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

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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)