The Decline of the West
|The Decline of the West|
Cover of Volume II, first edition, 1922
|Original title||Der Untergang des Abendlandes|
|Publication date||1918 (Vol.I); 1922 (Vol.II)|
|Published in English||1926|
The Decline of the West (German: Der Untergang des Abendlandes), or The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918. Spengler revised this volume in 1922 and published the second volume, subtitled Perspectives of World History, in 1923.
The book introduces itself as a "Copernican overturning" and rejects the Euro-centric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear "ancient-medieval-modern" rubric. According to Spengler, the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms. He recognizes eight high cultures: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, Western or "European-American." Cultures have a lifespan of about a thousand years. The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a 'civilization'.
The book also presents the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being Magian; Mediterranean cultures of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being Apollonian; and the modern Westerners being Faustian.
According to the theory, the Western world is actually ending and we are witnessing the last season — "winter time" — of the Faustian civilization. In Spengler's depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.
- 1 General context
- 2 Overview
- 3 The meaning of history
- 4 Culture and civilization
- 5 Races, peoples and cultures
- 6 Religion's role
- 7 The state and Caesarism
- 8 Democracy, media, and money
- 9 Mathematics
- 10 Criticisms
- 11 Test of the theory
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Spengler relates that he conceived the book sometime in 1911 and spent three years in writing the first draft. At the start of World War I he began revising it and completed the first volume in 1917. It was published the following year when Spengler was 38, and was his first work, apart from his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus. The second volume was published in 1922. The first volume is subtitled "Form and Actuality", the second volume is "Perspectives of World-history". Spengler's own view of the aims and intentions of the work are sketched in the Prefaces and occasionally at other places.[clarification needed]
The book received unfavorable reviews from most interested scholars even before the release of the second volume. Spengler's veering toward right-wing views in the second volume confirmed this reception, and the stream of criticisms continued for decades. Nevertheless in Germany the book enjoyed popular success: by 1926 some 100,000 copies were sold.
A 1928 Time review of the second volume of Decline described the immense influence and controversy Spengler's ideas enjoyed in 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."
Spengler presented a worldview that resonated with the post-WWI German mood — a view of democracy as the type of government of the declining civilization. He argued that democracy is driven by money-breeding and therefore easily corruptible. Spengler initially supported the rise of a dictatorial or fascist government as the next phase after the failure of democracy.
Spengler's world-historical outlook was informed by many philosophers, including Goethe and to some degree Nietzsche. He would later further explain the significance of these two German philosophers and their influence on his worldview in his lecture Nietzsche and His Century. His analytical approach is "Analogy. By these means we are enabled to distinguish polarity and periodicity in the world."
Morphology is a key part of Spengler's philosophy of history, using a methodology which approached history and historical comparisons on the basis of civilizational forms and structure, without regard to function.
In a footnote, Spengler describes the essential core of his philosophical approach toward history, culture, and civilization:
Plato and Goethe stand for the philosophy of Becoming, Aristotle and Kant the philosophy of Being... Goethe's notes and verse.. must be regarded as the expression of a perfectly definite metaphysical doctrine. I would not have a single word changed of this: "The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding only to make use of the become and the set-fast.(Letter to Eckermann)" This sentence comprises my entire philosophy.
Scholars now agree that the word "decline" more accurately renders the intended meaning of Spengler's original German word "Untergang" (often translated as the more emphatic "downfall"; "Unter" being "under" and "gang" being "going", it is also accurately rendered in English as the "going under" of the West). Spengler explained that he did not mean to describe a catastrophic occurrence, but rather a protracted fall—a twilight or sunset. (Sonnenuntergang is German for sunset, and Abendland, his word for the West, literally means the "evening land".) Writing in 1921 Spengler observed that he might have used in his title the word Vollendung (which means 'fulfillment' or 'consummation') and saved a great deal of misunderstanding. Nevertheless, "Untergang" can be interpreted in both ways, and after World War II, some critics and scholars chose to read it in the cataclysmic sense.
Spengler invents certain terms with unusual meanings not commonly encountered in everyday discourse.
Culture / Civilisation Spengler uses the two terms in a manner specific for the German, loading them with particular values. For him, civilisation is what a culture becomes once its creative impulses wane and become overwhelmed by critical impulses. Culture is the becoming, Civilisation is the thing become. Rousseau, Socrates, and Buddha each mark the point where their Cultures transformed into Civilisation. They each buried centuries of spiritual depth by presenting the world in rational terms—the intellect comes to rule once the soul has abdicated.
