In This Review

Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire
Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire
By Pankaj Mishra
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020, 224 pp.

In this collection of essays, Mishra unfurls his signature narrative of the delusions and failings of Western capitalism and liberalism. The overarching storyline is simple. During the long struggle against communism, Anglo-American elites presented Western liberal democracy as the vanguard of human progress. In the post–Cold War decades that followed, the United States picked up where the British left off to build a “universal liberal empire,” premised on unipolar power, military interventionism, and free-market economics. Across this Anglo-American era, Mishra argues, African, Asian, and Latin American voices were shunted aside in favor of the authority of liberal, Western technocrats and intellectuals. Much of the book is devoted to portraits of Western public intellectuals whom Mishra paints as “cheerleaders” for globalization and neoliberalism. For example, Mishra takes aim at the historian Niall Ferguson for whitewashing the oppression and violence of Western racism and imperialism. For Mishra, the crisis of Western liberalism rests on its inflated pretensions as a model for social advancement, claiming too much and delivering too little. But Mishra does not provide an alternative theory of political change that would take the world to a better place. The naive grandiosity and moral smugness that Mishra sees in the Western liberal democratic experience tends to be mirrored in his own sweeping narrative.