Modernity: Crop Tops or Mindless Bureaucracy?

In Bauman’s article, Modernity and the Holocaust, it is questioned whether the Holocaust was a social phenomena or the culmination of European antisemitism. Genocide is a ‘normal’ aspect of human civilization, one group reaches a point where it believes it is necessary to eliminate the other. Often this is carried out by senseless violence and bloodshed, Rwanda for example. It is a logical conclusion that the Holocaust occurred due to ethnic and religious hatred, yet, the murder of millions of Jews was carried out by a systematic, and well-oiled machine, the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is something that has exploded in modern life, and with it came the Holocaust. As Bauman states, “whatever moral instinct is to be found in human conduct is socially produced. It dissolves once society malfunctions” (Bauman 4). In the case of Nazi Germany, the people were willing to give up many freedoms and power to achieve normality in their lives given the turbulence following WWI. The Jews were a common scapegoat. The leaders of Germany made it morally acceptable to its soldiers and citizens to commit the Holocaust by making violence authorized, routine, and dehumanizing the victims. Given this, the everyday man could have a hand in a mass murder. Only 10% or so of SS men were sadistic or considered madmen, most were normal men, the accountant down the street, the salesman, the father of four. Men no longer felt responsible for their actions when they were following orders, the man who gave the order to kill did not pull the trigger and did not feel responsible, he merely signed a piece of paper. The man who did pull the trigger felt no responsibility as the actions were not his own, he was merely following orders, being a good soldier.

The Holocaust could not have occurred without the chain of bureaucracy, which is a development of modernity. The Holocaust was a failure of modernity, the bureaucratic system was corrupted, used for unthinkable cruelty, yet was utilized to its utmost potential. The Holocaust is a product of the modern world, no longer is it necessary to run through a village brandishing torches and pitchforks to remove undesirables, you merely have to file the proper paper work to send millions to their graves. This is the triumph of the modern world.

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