Understanding Bauman’s “Civilized Nazis” Theory in the Context of Modernity

In the introduction to his most famous work, Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman argues from a sociological perspective that the genocide of non-Aryans by the Nazis in an effort of ethical cleansing can only be strictly understood in the context of a modern and civilized society. His view is quite radical, especially to those raised in the West who have been ingrained with the ideology that developed cultures exclude those that practice all forms of brutal savagery, particularly a Holocaust. Bauman throws away this traditional theory. He also rejects the thesis that the Holocaust was the work of madmen or explainable through European anti-semitic tendencies as extremely simplified and therefore non-considerable.

On the other hand, Bauman asserts his own powerfully convincing thesis — That the true potential of a modern, civilized society is actually exemplified through the Holocaust and is representative of the cruel reality that humans are capable of creating. He cautions that if not prevented, it is in the realm of possibility that either current or future societies are adapted to committing genocide on perhaps an even larger scale than what was witnessed in the dark period of the early 1940s. Further, he makes clear that this genocide was not committed by a group of anomic barbarians, but a so-called moralized and democratic society that not only allowed the creation of death camps but was complicit and vital to their functioning. Through implementing the production capabilities of the industrialized factory system, coordinated with the efficiently organized chain of command facilitated through bureaucracy, the Third Reich applied the advanced technological and business models available in the 20th century to a sophisticated killing machine, the concentration camps. To Bauman, the success of the Nazi’s mass murder scheme was rooted in its ‘correct use’ of bureaucracy. It was essential that the German administration utilized this formalized system of procedure to have efficiently achieved their government goals by synthesizing (1) the civil service composed of ‘normal’ citizens, (2) brute military force, (3) an industrialized mode of production, and finally (4) a single political party that provided an overall idealistic sense of a united nation. (13-14 Bauman) In the Third Reich, tied to the sense of a united nation was a united German Volk, of only the purest Germanic blood. Hitler’s functional objective of a judenfrei Germany was not originally presented in the terms of ridding the world of all Jewry through mass murder. His sinister dream of a ‘racially pure’ Aryan nation began in active forced deportation of minority groups to surrounding European nations. But as the war continued and the National Socialists political-military prowess and territory swelled, Germany quickly was responsible for more Jews than they knew what to do with or had any desire to humanely deal with.

As Bauman explains, The Final Solution was enacted and rationalized in a civilized nation through a tri-fold effect that would only have been possible in a modernized state. First, the SS hierarchy always shifted duty for otherwise immoral acts to a superior in command. Second, killing was always performed when capable at a physical distance with the aid of technology and never with zealous motivation, only professional efficiency due to the Fuhrer and Vaterland. In this way, responsibility for mass murder was diverted (in the minds of the killers) by the flick of an electrical switch and the psychological intention of murder was detached from the physical act of murder. Gas chambers were used purposefully; a chemical and technological barrier between the victim and the killer was intentionally in place. Shooting was discouraged and by the time the Einsatzgruppen mobilized, executioners who were overzealous about the concept of carrying out the firing squad were removed from that station. Finally, the Nazis systematically removed anything close to resembling humanity and humanness from their victims through removal of all basic rights, starvation, torture, and forced slave labor. In this way, the ‘invisibility’ of the Muselmanner (walking corpses) was complete. The murder of millions under the Third Reich regime was possible because each dead body was not considered as a corpse; it was just another final, capitalized product of the factory-line system.

In Bauman’s summarizing words, “It [the Holocaust] was a legitimate resident in the house of modernity; indeed, one who would not be at home in any other house.” (Bauman 17) He emphatically rejects the notion of the German Final Solution as an irrational aberration from traditional civilized tendencies. In fact, he presents civilization not a force that has overcome barbarism, but one that actually supports natural violent tendencies towards ethnic minorities. He continues to explain his meaning of civilization, which in his words has dual, co-existing potentialities for extreme good as well as extreme evil. In Bauman’s sociological viewpoint, the humanity that put the man on the moon and co-orchestrated the Olympics is the same humanity that allowed the death camps of the Third Reich to murder 6 million Jews and 5 million other civilians, all in the heart of Western Europe only 70 years ago. He quotes Rubenstein to what he concludes as the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust, “Both creation and destruction are inseparable aspects of what we call civilization.” (Bauman 9) In conclusion, Bauman explores the devastation of the Holocaust as strictly a rationally explained historical incident explicitly to be considered in the framework of highly bureaucratic and highly industrialized nations, both of which are only possible in a modernized civilization.

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.

