29 May 1880|
Blankenburg am Harz
|Died||8 May 1936
|Main interests||Philosophy of history|
Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936) was a German historian and philosopher of history whose interests included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history. He proposed a new theory, according to which the lifespan of civilizations is limited and ultimately they decay.
He wrote extensively throughout World War I and the interwar period, and supported German hegemony in Europe. His other writings made little impact outside Germany. In 1920 Spengler produced Prussiandom and Socialism (Preußentum und Sozialismus), which argued for an organic, nationalist version of socialism and authoritarianism. Some Nazis (such as Goebbels) held Spengler as an intellectual precursor but he was ostracised by the Nazis after 1933 for his pessimism about Germany's and Europe's future, his refusal to support Nazi ideas of racial superiority, and his critical work The Hour of Decision.
Oswald Spengler was born in 1880 in Blankenburg (in the Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire) the eldest of four children, and the only boy. His family was conservative German of the petite bourgeoisie. His father, originally a mining technician, who came from a long line of mineworkers, was a post office bureaucrat. His childhood home was emotionally reserved, and the young Spengler turned to books and the great cultural personalities for succor. He had imperfect health, and suffered throughout his life from migraine headaches and from an anxiety complex.
At the age of ten, his family moved to the university city of Halle. Here Spengler received a classical education at the local Gymnasium (academically oriented secondary school), studying Greek, Latin, mathematics and sciences. Here, too, he developed his affinity for the arts—especially poetry, drama, and music—and came under the influence of the ideas of Goethe and Nietzsche. He even experimented with a few artistic creations, some of which still survive.
After his father's death in 1901 Spengler attended several universities (Munich, Berlin, and Halle) as a private scholar, taking courses in a wide range of subjects. His private studies were undirected. In 1903, he failed his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus because of insufficient references, which effectively ended his chances of an academic career. In 1904 he received his Ph.D., and in 1905 suffered a nervous breakdown.
Scholars[which?] remark that his life seemed rather uneventful. He briefly served as a teacher in Saarbrücken and then in Düsseldorf. From 1908 to 1911 he worked at a grammar school (Realgymnasium) in Hamburg, where he taught science, German history, and mathematics.
In 1911, following his mother's death, he moved to Munich, where he would live until his death in 1936. He lived as a cloistered scholar, supported by his modest inheritance. Spengler survived on very limited means and was marked by loneliness. He owned no books, and took jobs as a tutor or wrote for magazines to earn additional income.
He began work on the first volume of Decline of the West intending at first to focus on Germany within Europe, but the Agadir Crisis affected him deeply, and he widened the scope of his study. Spengler was inspired by Otto Seeck's work The Decline of Antiquity in naming his own effort. The book was completed in 1914, but publishing was delayed by World War I. Due to a congenital heart problem, he was not called up for military service. During the war, however, his inheritance was largely useless because it was invested overseas; thus Spengler lived in genuine poverty for this period.
Publication of The Decline of the West (1918) 
When Decline came out in the summer of 1918 it became a wild success. The perceived national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and later the economic depression around 1923 fueled by hyperinflation seemed to prove Spengler right. It comforted Germans because it seemingly rationalized their downfall as part of larger world-historical processes. The book met with wide success outside of Germany as well, and by 1919 had been translated into several other languages. Spengler rejected a subsequent offer to become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, saying he needed time to focus on writing.
The book was widely discussed, even by those who had not read it. Historians took umbrage at an amateur effort by an untrained author and his unapologetically non-scientific approach. Thomas Mann compared reading Spengler's book to reading Schopenhauer for the first time. Academics gave it a mixed reception. Max Weber described Spengler as a "very ingenious and learned dilettante", while Karl Popper described the thesis as "pointless".
The great historian of antiquity Eduard Meyer thought highly of Spengler, although he also had some criticisms of him. Spengler's obscurity, intuitionalism, and mysticism were easy targets, especially for the Positivists and neo-Kantians who saw no meaning in history. The critic and æsthete Count Harry Kessler thought him unoriginal and rather inane, especially in regard to his opinion on Nietzsche. Ludwig Wittgenstein, however, shared Spengler's cultural pessimism. Spengler's work became an important foundation for the social cycle theory.
