Zymunt Bauman, Modernity, and the Holocaust


Today and in my next post, I will be sharing entries from my philosophical journal that pertain to sociologist’s Zygmund Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust.  The entries were first written on the dates indicated below.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, New York:  Cornell University Press, 1992), “Appendix:  Social Manipulation of Morality, Moralizing Actors, and Adiaphorizing Action” (originally a lecture given in 1990), [gives a good, succinct statement concerning Emmanuel Levinas’s moral/ethical philosophy on] p. 214:

Moral behavior, as . . . Levinas tells us, is triggered off by the mere presence of the Other as a face, that is, as an authority without force.  The Other demands without threatening to punish or promising reward; his demand is without sanction.  The Other cannot do anything; it is precisely his weakness that exposes my strength, my ability to act, as responsibility.  Moral action is whatever follows that responsibility.  Unlike the action triggered off by fear of sanctions or promise of rewards, it  does not bring success or help survival.  As, purposeless, it  escapes all possibility of heteronomous legislation or rational arguments, it . . . elides the judgment of “rational interest” and advice of calculated self-preservation, those twin bridges of the world of . . . dependence and heteronomy.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Bauman, back to main text, “Preface,” p. xii:

The overall effect [of standard scholarly accounts of the Holocaust in terms of its causes, and making it either a uniquely “Jewish” or a uniquely “German” affair] is, paradoxically, pulling the sting out of the Holocaust memory.  The message which the Holocaust contains about how we live today–about the quality of the institutions on which we rely for  our safety, about the validity of the criteria with which we measure the propriety of our own conduct and the patterns of interaction we accept and consider normal–is silenced, not listened to, and remains undelivered.  If unravelled by the specialists and discussed inside the conference circuit, it is  hardly ever heard elsewhere and remains a mystery for all outsiders.  It has not entered as yet (at any rate in a serious way) contemporary consciousness.  Worse still, it has not as yet affected contemporary practice.

Like 9/11, the Holocaust never happened–at least not yet.  But, also like 9/11, it will happen?

Has the Christian Crucifixion happened yet?  The Resurrection?

Aren’t the same issues involved in all these cases?

Might the example of ongoing Christian conversion and liturgical time/community provide a clue here?


Bauman, pp. 6ff, articulates the idea that the Holocaust is neither an aberration of modernity, nor its “truth,” but is, rather, a definitive aspect or potentiality within modernity, one that can be actualized–and will be actualized–under certain circumstances (just as, under pressure of calamity, both the worst and the best in individuals can be actualized–the one in one, the other in the other–and where it cannot be predicted which will be which in advance).


Pp. 17-18, Bauman: 

This is not to suggest that the incidence of the Holocaust was determined by modern bureaucracy or the culture of instrumental rationality it epitomizes; much less till, that modern bureaucracy must result in Holocaust-style phenomena.  I do suggest, however, that the rules of instrumental rationality are singularly incapable of preventing such phenomena; that there is nothing in those rules which disqualifies the Holocaust-style methods of “social engineering” as improper or, indeed, the actions they served as irrational.  I suggest, further, that the bureaucratic culture which prompts us to view society as an object of administration, as a collection of so many problems to be solved, as “nature” to be “controlled,” “mastered” and “improved” or “remade,” as a legitimate target for “social engineering”, and in general a garden to be designed and kept in the planned shape by force (the gardening posture divides vegetation into “cultured plants” to be taken care of, and weeds to be exterminated), was the very atmosphere in which the idea of the Holocaust could be conceived, slowly yet consistently developed, and brought to its conclusion.  And I also suggest that it was the spirit of instrumental rationality, and its modern, bureaucratic form of institutionalization, which had made the Holocaust-style solutions not only possible, but eminently “reasonable”–and increased the probability of their choice.


In Le Monde on-line this morning, there was a piece by [Alain] Badiou on the current global finance/credit crisis.  Basically, his argument was that the “real” is nothing of the market, but is, rather, the misery of the excluded masses, excluded by the “barbarity” that is capitalism, as Marx already saw 160 years ago.  The only real solution/response to the present crisis of “capitalism-parliamentarism” (and “democracy”) is,  in effect, the parallel, autonomous coming together of the excluded themselves.  Therein lies an altogether new politics–or, rather, the point of breakthrough for the genuinely political as such, no longer reducible to, or peripheral to, the economy.

[Naomi] Klein’s closing pages [in The Shock Doctrine–see my recent posts on her work] about disaster victims taking recovery in their own hands, despite and independent of government, points to the same conclusion.

So does my own thoughts on AA and the reply to addiction [it represents].

It is all  a matter of the dispelling of the illusion of the reality of the capitalist world–a waking from the dream, to dismiss the vanishing phantoms.

The irrelevance of the economy, and everything tied to it (e.g., “electoral politics”).


