Modernity & Postmodernity: Introduction

london fair 1851b

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet

the 1902 Victorian hymn, Land of Hope and Glory, rings in the new century, gushing with an optimism of a full century’s worth of peace and prosperity behind it. But quickly this sense was lost, as the “Great War” (World War 1) soon enveloped powerful and dominant Europe in a massive crisis of confidence.  Poets bemoaned this unbrave, new world with lines such as

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

in William Butler Yeats’s 1919 The Second Coming, or from TS Eliot’s 1922 The Wasteland: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” or from his 1925 The Hollow Men “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper;” or Eliot’s use of Dante’s end of the world imagery in both in describing lines of lost souls wandering about London Bridge and the like.

Thus entered the era of modernity – philosophical, literary and otherwise – into the early 20th century …

Picture Above: The transept of the Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Hyde Park, London.Hulton Archive/Getty Images   (


Philosophically, the era of modernity has been characterized as occurring slightly earlier, throughout the 1800s in particular, with various thinkers working to cast off, in their own ways, the centuries if not millenia old posture of assuming a transcendent reality behind the world of experience. In Philosophy, Nietzsche stated that God is Dead and we must now bravely make up our own rules; Karl Marx also was happy to nail God’s coffin shut, and replace claims to ethics with class warfare; Freud similarly declared God a figment of our imagination and angst, while Darwin extended the move to consider that men ascended from apes rather than descended from God.

In this section on Modernity and PostModernity, we will examine how thinkers have grappled with all this throughout the 20th century, and continuing the modernist paradigm of throwing aside 2500 years of assuming there was some transcendent reality (since Plato and the Greeks around 400 B.C.) or a “logos” which guided reality. This will exhibit it itself in the dangers of practical modern existence (all the noise! says Neil Postman, for one) as well as various issues (sanctity of life, gender identity), and the case for the Good, the True and the Beautiful in general.



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