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A wide-ranging, controversial collection of critical essays on the political mania plaguing the West by one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. Decades of violence and chaos have produced a political and intellectual hysteria ranging from imperial atavism to paranoia about an Islamic threat to Western civilization that has affected even the most liberal A wide-ranging, controversial collection of critical essays on the political mania plaguing the West by one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. Decades of violence and chaos have produced a political and intellectual hysteria ranging from imperial atavism to paranoia about an Islamic threat to Western civilization that has affected even the most liberal of American and British writers. In Bland Fanatics, Pankaj Mishra examines this hysteria and its fantasists, taking on its arguments and the atmosphere in which it has festered and become influential. In essays that grapple with colonialism, human rights, and the doubling down of liberalism against a background of faltering economies and weakening Anglo-American hegemony, Mishra confronts writers from Jordan Peterson to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Featuring a newly written introduction, these essays provide a vantage point from which to look seriously at the current crisis.


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A wide-ranging, controversial collection of critical essays on the political mania plaguing the West by one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. Decades of violence and chaos have produced a political and intellectual hysteria ranging from imperial atavism to paranoia about an Islamic threat to Western civilization that has affected even the most liberal A wide-ranging, controversial collection of critical essays on the political mania plaguing the West by one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. Decades of violence and chaos have produced a political and intellectual hysteria ranging from imperial atavism to paranoia about an Islamic threat to Western civilization that has affected even the most liberal of American and British writers. In Bland Fanatics, Pankaj Mishra examines this hysteria and its fantasists, taking on its arguments and the atmosphere in which it has festered and become influential. In essays that grapple with colonialism, human rights, and the doubling down of liberalism against a background of faltering economies and weakening Anglo-American hegemony, Mishra confronts writers from Jordan Peterson to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Featuring a newly written introduction, these essays provide a vantage point from which to look seriously at the current crisis.

30 review for Bland Fanatics: Liberals, the West, and the Afterlives of Empire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    If I had to pick a contemporary writer whose work has been most intellectually helpful to me Pankaj Mishra would be at the top of the list. This book is a collection of his essays over the past decade on the subject of global liberalism, criticism of which happens to be the subtext of much of his writing in general. Some of the essays were familiar to me, while some I had previous missed. Once you spend a lot of time reading a particular author you begin to be able to anticipate their arguments If I had to pick a contemporary writer whose work has been most intellectually helpful to me Pankaj Mishra would be at the top of the list. This book is a collection of his essays over the past decade on the subject of global liberalism, criticism of which happens to be the subtext of much of his writing in general. Some of the essays were familiar to me, while some I had previous missed. Once you spend a lot of time reading a particular author you begin to be able to anticipate their arguments and I got a sense of that here. Mishra is a brilliant writer and also an entertaining polemicist about topics that raise his ire. He has an intense antipathy to Western liberal elites, whom his career success has brought him into closer proximity with. I don't have much access to such people so am reduced to having to take his word about how horrible they are. They seem like a rather unworthy elite. Beyond that, this book evinces, like all of Mishra's work, evidence of a superhuman amount of reading and erudition. He ranges from Alexander Herzen to Muhammad Abdun to Sun Yat-Sen and back to lesser-known authors of our own moment. It was my great privilege to interview him for a podcast episode recently and I continue to consider him one of the most important writers of our generation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sleepless Dreamer

    I have an eARC for this and I am so excited! After this year of studying politics, I get the feeling that this will be an incredible read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Suman

