The New States: Modernization and Internal Problems
Creation of national unity and ideology
Modernization, in sociology, the transformation from a traditional, rural, agrarian society to a secular, urban, industrial society.
Modern society is industrial society. To modernize a society is, first of all, to industrialize it. Historically, the rise of modern society has been inextricably linked with the emergence of industrial society. All the features that are associated with modernity can be shown to be related to the set of changes that, no more than two centuries ago, brought into being the industrial type of society. This suggests that the terms industrialism and industrial society imply far more than the economic and technological components that make up their core. Industrialism is a way of life that encompasses profound economic, social, political, and cultural changes. It is by undergoing the comprehensive transformation of industrialization that societies become modern.
Modernization is a continuous and open-ended process. Historically, the span of time over which it has occurred must be measured in centuries, although there are examples of accelerated modernization. In either case, modernization is not a once-and-for-all-time achievement. There seems to be a dynamic principle built into the very fabric of modern societies that does not allow them to settle, or to achieve equilibrium. Their development is always irregular and uneven. Whatever the level of development, there are always “backward” regions and “peripheral” groups. This is a persistent source of strain and conflict in modern societies. Such a condition is not confined to the internal development of individual states. It can be seen on a global scale, as modernization extends outward from its original Western base to take in the whole world. The existence of unevenly and unequally developed nations introduces a fundamental element of instability into the world system of states.
Modernization seems to have two main phases. Up to a certain point in its course, it carries the institutions and values of society along with it, in what is generally regarded as a progressive, upward movement. Initial resistance to modernization may be sharp and prolonged, but it is generally doomed to failure. Beyond some point, however, modernization begins to breed discontent on an increasing scale. This is due in part to rising expectations provoked by the early successes and dynamism of modern society. Groups tend to make escalating demands on the community, and these demands become increasingly difficult to meet. More seriously, modernization on an intensified level and on a world scale brings new social and material strains that may threaten the very growth and expansion on which modern society is founded. In this second phase, modern societies find themselves faced with an array of new problems whose solutions often seem beyond the competence of the traditional nation-state. At the same time, the world remains dominated by a system of just such sovereign nation-states of unequal strengths and conflicting interests.
Yet challenge and response are the essence of modern society. In considering its nature and development, what stands out initially at least is not so much the difficulties and dangers as the extraordinary success with which modern society has mastered the most profound and far-reaching revolution in human history.
This article discusses the processes of modernization and industrialization from a very general and primarily sociological point of view. It does so also, it should be remembered, from a position within the very processes it describes. The phenomena of industrialization and modernization that are taken to have begun some two centuries ago and that were not until much later identified as distinct and novel concepts have not yet arrived at any recognizable closure. The end of the story, if there is one, is thus not in sight, and the question of an ultimate judgment on the nature and value of this vast historical movement is unanswerable.
The revolution of modernity
If one imagines all of human social evolution charted on a 12-hour clock, then the modern industrial epoch represents the last five minutes, no more. For more than half a million years, small bands of what we may agree were human beings roamed the earth as hunters and gatherers. With simple stone tools and a social order based on kinship ties they successfully preserved the human species against predators and natural calamities. In observing contemporary Australian Aboriginals, the San (Bushmen) of southern Africa, the Eskimo, the Negritos in Malaysia and the Philippines, and Pygmy groups in Africa, a glimpse may be had of the social life of the Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age)—the oldest and most enduring type of human society.
About 10,000 BC some of these hunters and gatherers took to cultivating the earth and domesticating animals. It is this process that is somewhat misleadingly called the Neolithic revolution, implying that new stone tools were at the root of this vast change. It is now generally accepted that the new technology was not the principal factor. Nevertheless what took place was undoubtedly a revolution. Mobile bands became settled village communities. The development of the plow raised the productivity of the land a thousandfold, and in response the human population of the planet increased dramatically. More significantly, herding and agriculture for the first time created a surplus of food. This allowed some members of the population to abandon subsistence activities and become artisans, merchants, priests, and bureaucrats. This division of labour took place in a newly concentrated physical environment. In the 4th millennium BC cities arose, and with them trade, markets, government, laws, and armies.
The technology and social organization of the Neolithic revolution remained the basis of all civilization until the coming of industrialism. With remarkably few additions—the invention of the stirrup was an important one—what served ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt of the third and second millennia BC served as the foundation of all the states and empires of the ancient world, from China and India to Greece and Rome. And it served equally the European Middle Ages, which in some respects, notably in technology, actually fell back from the achievements of the ancient world. Not until the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe did humankind make another leap comparable to that of the Neolithic revolution.
It is against this very slowly evolutionary background that the revolution that underlay modernity must be seen. It is one of just two quantum jumps that human social evolution has made since the primal hunting and gathering stage of early Homo sapiens. The Neolithic or agricultural revolution produced, paradoxically, urban civilization; the Industrial Revolution lifted humankind onto a new plane of technological development that vastly increased the scope for transforming the material environment. In its speed and scale the change brought about by the Industrial Revolution has had, indeed, a greater impact on human life than the Neolithic revolution. Neolithic civilization remained throughout confined by a sharply limited technical and economic base; industrial civilization knows no such limits. Nevertheless, an understanding of agrarian society is essential to the analysis of industrial society, for it is largely through the contrast with its agrarian past that modern society stands out. The meaning of the modern is to be found as much in what it renounces as in what it aspires to.
