Can the past explain today's furious young men?

The age of fury. A story of the present
RIGHT EXTREMISM / The novelist and essayist Pankaj Mishra is on his way to Oslo. For this reason comes his global boxing success in the Norwegian pocket edition. Welcome to an inspiring, provocative and at times frustrating book.


10. August a young armed man stormed the Al-Noor Islamic Center mosque in Bærum and fired several shots. In an online forum just before the attack, the man has mentioned several mass shootings in the United States, including El Paso, Texas, the 3. August, where an 21 year-old must have killed 22 people and injured 24 others. In the online forums used by such perpetrators, we find a sizzling women's hatred, a dissatisfaction with the world, and racism. In the book The age of fury. A story of the present Pankaj Mishra tries to explain why.

Age of Anger: A History of the Present became a "talkie" when it was released in 2017, and it sold well. Solum Bokvennen published the book in Norwegian in 2018, in a fine translation by Agnete Øye. The book is now in paperback.

Mishra explores the historical preconditions for the global discontent of our time. But does he really succeed through his 370 pages of long reasoning?

The roots of the West

The book's premise is that today's explanatory model of what's wrong in the world doesn't hold: We are being fed populist ideas about the clash of civilizations and Islamofascism as the biggest problem of our time. In this lies an implicit thought of Western superiority vis-à-vis Asian despotism and underdevelopment. Instead, Mishra believes that we must seek back to the West's own roots: intellectual and political radical voices in the 1800th century and the beginning of the 1900th century glorified war, women's hatred and struggle. Anarchists, nihilists and terrorists prepared the ground for what we are experiencing globally today.

Mishra uses fictional and philosophical works to understand the past and to be able to say something about the present. Here he belongs to a small narrative trend, where subjective approaches take precedence over the historian subject. In his latest book Upheaval. How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change (Allen Lane, 2019) Jared Diamond uses personal anecdotes, acquaintances and own visits as the basis for understanding the story. Also Danish Rune Lykkeberg uses popular culture and literature to understand today's populism in the book West to West (Information Publishers, 2019, discussed here in MODERN TIMES).

The modern promise of equality clashes with widespread inequality in power,
education, status and property

Mishra builds much of his argument around the anti-hero Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He is presented as the one who foresaw the crisis of our time. Rousseau withdrew from society, cultivated his own interests and was full of contempt for consumption and false community involvement. He believed that the new society as it developed would only lead to one form of resentment [resentment and powerless hatred, ed. note] or envy. And that it would go wrong.

Pankaj Mishra

Intellectual hypocrite

Rousseau was known for hating his contemporary, the great philosopher Voltaire. According to Mishra was Voltaire the archetype of an elite intellectual who hailed rationality and wanted to remove inherited titles. Trade and consumption are important, Voltaire argued – and Mishra sees Voltaire as the forerunner of 1990s globalization and today's liberalism.

Voltaire became rich in financial speculation while his wrote negatively about Jews who did not have a "national mindset". In the world of Mishra, Voltaire and his influence will be a historical line we can follow right up to the annual economic summits in Davos, author Thomas Friedman and other neoliberal voices.

Today, large parts of the globe go through the same traumas and violence that Europe – especially young, disillusioned men in Germany and Russia – had to go through on their way to modernity. We have a globalized, technocratic elite that foams the cream. As a result, more people than ever before in history are turning their heads against humiliating hierarchies. This feeling of dissatisfaction poisons civil society and undermines our political freedom. This is leading to a global shift towards authoritarian regimes.

feeling Culture

Mishra conducts what he himself calls an exploration of a particular idea climate, a culture of emotion and a mindset, from Rousseau's time up to the age of our own fury. The modern promise of equality clashes with widespread inequalities in power, education, status and property. That's why we have so many young men out there. And they are becoming more and more. The new social media, with its closed forums, feeds this discontent even more.


Mishra apparently has great sympathy for what he calls traditional societies. Personally, I have objections. In traditional Indian society, for example, where Mishra has one foot firmly planted, it is full of misogyny and xenophobia, not least codified through religious gloves.

The author also uses very charged words when describing the world: "Our deplorable time" and "our cunning elites" can of course be adequate, but I do not have to bring it in with a teaspoon. It just seems frustrating.


The long passages about Spruce, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, Bakunin, Arendt, Kirkegaard, Atatürk and many others are interesting. But one must have a certain perseverance for this expanded concept of culture, and I think the author goes too far when he has to explain today's world with frames of understanding from a completely different reality and time. Mishra also exaggerates, in my opinion, the attraction young men (and some women) have towards IS. It is, after all, a minority. He also does not seem to have anything to say about social democracy and the way many societies organize themselves, as in the Nordic countries. After all, this is very different from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mishra has an exciting situation analysis, but offers no solution to what we are going to do now. His daring leaps of thought are still important, for they force us to reflect. Solum Bokvennen should be praised for making the book available.

And now Mishra is coming to Oslo. He participates in the literature festival Good Night at Langkaia 12. – 14. September. It can be exciting! And it will be interesting to hear his explanations about the internet, El Paso and the tragic event in Bærum. It is crucial to try to understand why we have so many angry young men in our midst.

12.-14. September in Oslo.

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