Oswald Spengler, Prophet of World Chaos
Article IV. Spengler's Spirit-Deserted History
Published 3 September 1922
Especially brilliant is the world-historic perspective in which Spengler sees the state. He would like to grasp it in its reality. But he does not succeed in rightly evaluating the unconscious, instinctive human relations out of which the life of the state first evolves. This is because it lies entirely outside his method of observation to seek for real spiritual forces in that unconscious something which in primitive conditions links one man to another. He finds the connections to be caused in the blood. But he does not see how the spirit works in the blood, how it expresses itself in the instincts.
As the spirit becomes gradually more conscious to man, it appears to the consciousness in a more and more abstract form. It becomes what Spengler has described it as: mere truth, the inefficacious soul-content of the contemplative man; nothing for the acting man who lives in facts.
Thus Spengler's inquiry into the origins of human community life finds the active nobility, which spends itself entirely in the world of facts, living in the stream of history and making history: and the meditative priesthood, which lives only in truths and really carries on its existence outside of history.
Spengler does not rightly evaluate the priesthood which in early cultures is the inspirer of the deed-men and which, by counselling and giving direction, works further in the deed-men. If he could rightly evaluate this he would see how the deed-men only execute with their arms what the deed-determining spirit-men plan.
Spengler achieves a right historical evaluation only with those facts in which the influence of the impulses of the spirit-men ceases and the outer side of historical life becomes more visible; in those cases in which it seems as if the bearers of the fact-stream did not trouble themselves about the inspiration of the spirit-men. For this is only a seeming. Through a thousand channels the impulses of the “counsellors” flow into the deeds. It is as though Spengler were entirely blind to these channels. For only thus can he continue to speak everywhere of the “blood.” Only thus can he come to the view which he expresses in the words: “The nobility is the true Estate, the sum of blood and race, being-stream in the fullest imaginable form.”
If we place ourselves at the point of departure of Spengler's perspectives in order to see what can be seen in them, we must confess that his presentation is brilliant. He depicts half-truths, which appear in this perspective with especially sharp contours. He describes acutely how the priesthood slips out of the sphere of spiritual impulses and achieves an efficacy which comes from the forces of the blood: “The history of the papacy, right into the eighteenth century, is that of a few noble families which competed for the tiara in order to found princely family-fortunes. This is equally true of Byzantine dignitaries and English prime ministers (witness the family-history of the Cecils) and even of many leaders of great revolutions.”
For Spengler, “history” is what wells out of the blood of the ruling Estates. [The German word Stand seems best translated as Estate, especially since he follows the traditional grouping into three estates, nobility, clergy, and bourgeoisie.] In the “state” this stream is only as it were materialized. The reality of the onward-moving facts, which spring from the Estates, is crystallized into a sort of illusion in the state, which seeks to hold fast in space (with a diminished reality) what the Estates are continually creating in time. For Spengler that which works itself out between the Estates in the cooperation and clashes of the blood-forces becomes history. “It follows from this that true history is not cultural; in the sense of anti-political, as the philosophers and doctrinaires of all beginning civilizations assert. On the contrary, it is breed history, war history, diplomatic history, the history of being-streams in the form of man and woman, family, people, estate, state, reciprocally attacking and defending in the wave-beat of grand facts.” Certainly Spengler is ten times right in thus describing the cultural-historic standpoint which derives its facts from what men think although these facts are only the economic, artistic, or scientific expression of what the Estates work out among themselves. But he has no eye for the way in which, half conscious and half unconscious, the spirit works through men and brings itself to manifestation in the blood. And this spirit is not what Spengler has in mind when he says (rightly in his way:) “A Culture is Soul that has arrived at self-expression in sensible forms, but these forms are living and evolving.” For the efficacious spirit is what appears, as a living rather than an abstract truth, in weaving thoughts as the basis for every human deed.
Thus what Spengler sees as history correctly portrays only those Cultures [We capitalize Cultures and Civilizations because of the special way in which Spengler uses and distinguishes the two terms.] which are an expression of the blood-based deed-forming faculty of the Estates and classes.