His book was a success among intellectuals worldwide as it predicted the disintegration of European and American civilization after a violent "age of Caesarism", arguing by detailed analogies with other civilizations. It deepened the post-World War I pessimism in Europe. German Kantian philosopher Ernst Cassirer explained that at the end of the First World War, Spengler's very title was enough to inflame imaginations: "At this time many, if not most of us, had realized that something was rotten in the state of our highly prized Western civilization. Spengler's book expressed in a sharp and trenchant way this general uneasiness." Northrop Frye argued that while every element of Spengler's thesis has been refuted a dozen times, it is "one of the world's great Romantic poems" and its leading ideas are "as much part of our mental outlook today as the electron or the dinosaur, and in that sense we are all Spenglerians."
Spengler's pessimistic predictions about the inevitable decline of the West inspired Third World intellectuals, ranging from China and Korea to Chile, eager to identify the fall of western imperialism. In Britain and America, however, Spengler's pessimism was later countered by the optimism of Arnold J. Toynbee in London, who wrote world history in the 1940s with a greater stress on religion.
A 1928 Time review of the second volume of Decline described the immense influence and controversy Spengler's ideas enjoyed during the 1920s: "When the first volume of The Decline of the West appeared in Germany a few years ago, thousands of copies were sold. Cultivated European discourse quickly became Spengler-saturated. Spenglerism spurted from the pens of countless disciples. It was imperative to read Spengler, to sympathize or revolt. It still remains so."
In the second volume, published in 1922, Spengler argued that German socialism differed from Marxism, and was in fact compatible with traditional German conservatism. In 1924, following the social-economic upheaval and inflation, Spengler entered politics in an effort to bring Reichswehr general Hans von Seeckt to power as the country's leader. The attempt failed and Spengler proved ineffective in practical politics.
In 1931, he published Man and Technics, which warned against the dangers of technology and industrialism to culture. He especially pointed to the tendency of Western technology to spread to hostile "Colored races" which would then use the weapons against the West. It was poorly received because of its anti-industrialism. This book contains the well-known Spengler quote "Optimism is cowardice".
Despite voting for Hitler over Hindenburg in 1932, Spengler found the Führer vulgar. He met Hitler in 1933 and after a lengthy discussion remained unimpressed, saying that Germany did not need a "heroic tenor (Heldentenor: one of several conventional tenor classifications) but a real hero (Held)." He publicly quarreled with Alfred Rosenberg, and his pessimism and remarks about the Führer resulted in isolation and public silence. He further rejected offers from Joseph Goebbels to give public speeches. However, Spengler did become a member of the German Academy in the course of the year.
The Hour of Decision, published in 1934, was a bestseller, but the Nazis later banned it for its critiques of National Socialism. Spengler's criticisms of liberalism were welcomed by the Nazis, but Spengler disagreed with their biological ideology and anti-Semitism. While racial mysticism played a key role in his own worldview, Spengler had always been an outspoken critic of the pseudo-scientific racial theories professed by the Nazis and many others in his time, and was not inclined to change his views upon Hitler's rise to power. Although himself a German nationalist, Spengler viewed the Nazis as too narrowly German, and not occidental enough to lead the fight against other peoples. The book also warned of a coming world war in which Western Civilization risked being destroyed, and was widely distributed abroad before eventually being banned in Germany. A Time review of The Hour of Decision noted his international popularity as a polemicist, observing that "When Oswald Spengler speaks, many a Western Worldling stops to listen". The review recommended the book for "readers who enjoy vigorous writing", who "will be glad to be rubbed the wrong way by Spengler's harsh aphorisms" and his pessimistic predictions.
In his private papers, Spengler denounced Nazi anti-Semitism in even stronger terms, writing "and how much envy of the capability of other people in view of one's lack of it lies hidden in anti-Semitism!" and that "when one would rather destroy business and scholarship than see Jews in them, one is an ideologue, i.e., a danger for the nation. Idiotic." 
