Spengler on Democracy & Equality

I gave this presentation some years ago at one of the annual conferences of the H. L. Mencken Club in Baltimore. (I am unsure of the year.) Evidently the organizers of the event recorded the talk — and to my surprise I found it while browsing the web (is that phrase still in use?) for Spengler-related lectures and podcasts.

13 thoughts on “Spengler on Democracy & Equality

  1. Pingback: Spengler on Democracy & Equality | Reaction Times

  2. When you think about it, true freethinkers are a aberration, like albinos or hermaphrodites. A social animal is supposed to think what the herd thinks, and rogues are expelled from the herd. I am not really proud of my mental eccentricities, and know for certain they have caused me a good deal of trouble. Life would be much easier of my changing mind kept in step with the group mind. It would be nice to have people nod in agreement when I say things, and not look puzzled, worried, or indignant.

    • I know not whether I am a true freethinker. I would not claim the title. It might be, however, that I have acquired the capacity to discern true freethinkers and distinguish them from the herd mentality. Reading Spengler, Voegelin, Girard, Gans, and others midwifed my discernment, such as it is. Being kicked out of my undergraduate studies — and not returning to complete my BA for almost eight years — meant that when I entered the graduate program I was older than most. I had had more time to observe myself and could sense the limit of what I knew. The know-it-all, for I had been one, was now painfully obvious to me. Equally obvious to me was the fact that university faculties and the graduate school enrollment were full of know-it-alls, who had no idea what they were. But I am meandering…

      • Of course the term freethinker was first used as as a name for 18th century apostates from Christianity. Their thinking was extremely conformist within their own circle, but they were free insofar as they were psychologically capable of sustaining dissident thoughts with respect to the majority opinion and public doctrine of their day. One irony of this website is that our banner suggest orthodoxy but all the writers are freethinking dissidents who would ruin a polite cocktail party if they took a drop and spoke their minds. In any case, freethinking is hard because it looks to outsiders (i.e. to the majority) like ignorance (you can’t understand their logic), madness (you can’t understand anything), or wickedness (you don’t care about the truth). Freethinking is antisocial in the simple sense that it is more or less detached from the social mind.

  3. It is shocking how astute (dare one say prophetic) Spengler’s analysis of the democratic trajectory was then and remains so today. I think it fair to say that since Bertonneau’s talk in 2011-12, our own society has finally in 2020 tipped from ressentiment into nihilism. The young seem to have no anchor beyond hedonism, which inevitably leads to despair or outrage at the frustration of their unrealistic expectations. Now, they are taking to the streets because, as someone once suggested theoretically, they have nothing to lose but their chains.
    As JMSmith notes, mental eccentricities are more often a burden than a boon. My own experience is the slow transformation from a rare, if rarely appreciated, Voltairean wit, ever ready with a clever aphorism or an incisive critique, to a generic “privileged” cis-het white male bigot whose utterances merely confirm that I am evil and worthy only of death, whether social or actual.

    • The paradox has grown on me that the present can only comprehend itself (but never fully) by listening to the past. That is the very structure of consciousness.

  4. I’m still of the mind that once one rejects Perfection, his “freedom” is the radical unraveling of a desire to annihilate the self. The actualization of this “freedom” is “final liberation,” ie., total annihilation. Thus, “radical autonomy” also serves the expedient necessity of the “unprincipled exception.” Many desire death just not quite yet. And this is really radical when one cannot, right now, justify his own existence.

    So “we” are amongst millions of people who have revealed themselves as being possessed of a belief in total annihilation, possessing a desire for self-annihilation and in no possession of a defense of their very own existence AND YET “they” continue to LIVE, lurch and leach per “radical autonomy.”

    • @Thordaddy. I grapple with my imperfections all day long, every day. While I have never been quite sure what you mean by “Perfection,” insofar as you find yourself attracted to Spengler’s analysis of modernity, then let it be said that we have a convergent sympathy with a great mind. The same past is speaking to you and me in the present and it informs our consciousness. As my Baptist grandmother, a Swede, used to say: More power to you!

      • I grapple with my imperfections all day long, every day. — Dr. Bertonneau

        I take this to mean that you are constantly confronting those “wrongs” — against yourself, against others and most importantly, against God— and in some way or another attempting to make these “wrongs” Right? I assume that “grappling” in this instance suggests that such a remaking of “wrongs“ into Right is not always possible? Which brings us to Perfection as He who wills ALL Right. The attraction of the Orthosphere, IMHO, is in its authors’ willingness to will their audience Right. In other words, I come here to read Kristor, Dr. Bertonneau, JTSmith, Alan Roebuck and the like because in doing so I am led Right. And with this inspiration is one’s own motivation to will further Right and seek that “place” where one neither wrongs himself, wrongs others nor wrongs God. This, I suggest, is tantamount to seeking Perfection in the most mundane manner.

  5. Dr. Bertonneau,
    I too have greatly enjoyed (as always) your recent posts. I’ve only recently read Voegelin and am plowing through Evola at the moment. Both reference – although perhaps not always admiringly? – Spengler. As a convert to Roman Catholicism and an almost exclusive Latin Masser – and one whose parents keep trying to witness away from the whore of babylon – I find myself a bit skeptical to these giants. In a “should you win the world but lose your soul” sort of way. I keep telling myself that the world is more than tangentially related to my soul and thus therein lies the importance. So many times I want to shake Evola and say, “yes but we are not warring against flesh and blood! So suit up, sir, and join our ranks!” The intersection between the here and the hereafter has always interested me, and I’m tempted to throw in with the desert fathers and call it a day. Perhaps it is “the” question of all questions. Anyway, thank you for your writing and speaking. I have greatly profited from both.

    • Spengler and Evola belong to an ensemble in my reading-list. Other members of that ensemble are Henri de Lubac, Gabriel Marcel, Simone Weil, and Rosalind Murray — all Catholic in their confession. I believe that you will agree with me that one difference between the Left and the Right is that the Left is Puritanical and wants nothing to do with anything that deviates, even slightly, from its ideology; whereas the Right tends to be eclectic. I take exception to a number of Spengler’s assertions, especially to his notion that there is no continuity from Classical Culture to Western Culture, but when he turns his gaze to modernity and works out his critique, then I find it so illuminating that I can only value it and take it to heart. I would say the same for Evola.

      Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read my prose.


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