Recommended reading – Flailing States: Pankaj Mishra on Anglo-America

Posted by on Aug 4, 2020 in Faculty, Other | No Comments

Last week, Honors Program Director Jeremy Cohan posted a link on the VCS Twitter and Facebook accounts to the recent London Review of Books essay “Flailing States: Anglo-America Loses its Grip by Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, which VCS Department Chair Tom Huhn had suggested as recommended reading for the VCS community. The piece discusses the weakening of US and UK leadership on the world stage, and how the two nations’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are both symptoms of and contributors to their waning moral and geopolitical authority. I’m reposting the link here, along with the essay’s abstract and two quotes from it that I thought provided some insight into a few of Michra’s main arguments.


Submission Statement: Pankaj Mishra outlines the systemic flaws in the Anglo-American system of government exposed by both countries’ failures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation is compared to countries such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea, whose historical situation has led to differing governmental outcomes.

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As a general insurrection erupts against America’s foundational inequities, and a British national identity propped up by fantasies of empire finally splinters, it isn’t enough to lament the ‘authoritarian populism’ of Trump and Johnson, to blame ‘identity politics’ and the ‘intolerant left’, or to claim moral superiority over China, Russia and Iran. The early winners of modern history now seem to be its biggest losers, with their delegitimised political systems, grotesquely distorted economies and shattered social contracts.

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In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin outlined the necessity of such a moral and intellectual revolution in the starkest terms, arguing that ‘in order to survive as a human, moving, moral weight in the world, America and all the Western nations will be forced to re-examine themselves,’ to ‘discard nearly all the assumptions’ used to ‘justify’ their ‘crimes’. The fire Baldwin imagined in 1962 is now raging across the US, and is being met with frantic appeals to white survivalism. ‘You must dominate,’ Trump told state governors on 1 June, threatening to unleash ‘vicious dogs’ and ‘ominous weapons’ on his political enemies. Understandably, people exalted for so long by the luck of birth, class and nation will find it difficult, even impossible, to discard their assumptions about themselves and the world. But success in this harsh self-education is imperative if the prime movers of modern civilisation are to prevent themselves from sliding helplessly into the abyss of history.

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