By Oswald Spengler
An abridged edition by Helmut Werner
English Abridged Edition Prepared by Arthur Helps
From the translation by Charles Francis Atkinson
New York: Oxford University Press, 1991 from 1926 original
ISBN # 13 978-0-19-506634-0 (pbk)
414 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2008

My remarks will be in three parts:

  1. A rather non-critical description of the main arguments.
  2. Some critical assessments of his arguments.
  3. Some “bits and pieces” not part of the main line of argument, but interesting to me and requiring some mention.


This book is monumental, with ambitions far beyond what is normally called “history.” Rather, it is both an epistemology and metaphysics. Oswald Spengler is calling for a revision of our understanding of the world.

Within our tradition of Western culture we have come to see of the world through science, and the methods of the sciences reveal to us what we tend to accept as the world as it is. Spengler rejects this thesis and calls that entire tradition the perspective of World as Nature. To this he opposes a different view – World as History.

The two ‘worlds’ are different; the World as Nature and its scientific, mathematical models give us the world of space, the “become,” that which is. The World as History, on Spengler’s analysis, gives us the world of “becoming,” the world of time.

One may quickly suspect Spengler is not quite so radical as this at first sounds. Certainly from late 19th century through at least the mid-20th century thought, there is a distinction argued that the social sciences, which include history, cannot use the exact same methods as the so-called natural sciences. However, in that whole discussion there appears to be a strong bias which Spengler would not accept.

The bias holds:

  1. That to the extent that the methods of natural science cannot be used in the social sciences, the social sciences are thereby weaker.
  2. As much as possible the “more reliable” methods of the natural sciences should be used.

Spengler, on the other hand, is less concerned with METHOD than he is with AIM. It is not the “become” – the world of space – that interests the historian, but the world of “becoming,” – the world of time that is his focus. On his view these are two radically different aspects of reality and require different sorts of methods, each method the one proper to that particular area of inquiry. Thus there is no “priority” of value in any way toward the method of the natural sciences.

This history/philosophy of history is a gigantic work of epic proportion and importance. It seems to have disappeared from the list of influential books on philosophy of history and his version of history itself, as the history of Cultures and a logic of development, seems out of favor. After wrestling with this volume (it isn’t an easy read) for about a month, I come away not fully convinced by Spengler’s arguments, but deeply challenged and interested.

This is a theory of the world as history, world as time, and history as directional. It revolves around the notion of “becoming.” I want to briefly clarify these three key foci at the outset of my comments.

  1. It is a philosophy of history. That is to say, it is a theory of how history should be done, what a careful theory of what history really is.
  2. The central interest is in “High History” -- the history of Cultures and Civilizations. Spengler is convinced that there have been 8 Cultures in the history of humankind, and that these Cultures are the vibrant and living movements of human kind. Each Culture eventually dies out and life goes on within the (now) bankrupt frame of the Culture, as a Civilization, until it finally disappears, never to return.
    SPECIAL NOTE: Since throughout the text the translator capitalizes Culture (when referring to Spengler’s notion of “high” culture), Civilization and Destiny, I have decided to follow that procedure in these remarks.
  3. History is DIRECTIONAL. That is there is a logic that describes the Cultures (each as a period of youth, growth, maturity, decay), and each has a fundamental logic, its Destiny, which it eventually fulfills.

The 8 Cultures he recognizes are:

  • Babylonian
  • Egyptian
  • Chinese
  • Indian
  • Classical (Greek / Roman)
  • Arabian (Magian)
  • Western (Faustian)
  • Mexican (Aztec / Mayan)

    The DECLINE OF THE WEST does not give much detail about five of the eight. He uses examples from five – Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian and Mexican – to elucidate his primary concern, the history and decline of Western Culture, which he sees as intimately related to both Classical and Magian (Arabian) Cultures.

    This book explores the world as history rather than the world as nature, which humans have mainly studied and developed.

