Essay on Spengler

In case anyone feels interest in it, my essay, Oswald Spengler On Democracy, Equality, And “Historylessness,” appears here at The Brussels Journal.  The essay focuses on Spengler’s second book, The Hour of Decision, whose relevance to our own situation increases daily.  It originated in a presentation that I delivered to the annual meeting of the H. L. Mencken Club in Baltimore last November.

19 thoughts on “Essay on Spengler

  1. Thomas,

    You approvingly quote from Spengler:

    Spengler derives the pathological escapism of his age from the seemingly cool attitudes and abstract style of the Enlightenment, about whose fatuousness he draws on a deep well of justifiable contumely. Spengler defines the Enlightenment’s much vaunted “rationalism” as nothing less than “the arrogance of the urban intellect, which, detached from its roots and no longer guided by strong instinct, looks down in contempt on the full-blooded thinking of the past.

    So… the men of the Enlightenment, people such as Voltaire, Jefferson, et al., who defended economic freedom, the market economy, limited government, and natural rights, it’s *their* fault that we live in a world of monetary instability, unsustainable socialist projects such as Medicare and Social Security, and, unrelenting, unceasing militarism and war?

    Rather hard to reconcile with the historical facts, I should think!

    Prior to the Enlightenment, human life was impoverished, ignorant, brutal, murderous, and short. The French actually executed a man in 1766 for “blasphemy”: thankfully, Voltaire protested so eloquently as to make that the last such execution.

    The Enlightenment offered humanity a world of freedom, prosperity, and progress. And, it worked: the nineteenth century advanced the Enlightenment ideals and achieved the greatest progress yet achieved by our species.

    And, then the elite – not the masses! – turned against the Enlightenment, against, as Spengler says, the “seemingly cool attitudes and abstract style” of the Enlightenment and returned to the “full-blooded thinking of the past.”

    The result? Imperialism, resulting in the fratricidal World War I, which led to Bolshevism, Nazism, fascism, and welfarism.

    And, the results of that revolt against the Enlightenment are to be blamed on the Enlightenment?

    *That* is why the West is in decline, because intellectuals and would-be intellectuals like Nietzsche, Spengler, Marx, and you yourself have turned their backs on the ideals of the Enlightenment in favor of the oh-so-wonderful “full-blooded thinking of the past.”

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  2. Physicist Dave,

    The Enlightenment, like your worldview, was essentially a negative position: nothing beyond the sense-perceptible exists, and therefore we must remake society to agree with this insight.

    This project can work, for a while, as long as someone else supplies what is missing. Since man is not an animal, he needs answers to the ultimate questions of life: What is the meaning of human life? What does it mean to live a good life? What duty, if any, do I owe to God, or country, or family, or whomever? Is there a God, and if so, what does He demand of me? The Enlightenment can only answer these questions by saying either “It is impossible to know the answers,” or “We know for sure that there are no answers.” Someone else besides the Enlightenment must supply the answers, and beginning in the Twentieth Century they stopped supplying answers. This is why society has begun to unravel.

    “The Enlightenment offered humanity a world of freedom, prosperity, and progress.” Yes, but it could not deliver on the promise. Or rather, it could only deliver the promise if others did the heavy lifting that the Enlightenment refused to do. Man does not live by freedom, prosperity and progress alone, and as long as others supplied the morale-building spiritual elements that a society needs in order to function reasonably well, the West was basically healthy. But not any more.

    Your view of things shows that you have a very large blind spot. Since you can’t see it, you naturally think we’re crazy. But since what we see is really there, we are not the ones with defective vision.

    • Alan wrote to me:

      nothing beyond the sense-perceptible exists, and therefore we must remake society to agree with this insight….

      Your “therefore” does not follow. Surely, the pre-eminent political exemplars of the Enlightenment were the Founders, and they were hardly determined on a radical reconstruction of society. Jefferson, for example, despite his deism or atheism, was quite content for the government to leave Christian believers alone, as shown by his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.

      No, it is the Romantics and philosophical Idealists who rejected the Enlightenment, beginning with Rousseau (Voltaire despised Rousseau, quite rightly, as an enemy of Enlightenment) and going on through the Romantic anti-capitalists of the early nineteenth century, the young Hegelians, etc. who wanted to radically reconstruct society without regard for the human suffering required.

      Why do you “traditionalists” always state falsehoods about intellectual history in order to traduce the men of the Enlightenment? The Enlightenment stood for peace, commerce (read Voltaire’s glowing praise of the British stock market), science, and free thought.

      And, for two centuries now, people who hate the peaceful, simple life of human flourishing and want a more “fulfilling” society of blood and iron, ideologues of Left, Right, and Center alike, have therefore been libeling the men of the Enlightenment.

      You also wrote:

      Someone else besides the Enlightenment must supply the answers, and beginning in the Twentieth Century they stopped supplying answers.

      Oh, no – from the age of the Albigensian Crusade to the age of Hitler and Stalin to the age of G, W. Bush and bin Laden, “they” have most definitely *not* “stopped supplying answers” at all.

      Plenty of answer from politicians and religious leaders alike – answers that result in untold human poverty, misery, and death.

