Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936) was a German historian, philosopher and political writer, most famous for his Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918 and by 1926 had gone through thirty printings.
Prussianism and Socialism (1919)
Prussianism and Socialism 1919, translated by Donald O. White
It is the heritage of anguished centuries, and it distinguishes us from all other people—us, the youngest and last people of our culture. ...
At the end of the [eighteenth] century Spain had long ceased to be a great power, and France was on the way to following her example. Both were old and exhausted nations, proud but weary, looking towards the past, but lacking the true ambition—which is to be strictly differentiated from jealousy—to continue to play a creative part in the future. [The end of the eighteenth century is the time of the French Revolution, which was all about equal rights.] ... "Equal rights" are contrary to nature, are an indication of the departure from type of ageing societies, are the beginning of their irrevocable decline. It is a piece of intellectual stupidity to want to substitute something else for the social structure that has grown up through the centuries and is fortified by tradition. There is no substituting anything else for Life. After Life there is only Death.
And that, at bottom, is the intention. We do not seek to alter and improve, but to destroy. In every society degenerate elements sink constantly to the bottom: exhausted families, downfallen members of generations of high breed, spiritual and physical failures and inferiors. ...
- There is but one end to all the conflict, and that is death—the death of individuals, of peoples, of cultures. Our own death still lies far ahead of us in the murky darkness of the next thousand years. We Germans, situated as we are in this century, bound by our inborn instincts to the destiny of Faustian civilization, have within ourselves rich and untapped resources, but immense obligations as well. ... The true International is imperialism, domination of Faustian civilization, i.e., of the whole earth, by a single formative principle, not by appeasement and compromise but by conquest and annihilation.
- Among the political attitudes that prevail in Germany today, only socialism has the potentiality of inner value and integrity.
To the new International that is now in the irreversible process of preparation we can contribute the ideas of worldwide organization and the world state; the English can suggest the idea of worldwide exploitation and trusts; the French can offer nothing. ...
- Thus we find two great economic principles opposed to each other in the modern world. The Viking has become a free-tradesman; the Teutonic knight is now an administrative official. There can be no reconciliation. Each of these principles is proclaimed by a German people, Faustian men par excellence. Neither can accept a restriction of its will, and neither can be satisfied until the whole world has succumbed to its particular idea. This being the case, war will be waged until one side gains final victory. Is world economy to be worldwide exploitation, or worldwide organization? Are the Caesars of the coming empire to be billionaires or universal administrators? Shall the population of the earth, so long as this empire of Faustian civilization holds together, be subjected to cartels and trusts, or to men such as those envisioned in the closing pages of Goethe’s Faust, Part II? Truly, the destiny of the world is at stake. ...
This brings us to the political aspects of the English-Prussian antithesis. Politics is the highest and most powerful dimension of all historical existence. World history is the history of states; the history of states is the history of wars. Ideas, when they press for decisions, assume the form of political units: countries, peoples, or parties. They must be fought over not with words but with weapons. Economic warfare becomes military warfare between countries or within countries. Religious associations such as Jewry and Islam, Huguenots and Mormons, constitute themselves as countries when it becomes a matter of their continued existence or their success. Everything that proceeds from the innermost soul to become flesh or fleshly creation demands a sacrifice of flesh in return. Ideas that have become blood demand blood. War is the eternal pattern of higher human existence, and countries exist for war’s sake; they are signs of readiness for war. And even if a tired and blood-drained humanity desired to do away with war, like the citizens of the Classical world during its final centuries, like the Indians and Chinese of today, it would merely exchange its role of war-wager for that of the object about and with which others would wage war. Even if a Faustian universal harmony could be attained, masterful types on the order of late Roman, late Chinese, or late Egyptian Caesars would battle each other for this Empire—for the possession of it, if its final form were capitalistic; or for the highest rank in it, if it should become socialistic.
- The meaning of socialism is that life is dominated not by the contrast of rich and poor but by rank as determined by achievement and ability. That is our kind of freedom: freedom from the economic capriciousness of the individual.
