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Modernity and the Holocaust

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801487194
ISBN-10: 0801487196
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Editorial Reviews


"A stunningly original set of reflections on racism, extermination, rationality, individual responsibility in criminal societies, and the sources of obedience and resistance."―Voice Literary Supplement

"Such is the concentrated brilliance of Modernity and the Holocaust that it is sure to find an appreciative audience in every field of research which touches on the Holocaust (or which has been touched by it). Above all, to those who still hold faith with the notions of civilization, progress, and reason, this book will sit alongside others which have challenged fundamental beliefs of our time."―Times Literary Supplement

"Intellectually rich and provocative. . . . This is a text which belongs in our classrooms as well as on our shelves. Exceptionally well written."―Contemporary Sociology

"A new afterword to this edition tackles difficult issues of guilt and innocence on the individual and societal levels."―Shofar, Summer 2001, Vol. 19, No. 4

"This book is an intense scrutiny of the lengths to which haters sink in displaying their hostility to targeted victims of that malady sometimes called xenophobia."―Rabbi Sam Silver. Indiana Jewish Post and Opinion. 8/22/01

From the Back Cover

Sociology is concerned with modern society, but has never come to terms with one of the most distinctive and horrific aspects of modernity - the Holocaust.

The book examines what sociology can teach us about the Holocaust, but more particularly concentrates upon the lessons which the Holocaust has for sociology. Bauman's work demonstrates that the Holocaust has to be understood as deeply involved with the nature of modernity. There is nothing comparable to this work available in the sociological literature. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (February 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801487196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801487194
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Peruse any mega-bookstore for works on the Holocaust and you will likely find yourself in a section called "Jewish Studies" or "Holocaust Studies." This is indicative of a general attitude that the Holocaust was merely a gross aberration in the advancement of western civilization, that it is exclusively a Jewish problem or, at best, an anomalous eruption of the irrational latent in the German psyche.
In this stunning, bold, and original work, Professor Bauman challenges this conventional wisdom. The Holocaust is not the story of European civilization gone awry; rather it embodies the most salient principles of modernity itself. It was "horrifyingly normal."
The logic of self-interest, rational management, modern bureaucratic order, technological efficiency, the relegation of values to the realm of subjectivity, science as intrinsically instrumental and value-free: such are the values comprising the shared vision of western civilization set in motion during the Enlightenment. And Bauman identifies the sum of these values as the necessary (but not sufficient) cause of the Holocaust. The SS exploited the logic of rational self-interest by making the cooperation of prisoners a condition for self-preservation. Death camps utilized the applied technology of mass production and transportation. The Third Reich was the picture of modern bureaucratic efficiency. All of this was done by highly trained engineers, technicians and doctors within an ethical framework consistent with modernity's moral relativism. And each of these conditions is still present today. This is a sobering, thought-provoking study of the Holocaust and its haunting resonance with the values of modern thought.
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Format: Paperback
Zygmunt Bauman argues that the modern society we accept as normal and the highest form as civilization, contains the seed, soil and water of the Holocaust. He argues that the Holocaust is not an anomaly but a warning and sign of what we, as human beings, have become. The Holocaust would not have happened save for modern civilization. Technological know how is important, but not the only important factor.
Mass atrocity requires three things: that violence be authorized by a legitimate authority, that the violent actions be routinized, and that the victims be dehumanized. Bauman recounts the experiments of Stanley Milgram in support of his argument. I add that, after weeks of chanting "Kill, kill, kill" over and over, and of hearing the "enemy" described as "dinks", "slopes", "gooks", "japs", "women", "niggers" and "injuns", I was able to sit through a lecture on the "law of war" in which my medic class was instructed that one of our jobs would be to execute wounded prisoners. Yes, that's illegal, immoral, and something terrorists do. Military training works. (If you respond that "war is hell" and that such things are normal, think of the fuss we put up about how our prisoners are treated.)
Military training works because normal socialization prepares us for it. Society, Bauman writes, silences morality. Rather than supporting our innate morality, society replaces it, teaching us what is good and what is bad, who is good and who is bad. It divides the world into the "moral universe", relatively small, and the universe in which we are encouraged to to act with amoral abandon. Take, for instance, the example of "family values".
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of those rock-em, sock-em books that seems to have a startling insight on every page. Bauman's thesis is that the Holocaust is not an aberration, peculiar to a particular time and place, but a general symptom of modernity. In other words, events akin to the Holocaust are capable of happening again and again in the modern world. The book is thus frightening and sobering. Bauman argues that modern institutions are characterized by dispassionate bureaucratic efficiency assisted by technology. Large government and corporate bureaucracies function in such a way that individual responsibility for the actions of the bureaucracy are dispersed. In other words, the buck is passed through the system, without a Harry Truman to say, "The buck stops here." The danger, according to Bauman, is that if a Hitler rises to the top of such a bureaucracy, he can set the system rolling toward an inhumane goal (the destruction of the Jews in Europe), and it is possible that nobody within the system or outside it will be able (or interested enough) to do much to stop it. The book highlights (for me) the crucial importance of checks and balances within systems, and strong investigative journalism as an important component to a functioning democracy. It also suggests to me the importance of keeping authoritarians out of high public office. They can set large systems rolling in disastrous directions.
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Format: Paperback
This book is not easy. It must be read slowly and allowed to sink in. There are easier places to start reading ZB (I recommend "Liquid Modernity"). But M&H will go down as a classic, where this wise old refugee from the 20th century pulled the wool off our eyes and gave us a hug. This is not a book about "the Nazis" or other "villains" we love to hate. It is a painfully honest stare at what really happens with "decent" people. The critical social theory is a liberating tool for making the invisible structures we live in visible: so we can see how bureaucratic social orders, market economies, "liberal" value systems, and information age technologies combine to form a system that exploits human nature on an historically unprecedented and massive scale. But there is more than a critical theory at work in this book. There is a compelling humanism and a surprisingly old-fashioned moral theory that is anything but "relativistic." Bauman uses his critical theory to SHOW EXACTLY HOW a basic human moral sense GETS PREEMPTED by the false incentives of a substitute morality that disconnects us from a feeling response to our own humanity, the suffering of other people and the needs of the world around us. ZB does not need to prove his little affective moral theory (he is quite subtle with it actually); all he needs to do is to SHOW EXACTLY HOW basic human moral sentiments GET SHORT CIRCUITED and WHY. The evidence of the crime and the purposes of the villain tell us all we need to know about what it was the victim stood to lose. The critical theory works like a pair of surgeons -- one removing a tumor from the brain so that the patient can think again and the other clearing blockage from peripheral arteries so the heart can function, as it should. This is the most important book I have ever read.
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