Decline of the West

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* Book: Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Ed. Arthur Helps, and Helmut Werner. Trans. Charles F. Atkinson. Preface Hughes, H. Stuart. New York: Oxford UP, 1991


See also: Decline of the West - Abbreviated Version, for the summarizing reading notes of Michel Bauwens.


"Decline belonged to a massive body of literature which took shape between the first and second world wars on the 'Crisis of Civilization', and which includes, among others, works like Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920), Guenon's The Crisis of the Modern World (1927), Freud's Civilization and its Discontents (1929), Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1932), and is often seen, retrospectively, as a kind of manifesto of the pessimistic spirit which plagues Civilization like a demonic double; but it has also acquired the reputation for being not just an embodiment of doubts about the very project of Civilization, but a masterful work of metaphysical poetry (Miller once described it as a "stupendous morphological, or phenomenological, tone-poem"), and thus itself a product of the high culture of the West, and thus, like Foucault, carrying "out, in the noblest way, the promiscuous aim of true culture". It is certainly noteworthy that its author has gained the reputation, rare among 'historians', for being a 'prophet'."


Contextual Quote

"A Culture is born in the moment when a great Soul awakens .. and detaches itself: a form for the formless .. It blooms on the soil of an exactly definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this souls has actualized the full sum of its possibilities. ... The aim once attained, .. the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies. Its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization." (p. 83)

- Oswald Spengler [1]


1. From the Brittannica:

"Der Untergang is a study in the philosophy of history. Spengler contended that because most civilizations must pass through a life cycle, not only can the historian reconstruct the past but he can predict “the spiritual forms, duration, rhythm, meaning and product of the still unaccomplished stages of our Western history.” Unlike Arnold Toynbee, who later held that cultures are usually “apparented” to older cultures, Spengler contended that the spirit of a culture can never be transferred to another culture. He believed that the West had already passed through the creative stage of “culture” into that of reflection and material comfort (“civilization” proper, in his terminology) and that the future could only be a period of irreversible decline. Nor was there any prospect of reversing the process, for civilizations blossomed and decayed like natural organisms, and true rejuvenation was as impossible in the one case as the other."


2. From the Wikipedia:

"The Decline of the West (German: Der Untergang des Abendlandes), or more literally, The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler. The first volume, subtitled Form and Actuality, was published in the summer of 1918. The second volume, subtitled Perspectives of World History, was published in 1922. The definitive edition of both volumes was published in 1923.

Spengler introduces his book as a "Copernican overturning" involving the rejection of the Eurocentric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear "ancient-medieval-modern" rubric. According to Spengler, the meaningful units for history are not epochs but whole cultures which evolve as organisms. He recognizes at least eight high cultures: Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mesoamerican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, and Western or European. Cultures have a lifespan of about a thousand years of flourishing, and a thousand years of decline. The final stage of each culture is, in his word use, a "civilization".

Spengler also presents the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being "Magian"; Mediterranean cultures of antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being "Apollonian"; and modern Westerners being "Faustian".

According to Spengler, the Western world is ending and we are witnessing the final season, the "winter" of Faustian Civilization. In Spengler's depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached."

3. From, by Klemens von Klemperer:

"The Decline of the West (1918-1922) was revolutionary less in its basic ideas than in the impressive breadth of its canvas—a feature for which it was readily attacked by professional scholars— and in its elaborate systematization of cultural and historical pessimism. Spengler’s immediate inspiration was his perception that the civilization of the West since the late nineteenth century was exhibiting the same symptoms as ancient civilization in its decline. He acknowledged the influences primarily of Goethe and Nietzsche; to them he owed “practically everything.” From Goethe he derived his “method,” particularly his way of relating scientific insights to cultural phenomena, and his latent historical relativism. From Nietzsche he acquired the “questioning faculty,” his approach to cultural criticism.

In the work of Edward Gibbon, decline had been a historical theme closely circumscribed by time and space; for Spengler it became a metaphysical one. While Gibbon had seen decline in a broader context of the long-range history of human progress, Spengler used it as an argument against the existence of progress. This difference is a measure of Spengler’s dramatic break with the premises of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. His historicism and antirationalism carried the tradition of German romanticism to its ultimate conclusions; he called his work a “German philosophy.” His ponderousness and lack of humor in fact took him far afield from both Goethe and Nietzsche. Thus the blue flower of German romanticism blossomed for the last time in an icy, apocalyptic twentieth-century setting.

