Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Modernity and the Holocaust Paperback – 1991
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"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
About the Author
Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Universities of Leeds and Warsaw. He is the author of many works including Legislators and Interpreters (Polity Press) and Modernity and Ambivalence (Polity Press). He was also awarded the Theodor W. Adorno Prize in 1998.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Technology killed god? What happened?
“God meant, first and foremost, a limit to human potential: a constraint, imposed by what man may do over what man could do and dare do. The assumed omnipotence of God drew a borderline over what man was allowed to do and to dare. Commandments limited the freedom of humans as individuals; but they also set limits to what humans together, as a society, could legislate; they presented the human capacity to legislate and manipulate the world’s principles as being inherently limited.’’
Human ‘science’ has unlimited ability! Why listen to God?
“Modern science, which displaced and replaced God, removed that obstacle. It also created a vacancy: the office of the supreme legislator-cum-manager, of the designer and administrator of the world order, was now horrifyingly empty. It had to be filled, or else … God was dethroned, but the throne was still in one place.''
"The emptiness of the throne was throughout the modern era a standing and tempting invitation to visionaries and adventurers. The dream of an all-embracing order and harmony remained as vivid as ever, and it seemed now closer than ever, more than ever within human reach. It was now up to the mortal earthlings to bring it about and to secure its ascendancy.’’
God is not dead! Human society has just replaced him!
“The world turned into man’s garden but only the vigilance of the gardener may prevent it from descending into the chaos of wilderness. It was now up to man and man alone to see to it that rivers flow in the right direction and that rain forests do not occupy the field were groundnuts should grow. It was now up to man and man alone to make sure that the strangers do not obscure the transparency of legislated order, that social harmony is not spoiled by obstreperous classes, that the togetherness of folk is not tainted by alien races. The classless society, the race-pure society, the Great Society were now the task of man –an urgent task, a life-and-death matter, a duty. The clarity of the world and human vocation, once guaranteed by God and now lost, had to be fast restored, this time by human acumen and on human responsibility (or is it irresponsibility?) alone.’’ (217)
This seems to me the key theme. Human society (human experts, human Reason) can do anything, solve any problem, fix any failure; this expectation supports Hitlerism, Stalinism, etc.. Modernity’s belief in this ability. . .this power. . .this potential - makes our world profoundly unique.
1 Introduction: Sociology after the Holocaust
The Holocaust as the test of modernity
The meaning of the civilizing process
Social production of moral indifference
Social production of moral invisibility
Moral consequences of the civilizing process
2 Modernity, Racism, Extermination I
Some peculiarities of Jewish estrangement
Jewish incongruity from Christendom to modernity
Astride the barricades
The prismatic group
Modern dimensions of incongruity
The non-national nation
The modernity of racism
3 Modernity, Racism, Extermination II
From heterophobia to racism
Racism as a form of social engineering
From repellence to extermination
4 The Uniqueness and Normality of the Holocaust
The problem Genocide extraordinary
Peculiarity of modern genocide
Effects of the hierarchical and functional division of labour
Dehumanization of bureaucratic objects
The role of bureaucracy in the Holocaust
Bankruptcy of modern safeguards
5 Soliciting the Co-operation of the Victims
‘Sealing off’ the victims
The ‘save what you can’ game
Individual rationality in the service of collective destruction
Rationality of self-preservation
6 The Ethics of Obedience (Reading Milgram)
Inhumanity as a function of social distance
Complicity after one’s own act
Technology moralized Free-floating responsibility
Pluralism of power and power of conscience
The social nature of evil
7 Towards a Sociological Theory of Morality
Society as a factory of morality
The challenge of the Holocaust
Pre-societal sources of morality
Social proximity and moral responsibility
Social suppression of moral responsibility
Social production of distance
8 Afterthought: Rationality and Shame
Social Manipulation of Morality
“In the years leading to the Final Solution the most trusted of the safeguards had been put to a test. They all failed –one by one, and all together. Perhaps the most spectacular was the failure of science –as a body of ideas, and as a network of institutions of enlightenment and training.’’ (107)
Science failed! Why?
