Mass shootings and suicide bombs; Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Rodrigo Duterte; the rise of nationalism, racism, sexism and homophobia; the rise of a new anti-Semitism in parts of Europe; climate change; the refugee crisis; ISIS. Pankaj Mishra identifies the unifying root cause of all of these things that we deem unintelligible and random, to reveal the unsettling ways history is repeating itself, and who and what is to blame.
Modernity, secularism, development, and progress have long been viewed by the powerful few as benign ideals for the many. Today, however, botched experiments in nation-building, democracy, industrialization and urbanization visibly scar much of the world. As once happened in Europe, the wider embrace of revolutionary politics, mass movements, technology, the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast billions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity. As Mishra shows, it was from among the ranks of the disaffected and the spiritually disorientated, 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 internationally.
Age of Anger is the tale of history’s ‘winners’ and their illusions, looking at how people have viewed history post-1945 as a narrative of progress, only to find themselves unable to fulfil the promises - freedom, stability and prosperity - of a globalized economy, and so become increasingly susceptible to demagogues and their simplifications. Mishra reveals how all over the world, the common reaction has been intense hatred of supposed villains, the invention of enemies, attempts to recapture a lost golden age, unfocused fury and self-empowerment through spectacular violence.
Through exploring the great waves of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world, casting his eye back to the eighteenth century, before leading us to the present, Age of Anger is a history of our present predicament quite unlike any other. Mishra allows us to see that the rages tearing up so many parts of the world have their roots firmly in the West – and that without understanding the West's own dysfunction we cannot make sense of our age of anger.
Pankaj Mishra is the author of An End to Suffering, Temptations of the West and From the Ruins of Empire. He writes principally for the Guardian, The New York Times, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books.
Nesrine Malik (@NesrineMalik) is a contributing columnist at The Guardian and opinion writer.
Suggested Twitter hashtag for this event: #LSELitFest
This event forms part of the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival 2017, taking place from Monday 20 - Saturday 25 February 2017, with the theme "Revolutions".
A podcast of this event is available to download from Age of Anger : A history of the present
Podcasts and videos of many LSE events can be found at the LSE Public Lectures and Events: podcasts and videos channel.