Oswald Spengler

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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.

Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 18808 May 1936) was a German historian, philosopher and political writer, most famous for his Der Untergang des Abendlandes, completed in 1922 and translated as The Decline of the West in 1928.

Quotes[edit]

This is our purpose: to make as meaningful as possible this life that has been bestowed upon us; to live in such a way that we may be proud of ourselves; to act in such a way that some part of us lives on.
One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.


  • Marxism is the capitalism of the working class.
    • Prussianism and Socialism (1920)
    • Variant translation: Socialism is nothing but the capitalism of the lower classes.
      • The Hour of Decision (1933)



  • For the Age has itself become vulgar, and most people have no idea to what extent they are themselves tainted. The bad manners of all parliaments, the general tendency to connive at a rather shady business transaction if it promises to bring in money without work, jazz and Negro dances as the spiritual outlet in all circles of society, women painted like prostitutes, the efforts of writers to win popularity by ridiculing in their novels and plays the correctness of well-bred people, and the bad taste shown even by the nobility and old princely families in throwing off every kind of social restraint and time-honoured custom: all of these go to prove that it is now the vulgar mob that gives the tone.
    • Hour of Decision (1933), as translated by C.F. Atkinson (1942), p. 95



The Decline of the West (1918, 1923)[edit]

  • One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.
    • Volume I, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1925), p. 168


  • Kritische—„schneidende”—Methoden bezieht sich allein auf die Welt als Natur. Eher ließe sich ein Thema con Beethoven mit Seziermesser oder Säure zerlegen, als die Seele durch Mittel des abstrakten Denkens. Naturerkenntnis und Menschenkenntnis haben in Ziel, Weg und Methode nichts gemein.
    • Critical (i.e., separating) methods apply only to the world-as-nature. It would be easier to break up a theme of Beethoven with dissecting knife or acid than to break up the soul by methods of abstract thought. Nature-knowledge and man-knowledge have neither ways nor aims in common.
      • Volume I, C. Atkinson, trans., p. 300


  • Man kann von gewissen Seelenregungen, die in Worte nicht zu fassen sind, andern ein Gefühl durch einen Blick, ein paar Takte einer Melodie, eine kaum merkliche Bewegung vermitteln. Das ist die wahre Sprache von Seelen, die Fernstehenden unverständlich bliebt. Das Wort als Laut, als poetisches Element, kann hier die Beziehung herstellen, das Wort als Begriff, als Element wissenschaftlicher Prosa nie.
    • Certain ineffable stirrings of soul can be imparted by one man to the sensibility of another man through a look, two bars of melody, an almost imperceptible movement. That is the real language of souls, and it remains incomprehensible to the outsider. The word as utterance, as poetic element, may establish the link, but the word as notion, as element of scientific prose, never.
      • Volume I, C. Atkinson, trans., p. 300


  • Alles, was von Psychologen heute gesagt und geschrieben wird—es ist nicht allein von systematischer Wissenschaft, sondern auch von physiognomischer Menschenkenntnis im weitesten Sinne die Rede—, bezieht sich allein auf den gegenwärtigen Zustand der abendländischen Seele, während die bisher selbstverständliche Meinung, diese Erfahrungen seien für die »menschliche Seele« überhaupt gültig, ohne Prüfung hingenommen worden ist.
    • Everything that our present-day psychologist has to tell us—and here we refer not only to the systematic science but also in the wider sense to the physiognomic knowledge of men—relates to the present condition of the Western soul, and not, as hitherto gratuitously assumed, to “the human soul” at large.
      • C. Atkinson, trans., Volume I, p. 303


  • Glaubt jemand, das Seelische fremder Kulturen aus seinen Wirkungen zu erkennen, so unterlegt er ihm das eigne Bild. Er assimiliert die neuen Erfahrungen einem vorhandenen System, und es ist kein Wunder, wenn er endlich ewige Formen entdeckt zu haben glaubt.
    • When one convinces oneself that that one knows the soul of an alien culture from its workings in actuality, the soul-image underlying the knowledge is really one’s own soul-image. New experiences are readily assimilated into the system that is already there, and it is not surprising that in the end one comes to believe that one has discovered forms of eternal validity.
      • Volume 1, p. 303


  • Long, long ago the country bore the country-town and nourished it with her best blood. Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost uninhabited waste of country.
    • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928) p. 102
      • Variant translation: Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, until it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost uninhabited waste of country.


  • 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, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 401


  • 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, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 461


  • To-day a democrat of the old school would demand, not freedom for the press, but freedom from the press; but mean-time the leaders have changed themselves into parvenus who have to secure their position vis-a-vis the masses.
    • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928) p. 461; a portion of this has sometimes been severely misquoted as if it were a statement of Spengler : "What we need is not freedom of the press, we need freedom from the press."


  • 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, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 462


Quotes about Spengler[edit]

  • 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"


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