With the death last month of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman at age 91, the intellectual world lost a thinker of rare insight and range. Because his style of work was radically different from that of most social scientists in the United States today, his passing is an occasion to consider what might be gained if more members of our profession were to follow his example.
Mr. Bauman wrote scores of books and taught for many years at the University of Leeds, in England. He became a scholar to be reckoned with relatively late in his career. A major success came in 1989, at age 64, when he published a landmark study, “Modernity and the Holocaust.” Against the widespread view that the Holocaust reflected an anti-Semitic madness that had seized civilized Germany and thrown it back into an atavistic state, Mr. Bauman described the genocide as an all-too-characteristic creature of the modern era.