Therefore, Spengler cannot find the deepest impulses of the present. And just this is important to him. He contemplates the past of the various Cultures in order to gain perspective into the future. But present-day humanity, in all significant Cultures and Civilizations, has reached the point where man, as man, frees himself from those historical associations whose birth, maturing, and aging Spengler sees as history. Man is about to develop, out of his own individual inner faculties, what formerly was developed into him by Estates and classes. This world-historic moment, which is here despite all decline in the Cultures, and on account of which just those Cultures which alone Spengler recognizes as such are crashing down, this world-historic moment must be taken up by a living, active, spirit-borne will. (In my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity I tried to characterize man within this world-historic moment as a will-being supported by moral thought-intuitions.) But for Spengler there is no longer any deed-impulse for man when he frees himself from the old associations. Spengler's ideas become sharp and incisive when, out of his perspective, he describes this loosening of the bond. “The nobility of every spring-time has been the Estate in the most primary sense, history become flesh, race at highest potential. The Bourgeoisie has definite limits; it belongs to the Culture; it embraces, in the best sense, all who adhere to it, and under the name of people, populus, demos, rallies nobility and priesthood, money and mind, craftsman and wage-earner, as constituents of itself. This is the idea that Civilization finds prevailing when it comes on the scene, and this is what it destroys by its notion of the Fourth Estate, the Mass, which completely rejects the Culture and its matured forms. ... Thus the Fourth Estate becomes the expression of the passing of a history over into the history-less. The mass is the end, the radical nullity.”
But in this nullity the world-historic moment of the present must seek the historical “all,” not in the Fourth Estate or in any other, but in Man (of all Estates) who now for the first time must find, out of the deepest inner sources, the true force of freedom. But we do not smooth the way to this freedom when, purely out of the blood-relationships in Spengler's historic perspectives we describe freedom thus: “It was a creative enthusiasm in the man of the city that from the tenth century B.C. (and ‘contemporaneously’ in other Cultures) drew generation after generation under the spell of a new life, with which there emerges for the first time in human history the idea of freedom. ... Of this freedom the city is the expression; the city-spirit is understanding become free, and everything in the way of intellectual, social, and national movements that bursts forth in late periods under the name of Freedom leads back to an origin in this one prime fact of detachment from the land.”
In Spengler's perspective, this seems to be true, but it is equally untrue from a wider standpoint. For the process of becoming inwardly aware of the deepest soul-forces of humanity, which process lives itself out in the impulse of freedom, is a historical moving force which founded cities in order to experience freedom in an external fact.
Only one who can see this moving force will be able to see in the present time the beginning of a period which will fetch history out of the innermost parts of man and will thus be an advance over the epochs which inserted history into man. One who cannot see this will, like Spengler, see only an end, which is the expression of all that this distinguished representative of the modern method of thought has found in the preceding cultures. “With the formed state, high history also lays itself down weary to sleep. Man becomes a plant again, adhering to the soil, dumb and enduring ... The mighty ones of the future may possess the earth as their private property — for the great political form of the Culture is irremediably in ruin — but it matters not, for formless and limitless as their power may be, it has a task. And this task is the unwearying care for the world as it is, which is the very opposite of the interestedness of the money-power age, and demands high honor and conscientiousness. But for this very reason there now sets in the final battle between Democracy and Caesarism, between the leading forces of dictatorial money-economics and the purely political will-to-order of the Caesars. ... The coming of Caesarism breaks the dictature of money and its political weapon democracy. ... For us, however, whom a Destiny has placed in this Culture and at this moment of its development — the moment when money is celebrating its last victories and Caesarism, its heir, is approaching with quiet, firm step — our direction, willed and obligatory at once, is set for us within narrow limits.”
In face of this one can only say: may the men of the present and the near future find the force of the spirit, so that out of free will this will not become history! May a time come when a spiritually oriented view will not say, as Spengler does: “And a task that historic necessity has set will be accomplished with the individual or against him.” Rather let us hope that a time may come in which what the individual can form in freedom out of his world-experience will become historical necessity. Spengler is a personality who has great wit, but who takes it to be his mission to sweep away everything spiritual in nature and history.