The Decline of the
In his Preface to Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler candidly states he owes "everything"
to Goethe and Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche, Spengler was
a classical philologist. Nietzsche had taught classical philology at the
From comparing Greek mathematics to our own, Spengler derived his thesis that each High Culture - which one should more properly call a Race-Culture - devises its own mathematics, its own physics, its own "science"; and from there his most startling contention, that each High Culture is an organism.
An organism, one knows, is a living entity. Spengler postulated that such was the case with High Cultures. (A "High Culture," one must realize, is one of sufficient import that it effects, in some lasting manner, the universal history of the human species. The Babylonian High Culture, for example, originated rudimentary astronomy, developed cuniform writing - as opposed to Egyptian glyphs - and perhaps, most importantly, pioneered a secular legal code.) Spengler noted that each High Culture goes through isomorphic stages, which he compared to the seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
Spring is the Mythic Period, corresponding in the Apollinian (Graeco-Roman, "Classical" High Culture) to Hesiod, the Trojan War, Dido and Aeneas; in the Faustian (modern Western) to the Eddas, the Chanson de Roland, the Arthurian legends, etc.
Summer is the full blossoming of that High Culture: Early Summer, Homer/Crusades; Mid-Summer, Athenian Drama/Renaissance; Late Summer, Alexander/Baroque-Rococo era.
Autumn is marked a Civilization Crisis, in which the Culture - which is an emerging organism - has fulfilled its forms; there follows a period of development: Early Autumn, Hellenistic culture-Rise of Rome/French Revolution-Napoleon; Mid-Autumn: Rome-Carthage/World Wars I & II (where we are now); Late Autumn, Caesar-Principate/(yet to come).
is the state where the Cultural Momentum is exhausted, an ossification
occurs; the High Culture produces nothing new and becomes "historyless," returning to a pre-historical condition.
In antiquity, this was marked by the fall of the Western half of the
Spengler maintained his ideas formulated as a result of the Agadir
Incident. He foresaw WWI, which he believed the Central Powers (which nominally
Decline of the West [Untergang des Abendlandes]
was published in
The title can be misleading, as
"Decline" does not mean "Collapse." (Untergang,
in German, means a "setting": Sonnenuntergang
is the word for "sunset.") If one looks at a map of the world at the
time of the Agadir Incident, he will see that 92% of
the surface of the earth was politically controlled by European powers
Looking at the same map today, one
will see there is no European presence outside of
Decline of the West is one of those books that one cannot intelligently talk about; one has to read it - and thanks to the collapse of Spengler examines each of the High Cultures (the Apollinian and Faustian are but two), showing how the Egyptian, Babylonian, Magian, and Sino-Japanese all went through isomorphic stages. The one exception was the Meso-American High Culture, which was terminated in mid-Autumn by the arrival of the Europeans. (Spengler doesn't bother with petty moralizing. That the Carib and Mextaca [Aztec] Indians were mega-cannibals doesn't concern him; the level of culture they had reached does.) standards, that's all but impossible for a graduate of Debased U.
Spengler's critics were quick to brand him a "pessimist" and label his ensuing philosophy "Pessimism." (The term had previously been used to describe Schopenhauer, but blathering critics aren't noted for originality.) "Is stating the grandson will outlive his grandfather 'pessimistic'?" Oswald-the-Great asked. (He might have added, "I just calls 'em the way I sees 'em" - but he was too well educated.)
His calling it as he saw it led to later
troubles with the National Socialism régime. He had originally been supportive
of the Nazis; however, the mystico-mumbo-jumbo of
"racial superiority" had alienated him. Like Nietzsche, Spengler was first-and-foremost "a good
Spengler died in 1936 from a bad heart, which had kept him out of WWI - perhaps from being cannon fodder for that suicidal conflict.
Oswald Spengler's great contribution was to show, by means of comparative history, that the faster a Race-Culture moves away from it roots, the quicker it hastens its decline. "Tradition" then was the hallmark of Spengler's conservatism, even as it had been of Edmund Burke's. (It remained for Spengler's martyred American disciple, Francis Parker ["Ulick Varange"] Yockey to delineate the factors of "Cultural Distortion" and "Cultural Pathology" which led inexorably to the onset of "Winter.")
Spengler's comments on the United States are of interest: he chided his fellow Europeans about being ignorant of the cultural level attained by the Southern aristocrats - praising the antebellum of the South as some of the most exquisite examples of European architecture - and the catastrophe that had ensued from the "unconditional surrender" of the Confederates - a term that was to have far more horrible consequences a few years after his death.