The vision Francis Fukuyama gave when he so confidently declared the ‘end of history’ of a prosperous, affluent world run by the efficient workings of the free market now sadly lies in tatters. From misogynist white supremacists calling the shots in America, to Britons striking at the very heart of an interconnected world voting for Brexit, the world can best be characterised as what the author Pankaj Mishra calls ‘an age of anger’, instead of the tolerant, economically developing world proponents of modernity like Fukuyama envisioned. This hijacking of the modernity project is best explained by historical and ideological forces that shaped today’s political and economic structures. As Mishra argues in his astounding book ‘Age of Anger: A History of the Present’, the present religious tensions around the world, the macabre calls for jihad, xenophobia in Europe and America, and the rise of Hindutva in an increasingly intolerant India all stem to a large degree from the enlightenment and colonialism’s drive to ‘re-create’ humans in a highly rational, westernised image. This attempt to re-create oriental and African ‘primitives’, coupled with the social Darwinism that entered mainstream thought just as the first vestiges of colonialism emerged gave birth to a particularly toxic strand of nationalism in Europe, and subsequently in colonised countries such as India. Colonisers and champions of modernity came to view themselves as saviours of the ‘savage’ races who needed to be enlightened and westernised. This arrogant and simplistic viewpoint pitted colonial powers’ myopic world views against the centuries old traditions and cultures of places like India, China and Africa. Narendra Modi’s recourse to the writings of Vinayak Savarkar, who championed creating a ‘super’ breed of virile, masculine and patriotic Hindus — very similar to Modi boasting of his own broad chest — highlights how the present angst that grips the world can only be explained by retracing the history of modernity, the enlightenment, capitalism and colonialism and their impact on the modern world Nationalism in countries such as India, which took on a religious zeal through the writings of radicals such as Tilak and Savarkar, therefore, was in response to colonialism displacing them from their traditional culture and roots. This brand of Hindu-national thought now finds traction with followers of Narendra Modi and with members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), all of whom are increasingly coming to dominate India’s political and social landscape. Narendra Modi’s recourse to the writings of Vinayak Savarkar, who championed creating a ‘super’ breed of virile, masculine and patriotic Hindus — very similar to Modi boasting of his own broad chest — highlights how the present angst that grips the world can only be explained by tracing the history of modernity, the enlightenment, and of capitalism and colonialism. For it is these very forces that displaced and uprooted traditional cultures, belief systems and economic structures. Present radical movements, moreover, must be seen in the context of this historical uprooting and destruction of identity. The Islamic State’s calls for global jihad and for reasserting Islam’s ‘lost glory’, for instance, have strong antecedents in the first radical movements that emerged in Germany and in Italy against monarchies and against a rising bourgeoisie. These movements blended religion with a mephitic undercurrent of masculinity that viewed the people of that particular race or nationality as the sole shapers of the destiny of the world — not unlike what the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda aim to do today. Present radical religious movements, and the rise of terror groups such as the Carbonari in Italy, and the People’s Will in Russia in the 19th century fed off of a sense of deprivation, isolation and feeling of having been left behind that plagued people in these two seemingly different epochs. For followers of the Islamic State, this sense of isolation stemmed from the West’s destruction of the Middle East, its War on Terror, and neoliberalism’s oppressive hold of local economies. The People’s Will and the Carbonari, moreover, gained their strength from those playing catch up to the enlightenment’s emphasis on modernity and on the incipient strands of capitalism emerging in Russia and Italy. Central to these notions of displacement was the strong belief that any move towards rationality and modernity would have the ‘educated’ and sophisticated classes at its vanguard. Voltaire, for instance, the much touted champion of free speech, strongly believed in the top-down ‘emancipation of savages’, and supported the Russian monarch, Catherine the Great’s efforts to dismember Poland, and to modernise the ‘savage’ Polish. He also believed that the enlightenment should be limited to uplifting an aspiring and educated class, and not the masses in general. This emphasis on excluding the poor, in fact, has become a common refrain as neoliberalism and enlightenment rationality have come to dominate economic and political discourse. In conversations centred on poverty and on the welfare state, for example, policymakers and intellectuals consider the poor to be indolent, lacking any motivation to work, and prone to feeding off the state’s largesse. This line of argument has in fact been responsible to a large degree for shooting down universal basic income programs and in rolling back welfare in places like America. Similarly, political discourse is also shrouded in disdain for the ‘uneducated masses’, who are blamed for phenomena such as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Pakistan’s own political discourse is sadly plagued by similar lines of thinking. Many intellectuals, for instance, blame Pakistan’s struggles with democracy on low literacy levels and on faceless, impoverished souls whom they accuse of voting in ‘ignorance’. This narrative diverts scrutiny away from the political and economic structures that led to poverty and to damaging democracy, and ends up demonising the poor themselves. Thus, we witness how analysts blame endemic racism and xenophobia for America’s focus on protectionism under Trump, all the while ignoring how rampant capitalism and neoliberalism led to displacing the local worker and to a hatred of the foreign worker in the first place. It thus becomes absolutely essential to understand how the forces of capitalism, modernity and even the enlightenment have altered local structures, and how underpinning this transformation is a strong apathy for the poor and the destitute classes. For it remains a fact that modernity, an obsession with rationality and unfettered neoliberalism have left billions behind in their quest to reshape societies along western lines. While discussing and pondering over political and economic issues, therefore, it is crucial that we question the historical forces that brought the world to where it is today, and always eschew placing the blame solely on those less privileged than us. The writer graduated from Aitchison College and holds a double Bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Cornell University. He also studied at Oxford University, and his interests include studying the politics of class, gender and race, and the political economy. email@example.com Published in Daily Times, May 18th 2018.