despotisms, and thrown up an array of new international actors, from English and Chinese nationalists, Somali pirates, human traffickers and anonymous cyber hackers to Boko Haram,” he notes.

“A revolt against globalization and its beneficiaries has resulted in Britain’s departure from the European Union, sentencing the latter to deeper disarray, perhaps even death,” he writes.

Mishra states that while “maligned minds” of ISIS have used today’s globalised world to their advantage and turned the internet into an effective propaganda tool for global jihad, demagogues of all shades have also thrived in this interdependent world.

“Demagogues of all kinds, from Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to India’s Narendra Modi, France’s Marine Le Pen and America’s Donald Trump, have tapped into the simmering reservoirs of cynicism, boredom and discontent,” he reaffirms.

He states that authoritarian leaders, anti-democratic backlashes and right-wing extremism define the politics of Austria, France and the US as well as India, Israel, Thailand, the Philippines and Turkey.

About Bush administration’s much-hyped universal ‘war on terror’, Mishra claims that the policy has failed to yield any results and lies in tatters.

“Malignant zealots have emerged in the very heart of the democratic West after a decade of political and economic tumult; the simple explanatory paradigm set in stone soon after the attacks of 9/11 – Islam-inspired terrorism versus modernity – lies in ruins,” Mishra adds.

Brilliantly argued, outstanding in its intellectual range, and with a canvas that stretches from Savarkar in India to Rousseau in France, “Age of Anger” is a book of immense urgency.–PTI

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