All That is Solid Came Out of Thin Air

Modernism has many meanings. Here I want to focus on one kind of modernism: the claim that x is not old, long-established, traditional, but is instead a recent invention.

Now x can be many things:

  • x=nations (Nations are new inventions says the modernist school of thought about nationalism: Ernest Gellner,* Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and others.)
  • x=civilizations (Immanuel Wallerstein** once said that civilizations are the ideological superstructure of the modern capitalist world system.)
  • x=the states system (An invention of modernity, on the account of many.)
  • x=genocide (according to Michael Mann*)

To put it bluntly, these examples of modernism are wrong. Nations, civilizations, the states system, genocide–none of these things is a recent invention. As I argued earlier, I do not for a moment doubt that in modernity there have been huge changes; but that is not the same thing as the claim that modernity conjured these things into existence out of thin air.

*Nevertheless, I am a fan.

**Not a fan at all: sweepingly wrong about so much for so long.


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