In This Review

Age of Anger: A History of the Present
Age of Anger: A History of the Present
By Pankaj Mishra
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017, 416 pp

What explains today’s global disorder, when liberalism is under assault by violent extremism, populist nationalism, xenophobia, religious tribalism, and antiglobalization? In this ambitious portrait of the current moment, Mishra sees all these problems as rooted in liberalism itself. Beginning in the 1990s, a liberal democratic revolution enveloped the world, spreading an ideology of free markets, individualism, secularism, and consumerism. Paradoxically, Mishra argues, that revolution both succeeded and failed: it overturned old social hierarchies and cultures of solidarity but left moral and spiritual vacuums in its wake. Liberal modernity has stripped people all over the world of their sense of community, identity, and meaning. Mishra also usefully reminds readers that Western narratives of modernity tend to minimize the resentment, rage, and mass violence that accompanied the spread of democracy and capitalism. Still, modern Western societies are hardly the only historical sources of alienation, despair, war, and genocide, and such horrors long predate the rise of liberalism. In the end, Mishra is better at capturing today’s Zeitgeist than at pinning down the precise relationship between any earlier “age of anger” and the current one.