The Decline of the West is described in the subtitle as a “morphology of history.” History is not the study of a coherent evolution (Spengler contra Hegel); it is a comparative study of cultures. Spengler dismissed with vehemence the traditional periodization of world history in terms of ancient, medieval, and modern. Instead he concentrated on eight separate cultures: those of Egypt, India, Babylon, China, classical antiquity, Islam, the West (Faustian culture), and Mexico. Each one of these “powerful cultures” imprints upon mankind its own form, has its own idea, passions, life, and death (Spengler’s historical relativism). Each one, like a plant, goes through the appointed course of youth, maturity, and decline (Spengler’s determinism). Each “culture,” in Spengler’s terms, produces its “civilization,” the latter representing a late, declining phase of that culture: a civilization is “a conclusion, the thing become succeeding to the thing becoming, rigidity following expansion,” intellect replacing the soul. For the linear view of history Spengler thus substituted a cyclical theory such as had last been elaborated in the West by Vico in the early eighteenth century (though one had been propounded in the nineteenth century by the Russian writer Nikolai I. Danilevskii).

According to this theory, historical events are symbolic of the “metaphysical structure of historical mankind.” There is a “morphological relationship” between diverse expressions of human activity—between differential calculus and the dynastic state of the time of Louis xiv, for instance, or between the ancient polis and Euclidean geometry. Furthermore, Spengler saw “contemporaneity” in phenomena widely separated in time—in the Trojan war and the crusades, in Homer and the song of the Nibelungs, and so forth. Napoleon was not a pupil of Alexander the Great but his alter ego. Altogether, historical data, instead of being subject to the law of cause and effect, follow a compelling “fate.” Spengler called his work grandiloquently a “philosophy of fate.” In effect, while he could hardly pass for a philosopher, he was one of the twentieth century’s outstanding visionaries.

Applied to twentieth-century Western civilization, Spengler’s theories opened up impressive social perspectives. His insights into atomized life in the big city (the “megalopolis”), into an age of masses, money, and a new Caesarism are penetrating. For all his mystical vision, Spengler actually raised the very issues that agitate contemporary sociologists. And what is more, many of his predictions have come true.

Spengler’s immediate impact on Germany was electrifying. Although accused of charlatanism by most professional scholars, he became one of the most widely read and discussed authors in the 1920s. At the same time, a number of pamphlets that he wrote after the war, while serving as sketches for and elaborations of his general work, drew him deeper and deeper into the bitter political struggles of the Weimar Republic. Preussentum und Sozialismus (1920) was particularly influential, orphic but compelling. It exhorted the Germans to live up to a type that Spengler, in The Decline of the West, had called the “last race”: strong, heroic, Prussian. Spengler’s politics added up to a violent rejection of liberalism, democracy, and the West, and they contributed vitally to the undermining of the young German republic, which was to him nothing but a “business enterprise.” While Spengler is considered by some to have paved the way for National Socialism, he disagreed with the Nazis on various basic issues (such as race) and many times repudiated the movement (Neubau des Deutschen Retches 1924; The Hour of Decision 1933b). The Nazis, however, used him as one of their ideological fathers, although after Hitler’s seizure of power they dismissed him harshly as a magician of decline, a sadist, and so forth. In the end Spengler died a lonely, almost forgotten man.

After World War n The Decline of the West, its prophecies seemingly borne out by events, came into its own, especially in the United States. Arnold Toynbee’s universal history—which conquered America in the late 1940s—was really something of a Spenglerian heresy, Spengler tempered by British empiricism. Spengler, indeed, left a lasting imprint upon modern “metahistorians” like Toynbee, sociologists like Sorokin, and anthropologists like Kroeber. Finally, a pessimistic mid-twentieth century saw itself reflected in Spengler’s grand scheme."