      And, the responsibility lies with all of you who tell falsehoods about the Enlightenment.


    • Physicist Dave has resisted all our efforts to school him (more accurately: to show him his need of schooling), and has revealed himself to be a well-educated and hostile ignoramus. He has a simple-minded worldview, and refuses to consider even the possibility that he might be missing something important. We should therefore stop wasting our time trying to enlighten him.

      Just for the record, and for the benefit for those who are not blinded by atheistic materialism, we summarize PD’s errors: He believes that the material is all that exists, and that we of the Orthosphere are therefore lost in superstition. But he cannot prove that the material is all that exists, because within his worldview such a proof would be impossible in principle. He is trapped in a system of unbelief, a system which requires him to deny many important truths that he could know, if only he were to widen his thinking.

      And our positions are not symmetrical. We agree with PD that the material world exists and that science does an excellent job of investigating it. We agree with all of PD’s positive knowledge. But, unlike him, we understand that other things exist. We are not blind to the things that he is blind to.

      Also, he regards pre-Enlightenment societies as fundamentally wicked. We, while acknowledging the errors and sins of our fathers, are not as arrogant as he is. We acknowledge that pre-modern societies had virtues our modern societies lack. Unlike PD, we are not guilty of the sin of impiety.

      PD’s position is negative: The nonexistence of the supernatural and the badness of traditional society. But he has given us no good reason to join him in his negativity, and we have good reasons to believe in what we believe in. So we reject his thinking.

      We have no personal quarrel with Physicist Dave, but we want to guard against those errors of his that have poisoned men and societies. He has identified himself as our enemy, so we must act accordingly.

      • Alan Roebuck lied about me:

        He believes that the material is all that exists…

        That is a blatant lie.

        I did not say that and I do not in fact believe it.

        It is wrong to bear false witness, Alan. You should know that.


  3. Beginning with the enlightened revolutionaries of 1789 and continuing with the enlightened socialists and communists of the 20th century, enlightened people have slaughtered hundreds of millions to promote their enlightened ideas, and it has not stopped in enlightened places like China and North Korea. The followers of the enlightened Voltaire (“ecrasez l’infame,” he wrote, meaning, “wipe out religion”) and the enlightened Jefferson dropped bombs on cities, leveling them.

    Tell the dead of the Gulag that the last execution for heresy occurred in 1766.

    • Many years ago, while I was still a libertarian, I genuinely believed that man had attained freedom for a very brief period of time, maybe a generation or three, and then lost it immediately. In fact my attitude was not dissimilar to physicistdave’s.

      What led me to abandon libertarianism was the realization that where the United States went was not, in fact, a divergence from its core principles but a logical fulfillment and forward extrapolation of them.

    • Thomas wrote:

      The followers of the enlightened Voltaire (“ecrasez l’infame,” he wrote, meaning, “wipe out religion”) and the enlightened Jefferson dropped bombs on cities, leveling them.

      Are you really so badly educated in Western history that you think the Marxists and New Dealers and fascists and Nazis are followers of Jefferson and Voltaire?

      Do you know anything about the Enlightenment at all?

      The dominant political ideals of the Enlightenment were natural rights and limited government, especially among the American representatives of the Enlightenment. Do you really not know that?

      Collectivism in all its forms – conservatism, fascism, Nazism, Marxism, democratic socialism – is a revolt against the individualist natural-rights philosophy of the Enlightenment. All those ideologies have been quite open in their contempt for the “bourgeois” Enlightenment ideals of a limited government that does not impose its values upon the people, of natural rights, etc.

      Marx himself, to take one example, was a “young Hegelian,” and Hegel was the leader of the anti-empiricist Idealist school of philosophy. The idea that Hegel or Marx could be blamed on the Enlightenment would be like claiming that Hitler was a Jewish puppet!

      You really do not know all this?

      To everyone here who is so eager to condemn the Enlightenment, despite the stunning ignorance you all exhibit on that topic, I suggest you read the delightfully readable book “Introducing the Enlightenment” by Spencer and Krauze. And, it would be a good idea to follow up with Ingersoll and Matthews’ “The Philosophic Roots of Modern Ideology: Liberalism, Communism, Fascism” to actually learn some historical facts about the competing ideologies.

      Try learning some facts, Thomas, instead of the bigoted ignorance that you are picking up from Feser or whomever you are getting it from.


  4. Modern executions for anti-leftist heresy are a curious thing. They are unthinkable in the centers of the Empire (except when Establishment pawns are encouraged to carry them out indirectly, as in the case of the Antifa who murdered Gay anti-immigration activist Pym Fortuyn) but Obama ordered an Islamist in Yemen assassinated for apparently nothing more than hate speech.