    I really wanted to begin this review with the name of a fictional acid that can eat through anything. Through the jar, through the ground beneath, straight through the earth’s core and out. Technical questions about how one could store such an acid aside, the point is that there exists in our comprehension, things that can go through anything, things that respect nothing. A few times while reading the latest book of essays by Pankaj Mishra, I had that feeling, that nothing was sacred and nothing I really wanted to begin this review with the name of a fictional acid that can eat through anything. Through the jar, through the ground beneath, straight through the earth’s core and out. Technical questions about how one could store such an acid aside, the point is that there exists in our comprehension, things that can go through anything, things that respect nothing. A few times while reading the latest book of essays by Pankaj Mishra, I had that feeling, that nothing was sacred and nothing beyond reproach. This is, as those of you who have heard and read Pankaj Mishra’s recent and previous work know, yet another collection of his essays. They come out from time to time, collecting his writing published in various places and built around a theme. The question of what that theme might be is as difficult to answer in a single sentence as are Mishra’s arguments. Yet, this perhaps is the one book where I could sense the theme clearly - how do we make sense of Brexit and Donald Trump? It is a question that has occupied western intelligentsia for over 4 years, the broad themes of which vary from the popular - David Cameroon’s ill fated confidence to Barack Obama’s white house correspondence dinner disparaging Trump - to the fictional: dealt in the season based books by Ali Smith for example. This question of what and how these two seemingly seminal events happened has probably gone through its lifecycle of academic to Netflix documentary in, again, 4 short or long years depending on how much you have followed the topic. I have followed it, a lot. Yet, even to my jaded palette this book is refreshing. I do not use these words callously, for no one could call Mishra’s prose fresh, but the freshness I am referring to, obviously, is in the realm of ideas or in the realm of an abstract patterned reading of history. It is in the list of dramatis personae in this book that are both expected: Nail Ferguson (Watch this man), Woodrow Wilson (The man of fourteen points) or Jordan Peterson (The lure of fascist mysticism) and unexpected: the periodical The Economist (The Economist and Liberalism) and even Ta-Neisi Coates (Why do white people like what I write). And it is in the slow unfolding of argument where nothing is sacred and so nothing unexamined. In each essay, barring a handful, Mishra explores the veins of history and thought leading unto the moment we are now living in. To reduce it to a single explanation would be to do exactly the kind of disservice Mishra doesn’t afford his subjects, so I will restrain, but the impression I was left with was of being in the company of that mythical acid - watching as it goes through the vessel to the core. Each essay references a dozen writers I do not know, some shamefully so, and presents their view point. In his choice of reading itself Mishra exudes respect for the point of view, reading deeply and carefully. I do not know if he justifies everything said in those books but I can be sure the excerpts are not used only to make a point or worse still titillate. Yet, if you had to know, the argument in the book would be that the broad strokes of history leading up to this moment were not random or benign. This will be important when we reckon the world as it is today, circa 2020, a few decades from now. Ideas, thoughts and decisions made by leaders and thinkers a hundred years ago have trickled down to bring us to this moment. Was it their intention that this be so? I am not sure, and neither does Mishra propose to answer this question. What is important is that even in their moment, it was a choice to play notes that echo now: majoritarianism, colonialism, unequal distribution of wealth or racism. Grim reading no doubt. And often, because Mishra does not offer any solutions, it all feels pointless and cynicism creeps in. I had to put down the book and ask what, if any, was the point of a critic? Why examine without any hope of a solution. I still do not know, but perhaps the act of examining is the utmost respect a scholar can pay to the process of learning, sans prescription and without any holy cows to distract attention.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stever