Modernity and Soviet Socialism

David Hoffman’s article analyzes the meanings of what it means to be a modern state and how the Soviet Union has historically fit into this definition. A modern state is recognized as a nation-state that has developed a system of parliamentary democracy and a social and economic system based on industrial capitalism (Hoffman, 246). He acknowledges that the Soviet Union did not develop at the same rate or way compared to its European counterparts, particularly France and England. Hoffman argues that although the Soviet Union remained an autocracy until 1917 and had distinct political and social systems, it did develop several characteristics and fundamental ideas during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century that Hoffman aligns with modernity. These developments include mass politics and a greater effort by the state to regulate and quantify the state’s population.
Many Soviet policies show development of mass politics and while it was not on the same scale as the French Revolution, Soviet propaganda, demonstrations, and campaigns were all focused on involving the greater public. The ultimate goal of involving and integrating the greater population into political structures was to create a society that was both conscience and cultured (Hoffman, 247). One particularly interesting development is that the Soviet Union became increasingly concerned with the capacity and health of society. Officials became interested in factors such as working conditions, urban planning, social hygiene and the spread of disease (Hoffman, 253). The Soviet Union took interest in the welfare and behavior of society later than many other countries in Western Europe, however this development and control of social welfare programs allowed the state the calculate population statistics and potential capabilities in both economic and military sectors as these areas were in the interest of national security (Hoffman, 250-251).
Hoffman closes his analysis with the argument that the developments mentioned above paired with the socialist ideology were unable to keep up and evolve with the Soviet Union’s European counterparts as they moved into the postmodern era. This was partly a result of the Soviet Union’s inability to successfully promote new technology and service sectors (Hoffman, 257).

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.


Modernity and the Holocaust

Zygmunt Baumans’ article provides the reader a look at the sociological aspect of modernity and the holocaust.  In his article, Bauman mixes “modernity” and ‘sociological behavior” together while using the Holocaust to look at human behavior.  Bauman argues that the Holocaust is another chapter in modern society.  Like many events that preceded the Holocaust, violence, in Bauman’s mind, was a “constitutive feature of Modern Civilization” and that the “Holocaust-style phenomena must be recognized as legitimate outcome of civilizing tendency.”  (Bauman Pg 28) He thinks that because of how humans interact with one another, how each individual thinks differently, and how each individual solves problems differently, humanity will always be doomed to use violence from time to time to solve its problems.  For example, he believed that the Holocaust had a feeling of familiarity from its past.  He uses the “slaughter of Albigensian heretics” and “the British invention of concentration camps during the Boer War” as examples of how the Holocaust took a familiar path from other events in history.

Bauman provides his audience with a valid argument in that the Holocaust became another example of how human behavior tends to lead toward violence from time to time. As society has and will continue to advance, humans will continue to fight over various issues.  Over the course of time, Humanity has seen violence over  Religion, imperialism, politics, and present day terrorism.  In the 20th and 21st centuries, humans continue to fight over natural resources and politics.  These conflicts over natural resources and politics have led to two global conflicts and many more small scaled wars.   Whatever the reason may be, the fact that violence continues today makes a strong case for Baumans argument that humans will continue to fight and the Holocaust was another chapter in modern societies.

Bauman used the term “Modernity” to describe the social beliefs humans have and will have toward the world.  He used it in a way that helped him explain how the legacy of the Holocaust became another example of human tendencies toward violence, like  predeceasing conflicts before it.




European and Soviet Modernity and Socialism

Within David L. Hoffman’s article about European Modernity and Soviet Socialism he explores the many ways that the European governments viewed their populations. He further explores the many different policies and regulations that they put upon their populations. To view the history of Russia and its take on its population one must understand that while England and France were transforming into liberal, democratic, and a industrial  capitalistic state, Russia did not follow suit. Russia remained a absolute monarchy under the tzars . It was not until the october revolution of 1917 that Russia’s government shifted into a socialist state. As different as the governments and economic systems of the west and the Soviet government where the leaders of each system had a similar view on their population. As modern Soviet and Western powers entered the modern age they began to see not only the opportunities but also the resource of having a large and healthy population. The governments understood that in order to maintain power a government must have its people healthy and educated this in turn would benefit the society and the country as a whole. Each country began to initiate well fair programs for the benefit of the population and with the aim to increase the population size and safety. In 1936 the Commissar of health in the Soviet Union justified the ban on abortion as curtail to increasing the population of the country which would lead to an increase of nationalism. In other countries the government took a darker approach to maintaining their population. In Nazi Germany the regime began a eugenics program aimed at sterilizing the members of the population with disabilities both physically and mentally. As most people think only of the Nazi regime committing this crime it is also true that the Stain regime also committed this crime. However unlike the Nazis Stalin sent his political enemies and minorities to Siberian  work camps. Zygmunt Bauman has argued that the reason why Hitler and Stalins victims were killed was because they didn’t fit into the scheme of a perfect society. It is impossible to put all the blame of these crimes on modernity it is true that modernity enabled the industrialization of nations which led to governments taking an increased concern with their populations.

Narod and Narodnost: A Transformation of Russia

The piece for class on Monday is on the subject of modernity, nationality, and ethnicity. The etymology of words such as narod and narodnost are used as a basis for discussion throughout the piece. The piece explores the transformation of Russian society and nationalism throughout centuries through the use of narod and narodnost to illustrate this societal transformation.

The piece begins by an explanation of the word narod in different contexts. The piece states that narod was a term to denote ethnicity. The piece insinuates that the term is much deeper than just ethnicity-it also refers to culture. The piece then talks about narod is different aspects of culture such as political and cultural. The piece explores how narod evolves into the term of narodnost. Narodnost is illustrated through examples of literary figures in Russia and philosophers. The effects of Narod and narodnost are explained through cultural and political movements in Russia, leading to a new definition of nationalism.