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bauman, p. 64: 

Heterophobia [which he wants sharply to distinguish from racism] seems to be a focused manifestation of a still wider phenomenon of anxiety aroused by the feeling that one has no control over the situation, and that thus one can neither influence its development, nor foresee the consequences of one’s action.  Heterophobia . . . is a fairly common phenomenon at all times and more common still in an age of modernity, when occasions for the “no control”experience become more frequent, and their interpretation in terms of the obtrusive interference by alien human groups becomes more plausible.

Borrowing the distinction [Gilles] Deleuze makes focal in his reading of Nietzsche, I’d say “heterophobia” is a reactive formation, which fits with Bauman’s characterization, in this part of his book, of ressentiment.  In contrast, I’d say addiction [for one] is an active formation in response to the same ” ‘no control’ experience.”

The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #3 of 3


This is the last of three posts addressing Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  Below is an entry I made in my philosophical journal last fall, on the date indicated.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Klein, p. 518:  “Katrina was a tragedy, but, as Milton Friedman wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, it was ‘also an opportunity.’ ”  Compare John McCain after 9/11.   [McCain viewed “9/11” as just such an “opportunity”–namely, to settle the score with what he took to be the United States’ enemies, using the umbrella of protecting the U. S. against “terrorism” to cover the operation of wilfully launching supposedly pre-emptive wars and the like.   Although perhaps not quite in the wide-open way McCain himself would have done it,  that was pretty much just what the Bush administration did, of course.] 

[Compare, as well, Michel] Henry, Du communisme au capitalisme, p.211:  We today are

subjected to the most extraordinary censorship that has ever existed.  For in the time of the king of Prussia, of Stalin, or of Hitler, at least one knew that there was censorship, while today, under the reign of freedom, one no longer knows that.  Thus does the formidable ideological conditioning of the totality of society accomplish itself at each instant, in the bombardment of the media and publicity which imposes on everyone the quasi-totality of one’s mental contents, even to one’s desires and fantasies, in everyone, even infants, without criticism, without any power to contest it having the possibility to manifest even its simple existence.


Klein, p. 522:  “Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together.  Increasingly, however, disasters are the  opposite:  they provides windows into a cruel and ruthlessly divided future in which money and race buy survival.”


Pp. 540-541:

Given the boiling temperatures, both climatic and political, future disasters need not be cooked up in dark conspiracies [because they have now been built into the economic system itself–compare the current financial/credit crisis].  All indications are that simply staying the current course, they will keep coming with ever more ferocious intensity.  Disaster generation can therefore be left to the market’s invisible hand.  This is one area in which it actually delivers. . . . [A] new consensus is emerging.  It is not that the market has become immune to instability, at least not exactly.  It is that a steady flow of disasters is now so expected that the ever-adaptable market has changed to fit this new status quo–instability is the new stability.

Above all, [I’d say this can be seen in] the emergence and installation of the global surveillance-security corporate private industry.


Pp. 585-586:  “All shock therapists [in the negative sense of disaster capitalism] are intent on the erasure of memory. . . . Memory, both individual and collective, turns out to be the greatest shock absorber of all.”

Klein ends her book with accounts of how some natural-disaster survivors have taken reconstruction (i.e., recovery) into  their own hands–to learn, as one Katrina victim puts it (p. 586), “to say, ‘What can we do right now to start to bring our neighborhoods back in spite of the government [and its “shock therapists”], not because of it?’ ”

Pp. 588-589:

Uniting all  these examples of people rebuilding for themselves is a common theme:  participants say they are not just repairing buildings but healing themselves.  It makes perfect sense.  The universal experience of living through a great shock is the feeling of being completely powerless in the face of awesome forces. . . . The best way to recover from helplessness turns out to be helping–having the right to part of a common recovery.

That is the principle of AA and for recovery from addiction, as well, it is worth noting.  As Klein sees, that points to the way out.

“I passed by again, they were not there.”

“Like a dream one wakes from, oh Lord, when you wake you dismiss them as phantoms.”


The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #2 of 3


This is the second of three consecutive posts with entries from my philosophical journal pertaining to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.  The entry below was first written on the date indicated.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Klein, pp. 222ff, cites a speech American economist John Williamson gave at a by-invitation-only conference on January 13, 1993, in Washington, D. C., as the first time the transition was made from  the idea of economic “shock therapy” as a matter of the exploitation of crises when they occurred–exploitation of the “opportunities” crises afford for imposing otherwise unacceptable and impossible “neoliberal” [that is, “Chicago School”] economic reforms such as privatization, massive spending cuts on social programs, and deregulation–to a matter of actually engendering/fostering crises in order to introduce such reforms.

Either way, as with Bush after 9/11, it becomes the willful, manipulative, unconscionable exploitation of trauma by further traumatizing the already traumatized for one’s own, extrinsic ends.