Final years 
Spengler spent his final years in Munich, listening to Beethoven, reading Molière and Shakespeare, buying several thousand books, and collecting ancient Turkish, Persian and Hindu weapons. He made occasional trips to the Harz mountains, and to Italy. Shortly before his death, in a letter to a friend, he remarked that "the German Reich in ten years will probably no longer exist". He died of a heart attack on May 8, 1936 in Munich, three weeks before his 56th birthday and exactly nine years before the fall of the Third Reich.
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- In the July 10, 1920 issue of The Illustrated London News, G. K. Chesterton took issue with both pessimists (such as Spengler) and their optimistic critics, arguing that neither took into consideration human choice: "The pessimists believe that the cosmos is a clock that is running down; the progressives believe it is a clock that they themselves are winding up. But I happen to believe that the world is what we choose to make it, and that we are what we choose to make ourselves; and that our renascence or our ruin will alike, ultimately and equally, testify with a trumpet to our liberty."
- The Decline of the West was an important influence on historian Arnold J. Toynbee's similarly themed work A Study of History.
- Spengler's concept of the 'Faustian' outlook was an important part of Herman Kahn's book The Year 2000. Kahn used the Spenglerian term to describe cultures that value continual, restless striving. He did not use it to refer to Faust's bargain or pact.
- Communal readings of The Decline of the West held great influence over the founding members of the Beat Generation. Spengler's vision of the cyclical nature of civilization and the contemporaneity of the end of the Western European cycle led William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to look for the seeds of the next cycle in the communities of which they were a part.
- Spengler has, among others, influenced Georg Henrik von Wright in his writing about society.
- Francis Parker Yockey claimed Spengler was a pivotal influence on him and wrote Imperium as a sequel to The Decline of the West. Yockey called Spengler "The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century." Yockey's philosophy, especially his vehement anti-Semitism, differs heavily from Spengler, however, who criticised anti-Semitism and racialism much in the same vein as his own influence Friedrich Nietzsche had... Drawing from Spengler’s thesis, Yockey maintains that in the long run it would have been better for Europe if World War II had gone the other way.
- Literary critic Northrop Frye said he "practically slept [with The Decline of the West] under my pillow for several years" while a student. Spengler's book inspired Frye to have his own "vision of coherence", resulting in Anatomy of Criticism. Frye later criticized the over-reading of Spengler's metaphorical system as actual history rather than an organizing principle.
- In his book World of Wonders, writer Robertson Davies has narrator Magnus Eisengrim refer to Spengler's conception that the Middle Ages had a Magian World View, the view that the world was filled with wonders. So the title itself is Davies' nod to Spengler.
- James Blish's Cities in Flight tetralogy explicitly lists Spengler's theories as an influence on the future history of the Cities.
- Perhaps Spengler influenced Charles Lindbergh's view that Western nations should put aside their political differences and form an alliance against "foreign races" instead of fighting amongst themselves. Lindbergh also echoed Spengler's concern about the effects of industrialization and materialism on Western Civilization, and as well as Spengler's pessimism about the future.
- The late paleoconservative political theorist Samuel T. Francis cited Spengler's views on race as influential on his own.
- American authors influenced by Spengler include Henry Miller, John dos Passos, H.P. Lovecraft, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once referred to himself as an "American Spenglerian." British novelist Malcolm Lowry, painter Oskar Kokoschka, orchestra director Wilhelm Furtwängler, and filmmaker Fritz Lang were also fans of Spengler's work.
- The Hour of Decision influenced Malcolm X’s views on economics and his critiques of capitalism. He agreed with Spengler’s prediction that class conflict would eventually be surpassed by racial conflict. When asked about Karl Marx, Malcolm X (who had never read Marx) stated that he agreed with Spengler’s view of social class and economic systems as secondary to racial identity.
- Beginning in January 2000, David P. Goldman wrote a column for Asia Times Online under the pseudonym "Spengler". He revealed his identity in April 2009.