Apollonian / Magian / Faustian These are Spengler's terms for Classical, Arabian and Western civilisations respectively.
Apollonian Civilisation is focused around Ancient Greece and Rome. Spengler saw its world view as being characterised by appreciation for the beauty of the human body, and a preference for the local and the present moment.
Magian Civilisation includes the Jews from about 400BC, early Christians and various Arabian religions up to and including Islam. Its world feeling revolved around the concept of world as cavern, epitomised by the domed Mosque, and a preoccupation with essence. Spengler saw the development of this civilisation as being distorted by a too influential presence of older cultures, the initial vigorous expansionary impulses of Islam being in part a reaction against this.
Faustian Civilisation began in Western Europe around the 10th century and according to Spengler such has been its expansionary power that by the 20th century it was covering the entire earth, with only a few Regions where Islam provides an alternative world view. The world feeling of Faustian civilisation is inspired by the concept of infinitely wide and profound space, the yearning towards distance and infinity.
Pseudomorphosis The concept of pseudomorphosis is one that Spengler borrows from mineralogy and a concept that he introduces as a way of explaining what are in his eyes half-developed or only partially manifested Cultures. Specifically pseudomorphosis entails an older culture so deeply ingrained in a land that a young culture can not find its own form and full expression of itself. This leads to the young soul being cast in the old molds, in Spengler's words. Young feelings then stiffen in senile practices, and instead of expanding creatively, it fosters hate toward the other older Culture.
Spengler believes that pseudomorphosis began with the Battle of Actium. Here the gestating Arabian Culture lost to the Classical Civilization. He asserts that it should have been Mark Antony who won. The battle was not the struggle of Rome and Greece—that struggle had been fought out at Cannae and Zama, where it was Hannibal who stood as champion for Hellenism. Antony's victory would have freed the Magian Culture, but his defeat imposed Roman Civilization on the young Culture.
In Russia, Spengler sees a young, undeveloped culture laboring under the Faustian (Petrine) form. Peter the Great distorted the tsarism of Russia to the dynastic form of Western Europe. The burning of Moscow, as Napoleon was set to invade, he sees as a primitive expression of hatred toward the foreigner. This was soon followed by the entry of Alexander I into Paris, the Holy Alliance and the Concert of Europe. Here Russia was forced into an artificial history before its Culture was ready or capable of understanding its burden. This would result in a hatred toward Europe, a hatred which Spengler argues poisoned the womb of emerging new culture in Russia. While he does not name the culture, he claims that Tolstoy is its past and Dostoyevsky is its future.
Becoming / Being For Spengler Becoming is the basic element, not the other way around. He advises that his philosophy in a nutshell is contained in these lines from Goethe "the God-head is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly the intuition is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and logic only to make use of the become and the set-fast"
Blood Spengler sees Blood as the only power strong enough to overthrow Money, currently the dominant power of our age. Blood is commonly understood to mean race-feeling, and this is partially true but misleading. Spenglers idea of race has nothing to do with ethnic identity, indeed he was hostile to racists in that sense. The book talks about a population becoming a race when its united-in-outlook, possibly diverse ethnic origins are not a concern. Crucially, Spengler talks about the final struggle with money also being a battle between capitalism and socialism, but again socialism in a special sense: "the will to call into life a mighty politico-economic order that transcends all class interests, a system of lofty thoughtfulness and duty sense." He also writes "A power can be overthrown only by another power, not by a principle, and only one power that can confront money is left. Money is overthrown and abolished by blood. Life is alpha and omega ... It is the fact of facts ... Before the irresistible rhythm on the generation-sequence, everything built up by the waking–consciousness in its intellectual world vanishes at the last." Therefore, if we wanted to replace Blood by a single word it would be more correct to use "life-force" rather than "race-feeling".
Spengler lists eight hochkulturen or 'High Cultures' that have existed:
- Mexic (Mayan/Aztec)
- Classical (Greek/Roman)
- Faustian or Western, "European-American"
The "Decline" is largely concerned with comparisons of the Classical and Western cultures, but some examples are taken from the Arabian, Chinese, and Egyptian cultures. Each culture arises within a specific geographical area and is defined by its internal coherence of style in terms of art, religious behaviour and psychological perspective. Central to each culture is its conception of space which is expressed by an "Ursymbol". Although not amenable to a strictly logical examination, Spengler's idea of culture is, he claims, justifiable through the existence of recurrent patterns of development and decline across the 1,000 years of each culture's active lifetime.
