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Oswald Spengler, Prophet of World Chaos
GA 214

III. Oswald Spengler II

9 August 1922, Dornach

The author whom I discussed here the last time should really provide much food for thought for those very people who count themselves in the Anthroposophical Movement; for Oswald Spengler is a personality who has a scientific mastery of a very large part of all that can be known today. It can be said that he has complete command of the great variety of thoughts that have become the possession of civilized humanity in the course of recent centuries. Spengler can be regarded as a man who has assimilated a large number of the sciences, or at least the ideas contained in them.

The thought-combinations he achieves are sometimes dazzling. He is in the highest degree what may be called in Central Europe a brilliant man — not in France, but in Central Europe; Oswald Spengler's thoughts are too heavy and too dense for western — that is, French — genius; but, as has been said, in the Central European sense he may undoubtedly be regarded as a brilliant thinker. He can hardly be called an elegant thinker in the best meaning of the word, for the investiture of his thoughts, in spite of all his cleverness, is certainly extremely pedantic. And it can even be seen in various places that out of the sentence-meshes of this gifted man the eye of a Philistine unmistakably peers forth. In any case, there is something unpolished in the thoughts themselves.

Well, this is more what might be called an esthetic consideration of the ideas; but the important point is this: we confront here a personality who has thoughts, and they are in keeping with the spirit of the time, but he really has a poor opinion of thinking in general. For Oswald Spengler regards as decisive for the real happenings in the world not what results from thinking, but in his opinion the more instinctive life-impulses are the deciding factors. So that with him thinking really floats above life, as something of a luxury, we might say; and from his point of view, thinkers are people who ponder on life, from who's pondering however nothing can flow into life. Life is already there when thinkers appear who are ready to think about it. And in this connection, it is entirely correct to say that in the world-historical moment when a thinker masters the special form of present-day thoughts with something of universality, at that very moment he senses their actual sterility and unfruitfulness. He turns to something other than these unfruitful thoughts, namely, to what bubbles up in the instinctive life, and from the point of view thus provided he sees the present civilization. This really appears to him in such a way that he says: Everything that this civilization has brought forth is on the way to ruin. We can only hope that something instinctive will emerge once again from what Spengler calls “the blood,” which will have nothing to do with what constitutes present civilization, will even crush it, and put in its place a far-reaching power arising only from the instinctive realm.

Oswald Spengler sees that people of the modern civilization have gradually become slaves of the mechanistic life; but he fails to see that just through reaction, human freedom can result within this mechanistic life — that is, technical science in general — because it is fundamentally devoid of spirit. He has no notion of this; but why is this so?

You know that in the last lecture I quoted the passage in which Spengler says: The statesman, the practical man, the merchant, and so on, all act from impulses other than those that can be gained from thinking; and I said more or less jokingly: Oswald Spengler never seems to have noticed that there are also father-confessors, and others in similar positions. Neither has Spengler adequately observed something else, in regard to which the relation to the father-confessor represents only a decadent side-issue, from a world-historical point of view.

When we go back in humanity's evolution, we find everywhere that the so-called men of action, those people who have outwardly something to do in the world, turned, in later times to the oracles, and in earlier times to what can be recognized in the Mysteries as the decrees of the spiritual world. We need only to observe the ancient Egyptian culture to see that those who learned in the Mysteries the decrees of the spiritual world transmitted what they discovered by spiritual means to those who wished to become, and were intended to be, men of action. So that we have only to look back in the evolution of humanity to find that it is out of the spiritual world, not out of the blood — for this whole theory of the blood is about as mystically nebulous as anything could be — it is not, then, out of the obscure depths of the blood that the impulses were derived which entered into earthly deeds, but out of the spirit. In a certain sense the so-called men of action of that time were the instruments for the great spiritual creations whose directions were learned in the spiritual research of the Mysteries. And I might say that echoes of the Mysteries, which we see everywhere in Greek history, play a part in Roman history, and they are also unmistakably to be found even in the early part of the Middle Ages. I have called your attention, for instance, to the fact that the Lohengrin-legend can be understood only if one knows how to follow it back from the external physical world into the citadel of the Grail in the early, or properly speaking, in the middle part of the Middle Ages.

