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explanation of this document
Oswald Spengler Notes
a183N& Spengler on the bankruptcy of modern ideas. Objection that ideas like egalitarianism and women's lib are often held with the most fanatical fervour. But such ideas are only surface and seem to be necessary when there is nothing else left, no continuing purpose governing society. Then it comes to appear rational to iron out all differences. It appears irrational and unjust that differences should persist, intolerably so to some. What seems particularly unjust is the pretence of purpose when there really is none. Purposelessness, the final purpose being at least to make that plain. Yet it is only a class that feels like this. Intellectuals who respond deeply to Ionesco and Beckett. Sometimes a decadent rationalistic idea thrown up by a dying caste will be seized upon by a new class, a new people, as a suitable vehicle for its energies. Christianity, Buddhism, Russian Marxism.
a61 Is it that I like to see patterns in history, that his vision fits in with my taste for drama on the grand scale with a satisfying moral form? Not chaotic yet amoral, possessing the beauty of natural things. I find his vision beautiful. Mind like Hegel's, but Hegel's vision is less satisfying aesthetically. Futuristic, a process that has not ended, we cannot look outside and contemplate it as organic beauty. It is less convincing, far more artificial. Spengler also does seem to have hit on a great number of truths.
a63 Spengler claims his historical method is Goethean science.
Goethean science, looking at phenomena from an intensely aesthetic point of
view. Not with the humility of the Baconian scientist, but insisting that
phenomena should harmonise as much as possible with the will. Thus new
relationships may be perceived which circumvent the old preconceptions. The
visionary scientist must be very ambitious and must concentrate on developing
the wholeness of his personality as the alchemists did. Cultivate the state of
mind where he finds all compromise with the inexplicable intolerable. S.
approach to history strives to make history on the highest level satisfying to
contemplate. That must be why he is satisfying to read, whereas Toynbee seems a
mere frivolous game player and constructor of ingenious patterns. On Jewish
support of internationalism and other such movements which would tend to make
western culture more like their own. To a mediaeval Jew he said 'home' was any
Jewish ghetto in any city in
aa16 While one cannot agree with Spengler in toto, his full system
offers illumination that a more guarded statement would not. Man of a late
civilisation cannot force himself into a more primitive mode without a horrible
sense of constriction. Soviet
Mohammed's Arabs. How could they abandon all that they were to become something so apparently alien? ...someone who comes from a part of the world where he experiences a cultural inferiority complex will tend to join a movement which helps him overcome that... one cannot do that by going backwards by striving to unknow.
ac39 S. has a lot to say about the limitations of classical culture, of its lack of an infinite. Perhaps freedom is such a concept, freedom or sovereignty of conscience. This is its rational formulation but most of its content could be contained in a pre rationalistic religious form. A way out of an impasse. Impulses to which Luther and Calvin spoke
ad102 Shaw as inspiration for Spengler's pessimism.
ad344 Plausibility of Spengler's general scheme. An inspiring idea of
a culture may be thought of as like a piece of technology, certainly a form of
magic. It enables a type of social organisation to form, this runs
through various stages until decadence, exhaustion, ensues due to the victory
of a democratic or plebeian spirit, when the popular type of mind emerges
supreme. When the inspiring ideas have become fully diluted, spread downwards
throughout society, then it is that massiveness and grandiosity are the best
that can be achieved in the way of creative expression.
ad40 Spengler saw Weininger as a great Jewish mystic, a late religious consciousness destroyed in the agony of an essentially Magian dualism
ae19 Condition of truth in a state of Spenglerian decadence. Say you have some powerful inner feeling conviction or realisation. It ought to be possible to express this, to communicate, make yourself understood. That is at least some kind of solution, at least you could hand on the torch. but suppose you meet with complete incomprehension ........the idea that in a common culture we could intelligibly map out our differences may be quite wrong.