    Contrast of Focus Between Western and Classical Thinkers

    World as history (West) World as nature (Classical)
    1. organicmechanical
    2. understood with images understood with laws
    3. uses pictures and symbols uses formula and system
    4. focus on the instantly actual focus on the possible
    5. explores intents and purposes of imagination according to plan explores intents and purposes of experience according to scheme
    6. the domain of chronology the domain of numbers
    7. it is the logic of time it is the logic of space
    8. chronology and the idea of destiny leads to an historical ordering of the phenomenon of the world mathematics and causality leads to naturalist causality
    9. history is an imaginal seeking of a comprehension of living existence of world in relation to one’s own lifescience (natural) is man’s interpreting the immediate impressions of the senses according to natural laws

    As I have mentioned above, Spengler sees “high history” as the study of Cultures, and the stagnant ending of each Culture in its Civilization. However, not all time in the history of humans is within this “high history.” There are periods of “non-history” before a Culture develops.

    Thus there are actually THREE periods which tend to correspond to the 8 Cultures:

    1. Peasantry: The world of peasantry which is pre-Cultural and lived in the countryside. It is also outside “high” culture.
    2. Culture: The period of Culture which grows and develops in the town and city.
    3. Civilization: Each Culture begins to stagnate and die within the mega-city (megopolis) which is a phenomenon of Civilization.
    “The Culture is the most significant unit for world history in the past 6,000 years of the history of higher human beings.”

    The title of the book, THE DECLINE OF THE WEST, suggests its central thesis – that Spengler wants to show that his Culture, Western Culture, has passed its Cultural stage, has entered upon its stage of Civilization and is living out its ending.

    This is not a cautionary tale from Spengler, not a call for the West to “wake up” from some disastrous direction and change. No. History for Spengler is deterministic. Each Culture is born in some “world feeling” and that world-feeling gives it impetus, a logic, direction and Destiny. Humans don’t choose this Destiny, but it is simply there and the Culture develops and lives it out.

    The emphasis here, however, is on Western Culture, not the other 7 Cultures. Nonetheless, Western Culture’s history is intimately bound up with both Classical Culture (Greece and Rome) and Arabian Culture, (Magian) so a large portion of the book explores that interrelationship.

    Spengler also calls Western Culture “Faustian Culture.” On his analysis each Culture has a dominant “world-feeling” which it develops to the fullness and ends (its Destiny) when it ultimately plays itself out into decadence. This Faustian spirit of the West is a spirit toward infinity, and Goethe’s Faust represents that force. In seeking the beautiful and young Margarita, Faust was seeking the immortal, the infinite, the ever-young, the horizon-less future, as that is the West’s “world-feeling.”

    He sees this Culture beginning to grow out of a history-less peasantry in about the year 1000 and in Western Europe, particularly Germany.

    Important early development of Western Culture revolves around a special Western sense of Christianity, growing centrally from the Lateran Council of 1215 which he sees as being “fulfilled” by the Council of Trent (1545 to 1563). Gothic culture is the West’s “springtime” or youth. Spengler recognizes some standard historical periods to fit into the development of the West.

    The Gothic period leads to the Renaissance, but Spengler’s view is quite radical here. The Renaissance is not indebted to Classical Greece and Rome as most historians have it. Rather, it was late Gothic culture that played that role with the “second-hand” views of Classical Culture which were already dormant in the West and broke through to the surface in the Gothic period. Further, there was major influence on the Renaissance from Magian Culture. Thus the Renaissance isn’t, for Spengler, a return to Apollonian spirit, but is rooted in Gothic and Magian influences.

    Nonetheless there is a special causal line from Greece and Rome to the Magian Culture of the Arab world and into the early Gothic Culture.

    “In this instance we can study the soul of three Cultures working upon very similar tasks in very dissimilar ways. The Apollonian Culture recognized as actual only that which was immediately present in time and place – and thus it repudiated the background as pictorial element. The Faustian strove through all sensuous barriers towards infinity – and it projected the centre of gravity of the pictorial idea into the distance by means of perspective. The Magian felt all happening as an expression of mysterious powers that filled the world-cavern with their spiritual substance – and it shut off the depicted scene with a gold background, that is, by something that stood beyond and outside all nature-colours.”

