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 " involving
the rejection of the Eurocentric 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 at least eight high cultures : Babylonian , Egyptian ,
Chinese , Indian , Mesoamerican (Mayan /
Spengler 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
According to Spengler, the
* 1 General context
* 2 Overview
* 2.1 Spenglerian terms * 2.2 Spengler\'s Cultures
* 3 Meaning of history
* 4 Culture and
* 10 See also
* 10.1 Civilizational studies * 10.2 Others influenced by Decline
* 11 Editions * 12 References * 13 Further reading * 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
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
Spengler's world-historical outlook was informed by many philosophers
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:
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
Spengler invests certain terms with unusual meanings not commonly encountered in everyday discourse.
CULTURE/CIVILIZATION Spengler uses the two terms in a specific
manner, loading them with particular values. For him,
APOLLONIAN/MAGIAN/FAUSTIAN These are Spengler's terms for Classical, Arabian and Western Cultures respectively.
Apollonian Culture and
Faustian Culture began in
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
Spengler believes that the
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
BECOMING/BEING For Spengler becoming is the basic element and being
is static and secondary, not the other way around. He advises that his
philosophy in a nutshell is contained in these lines from
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. Spengler's 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:
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 behavior 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 thousand years of each Culture's active lifetime.
Spengler does not classify the Southeast Asian and Peruvian (Incan , etc.) cultures as hochkulturen; however he thinks Russia is, while still defining itself, bringing into being a hochkultur.
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 unshakable or valid in another time or Culture—"there are no eternal truths." Each individual has a duty to look beyond their own Culture to see what individuals 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, or 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
Spengler also compares the "world-city " and -province as concepts
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
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:
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
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
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
In attempts to tie race and culture together, Spengler echoes ideas
similar to those of
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
DEMOCRACY, MEDIA, AND MONEY
Spengler asserts that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and the media are 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
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 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
Mathematics 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 "mathematical style". Against the universal validity of mathematical results, Spengler asserts that mathematics is not a single science but a plurality of sciences.
He notes that in Greek classical mathematics 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
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 destruction 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
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 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
warn that Hitler was not the right man to guide
OTHERS INFLUENCED BY DECLINE
Paul Nitze : author of
NSC-68 , a foundational document in the
* 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
* William H. McNeill , 1963 . The Rise of the West: A History of the
Human Community , 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
* Spengler, Oswald ♦
The Decline of the West