Hoffman defines the traditional sense of modernity as liberal democracy and industrial capitalism. This idea or narrow concept of modernity, in my mind, proceeds from our desire to clearly identify the others: to separate the proverbial tares from the wheat. However, in our insatiable egotism and self justification we construct rigid lines of demarcation by which to separate ourselves from the others. Hoffman deconstructs this archaic version of modernity to define the more fundamental, rational sense of true modernity.
The key lies in the governments evolved relationship with the people. During the modern era, people became the focus of governments. All forms government, fascist, democratic, communist, or socialist, invested significant time and resources into the lives of the people. I really enjoyed following Hoffman’s clear logic and connections between democratic and communist governments, seemingly polar government structures. The author argues that perhaps the most distinguishing factor between government types are their goals. Communist or fascist governments heavily invest in citizens’ lives to further a particular agenda or cultivate a certain national mindset. Conversely, Hoffman says that although liberal democracies intrude on person liberties, just like communist or socialist states, they do so for the national good without pursuing “grand ideological claims.” I struggle with this argument. Although there are certainly differences between government types, the lines are not so clear.
All governments absolutely try to disperse perceived national values through their institutions, programs, and other actions. During the Second World War the United States conducted immense advertising campaigns to rally support for the war and also demonize any anti-war or American sentiments, whether actively antagonistic to the United States or simply ideological. Perhaps I am just naturally inclined to distrust governments, but I believe that all powerful organizations are concerned with their own history and the way it will be told.
I realize the article largely pertains to the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century; nevertheless, I still think about the direction western society is now traveling. European countries, and slowly the United States as well, are starting to adopt more social or collective policies and programs. This is not a criticism, only an observation on how the tares and wheat are becoming obsolete upon our embracing of a new form of modernity.