    After the Renaissance, Spengler sees a huge significant move in the Culture with Luther and the Reformation. Luther released humans from the intermediary of the priest and put each alone facing God. On Spengler’s view most couldn’t deal with that responsibility and a beginning of a significant change came about.

    Luther saw the intellect as a handmaid for theology, but in the post-Luther Baroque period, science sprang up in which wasn’t in the service of God, but “… the servant of the technical Will-to-Power.”

    God becomes the Great Master of the machine.

    Spengler sees the dynamic of the history of Culture at work. In every Culture there is a rise of faith, then its criticism in intellect, followed by a reaction. In the West it was from Luther and the resulting Puritanism to the Rationalism led by Hume.

    Where the unfettered Rationalism leads Western Culture is away from “Cultural-feeling” and toward an ethics of a moral absolutism which leads the West toward its final days in Civilization.

    “Whether the State in its new form would be able to hold its own at all amongst other States, no one asked. All that mattered was whether it severed man’s ‘rights’”

    The new religion was the West’s science and moral concepts. Rationalism led to a “…community of waking consciousness in the educated when religion is criticism and whose numina are not deities but concepts.”

    There is no universal moral code in fact and history. Western Culture – Faustian – is one of the sole Cultures which perceives the individual morality as absolute cultural morality.

    “‘He who hath ears to hear, let him hear’ – There is no claim to power in these words. But the Western Church never conceived its mission thus. The ‘Glad Tidings’ of Jesus, like those of Zoroaster, of Mani, of Mohomet, of The Neo-Platonists and of all the cognate Magian Religion were mystic benefits displayed – but no way imposed.”

    He sees the development of a Culture’s world-feeling to be immediately tied to its central moral code and the Western Faustian “infinity feeling” is tied to its morality of individualism, and individual moral responsibility.

    Spengler’s point here is that most other cultures have moral values which SUGGEST, but do not DEMAND moral rules. They are thus not part of the “Destiny” of the Culture, but offered as wise counsel to the Culture.

    He sees the place of the individual in Western Culture to be quite different from the mainly group-centered moral systems of other Cultures and leading toward a more absolute morality.

    While this alleged focus on the individual would seem to lead to ethical anarchy, it in fact doesn’t because of the role of the Christian religion and church to impose upon the people an ethic of “Socialism.” This term Spengler uses doesn’t mean the social/economic system as we normally use the term today. Rather, it is a moral theory fairly much like the moral code of universal human rights which developed after World War II (thus long after Spengler wrote), and which grew out of the United Nations.

    “In spite of its foreground appearances, ethical Socialism [Socialism here means much of the modern theory of human rights] is not a system of compassion, humanity, peace and care, but one of will-to-power…”

    The logic of how this system leads to a “will-to-power” is important in the decline of the West. The moral code was an absolute responsibility of the individual, each individual, and this “cultural feeling toward infinity” required that the Western world bring this universal moral code to be in the world. That can not be done by persuasion, which would allow for greater resistance, but must be done by POWER. Thus it leads to the “Destiny” of the West, this will-to-power to enforce its way, its moral code, on the entire world.

    This playing out of the Destiny is the task of the 20th and 21st centuries. The West is, on his view, no longer a Culture developing its logic, but a dead Civilization, in its decadent stage, powerful and dangerous, about to fully embark on a world crusade to dominate the planet to bring its absolute moral code to all peoples.

    This development has gone from Napoleon to 1922 when Spengler wrote Vol. II, and there has been a steady movement leading to the announced decline. I will let Spengler himself bring this section of my comments to a close. I’ve been trying to give an overview of his two primary these:

    1. The essence of history is to trace the rise and fall of the Major Cultures.
    2. The Western Culture has risen and is now in its stage of decline and Civilization.