- Socialism means power, power, and more power. Thoughts and schemes are nothing without power. The path to power has already been mapped: the valuable elements of German labor in union with the best representatives of the Old Prussian state idea, both groups determined to build a strictly socialist state to democratize our nation in the Prussian manner; both forged into a unit by the same sense of duty, by the awareness of a great obligation, by the will to obey in order to rule, to die in order to win, by the strength to make immense sacrifices in order to accomplish what we were born for, what we are, what could not be without us.
- We are socialists. Let us hope that it will not have been in vain.
The Decline of the West (1918, 1923)
- And at that point, too, in Buddhist India as in Babylon, in Rome as in our own cities, a man's choice of the woman who is to be, not mother of his children as amongst peasants and primitives, but his own "companion for life", becomes a problem of mentalities. The Ibsen marriage appears, the "higher spiritual affinity" in which both parties are "free"—free, that is, as intelligences, free from the plantlike urge of the blood to continue itself, and it becomes possible for a Shaw to say "that unless Woman repudiates her womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself." The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature from Northern drama to Parisian novel. Instead of children, she has soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of "mutual understanding". ...
At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile. At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements. This residue is the Fellah type.
If anything has demonstrated the fact that Causality has nothing to do with history, it is the familiar "decline" of the Classical, which accomplished itself long before the irruption of Germanic migrants. The Imperium enjoyed the completest peace; it was rich and highly developed; it was well organized; and it possessed in its emperors from Nerva to Marcus Aurelius a series of rulers such as the Caesarism of no other Civilization can show. And yet the population dwindled, quickly and wholesale. The desperate marriage-and-children laws of Augustus—amongst them the Lex de maritandis ordinibus, which dismayed Roman society more than the destruction of Varus's legions—the wholesale adoptions, the incessant plantation of soldiers of barbarian origin to fill the depleted country-side, the immense food-charities of Nerva and Trajan for the children of poor parents—nothing availed to check the process.
- Vol. II, Alfred A. Knopf, 1928, pp. 104–06
- If by "democracy" we mean the form which the Third Estate as such wishes to impart to public life as a whole, it must be concluded that democracy and plutocracy are the same thing under the two aspects of wish and actuality, theory and practice, knowing and doing. It is the tragic comedy of the world‑improvers' and freedom‑teachers' desperate fight against money that they are ipso facto assisting money to be effective. Respect for the big number—expressed in the principles of equality for all, natural rights, and universal suffrage—is just as much a class‑ideal of the unclassed as freedom of public opinion (and more particularly freedom of the press) is so. These are ideals, but in actuality the freedom of public opinion involves the preparation of public opinion, which costs money; and the freedom of the press brings with it the question of possession of the press, which again is a matter of money; and with the franchise comes electioneering, in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. The representatives of the ideas look at one side only, while the representatives of money operate with the other. The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money. … There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, and for the time being permitted by money—and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.
- Vol. II, Alfred A. Knopf, 1928, pp. 401–02
- To-day we live so cowed under the bombardment of this intellectual artillery that hardly anyone can attain to the inward detachment that is required for a clear view of the monstrous drama. The will-to-power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object's sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.
- Vol. II, Alfred A. Knopf, 1928, p. 461
- The press to-day is an army with carefully organized arms and branches, with journalists as officers, and readers as soldiers. But here, as in every army, the soldier obeys blindly, and war-aims and operation-plans change without his knowledge. The reader neither knows, nor is allowed to know, the purposes for which he is used, nor even the role that he is to play. A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined. Formerly a man did not dare to think freely. Now he dares, but cannot; his will to think is only a willingness to think to order, and this is what he feels as his liberty.
- Vol. II, Alfred A. Knopf, 1928, p. 462
On the German National Character (1924)
First published in Deutsches Adelsblatt, XLII (1924).
- And now to the decisive factor: our boundless urge to follow and serve, to worship anyone or anything, to believe blindly and with doglike loyalty, all advice to the contrary notwithstanding.