It is, therefore, a complete misunderstanding of the true progress of humanity's evolution when Oswald Spengler supposes that world-historical events originate in any way in the blood, and that what the human being acquires through thoughts has nothing to do with these events. Looking back into ancient times we find that when people had tasks to perform, they were to a large extent dependent upon research in the spiritual world. The designs of the Gods had to be discovered, if we may so express it. And this dependence upon the Gods existing in ancient times made the human being of that time unfree. Men's thoughts were completely directed toward serving as vessels, as it were, into which the Gods poured their substance — spiritual substance, under whose influence men acted.

In order that men might become free, this pouring of substance into human thoughts on the part of the Gods had to cease; and as a result, human thoughts came more and more to be images. The thoughts of the humanity of earlier times were realities to a far greater degree; and what Oswald Spengler ascribes to the blood are those very realities which lay hidden in the thoughts of ancient humanity, those substances which still worked through men in the Middle Ages.

Then came modern times. The thoughts of men lost their divine, substantial content. They became merely abstract thought-images. But it is only thoughts of this kind that are not constraining and coercive; only by living in such thought-images can man become free.

Now throughout recent centuries and into the twentieth century there was organically present in man scarcely more than the disposition to fashion such thought-images. This is the education of man toward freedom. He did not have the atavistic imaginations and inspirations of ancient times: he experienced only thought-images, and in these he could become ever more and more free, since images do not compel. If our moral impulses manifest in images, these impulses no longer compel us as they once did when they lay in the ancient thought-substance. They acted upon human beings at that time just as nature-forces; whereas the modern thought-images no longer act in this way. In order, therefore, that they might have any content whatsoever, the human being had, on the one hand, either to fill them with what natural science knows through ordinary sense-observation, or, on the other, to develop in secret societies, in rites or otherwise, something which was derived more or less from ancient times through tradition. By means of sense-observation he thus gained a science which filled his thoughts from without, but these thoughts rejected more and more anything from within; so that if man's thoughts were to have any inner content at all, he was compelled to turn to the ancient traditions, as they had been handed down either in the religious denominations or in the various kinds of secret societies which have flourished over the whole earth. The great mass of mankind was embraced in the various religious denominations, where something was presented whose content was derived from ancient times, when thoughts still had some content. Man filled his thoughts from without with a content of sense-observation, or from within with ancient impulses which had become dogmatic and traditional.

It was necessary for this to occur from the sixteenth century up to the last third of the nineteenth; for during that time human cooperation throughout the civilized world was still influenced by that spiritual principle which we may call the principle of the Archangel Gabriel, if we wish to employ an ancient name (it is only a terminology; I intend to indicate a spiritual Power); this Being, then, influenced human souls, albeit unconsciously in modern times. Human beings had themselves no inner content, and because they accepted a merely traditional content for their spirit-soul life, they were unable to feel the presence or influence of this Being.

The first really to become aware of this utter lack of spiritual content in his soul-life was Friedrich Nietzsche; but he was unable to reach the experience of a new spirituality. Actually his every impulse to find a spirit-soul content failed, and so he sought for impulses as indefinite as possible, such as power-impulses and the like.

People need not merely a spiritual content which they may then clothe in abstract thoughts, but they need the thorough inner warming which may be occasioned by the presence of this inner content. This spiritual warming is exceedingly important. It was brought about for the majority of people through the various rituals and similar ceremonies practiced in the religious denominations; and this warmth was poured into souls also in the secret societies of more recent times.

This was possible in the time of Gabriel, because practically everywhere on the earth there were elemental beings still remaining from the Middle Ages. The farther the nineteenth century advanced the more impossible it became — entirely so in the twentieth century — for these elemental beings, which were in all natural phenomena and so forth, to become parasites, as it were, in the human social life. In most recent times there has been much which has unconsciously resisted this condition.

When in these secret societies which followed ancient tradition — it is really unbelievable how “ancient” and “sanctified” all the rituals of these societies are supposed to be — but when rituals were arranged or teachings given, in the sense of ancient tradition, when something was developed in these societies which had been carried over as an echo of the ancient Mysteries, no longer understood, conditions were exactly right for certain elemental beings. For when people went through all sorts of performances — let us say, when they attended the celebration of a mass, and no longer understood anything about it, the people were then in the presence of something filled with great wisdom; they were present, but understood nothing at all of what they saw, although an understanding would have been possible. Then these elemental beings entered the situation, and when the people were not thinking about the mass, the elementals began to think with the unused human intellect. Human beings had cultivated the free intellect more and more, but they did not use it. They preferred to sit and let something be enacted before them from tradition. People did not think. Although conditions are becoming entirely different, it is still true today that people of the present time could do a vast amount of thinking if they wished to use their minds; but they have no desire to do this; they are disinclined to think clearly. They say rather: Oh, that requires too much effort; it demands inner activity.

