Modernity is a critique of the era of capitalistic economic development in which we currently live.
Purpose of the Book
The purpose of the book is fourfold:
to give a brief account of the characteristics and modes of operation of modernity;
to provide an argument as to why modernity and modernistic social, economic and political arrangements deserve to meet with a sustained opposition, seeking to modify or overturn them;
to provide arguments as to why traditional opposition to modernity has been largely ineffectual; and
to sketch out what a political movement seeking to modify modernity might look like, or attempt to do.
This work differs from most accounts of modernity in that it rejects the modernistic notion that our present western society is the best vehicle for the development of the human spirit and the resolution of perennial human problems. This position rests on the following observations:
human history has shown many differing cultures;
each culture organises experience and knowledge in different ways, so there can be no one goal of human development, as the notion of human development finds a different practical expression in the social practices of each culture; and
the particular social expression of human development as tied to modernity's particular version of economic development is entirely a product of our own culture, and meaningless outside it.
An implicit result of anti-humanism is to return western thought to culturally specific criticism and thus to reestablish the proper limits to the claims of any economic, political or cultural thought.
Marxism and Liberalism
This work is neither a liberal nor a Marxist critique of modernity, since:
both liberalism and Marxism posit modernistic economic development as the ideal organising principle of all societies; therefore
any critique of modernity generated by liberalism or Marxism can only be a local, internal and moral critique, a quibbling about the details of economic development, and cannot challenge modernity's Realpolitik.
The Legacy of Modernity
However modernity deserves a sustained critique because its economic development is ecologically unsustainable:
in 200 years modernity has wreaked more ecological damage than the previous 100,000 years of human history;
the expansive and colonising impulse of modernity endangers the cultural diversity which is necessary to ensure the survival of humanity in the long-term in a world of stochastic change (both natural and anthropogenic).
Political Solutions to Modernity
Political solutions to the problems that modernity has caused must begin with a global decolonisation and disengagement on the part of the developed world. This would allow the creation of various different economies in the various regions of the world, which would be better able to deal with the legacy of modernity.
This PDF file (730K) reproduces the published version of Modernity.
Back to Main Literary Page
Back to top
© John Leonard 2002