Modernity is a concept that cannot be easily defined as it comprises of various philosophical, cultural, political, religious, and economical aspects. All of them are basic tenets of the modern period that are applicable in diverse ways as a result of historical advancement. In essence, the modernists endeavored to break away from conventions of the Victorian era. The historical advancements in the early 20th century majorly differ from the previous centuries. The modernists hoped to stand out from virtually the whole history of art and literature. In this paper, the discussion focuses on proving that as history moved forward in the 20th century modernity was associated with bringing progress to the areas of history of modernity, cultural and social systems, political progress, and technological entities.
The History of Modernity in the 20th Century
The beginning of modernity is traced back to Europe, though its effects were felt in all nations of the West and among all nations of the globe overall. The transition into the 20th century was characterized by massive progress during the period when scientific revolution, enlightenment, and capitalism became the predominant social and economic forces (Shirer 2013). With regard to this, modernity entails progress in urbanization, bureaucracy, and industrialization. Additionally, enlightenment was an intellectual movement in Western Europe, which came into existence through attitudes and ideologies of a group of philosophers who outlined a framework of ideas concerning humans, the society, and nature. The philosophers, in this case, were believed to be more enlightened in comparison to their compatriots and meant to “enlighten” them. This is why this period was named the Age of Enlightenment. According to Shirer (2013), these philosophers gained much influence from developing modern science and the long periods of conflict that ensued after the Protestant Reformation. The most fundamental pillar of the Enlightenment was the scientific revolution as it was a complete turnaround of people’s understanding of the world. The Enlightenment philosophers influenced the critics to adopt reasoning, rationalism, and application of logic in order to understand the world better.
The nature of industrial revolution in Europe formed the platform upon which people began to develop ideals of freedom and cultural expression, while consumerism dominated the society. Medieval Europe perceived authority as being God's teachings that were revealed through the Roman church. The enlightenment challenged this, while accepting new ideas for religion, myths, and traditions which helped create new faiths at the same time. Moreover, the Enlightenment facilitated a period of uncertainty in religion and criticism of Christianity. For instance, there was a theory developed that gained recognition in the Age of Enlightenment aimed at proving that religion is an invention of cult leaders, who were using it to advance their own interests. Indeed, Galileo was imprisoned and almost murdered as a result of his beliefs and theories, which contradicted the historical attitudes of the church. During the Enlightenment, faith, divine revelations, and the authority of the church were continuously undermined by confidence and the ability of human reasoning to provide a better understanding of the world. Also, the perception of history as the chronicle of the fall of man from the grace of God with regard to spiritual salvation was replaced by an understanding of human perfectibility as well as the faith in human power (Taylor & Roberts 2011).
Modernity and Progress
Cultural and Social Progress
Modernity is characterized by a series of reforms for cultural movements in aspects such as the division of labor, capitalism, and the whole process of rationalization. By embracing change, the world has included in modernity various works of thinkers and philosophers such as Zygmunt Bauman and Odor Adorno who rebelled against the 19th century traditions of academics and the believe that contemporary forms of religion and general social organization were slowly becoming outdated. Therefore, they have directly confronted different aspects of social, economic and political factors in a bid to emerge as a completely industrialized society (Punter 2007). Modernism has grown out of Renaissance humanism and scientific revolution, starting transformations that form ideal precursors for modern societies. Consequently, the crucial values and ideologies of modernity are related to a point of being indistinguishable. The modern societies are characterized by the development of sciences, improved medical proficiency, and technology overall. Modernity is formed in the framework of believed progress, identifiable end, systematic focus on the resources and discoverability of means by reason.
There are no particular defined dates of modernist movement, but the 20th century in itself is a very convenient point to start tracking the progress. This oversaw the end of Queen Victoria's reign and outlined a symbolic break from the previous century. The turn of the century coincided with the publication of various groundbreaking theories including Einstein's theory of special relativity and the Freud's interpretation of dreams. Considering this, there were actual shifts rather than mere symbolic changes within the areas of natural sciences, arts, and social sciences as pointed out by Berman (2008). Perhaps, to some extent using 1900 as the starting point of modernism is problematic as it excludes many writers hailing from the 1800s that definitively outlined modernist tendencies. Many scholars have thereby adopted 1890 as the starting year as it is close to the end of Queen Victoria' reign but also fairly inclusive. It is imperative to note that 1890 is merely artificial. Conventionally, other scholars consider 1945 to be the end point of modernism. This particular year was the end of WWII and indeed marked the very moment when world politics along with other social and cultural values shifted (Berman 2005).
