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.
  • 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.
    • As quoted in Wisdom From World Religions : Pathways Toward Heaven On Earth (2002) by John Marks Templeton

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.
Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-1922); quotes and page numbers from the Charles Francis Atkinson translation The Decline of the West (1926 & 1928), unless otherwise noted.
  • Is there a logic of history? Is there, beyond all the casual and incalculable elements of the separate elements of the separate events, something that we may call a metaphysical structure of historic humanity, something that is essentially independent of the outward forms – social, spiritual and political – which we see so clearly? Are not these actualities indeed secondary or derived from that something? Does world-history present to the seeing eye certain grand traits, again and again, with sufficient constancy to justify certain conclusions? And if so, what are the limits to which reasoning from such premisses may be pushed?
  • 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, 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, 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, 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.
      • 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, p. 102
      • Variant: 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, 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, 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, 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, p. 462

Prussianism and Socialism (1919)[edit]

Prussianism and Socialism (1919) as translated by Donald O. White
  • Marxism is the capitalism of the working class.
    • Part IV : Marx; § 20
    • Variant: "Capitalism" and "Socialism" are both of an age, intimately related, produced by the same outlook and burdened with the same tendencies. Socialism is nothing but the capitalism of the lower classes.
      • The Hour of Decision (1933), Part III : The White World-Revolution
  • In history as it really is, there can be no conciliations. Whoever believes that there can must suffer from a chronic terror at the absurd ways in which events do occur, and he is only deceiving himself if he thinks that he can control them by means of treaties. 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. 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. We can vouch for our ideas, not with speeches but with our whole existence. The knightly idea of true socialism stands or falls with Prussianism. Only the Church still embodies the old Spanish idea of universality, the care and succor of all nations under the wing of Catholicism. From the days of the Hohenstaufen emperors we can hear the threatening echoes of an immense conflict between a political and a religious universal idea. But at the present moment we are witnessing the triumph of a third idea, the Viking idea: the world not as a state and not as a Church, but as booty for pirates.
    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. Socialism has beside and against it capitalism and ultramontanism, and thus there are three different forms of the socialist will to power: through the state, through money, and through the Church. Their influence extends throughout the political, economic, and religious consciousness of the Western world, and each seeks to subject the others to its will.
    • Part V : The International; § 22

The Hour of Decision (1933)[edit]

In every outstanding Materialist a Romantic lies hidden … 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.
We do not seek to alter and improve, but to destroy.
The Hour of Decision (1933), as translated by Charles Francis Atkinson (1942)
  • In every outstanding Materialist a Romantic lies hidden. Though he may scorn the cold, shallow, methodical mind of others, he has himself enough of that sort of mind to do so in the same way and with the same arrogance. 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 to reform it, not with knives and revolvers in the Russian fashion — heaven forbid! — but by noble talk and poetic theories. Hapless indeed they are if, lacking creative power, they lack also the artistic talent to persuade at least themselves that they possess it. … 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.
    • The Hour Of Decision: Part I : The Political Horizon
  • At the end of the 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.
  • "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. One has only to glance at the figures in meetings, public-houses, processions, and riots; one way or another they are all abortions, men who, instead of having healthy instincts in their body, have only heads full of disputatiousness and revenge for their wasted life, and mouths as their most important organ. It is the dregs of the great cities, the genuine mob, the underworld in every sense, which everywhere constitute the opposition to the great and noble world and unite in their hatred of it: political and literary Bohemia, wastrel nobility (Catiline and Philippe Égalité, Duke of Orleans), shipwrecked academicians, adventurers and speculators, criminals and prostitutes, loiterers, and the feeble-minded, mixed with a few pathetic enthusiasts for some abstract ideal. A mushy desire for revenge for some bad luck that has spoilt their lives, the absence of any instinct of honour and duty, and an unlimited thirst for money without work and for rights without responsibilities bring them together. It is from this befogged milieu that the heroes of the moment of all popular movements and Radical parties arise. Here the word "Liberty" takes on the bloody significance that it has in the declining ages. What is meant is: liberation from all the bonds of civilization, from every kind of form and custom, from all the people whose mode of life they feel in their dull fury to be superior. Pride and quietly borne poverty, silent fulfilment of duty, renunciation for the sake of a task or conviction, greatness in enduring one's fate, loyalty, honour, responsibility, achievement: all this is a constant reproach to the "humiliated and insulted."
    For, once more be it said, the opposite of noble is not poor, but vulgar. The debased thought and feeling of this underworld makes use of the uprooted masses of great cities who no longer trust their own instincts, in order to achieve their own ends and gratify their desires of revenge and destruction.
  • 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.
    But while one half of the world smiles at the well-bred forms and ancient customs, because it no longer regards them as inherently imperative and does not suspect that it is a question of "to be, or not to be," the other half is unchaining the hatred that burns to destroy, the envy of everything that is not available to all, that is prominent and must be pulled down. Not only tradition and custom, but every kind of refinement — beauty, grace, taste in dress, easy good manners, elegance of speech, control of one's limbs, education and self-discipline — irritate the vulgar soul till its blood boils.
    • The Hour Of Decision: Part III : The White World-Revolution
  • How much of Thomas Aquinas' law of nature and conception of State is still to be found in Adam Smith and therefore — with the opposite sign — in the Communist Manifesto! Christian theology is the grandmother of Bolshevism. All abstract brooding over economic concepts that are remote from any economic experience must, if courageously and honestly followed out, lead in one way or another to reasoned conclusions against State and property, and only lack of vision saves these materialist Schoolmen from seeing that at the end of their chain of thought stands the beginning once more: effective Communism is authoritative bureaucracy. To put through the ideal requires dictatorship, reign of terror, armed force, the inequality of a system of masters and slaves, men in command and men in obedience — in short: Moscow.
    • The Hour Of Decision: Part III : The White World-Revolution

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"

External links[edit]

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