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Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – 8 May 1936) was a German historian and philosopher of history whose interests included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history. Spengler's model of history postulates that any culture is a superorganism with a limited and predictable lifespan.

Oswald Spengler
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R06610, Oswald Spengler.jpg
Born Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler
(1880-05-29)29 May 1880
Blankenburg, Duchy of Brunswick, German Empire
Died 8 May 1936(1936-05-08) (aged 55)
Munich, Bavaria, Nazi Germany
Alma mater University of Munich
University of Berlin
University of Halle
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of history
Signature
Oswald Spengler signature.PNG

Spengler predicted that about the year 2000, Western civilization would enter the period of pre‑death emergency whose countering would necessitate Caesarism (extraconstitutional omnipotence of the executive branch of the central government).

Contents

Biography

Oswald Spengler was born in 1880 in Blankenburg (the Duchy of Brunswick, the German Reich) as the second child of Bernhard (1844–1901) and Pauline (1840–1910) Spengler.[1] Oswald's elder brother was born prematurely (eight months) in 1879, when his mother tried to move a heavy laundry basket, and died at the age of three weeks. Oswald was born ten months after his brother's death.[2] His younger sisters were Adele (1881–1917), Gertrud (1882–1957), and Hildegard (1885–1942).

Oswald's paternal grandfather, Theodor Spengler (1806–76), was a metallurgical inspector (Hütteninspektor) in Altenbrak.[3] Oswald's father, Bernhard Spengler, held the position of a postal secretary (Postsekretär) and was a hard-working man with a marked dislike of intellectualism, who tried to instil the same values and attitudes in his son.

On 26 May 1799, Friedrich Wilhelm Grantzow, a tailor's apprentice in Berlin, married a Jewish woman named Bräunchen Moses (whose parents, Abraham and Reile Moses, were both deceased by that time). Shortly before the wedding, Bräunchen Moses (ca. 1769–1849) was baptized as Johanna Elisabeth Anspachin (the surname was chosen after her birthplace—Anspach).[4] The couple gave birth to eight children (three before and five after the wedding),[5] one of whom was Gustav Adolf Grantzow (1811–83)—a solo dancer and ballet master in Berlin, who in 1837 married Katharina Kirchner (1813–73), a nervously beautiful solo dancer from a Munich Catholic family;[6] the second of their four daughters was Oswald Spengler's mother Pauline Grantzow.[7] Like the Grantzows in general, Pauline was of a Bohemian disposition, and, before marrying Bernhard Spengler, accompanied her dancer sister on tours. She was the least talented member of the Grantzow family. In appearance, she was plump and a bit unseemly. Her temperament, which Oswald inherited, complemented her appearance and frail physique: she was moody, irritable, and morose.[8]

When Oswald was ten years of age, his family moved to the university city of Halle. Here he received a classical education at the local Gymnasium (academically oriented secondary school), studying Greek, Latin, mathematics and sciences. Here, too, he developed his propensity for the arts—especially poetry, drama, and music—and came under the influence of the ideas of Goethe and Nietzsche:

After his father's death in 1901 Spengler attended several universities (Munich, Berlin, and Halle) as a private scholar, taking courses in a wide range of subjects. His private studies were undirected. In 1903, he failed his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus (titled Der metaphysische Grundgedanke der Heraklitischen Philosophie, The Metaphysical Fundamental Thought in Heraclitean Philosophy, and conducted under the direction of Alois Riehl) because of insufficient references, which effectively ended his chances of an academic career. He eventually received his Ph.D. from Halle on 6 April 1904. In December 1904, he set to write the secondary dissertation (Staatsexamensarbeit) necessary to qualify as a high school teacher. This became The Development of the Organ of Sight in the Higher Realms of the Animal Kingdom[10] (Die Entwicklung des Sehorgans bei den Hauptstufen des Tierreiches). It was approved and he received his teaching certificate. In 1905 Spengler suffered a nervous breakdown.

Biographers report his life as a teacher was uneventful. He briefly served as a teacher in Saarbrücken and then in Düsseldorf. From 1908 to 1911 he worked at a grammar school (Realgymnasium) in Hamburg, where he taught science, German history, and mathematics.

In 1911, following his mother's death, he moved to Munich, where he would live until his death in 1936. He lived as a cloistered scholar, supported by his modest inheritance. Spengler survived on very limited means and was marked by loneliness. He owned no books, and took jobs as a tutor or wrote for magazines to earn additional income.

