© Windham-Campbell Prize

Politics in the age of resentment: The dark legacy of the Enlightenment

» Voters defying pseudo-rational pollsters and data-analysing pundits around the world have come to resemble Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, the quintessential loser dreaming of revenge against his society’s winners. «
Pankaj Mishra

Today, the post-Cold War consensus lies in ruins. Fanatics and bigots have been empowered in the very heart of the modern West following the most sustained experiment in enlightened self-interest, maximizing happiness and free-marketeering. Thomas Piketty may be right to argue that »Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States.« But many rich men and women, not to mention African-Americans and Hispanics, also voted for a compulsive groper; the prospering classes of India, Turkey, Poland and the Philippines remain steadfastly loyal to their increasingly volatile demagogues. The new representatives of the left-behinds and the downtrodden – Trump and Nigel Farage in a gold-plated lift, the founder of ISIS wearing a Rolex, and Modi in a personalized Savile Row suit – speak of an expanded theatre of political absurdism.

Gary Younge is right to warn »that the link between economic anxiety and rightwing nationalism can be overdone«. Mike Davis speaking of nihilist passions – that some people »wanted change in Washington at any price, even if it meant putting a suicide bomber in the Oval Office« – is echoed by Barack Obama, who thinks that Trump made an irresistible »argument that he would blow this place up«. Certainly, voters defying pseudo-rational pollsters and data-analysing pundits around the world have come to resemble Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, the quintessential loser dreaming of revenge against his society’s winners.