Paul Klingsnorth:

"Spengler's book The Decline of the West has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I've been putting off reading it. Like its author, it has an intimidating aura. But as spring came I finally sat down with it. Published in 1918, the book - or rather the first of its two volumes - catapulted its author, a previously obscure private scholar, to fame. The combination of date and title might have been reason enough: Germany was emerging shattered from the First World War and beginning its spiral into two decades of catastrophe which would climax with the Second. Decline was very much in the air.

But it wasn't just in Germany that the book took off. Across the West, after the horrors of the Great War, there was a sense that something was terribly wrong. A society that could create and pull much of the world into a hell like the Somme, or Passchendaele (where my own great-grandfather was a sniper) seemed to be suffering from some sickness. All of the pompous, self-regarding imperial tales the European elites had been telling themselves for so long: were they, after all, lies?

Spengler took the long view. The Decline of the West is a comparitive history of civilisations, in which its author claims to have discovered a pattern of birth, growth and decline which can be applied to all major human cultures, from that of Ancient Egypt to that of the modern West. What sounds like a mathematical formula is then rendered in prose which is sometimes closer to poetry (Spengler preferred to call himself a poet, rather than a historian), employing overarching metaphors, sweeping historical claims, layers of polemic and an often-overlooked spiritual undergirding (a culture, to Spengler, was at root a spiritual, rather than a political, creation). All of this resulted in both the instant scorn of professional historians, and an entirely original piece of work. Those two things often go together.

Spengler's model first divided the world up into discrete cultures, which each had a distinct form. He then explained, through comparative examples, what he believed the standard cultural cycle was. First, a 'culture' is born, in a specific part of the Earth. The place itself is the primary influence on the feel and form of the culture, which cannot function properly outside its birthplace. A young culture is 'organic'; that is to say it grows from the bottom up. The peasant, said Spengler - the 'eternal man' - is the base upon which a culture is built. A culture is at root a product of the countryside and the small town.

As the culture grows, it coalesces around a distinct 'Idea'. Each culture exists to fulfill this Idea, though it may not know it. The culture rises and grows, reaches its full potential and then flowers. The Idea floats off into the world like pollen on the wind. This is the golden age. Having fulfilled itself, then, the culture 'suddenly hardens, its blood congeals, its force breaks down and it becomes civilisation.'

At this point, it may create great monuments, build empires, erect glorious buildings, produce great art - yet its life force is already seizing up. Its peasantry is gone, sucked into the urban slums, the small towns have become sprawling cities, its spiritual life has ossified, and its arts have become self-referential. Civilisation has triumphed, and civilisation ultimately only has one final arbiter of value: money.

Eventually, after a century or two of vainglory, such a civilisation becomes a globalised 'cosmopolis'. Great 'world-cities', made up of people uprooted from landscapes far and near, are its heart, but despite their energy these cities - 'the monstrous symbol and vessel of the completely emancipated intellect', where 'money and intellect celebrate their greatest and their last triumphs' - are unable to create or maintain real culture. What was once animal has become machine.

At this point, claimed Spengler, the decline begins in earnest. The uprooting of everything and everyone, the quest for glory, the construction of empires and monuments, the accumulation of wealth and the subsequent dependency upon it: all of it creates an exploited, unhappy mass population in the 'barrack-cities' which are easy prey for corporations, media manipulators and demagogues. Here the arch traditionalist Spengler comes into strange alignment with the communist Karl Marx, with his theory of 'alienation', and with the uncategorisable Simone Weil, with her reflections on the consequences of rootlessness. All are in agreement that the creation of vast populations in industrial megacities are the precursor to turmoil. What kind - and whether the turmoil is to be welcomed or feared - is another question.

Spengler's prediction on this front was clear: the age of cosmopolis was the beginning of the end of all civilisations, from the Chinese Warring States to Ancient Rome. The resulting decline in each case paved the way for 'Caesarism': the rise of demagogues promising to bring order to increasingly formless chaos. After several hundred years of such centralised tyranny, the civilisation would finally succumb to the weight of history and be replaced by another. This, he said, would be the fate of the West; and soon.

