Spengler’s View Of The Last 2,000 Years Of Civilization: A Thumbnail Sketch


[Post Two in a series]

According to Oswald Spengler, “the only Culture of our time and on our planet which is actually in the phase of fulfillment” is the “Western” Culture, that version of Civilization, a little difficult to pin-down in distinct attitudes or geography, but which most acknowledge as being fathered by Western Europeans and their descendants. Spengler writes that Western Civilization is the third Civilization of the last 2,000 years to achieve such world pre-eminence, the other two being the Classical (Greco-Roman) and what I label for now the Middle-Eastern (which for Spengler, appears to include Persians, Jews, and Arabs).

Each of these Civilizations, like every Civilization, has held a distinct worldview. The Middle-Eastern Civilization (which Spengler labels the “Magian“) sees the world as a “cosmic drama” between a personified Good and a personified Evil, with the big event being the appearance of the coming “Savior.” .

Spengler says that the “springtime” of this Magian Civilization occurred during the first 300 hundred years A.D.  It will peak several centuries later.  Exemplars of the Magian Springtime include: Gnostics, Neoplatonists, Manichaeans, and the early Church fathers. Spengler also reaches back and brings into the Magian fold the followers of the Zend Avesta and of the Talmud. Furthermore, the Magian worldview extends so far forward as to include Spinoza, whom Spengler writes was “little appreciated” as being “the last belated representative of the Magian.” 

In the Magian worldview, there is a constant and fundamental interplay of mysterious “substances” possessing “visible or secret attributes,” as well as a “dualism” of “Spirit” and “Soul.”  Spengler does not much explain the Spirit/Soul distinction. Perhaps he sees Spirit as the Earthly life-force and Soul as that which is eternal in us (if anything is)– but, as with the other Civilizations he mentions, he actually spends little time discussing the Magian (although it is the Civilization he discusses third most).

The two Civilizations Spengler is really comparing in his opus, The Decline Of The West, are the Classical and the Western– which he, with his un-self-acknowledged German bias labels, respectively, the Faustian (Goethe reference) and the Apollonian (Nietzsche reference). The worldview of the Classical is supposed to be static, and concerned with matter and form. The West’s outlook is said to be centered upon the idea of progression and the interplay of force and mass. This difference in worldviews will affect every aspect of the different developments of the Classical and Western Civilizations and explain how they evolved to be so different in spite of their sharing of the same general pattern which all Civilizations, according to Spengler, follow.

One important characteristic which sets the Western apart from the Classical, says Spengler, is that the West (thanks to Spengler, I suppose) has become aware of the underlying pattern which all Civilizations follow. “We know our history,” writes Spengler, and we know as well, generally speaking, how it will end for us. The Classicals died without comprehending the trajectory of their own fate.  However, Western Civilization possesses the “peculiar endowment” of being aware of its own destiny. We in the West realize (those of us who have read our Spengler at least) that “before us stands a last spiritual crisis that will involve all Europe and America,”  and that this spiritual crisis is the onset our own Civilization’s decline– a fate which we cannot escape since it befalls every Civilization.

Spengler explains that each culture undergoes both an “inward and outward fulfillment” which, upon completion, results in the inevitable “finality.”  The Western decline will be “entirely comparable” to the decline of the Greco-Roman world “in course and duration.” Spengler predicts that the decline of the West will occur, approximately, during the years 2000 to 2200 or 2300, but that it is “heralded already and sensible in and around us today.”  (I will go into the WAY our Decline is heralded in a future post).

Spengler never gives any advice on how we are to handle the coming Decline, other than that we should be aware of it.  Perhaps he envisions some sort of soft-landing, or assumes that it will somehow be less painful if we are aware of what is happening. “Everything depends upon our seeing our own position, our Destiny, clearly,” he writes– but he never explains WHY “everything” depends on this, what good it does to know of our approaching doom. Here merely adds, unhelpfully, that, “though we may lie to ourselves about it, we cannot evade it.”  Okaaay…

Western Civilization is unusual in a second way as well, and that is that we hold in such high regard a certain previous Civilization.  “In all history so far,” writes Spengler, “there is no second example of one Culture paying to another Culture long extinguished such reverence and submission in matters of science as ours has paid to the Classical. It was very long before we found courage to think our proper thought.”  The West was basically carrying the dead body of the Classical World on its back.  Due to this high regard for the Classical, the West was long held captive in a sort of cultural bondage to the Greco-Roman mindset. “The history of Western knowledge,” writes Spengler “is thus one of progressive emancipation from Classical thought.”

—   —   —   —   —

More posts on Spengler’s Philosophy Of History from Hammering Shield:

Culture vs Civilization In Spengler                              The Metaphysics Of Spengler

Spengler On Decline In Art & Philosophy                  Spengler On The Will To Power

Spengler On The Pre-Determination of History


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s