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Phases of rise and decline
Spring: Intuition, powerful cultural creation from awakening souls, unity and abundance.
- Religion: Birth of a grand myth signifying a new conception of God. Fear and longing for the world. Earliest metaphysical organization of the world. High scholasticism.
- Art: Religious art considered as an integrated part of religious devotion. Gothic cathedrals, Doric temples. Development of Ornamental art as against the persistent, ahistorical type of Imitative art.
- Politics: Feudalism, warrior aristocracies. Division between two primary Estates: Nobility, which is the estate proper, contains within itself the highest aspirations of its race and is therefore symbolic of the particular people in question, as well as being representative of Time in the sense of Directedness and Destiny; and Priesthood, which is the anti-Estate, pursuing eternal Truth and attempting to subordinate Blood to Intellect primarily through asceticism, but also through scholasticism.
Summer: Maturing consciousness. Earliest urban-civil society and critical thought.
- Religion: Reformation: revolt of the religious moderates against the early religion. Beginnings of a purely philosophical movement. Contrasting idealistic and realistic systems. Mathematical breakthroughs leading to a new conception of the world. Rationalism. The depletion of mysticism from religion.
- Art: Development of high artistic traditions. Both artistic medium and style express the fundamental nature of the soul of the culture. Struggle between different artistic mediums, representing the culture's striving to discover its proper mode of self-representation.
- Politics: Absolutist states. Conflicts between aristocracy and monarchy. The political centre shifts from castles and estates to the cities.
Autumn: Urban rise. High point of disciplined organizational strength.
- Religion: Faith in the omnipotence of rationality. Cult of Nature. The height of mathematical thought. The last idealists. Theories of knowledge and logic.
- Art: Fulfillment of high artistic potentials of culture- sculpture in Greece, contrapuntal music in the West. At the beginning of Autumn, art possesses complete freedom to manifest the Destiny-vision of a people through its particular perfected formal technique. However, the end of Autumn witnesses the exhaustion of the possibilities of that technique, leading to craft-art in imitation of the great style as well as artistic revolt.
- Politics: Struggles between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Revolutions. Napoleonism.
Winter: Coming fissure in the world-urban civilization. Exhaustion of mental organization strength. Irreligiousness rises.
- Religion: Materialism: Cults of science, utility, and luck. Ethical-social ideals: philosophy without mathematics, skepticism. The last mathematical thinkers. Decline of abstract thinkers, and the rise of specialized academic philosophy. Spread of the last ideas.
- Art: End of symbolic art. All art becomes meaningless subjects of fashion.
- Politics: Democracy, the rule of the rich, followed by caesarism and bureaucracy.
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The meaning of history
Spengler distinguishes between ahistorical peoples and peoples caught up in world-history. While he recognizes that all people are a part of history, he argues that only certain cultures imbue a wider sense of historical involvement. Thus some people see themselves as part of a grand historical design or tradition, while others view themselves in a self-contained manner. For the latter, there is no world-historical consciousness.
For Spengler, a world-historical view points to the meaning of history itself, by breaking the historian or observer out of his crude culturally-parochial classifications of history. By learning about different courses taken by other civilizations, one can better understand his own culture and identity. Those who still maintain a historical view of the world are the very same who continue to "make" history. Spengler asserts that life and humankind as a whole have an ultimate aim. However, he maintains a distinction between world-historical peoples, and ahistorical peoples—the former will have a historical destiny as part of a high Culture, while the latter will have a merely zoological fate. World-historical man's destiny is self-fulfillment as a part of his Culture. Further, Spengler asserts that not only is pre-Cultural man without history, he loses his historical weight as his Culture becomes exhausted and becomes a more and more defined Civilization.
For example, Spengler classifies Classical and Indian civilizations as ahistorical, whereas the Egyptian and Western civilizations developed conceptions of historical time. He sees all cultures as necessarily placed on equal footing in the study of world-historical development. From this idea flows a kind of historical relativism or dispensationalism. Historical data, in Spengler's mind, are an expression of their historical time, contingent upon and relative to that context. Thus, the insights of one era are not unshakeable or valid in another time or culture—"there are no eternal truths." Each man has a duty to look beyond his own Culture to see what men of other Cultures have with equal certainty created for themselves. What is significant is not whether the past thinkers' insights are relevant today, but whether they were exceptionally relevant to the great facts of their own time.
