On Contact: Age of Anger with Pankaj Mishra

November 2017 interview

We are looking at the expression of this re-sentiment/resentment that can assume many different forms, but we have to look at the underlying sources of that, which are enormous processes of disposition, dislocation, and psychological and spiritual disorientation.  People now desperate for meaning, bonding together in these forms of negative solidarity, invoking a sense of community by excluding and demonizing someone else whom they are living with.

People are desperately fed up with the current moment and more vulnerable than ever to fantasy.

Nationalism obscures the true origins of suffering even as it seeks to replicate the comforting balm of transcendental ideas within a bleak, earthly horizon.

Socialism as an idea that includes feeling for the weak, feeling of solidarity and compassion for the weak, having abandoned and delegitimized that idea, we find ourselves spiritually and politically helpless. 

In a large parts of the world socialism acted as a corrective to the more savage, ruthless capitalism.  We let capitalism assume this ruthlessness.  We celebrated it.

In a large part of the world socialism acted as a check on these evil tendencies.  Whatever political solutions emerge in the future, we have to recover this intellectual and political resource, the ideal of socialism.

(Chris Hedges: Yet these global capitalist elites that have amassed that have amassed tremendous tools of industrial violence.  The political system in the US has virtually seized up, don’t function.

This is partly a consequence of exempting greed, competitiveness, vanity, turning them into desirable, achievable, ideas.

We’ve lived through ideological intoxication in this culture of brutality around us (Burmese leader denying genocide, immigrants being demonized here).  There is no escape from it except through a recovery of ideals we trampled into the dust three decades ago.

