One of our most important public intellectuals reveals the hidden history of our current global crisis The attempt to Westernize, modernize, or secularize the non-West was long viewed benignly as a process of "development and progress." Today, however, botched experiments in Western-style politics, military intervention, and economic engineering visibly scar much of the non-Western world. The wider embrace of Western innovations—revolutionary politics, mass movements, technology, the pursuit of wealth and individualism—has caused an extensive destruction of old social and moral bonds. The radical disruption, which includes the remaking of life's meaning and goals, has cast billions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity.
Unable to fulfill the promises—stability and prosperity—of the global capitalist economy, and culturally and spiritually disoriented, many men and women are increasingly susceptible to demagogues and other dangerous simplifiers. A common reaction among them is intense hatred of supposed villains, the invention of enemies, attempts to recapture a lost golden age, unfocused fury, and self-empowerment through nihilistic violence. These are all phenomena familiar in Europe and the United States, though obscured for a while by their general post-1945 experience of relative affluence and peace. They have now become inescapable in our interconnected and profoundly unequal world.
Things Falling Apart, Pankaj Mishra's remarkable new book, allows us at last to come to grips with how we can understand societies that are violently adrift.