So what did Spengler make of this thing we call 'Western culture': what did he mean by it, and what did he predict? What seems to set him apart from other comparative historians, aside from the poetry and the purple passages (always a plus for me) is the way he categorised cultures. This is the part of the book that academic historians really hate, which of course means that it's the most interesting bit. Spengler bunched up great chunks of historical time in entirely unique ways. Rejecting the then-common division of past eras into 'ancient', 'medieval' and 'modern' - a schema which he said was too parochial, and flattered the West by placing it at the centre of the world - he invented his own pattern instead.

First came 'Appolonian culture' - Spengler's term for the Classical world. Appolonian culture, like all others, had its own distinctive forms - arts, architecture, literature and the like, all accreting around key symbols. The symbol of the Appollonian world was the column. Growing out of the ruins of the Appolinian world came a culture invented especially for the occasion by Spengler: the 'Magian', which took in Judaism, Byzantium and early Islam. Magian culture, too, had its own forms and poetry: primarily, as the name suggests, it was a time of mysteries, of questions without answers, of trust in the higher will. Its symbol was the cavern.

Then came the culture in whose dying days we are now all living: the splendidly-named 'Faustian' age. As the name suggests, the Faustian Idea - the soul, the essence which has driven the rise and fall of 'the West' - is expansion, curiosity and an endless forward-drive. An endless need for conquest, invention and exploration define the Faustian soul, which believes to its core that the whole world should follow its example, and that its values are universal.

Faustian culture, said Spengler, was born around the year 1000. Its summer was the high middle ages, its symbol the great Gothic cathedral, its golden age represented by the music of Bach. By the time of the sixteenth century Reformation the decay was setting in, and by 1800 Faustian culture had begun to atrophy into civilisation: Classicism and Romanticism were signs of an increasingly rigid civilisation already looking fondly back to its cultural or natural origins.

With industrial revolution, Enlightenment and empire, the Faustian fire was carried to all corners of the globe, and its core Idea - the onward-push of economic growth, material expansion, 'development', 'progress' and all the other modern mythologies - was seeded across the world by the 'expansion power of the Western soul.' Organic lifeways were replaced by abstract systems, and modern science ('no other culture possesses anything like it') became the 'servant of the technical will-to-power'. Religion declined, to be replaced first by liberalism ('freedom from the restriction of soil-bound life') and then socialism, which in Spengler's broad usage meant the urge to politically reshape the whole world according to egalitarian lights. The Western left, in Spengler’s telling, as the Marxist revolution in Russia had so recently demonstrated, were Faustian too in their totalising universalism and their ruthless destruction of opposition.But even as the West was conquering the world, its own soul was seizing up. By the twentieth century, the direction was clear, and for Spengler the Great War only confirmed it. Only disintegration, followed by Caesarism, a 'return to formlessness', awaited us now. The twenty-first century, predicted Spengler, would be the period in which this would begin. The only realistic response was to adopt some version of stoicism, and hope for the coming of a cultured and suitably strong Caesar to steady the ship as she sank.

It’s probably not necessary to labour the point that one of Spengler's readers did indeed become leader of Germany fifteen years later, and tried to fill the role he believed the author had allotted for him. Spengler was not impressed: the parvenu Hitler was not the Caesar he was looking for, and he had no time for his racial theories about ‘Aryans’. But all Spengler’s talk about ‘blood’ and the ‘vigour’ of nations, not to mention his fear of ‘coloured races’ usurping ‘Prussians’, and the need for a strongman to respond, had fed the tiger which would come to eat his country. He had discovered that we don’t get to choose the shape of our Caesars, or their designs. All we can do is try to make sure we do not prepare the ground for them to spring from.

I expect that those academic historians could still kick a hundred holes in the details of The Decline of the West. What else are academics for? But it is hard to argue that the broad trajectory which Spengler offered was wrong. Now, as we watch a new period in our decline unfurl, with fear and trembling, I find it useful to keep his model in mind. I find it useful to remember that we are the men and women of the Faustian age; that we were formed by it, that its values are in us even if we think we reject them, and that, like any people formed by any culture, we find it hard to see beyond the horizon to what might come next.

