The principle features of modernism are that (a) reality is not personal; (b) its order is the result of deterministic laws; (c) humans can understand the laws governing this order; (d) mastering this understanding leads to mastery of nature through technological design which aims to maximize utilities; (e) all meanings are reducible to one level which in itself has no significance; (f) nature has only instrumental resource value and no meaning.
Modernism holds the philosophy of reductionistic empiricism and technological supremacy and, particularly in the West has expressed itself in a variety of cultural forms, from the arts to engineering. The underlying theme of the Modernist approach is that the world in itself is void of consciousness, value and meaning. All things, persons included, are reducible to their component parts (atomism) which obey neat, tight, fully determined, mechanistic laws. The world is treated only as resource, and values can be reduced to subjective, cultured human responses which are primarily emotive. These emotions are also explained by the Modernist in terms of social theory, but ultimately in terms of neuro-physiological entities and their function. Sociobiology reduces social processes to biological ones; chemistry reduces biological processes to chemical interactions; chemical interactions in turn can be reduced to the elements of physics. Physics, the Modernists thought, was the final line of reduction which would terminate with material objects, viz atoms which interact only mechanically.
Modernism itself is not modern, but clearly the controversies about modernity are more prominent in some civilizations than others, and nowhere have they been so acute as in our time.
Modernism as a broad intellectual movement cannot easily be pigeonholed. The enemy of blind faith, modernism nevertheless gave birth to the great eschatologies like Marxism, Freudianism, even Darwinism, which reimposed faith more relentlessly than any Pope. And it is far more complex than is implied by mere reductionism. On the other side, science has made the modern world a more complex and ambiguous place. The incoherence of modernism has given rise to a longing for integrity, wholeness and meaning, notably amongst those of "new age" persuasion. In intellectual life this longing has often been labeled "neoconservatism", although "neoliberalism" is perhaps a better description because there is little room for genuine conservatism in the restless modern world.