    Spengler predicts the future of the 20th-21st centuries:

    Ever since Napoleon, hundreds of thousands, and latterly millions, of men have stood ready to march, and mighty fleets renewed every ten years have filled the harbours. It is a war without war, a war of overbidding in equipment and preparedness, a war of figures and tempo and technics, and the diplomatic dealings have been not of court with court, but of headquarters with headquarters. The longer the discharge was delayed, the more huge became the means and the more intolerable the tension. This is the Faustian, the dynamic, form of ‘the Contenting States’ during the first century of that period, but it ended with the explosion of the World War [1914]. For the demand of these four years has been altogether too much for the principle of universal service – child of the French Revolution, revolutionary through and through, as it is in this form – and all tactical methods evolved from it. The place of the permanent armies as we know them will gradually be taken by professional forces of volunteer war-keen soldiers; and from millions we shall revert to hundreds of thousands. But ipso facto this second century will be one of actually Contending States. These armies are not substitutes for war – they are for war, and they want war.

    Within two generations it will be their will that prevails over that of all the comfortables put together. In these wars of theirs for the heritage of the whole world, continents will be at stake, India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam, called out, new technics and tactics played and counter played. The great cosmopolitan foci of power will dispose at their pleasure of smaller states – their territory, their economy and their men alike – all that is now merely province, passive object, means to end, and its destinies are without importance to the great march of things. We ourselves, in a very few years, have learned to take little or no notice of events that before the War would have horrified the world; who today [1922] seriously thinks about the millions that perish in Russia?”

    Shortly after that quote he follows with:

    “From the rigour of these facts there is no refuge. The Hague Conference of 1907 was the prelude of the World War; the Washington Conference of 1921 will have been that of other wars. The history of these times is no longer an intellectual march of wits in elegant forms for pluses and minuses, from which either side can withdraw when it pleases. The alternatives now are to stand fast or to go under – there is no middle course. The only moral that the logic of things permits to us now is that of the climber on the face of the crag – a moment’s weakness and all is over.”


    I am quite hesitant to launch into my attempt at a serious criticism of Oscar Spengler based on a single read. I feel this hesitancy for three main reasons:

    1. Spengler has a stunning knowledge of historical facts, especially regarding the history and development of science, mathematics, and of art and music.
    2. Likewise he seems to know more about the development of non-Western Christianity than anyone I’ve ever read. He is amazing in his knowledge not only of the Persian Christianity, but of “southern” Christianity – the area of today’s Egypt, Israel and environs.
    3. The scope of his central theses – his philosophy of history; his vision of history as the history of high cultures, his claim that the West is in its decline – are momentous in scope.

    These are all issues of great magnitude; and I just finished reading a slightly abridged version of the two volume set. Nonetheless, I will venture at least some things that puzzle me. I read the 400+ pages of this book with great care over a month, spending on average about an hour and half a day and took copious notes, which ended up being over 20 typed pages. Further, the books was so much on my mind that each day I shared with my partner what I was learning and thinking, often reading to her what I took to be key passages of that morning’s read.

    I did come away from the text just amazed by the power and scope of Spengler’s claims, but with puzzles and concerns as well.

    What I offer in this section are less critical assessments of Spengler than they are musings about my puzzles and misgivings, and about issues which are still swirling around in my head, leading me toward further reading in the near future. I’ve already ordered a copy of Arnold Toynbee’s major historical study so I can compare and contrast it with Spengler.

    1. I’ll begin with something quite positive. Spengler holds that the dominant view in the West is that we know the world best via the methods of science and mathematics. He agrees with part of that – the developed methods of mathematics and science give a powerful insight into the nature of the world as world. However, Spengler rejects the view that history, which uses different sorts of methods, is thus inferior knowledge to that of science. His view is that history aims at something different – the world as history in motion rather than world as space, fact and causal laws.

      I was deeply moved by that project and found myself rooting him on in his relentless hammering home of that argument. I am not at the point where I would say I’m convinced of his thesis or a staunch defender of it, but he certainly has made of me an interested fan, if not convinced, at least one wishing it is so.

    2. I am impressed with his organization of history into the history of 8 major Cultures, and his regarding the rest of ‘history’ as sort of a footnote to high history. It is a grand idea, and something of this recognition of great “civilizations” is standard history and has been a staple of historians for centuries.

