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Age of Anger

A History of the Present

By Pankaj Mishra
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Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra

Age of Anger (2017) examines the world and the upheaval it’s undergoing. These blinks look back to earlier societies and dissect the origins of our current travails. They also pay close attention to the philosophical teachings of the Enlightenment, which still influence Western thought today.

Key idea 1 of 6

Societal upheaval and anger have been present for many centuries.

Whichever way you look at it, Western society is built on the principles of the Enlightenment. If we’re going to understand the problems inherent in the modern world, we’re going to need a short history lesson.

The Enlightenment is a shorthand term that refers to the ideas advocated by a group of European philosophers in the eighteenth century. They proclaimed the value of science, reason and art. They wanted humanity to break free from the shackles of religion above all.

They claimed that any individual who pursued these core values, could be both equal to and as influential as every other member of society.

These teachings form the basic principles of modern European society.

When these ideas first circulated, there was much to be excited about. But disappointment soon set in. It was clear that adopting individualist and secular values wasn’t enough. Merely embracing these ideas didn’t enforce equality across society.

In fact, the increasingly competitive society of the period only succeeded in cementing inequality. If the circulation of these rational Enlightenment principles did anything, it revealed wealth discrepancies and societal unfairness more clearly to more people.

This still holds true today: middle- and working-class people are aware of their plight and remain disillusioned. It’s this suffering that makes them volatile.

People are alienated. Their quests for autonomy, power and a voice have failed.

In this atmosphere of disillusion, many have put their faith in strong leaders. From Napoleon to Trump, the phenomenon of the populist messiah is not a new one.

In short, while the concepts behind the Enlightenment are stirring and powerful, the impracticality of implementing them has caused rage and friction to accumulate against the system and the Enlightenment values that underpin it.

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