The Three Events that Shaped the Modern World

Published 26 Dec 2016

The rise of capitalism

Although relatively arguable, I deem the rise of capitalism as one of the most important events that shaped the modern world, primarily because of its scope. Capitalism molded not only the economic systems around the world, but also the political systems, cultures and ideologies of the modern age.

Capitalism emerged from the conceptions from the Age of Enlightenment with its ideas of freedom, liberty and the superiority of reason over religion. Its early mercantilist form, for instance, became the first form of capitalist profit accumulation (which in this form is gold). Adam Smith intellectualized capitalism in a very scientific manner, together with David Ricardo, who wrote Political Economy and Taxation (1792,) and the other economists. The concept of capitalism as an inpidual pursuit of happiness, which is interestingly similar to the so-called American dream, made it a very promising economic framework to many countries. This led to many countries adopting the capitalist idea, which eventually led them to their industrialization and economic development.

This idea of intellectualization is of course not only apparent in the conception of a formidable capitalist framework, but also in the other realms of knowledge (Palmer and Colton 1978). For instance, philosophy began to take the role of being the guide to development of human society in general, thus intellectualizing the development of human society. The study of the human sciences has also began to be emphasized under this same goal of development, with the different explorations of space and the planets (astronomy), undertakings in physics and many other projects being undertaken.

The progress of the sciences has been catalyzed by the capitalist system. Hence, capitalism paved the way to many developments that the modern world achieved (Berman 1988). However, the questioning of capitalism will be another event that will shake the modern world.

The communist revolution in Russia

This questioning of capitalism was first done by Karl Marx, who himself was a reader of Ricardo and Smith. With his monumental works of Capital, and The Communist Manifesto, he critiqued the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. He said that capitalism creates and fosters inequality among humans, not only in economic terms but also in their humanistic sense. He called for a revolution that will concretize a class-less society that will be ruled by the proletariat.

Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks are the first who heeded and succeeded in executing Marx’s idea. On October 1917, they staged an insurrection against the monarchy of Czar Nicholas II and the Russian Provisional Government (Litvinoff 2009).

Josef Stalin continued Marx and Lenin’s great communist dream by further systematizing USSR’s socialist economy and politics. He collectivized local farms and labor, socialized goods and social services and created very systematic counter-revolutionary measures that led to their own economic development. This ‘blossoming’ of USSR’s economy led them to an engagement in World War II.

John Keynes’ also proposed another idea, saying that Adam Smith’s economic ‘invisible hand’ which maintains the equilibrium in a capitalist system is not existent. He said that the state must also be given a little space to intervene in the capitalist economy, leading to the so-called ‘statist’ point of view of economics. The questioning of the capability and the stability of the capitalist system is thus also questioned.

The relative ‘success’ of the communist ideal (at least in the said span of time) led to a doubt, if not a refutation, of the capitalist system. USSR’s socialist state proved that economic development and economic equality can be achieved at the same, with the capitalist framework apparently missing the latter. Keynes’ thought also contributed to this doubts, making the loopholes more systemic as it seems.

The questioning of the capitalist system led to many radical changes in the modern world, with revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba and many other countries shaking the entire world. Thatcherism and Reagenism also emerged with Keynes’ thought as their foothold.

The Holocaust

The World War II is beyond doubt one of the most experiences that humankind faced in history. The engagement of many powerful countries, the destruction and deaths that WW II spawned led to many political and ideological changes in the modern world, together with a general questioning of human development itself.

However, the Holocaust specifically, is what I deemed as the most disturbing event, for it marked the end of modernity.

The capitalist system, questioned way from the time of Marx and Engels to the different revolutions around the world, is in ruins, for the different crises that hit it caused more doubts and more wars, one of which is the WW II. The communist system, which is by that time, conceived as its staunchest villain, is also questioned, primarily for the many glitches that the socialist states, (specifically USSR) incurred. Stalinism, which is regarded by socialists as the one the most successful, effective and concrete materialization of a socialist society, is very authoritarian. The conception of labor camps and the almost arbitrary detaining of ‘subversive’ Russian people during Stalin’s time led to doubts in the concept of equality. Ultimately, both these forces engaged in a war that caused destruction and even posed annihilation of the human race. Hence, whole of the modern world is left confused (Vattimo 1988).

The Holocaust, which led to the killing of six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of ‘undesirables’ (homosexuals, gypsies, disabled) became the epitome of this confusion. Adolf Hitler proposed a society that will be comprised of the Aryan race, which he deems is the most capable of ruling the whole world. His whole idea of a perfect society was deeply admired by many of the German people, one of which is Martin Heidegger, a philosopher. Heidegger used his philosophical capability and ideas of “Being” to justify the whole idea of the Holocaust. Hence, the modern world is on the state of vertigo. Capitalism and communism are both defective systems (or at least in practice), and philosophy, the ultimate tool for the achievement of wisdom, is justifying one of the most horrible crimes in history. The Holocaust became the most obvious, and painful, manifestation of these realizations.


  • Berman, Marshall. 1988. All that is solid melts into air: the experience of modernity. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Evans, M. 2006. A Short History of Society: The Making of the Modern World. Basingstoke: McGrawHill Open University Press.
  • Palmer, R.R and Joel Colton. 1978. A history of the modern world. New York: Knopf.
  • Litvinoff, Maxim. 2009. The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Rise and Meaning. US: Bibliolife.
  • Marsh, James L., Caputo John D., and Merold Westphal. 1992. Modernity and its discontents. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.
  • Vattimo, Gianni. 1988. The end of modernity : nihilism and hermeneutics in postmodern culture.Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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