Culture and civilization
Spengler adopts an organic conception of culture. Primitive Culture is simply a collection, a sum, of its constituent and incoherent parts (individuals, tribes, clans, etc.). Higher Culture, in its maturity and coherence, becomes an organism in its own right, according to Spengler. The Culture is capable of sublimating the various customs, myths, techniques, arts, peoples, and classes into a single strong undiffused historical tendency.
Spengler divides the concepts of culture and civilization, the former focused inward and growing, the latter outward and merely expanding. However, he sees Civilization as the destiny of every Culture. The transition is not a matter of choice—it is not the conscious will of individuals, classes, or peoples that decides. Whereas Cultures are "things-becoming", Civilizations are the "thing-become." As the conclusion of a Culture's arc of growth, Civilizations are outwardly focused, and in that sense artificial or insincere. Civilizations are what Cultures become when they are no longer creative and growing. For example, Spengler points to the Greeks and Romans, saying that the imaginative Greek culture declined into wholly practical Roman civilization.
Spengler also compares the "world-city" and province, as concepts analogous to civilization and culture respectively. This argument has elements of Marxist conceptions of a core and periphery. The city draws upon and collects the life of broad surrounding regions. He contrasts the "true-type" rural born, with the nomadic, traditionless, irreligious, matter-of-fact, clever, unfruitful, and contemptuous-of-the-countryman city dweller. In the cities he sees only the "mob", not a people, hostile to the traditions that represent Culture (in Spengler's view these traditions are: nobility, church, privileges, dynasties, convention in art, and limits on scientific knowledge). City dwellers possess cold intelligence that confounds peasant wisdom, a new-fashioned naturalism in attitudes towards sex which are a return to primitive instincts, and a dying inner religiousness. Further, Spengler sees in urban wage-disputes and a focus on lavish sport expenditures for entertainment the final aspects that signal the closing of Culture and the rise of the Civilization.
Spengler has a low opinion of Civilizations, even those that engaged in significant expansion, because that expansion was not actual growth. One of his principal examples is that of Roman "world domination." It was not an achievement because the Romans faced no significant resistance to their expansion. Thus they did not so much conquer their empire, but rather simply took possession of that which lay open to everyone. Spengler asserts that the Roman Empire did not come into existence because of the kind of Cultural energy that they had displayed in the Punic Wars. After the Battle of Zama, Spengler believes that the Romans never waged, or even were capable of waging, a war against a competing great military power.
Races, peoples and cultures
A race, writes Spengler, has "roots", like a plant. It is connected to a landscape. "If, in that home, the race cannot be found, this means the race has ceased to exist. A race does not migrate. Men migrate, and their successive generations are born in ever-changing landscapes; but the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old and the appearance of the new one." In this instance, he writes of "race" in the tribal and cultural rather than the biological sense, a 19th-century use of the word still common when Spengler wrote.
For this reason, a race is not exactly like a plant:
"Science has completely failed to note that race is not the same for rooted plants as it is for mobile animals, that with the micro-cosmic side of life a fresh group of characteristics appear and that for the animal world it is decisive. Nor again has it perceived that a completely different significance must be attached to 'races' when the word denotes subdivisions within the integral race "Man."' With its talk of casual concentration it sets up a soulless concentration of superficial characters, and blots out the fact that here the blood and there the power of the land over the blood are expressing themselves—secrets that cannot be inspected and measured, but only livingly experienced from eye to eye. Nor are scientists at one as to the relative rank of these superficial characters".
Spengler writes that, "Comradeship breeds races... Where a race-ideal exists, as it does, supremely, in the Early period of a culture... the yearning of a ruling class towards this ideal, its will to be just so and not otherwise, operates (quite independently of the choosing of wives) towards actualizing this idea and eventually achieves it." He distinguishes this from the sort of pseudo-anthropological notions commonly held when the book was written, and he dismisses the idea of "an Aryan skull and a Semitic skull". He also does not believe language is itself sufficient to breed races, and that "the mother tongue" signifies "deep ethical forces" in Late Civilizations rather than Early Cultures, when a race is still developing the language that fits its "race-ideal".
Closely connected to race, Spengler defines a "people" as a unit of the soul. "The great events of history were not really achieved by peoples; they themselves created the peoples. Every act alters the soul of the doer." Such events include migrations and wars. For example, the American people did not migrate from Europe, but were formed by events such as the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War. "Neither unity of speech nor physical descent is decisive." What distinguishes a people from a population is "the inwardly lived experience of 'we'", which exists so long as a people's soul lasts. "The name Roman in Hannibal's day meant a people, in Trajan's time nothing more than a population." In Spengler's view: "Peoples are neither linguistic nor political nor zoological, but spiritual units."