    * This is a collection of essays with a consistent theme dedicated to criticising mainstream liberal figures, and the environment which promotes them. Mishra is a strong polemicist and he is at his strongest when he takes the arguments of his subjects and analyses them in more detail and with more knowledge than the person making the argument. He is at his weakest when rather than engaging in debate he hurls ad hominem attacks, usually about his subjects views or comments on race or nationality. * This is a collection of essays with a consistent theme dedicated to criticising mainstream liberal figures, and the environment which promotes them. Mishra is a strong polemicist and he is at his strongest when he takes the arguments of his subjects and analyses them in more detail and with more knowledge than the person making the argument. He is at his weakest when rather than engaging in debate he hurls ad hominem attacks, usually about his subjects views or comments on race or nationality. He doesn’t do this a lot and the majority of the essays are extremely thoughtful. * Concluding paragraph on Niall Ferguson: “‘Western hard power’ Ferguson blurts out in Civilisation, ‘seems to be struggling’; and the book exemplifies a mood, at once swaggering, frustrated, vengeful and despairing, among men of a certain age, class and education on the Upper East Side and the West End. Western civilisation is unlikely to go out of business any time soon, nbut the neo-imperialist gang might well face redundancy. In that sense, Ferguson’s metaphormposes in the last decade - from cheerleader, successively, of empire, Angloglobalisatoin and Chimerica to exponent of collapse theory and retailer of emollient tales about the glorious past - have highlighted broad political and cultural shifts more accurately than his writings have. His next move shouldn’t be missed.” * His essay, “Culture of Fear”, about Islamophobia is a good example of how he dismantles a series of books and writers through humour, quantum of knowledge, and strength of argument: * “The idea of a monolithic ‘Islam’ in Europe appears an especially pitiable bogey when you rgard the varying national origins, linguistic and legal backgrounds, and cultural and religious practices of European Muslims. Many so-called Muslims from secularised Turkey or syncrestistic Sindh and Java would be condemned as apostates in Saudi Arabia, whose fundamentalist Wahhabism informs most Western visions of Islam.” * “In actuality, the everyday choices of most Muslims in europe are dictated more by their experience of globalised economies and cultures than by their readings in the Qur’an or sharia. Along with their Hindu and Sikh peers, many Muslims in Europe suffer from the usual pathologies of traditional rural communities transitioning to urban secular cultures; the encounter with social and economic individualism inevitably provokes a crisis of control in nuclear families, as well as such ills as forced marriage, the poor treatment of women and militant sectarianism. However, in practice, millions of Muslims, many of them with bitter experiences of authoritarian states, coexist fritionalessly and gratefully with regimes committed to democracy, freedom of religion and equality before the law.” * Possibly one of most enjoyable parts of reading this collection is that Mishra is merciless with his treatment of historical myths or even figures whom left-leaning liberal elites hold in high regard, like Obama, Ta Nahesi Coates, and Salman Rushdie. * On World War one: “the modern history of violence shows that ostansibly staunch foes have never been reluctant to borrow murderous ideas from one another. To take only one instance, the American elite’s ruthlessness with blacks and Native Americans greatly impressed the earliest generation of German liberal imperialists, decades before Hitler also came to admire the US’s unequivocally racist policies of natinoality and immigration. The Nazis sought inspiration from Jim Crow legislation in the US South.... In light of this shared history of racial violence, it seems odd that we continue to portrary the First World War as a battle between democracy and authoritariansim, as a seminal and unexpected calamity.... many subordinate peoples simply realised ... that peace in the metropolitan West depended too much on outsourcing war to the colonies.” * “There were signs during Obama’s campaign, particularly his eagerness to claim the approbation of Henry Kissinger, that he would cruelly disappoint his left-leaning young supporters’ hopes of epohcal transformation. His acitons in office soon made is cleare that some version of bain and switch had occurred. Obama had condemned the air war in South Asia as immoral because of its high civilian toll; but three days after his inauguration he ordered drone strikes in Pakistan, and in his first year oversaw more strikes with high civilian casualities than Bush had ordered in his entire presidency. His bellicose speech accepting the Noble Peace Prize signalled that he would strengthen rather than dismantle the architecture of the open-ended war on terror, while discaring some of its fatuous rhetoric. During his eight years in office, he expanded covert operations and air military bases, he exposed large parts of it to violence, anarchy and tyrannical rulke. He not only expanded mass surveillance and government data-mining operations at home, and ruthlessly prosecuted whistleblowers, but invested his office with the lethal power to execute anyone, even American citizens, anywhere in the world... he deported millions of immigrants - Trump is struggling to reacsh OBama’s 2012 peak of 34,000 deportations a months.” * Mishra’s lack of fuck-giving about offending anyone is on display when writing that Ta Nahesi Coates panders to “liberal imperialism... [and] its patrons”: “‘My President Was Black’, a 17,000 word profile in the Atlantic, is remarkable for its missing interrogations of the black president for his killings by drones; despoliation of Libya, Yemen and Somalia; mass deportation; and craveness before the titans of finance who ruined millions of black as well as white lives. Coates has been accused of mystifying race and ‘essentialising’ whiteness. Nowhere, however, does his view of racial identity seem as static as in his critical tenderness for a black member of the 1 per cent. As long as Coates is indifferent to the links between race and interntional political economy, he is more likley to induce relief than guilt among his white liberal fans. They may accept, even embrace, an explanation that balmes inveterate bigots in the American heartland for Trump. They would absolutely baulk at the suggestion that the legatee of the civil rights movement upheld a nineteenth-century racist-imperialist order by arrogating to the US president the right to kill anyone without due process; they would recoil from the idea that a black man in his eight years in power deepend the juridicial legacy of white supremacy before passing it on to a reckless successor.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Billy Lennon

    9.0 / 10 Really good. Random thoughts. The essay suits his style much more than long sweeping histories, in my opinion. The notions that liberalism is the “mask” behind which lies a white supremacist desire for domination and empire a broad, and that tumultuous states need to open new markets and find cheap labor through colonization in order to avoid inequality and disarray at home (ie, subjugate others so that higher “rights” can be secured at home), are the two major theses that the majority of 9.0 / 10 Really good. Random thoughts. The essay suits his style much more than long sweeping histories, in my opinion. The notions that liberalism is the “mask” behind which lies a white supremacist desire for domination and empire a broad, and that tumultuous states need to open new markets and find cheap labor through colonization in order to avoid inequality and disarray at home (ie, subjugate others so that higher “rights” can be secured at home), are the two major theses that the majority of the essays revolve around. Also, fantastic criticisms of both well-meaning and I’ll-intentioned members of the intelligentsia on all sides. And fuck the economist. And Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist. Mishra has such a comprehensive knowledge of “bland” and overlooked instances of racism and violence. Very illuminating. More thoughts to come

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pradhuman Bhati

    A must read for all liberals

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tom Blackburn

  8. 4 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alizeh

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  12. 4 out of 5

    Abu Taha

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kirill

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jaideep

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tayyab

  16. 5 out of 5

    Samia Khan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Akshat Upadhyay

  18. 4 out of 5

    Wojciech Engelking

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sunil Singh

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tabish

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daria

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Taylor

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jakub Stawiski

  24. 4 out of 5

    Varun

  25. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rune Holm

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Weller

  28. 4 out of 5

    Beau

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mehul Shinde

  30. 5 out of 5

    Harshwardhan Satbhai

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