      Yet I’m not fully convinced by this gigantic thesis. I’m impressed by his organizational power in describing the nature of these huge constructs, but just sort of dumb-founded as to what to make of them.

    3. Even if I were to be convinced that he shows his ‘development’ pattern (each Culture having a youth, adulthood, maturity and decline), he doesn’t give much evidence in this work that the other five Cultures follow the same patterns, and even allows that the pattern isn’t quite so exact for either Magian Culture or Mexican Culture.

      An attractive and grand scheme with marvelous organization prospects – yes, without a doubt. But, a well-demonstrated universal pattern – well, not quite for me. I’m not even sure what I would or could accept as evidence for that notion.

    4. Two further central notions for Spengler are likewise ideas which are powerful in his presentation, but leave me with doubts, hesitancies, needing much more convincing, yet still leave me in awe of his boldness, yet more in wonder than in conviction. Those two notions are:

      1. That each Culture is working out its own special “Destiny,” a lead idea of the Culture’s “world-feeling.” Those are hard notions to grasp and evidence.
      2. Similarly, his view that he can declare that the pattern has “fulfilled” itself in the West and that we are in the Civilization stage of our climax, if not our discontent, is not as convincing as I would wish it were. Those are all attractive propositions as he marshals them, his arguments are learned and attractive, but I’m just not yet there in seeing the evidence as compelling.

    5. There is another area of concern I have about the 8 Cultures. He argues that each follows an inevitable path from birth to springtime, a period of great maturity, then a decline into its Civilization and death.

      However, he is quite clear that two of the 8 did not quite follow this pattern. The Mexican Culture of the Mayans and Aztecs had their Culture, still in its prime, totally destroyed by the invasion of Western Culture in the 16th century. He claims that was the sole case of one Culture destroying another. The normal case is that a Culture comes to its own logical end, when its Destiny plays itself out in fulfillment and decline.

      He also seems conflicted about Magian Culture, seeing it also being disrupted by Western Culture, yet he seems somewhat unclear about the role of the West in the demise of Magian Culture.

      I will detail more of his views of Magian Culture below. I raise the issue here to call attention to a seeming contradiction about his own “logic” of history, since in two of the eight it seems, on his own view, not to have followed his own claimed logic of Cultures. Further he is quite unclear and ambiguous about Russia. He denies the Russian world the status of a Culture, yet its not clear why. It seems to have many of the features of a Culture, but again, its contact with the West seems to have derailed it in its otherwise natural course toward being a Culture. It doesn’t seem much different than the fate of Magian Culture.

      There seems to be some uncertainty in how all this effects the reliability of his claimed logic of history.

    Despite these hesitancies and doubts about most of his major theses, I am still in awe of his bold vision of the history of Cultures, with each’s Destiny and all. Marvelous constructs, illuminating, attractive and challenging. They will probably remain in sort of a skeptical status for me.

    I will have some other critical comments in the last section below. What I wanted to get expressed here were my concerns and some assessment of his major theses.



      Of the 414 pages of this volume there is one entire 100 page section devoted to an analysis of Magian Culture. Further, along the way of his development of Western Culture, Magian Culture is mentioned and used in many places, so that at least 1/3 this book is about Magian Culture. Thus this is obviously something of great importance to him, especially since the main theme is about the alleged decline of the West.

      I will give a brief overview of his view of Magian Culture and its relationship to the West.

      Magian (Arabian) Culture begins to grow about 300 BC. A decisive moment in its rise is the battle of Actium which was fought in 31 BC and was a war of the Roman Republics. Octavian’s ships fought the navy of Marc Antony and Cleopatra off the coast of the Greek town Actium in the Aegean. Octavian won and the battle marked the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire.

      More important for Spengler’s thesis is that this development lent a great impetus to the later stages of the Classical Culture of Greece and Rome, and deflected interest away from the young Arabian Culture. It turned out to be a decisive development for the Magian (Arabian) Culture, one that gave the young Culture its “world-feeling” yet in many ways crippled it and set its Destiny in a different way than it likely would have gone had Antony won the battle.

      The key upshot of this sea battle for Magian Culture was that it shifted the central focus of Classical culture westward to Rome, and turned it away from Magian Culture.

