Modernity and the Holocaust

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Max Weber & Modernity: Crash Course Sociology #9

Abstract When Zygmunt Bauman first published Modernity and the Holocaust it elicited a variety of reactions among historians and sociologists. Volume 25 , Issue 3 September Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID.

Forgot password? Old Password. New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. Request Username Can't sign in? Forgot your username? The book came out when the Berlin Wall fell and one year later, Germany was reunified and I would argue that these things are connected.

Modernity and the Holocaust | Zygmunt Bauman | Taylor & Francis Group

Bauman himself was much more aware of the context. Many Europeans still feel a bit uncomfortable with that statement, but it takes hold. Germany has turned into the almost unchallenged leader of the European Union. Now, this process is also accompanied by social theory, and I think that we may have to draw some connections between memory and the social theory of the Holocaust. There was not much need for sociology of the Holocaust. I think they are still worthy of our attention.

In it, Parsons draws a line between Anglo-Saxon democracies and Germany where feudal, militaristic, bureaucratic and authoritarian are interdependent. Norbert Elias was also influenced by Parsons Bauman criticizes Elias for that in the book, but I think he bends him a bit.

Now, this seems to be turned on its head. Globalized memory of the Holocaust takes it out of the framework of the German nation and resets it into the context of modernity.

Modernity and the holocaust

WWII was not a disaster suffered by Germany alone. It was a disaster suffered by all of Europe, and one which was created by all of Europe in the war before. Germany was simply its epicenter, as it was the epicenter of accelerating industrial development and efficiency and the stress they placed on society. The memorial in Berlin is a good case in point, which argues in its aesthetic way for the generalization of the Holocaust.


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It was the beginning of the European Union, which marked a new beginning of a new phase in modernity, a cosmopolitan rather than nation-state modernity. Germany apparently was ahead of the others in its incorporation into transnational organizations. It was the most committed to building an international law to replace the law of the jungle that had previously regulated the interaction between states.

It was the most eager nation to submit to this new and transformative second-order social contract. And not only was it eager to submit to this order, but it took on a leading role in it and tried to submit other Europeans to this view. Well, to start with, fascism and the Holocaust can only exemplify modernity if Germany exemplifies modernity.

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But is that true? The conventional picture has been that Germany and Italy and Japan were all exceptions to the normal path of modern development, and all deviated in similar ways. They all developed late, both as nations and as national economies. The conventional wisdom has been that this accelerated development caused more stresses than if it had happened more slowly; national pride was aggrieved by what was perceived as a disadvantaged position about to be set in stone; and democratic institutions and political culture never had time to set in the national character before they were washed away in a flood of nationalism.

That is of course a huge simplification of a huge debate. However, the fact remains that Germany is not generally considered the rule of modernity, but rather its exception. If we identify the most nationalist states as the most modern, then not only do the exceptions become the rule, but the rules become the exception.

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Under this view, the two countries generally considered to exemplify modernity become transformed into weird outliers. Because it is an immigrant nation, the USA has had one of the least ethnic conceptions of its national identity.


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  6. So looked at closely, neither can be said to exemplify the ethnically homogenous nation state. Does that mean they are the ones that exemplified modernity the least?