If people desired to think they would not enjoy so much going to all sorts of moving pictures, for there one cannot and need not think; everything just rolls past. The tiny bit of thinking that is asked of anyone today is written on a great screen where it can be read. It is true that this lack of sympathy with active inner thinking has been slowly and gradually developed in the course of modern times, and people have now almost entirely given up thinking. If a lecture is given somewhere which has no illustrations on the screen, where people are supposed to think somewhat, they prefer to sleep a little. Perhaps they attend the lecture, but they sleep — because active thinking does not enjoy a high degree of favor in our time.

It was precisely to this unwillingness to think, lasting through centuries, that the practices of the various secret societies were in many ways adapted. The same kind of elemental beings were present that had associated with human beings in the first half of the Middle Ages — when experiments were still going on in alchemistic laboratories, where the experimenters were quite conscious that spiritual beings worked with them. These spiritual beings were still present in later times; they were present everywhere. And why should they not have made use of a good opportunity?

In most recent centuries a human brain was gradually developed which could think well, but people had no wish to think. So these elemental beings approached and said to themselves: If man himself will make no use of his brain, we can use it. And in those secret societies which cherished only the traditional, and always kept emphasizing what was old, these elementals approached and made use of human brains for thinking. Since the sixteenth century an extraordinary amount of brain-substance has been thus employed by elemental beings.

Very much has entered human evolution without man's cooperation — even good ideas, especially those appertaining to human social life. If you look around among people of our time who would like to be more or less informed about civilization, you will find that to them it has become an important question to ask what it is, really, that acts from man to man. People should think, but do not; what does act, then, from man to man? That was a great question, for instance, with Goethe, and with this in mind he wrote his Wilhelm Meister. In this story your attention is constantly drawn to all sorts of obscure relations of which people are unconscious, which nevertheless prevail, and are half unconsciously taken up by one and another and spread. All kinds of threads are interwoven; and these Goethe tried to find. He sought for them, and what he could find he aimed to describe in his novel, Wilhelm Meister.

This was the condition existing in Central Europe throughout the nineteenth century. If people today had any kind of inclination to spend more time with a book than between two meals — well, that is speaking figuratively, for usually they go to sleep when they have read one-third between two meals; then they read the next third between the next two meals, and the final third between the next two — and in that way, it is somewhat scattered. It would be good for people if even those novels and short stories that can be read between two meals, or between two railroad stations, stimulated reflection. We can hardly expect that at the present time; but if, for example, you should look up Gutzkow, and see how in his book, The Magician of Rome, and in his The Champions of the Spirit he has searched for such relations; if you take the extraordinarily social concatenations sought by George Sand in her novels, you will be able to notice that in the nineteenth century those threads, arising from indeterminate powers and working into the unconsciousness, everywhere played a part; you will notice that the authors are following up these threads, and that in their efforts they — George Sand, for example — are in many ways absolutely on the right track.

But in the last third of the nineteenth century it gradually came about that these elementals — who in the first place thought with the human brain and then, when they had taken possession of human minds and brought about the social conditions of the nineteenth century, really spun these threads — that these beings now at last had enough. They had fulfilled their world-historical task — we might better say, their world-historical need. And something else occurred which particularly hindered their continuing this kind of parasitic activity. This proceeded exceedingly well at about the end of the eighteenth century, then remarkably so in the nineteenth — but after that point of time these elemental beings attained their aims less and less; this was because an increasing number of souls descended from the spiritual world to the physical plane with great expectations regarding the earth-life.

When people have screamed and kicked as little children — and now in more recent times have had their meager education, they have by no means become conscious that they were equipped with very great expectations before they descended to earth. But this lived on nevertheless in the emotions, in the entire soul-organization, and still continues to live today. Souls really descend to the physical world with exceedingly strong expectations; and thence come the disillusionments which have been unconsciously experienced in the souls of children for some time past, because these expectations are not satisfied.

Chosen spirits who had especially strong impulses of anticipation before descending to the physical plane were the ones, for example, who observed this physical plane, saw that these expectations are not being satisfied here, and who then wrote Utopian schemes of how things should be, and what could be done. It would be exceedingly interesting to study, with regard to entrance through birth into physical existence, how the souls of great Utopianists — even the lesser ones and the more or less queer fellows, who have thought out all kinds of schemes which cannot even be called Utopian, but which reveal much goodwill to form a paradise for people on earth — how these souls who have descended from spiritual worlds were really constituted with regard to their entrance upon the physical earth-plane.