      Magian Culture was deeply influenced by the rise of Christianity and “…with a new relation of man to God, a wholly new world-feeling, penetrated all [their] current religions…” However, after the battle of Actium and the shift westward of Classical Culture, Christianity split into two very different versions, a Western and Magian and that battle was the demarcation line.

      “The Magian Culture, geographically and historically, is the midmost of the group of higher Cultures – the only one which in point of both space and of time, was in touch with practically all others.”

      Previous historians, on Spengler’s view, misunderstood and misanalyzed Arabian Culture as late Classical (Ancient), and subscribed to the view of their periods of history for the region, Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern.

      Yet on Spengler’s view there was a major Cultural move caused by this “westward turn” of Classical Culture, the historical pseudomorphosis of Magian Culture.

      “By the term ‘historical pseudomorphosis’ I propose to designate those cases in which an older alien Culture lies so massively over the land that a young Culture cannot get its breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific expression-forms, but even to develop fully its own self-consciousness. All that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in the old moulds, young feelings stiffen in senile practices, and instead of expanding its own creative power, it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be monstrous.”

      … “This is the case of the Arabian Culture.”

      … “And this fulfillment awakened, in indescribable strength, the primitive feeling of fear. In this dawn of Magian world-feeling, hesitant and apprehensive, the end of the world seemed close.”

      The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were in the springtime of Magian Culture. And the battle of Actium was the particular event which marked the split between the previously close two cultures, and which led to the pseudomorphosis.

      Spengler’s view of granting Marian Culture the status as one of the world’s 8 main cultures is to radically revise standard historical notions with special emphasis on two periods:

      1. At Magian Culture’s early “springtime,” the time of Jesus, Magian Culture kept alive and advanced the Aramaic version of Jesus.
      2. While standard history has always accorded Arabian Culture with an important role in preserving and advancing Classical learning during the West’s dark ages, Spengler grants a much more elevated role to Magian Culture, focusing on its own achievements not its “preservation” of Classical Culture.

      He sees a set of primary oppositions among the three competing Cultures in their central polar points for understanding reality.

      Classical ---------- conceives of the world in terms of matter – form

      Western ----------- conceives of the world in terms of force – mass

      Magian ------------- conceives of the world in terms of good – evil / God – Satan / Life-force --- death-force

      Faustian man of the West is an “I” while the Magian man is a “We”

      “The logos ideal in its broadest sense, as abstraction of the Magian light-sensation of the Cavern, is the exact correlative of the sensation in Magian thought.”

      The central feeling of the Magian Culture, then, is the “cavern-feeling….,” a feeling rooted in fear. Much of this grew out of the contrasting views of Christian religion which grew strong in the Magian world before the rise of Islam. The fear was instilled by the recognition of eternal life and the dangerous struggle to earn it.

      Spengler argues that the two key figures in the development of a “Western” version of Christianity were Paul the writer of epistles, who himself had never seen nor met Jesus, and Mark, the Evangelist of the gospel. Both of them chose to write in Greek and turned the Church in a Greco-Roman direction. As the Western Church developed it was, on Spengler’s view, not Jesus who was at the center, but Mary, particularly as Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows.

      Magian Culture took a different path.

      Because of Paul and Mark, Greek became the language of the Western Church. The Magian Aramaic – the language of Jesus, formed the basis as the Jesus-centered Christianity within Magian Culture and world feeling.

      Marcion and John leaned Eastern. John’s gospel is not synoptic but spiritual, even mystical. Augustine was also more closely allied with this thread than with the more Greco-Roman version. In 250 Mani broke completely with the Pauline church and pushed a version of the church which expected yet another prophet from God. He was crucified in 276, but he had unified many Magian religions.

      Spengler also notes that the Timaeus of Plato was important to Magian doctrines, which is not surprising since Augustine, also deeply influenced by Plato, was active in this movement.

      The Western Christian Church allied with Hellenism. It excluded the Jewish scripture as false. Greek was its language. The Aramaic Church embraced the Jews and Jewish scripture. The Magian church became the Nestorian Church.

