Critical Estimate of Oswald Spengler

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  • Book: H. STUART HUGHES. Oswald Spengler. A CRITICAL ESTIMATE. Scribner's 1952.

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CHAPTER I. 1918: A Portent 1

CHAPTER II. 1911: The Intellectual Temper 14

CHAPTER III. 1911: The Historians and the World Outlook 27

CHAPTER IV. The Decline: Sources and Influences 51

CHAPTER V. The Decline: The Morphology of Culture 65

CHAPTER VI. The Controversy: From Germany to the United States 89

CHAPTER VII. The Twenties: The Political Phase 98

CHAPTER VIII. Spengler and National Socialism 120

CHAPTER IX. The New Spenglerians 137

CHAPTER X. Spengler and His Detractors 152


Some background on The Decline of the West's writing and publishing history:

"Originally the book was to have been entitled “Conservative and Liberal” and was to have been a political work primarily concerned with Germany. Twenty-one years later, in 1932, Spengler recalled how he had been “terrified” by the “folly” of his country’s foreign policy, “which was calmly accepting the complete encirclement of Germany,” by the “blindness” of everyone around him, by the “criminal and suicidal optimism” then pre¬ vailing.

As his ideas matured, however, their scope broadened. The emphasis began to shift from politics to the rhythms of cul¬ ture. In 1912, the sight in a bookstore window of a history of the fall (Untergang) of the ancient world at length gave him the idea for the title of his own book.

Two years later, when the war broke out, the first draft of the Decline was completed. During the war years, Spengler revised and added to his manuscript. By 1917, it was ready for publication. But then began the “endless difficulties” of finding a publisher. After most of the prominent German houses had turned it down, it was finally accepted by Wilhelm Braumiiller of Vienna.

Of the original single-volume edition (the contents of a promised second volume were announced), only fifteen hundred copies were printed."" (p. 7)

Spengler's Morphological Method

"Spengler called his method “morphological.” That is, it represented an application to history of the biologist’s concept of living forms. Each culture, in this view, was an organism, which like any other living thing went through a regular and predict¬ able course of birth, growth, maturity, and decay. Or, in more imaginative language, it experienced its spring, summer, autumn, and winter. This biological metaphor provided the conceptual frame giving unity and coherence to the rest.

Within each culture, Spengler insisted, certain basic attitudes permeated all of life and thought. Properly defined and under¬ stood, these attitudes would give the key to the history of the whole culture. While they could most readily be identified in the realm of aesthetics — in the plastic arts and music and, above all, in architecture — they exercised an equally pervasive influence over the forms of economics, war, and politics, and even over so unlikely a field as mathematics. To the historian who knew what to look for, the most amazing correspondences among all such fields of activity would suddenly spring to view. Taken together, these basic attitudes formed what one of Spengler’s critics has called a “master pattern” — a characteristic cast of the human spirit working itself out in the history of every culture of which any record remains."

(pp. 10-11)

All of these “master patterns” were different, and every culture formed a distinct bloc of spiritual and physical reality, clearly delimited from its predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Yet each one went through the same morphological stages.