He began work on the first volume of Decline of the West intending at first to focus on Germany within Europe, but the Agadir Crisis of 1911 affected him deeply, and he widened the scope of his study:

The book was completed in 1914, but publishing was delayed by World War I. Due to a congenital heart problem, Spengler was not called up for military service. During the war, however, his inheritance was largely useless because it was invested overseas; thus he lived in genuine poverty for this period.

The Decline of the West (1918)

When The Decline of the West was published in the summer of 1918, it was a wild success.[a] The national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the ensuing economic depression, caused by World War I reparations, seemed to prove Spengler right. The book comforted Germans by rationalizing their downfall as part of larger world-historical processes. It met with wide success outside of Germany as well, and by 1919 had been translated into several other languages. Spengler rejected a subsequent offer to become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, saying he needed time to focus on writing.

Arguing by detailed analogies with three other civilizations, Spengler predicted that about the year 2000, the strongest Western nation would enter a 200-year period of Caesarism (extraconstitutional omnipotence of the executive branch of the central government) and then create a global empire.

After the year 2200, the global empire will pass through a period of "historyless stiffening and enfeeblement" (Geschichtsloses Erstarren und Ohnmacht), whose duration in the other civilizations was 145–200 years.

Phase Egyptian Classical Chinese Western
Civilization
The body of the people, now essentially urban in constitution, dissolves into a formless mass. Cosmopolis and provinces. The Fourth Estate (the "masses")—inorganic, cosmopolitan
1. Domination of money ("democracy"). Economic powers permeating the political forms and authorities
1675–1550: Hyksos period. Deepest decline. Dictatures of alien generals (Chian). After 1600, definitive victory of the rulers of Thebes 300–100: Political Hellenism. From Alexander to Hannibal and Scipio, royal all-power; from Cleomenes III and C. Flaminius (220) to C. Marius, radical demagogues 480–230: Period of the "contending states"
  • 288: The imperial title. The imperialist statesmen of Tsin
  • From 289, incorporation of the last states into the empire
1800–2000
  • 19th century: From Napoleon to World War I. "System of great powers", standing armies, constitutions
  • 20th century: Transition from constitutional to informal sway of individuals. Annihilation wars. Imperialism
2. Formation of Caesarism. Victory of force-politics over money. Increasing primitiveness of political forms. Inward decline of the nations into a formless population, and constitution thereof as an imperium of gradually increasing crudity of despotism
1580–1350: Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt 100 BC–100 AD: Sulla to Domitian 250 BC–26 AD: House of Wang-Cheng and Western Han dynasty
  • 221 BC: Augustus title (Shi) of emperor (Hwang-ti)
  • 140–80 BC: Wu-ti
2000–2200
3. Maturing of the final form. Private and family policies of individual leaders. The world as spoil. Egypticism, mandarinism, Byzantinism. Historyless stiffening and enfeeblement even of the imperial machinery, against young peoples eager for spoil, or alien conquerors. Primitive human conditions slowly thrust up into the highly civilized mode of living
1350–1205: Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt 100–300: Trajan to Aurelian 25–220: Eastern Han dynasty after 2200
Source: Table III. "Contemporary" Political Epochs

Mussolini and Hitler considered themselves as Nietzschean superhumans miraculously overcoming Spengler's prophecy of the downfall of the West.[12][13] In reality, their attempt to establish Caesarism is an integral part of the above schedule of the West's decline: "XXth-century transition from constitutional to informal sway of individuals. Annihilation wars. Imperialism." The antidemocratic regimes of Mussolini and Hitler were short-lived because in Spengler's schedule, the domination of money (constitutional "democracy") continues until the year 2000.

Prussianism and Socialism (1919)

In late 1919, Spengler published Prussianism and Socialism (Preußentum und Sozialismus), an essay based on notes intended for the second volume of The Decline of the West. According to Spengler, mankind will spend the next and last several hundred years of its existence in a state of Caesarian socialism, when all humans will be synergized into a harmonious and happy totality by a dictator, like an orchestra is synergized into a harmonious totality by its conductor:

Only people of German blood can be socialists:

It is because the ethnic Germans are hyperactive "eternal boyscouts",[15][16] to whom happiness is not lethargic idleness, but work for the common good:

From Spengler's point of view, the Jewish mentality is most offensively anti-German:

Thus people of non-German blood are in an irreconcilable ideological conflict with people of German blood, and that conflict can be resolved only by their death:

Aftermath

A 1928 Time review of the second volume of The Decline described the immense influence and controversy Spengler's ideas enjoyed during the 1920s: "When the first volume of The Decline of the West appeared in Germany a few years ago, thousands of copies were sold. Cultivated European discourse quickly became Spengler-saturated. Spenglerism spurted from the pens of countless disciples. It was imperative to read Spengler, to sympathize or revolt. It still remains so."[17]

In 1924, following the social-economic upheaval and inflation, Spengler entered politics in an effort to bring Reichswehr general Hans von Seeckt to power as the country's leader. The attempt failed and Spengler proved ineffective in practical politics.