      “Augustine’s famous Civitas Dei was neither a Classical Polis nor a Western Church, but a unity of believers….”

      … “Within the Islamic community the State formed only a smaller unit of the visible side, -- a unit, therefore, of which the operations were governed by the major whole. In the Magian world, consequently, the separation of politics and religion is theoretically impossible and nonsensical, whereas in Faustian Culture the battle of Church and State is inherent in – in the very conceptions – logical, necessary, unending.”

      In the years 0-500 there is a

      “…Magian group of religions. It forms an inseparable unit of spirit and evolution, and let no one imagine that any individual one of them can be really comprehended without reference to the next.”

      About 250 there was an explosion of Christian churches in the Magian world, each different in its own manner, but the major issue was “the controversy concerning the nature of Christ.”

      1. Athanasius held that the father and son were of the same substance which in Christ assumed a human form -- the Word made flesh.
      2. Arius held Christ as a demigod, merely “like” in substance to the Father.
      3. Southern view: “…in the living Christ there was not merely a substance, but a single substance.” The divine transmuted itself into a human substance.

      The Magian world developed a quite different version of Christianity, one that was quite consistent with the future coming of the prophet Mohammed and the rise of Islam.


      Spengler points out that while Magian Culture was mainly Arabian, the Jews also lived in and embraced it. In the middle years of the growing Magian Culture many Jews lived in Spain, then controlled by Magian Culture. This created a cultural conflict between the members of Magian Culture, in this case the Jews, and those of the dark ages before the birth of Western Culture.

      “About 500 begins the Jewish Baroque, which Western observers are accustomed to regard, very one-sidedly, as part of the picture of Spain’s age of glory. The Jewish Consensus, like the Persian, Islamic and Byzantine, now advances to an urban and intellectual awareness, and thenceforward it is master of the forms of city-economics and city-science. Tarragona, Toledo and Granada are predominantly Jewish cities. Jews constitute an essential element of the Moorish high society. Their finished forms, their esprit, their knightliness, amazed the Gothic nobility of the Crusades, which tried to imitate them; but the diplomacy also and the war-management and the administration of the Moorish cities, would all have been unthinkable without the Jewish aristocracy, which was very whit as thoroughbred as the Islamic.”

      Spengler goes on to argue that later Western anti-Semitism grew out of this cultural conflict:

      “But an entirely new situation was created when, from about the year 1000, the Western portion of the Consensus found itself suddenly in the field of the young Western Culture. The Jews, like the Parsees, the Byzantines and the Moslems, had become by then civilized and cosmopolitan, whereas the German-roman world lived in the townless land, and the settlements that had just come (or were coming) into existence around monasteries and market-places were still many generations short of possessing souls of their own. While the Jews were already almost fellaheen, the Western peoples were still almost primitives. There was mutual hate and contempt, due not to race-distinction, but to difference of phase. Into all the hamlets and country towns the Jewish Consensus built its essentially megalopolitan – proletarian – ghettos. The Judengasse is a thousand years in advance of the Gothic town. Just so, in Jesus’ day, the Roman towns stood in the midst of the villages on the Lake of Genesareth.”

      Since Classical Culture embraced a large number of different transcendental beings, even whole different religious systems, tolerations was a great virtue. Yet, on Spengler’s view, in the West, with one God, it was that dogma that was virtuous, thus the toleration required for atheistic views (as well and that of non-Christian religions) was forbidden.

      “What we moderns have called “Toleration” in the Classical world is an expression of the contrary of atheism. Plurality of numina and cults is inherent in the conception of Classical religion. But to the Faustian soul dogma and not visible ritual constitute the essence. What is regarded as godless is opposition to doctrine. Here begins the special-spiritual conception of heresy. A Faustian religion by its very nature cannot allow any freedom of conscience; it would be in contradiction with its space-invasive dynamic. Even free-thinking itself is no exception to the rule. Amongst us there is no faith without leanings to an Inquisition of some sort. Expressed in appropriate electrodynamic imagery, the field of force of a conviction adjusts all the minds within it according to its own intensity. Failure to do so means absence of conviction – in ecclesiastical language, ungodliness. For the Apollonian soul, on the contrary, it was contempt of the cult that was ungodly, and here its religion admitted no freedom of attitude. In both cases there was a line drawn between the toleration demanded by the god-feeling and that forbidden by it."

