Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire

Farrar. Oct. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780374293314. $27. POL SCI
Mishra’s latest work, after Age of Anger, is a collection of essays written between 2009 and 2018 that detail how the American cultural belief in free-market liberalism as the achievement of Western civilization endures, despite evidence that the advantages of unregulated markets are hardly clear. Some pieces focus on how Cold War narratives about American exceptionalism remain at the heart of mainstream historical and political interpretations of our world, while others treat the way entrenched imperialist beliefs are bolstered by racism and cultural bias. Mishra’s best essays treat figures in literature, from Salman Rushdie to Alexander Herzen, through whose work and reception he unveils, in another way, the perspectives we miss as long as the narrative of Western liberalism persists. The essays often leave readers with these welcome outlooks. Considering the collection as a whole, readers may wonder less about the evidence of neo-liberalism—which is ample enough—than the reasons behind it. The blandness of the neoliberal fanatics, whose views often warrant less analytical attention than given, at times overshadows the real merit of the essays, which bring into focus the blindness that persists in this long-discussed but still ubiquitous belief in the unmitigated benefits of free-market capital.
VERDICT A sometimes dense, sometimes proactive collection of essays on current political ideologies. An optional purchase.
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