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Modernity and the Holocaust

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  854 ratings  ·  99 reviews
A new afterword to this edition, "The Duty to Remember, But What?" tackles the difficult issues of guilt and innocence on the individual and societal levels. Zygmunt Bauman explores the silences found in debates about the Holocaust, and asks what the historical facts of the Holocaust tell us about the hidden capacities of present-day life. He finds great danger in such ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published February 23rd 2001 by Cornell University Press (first published 1989)
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Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is one of those books where I made notes and highlights upon nearly every page. While all the arguments and even their details are important, in the interest of brevity I will try to summarize the key points from the book below.

There are two major lessons of the Holocaust, different but of roughly equal importance. The one that most people are familiar with positions the Holocaust as fundamentally an episode of Jewish history. In this view the Holocaust was the culmination of centuries of
Michael Williams
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-fall-2011
Bauman argues against the notion that the Holocaust was an essentially Jewish tragedy, traceable to uniquely German causes. Rather, Bauman believes that the Holocaust was an outgrowth of modernity. His conclusion is Habermasian in that he stresses the freedom of the state from “social control” as enabling the Holocaust, echoing Habermas’ famous proposition of the system’s separation from and colonization of the lifeworld:

The Holocaust was an outcome of a unique encounter between factors by
Nathaniel Spencer
As I started reading this, I realized it was going to be a great, thought-provoking book. As I read on, I realized it may be one of the most important works of non-fiction I've ever read.

Most of us have a stock set of answers concerning what caused the Holocaust. It's driving forces all seem pretty self-evident: anti-semitism, totalitarianism, etc. In Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman sets out to uncover the major lesson the world has yet to learn from it, namely that such a crime
I read this book for a sociology class at BYU in 2001. I remember it easily enough because on the big screen at the front of the class I watched the world towers come crashing down. We were still early enough in the semester that I didn't know anyone in the class, but I remember sitting there, looking at each other and the news and the towers falling wondering what happened, how could this happen?
I didn't make the connection at the time, but this book explains a lot of how it happened and why
Sara Salem
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book that shows the link between the Holocaust and the European Enlightenment. Bauman shows that the values and theories that emerged because of the Enlightenment are precisely what allowed the Holocaust to happen. In other words, the Holocaust was not an exception to the Enlightenment, but a result of it. He focuses especially on rationality.
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply one of the best books I have ever read. Taking in an astonishing breadth of disciplines, from sociology to cinematic theory to historiography, Bauman rigorously illustrates the Holocaust as the ultimate example of modernity: a terrifying archetype of science, bureaucracy, industrial efficiency and rationality.

He bravely and convincingly leaves Zionist revisionists such as Daniel Goldhagen and entire disciplines of academia (sociology, psychology) in the dust, and condemns them for the
Jan 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Argues convincingly that the Holocaust was not an eruption of pre-modern passion or madness but an utterly modern event; that the tools of modernity (rationalization, bureaucracy, technology, etc) made this level of mass killing possible for the first time. In the latter half of the book, Bauman wrestles more specifically with the question 'what is the significance of the Holocaust for us?' Opposing many intellectuals who see the Holocaust as primarily about German inherent evil or antisemitism, ...more
Mar 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Bauman's writing style can be lengthy at times. The organization of the book could have been better, and main points are also revisited from nearly the same angle which makes some sections feel redundant.

On the positive, the thesis (see the description for these notes) is powerful, and the argument is crafted with care. The author's many-angled approach to similar ideas requires a slow, thoughtful read. In the end, this work goes a long way to dispel the popular myths of the holocaust, and
Arba Tabaku
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A book that i started to read due to an exchange office, but after this book was turned into a bitter truth about Holocaust.
There ,where many people lost their life,where human values died without mercy and the freedom was imprisoned.
"The Holocaust" wasn't a wound only for Jewish society but a wound in the world's heart .A world represented by freedom ,democracy and modernity!
Sep 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Systematic and thorough, though largely a reiteration of the main criticisms of modernity's greatest achievement---bureaucracy. The refreshing part is the great historical research and references, providing compelling and complete evidence for those who may have otherwise remained unconvinced of the brutality of bureaucracy and simple obedience.
Sofia Pi
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on modernity, it gave me a whole new perspective on modernity. It made me scared as well about our future. Bauman is right when he says 'our evolution has outpaced our understanding' and thus complacency is not an option any more.
Caitlin Bronson
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural, sociology
Fascinating perspective on something so many of us put in a vacuum or block out as incomprehensible.
Manuel Paradela
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Unoriginal, mostly, and a bit old-fashioned (which is not always a con). I'm not sure I got anything I hadn't already gotten from Hilberg and Arendt. Since this is Bauman, the arguments for the connection between Holocaust and Modernity are stronger than usual, if again not really original. In particular, the argument for keeping a special onthological category for the Holocaust was terrible. Doesn't mean it can't be done; it's just that Bauman is awful at it. I'm not even sure "an air of ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The Holocaust was indeed a Jewish tragedy. Though Jews were not the only population subjected to a ‘special treatment’ by the Nazi regime (six million Jews were among more than 20 million people annihilated at Hitler’s behest), only the Jews had been marked for total destruction, and allotted no place in the New Order that Hitler intended to install. Even so, the Holocaust was not simply a Jewish problem, and not an event in Jewish history alone. The Holocaust was born and executed in our ...more
Khitkhite Buri
I hate gardening metaphors, however apt they may seem to damningly describe the enlightenment project, the self-reproducing march of science and capitalist bureaucracy, and the 'by-product' that was the final solution. But it probably grasps in part what Adorno misses in Dialectic of Enlightenment (and B is hardly dialectical in his analysis, just observant and critical), but then Adorno is a brilliant writer and Bauman just has moments where he knows how to deploy an idiom.
Tom Calvard
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A profound and insightful read on the complex memory of the Holocaust and what it means for our modern institutions and societies. Perhaps a little long and repetitive in blaming modern bureaucracy and rationality, but the point is forcefully and convincingly made, and more than a little frightening.
Yasmin Yoon
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race
Can skip "Modernity, Racism, Extermination I" and II
Kim Hansen
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read.
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Some interesting ideas, well written. Not the "must" read, but still, interesting for specialists as for the general public.
芊玫 rose
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing

have to pick up this book again nd give it a reflection nd thought. boyfriend tried to suicide, cut a long wound on the chest then his best friend was murdered by a teenager and his father. Racist problems nd modern mental disease re still increasing growing in this era. The high rate of suicide, murdering could be more individual nd isolated.. what does people really cherish? We all were talking about people getting lost in this or that era but do they really care about this problem..

I remember being at home reading Carl Sagan's"Demon-haunted world: Science as a Candle in the Dark"and being exposed for the first time to Maxwell's equations, which, in undeniable beauty, describe propagation of light - the same light emanating from the candle that Sagan called Science. I understood through Sagan, and even others like Feynman, that science is about a way of being. A scientist is the type of person whose commitment tounderstanding the Universe as such , as well as those within ...more
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Holocaust is the golden standard of evil for Western civilization. However, it has tricked down to us as the plight of good Jews against horrible Nazis. This black and white panorama is challenged by this excellent book, which explores all the shades of grey. Bauman argues that the Holocaust isn't a cessation of our modern civilization, instead it is the most extreme case of Modernity. By walking us through the steps, he shows how normal people can be made to play a part in commiting ...more
Dean Ray
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of Bauman's best works! His use of the latest sociological research, given it was 1987, infuses this book with a deep insight. His description of the Nazi's use of the victim in the Holocaust is a very remarkable chapter in the book and perhaps one of the most transfixing things I've read in a long while. I would recommend this book to anybody who is a fan of Bauman or anybody who is interested in the Holocaust. Bauman denies us the comfort of an easy answer for the Holocaust, it was not ...more
Lyndon Bailey
Fascinating and very clearly written book. Bauman inquires why Sociology had been so quiet for decades about the sociological implications of the holocaust, leaving it to historians and theologists to explore.

The conclusion is a startling one, rejecting the traditional idea that Nazism was a case of 'animal passions' over-riding civilized nature, he flips this, claiming that modernity and civilization contain the potential to conform in ways that are generally considered immoral.

In addition he
Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I had a true intellectual and spiritual epiphany while reading this book in college. On a spiritual level, I gained insight on seperating the action from the person as well as empathy for the actions of my fellow beings. Would I really have behaved any differently in the same circumstances? It's very easy to be judgemental of a situation in which you haven't actually taken part.
On an intellectual level, I saw in a concrete, real world example how disconnected we can become from the outcome of
Feb 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The central thesis is great, but it feels like a rehashing of the ideas brought forth in Horkheimer & Adorno's 'Dialetic of Enlightment' and Arendt's 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'.
What would be a important improvement to this question (i.e. a sociological analysis) just doesn't turn out to be that much of an addition, and Bauman's critique seems to be a little limited tbh.
If you're not familiar to this discussion this book can a nice introduction, I guess, but I think others authors such as
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ffr-cross
An insightful, if troubling, survey of persistent themes in modern culture which subsist the socio-political mechanisms that gave rise to the Holocaust. Bauman's critique - that guilt has been determined, but our own innocence is not past - casts the potential for a repeat of the Holocaust with such clarity that one is forced to reassess the assumptions that mankind has grown beyond the aforesaid possibility.

Troubling and brilliant.
Maximilian Held
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a bit of a fanboy of both modernity and sociology, I naturally approached this book with a bit of skepticism.
I was wrong.
I have found my required reading.

Indeed, "the Holocaust has more to say about the state of sociology than sociology in its present shape is able to add to our knowledge of the Holocaust." (Bauman 1989: 3)
Marcia Guimaraes
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: holocaust
I had a hard time getting through it not only because it was especially hard but because it gives us a new look on the Holocaust, which is understood as a "result" (not really the word) of modernity. Somehow, its rationality makes it possible to see this tragic event from a new perspective instead of simply taking it as "German" strategy (again, not really the word).
Mike Frost
Feb 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Bauman's thesis is that the holocaust was not actually the last vestiges of a more barbarous humanity, but was in reality a pure product of modernity and "progress." It's a pretty stirring and controversial argument to make, and made for some interesting/deep reading.
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Zygmunt Bauman was a world-renowned Polish sociologist and philosopher, and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Leeds. He was one of the world's most eminent social theorists, writing on issues as diverse as modernity and the Holocaust, postmodern consumerism and liquid modernity and one of the creators of the concept of “postmodernism”.
“The rationality of the ruled is always the weapon of the rulers.” 75 likes
“To understand how that astounding moral blindness was possible, it is helpful to think of the workers of an armament plant who rejoice in the 'stay of execution' of their factory thanks to big new orders, while at the same time honestly bewailing the massacres visited upon each other by Ethiopians and Eritreans; or to think how it is possible that the 'fall in commodity prices' may be universally welcomed as good news while 'starvation of African children' is equally universally, and sincerely, lamented.” 6 likes
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