What is a culture? It is a story that a people tells itself. Whether or not that story emerges from the Earth and then creates a people to tell it - as Spengler believed and I am tempted to believe too - we build and rebuild our cultures every day, in the stories we tell to our children and ourselves. Stories about who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Stories about the deeper meaning of human life, about what matters, about what we stand for and will not. Stories, ultimately, about Truth. When the story stops being told, the people will disappear; and vice versa. And when the story is turned in on itself, when its tellers lose faith in it, when it is mocked or abused from within, or when it simply burns itself out - then the people begins to dissolve: to come apart, to slough away from the centre, to stumble and eventually to fall."




"The key to Spengler's philosophical anthropology and accompanying philosophy of history is his use of the Faustian legend in popular German literature to interpret modern technology. According to him, humans are the only predators able to select and design weapons for attacking nature and each other. At some point around the tenth century this ability developed to such an extent in Western European culture that humans seized for themselves the prerogatives of domination over nature. This inexorable destiny is a radical break with earlier periods of thought, in which humans saw themselves as subject to nature; yet it was a destiny made possible by nature, when nature gave human beings both mental superiority and hands. The hands are fundamentally weapons. More than a tool of tool, as described by Aristotle, the hand perfects itself in conflict more than manufacture. Indeed just as Spengler interprets the plough as a weapon against plant life, so he sees instruments of worship as arms against the devil. But Spengler does not confuse technology with tools or technological objects. Technology is a set of procedures or practical means for producing a particular end in view. In Spengler's words, technology is the tactics of living, a conception that goes beyond human life. Following Friedrich Nietzsche, he identifies life with struggle, a fierce and merciless struggle that springs from the will to power, with the machine being the subtlest of all possible weapons.

Having placed the origin of Faustian culture in the Nordic countries, Spengler interprets the Enlightenment as the moment when the machine replaced the Creator. The machine became a god, with factories for temples and engineers for priests, whose mysteries were the esoteric features of mechanization. Nineteenth-century machine age industrialization imposed itself on nature with standardized, inert forms that are hostile to the natural world and the precursors of decline. But in order to feed the technological-machinist army Western Europe and North America furthered the destruction of nature across the globe, creating an untameable monster that threatens to conquer humans themselves and lead culture to a grandiose suicide. The tragedy of humanity lies in humans raising their hands against their own mother—nature. All the great cultures defeats. The struggle against nature is a struggle without hope, even though people pursue it to the end.

Contrary to the views of Enlightenment theorists such as Henri de Saint-Simon or Auguste Comte, the domination of nature by Faustian technology does not seek human emancipation, but is the manifestation of a blind will to power over the infinite. As Hermínio Martins (1998) argues, Spengler rejects the rationality of technological history. The history of Western European and North American technology is simply human tragedy because the infinite is always greater than efforts to tame it. Inspired also by Nietzsche's cyclic vision of history, Spengler sees culture, rooted in the soil, being replaced by civilization, in which the intellect prevails, decaying again eventually into culture.

The significance that Spengler attributes to technology, his defense of science-as-technology, his cultural pessimism, and his hostility to liberal, democratic values and institutions were commented on by Max Weber, and influenced thinking during the Nazi regime, despite the fact that he rejected national socialism completely in 1934. Many of his insights and expressions regarding the essentially non-transferable character of Western European and North American technological culture as a destiny, the will to power as the foundation of technology, and the conceptual and ontological dependency of science on technology are further echoed in Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger, as well as in some members of the first generation of the Frankfurt school."



Oswald Spengler on the Evolution of Care Economy Orientations Across Civilizations

- Excerpt from Vol. I; Chapter IV. Part II. Section VI.

(not the full text of the section, but selected phrases, occasionally slightly adapted for smoother sentences - mb)

Oswald Spengler:

"It is the primitive feeling of care which dominates the physiognomy of the Western ("as that of the Egyptians ... and the Chinese") .. It creates the symbolism of the erotic which represents the flowing on of endless life. (p. 102)

Classical man conceived only the here and now:

   - the birth pangs of mother (was) made the center of the Demeter worship
   - the Dionysiac symbol of the phallus (was) the sign of a sexuality wholly concentrated on the moment (p. 103)

The domestic religion of Rome centered on the genius, i.e. the creative power of the head of the family. (p. 103).

