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Modernity and the Holocaust Unknown Binding – 1992

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006P8R7W
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
There are two ways to belittle, misjudge, or shrug off the significance of the Holocaust for sociology as the theory of civilization, of modernity, of modern civilization. Read the first page
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
Bauman's elucidation of the significance of the Holocaust is simply magnificent. He combines his exploration of the historical facts with a brave interpretation of the sociological significance of the horrifying events of the Second World War, maintaining a style that is simultaneously readable, informative and undeniably sensitive to the tricky subject matter.
Bauman's revelation, as the title suggests, is that, rather than being an event based on barbarism and a twisted sense morality, the Holocaust embodied the self-evident principles of the Modern World; rationality, hierarchies of power and distancing from personal culpability. He backs up his argument using a multitude of examples, and remains persuasive throughout.
Modernity and the Holocaust is a must for any Sociology students out there, but also for anyone with an open mind who is willing to accept how far-reaching the consequences of living through modernity truly are. Undoubtedly a five-star book...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Christie on 20 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is very heavy going, partly because of the academic sociology, but mainly because of the harrowing subject matter.

It is a very important book, and worth making the effort to read. Its argument is deeply troubling for those who still have the comforting illusion that modernity and sophisticated civilisation will lead to humane outcomes. Bauman argues persuasively that the Nazis' Final Solution to exterminate the Jews was possible only in a sophisticated, bureacratic modern society and that it is a huge mistake to assume that the Holocaust was a throwback to uncivilised barbarity. What the Nazis did was barbaric, but it was the product of civilisation and modernity. It might seem irrational, but only if you have a different world view from the Nazis. They rationally followed the logic of their evil philosophy through to its appalling conclusion. That's a lesson that must be learnt. We have not "progressed" beyond the Nazis. They don't belong to a state of civil development and progress we've left behind. Given the right circumstances it could all happen again.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Bullard on 16 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This seminal work by Zygmunt Bauman has brought to the fore the unnerving truth that the Holocaust cannot simply be explained as 'evil people doing evil things' which could never happen 'here'. The main thrust of this work, depending on your interpretation, is to argue that there is an "elective affinity" between the holocaust and modernity, that is, "modern genocide is genocide for a purpose". The culmination of many factors came together which resulted in the Holocaust, but Bauman stresses time and again that the Holocaust was the logical conclusion of these multiplicities of modernity, rather than an aim of the Nazi's.

For Bauman, it was the centralization of power within the state with the aim of creating order (the use of the Gardener removing weeds is especially good, and typical of Bauman's canny use of metaphors), and the creation of the mechanisms for creating order, which made the Holocaust a possibility. These two factors, in Bauman's eyes, are intrinsically linked to modernity, and what he has described as Modernity's 'drive for order'. These two emergencies of Modernity also made possible the adiaphorization of the German people towards the Jews which produced the paralyzation of opposition needed for such acts to occur.

This text is unsettling in its insistence that we live in a society that let the Holocaust happen, and contains nothing to stop it happening again. Although, in the near 25 years since writing this, it has been argued (including by Bauman) that the concentration of power in the state with the aim to define order has faded, giving way to the logic of the market. Bauman has termed this new era the 'liquid modern', and this text does thus have some limitation regarding application in contemporary society.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. Morgan on 4 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback
Bauman's Modernity and the Holocaust is a quite stunning analysis of the Holocaust's position in modernity. Far from being a freak occurance, Bauman illustrates that, disturbingly, the Holocaust was in fact entirely consistent with the principles of bureaucratic organisation, division of labour, and reason's guidance on which modernity is founded. Far from banishing evil, modernity in fact contains the possibility of evil, in the right circumstances.
While incorporating important writing from history, philosophy and psychology, Bauman's handling of the subject is purely sociological, and the book is a strong criticism of sociology's failure to deal with the horrors of the Holocaust adequately.
This book is probably the best and most important work of one of the greatest living sociologists. Reading it is highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Iby Knill on 3 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having been a victim of the Holocaust while young and then changing name, nationality, country and living a different life I had consigned it to the not-to-be-remembered past.
Then found, in my old age, that I wanted to find out why this had happened, whether or not it had been avoidable and whether it could happen again. I read many academic books aboutthe history of the Holocaust - refrained from reading personal accounts of other victims [ I did not feel I needed to add to the agony]. Then, my attention was directed to Baumann's book and, although not the easiest of reads, it gives a different and compelling arguement on why it happened - which actually agrees with my own gut feeling about it.
It is a very valuable contribution to the debate and should be compulsory reading for anybody who teaches students about the holocaust. Sadly the sociological perspective gets frequently forgotten in the historical context.

We are social animals, rather than hisotrical ones - so read it and learn from it!
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