Quora Answer: What is modernity and is it a good thing?

Oct 18 2014

I mention these books which I have not read just to show that there is a literature out there on modernity. It might be a good idea to consult it.

My concept of modernity is that it basically starts with Descartes and reaches its height with Kant and Hegel and then slowly starts to unravel, with the true danger sign being Nietzsche who was the precursor to the world wars in the early 20th century which transformed everything. Modernity is coeval with the colonialization of the world by the West which started to collapse once there was not much world to colonize any more and the colonial powers turned to war on each other in order to continue their expansion, which in fact merely caused the whole colonial regime to collapse in the sixties after the second world war. For me post-modernism and post-colonialism are just about the same thing.

Modernity is about the difference between the colonial powers and their colonies. What makes the colonial powers different and fit to rule their coloniies? Well it is obvious, we are modern and we are bringing the benefits of modernity to savages, which sounds very similar to the first justification, which was we  are christian and we are bringing the benefits of true religion to savages. Modernism however is coeval with secularism, the replacement of sovereignty with democracy, the emphasis on freedom, liberty and equality, in modern industrial states which are run by rational bureaucracies based on technical competence rather than just cronyism or nepotism. Many of these standards were set by Germany and Britain and then America for what is modern.

Modernism covers such a wide swath of history and is so recent it is hard to say whether it is good or not because it mixes nihilistically great good with great evil. It is good that we have broken out of sovereignty  But the disconnects and violence that this unleashed is surely evil. It is probably best to think of modernity and the rise of science and technology more of a fate than something good or evil. What we need to do is confront the implications of this fate for the world.

The culmination of modernity is the wars of ideology in the twentieth century which capitalist democracies won hands down. This was a terrible scorge on mankind which we are really still recovering from. What we are tying to do now is to convince ourselves that we are in a post ideological age and that we have gotten past those ideological wars. But I think Zizek is right when he says that what we think of as a post ideological world is really an intensification of ideology rather than the lack of ideology. Much of that ideology concerns global corporatism which is the newest sovereign challenge to democracy. The fact that we got out of the Two Hot and one Cold wars without a totalitarianism in the central european powers is quite amazing. We need to preserve that. Think if the Axis powers or the Communists had won, then everything today would be more or less like it is in China with their totalitarian system which is running their  capitalist transformation corruptly. Capitalism and Democracy are uneasy partners and not a particularly good system for running things, but just so much better than all the other alternatives that it is worth while fighting to keep our system in place as long as possible. The alternatives are even more horrific than the bubbling of our democracy and the out  of control antics of the capitalists who are exploiting everything in sight. The chaos of freedom is preferable to all the trains running on time.

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