Man and Technics (1931)
- Optimism is cowardice.
The Hour of Decision (1933)
The Hour of Decision 19 August 1933
The principle of inorganic equality was for them crucial. Men of the stamp of Jahn and Arndt had no notion that it was Equality that had first sounded the cry of "Vive la nation" in the September massacres of 1792.
They forgot, too, one basic fact. The Romanticism of their Volkslieder sang only the heroism of the common soldier, but the inner worth of these armies (at first amateurs in the calling of arms), their spirit, their discipline, and their training, depended upon the quality of the officer‑corps, whose adequacy was due entirely to eighteenth-century traditions. With the Jacobins also a body of soldiers was morally worth precisely as much as its officer, who had trained it by his example. Napoleon confessed at St. Helena that he would not have been beaten had he had for his superb fighting material a corps of officers like the Austrian, a corps in which chivalrous traditions of loyalty, honour, and silent self-discipline still survived. Once the command wavers in its intentions and its attitude—or itself abdicates, as in 1918—the bravest regiment becomes on the spot a cowardly and helpless herd. ...
- All young sects are at bottom hostile to State and property, class and rank, and are attracted to universal equality.
Romanticism is no sign of powerful instincts, but, on the contrary, of a weak, self-detesting intellect. They are all infantile, these Romantics; men who remain children too long (or for ever), without the strength to criticize themselves, but with perpetual inhibitions arising from the obscure awareness of their own personal weakness; who are impelled by the morbid idea of reforming society, which is to them too masculine, too healthy, too sober. ...
And these same everlasting "Youths" are with us again today, immature, destitute of the slightest experience or even real desire for experience, but writing and talking away about politics, fired by uniforms and badges, and clinging fantastically to some theory or other. There is a social Romanticism of sentimental Communists, a political Romanticism which regards election figures and the intoxication of mass-meeting oratory as deeds, and an economic Romanticism which trickles out from behind the gold theories of sick minds that know nothing of the inner forms of modern economics. They can only feel in the mass, where they can deaden the dull sense of their weakness by multiplying themselves. And this they call the Overcoming of Individualism.
Quotes about Spengler
- Today this unquestioned faith in the machine has been severely shaken. The absolute validity of the machine has become a conditioned validity: even Spengler, who has urged the men of his generation to become engineers and men of fact, regards that career as a sort of honorable suicide and looks forward to the period when the monuments of the machine civilization will be tangled masses of rusting iron and empty concrete shells. While for those of us who are more hopeful both of man's destiny and that of the machine, the machine is no longer the paragon of progress and the final expression of our desires: it is merely a series of instruments, which we will use in so far as they are serviceable to life at large, and which we will curtail where they infringe upon it or exist purely to support the adventitious structure of capitalism.
- Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934) Ch. VIII "Orientation"
- He has completely mastered ten or fifteen sciences. He has a penetrating judgment on the whole historical process, as far as history reaches. And he also has something which men of today almost never have, a sound eye for the phenomena of decline in the civilizations of the present day. There is a fundamental difference between Spengler and those who do not grasp the nature of the impulses of decline and who try all kinds of arrangements for extracting from the decayed ideas some appearance of upward motion. Were it not heart-rending it might be humorous to see how people with traditional ideas all riddled with decay meet today in conferences and believe that out of decay they can create progress by means of programs. Such a man as Oswald Spengler, who really knows something, does not yield to such a deception. He calculates like a precise mathematician the rapidity of our decline and comes out with the prediction (which is more than a vague prophecy) that by the year 2200 this Occidental culture will have fallen into complete barbarism.
- Rudolf Steiner, On Spengler's Decline of the West, Lecture in Dornach, July 2, 1920
- The Oswald Spengler Collection.
- Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West Vol. I (1926) and vol. II (1928), Alfred A. Knopf
- Works by Spengler, including his books, essays and lectures (in German)
- Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Pre-Death Thoughts of Faust