      Spengler seems to have held a traditional view of woman’s role in society.

      “The abundant proliferation of primitive peoples is a natural phenomenon, which is not even thought about, still less judged as to the utility or the reverse. When reasons have to be put able. 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.” It is all the same whether the case against children is the American lady’s who fears that her lover would leave her, or an Ibsen heroine’s who “belongs to herself” – they all belong to themselves and they are all unfruitful. The same fact, in conjunction with the same arguments, is to be found in the Alexandrian, in the Roman and, as a matter of course, in every other civilized society – and conspicuously in that in which Buddha grew up.”

      I was fascinated by the brief paragraph below. What struck me as especially interesting is that not only humans are seen as struggling with loneliness and their own struggle with individuality, but so do other non-human animals. Perhaps Spengler was ahead of his time in this matter. It also speaks of the tremendous BURDEN of freedom and the desire to avoid it.

      “Servitude and freedom – this was the last and deepest analysis the differentia by which we distinguish vegetable and animal existence. Yet only the plant is wholly and entirely what it is; in the being of the animal there is something dual. A vegetable is only a vegetable; an animal is a vegetable and something more besides. A herd that huddles together trembling in the presence of danger, a child that clings weeping to its mother, a man desperately striving to force a way into his God – all these are seeking to return out of the life of freedom into the vegetal servitude from which they were emancipated into individuality and loneliness.”

      (Note that Spengler wrote these views in 1922)

      Spengler is convince that “The means [of ruling] of the present are, and will be for many years, parliamentary – elections and votes.”

      Yet he has a rather dismal view of the ability of modern people to handle this responsibility. I am reminded of his view that when Luther freed people to deal directly with God and not through the intermediary of the priest, they did a miserable job of it.. He thought they were not serious about their religions.

      Similarly here, the thinks that while some form of democracy is here to stay for some time, the mass of people will not much take the level of responsibility necessary for such a task. He is particularly concerned about the role of two factors in subverting and destroying democracy: the role of the modern press and the role of money in politics.

      “And for the modern press, the sentimentalist may beam with contentment when it is constitutionally ‘free’ – but the realist merely asks at whose disposal is it.” He asks of the press: “What is truth? For the multitude that which it continually reads and hears.”

      Further he maintains: “Money dictates. That will be what brings this Civilization to its end, overthrown, eventually by ‘blood.’”

      Spengler believes that political theories of government are much less important to people than what actually happens than the various realities around us. In the end it is DESTINY, not our careful choices that determine the future.

      “Whether these doctrines [theories of government in any Culture] are ‘true’ or ‘false’ is – we must reiterate and emphasize – a question without meaning for political history. The refutation of, say, Marxism belongs to the realm of academic dissertation and public debates, in which everyone is always right and his opponent always wrong. But whether they are effective – from when, and for how long, the belief that actuality can be ameliorated by a system of concepts is a real force that politics must reckon with – that does matter. We of today find ourselves in a period of boundless confidence in the omnipotence of reason. Great general ideas of freedom, justice, humanity, progress, are sacrosanct. The great theories are gospels. Their power to convince does not rest upon logical premises, for the mass of a party possess neither the critical energy nor the detachment seriously to test them, but upon the sacramental hypostasis in their key-words. At the same time, the spell is limited to the populations of the great cities and the period of Rationalism as the ‘educated man’s religion.” On the peasantry is has no hold, and even on the city masses its effect lasts only for a certain time. But for that time it has all the irresistibleness of a new revelation. They are converted to it, hang fervently upon the words and the preachers thereof, go to martyrdom on barricades and battle-field and gallows; their gaze is set upon a political and social other-world, and dry sober criticism seems base, impious, worthy of death.”

      Bob Corbett


      Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


      Bob Corbett