  5. More details:

    Mead has created an entire category of American citizens, “outlaws,” who achieve this degraded status merely by virtue of their beliefs. He admits al-Awlaki broke no “particular set of laws,” but avers that the cleric’s crime was greater than that, because “he was an enemy seeking to destroy all the laws and the institutions that create them.” Yet this is precisely the definition of a revolutionary: that is, one who seeks to upend the status quo, whatever it may be, and create something new. And this new “crime” – or has it always been a crime? – is not necessarily limited to physical acts of destruction: one can, like al-Awlaki, merely “inspire” others by giving “fiery sermons,” and get the death penalty in Mead’s – and Obama’s – book. A faint link to actually planning a terrorist attack is invoked in the case of al-Awlaki’s alleged involvement with the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt, but the evidence for that – as is all the “evidence” involving the murdered cleric – is deemed too “sensitive” for public release. Even the legal justification for the killing has been classified “Top Secret”!

  6. Bertonneau writes of Spengler:

    There is no such thing, in fact, as democracy, that lovely but clinical-sounding word. There is only, in Spengler’s phrase, “radical democratic anarchy.” And that, “radical democratic anarchy,” is really only the disguise of “dictatorship.” Thus for Spengler, democracy so-called is the appearance while dictatorship is the substance of the state in dissolution.

    This is why Socrates and Plato said that democracy always ends in tryanny! Democracy is ochlocracy, mob rule; it creates anarchy, and anarchy turns into tyranny. Why no one pays attention to Plato is beyond me.

    Did you know that the Weimar “Republic” was based on the American pseudo-republic? And yes, “democratic republics” are oxymorons. Actually, republics are mixed governments and one needs a mixed society (one with hierarchy) in order to have a mixed government. Modern republicanism is 180 degrees different, total opposite, of classical republics. America is a “modern republic” not a classical republic. In order to understand the difference here and the necessity of adjectives and the true meaning of a republic please see The classical definition of a republic.

    The so-called “Enlightenment” was a movement of Atheists. See, Atheists are “enlightened” and religious people are backwards and stupid. All the writers of the so-called “Enlightenment”, which I call the Darkening, were majority atheists, then deists, and fringe individuals. The common factor of all the writers of the Darkening was the hatred of the Catholic Church. This hate was the main motivator of the Darkening. Even the abbe Gassendi, a French priest, was an atheist. (Rahe, Against Throne and Altar)

    It seems that hatred of God, leads people to a hatred of reality. Spengler is right in his observations. Many so-called “conservatives” in their hatred of certain aspects of reality like race, and racial differences.

  7. The essay on Spengler was interesting – as was my browse through Decline of the West a few years ago.

    But while the negative critique seems valid on the whole, the positive idea of what Spengler seems to want is pretty unpleasant – at best it is the world view of the noble hope-less pagan, isn’t it?

    In other words, Spengler’s lack of a Christian perspective makes him much less persuasive and authoritative than, for example, Fr Seraphim Rose’s writings on history and the end times (largely compiled from Holy Fathers ancient and more modern).

    Seraphim Rose knows what is the *aim* of a civilization, how to evaluate its success and (more often) failure – Spengler seems much less certain of this, and uses many different criteria of both strength and decadence.

    It is a matter of means and ends. For a Christian, Christianity is the end, and culture/ science/ wealth/ comfort/ security (etc) are all means towards a more devout society; but for non-religious people ‘culture’ (or comfort, or prosperity, or economic growth or military strength or scientific advances…) seem to become ends in themselves.

    Surely it is a sign of decadence when the means becomes the end?

    • We hope he’ll tire of cursing us Neanderthals and go back to more genial company. Somebody who persists at posting the type of comments he’s posted would be a prime candidate for banishment.

      • Whoever controls the board is certainly free to “banish” me if they wish. I am merely pointing out others’ errors and expressing my opinions: I take it some of you do not want to hear contrasting views.

        However, unlike you I am not engaging in blatant lies (as when you accused me of holding views I do not hold, did not express, and explicitly rejected).

        Have I mentioned that I really, really deeply hate those who bear false witness?

      • But you’re not pointing out any errors, dave, you’re merely asserting the same viewpoint despite numerous people pointing out your metaphysical errors. It’s boring. You’re boring. There’s nothing to be gained here by letting you continue to post.

  8. A gentleman responsible for reviving my longstanding (since 1972) interest in Spengler has just died.

    John J. Reilly of New Jersey, orthodox Roman Catholic, lawyer, essayist, book reviewer amateur meta historian and Spenglerian,   entered eternity Wednesday, May 30, 2012. May light perpetual shine upon him.

    I have posted a brief and entirely inadequate tribute to Mr Reilly on my Live Journal site; joetexx at livejournal dot com. I would like to do a little to help keep the memory of this talented man alive.

    The link at my screen name goes to my live journal.

    I urge everyone with an interest in the philosophy of history, religion, science fiction and  cultural history to look at it. The great majority of his writings may be found on the website homepage under his name. His blog, ‘The Long View’,  and his bulletin board forum, to which a variety of interesting folks contributed over the years, are archived at the site.

  9. @TB – I have been re-reading this essay of yours, which was forwarded me by a pen-friend – and greatly liked it (having read and pondered more of Spengler in the intervening years). Certainly Spengler was a man of genius, with extraordinary intuition.

    • Dear Bruce, thank you. Spengler, Toynbee, Guenon, Berdyaev, Ortega, Evola, T. S. Eliot, and a few others were the prophets of our age.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s