The Modernity Debate

In the article “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism,” David Hoffman strives to eradicate the notion of Russia being unique in comparison with other European countries (and therefore backwards and uncivilized).  While Russia did not follow the path of “…liberal democracy and industrial capitalism which characterized the political and economic systems of England, France, and the United States,” (Hoffman, 245) Russia certainly can be perceived as modern, if only the very definition of modernity be broadened.

Hoffman notes that in Western Europe, the definition of modernity and what constitutes as “modern” is very specific. Modernity in this instance entails the development of nation-states, the establishment of parliamentary procedures, and the spread of industrial capitalism. By this definition, Russia is certainly not modern. Subsequently, Hoffman argues that “…it is important to consider more universal trends associated with the coming of modernity. A number of aspects of Soviet socialism paralleled developments throughout Europe during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Hoffman, 245). Indeed, several ideals commonplace in Enlightenment thought are very prevalent in Russia. The belief in progress, faith in reason, veneration of science, and the disparagement of religion and tradition all characterized the Soviet system in various ways, as Hoffman continuously demonstrates.

Hoffman offers countless instances of Soviet modernity initiatives that were replicated all over Europe and in the United States. For example, the Soviets focused especially on the study of Eugenics. Eugenics is the belief that by sorting through and rooting out deficiencies (both mental and physical) found in humans, a new and vastly improved race could be achieved. While Germany certainly took this study and used it as justification for their racial cleanse, the United States expressed interest in Eugenics as well. Specifically, “In 1907 the state of Indiana passed a law that allowed sterilization of the ‘degenerate’ and in 1927 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of compulsory sterilization ” (Hoffman, 254-255). Simultaneously, a strong Eugenics movement developed in the Soviet Union. Though this is a specific example, Hoffman’s point is made extremely clear. Russia can easily be seen as modern, once a definition is expanded. The idea of modernity can include a wide array of requirements or stipulations. By broadening our definition, Hoffman states we are better enabled to explain the wide array of modern proposals designed to reorder society on a rational basis.