Spengler disliked the contemporary trend of fusing a definition of race similar to his with the biological definition. "Of course, it is quite often justifiable to align peoples with races, but 'race' in this connexion must not be interpreted in the present-day Darwinian sense of the word. It cannot be accepted, surely, that a people were ever held together by the mere unity of physical origin, or, if it were, could maintain that unity for ten generations. It cannot be too often reiterated that this physiological provenance has no existence except for science—never for folk-consciousness—and that no people was ever stirred to enthusiasm by this ideal of blood purity. In race (Rasse haben) there is nothing material but something cosmic and directional, the felt harmony of a Destiny, the single cadence of the march of historical Being. It is the incoordination of this (wholly metaphysical) beat which produces race hatred... and it is resonance on this beat that makes the true love—so akin to hate—between man and wife."
To Spengler, peoples are formed from early prototypes during the Early phase of a Culture. "Out of the people-shapes of the Carolingian Empire—the Saxons, Swabians, Franks, Visigoths, Lombards—arise suddenly the Germans, the French, the Spaniards, the Italians." These peoples are products of the spiritual "race" of the great Cultures, and "people under a spell of a Culture are its products and not its authors. These shapes in which humanity is seized and moulded possess style and style-history no less than kinds of art or mode of thought. The people of Athens is a symbol not less than the Doric temple, the Englishman not less than modern physics. There are peoples of Apollinian, Magian, and Faustian cast... World history is the history of the great Cultures, and peoples are but the symbolic forms and vessels in which the men of these Cultures fulfill their Destinies."
In attempts to tie race and culture together, Spengler echoes ideas similar to those of Friedrich Ratzel and Rudolf Kjellén. These ideas, which figure proeminently in the second volume of the book, were common throughout German culture at the time, and would be the most significant elements for the National Socialists.
In his later works, such as Man and Technics (1931) and The Hour of Decision (1933), Spengler expanded upon his "spiritual" theory of race and tied it to his metaphysical notion of eternal war and his belief that "Man is a beast of prey". The authorities however banned the book.
Spengler is neither wholly pro-religion nor anti-religion, but he does differentiate between manifestations of religion that appear within a civilization's developmental cycle. He sees each culture as having an initial religious identity, which eventually results in a reformation-like period, followed by a period of rationalism, and finally entering a period of second religiousness that correlates with decline. Intellectual creativeness of a Culture's Late period begins after the reformation, usually ushering in new freedoms in science.
The scientific stage associated with post-reformation Puritanism contains the fundamentals of Rationalism. Eventually rationalism spreads throughout the Culture and becomes the dominant school of thought. To Spengler, Culture is synonymous with religious creativeness. Every great Culture begins with a religious trend that arises in the countryside, is carried through to the cultural cities, and ends in materialism in the world-cities.
Spengler described the process by which Enlightenment rationalism undermines and destroys itself, passing from unlimited optimism to unqualified skepticism. The Cartesian self-centered rationalism leads to schools of thought that do not cognize outside of their own constructed worlds, ignoring actual every-day life experience. It applies criticism to its own artificial world until it exhausts itself in meaninglessness. In reaction to the educated elites, the masses give rise to the Second Religiousness, which manifests as deeply suspicious of academia and science.
The Second Religiousness appears as a harbinger of the decline of mature Civilization into an ahistorical state. The Second Religiousness occurs concurrently with Caesarism, the final political constitution of Late Civilization. Both the Second Religiousness and Caesarism demonstrate the lack of youthful strength or creativity that the Early Culture once possessed. The Second Religiousness is simply a rehashing of the original religious trend of the Culture.
The state and Caesarism
Spengler sees leaders as having responsibility only to a minority that possesses the proper breeding for statesmanship, and which represents the rest of the nation in its historical struggle. Most states, he argues, have only a single social stratum which, constitutionally or otherwise, leads politically. That class represents the world-historical drive of a State, and within that stratum a skilled and self-contained minority actually holds the reins of power.
Spengler rejects parliamentarianism as a distinct Civilizational stage like the absolute Polis and the Baroque State were summits. Instead, parliamentarianism represents a transitional period between the mature Late-Culture period and the age of state formlessness.
The transformation of a Culture into a Civilization he attributes partly to the bourgeoisie. At the inflection point, he sees an independent and decisive bourgeois intervention in political affairs. The bourgeois is hostile (often violently) toward the absolute state, which represents the traditional institutions, aristocrats, and cultural symbols.
