Modernity in the Soviet Union

In this article, historian, David Hoffman discusses the trends of modernity during the late 19th to 20th century, particularly in Russia as it became the Soviet Union. According to Hoffman, modernity is linked with the many ideals of the Enlightenment. Many tend to link the term modernity with democracy and associate it with the political and economic systems of the United States, England, and France. Hoffman briefly discusses the ideas of the enlightenment and the need for reason. Instead of associating modernity with democracy and the spread of industrial capitalism, particularly in Western Europe, the basis of modernity are science and reason, and therefore, Hoffman argues that many facets of Enlightenment thought were integral in the emergence of the Soviet Union. Hoffman also makes the argument that modernity also largely consists of the idea of stemming away from tradition and transforming into something new using rational thinking.  Hoffman continues by giving examples of how certain aspects of Russian society such as, education, the military, health, etc. transformed into the Soviet state with the use of reason and rational thinking. Hoffman focuses a lot on the creation of the welfare state. Hoffman states, “throughout Europe the interventionist welfare state resulted from new forms of knowledge, new goals of government, and new technologies of social control … in their [government officials, political leaders, and professionals] quest to order society rationally and scientifically, they strove to know the population statistically” (252). With the use of rationale and scientific thinking, statistics and studies paved the way from new observations and developments within Russian society. Hoffman describes that when observing poverty, which had been previously been viewed as “human errors,” statistics showed that poverty was a social issue that called out for the establishment of a welfare state with social work and programs that could help the impoverished become better citizens (252). Ultimately, modernity in Russia consisted of an attempt to transform individuals and society in rational and productive manner.

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