Sunday, August 17, 2014

Modern Times

What is modernity? John Darwin, in After Tamerlane, offers this perhaps idealized version:

But modernity is a very slippery idea. The conventional meaning is based on a scale of achievement. In political terms, its key attributes are an organized nation state, with definite boundaries; an orderly government, with a loyal bureaucracy to carry out its commands; an effective means to represent public opinion; and a code of rights to protect the ordinary citizen and encourage the growth of ‘civil society’. Economically, it means the attainment of rapid, cumulative economic growth through industrial capitalism (with its social and technological infrastructure); the entrenchment of individual property rights (as a necessary precondition); and the systematic exploitation of science-based knowledge. Culturally, it implies the separation of religion and the supernatural from the mainstream of thought (by secularization and the ‘disenchantment’ of knowledge) and social behaviour; the diffusion of literacy (usually through a vernacular rather than a classical language); and a sense of common origins and identity (often based on language) within a ‘national’ community. The keynotes of modernity become order, discipline, hierarchy and control in societies bent on purposeful change towards ever higher levels of ‘social efficiency’.

Darwin, John (2010-08-08). After Tamerlane (pp. 25-26). Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition. (pp. 25-26). Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Kindle Edition.

Among other problems, this version is both Eurocentric and also objectionable to many who consider themselves modern. At best, it's an idealized version of what some leading Western states consider themselves, but it is nonetheless something of a model.