Decline is also evidenced by a formlessness of political institutions within a state. As the "proper" form dissolves, increasingly authoritarian leaders arise, signaling decline. The first step toward formlessness Spengler designates Napoleonism. A new leader assumes powers and creates a new state-structure without reference to "self-evident" bases for governance. The new régime is thus accidental rather than traditional and experienced, and relies not on a trained minority but on the chance of an adequate successor. Spengler argues that those states with continuous traditions of governance have been immensely more successful than those that have rejected tradition. Spengler posits a two-century or more transitional period between two states of decline: Napoleonism and Caesarism. The formlessness introduced by the first contributes to the rise of the latter.
Spengler predicts that permanent mass-conscription armies will be replaced by smaller professional volunteer armies. Army sizes will drop from millions to hundreds of thousands. However, the professional armies will not be for deterrence, but for waging war. Spengler states that they will precipitate wars upon which whole continents—India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam—will be staked. The great powers will dispose of smaller states, which will come to be viewed merely as means to an end. This period in Civilizational decline he labels the period of Contending States.
Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions. It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its de jure constitutional structure. The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight. The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar. This marks the beginning of the Imperial Age.
Spengler notes the urge of a nation toward universalism, idealism, and imperialism in the wake of a major geopolitical enemy's defeat. He cites the example of Rome after the defeat of Hannibal—instead of forgoing the annexation of the East, Scipio's party moved toward outright imperialism, in an attempt to bring their immediate world into one system, and thus prevent further wars.
Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights. People cease to take part in elections, and the most-qualified people remove themselves from the political process. This marks the end of great politics. Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point. The wars are private wars, "more fearful than any State wars because they are formless". The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war. The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one's neighbor. In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power. Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain atop the rest of humanity.
Democracy, media, and money
Spengler asserts that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and the media is the means through which money operates a democratic political system. The thorough penetration of money's power throughout a society is yet another marker of the shift from Culture to Civilization.
Democracy and plutocracy are equivalent in Spengler's argument. The "tragic comedy of the world-improvers and freedom-teachers" is that they are simply assisting money to be more effective. The principles of equality, natural rights, universal suffrage, and freedom of the press are all disguises for class war (the bourgeois against the aristocracy). Freedom, to Spengler, is a negative concept, simply entailing the repudiation of any tradition. In reality, freedom of the press requires money, and entails ownership, thus serving money at the end. Suffrage involves electioneering, in which the donations rule the day. The ideologies espoused by candidates, whether Socialism or Liberalism, are set in motion by, and ultimately serve, only money. "Free" press does not spread free opinion—it generates opinion, Spengler maintains.
Spengler admits that in his era money has already won, in the form of democracy. But in destroying the old elements of the Culture, it prepares the way for the rise of a new and overpowering figure: the Caesar. Before such a leader, money collapses, and in the Imperial Age the politics of money fades away.
Spengler's analysis of democratic systems argues that even the use of one's own constitutional rights requires money, and that voting can only really work as designed in the absence of organized leadership working on the election process. As soon as the election process becomes organized by political leaders, to the extent that money allows, the vote ceases to be truly significant. It is no more than a recorded opinion of the masses on the organizations of government over which they possess no positive influence whatsoever.
Spengler notes that the greater the concentration of wealth in individuals, the more the fight for political power revolves around questions of money. One cannot even call this corruption or degeneracy, because this is in fact the necessary end of mature democratic systems.
On the subject of the press, Spengler is equally as contemptuous. Instead of conversations between men, the press and the "electrical news-service keep the waking-consciousness of whole people and continents under a deafening drum-fire of theses, catchwords, standpoints, scenes, feelings, day by day and year by year." Through the media, money is turned into force—the more spent, the more intense its influence.
For the press to function, universal education is necessary. Along with schooling comes a demand for the shepherding of the masses, as an object of party politics. Those that originally believed education to be solely for the enlightenment of each individual prepared the way for the power of the press, and eventually for the rise of the Caesar. There is no longer a need for leaders to impose military service, because the press will stir the public into a frenzy, clamor for weapons, and force their leaders into a conflict.
The only force which can counter money, in Spengler's estimation, is blood. As for Marx, his critique of capitalism is put forth in the same language and on the same assumptions as those of Adam Smith. His protest is more a recognition of capitalism's veracity, than a refutation. The only aim is to "confer upon objects the advantage of being subjects."
Mathematics, rather unexpectedly, is the object of the first chapter of Spengler's book, which suggest its importance there. Conceptions of space, as expressed by an "Ursymbol" are central for each culture and, along with time and number, they form a specific "mathemetical style". Against the universal validity of mathematical results, Spengler asserts that mathemathics is not a single science but a plurality of sciences.
