The Dormancy of “Aberration”

In the first chapter of Zygmunt Bauman’s “Modernity and the Holocaust”, multiple perspectives are provided regarding the relationship between modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman begins by refuting the concept of the Holocaust- or any major sociological development, for that matter- as a singular “event” that can be scrutinized in terms of the multitude of historical elements that contributed to its development. Rather, he projects the idea that unless we revise our sociological perspective on the past, we will never see it as anything but “a unique but fully determined product of a particular concatenation of social and psychological factors” (4). Though such phrasing might be a bit gratuitous, Bauman raises an interesting point here: pointing to the research of Nechama Tec, he imprints upon the reader that rather than examining the Holocaust as an “aberration” of human behavior, it must be viewed as a sort of “sleeping menace”- that the kind of moral extremism exhibited on both sides does not arise as a result of human development, but rather exists alongside the norm, and only surfaces when conditions permit (7). Bauman argues that we mustn’t examine the Holocaust through a sociological perspective, but rather see the Holocaust as a revelation of what society is capable of given the culmination of “efficiency…technology…[and] subordinate thought and action to the pragmatics of economy” (13). This inductive approach forces us to reevaluate sociological perspectives on a sweeping scale, which is Bauman’s major point, but his conclusion- that the Holocaust occurred as a result of modernity, advancement, and the conditions that they brought on- is flawed. While this assertion holds a basis in valid reasoning, Bauman merely takes steps in the right direction. The point he seems to miss, however, is ironically his own- that the correlation between the development of industrial and unethical means and the occurrence of genocide are not directly related. It becomes clear, however, when applying Tec’s disputation of the “social determinants” of morality that the Holocaust was not a result of the times, but more accurately a simultaneous development that fostered in an era of efficiency and modernity (5).

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.




The Theory of the Leisure Class and Conspicuous Consumption

Author: Thorstein Veblen was an American economist and sociologist, along with being the leader of the institutional economics movement. He was born to Norwegian parents, and studied at well-known American colleges.

Context: The Theory of the Leisure Class was written in 1899, following the Industrial Revolution and during a time of more widespread prosperity as a result of industrialization.

Language:Using a didactic, matter-of-fact tone, Veblen uses the repetition of words such as “consumption”, “leisure”, “vicarious”, “superior”, “servants”, and “classes” to instill the key message of the work into readers’ minds. His tone is almost satirical in the way that he pokes fun at the way people use material goods as a sign of status.

Audience: Veblen writes for an audience interested in economics, sociology, or both.

Intention: Veblen’s intention is to make people aware of the consumerist culture that has taken over society as a result of the division of labor and the division of classes.

Message: Veblen’s message is to convey to society that consumption has become a way of conforming in modern society. He criticizes the way that the consumption of material goods has become a means of proving wealth and status, and points out the association between honor and material acquisitions. He also claims that clothing has become a way of expressing status, rather than a way of protection.