This descent filled with anticipation is distressing for the beings who are to make use of such human brains. They do not succeed in using the brain of the human being when he descends to earth with such anticipation. Up to the eighteenth century those descending had far less expectation. Then the use of the brain by those other beings, not human, went well. But just during the last third of the nineteenth century it became exceedingly uncomfortable for the beings who were to make use of the brains of people descending with such expectations, because these led to unconscious emotions, which were felt in turn by the spiritual beings when they wanted to make use of the human brain. Hence, they no longer do this. And now it is a fact that there exists in modern humanity a very wide-spread and increasing disposition for human beings to have thoughts, but to suppress them. The brain has been gradually ruined, especially among the higher classes, by the suppression of thoughts. Other beings, not human, who formerly took possession of these thoughts no longer approach.

And now — now human beings have thoughts, it is true, but they have no idea how to use them. And the most significant representative of the kind of people who have no understanding of what to do with their thoughts is Oswald Spengler. He is to be distinguished from others — well, now how shall we express it in order not to give offense when these things are repeated outside, as they always are — perhaps we must say that others completely neglect their minds in their early years, so that their brains tend to allow thoughts to disappear in them. Spengler differs from others in that he has kept his mind fresh, so that it has not become so sterile; he is not absorbed only in himself, occupied always with himself alone.

It is true, is it not, that a great part of humanity today is inwardly jellied (yersulzt, if I may make use of a Central European expression that perhaps many may not understand. Sulze is something that is made at the time of hog-slaughter from the various products of the killing which are not of use otherwise, mixed with jelly-like ingredients — what cannot even be employed for sausage-making is used for Sulze.) And I might say that as a result of the many confusing influences of education the brains of most people become thus versulzt. They cannot help it; and of course, we are not speaking at all in an accusing sense, but perhaps rather in an excusing sense, feeling pity for the jellied brains.

I mean to say, when people have only the one thought: that they have no idea what to do with themselves; when they are as if squashed together, compressed and jellied — then these thoughts can be very nicely submerged in the underworlds of the brain, and from there plunged more deeply into the lower regions of the human organization, and so on. But that is not the case with such people as Oswald Spengler. They know how to develop thoughts. And that is what makes Spengler a clever man: he has thoughts. But the thoughts a man may have amount to something only when they receive a spiritual content. For this result a spiritual content is needed. Man needs the content that Anthroposophy wants to give; otherwise he has thoughts, but is unable to do anything with them. In the case of the Spenglerian thoughts it is really — I might almost say — an impossible metaphor comes to me — it is as if a man, who for the occasion of a future marriage with a lady has procured all imaginable kinds of beautiful garments — not for himself, but for the lady — and then she deserts him before the wedding, and he has all those clothes and no one to wear them. And so you can see how it is with these wondrously beautiful thoughts. These Spenglerian thoughts are all cut according to the most modern scientific style of garment, but there is no lady to wear the dresses. Old Boethius still had at least the somewhat shriveled Rhetorica and Dialectica, as I said some weeks ago. These no longer had the vitality of the muses of Homer and of Pindar, but at any rate all seven arts still figured throughout the Middle Ages. There was still someone upon whom to put the clothes.

I might call what has arisen, Spenglerism, because it is something significant; but with it the time has arrived when garments have come into existence, so to speak, but all the beings who might wear these beautiful thought-garments are lacking — in other words, there is no lady. The muse comes not; the clothes are here. And so people simply announce that they can make no use of the whole clothes-closet of modern thoughts. Thinking does not exist at all for the purpose of laying hold on life in any way.

What is lacking is the substantial content which should come from the spiritual worlds. Precisely that is wanting. And so people declare that it is all nonsense anyway; these clothes are here, after all, only to be looked at. Let us hang them on the clothes-racks and wait for some buxom peasant-maid to come forth out of the mystical vagueness, and ... well, she will need no beautiful clothes, for she will be what we may look for from the primordial Source.