He notes that in Greek classical mathematics that there are only integers and no real concepts of limits or infinity. Therefore, without a concept of the infinite, all events of the distant past were viewed as equally distant, thus Alexander the Great had no problem declaring himself a descendant of a god. On the other hand, the western world—which has concepts of the zero, the infinite, and the limit—has a historical world-view which places a high amount of importance on exact dates.
In 1950, Theodor W. Adorno published an essay entitled "Spengler after the Downfall" (in German: Spengler nach dem Untergang) to commemorate what would have been Oswald Spengler's 70th birthday. Adorno reassessed Spengler's thesis three decades after it had been put forth, in light of the catastrophic collapse of Nazi Germany (although Spengler had not meant "Untergang" in a cataclysmic sense, this was how most authors after WWII interpreted it).
As a member of the Frankfurt School of Marxist critical theory, Adorno's professed project in this essay was to "turn (Spengler's) reactionary ideas toward progressive ends." Thus Adorno conceded that Spengler's insights were often more profound than those of his more liberal contemporaries, and his predictions more far-reaching. Adorno sees the rise of the Nazis as confirmation of Spengler's ideas about "Caesarism" and the triumph of force-politics over the market. Adorno also draws parallels between Spengler's critique of Enlightenment and his own analysis of Enlightenment's self-destructive tendencies. However, Adorno also criticizes Spengler for an overly deterministic view of history, ignoring the unpredictable role that human initiative plays at all times. He quotes the contemporary Austrian poet Georg Trakl: "How sickly seem everything that grows" (from the poem "Heiterer Frühling") to illustrate that decay contains new opportunities for renewal. Adorno also criticizes Spengler's use of language, which overly relies on fetishistic terms like "Soul", "Blood" and "Destiny."
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Test of the theory
Some, such as Amaury de Riencourt in The Coming Caesars, maintain that Spengler's predictions have been borne out as the United States has pushed aside the other powers of the West and established a Pax Americana. De Reincourt's work suggested that the United States of America would enter its Caesarian phase in the 1990s. They also point to trends in arts and philosophy.
On the other hand, it has been argued that Spengler believed that the West's final, "Caesaristic" phase was destined to be fulfilled under German domination; Germany's defeat in the two World Wars has therefore prevented that transition from taking place. Spengler did of course warn that Hitler was not the right man to guide Europe into the preliminary stages of Caesarism; he thought that Hitler would badly mishandle the whole process.
- Ibn Khaldun: wrote in his magnum opus, Muqaddimah, about the rise and fall of dynasties and the formation of sedentary civilization. He takes an empirical and religious approach to history and sociology, and focuses mostly on the Islamic world. Considered by some to be the 'father of sociology'. Influenced Arnold J. Toynbee.
- Giambattista Vico: Vico wrote Scienza Nuova positing a three-stage rise and decline pattern which pertains to every nation's historical path. He was the pioneer of ethnology as a discipline of study.
- Nikolai Danilevsky: a conservative Russian ethnologist, Danilevsky pioneered the use of biological and morphological metaphors in the comparison of cultures.
- Konstantin Leontiev: a conservative Russian social and political thinker. He proposed, in 1875, that civilizations mirror natural organisms in experiencing growth and flowering followed by decline and death. According to Leontiev, the former period is marked by increasing diversity while the latter by progressive simplification. Leontiev, like Spengler later, felt that the West had moved into the latter phase.
- Arnold J. Toynbee: Toynbee wrote a similar comparative study of the rise and decline of civilizations, A Study of History, somewhat concurrently with Spengler, which was released much later, around the conclusion of World War II.
- Alexander Zelitchenko: a Russian psychologist, philosopher, theologian and historian in his Svet Zhizni (Light of Life) continues elaboration of Spengler's theory from the point of view of developmental psychology correcting some minor errors and shows how changing one other cultures develop human psyche creating new patterns of mental activity.
- Fernand Braudel: Braudel wrote a comparative history of civilizations during the Cold War in his A History of Civilizations.
- Samuel Huntington: Professor Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, a comparative look at civilizations in the post-Cold War order of international relations. His work has been likened to Spengler's.
- Neagu Djuvara: a Romanian historian who wrote Civilisations et lois historique. Essai d'étude comparée des civilisations (Civilizations and Historical Laws. Essay of Comparative Studies on Civilizations), Mouton, 1975.