To all this, the deep and careful care of the Western soul has opposed the sign of mother love .. The Mother with Child - the future at her breast. The Mary cult in the new 'Faustian' form began to flower only in the centuries of the Gothic. (p. 103)

(Magian Christianity had elevated Maria as 'Theotokos', i.e. 'she who gave birth to God', a symbol felt quite otherwise than by us.", p. 103)

Madonna with the Child answers exactly to the Egyptian Isis with Horus, both are caring, nursing mothers. This symbol had vanished for a thousand years or more! (p. 103)

From the maternal care the way leads to the paternal, and there we meet the State! .. The meaning of the state to the man is comradeship in arms, for the protection of hearth and home. (p. 103)

The state is the inward form of a nation, and .. history .. is the state conceived as kinesis .. The Woman as 'Mother' <is>, and the Man as Warrior and Politician 'makes' history. (p. 103)

The history of Higher Cultures shows us 3 examples of state formations in which the element of care is conspicuous:

   - the Egyptian administration even of the Old Kingdom (from 3,000 BC)
   - the Chinese state of the Chou dynasty (1169-256 BC)
   - the states of the West (p. 103)

On the other hand, we have in 2 examples - the Classical and the Indian - a picture of utterly careless submission to the moment and its incidents. (p. 103)

Stoicism and Buddhism .. are .. one in their negation of the historical feeling of care, their contempt for zeal. (p. 104)

In contrast to "Western Europe, with the model agriculture of the Orders, .. in the Classical world, men managed from day to day .. Casual surpluses were instantly squandered on the city mob. (p. 104)

Great statesmen of the Classical (did not) economically look far ahead. The meaning of the agrarian reform of the Gracchi .. was to make their supporters 'possessors' of the land, NOT 'managers of the land'. (p. 104)

Of this economic Stoicism, the exact antithesis is Socialism .. i.e. (not that of Marx!), the Prussian practice of Frederick William, .. that comprehends care for permanent economic relations, trains the individual in his duty for the whole, and glorifies hard work as the affirmation of Time and Future." (p. 104)

Oswald Spengler on Depopulation Through Childlessness as the End of a Civilization

Source: Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. 2; Chapter IV: Cities and People; Section V, pp. 69-74

Summary transcription based on excerpted text, by Michel Bauwens.

Osward Spengler:

“The Stone Colossus, ‘Cosmopolis', stands at the end of the life course of every great Culture.” (p. 68)

The Culture Man, whom the land has spiritually formed, is seized … by his own creation, the City.” (p. 69)

“The stony mass is the absolute City. These final cities are wholly intellect.

["the heart has (no longer) a prior meaning as the genuine center of a family; the old relation to the land is wholly extinct.” The intellectual Nomad is completely developed.” (p. 69)]

“Cities begin to overflow in all directions in formless masses, eating into the decaying countryside with utility buildings.” (p. 69)

“Now appears …the city of the city architect …In all civilizations, these cities aim at the chessboard form, the symbol of soullessness.” (p. 69)

  • "regular rectangle blocks astounded Herodotus in Babylon and Cortes in Tenochtitlan
  • in the classical world the series of abstract cities begins with Thurii, planned by Hippodamus of Milete in 441
  • Rhodes and Alexandria follow
  • the Islamic Architects laid out Baghdad from 762 and Samara a century later.” (p. 69)

[“I see, long after AD 2000, cities laid out for 10 to 20 million inhabitants, spread over enormous areas of the countryside."]

“These city bodies extended in general not in breadth, but more and more upward.”

[i.e. “ block tenements in Rome; Diodorus tells us of a deposed Egyptian king who was reduced to living in one of these wretched upper floor tenements of Rome.”, p. 70]

“Beginning to end, a peasant cottage and a tenement block are related to one another as soul and intellect. Here there is only forward, never back. … Now, the giant city sucks the countryside dry.. Intellectual nomads... take the city with them into the mountains or on the sea. They have lost the country within themselves. Civilization is nothing but tension!” (p. 70)

[“tension without cosmic pulsation to animate it, is the transition to nothingness.”]

Genuine play... are products of the cosmic beat and as such, no longer comprehensible in their essence.” p. 70)

(Note that above, Spengler is contrasting the artificiality of City Life with the natural pulsation of life in the countryside, i.e. the ‘cosmic beat’.)