This represents Spenglerism: he expects impulses from something indeterminate, undefined, undifferentiated, which need no thought-garments, and he hangs all the thought-garments on wooden racks, so that at least they are there to be looked at; for if they were not even there to be seen, no one could understand why Oswald Spengler has written two such thick books, which are entirely superfluous. For what is anyone to do with two thick books if thinking no longer exists? Spengler allows no occasion to become sentimental, or we should find much that is amusing. A Caesar must come! but the modern Caesar is one who has made as much money as possible, and has gathered together all sorts of engineers who, out of the spirit, have become the slaves of technical science — and then founded modern Caesarism upon blood-borne money or upon money-borne blood. In this situation thinking has no significance whatever; thinking sits back and occupies itself with all sorts of thoughts.

But now the good man writes two thick books in which are contained some quite fine thoughts; yet they are absolutely unnecessary. On his own showing, no use whatever can be made of them. It would have been far more intelligent if he had used all this paper to ... let us say, to contrive a formula by which the most favorable blood-mixtures might come into existence in the world, or something like that. That is what anyone with his views should do.

What anyone should do corresponds not at all with what he advocates in his books. Anyone reading the books has the feeling: Well, this man has something to say; he knows about the downfall of the West, for he has fairly devoured this whole mood of destruction; he himself is quite full of it. Those who are wishing to hasten the decline of the West could do no better than make Oswald Spengler captain, even leader, of this decline. For he understands all about it; his own inner spirit is completely of this caliber. And so he is extraordinarily representative of his time. He believes that this whole modern civilization is going to ruin. Well, if everyone believes likewise, it surely will! Therefore, what he writes must be true. It seems to me that it contains a tremendous inner truth.

This is the way the matter stands; and anyone whose basis is Anthroposophy must really pay attention to just such a personality as Oswald Spengler. For the serious consideration of spiritual things, the serious consideration of the spiritual life, is precisely what Anthroposophy desires. In Anthroposophy the question is certainly not whether this or that dogma is accepted, but the important thing is that this spiritual life, this substantial spiritual life, shall be taken seriously, entirely seriously, and that it shall awaken the human being.

It is very interesting that Oswald Spengler says: When he thinks, a man is awake (that he cannot deny), but anything truly effective comes from sleep, and that is contained in the plant and in the plantlike in man. Whatever in the human being is of a plantlike nature, he really brings forth in a living state: sleep is what is alive. The waking state brings forth thoughts; but the waking existence results only in inner tensions.

Thus it has become possible for one of the cleverest men of the present to indicate something like this: What I do must be planted in me while I sleep, and I really need not wake up at all. To awake is a luxury, a complete luxury. I should really only walk around and, still sleeping, perform what occurs to me in sleep. I should really be a sleep-walker. It is a luxury that a head is still there continually indulging in thinking about the whole thing, while I go about sleep-walking. Why be awake at all?

But this is a prevailing mood, and Spengler really brings it to very clear expression, namely: The modern human being is not fond of this being awake. All sorts of illustrations come to me. For instance: When, at the beginning of the Anthroposophical Society years ago, a lecture was given, there were always in the front rows people who even outwardly accentuated sleeping a little, so that proper participation might be visible in the auditorium, so that properly devoted participants might be visible. Sleeping is really exceedingly popular, is it not? Now most people do it silently: on the occasions I have mentioned the people were well-behaved in this regard; if there are no specific sounds of snoring, then people are well-behaved, are they not? That is, they are at least quiet. But Spengler, who is a strange man, makes a noise over what other people are quiet about. The others sleep; but Spengler says: People must sleep; they should not be awake at all. And he makes use of all his knowledge to deliver an entirely adequate thesis for sleep. So what it comes to is this: that an exceedingly clever man of the present time really delivers an adequate thesis for sleep!

This is something to which we must pay attention. We need not make a noise about it, as Spengler does; but we should consider this, and realize how necessary it is to understand the waking state, the state of being more and more awake, which is to be attained precisely through something like the spiritual impulses of Anthroposophy.

It must be emphasized again and again that it is necessary for wakefulness, actual, inner soul-wakefulness, gradually to become enjoyable. Dornach is really felt to be unsympathetic, because its purpose is to stimulate to wakefulness, not to sleep, and because it would like to take the waking state quite seriously. It would really like to pour awakeness into everything, into art, into the social life, and most of all into the life of cognition, into the whole conduct of life, into everything to which human life is in any way inclined.

You may believe me, it is indeed necessary to call attention to such things now and then; for at least in such moments as this, when we are together again only to interrupt these lectures for a short time until my return from Oxford, it must be pointed out, as so often, that precisely among us a certain inclination to be awake must gain a footing. There must be an appropriation of what Anthroposophy contains, in order to relate it to man's waking existence. For that is what we need in all spheres of life: to be truly awake.