The idea of progress in the 20th century in social frameworks, sciences, and technology produced improvements for humanity. With this in mind, people are bound to become better in matters of social progress if enhanced by economic development and application of technology. There is an assumption that the process only takes place when people use their reasoning and skills, since it is definitely not foreordained. At the dawn of the Enlightenment, there were movements that conveyed campaigns against authority, French revolution, and superstition. In addition, the modernist period in the English literature was viscerally against the Victorian aesthetic and culture which were popular for the larger part of 19th century. The intellectuals as well as artists believed that the former generations' way of live had become a cultural dead end. Moreover, they had the ability to foresee the world spiraling into oblivion. For instance, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was, in essence, the event that sparked off World War I and carried away the preconceived notions about the nature of modern warfare.
Modernism began to outline the differences between low and high art (Macdonald & Waddell 2013). Various reforms in the education of the Victorian Age have prompted arise in literacy rates and hence a bigger demand for literature. The historians who were not involved in popular movements found themselves alienated by the main course of society. Besides, the academic world has become a safe zone for disaffected artists since they could brush shoulders with their fellow disenfranchised intellectuals (Macdonald & Waddell 2013). For this reason, novelists and poets managed to discuss statements that were later reabsorbed into society. In the later years of modernity, various forms of populism set back the literary form even as regionalism grew into a fundamental factor for the purpose and direction of artistic works.
The previous century created perfect conditions for privileged and wealthy Caucasian men. At that time there was a great marginalization of minorities, the poor, and women, which caused them to become a very silent part of the society. However, the 20th century marked the beginning of a new era of gender relations and saw class differences become the most challenging cross point with regard to equity in the society. Indeed, some people argued that class had grown into a form of euphemism for race. Serafin (1998) pointed out that the 20th century made an advanced move forward with greater forms of literary voices. Some previously inconceivable practices slowly became a reality. For instance, African Americans participated in Harlem Renaissance led by Langston Hughes, who was very vocal in the American poetry. Also, some women including Amy Lowell and Hilda Doolittle greatly contributed to the Imagist movement. However, racism and sexism had not been fully left behind in the art world; erasing such blemishes is quite tricky. It is possible to say though that the attitudes adopted at the brink of the 20th century marked remarkable measures towards the same (Serafin 1998).
The transformation period of the 20th century was a time of change in both economic and political arenas. According toMisa et al. (2003), progress was based on an embodied utopia that heralded the coming of a new era. During this period, the working class hoped for a social revolution that was not forthcoming and, thereby, facilitated the dichotomy between technological advancement and the dark side of social inequality. Besides, there was a massive growth of towns, rural-urban migrations, and consumer societies that contributed to the consolidation of systems on the basis of contradictions found in the framework of own destruction. The problem of reconciling traditions and modernity was manifested in diverse ways within the arena of art. Modern art became the bearer of the 20th century (Bernard & Pelto 2009) for the utopian promises and also bore witnesses to its contradictions. Focusing on reality and facts is a definite characteristic of the modern man, who understands himself as a part of the present and needs to become well informed about it.
The 20th century saw the onset of modernity in technology and advancement in new urban class. The century began with the push for progress that relied on advancement in technology as well as industrial growth. These ideologies were founded under influence of massive violence, social inequality, and the consolidation of working class towards the development of new cultures that were linked to consumerism and urban life. Modern art also became the standard measure of the utopian promise of a modern era and witnessed its own contradictions. Modernity was, therefore, a fundamental idea aimed towards the attainment of progress as outlined by classic liberals of the 20th century who accepted the fast development of modern society and economy in a bid to eliminate the historical barriers to free markets and movement of people.