The period following the Second World War has witnessed the advent of a massive and unprecedented project of social engineering in Third World countries, variously termed industrialization, modernization, or development-*-; and justified on the basis of a supposed superiority of Western economic and political institutions and (initially at least) of Western values over non-Western ones. While the philosophical roots of the belief in the superiority of Western values can be traced back to the Enlightenment ethic of ‘the rational pursuit of human freedoms’, and the Colonial ethic of ‘the White
Man’s burden’, contemporary writers generally legitimate their actions on relatively partial (and
therefore more defensible) grounds, namely the need for and the desirability of transferring modern Western technology to Third World countries in order to bring about increases in per capita output (particularly in the high-productivity industrial sector), or the expanded provision of “basic needs” (i.e., formal education, modern health facilities, piped water supply, and so forth). Such transfer is argued to be speeded up by other forms of an institutional and structural change such as “state-building” (i.e., the expansion of State power conjointly with the introduction of parliamentary and democratic institutions), and the inculcation of a particular set of development-enhancing “modern” (i.e., of course, “Western”) values and habits among the people of traditional societies.
The early days of this project were characterized by unalloyed confidence in the ability of social scientists to help the people of Third World countries banish their inherited problems and construct a new social reality from scratch-. Of course, even in that age of unbounded optimism there were several voices of doubt and dissent regarding the sagacity, desirability or feasibility of such a gigantic endeavor; but the self-assurance of the theorists was so unequivocal and belief in their nostrums so widespread that doubters could readily be dismissed as irrational and misguided ‘cranks’ if not as malicious mischiefmakers.
Accusations of failures could similarly be disregarded as resulting from weaknesses not in the theory but in the application, because of the endurance of backward behavior, values and institutions in the countries concerned, or (at a later stage) from the inefficiency or veniality of politicians and bureaucrats. Matters have changed, however. Although it may be too early to begin writing an epitaph for development theory, it is certainly not inopportune to record the passing of the era of blind faith today there is a crisis in modernisation theory.
Hardly a book or journal on development issues comes out which does not express disappointment, disillusionment or dissatisfaction with the ability of what Ashis Nandy has called a ‘secular theory of salvation,’ to live up to its promise to expand human freedoms Many factors have contributed to this emerging crisis. The most obvious one is the extremely uneven record of development: of the persistence of poverty amid increasing affluence, of the increase in unemployment despite expanding production, and, in general, of the failure in ameliorating the condition of people in the
poorest countries of Africa and Asia. A second reason is the increasing association of modernization and
development with ecological disasters: the devastation of tropical rain-forests and mountain watersheds, the deleterious (and unanticipated) ecological consequences of large dams and large irrigation systems, the loss of subsistence agricultural land to desertification in Africa and waterlogging and salinity in Asia, and the high energy-requirement and vulnerability of modern technologies.
Another contributory factor is a similarly increasing association of development with higher levels of conflicts and tensions in much of the Third World, in almost all parts where the developmental project has been underway for a significant period of time, where such conflicts as wars, civil unrest, civic and ethnic violence, political repression and urban crime appear to have increased tremendously Responsibility must also be placed at the door of a fourth consideration namely the onset of a period of confusion, muddled groping and search for new paradigms in Economics as well as Political Science, the two mother disciplines of development theory
Notwithstanding the importance of each of the above, however, it seems that the single most important reason for the spreading disillusionment is a ‘loss of hope’ as Mary Kaldor once put it, an erosion of the myth that development can create a just and humane society. This erosion has also permitted the increase in popularity and self-assurance of non-Western (and often anti-Western) social, cultural and political movements in Third World countries. Some of the above reasons can be summarized here.
1) First, there is growing recognition that it is not possible, given the earth’s resources, for the entire planet to be able to emulate the consumption pattern of Western countries.
2) Second, tremendous unanticipated social and political problems accompanying development
have raised the concern that, even if it were possible to ‘become like the West,’ attempts to do so in the shortest possible time could be socially harmful.
3) Third, growing familiarity of Third World citizens with the mode of existence in the West has created serious reservations about the desirability of following this line of development. These reservations have surfaced in the West as well, and have no doubt helped to re-inforce those in the Third World.
4) Fourth, this process of doubt and discovery has been hastened by the events of the seventies
(Watergate, Vietnam, OPEC, economic crises, the decay of cities, and the plight of elderly or minorities in Western countries), which led to the gradual erosion of the myth that people in Western societies were in greater control of their destiny.
5) Fifth, a similar disillusionment seems to have set in with regard to the Soviet model, with the publicisation of the Stalinist purges, expansion of State control over peoples’ lives, and a generalised denial of freedoms.
6) Sixth, escalation of the irrational arms race between the two superpowers and the accompanying intensification of belligerent rhetoric, despite widespread popular resistance, have created doubts about the ability of the rational model to even ensure the survival of the species.