“Then, when being is sufficiently uprooted... emerges the sterility of civilized man ..., and the end to the drama.” (p. 70)

=> “The last man of the world city no longer wants to live.” p. 70)

"It is characteristic of this collective existence that it eliminates the terror of death."

["It is to be understood as a metaphysical turn towards death.”]

“As an individual, he may cling to life, but as a type, no.” p. 70)

The key part of the excerpt starts there:

“Children do not happen, .. principally because intelligence at the peak of intensity, can no longer find any reason for their existence.” (p. 72)

“When the ordinary thought of highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s, the great turning point has come. … For Nature knows nothing of pro and con. Everywhere, where life is actual, reigns an inward organic logic, an ‘it’, a drive, that is utterly independent of waking being.” (p. 72)

=> “When reasons have to be put forward, at all, .. life has become questionable.” (p. 72)

“In the Classical world, the practice was deplored by Polybus as the ruin of Greece; in subsequent Roman times, it became appallingly general.” (p. 72)

“The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. But now emerges the ‘Ibsen woman’, the comrade. Instead of children, she has soul conflicts. [“the heroine of megapolitan literature”] (p. 72)

“The same fact … in which Buddha grew up.” (p. 73)

“In Hellenism and in the 19th cy., as in the time of Lao Tzu and the Charvaka doctrine, there is an ethic for childless intelligence.” (p. 73)

“At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation .. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world cities … and finally the land itself. At the last, only primitive blood remains.” [the ‘Fellah’ type]. (p. 73)

The Imperium enjoyed the completest peace; it was rich and highly developed, .. well organized .. and yet the population dwindled, quickly and wholesale … “ (p. 73)

Nothing helped:

  • “The desperate marriage and children laws of Augustus (‘Lex de maritandis ordinibus’)
  • The wholesale adoptions
  • The incessant plantation of soldiers of barbarian origin to fill the depleted countryside
  • The immense food charities .. for children of poor parents

… nothing availed to check the process.” (p. 73)

[“Italy, then North Africa and Gaul, … and finally Spain, became empty and desolate.”]

“The terrible truth came out at last in the edict of Pertinax, AD 193, by which anyone in Italy or the provinces was permitted to take possession of untended lands, and if he brought it under cultivation, to hold it as his legal property.” (p. 73)

“The historical student has only to turn his attention serious to other Civilizations, to find the same phenomena:

  • Depopulation can be seriously traced in the background of the Egyptian New Empire (from the XIX Dynasty onwards)
  • The same tendency can be felt in the history of political Buddhism after the Caesar Asoka.” (p. 73)

“At the end of the evolution, the giant cities … stand empty, harboring a small population of Fellaheen.” (p. 74)

[“Samarra was abandoned by the 10th cy. ; Pataliputra, Asoka’s capital, … was a completely uninhabited waste .. about AD 635; Rome had in the 5th cy of our era, the population of a village.”] (p. 74)

More information

  • Full text versions online:
  2. (vol 2)


  • Today and Destiny: Vital Excerpts from The Decline of the West of Oswald Spengler by Edwin Franden Dakin, 1940.

As recommended by

"The best English-language introduction to Spengler's thought is H. Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (1952).

Other books include

  • E. H. Goddard and P. A. Gibbons, Civilisation or Civilisations: An Essay on the Spenglerian Philosophy of History (1926), and
  • William Harlan Hale, Challenge to Defeat: Modern Man in Goethe's World and Spengler's Century (1932).
  • An extensive discussion of Spengler is in Pitirim A. Sorokin, Modern Historical and Social Philosophies (1963; first published in 1950 as Social Philosophies of an Age of Crisis), and a brief chapter on him is in
  • Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind (1952).
  • Spengler After the Decline (chapter in Prism) by Theodor W. Adorno.
  • Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics by John Farrenkopf, 2001.

Additional Sources:

  • Fischer, Klaus P., History and prophecy: Oswald Spengler and The decline of the West, Durham, N.C.: Moore Pub. Co., 1977.
  • Hughes, H. Stuart (Henry Stuart), Oswald Spengler, New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 1992. "
  • Oswald Spengler by H. Stuart Hughes.
  • Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics by Francis Parker Yockey,1948