- Clear traces of Spengler's philosophy can be found in the works of Canadian (Manitoba) novelist Gabrielle Roy.
- Certain deep ecologist and green anarchist thinkers such as John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen have cited Spengler as an influence when discussing the downfall of civilization and the overcoming of the natural world against man-made civilization.  
- Comparative mythologist and mystic Joseph Campbell cited Spengler as an influence when describing the universality of myths among cultures.
Spengler's works 
- Der metaphysische Grundgedanke der Heraklitischen Philosophie, 1904.
- Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte, 1918-22 (2 vols.: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit; Welthistorische Perspektives) - The Decline of the West; an Abridged Edition by Helmut Werner (tr. by F. Atkinson).
- Preussentum und Sozialismus, 1920 (Prussianism and Socialism).
- Pessimismus?, 1922.
- Die Revolution ist nicht zu Ende, c. 1924.
- Neubau des deutschen Reiches, 1924.
- Politische Pflichten der deutschen Jugend; rede gehalten am 26. februar 1924 vor dem Hochschulring deutscher art in Würzburg, 1925.
- Der Mensch und die Technik, 1931 (Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, tr. C. T. Atkinson).
- Politische Schriften, 1932.
- Die Revolution ist nicht zu Ende, 1932.
- Jahre der Entscheidung, 1933 (The Hour of Decision tr. C. F. Atkinson, at the Internet Archive).
- Reden und Aufsätze, 1937 (ed. by Hildegard Kornhardt) - Selected Essays (tr. Donald O. White).
- Gedanken, c. 1941 (ed. by Hildegard Konrnhardt) - Aphorisms (translated by Gisela Koch-Weser O’Brien).
- Briefe, 1913-1936, 1963 - The Letters of Oswald Spengler, 1913-1936 (ed. and tr. by A. Helps).
- Urfragen; Fragmente aus dem Nachlass, 1965 (ed. by Anton Mirko Koktanek and Manfred Schröter).
- Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte: Fragmente aus dem Nachlass, 1966 (ed. by A.M. Kortanek and Manfred Schröter).
- Der Briefwechsel zwischen Oswald Spengler und Wolfgang E. Groeger: über russische Literatur, Zeitgeschichte und soziale Fragen, 1987 (ed. by Xenia Werner).
See also 
- The original Preface is dated December, 1917 and ends with Spengler expressing hope that "his book would not be unworthy of the German military achievements".)
- Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (1927)
- Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (1946) p. 289
- Northrop Frye (2003). Northrop Frye on Modern Culture. University of Toronto Press. p. 305.
- Prasenjit Duara, "The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism." Journal of World History 2001 12(1): 99-130
- Neil McInnes, "The Great Doomsayer: Oswald Spengler Reconsidered." National Interest 1997 (48): 65-76.
- "Patterns in Chaos". Time Magazine. 1928-12-10. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
- "Spengler Speaks". Time Magazine. 1934-02-12. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
- Farrenkopf, John (2001). Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 237–238.
- Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (2003). Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York U.P. p. 75.
- Northrop Frye; ed. by Jan Gorak (2003). Northrop Frye on Modern Culture. U. of Toronto Press. p. 34.
- Frye, Northrop (1984). "New Directions From Old". Fables of identity : studies in poetic mythology. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. p. 54. ISBN 0156297302.
- John Moss (1983). The Canadian Novel: A Critical Anthology. Dundurn Press. p. 77.
- Benazir Bhutto (2008). Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. HarperCollins. p. 234.
- James Blish (2005). Cities in Flight. Penguin. p. 313.
- "Eagle to Earth". Time Magazine. 1942-01-12. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
- Why Race Matters by Samuel Francis, American Renaissance, September 1994.
- Prospects for Racial and Cultural Survival by Samuel Francis, American Renaissance, March 1995.
- Malcolm X (1992). By any means necessary (2 ed.). Pathfinder. p. 21. ISBN 9780873487597. "And one further comment is this: as I said, I don't know too much about Karl Marx, but there was this man who wrote The Decline of the West, Spengler— he had another book that's a little lesser known, called The Hour of Decision."
