Offering a fascinating survey of Elias's life and writings, Dennis Smith traces the growth of his reputation. He is the first author to confront Elias's work with the contrasting theories of Talcott Parsons, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault and Zygmunt Bauman. He also illustrates how Elias's insights can be applied to understand Western modernity and social and political change. Smith shows why Elias is important for sociology, but he is also clear sighted about the limitations of Elias's approach.
Chapter 3: Arendt and Elias
Arendt and Elias
Modernity: For Better or Worse?
This chapter takes us immediately into a controversial issue, which is the directionality of modernity. The idea of ‘modernity’ implies dynamism, movement in an identifiable direction. However, is this movement away from a more desirable condition or towards a more desirable condition? Theorists are divided on the matter.
Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault1 take the former position. They think modernity is making things worse. Their criteria of judgement are deeply influenced by a perception that they share, although with different emphases. They both believe that classical Greece and Rome was an epoch when the citizen was expected to be able to exercise rational self-control and take responsibility for his actions under conditions of relatively high autonomy.2 They see ...