The modern period is usually dated as beginning roughly in 1789, the year not only of the French Revolution but also of the opening of the new federal government in the United States and correspondingly the securing of that country's new nationally oriented commercial society. Within a short period of time, “modernity” saw democratic revolutions, authoritarian revolutions, and the explosive growth of industrial society. There are now many who think that the modern period has run its course and is giving way to a new form of “postmodern” civilization.
Modernity, with its factories and steam engines, its mass culture and its creation of weapons of immense destruction, has long been the object of both admiration and dislike. Its admirers tend to see it as marking progress beyond what preceded it: human life has been lengthened in industrial society, many of the great masses who were formerly excluded have become empowered, wealth has increased, and freedom has become the great watchword across the globe. (Even the capitalism-critical Marxists bought into their own version of the idea of progress.) However, modernity has also been the object of intense, emotional attack, and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in Germany, criticizing modernity became a genre unto itself. Even before the onset of industrialization, people like F. H. Jacobi were already expressing dismay in the emerging trust in reason to solve all our problems and were criticizing all Enlightenment thought as potentially “nihilistic” (a termJacobi coined) – enlightened reason, so Jacobi's claimwent, could tear things down, but it could not satisfactorily build anything up to replace it.
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