The Holocaust: A product of modern society?

Is the Holocaust a failure or product of modern society?  Bauman in the first chapter of his book Modernity and the Holocaust argued the Holocaust represented the darker possibilities of modern civilized life.  Using the bureaucracy and social engineering utilized by the Nazis to create a judenfrei Europe as evidence to support his claims, Bauman stipulated that the Holocaust existed as an extension of modern civilization. This thesis contradicts a mainstream theory of sociology, i.e. the prevailing notion that the Holocaust was a failure, not a product, of modern society.  However, the bureaucracy, industrial complex pattern, and, rational efficiency all utilized by the Nazi’s to exterminate the Jewish people relate to Weber’s characteristics of modern society.  All of these characteristics differentiate the Holocaust and put it in a unique place as the first example of modern genocide.  In essence, Bauman argued that Nazi’s followed the precursor’s of all the traits encouraged in modern society to their rational, if not moral, conclusion.

In support of his overall thesis that the Holocaust was a product of modernity , Bauman pointed out the path of the Nazi plans to remove Jews from their territory.  By presenting the gas chambers and concentration camps as the logical conclusion to what might have been a costly relocation project, the extermination of millions of people became a rational, cost cutting plan to realize Hitler’sThird Reich.  By dehumanizing the Jewish people and making them another quirk in the system to be solved as efficiently as possible, the involvement of normal German citizens becomes comprehensible.  The people outlining the plans for the gas chambers could remain distant and claim to be merely following orders, similar to the SS officers responsible for mobile killing.  Everyone was just listening to their superior, and therefore not responsible for the greater outcome, similar to the necessity of a well-oiled cog in a factory machine.

The common notion that civilization has somehow advanced beyond the barbarism and savagery of the past becomes a falsity if Bauman remains correct.  Moreover, the factors of the Holocaust remain a normal part of the makeup of modern society.   Reason and logic failed to eliminate violence, instead they merely amplified and  facilitated the ability of humanity to exterminate an undesirable, regardless of any moral quandary.

 

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