In 1931, he published Man and Technics, which warned against the dangers of technology and industrialism to culture. He especially pointed to the tendency of Western technology to spread to hostile "colored races" which would then use the weapons against the West.[18] This book contains the well-known Spengler quote "Optimism is cowardice".

In the German presidential election of 1932, Spengler voted for Hitler.[19] The two men met at the Bayreuth Festival on Tuesday, 25 July 1933.[20] The interview had been requested by Spengler and was arranged by Else Knittel, a friend of Winifred Wagner's. In his 1957 book, Ernst Hanfstaengl recounts Hitler's impressions of that hour-and-a-half conversation:

Spengler, in his turn, condemned Hitler's version of socialism as "prolet-Aryan" for its anti-elitism.[22] He believed that Hitler's distrust of the military elite would make the latter sheepishly initiativeless and thus would lead to the Third Reich's defeat in the next world war, because Hitler himself was merely a great demagogue (a "heroic tenor", i.e. a sheep in a lion's skin) but no strategist. In the first volume of The Hour of Decision (published on 19 August 1933[23]), Spengler expounded the Athenian adage that an army of sheep commanded by a lion will beat an army of lions commanded by a sheep:

He pictured Nazism as the German nation's cowardly escape from reality by regressing to a lower mental age:

In the first half of October 1933, the book was banned from discussion in the press.[26] However, another edition was allowed to appear in 1934,[27] which is the year when the book was attacked by a chorus of indignant Nazi voices. In a widely-circulated pamphlet,[28] Johann von Leers, Leader of the Division of Foreign Policy and Foreign Information in the German High School for Politics, argued that The Hour of Decision was a counterrevolutionary tract, while its author was merely a negative sceptic, an enemy of the workers, with an "ice-cold contempt for the people", whose real desire was to return to the "old aristocratic society" of the eighteenth century. In addition, Spengler's chief racial doctrine of the "coloured" menace was undermining Germany's relations with her natural ally—Japan.[29] Nevertheless, 200,000 copies of the book had been sold in Germany as of 1934.[30]

Final years

Despite Spengler's polemic with Alfred Rosenberg and remarks about the Führer, on 13 October 1933 he became one of the 100 senators of the German Academy.[31][32] After the Hitlerian ban of 1934, Spengler devoted the few remaining years of his life to a study of the second millennium B.C., of which he completed a few chapters. He spent his final years in Munich, listening to Beethoven, reading Molière and Shakespeare, buying several thousand books, and collecting ancient Turkish, Persian and Indian weapons. He made occasional trips to the Harz mountains, and to Italy. In the spring of 1936 (shortly before his death), he prophetically remarked in a letter to Reichsleiter Hans Frank that "in ten years, the German Reich will probably no longer exist" ("da ja wohl in zehn Jahren ein Deutsches Reich nicht mehr existieren wird!").[33] He died of a heart attack on 8 May 1936, in Munich, three weeks before his 56th birthday and exactly nine years before the fall of the Third Reich.