- Jeremy Griffith: an Australian biologist who has developed a theory comparable to Spengler's in which the growth of civilisations are analyzed in terms of the human life span of youthful vigour and aged fatigue. Perhaps differences arise in how much context the author can muster within brevity; however Griffith has grounded such ideas in contemporary evolutionary theory making his work an important gloss on or complement to Spengler's thesis.
Others influenced by Decline
- Paul Nitze: author of NSC-68, a foundational document in the U.S. Cold War strategy of containment.
- Shamil Basayev: Chechen warlord given Decline as a gift by a Russian radio journalist. He reportedly read it in one night and settled on his plan to organize life in Chechnya.
- Henry Kissinger: National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger stated he was influenced by Spengler and urged Nixon to read Decline of the West.
- Joseph Campbell an American professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion claimed Decline of the West was his biggest influence.
- Francis Parker Yockey, an influential post-war neo-Nazi ideologist who argues (based on Spengler's thesis) that Western History "took the wrong course" when Germany lost World War II; in other words, Nazi Germany (despite all its horrors) would eventually have paved the way for the transition to "Caesarism".
- Northrop Frye reviewing the Decline of the West, said that "If... nothing else, it would still be one of the world's great Romantic poems".
- Ludwig Wittgenstein named Spengler as one of his philosophical influences.
- Camille Paglia has listed The Decline of the West as one of the influences on her 1990 work of literary criticism Sexual Personae.
- Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Ed. Arthur Helps, and Helmut Werner. Trans. Charles F. Atkinson. Preface Hughes, H. Stuart. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. ISBN 0-19-506751-7
- Spengler O., Op.laud., vol.1, Intro. $6.
- According to some it was the Agadir Crisis that prompted his writing; see the publisher's note on the first page of the 'First Vintage Books Edition' (2006).
- In 1921 Otto Neurath published the pamphlet Anti-Spengler and Leonard Nelson wrote a book-length parody Spuk: Einweihung in das Geheimnis der Wahrsagekunst Oswald Spenglers.
- Hughes S., (1952, reed 1995) Oswald Spengler, a critical estimate
- Joll J., Two Prophets of the Twentieth Century: Spengler and Toynbee. Rev. of Int. Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2 (April 1985), pp. 91–104 JSTOR
- "Books: Patterns in Chaos". TIME. 1928-12-10. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- "Nietzsche And His Century". Home.alphalink.com.au. 1924-10-15. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- vol.1, Intro., last note
- Spengler O., Pessimismus?, Preussische Jahrbuch, April 1921, S. 73-84
- Kroeber A., Kluckhohn C., (1950)"Culture: a review of the term", Harvard
- This paragraph sumarises vol.2, chap.II, §§1-2
- vol.2, chap.2, II, §7
- vol.2, chap.2, II, §9
- because of Spengler's disdain for the Nazis—see: Spengler's The Hour of Decision
- vol.1., chap.1,$4
- Adorno T., (1982), Spengler after the Decline in Prisms (Transl. Nicholsen and Weber), MIT press, pp. 51–72 ISBN 0-262-51025-1. Adorno gave a conference on Spengler in 1938, reworked it as an English text in 1941 ('Spengler Today') and lastly published the German essay, see Gesammelte Schriften in 20 Banden, - Bd. 10: Erste Halfte, Kulturkritik und Gesellschaf, S. 47-71 .
- 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.
- See Spengler's The Hour of Decision pp. xiv et seq., xii, 7.
- [dead link]
- Murphy, Kim. (10 September 2004) "Chechen Warlord Always Brazen – but Never Caught", Los Angeles Times, pp. A1.
- Campbell, Joseph (1972). Myths to Live By. Bantam Books. p. 84. ISBN 0-553-27088-5.
- David McNaughton. "Yockey's "Imperium" (referring to Spengler)". Dlmcn.com. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
- Frye N., "The Decline of the West" by Oswald Spengler, Daedalus, Vol. 103, No. 1, Twentieth-Century Classics Revisited (Winter, 1974), pp. 1–13
- Wittgenstein L., Culture and Value, London: Blackwell.
- Paglia, Camille (1993). Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays. London: Penguin Books. p. 114. ISBN 0-14-017209-2.
- William H. McNeill, 1963 . The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community [With a Retrospective Essay], University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-56141-7. Synopsis, Table of Contents Summary and scrollable preview.
- Scruton, Roger, "Spengler's Decline of the West" in The Philosopher on Dover Beach, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1990. ISBN 0-85635-857-6