Capitalism and Modernity

Published: 2021-06-28 18:40:04
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“To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. ” – Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, (Verso, London, 1988 p. 1). Drawing on a variety of sociologists writings on modernity explain the idea of modernity as both positive and negative. Modernity is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as the quality or state of being modern. (Hanks 1979) This state of modernity, as described by M.
Berman, is one that has positive and negative influences on both the private and public spheres. The modern world in which we live is one that is heavily influenced by the havoc of war and the ongoing process of capitalism. In order to understand the complexities of modernity, one must weigh its pros and cons. Ex-Cambridge Lecturer and sociologist T. Bilton pinpointed the origins of modernity to be during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. He discusses the slow industrialisation, new attitudes towards capitalism, and mass urbanisation.
These attributes of modernity saw positive growth in wealth and the creation of bigger and more fluid markets. The trends that originated in 1780s England were to soon spread globally, with an increasing concentration of workers in larger workplaces, in tandem with deteriorating work conditions and an increase in the formation of unions. Thus, despite the periodic economic advantages of the modernisation in the workplace, there was a significant degradation of the social structure that supported the workforce as a whole.
The growing distance between employee and employer, in addition to the sharpening gender and age difference, was a ‘disadvantageous’ consequence of a capitalist economy gone so right. Modernity had seen grand economic ‘advantages’ throughout the Industrial Revolution, in both England and the rest of the world as colonialism and exploration catalysed the process of globalisation. However, both the social life and political structures began to change in a ‘disadvantageous’ fashion.
The so-called ‘rational’ bureaucratic system that was born from the process of modernity posed a serious threat to the social structure of any nation that had endured the Industrial Revolution. As T. Bilton asserts: “These systems of rational thought and organisation can be inhuman or dehumanising, and, ironically, in some circumstances they can be irrational and inefficient. ” (Bilton 2002) Thus, it was the process of modernity, especially that of the growth of capitalism, that saw both ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’ in communities worldwide.
The extremities of these economic and social advantages and disadvantages of capitalism can find their sources in the process of modernity itself. This point is illustrated by the Marxist scholar E. M. Wood with her statement: “In the evolutionary process leading from early forms of exchange to modern industrial capitalism, modernity kicks in when these shackled economic forces, and the economic rationality of the bourgeois, are liberated from traditional constraints. ” (Wood 1997)
Hence, modernity had created some fantastic capitalistic opportunities, however, socially and politically the world was not ready for these changes. Even today’s modernised global society, multinationals and other capitalist figure-heads have blindly sought wealth at an ever increasing social cost, not only within the developed OECD countries, but also within (and more recently prominently) in the developing third worlds nations. This process of globalisation has seen the economic stimulation of many corners of the globe, and simultaneously a degradation of social structures within third world countries.
On a political scale, many countries, especially those of the developing world, are not capable of facilitating large economic growth and the housing of huge amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI). Economist Chandan Sengupta illustrates this point by arguing that these social consequences, as a result of the globalisation phenomenon, are because the third world is blindly following in America’s footsteps, in an effort to develop their economy. He emphasises the importance of regulation and government control
over how fast an economy is growing, in order to counteract the disadvantageous consequences of the dominance of capitalism in the developing world. “In the 10 years from 1988 to 1998 almost all governments in the world, regardless of ideology, downsized their activities while private sector expanded theirs thus gradually replacing governments as major economic players on the world scene” (Thompson 1999) Hence, the slacking of political institutions was (and currently is) the reason behind the social degradation within developing nations, who have blindly adopted a first world economic system to a third world political and social structure.
In fact, political economist argues that globalisation is not ‘advantageous’ to the third world at all, alluding to the economic conditions in both China and India. He states, “…despite all the sound and fury of globalisation, India’s share of FDI is miserable. ” (Ambirajan 2000) According to his statistics, India was receiving only $169 million when the nation was in the midst of FDI in 1990. This is far from the amount required to deal with the social issues and wealth inequality that now plague the country.
Ambirajan continues his argument against globalisation, highlighting the environmental degradation in India and other developing countries, and its impact on the health of the populous. “By making even ‘hazardous waste’ a tradable commodity, poor countries are induced to accept it with grave consequences for their well being. ” (Ambirajan 2000) In this state of modernity, capitalism and globalisation have been predominately a disadvantage for the third world. The developed economies have reaped most of the benefits from the FDIs with huge boots to their production sector as a result of cheap international labour.
This unbalanced global society is as a direct result of modernity and its influence on the dominance of capitalism in modern society. Ambirajan continues his examination of modernity, linking the effects of capitalism on society to the causes of war. “Such churning in society creates enormous tensions that result in conflict. ” (Ambirajan 2000) The havoc of war is a complex aspect of modernity, which rarely provides an individual or even a nation with an ‘advantage. ’ As Chandan Sengupta asserts:
“[It is the] certain global processes of modernisation such as the effects of global environmental degradation and nuclear war that have given rise to a ‘risk society. ’” (Sengupta 2001) Not only does war and its raw destructive power pose a great ‘disadvantage’ to the global society, it also reveals many disadvantages within the process of modernity. Indian journalist Arundhati Roy explores the socio-political side to war, and how the process of modernity is changing not only the way modern conflict is fought, but also the ever-increasing manipulation of free thought by politicians and congress.
Roy uses the current ‘War Against Terror’ and examines the concept of terrorism in tandem with US politics in order to illustrate these ideas. Roy introduces the reader to the modernisation of war, by stating: “Here’s the rub: America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. ” (Roy 2001) This dehumanises the idea of war and categorises it as a means of political gain, and a social disadvantage. She goes even further to say that the American people are being told by the government who the enemy is, and why they are fighting them, calling it “two leaps of faith.
” It is this ‘modern’ type of war that forces the public to really question the purpose of conflict and the behaviour of their government in this period of modernity/ post-modernity. Additionally, Roy examines the modern phenomenon of terrorism, comparing it to the modern evolution of capitalism, cleverly saying: “Terrorism has no country. It’s transnational…terrorists can pull up stakes and move their “factories” from country to country in search of a better deal. ” (Roy 2001) The ‘modernisation’ of war and capitalism are very closely related, and Roy emphasises this theory with her thoughts of American foreign direct investment:
“Any third world country with a fragile economy and a complex social base should know by now that to invite a superpower such as America in would be like inviting a brick to drop through you windscreen” (Roy 2001) The impact of war is as much, if not a greater, ‘disadvantage’ to individuals and nations, as capitalism is capable of being. Modernity has changed the reasoning and the ways in which conflicts are resolved, making war of a more ‘disadvantageous’ nature. Like globalisation, war wreaks havoc in the countries that take part in, or are victim to, the sources of conflict.
However, due to the ever-growing global community as a result of modernity, nearly every nation and individual is unfortunately brought into war. Marxist writers Ziyi Feng and Lijun Xing strongly believe that: “Capitalism is necessarily connected with modernity. Modernity developed in the capitalist society is not only a result and outward exhibition of capital logic, but is also a prerequisite and an inner mechanism of it. ” (Xing 2006) Also, the development of war throughout the periods of modernity has seen an ever-increasing ‘disadvantage’ on a socio-political scale.
Both capitalism and war are undeniable offspring of modernity, however neither provide an economic advantage that outweighs their social or political disadvantage. Modernity has influenced many aspects of the globe in a positive way, however its negative effects on capitalism and war are putting our global society at a disadvantage. Governments, firms and individuals globally should be rethinking the paths that these two aspects of life are taking, in order for the global society to be at an advantage as a result of modernity.

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