Works

  • Der metaphysische Grundgedanke der Heraklitischen Philosophie [The metaphysical idea of Heraclitus' philosophy] (in German), 1904 
  • Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte [The Decline of the West: Outlines of a Morphology of world history], Gestalt und Wirklichkeit; Welthistorische Perspektives (in German), 1918–22 , 2 vols. – The Decline of the West; an Abridged Edition by Helmut Werner (tr. by F. Atkinson).[34][35]
  • Preussentum und Sozialismus, 1920, Translated 1922 as Prussianism And Socialism by C.F.Atkinson (Prussianism and Socialism).
  • Pessimismus?, G. Stilke, 1921.
  • Neubau des deutschen Reiches, 1924.
  • Die Revolution ist nicht zu Ende, c. 1924.
  • Politische Pflichten der deutschen Jugend; Rede gehalten am 26. Februar 1924 vor dem Hochschulring deutscher Art in Würzburg, 1925.
  • Der Mensch und die Technik, 1931 (Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, tr. C. T. Atkinson, Knopf, 1932).[36][37][38]
  • Die Revolution ist nicht zu Ende, 1932.
  • Politische Schriften, 1932.
  • Jahre der Entscheidung, 1933 (The Hour of Decision tr. CF Atkinson).[39]
  • Reden und Aufsätze, 1937 (ed. by Hildegard Kornhardt) – Selected Essays (tr. Donald O. White).
  • Gedanken, c. 1941 (ed. by Hildegard Kornhardt) – Aphorisms (translated by Gisela Koch-Weser O’Brien).
  • Briefe, 1913–1936, 1963 [The Letters of Oswald Spengler, 1913–1936] (ed. and tr. by A. Helps).
  • Urfragen; Fragmente aus dem Nachlass, 1965 (ed. by Anton Mirko Koktanek and Manfred Schröter).
  • Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte: Fragmente aus dem Nachlass, 1966 (ed. by A. M. Koktanek and Manfred Schröter).
  • Der Briefwechsel zwischen Oswald Spengler und Wolfgang E. Groeger. Über russische Literatur, Zeitgeschichte und soziale Fragen, 1987 (ed. by Xenia Werner).

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The original Preface is dated December 1917 and ends with Spengler expressing hope that "his book would not be unworthy of the German military achievements".

References

  1. ^ Preussische Jahrbücher. V. 192, issue 93, Georg Stilke, 1923, p. 130
  2. ^ Koktanek, Anton Mirko, Oswald Spengler in seiner Zeit, Beck, 1968, p. 10
  3. ^ Koktanek, Anton Mirko, Oswald Spengler in seiner Zeit. Beck, 1968, pp. 3, 517
  4. ^ Koktanek, Anton Mirko, Oswald Spengler in seiner Zeit. Beck, 1968, p. 5
  5. ^ Awerbuch, Marianne; Jersch-Wenzel, Stefi (1992). Bild und Selbstbild der Juden Berlins zwischen Aufklärung und Romantik [Image and self-image of the Jews of Berlin between the Enlightenment and Romanticism] (in German). Berlin: Colloquium. p. 91. 
  6. ^ Koktanek, Anton Mirko, Oswald Spengler in seiner Zeit. Beck, 1968, p. 5
  7. ^ Spengler, Oswald (2007). Ich beneide jeden, der lebt [I envy anyone who lives] (in German). Lilienfeld. p. 126. 
  8. ^ Fischer, Klaus P., History and Prophecy: Oswald Spengler and The Decline of the West. P. Lang, 1989, p. 27
  9. ^ Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. V. 1, Alfred A. Knopf, 1926, p. xiv
  10. ^ K. Stimely, "Oswald Spengler: An Introduction to his Life and Ideas", The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 17, Institute for Historical Review, 1998.
  11. ^ Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. V. 1, Alfred A. Knopf, 1926, pp. 46–47
  12. ^ Richard Wolin. The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism. Princeton University Press, 2009. p. 323
  13. ^ Vrekhem, Georges van. Hitler and His God: The Background of the Hitler Phenomenon. Rupa & Company, 2006, p. 448. "Hitler was quite aware of this incongruity and did not hesitate to put things straight after having given, as the new Chancellor of the nation, an audience to Spengler in Bayreuth. “I am not a supporter of Oswald Spengler! I don't believe in the decline of the West. On the contrary, I consider it my task, conferred upon me by Providence, to contribute to its prevention.” For he, Hitler, was convinced that “the old Aryan culture, under the leadership of Nordic man, would experience a rebirth”."
  14. ^ a b c d e Spengler, Oswald. Prussianism and Socialism. 1919. Translated by Donald O. White
  15. ^ Spengler, Oswald. 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."
  16. ^ Dhooria, Ram Lall. I was a Swayamsewak: An Inside View of the RSS. Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, 1969, p. 31. "In his last political book 'The Hour of Decision', Oswald Spengler, the celebrated rightist philosopher of Germany characterised the Nazis as a party of 'everlasting youths'."
  17. ^ "Patterns in Chaos". Time Magazine. 10 December 1928. Retrieved 9 August 2008. 
  18. ^ Hughes, H. Stuart (1 January 1991). Oswald Spengler. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412830348.  (Reprint of the 1952 edition with a new introduction by Hughes)
  19. ^ Wheaton, Eliot Barculo. The Nazi Revolution 1933–35. Doubleday, 1968, p. 103
  20. ^ Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Bde 1 und 2, AuraBooks, 2013, S. 3
  21. ^ Hanfstaengl, Ernst. Hitler: The Missing Years. Arcade Publishing, 1957, p. 189
  22. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. OUP, 2013, p. 487
  23. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries. Books, Group 1. For the Year 1934. Library of Congress, 1935, p. 823
  24. ^ Spengler, Oswald. The Hour of Decision. Part II, 1933
  25. ^ Spengler, Oswald. The Hour of Decision. Part I, 1933
  26. ^ Klemperer, Klemens Von. Germany's New Conservatism: Its History and Dilemma in the Twentieth Century. PUP, 2015, p. 208. "It is interesting that in its issue of October 1, 1933 the Hitler Youth mouthpiece Wille und Macht carried a full-page photograph of a bust of Spengler accompanied by excerpts from The Hour of Decision. Also, it promised its readers an extensive discussion of the book in the following issue. The latter, however, made no mention of Spengler. On May 15, 1934, finally, Wille und Macht came out with a full-fledged attack upon Spengler; Kif, "Deutsche Jugend und Oswald Spengler," Wille und Macht, ii (May 15, 1934), 25ff."
  27. ^ Klemperer, Klemens Von. Germany's New Conservatism: Its History and Dilemma in the Twentieth Century. PUP, 2015, p. 208
  28. ^ Leers, Johann von. Spenglers weltpolitisches System und der Nationalsozialismus, Berlin, 1934
  29. ^ Hughes, H. Stuart. Oswald Spengler. Transaction Publishers, 1991, p. 131
  30. ^ The New York Times Book Review. V. l, Arno Press, 1934
  31. ^ Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Karl-Marx-Universität Leipzig. V. 17, 1968, p. 71
  32. ^ Mitteilungen. Deutsche Akademie, 1936, p. 571. "Dr. Oswald Spengler, München, Senator der Deutschen Akademie"
  33. ^ Bronder, Dietrich (1964). Bevor Hitler kam: eine historische Studie [Before Hitler came: a historical study] (in German). Pfeiffer. p. 25. 
  34. ^ Falke, Konrad. "A Historian's Forecast," The Living Age, Vol. 314, September 1922.
  35. ^ Stewart, W. K. (1924). "The Decline of Western Culture," The Century Magazine, Vol. CVIII, No. 5.
  36. ^ Mumford, Lewis (1932). "The Decline of Spengler," The New Republic, 9 March.
  37. ^ Dewey, John (1932). "Instrument or Frankenstein?," The Saturday Review, 12 March.
  38. ^ Vasilkovsky, G. "Oswald Spengler's 'Philosophy of Life'," The Communist, April 1932.
  39. ^ Reis, Lincoln (1934). "Spengler Declines the West," The Nation, 28 February.