- Robert Michael Franklin (1990). Liberating visions: human fulfillment and social justice in African-American thought. Fortress Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780800623920.
- William H. Young (2010). Ordering America. Xlibris Corporation. p. 407. ISBN 9781453516638. "In The Hour of Decision (1934), Spengler predicted that class conflict would eventually be surpassed by racial conflict, a view adopted much later by Malcolm X."
- Oswald Spengler et Gabrielle Roy : quelques pistes de lecture by Stephan Hardy, Cahiers franco-canadiens de l'Ouest, Vol. 13, No 2, 2001, p. 143-156
- (1/3) John Zerzan Interview for Yu Koyo Peya on YouTube
- Borthwick, S.M. (2011). "Decline of Civilization: W.B. Yeats' and Oswald Spengler's New Historiography of Civilization". Comparative Civilizations Review (ISCSC, Michigan, USA) 64: 22–37.
- McNaughton, D.L. (2012). "Spengler's Philosophy, and its implication that Europe has 'lost its way'". Comparative Civilizations Review (ISCSC, Michigan, USA) 67: 7–15.
- Farrenkopf, J. (2001). Prophet of Decline: Spengler on world history and politics. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Further reading 
- Adorno, Theodor. Prisms. Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press 1967.
- Bentley, Jerry H. Shapes of World History in Twentieth Century Scholarship. Essays on Global and Comparative History Series. (1996)
- Cooper, David E. 'Reactionary Modernism'. In Anthony O'Hear (ed.) German Philosophy Since Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 291–304.
- Costello, Paul. World Historians and Their Goals: Twentieth-Century Answers to Modernism (1993).
- Farrenkopf, John. Prophet of Decline: Spengler on world history and politics. Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8071-2653-5 ISBN 0-8071-2727-2.
- Fennelly, John F., Twilight of the Evening Lands: Oswald Spengler — A Half Century Later. New York: Brookdale Press, 1972) ISBN 0-912650-01-X.
- Frye, Northrop. "Spengler Revisited" in Northrop Frye on modern culture (2003), pp 297–382, first published 1974; online
- Hughes, H. Stuart. Oswald Spengler (1952).
- Hughes, H. Stuart. "Preface to the Present Edition". Preface to The Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition by Oswald Spengler. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-506751-7.
- Kidd, Ian James. "Oswald Spengler, technology, and human nature: 'Man and Technics' as philosophical anthropology". In The European Legacy, forthcoming.
- McInnes, Neil. "The Great Doomsayer: Oswald Spengler Reconsidered." National Interest 1997 (48): 65-76. * Rees, Philip (ed. by). Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890, 1991. ISBN 0-13-089301-3.
In foreign languages 
- Caruso, Sergio. "Lo Spätwerk storico-filosofico di Oswald Spengler". In Antologia Vieusseux, Vol. 11, No. 41-42, Jan.-June 1976, pp. 67–72.
- Caruso, Sergio. La politica del Destino. Relativismo storico e irrazionalismo politico nel pensiero di Oswald Spengler. Firenze: Cultura 1979.
- Caruso, Sergio. "Oswald Spengler: un centenario dimenticato?". In Nuova Antologia, Vol. 115, No. 2136, Oct.-Dec. 1980, pp. 347–354.
- Caruso, Sergio. "Minoranze, caste e partiti nel pensiero di Oswald Spengler". In Politica e società. Scritti in onore di Luciano Cavalli, ed. by G. Bettin. Cedam: Padova 1997, pp. 214–282.
- Felken, Detlef. Oswald Spengler; Konservativer Denker zwischen Kaiserreich und Diktatur. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1988.
- Reichelt, Stefan G. "Oswald Spengler". In: Nikolaj A. Berdjaev in Deutschland 1920-1950. Eine rezeptionshistorische Studie. Universitätsverlag: Leipzig 1999, pp. 71–73. ISBN 3-933240-88-3.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Oswald Spengler|
- Spengler, Oswald ♦ The Decline of the West, v. 1: Form and Actuality Authorized translation, 1926 ♦ George Allen & Unwin, London
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