— Pankaj Mishra, author of The Age of Anger: A History of the Present

GoodReads quotes from his book:
“They encourage the suspicion – potentially lethal among the hundreds of millions of people condemned to superfluousness – that the present order, democratic or authoritarian, is built upon force and fraud; they incite a broader and more apocalyptic mood than we have witnessed before. They also underscore the need for some truly transformative thinking, about both the self and the world.” 
― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“How could, it was felt, people be so opposed to modernity, and all the many goods it had to offer to people around the world: equality, liberty, prosperity, toleration, pluralism and representative government.”
― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
For Rousseau, ‘the word finance is a slave’s word’ and freedom turns into a commodity, degrading buyer and seller alike, wherever commerce reigns. ‘Financial systems make venal souls.’ Their secret workings are a ‘means of making pilferers and traitors, and of putting freedom and the public good upon the auction block’.”  ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
“In other words, in 1919 relatively few people could become disenchanted with liberal modernity because only a tiny minority had enjoyed the opportunity to become enchanted with it in the first place. Since then, however, billions more people have been exposed to the promises of individual freedom in a global neo-liberal economy that imposes constant improvisation and adjustment – and just as rapid obsolescence.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Postcolonial nation-building was an extraordinary project: hundreds of millions of people persuaded to renounce – and often scorn – a world of the past that had endured for thousands of years, and to undertake a gamble of creating modern citizens who would be secular, enlightened, cultured and heroic.”  ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“It has also become clearer how the schemes of human expansion and fulfilment offered by the left, right, or ‘centrist’ liberals and technocrats rarely considered such constraining factors as finite geographical space, degradable natural resources and fragile ecosystems.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
the modern religions of secular salvation have undermined their own main assumption: that the future would be materially superior to the present. Nothing less than this sense of expectation, central to modern political and economic thinking, has gone missing today, especially among those who have themselves never had it so good. History suddenly seems dizzyingly open-ended, just as Henry James experienced it when war broke out in 1914 and he confronted the possibility that the much-vaunted progress of the nineteenth century was a malign illusion – ‘the tide that bore us along was all the while moving to this as its grand Niagara’.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“This is also why Anglo-American achievements cannot be seen in isolation from their ambiguous consequences and victims elsewhere; why many Anglo-American assumptions, derived from a unique and unrepeatable historical experience, are an unreliable guide to today’s chaos, especially as it infects Anglo-America.”  ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
The German Romantics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries rejected the Atlantic West’s new materialist, individualistic and imperialistic civilization in the name of local religious and cultural truth and spiritual virtue.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
Unwittingly, then, the philosophers of the Enlightenment instigated the end of ancien régimes everywhere – in thought if not in fact. They also inadvertently initiated challenges to their own status and expertise – and that of every subsequent liberal elite. Writing decades after the French Revolution, Hegel described its world-historical transmutation of the Enlightenment’s abstract rationalism into revolutionary politics: ‘Ever since the sun has stood in the heavens, and the planets revolved around it, never have we known man to walk on his head, that is, to base himself on the Idea and to build the world in accordance with it.”  
― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
Voltaire was soon turned, with Catherine’s encouragement, into a patron saint for the secular Russian aristocracy. Voltairianism, vaguely signifying rationalism, scepticism and reformism, became her official ideology. Almost all of Voltaire was translated into Russian; no library was deemed complete if it did not contain a collection of Voltaire’s works in the original French.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
 “Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swathe of territory: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suicide bombings in Belgium, Xinjiang, Nigeria and Turkey, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, massacres in Paris, Tunisia, Florida, Dhaka and Nice. Conventional wars between states are dwarfed by those between terrorists and counter-terrorists, insurgents and counter-insurgents; and there are also economic, financial and cyber wars, wars over and through information, wars for the control of the drug trade and migration, and wars among urban militias and mafia groups. Future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third – and the longest and strangest – of all world wars: one that approximates, in its ubiquity, a global civil war. Unquestionably,”
“In his What is to be Done? (1863), probably the worst Russian novel of the nineteenth century (and also the most influential), the Crystal Palace embodies a utopian future, built on rational principles, of joyful work, communal existence, gender equality and free love. (Lenin was stirred enough by this vision to write a political blueprint with the same title.) But it was also latecomers to political and economic modernity – the Germans and then Russians – who sensed acutely both its irresistible temptation and its dangers.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Over the last two decades, elites in even many formerly socialist countries came to uphold an ideal of cosmopolitan liberalism: the universal commercial society of self-interested rational individuals that was originally advocated in the eighteenth century by such Enlightenment thinkers as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Voltaire and Kant. Indeed, we live today in a vast, homogeneous world market, in which human beings are programmed to maximize their self-interest and aspire to the same things, regardless of their difference of cultural background and individual temperament.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
 “It was actually in the Atlantic West that we first witnessed the paradox of religious fundamentalism: that it reflects the weakening of religious conviction.”  ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Quoting the Slavophile Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn (‘To destroy a people, you must sever their roots’), Awlaki claimed that Muslims ‘are suffering from a serious identity crisis’, sharing more in common with a ‘rock star or a soccer player’ than ‘with the companions of Rasool Allah [Mohammed]’.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“And gun-owning truck drivers in Louisiana have more in common with trishul-wielding Hindus in India, bearded Islamists in Pakistan, and nationalists and populists elsewhere, than any of them realize.”  ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Globalization – characterized by roving capital, accelerated communications and quick mobilization – has everywhere weakened older forms of authority, in Europe’s social democracies as well as Arab despotisms, and thrown up an array of unpredictable new international actors, from English and Chinese nationalists, Somali pirates, human traffickers and anonymous cyber-hackers to Boko Haram.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Briskly aestheticizing politics, this predecessor of today’s live-streaming militants outlined a likely endgame for a world in which, as Walter Benjamin wrote, the self-alienation of humankind ‘has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order’.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
Voltaire also keenly endorsed Catherine of Russia’s plan to ‘preach tolerance with bayonets at the end of their rifles’ in Poland. Exhorting Catherine to learn Greek as she prepared to attack the Ottoman Empire, he added that ‘it is absolutely necessary to chase from Europe the Turkish language, as well as all those who speak it’.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
“The revolutionary tradition with its concepts of democracy, the pursuit of liberty, and equality moved quickly from the economically developed and politically complex ancien régimes of the Atlantic West to the simpler ancien régimes of Prussia, Austria and Russia, before taking root in Asia and Africa. The late eighteenth-century plea for constitutional monarchy from a small minority of property-owning bourgeois escalated into mass movements for republican democracy and universal suffrage, and, eventually, into demands for the abolition of private property and full collectivization.”
― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
“Since Voltaire and many other philosophes had become ardent champions of the partitioning overlords, Catherine and Frederick, Rousseau chose to become an advisor to their enemies, the Polish nationalists, known as the Confederate Poles.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Imperialism has not allowed us to achieve historical normality,’ Octavio Paz lamented in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). Paz was surveying the confused inheritance of Mexico from colonial rule, and the failure of its many political and socio-economic programmes, derived from Enlightenment principles of secularism and reason. Paz himself was convinced that Mexico had to forge a modern politics and economy for itself.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present
What’s crucial about Rousseau, and many of his ideological successors, is that politics was always personal for him, unlike those whom Tocqueville faulted for indulging abstract theories.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
But, writing in the late 1940s, he found himself commending the ‘traditionalism’ of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. It was Zapata, he wrote, who had freed ‘Mexican reality from the constricting schemes of liberalism, and the abuses of the conservatives and neo-conservatives’. Such ‘traditionalists’, ranging from Gandhi to Rabindranath Tagore to Liang Qichao, had also emerged in many other non-Western societies in the first half of the twentieth century.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
The recent explosions, from India to the United States, of ressentiment against writers and journalists as well as politicians, technocrats, businessmen and bankers reveal how Rousseau’s history of the human heart is still playing itself out among the disaffected. Those who perceive themselves as left or pushed behind by a selfish conspiratorial minority can be susceptible to political seducers from any point on the ideological spectrum, for they are not driven by material inequality alone. The Jacobins and the German Romantics may have been Rousseau’s most famous disciples, determined to create through retributive terror or economic and cultural nationalism the moral community neglected by Enlightenment philosophes.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
There was actually little talk about Islam from the first generation of leaders in Muslim countries. They had distinguished themselves as anti-imperialist activists: Atatürk, for instance, derived his charisma and authority as a nation-builder from his comprehensive defeat of Allied forces in Turkey. He went on to abolish the Ottoman office of the Caliphate soon after assuming power, pitilessly killing the political hopes of pan-Islamists around the world. He forbade expressions of popular Islam and arrested Sufi dervishes (executing some of them); he replaced Shariah law with Swiss civil law and Italian criminal law. This partisan of Comtean Positivism expressed publicly what many Muslim leaders, confronted with conservative opposition, may have thought privately: that ‘Islam, the absurd theology of an immoral bedouin, is a rotting cadaver that poisons our lives. It is nothing other than a degrading and dead cause.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
“Bernard Lewis was most likely unaware of the Turkish leader’s fan base among Nazis and Fascists when he hailed Atatürk for taking, with his attempted obliteration of Islam, ‘the first decisive steps in the acceptance of Western civilization’. Nevertheless, Lewis as well as Atatürk was working with an ideal of civilization originally posited by salon intellectuals in the eighteenth century, and reworked by various modernizers of the twentieth century.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present 
The United States, the Spanish-American writer George Santayana wrote, ‘has always thought itself in an eminent sense the land of freedom, even when it was covered with slaves’. Santayana had watched from his perch at Harvard University as commerce, industrialization and imperialism turned post-Civil War America into a powerful country, and the drearily respectable Yankee found himself replaced by the ‘pushing, cosmopolitan orphan’ with dreams of universal Americanization.” ― Pankaj MishraAge of Anger: A History of the Present