Related is [Michel] Henry, again.  His Du communism au capitalism, p. 178, defines “the political” as the emergence of the notion of “une affair général” (his emphasis)–an ideal abstraction which then threatens always to set itself up as reality itself, imposed upon and without regard to the individual lives which alone give sense to the idea of the political  in the first place.  That occurs not just in the communist countries of the [former] East block, but also and especially at the heart of the very idea of democracy, as he goes on to articulate, culminating in this passage on p. 198:

In a democracy it is the people who govern.  Unfortunately the people does not exist:  it is no  more able to govern than to work a field or sow it with seeds.  The concept of democracy is thus a lure, the most extraordinary ever invented by men [les hommes] to abuse themselves or others.  That this lure rings like a bell before the stupefied regard of all nations that together make up Europe changes nothing of the ontological mystification on which it rests, but only makes it more dangerous.

For Henry, given how he defines it, “the political” must  be subordinated to the life of individuals, whereas for, say, [Alain] Badiou, the formulation is nearly reversed, given Badiou’s very different way of using that term.  But behind that superficial, merely apparent disagreement, there is profound agreement, as there is of both with [Jacques] Rancière and with Klein’s analysis whereby the problem is formulated as the liberation of economics from politics and the substitution of the former for the latter in global capitalism.


Klein, p. 380:

Through all its various changes–the War on Terror, the war on radical Islam, the war against Islamofascism, the Third World War, the long war, the generational war–the basic shape of the conflict has remained unchanged.  It is limited by neither time nor space nor target.  From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the War on Terror an unwinnable proposition.  But from  an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one:  not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and  permanent fixture in the global economic architecture.

P. 39:

In the heat of the midterm elections in 2006 . . . , George W. Bush signed the Defense Authorization Act in a private Oval Office ceremony.  Tucked into its fourteen hundred pages is a rider that went unnoticed at the time.  It gave the president the power to declare martial law and “employ the armed forces, including the National Guard,” overriding the wishes of state governors, in the event of a “public emergency” in order to “restore public order” and “suppress” the  disorder.  That emergency could be a hurricane, a mass protest or a “public health emergency,” in which case the army would be used to impose quarantines and to safeguard vaccine supplies.  Before this act, the president had these marital powers only in the face of an insurrection.

Pp. 392-293:

As proto-disaster capitalists, the architects of the  War on Terror are part of a different breed of corporate-politicians from their predecessors, one for whom wars and other disasters are indeed ends in themselves. . . . That’s because what is unquestionably good for the bottom line of these [directly benefited] companies [such as Lockheed or Haliburton] is cataclysm–war, epidemics, natural disasters and resource shortages–which is why their  fortunes have improved dramatically since Bush took office.


The Economics of Trauma: Naomi Klein on “Disaster Capitalism,” #1 of 3


This is the first of three consecutive posts I am devoting to entries I made in my philosophical journal last October on Naomi Klein’s ideas about what she calls “disaster capitalism.”  I want to thank my colleague Dr. Lucy McGuffey, who teaches political science at the University of Colorado at Denver, for calling my attention to Klein’s work.  


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York;  Picador, 2007).  [Milton] Friedman, the Chicago School, and “the Chicago Boys”–how, in effect, they liberated the economy from anything political, and turned it over to what Friedman himself called “shock” capitalism, where “liberal market economies” are imposed either as a result of disasters that happen to occur (economic and/or otherwise), letting power be concentrated in the hands of the “free market” ideologues as necessary “because” of the crisis, or, more and more frequently, as triggered by these economist-ideologues themselves.  So, for example, on “the Chicago Boys in Chile” (note on p. 257–in a chapter on how  South Africa was screwed during the supposed transition to ANC rule, but where the “model” of Chile earlier was applied), [she argues that the Chicago Boys] “rigged the constitution and the courts [under Pinochet, before Chile was allowed to return to “democracy”] so it was legally next to impossible to reverse their revolutionary changes . . . or, as Pinochet’s young minister José Piñera put it, ensuring ‘insulation [of the economy] from politics.’ ”

Fits well with [Michel] Henri’s critique [in Du communism au capitalism] of capitalism in its modern, “techno-economic” form, where the economy is cut loose from its grounding in life itself, where Marx saw it  grounded, according to Henry.  Hence a world in which goods are over-produced everywhere, but  poverty gets exponentially worse, as those who need those very goods are denied the money to buy them.  [Also relevant is Henry’s remark, on page 108 of the same book, that “the only conceivable and real equality” that is possible is that “which exists between individuals ineluctably different.”  The global economicization at issue in Friedman and the Chicago Scool of economics militates against all such equality–and against any “politics” that would work to establish it.]


Earlier (p. 174), Klein notes that it was Friedman himself who formulated the shock doctrine as follows, in a quote she attributes to him:  “Only a crisis–actual  or perceived–produces real change.  When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  That, I believe, is our [that is, Chicago School economists’] basic function:  to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Prescient!  Given, that is, the $700 billion corporate bank bailout just recently rammed through Congress [by the Bush administration] to address the current financial crisis.

It would be important carefully to compare and, above all, contrast Friedman on that to [Thomas] Kuhn on “scientific revolutions.”