“The deadly potential of the most revered principles and accomplishments of modern science has been exposed. The emancipation of reason from emotions, of rationality from normative pressures, of effectiveness from ethics have been the battle-cries of science since its inception. Once implemented, however, they made science, and the formidable technological applications it spawned, into docile instruments in the hands of unscrupulous power. The dark and ignoble role which science played in the perpetuation of the Holocaust was both direct and indirect. Indirectly (though centrally to its general social function), science cleared the way to genocide through sapping the authority, and questioning the binding force, of all normative thinking, particularly that of religion and ethics.’’ (107)
Removing moral thinking ‘of religion and ethics’. Was not this a key sign of progress?
“Science looks back at its history as the long and victorious struggle of reason over superstition and irrationality. In as far as religion and ethics could not rationally legitimize the demands they made on human behaviour, they stood condemned and found their authority denied. As values and norms had been proclaimed immanently and irreparably subjective, instrumentality was left as the only field where the search for excellence was feasible. Science wanted to be value-free and took pride in being such. By institutional pressure and by ridicule, it silenced the preachers of morality. In the process, it made itself morally blind and speechless. It dismantled all the barriers that could stop it from co-operating, with enthusiasm and abandon, in designing the most effective and rapid methods of mass sterilization or mass killing; or from conceiving of the concentration camps’ slavery as a unique and wonderful opportunity to conduct medical research for the advancement of scholarship and –of course –of mankind.’’ (107)
What about academics?
“At best, the cult of rationality, institutionalized as modern science, proved impotent to prevent the state from turning into organized crime; at worst, it proved instrumental in bringing the transformation about. Its rivals, however, did not earn a higher score either. In their silence German academics had plenty of companions. Most conspicuously, they were joined by the Churches –all of them.’’ (108)
Professors and clergymen? All?
“Silence in the face of the organized inhumanity was the only item on which the Churches, so often at loggerheads, found themselves in agreement. None of them attempted to reclaim its flouted authority. None of the Churches (as distinct from single, and mostly isolated churchmen) acknowledged its responsibility for deeds perpetrated in a country it claimed as its domain, and by people in its pastoral charge. (Hitler never left the Catholic Church; neither was he excommunicated.) None upheld its right to pass moral judgements on its flock and impose penitence on the wayward.’’ (108)
Well. . .Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bible students) did resist as an organized religion. They are proud to proclaim their neutrality (refused to Hiel Hitler) and have no shame or guilt from that terrible time. They were willing martyrs, not racial victims.
This work is a searing indictment of the modern scientific, rational, national system. Bauman is writing as a warning against pride. The misuse of authority, the mistrust in reason, the misplaced confidence in political power, resonates throughout.
The holocaust can reoccur.
Who will be the victim?
Writing is smooth without becoming banal. Erudite although avoiding obscurity.
No index. No photographs.
(See also: "The Origins of Modern Science'' by Sir Herbert Butterfield. Famous insight into the impact of science.)
As the U.S. government is currently murdering millions of people over in the Middle East, everyday Americans are standing around -- either supporting it or doing nothing. For instance 2.5 million people died in the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, tens of thousands of people still die each year in Laos from all of the leftover cluster bombs dropped there by the U.S. (look up "laos plain of jars"), and over 2 million people (500,000 of whom are children) have died in Iraq since the first Persian Gulf War as a result of economic sanctions and U.S. aerial strikes (look up "madeline albright iraq sanctions")--- this is just slightly under the number of Jews that the Nazi regime killed, and it's only three of the U.S.'s dozens of wars that took place during the 20th century.
This is the topic of this book -- what causes everyone to stand around and justify large scale, state sanctioned murder? Is it cowardice, cruelty, or something else?
How can the world forget all those things.
How could the world forgiven german people???
How can german people today try to forget that tragedy???