Further reading

In foreign languages

  • Baltzer, Armin. Philosoph oder Prophet? Oswald Spenglers Vermächtnis und Voraussagen [Philosopher or Prophet?], Verlag für Kulturwissenschaften, 1962.
  • Caruso, Sergio. "Lo Spätwerk storico-filosofico di Oswald Spengler" [Oswald Spengler’s Historic-Philosophical Spätwerk]. In Antologia Vieusseux, Vol. 11, No. 41–42, Jan.–June 1976, pp. 67–72.
  • Caruso, Sergio. La politica del Destino. Relativismo storico e irrazionalismo politico nel pensiero di Oswald Spengler [Destiny’s politics. Historical relativism & political irrationalism in Oswald Spengler’s thought]. Firenze: Cultura 1979.
  • Caruso, Sergio. "Oswald Spengler: un centenario dimenticato?". In Nuova Antologia, Vol. 115, No. 2136, Oct.–Dec. 1980, pp. 347–54.
  • Caruso, Sergio. "Minoranze, caste e partiti nel pensiero di Oswald Spengler". In Politica e società. Scritti in onore di Luciano Cavalli, ed. by G. Bettin. Cedam: Padova 1997, pp. 214–82.
  • Felken, Detlef. Oswald Spengler; Konservativer Denker zwischen Kaiserreich und Diktatur. Munich: CH Beck, 1988.
  • Messer, August. Oswald Spengler als Philosoph, Strecker und Schröder, 1922.
  • Reichelt, Stefan G. "Oswald Spengler". In: Nikolaj A. Berdjaev in Deutschland 1920–1950. Eine rezeptionshistorische Studie. Universitätsverlag: Leipzig 1999, pp. 71–73. ISBN 3-933240-88-3.
  • Schroeter, Manfred. Metaphysik des Untergangs: eine kulturkritische Studie über Oswald Spengler, Leibniz Verlag, 1949.

External links