Posted 6 years ago on Feb. 20, 2012, 11:10 a.m. EST by antimoderne
from Philadelphia, PA
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- What is Modernity?
Modernity designates the political and philosophical movement of the last three centuries of Western history. It is characterized primarily by five converging processes: individualization, through the destruction of old forms of communal life; massification, through the adoption of standardized behavior and lifestyles; desacralization, through the displacement of the great religious narratives by a scientific interpretation of the world; rationalization, through the domination of instrumental reason, the free market, and technical efficiency; and universalization, through a planetary extension of a model of society postulated implicitly as the only rational possibility and thus as superior.
This movement has old roots. In most respects, it represents a secularization of ideas and perspectives borrowed from Christian metaphysics, which spread into secular life following a rejection of any transcendent dimension. Actually, one finds in Christianity the seeds of the great mutations that gave birth to the secular ideologies of the first post-revolutionary era. Individualism was already present in the notion of individual salvation and of an intimate and privileged relation between an individual and God that surpasses any relation on earth. Egalitarianism is rooted in the idea that redemption is equally available to all mankind, since all are endowed with an individual soul whose absolute value is shared by all humanity. Progressivism is born of the idea that history has an absolute beginning and a necessary end, and that it unfolds globally according to a divine plan. Finally, universalism is the natural expression of a religion that claims to manifest a revealed truth which, valid for all men, summons them to conversion. Modern political life itself is founded on secularized theological concepts. Reduced to an opinion among others, today Christianity has unwittingly become the victim of the movement it started. In the history of the West, it became the religion of the way out of religion.
The various concurrent and often contradictory philosophical schools of modernity agree on one issue: that there is a unique and universalizable solution for all social, moral and political problems. Humanity is understood to be the sum of rational individuals who, through self-interest, moral conviction, fellowship or even fear are called upon to realize their unity in history. In this perspective, the diversity of the world becomes an obstacle, and all that differentiates men is thought to be incidental or contingent, outmoded or even dangerous. To the extent that modernity is not only a body of ideas, but also a mode of action, it attempts by every available means to uproot individuals from their individual communities, to subject them to a universal mode of association. In practice, the most efficient means for doing this has been the marketplace.
- The Crisis of Modernity
The imagery of modernity is dominated by desires of freedom and equality. These two cardinal values have been betrayed. Cut off from the communities which protected them, giving meaning and form to their existence, individuals are now subject to such an immense mechanism of domination and decision that their freedom remains purely formal. They endure the global power of the marketplace, technoscience, or communications without ever being able to influence their course. The promise of equality has failed on two counts: communism has betrayed it by installing the most murderous totalitarian regimes in history; capitalism has trivialized it by legitimating the most odious social and economic inequalities in the name of equality. Modernity proclaims rights without in any way providing the means to exercise them. It exacerbates all needs and continually creates new ones, while reserving access to them to a small minority, which feeds the frustration and anger of all others. As for the ideology of progress, which responds to human expectations by nourishing the promise of an ever improving world, it is in a deep crisis. The future appears unpredictable, no longer offering hope, and terrifying almost everyone. Each generation confronts a world different from the one its fathers knew. Combined with accelerated transformations of lifestyles and living contexts (nomoi), this enduring newness predicated on discrediting the fathers and old experiences, produces not happiness but misery.
The "end of ideologies" is an expression designating the historical exhaustion of the great mobilizing narratives that became embodied in liberalism, socialism, communism, nationalism, fascism, and, finally, Nazism. The 20th century has sounded the death knell for most of these doctrines, whose concrete results were genocide, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder, total wars among nations and permanent rivalry among individuals, ecological disasters, social chaos, and the loss of all significant reference points. The destruction of the lifeworld for the benefit of instrumental reason, economic growth, and material development have resulted in an unprecedented impoverishment of the spirit, and the generalization of anxiety related to living in an always uncertain present, in a world deprived both of the past and the future. Thus, modernity has given birth to the most empty civilization mankind has ever known: the language of advertising has become the paradigm of all social discourse; the primacy of money has imposed the omnipresence of commodities; man has been transformed into an object of exchange in a context of mean hedonism; technology has ensnared the lifeworld in a network of rationalism—a world replete with delinquency, violence, and incivility, in which man is at war with himself and against all, i.e., an unreal world of drugs, virtual reality and media-hyped sports, in which the countryside is abandoned for unlivable suburbs and monstrous megalopolises, and where the solitary individual merges into an anonymous and hostile crowd, while traditional social, political, cultural or religious mediations become increasingly uncertain and undifferentiated.
This general crisis is a sign that modernity is reaching its end, precisely when the universalist utopia that established it is poised to become a reality under the form of liberal globalization. The end of the 20th century marks both the end of modern times and the beginning of a postmodernity characterized by a series of new themes: preoccupation with ecology, concern for the quality of life, the role of "tribes" and of "networks," revival of communities, the politics of group identities, multiplication of intra- and supra-state conflicts, the return of social violence, the decline of established religions, growing opposition to social elitism, etc. Having nothing new to say, and observing the growing malaise of contemporary societies, the agents of the dominant ideology are reduced to the clichés-ridden discourse so common in the media in a world threatened by implosion—implosion, not explosion, because modernity will not be transcended with a grand soir (a secular version of the Second Coming of Christ), but with the appearance of thousands of auroras, i.e., the birth of sovereign spaces liberated from the domination of the modern. Modernity will not be transcended by returning to the past, but by means of certain premodern values in a decisively postmodern dimension. It is only at the price of such a radical restructuring that anomie and contemporary nihilism will be exorcised.