Modernity and the Holocaust  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) is a book by Zygmunt Bauman.

It is Bauman's most famous book, Modernity and the Holocaust, is an attempt to give a full account of the dangers of of fears of the other. Drawing upon Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno's books on totalitarianism and the Enlightenment, Bauman developed the argument that the Holocaust should not simply be considered to be an event in Jewish history, nor a regression to pre-modern barbarism. Rather, he argued, the Holocaust should be seen as deeply connected to modernity and its order-making efforts. Procedural rationality, the division of labour into smaller and smaller tasks, the taxonomic categorisation of different species, and the tendency to view obedience to rules as morally good, all played their role in the Holocaust coming to pass. He argued that for this reason modern societies have not fully grasped the lessons of the Holocaust; it tends to be viewed—to use Bauman's metaphor—like a picture hanging on the wall, offering few lessons. In Bauman's analysis the Jews became 'strangers' par excellence in Europe. The Final Solution was pictured by him as an extreme example of the attempt made by society to excise the uncomfortable and indeterminate elements that exist within it. Bauman, like the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, contended that the same processes of exclusion that were at work in the Holocaust could, and to an extent do, still come into play today.

Blurb:

A new afterword to this edition, "The Duty to Remember―But What?" tackles difficult issues of guilt and innocence on the individual and societal levels. Zygmunt Bauman explores the silences found in debates about the Holocaust, and asks what the historical facts of the Holocaust tell us about the hidden capacities of present-day life. He finds great danger in such phenomena as the seductiveness of martyrdom; going to extremes in the name of safety; the insidious effects of tragic memory; and efficient, "scientific" implementation of the death penalty. Bauman writes, "Once the problem of the guilt of the Holocaust perpetrators has been by and large settled... the one big remaining question is the innocence of all the rest―not the least the innocence of ourselves."

Among the conditions that made the mass extermination of the Holocaust possible, according to Bauman, the most decisive factor was modernity itself. Bauman's provocative interpretation counters the tendency to reduce the Holocaust to an episode in Jewish history, or to one that cannot be repeated in the West precisely because of the progressive triumph of modern civilization. He demonstrates, rather, that we must understand the events of the Holocaust as deeply rooted in the very nature of modern society and in the central categories of modern social thought.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Modernity and the Holocaust" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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