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The Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler

Oswald Spengler, 1880-1936, was a German historian and philosopher. Classically trained, his studies covered mathematics, science, philosophy, history, and art. His major work, The Decline of the West (2 vol., 1918-22), generated worldwide, popular interest -- athough, being somewhat of an "outsider" of the reigning professional societies of the day, Spengler was never given much scholastic credence in their circles. The English translation was published in the U.S. by Knopf in 1922.

Spengler maintained that every human culture passes a natural life cycle from its birth and youthful stage, passing through maturity and old age, and ending in ultimate death. Western culture similarly had proceeded through this same cycle and, he maintained, had entered its inevitable period of decline.

Spengler believed that citizens had an obligation of obedience to the state, and he supported the notion of German hegemony in Europe. However, his refusal to support subsequent National Socialist theories of aryan racial superiority led to his ostracism after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

Some of Spengler's speculations have gotten a bit long in the tooth, but many of his ideas still seem prescient today. Read this excerpt from Oswald Spengler: An Introduction to his Life and Ideas, by Keith Stimely (Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 17 No. 2):

The high-water mark of a High Culture is its phase of fulfillment -- called the "culture" phase. The beginning of decline and decay in a Culture is the transition point between its "culture" phase and the "civilization" phase that inevitably follows.

The "civilization" phase witnesses drastic social upheavals, mass movements of peoples, continual wars and constant crises. All this takes place along with the growth of the great "megalopolis" -- huge urban and suburban centers that sap the surrounding countrysides of their vitality, intellect, strength, and soul. The inhabitants of these urban conglomerations -- now the bulk of the populace -- are a rootless, soulless, godless, and materialistic mass, who love nothing more than their panem et circenses [literally, "bread and circuses", the domestic strategy of later Roman Emperors]. From these come the subhuman "fellaheen" -- fitting participants in the dying-out of a culture.

With the civilization phase comes the rule of Money and its twin tools, Democracy and the Press. Money rules over the chaos, and only Money profits by it. But the true bearers of the culture -- the men whose souls are still one with the culture-soul -- are disgusted and repelled by the Money-power and its fellaheen, and act to break it, as they are compelled to do so -- and as the mass culture-soul compels finally the end of the dictatorship of Money. Thus the civilization phase concludes with the Age of Caesarism, in which great power come into the hands of great men, helped in this by the chaos of late Money-rule. The advent of the Caesars marks the return of Authority and Duty, of Honor and "Blood," and the end of democracy.

With this arrives the "imperialistic" stage of civilization, in which the Caesars with their bands of followers battle each other for control of the earth. The great masses are uncomprehending and uncaring; the megalopoli slowly depopulate, and the masses gradually "return to the land," to busy themselves there with the same soil-tasks as their ancestors centuries before. The turmoil of events goes on above their heads. Now, amidst all the chaos of the times, there comes a "second religiosity"; a longing return to the old symbols of the faith of the culture. Fortified thus, the masses in a kind of resigned contentment bury their souls and their efforts into the soil from which they and their culture sprang, and against this background the dying of the Culture and the civilization it created is played out.

To me, this may well be describing the cusp of current events. Spengler noted that most civilizations seemed to have a lifespan of around 1000 years. I would submit that our current western civilization, ultimately exemplified by American culture, started in England, in 1066 A.D.  Do the math.

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