ae268 Spengler on Faustian man. Faustian man is discontented with the
Christian scheme, he finds it irksome, he is in rebellion against the God of
the Jews. The tensions come out in
ah108Spengler right or wrong? there is much in him that seems profoundly right. Any suggestion that he is wrong is in need of explanation and elucidation. How could it be that a creative idea actually could be effective. Anti Spengler. Sometimes not seeing the wood for the trees. Oxbridge elite, the preoccupation with success, with effectiveness. Almost as if present society were in a satisfactory state and not decadent at all. The natural effect of the decadence of society, its established institutions would be to share in that decadence.question. Might decadence have been avoided if different steps had been taken in 1828? Is there something inevitable in the decline of a civilisation? Spengler's vision more compelling than Toynbee's.
ah125 Suggestion that the Spenglerian thesis need not apply, that democracy and equality for example are by no means inevitable but only the result of the ideas adopted by the dominant party within society.
aj131 Thinkers anticipating paralleling or influencing others. Spengler may seem so right about modern civilisation. His views confirmed in many writers from Henry Miller to William Burroughs and Chaudhuri. But then one finds that all of these were influenced by Spengler. So what does this prove? Just that Spengler created a world view which I tend to share? Is there no way in which he was right against people who hold an entirely different world view?
ak206 Spengler foreseeing the demise of socialism & its replacement by a universal demoralising scepticism.
am103& What Spengler did to Chamberlain, what Derrida did to Nietzsche Creating a culture of hypothesis. Basing upon a logical fallacy a fascinating construction like a non Euclidean geometry. Something that gives permission to believe a great variety of things. but there can be a kind of Nietzschean core to it. 'Nothing is true', but something desired can be insinuated. Post modernist culture as inspired by uncriticised ideas. As the intellect abdicates something else takes over. Spengler claims to survey the whole world of values. He claims if anything to be a sceptic and a relativist. In fact he bestows some quite clear and definite values upon history, uncriticised because unexaminable.......S. an intellectual pleasure akin to some modern deconstruction. S's wonderful vision, his mood of defeatist contemplation. But a satisfaction in a claim to a kind of understanding. Scepticism an easy concept. Claiming to be a nihilist, one simply surrenders to the unconscious.
am146 Relativism ought to be found extremely disturbing. If it is not that is because some value or idea is clung onto irrationally as an authority. S. gives a value & meaning to all the phenomena of history that he surveys. He does not see a clamour for his own allegiance. The early movement of Antinomianism. One could say it is slavish to take your values on authority without questioning them. Abandoning, for example, Chamberlain's racism allows the exploration of a great number of different viewpoints. But you have an unconscious perspective when you think you have no perspective at all. You use the energy of a basic dualism that is just the way your mind works for the moment, result of the habits you have developed and led by curiosity.
am149 Wyndham Lewis on Spengler (Time and Western Man). He does not read his comparison of classical with Faustian as I do. He sees S. as asserting the superiority of the Faustian at every point. I don't find this at all, only the assertion of difference. Which lets us see that the classical had its own standard of perfection which is inaccessible to us. He criticises Spengler's insistence on incomprehensibility. There is something in this. But in history there do seem to be principles of development that take time to reach full articulation. He sees Spengler as vulgar and populist, that despite the all pervasiveness of the Faustian, Spinoza as a Jew is outside it, suggesting perhaps that race is more important. Also that there may have been other outsiders.
am282 Marx, Nordau, Hegel, Spengler, Mcluhan. All seem to make values depend on extraneous factors. The arrogant and often persuasive assurance of insight. To browbeat people of different values and persuasions. Pouring contempt upon them. Spengler seems more acceptable than all the others because the orientation of his so called insights is not so repressive.
am94 H.S. Chamberlain as the great undiscovered influence on so many modern ideas. His relation to Spengler. What Spengler does to him. The source of some of Spengler's own deepest ideas, which through relativising he conceals. Chamberlain rooting in Kant's practical reason his sense of creativity as the one real value of history. Parallel with the deconstructionist interpretation of Nietzsche. The turning of Nietzsche into a radical relativist and sceptic. This is what Spengler is. The value Sp. places on history is something he conceals. It is a hidden assumption. Thus he presents his theory as the last or latest child of time.
am96 Reading Houston Stuart Chamberlain, who is dishonest enough in his own way, I can see the essential dishonesty in S. He sees himself as deriving from Nietzsche but there is more HSC there. Idea of the value of creativity for its own sake. Quite a trippy idea. Poetry. ...Kant. Spengler hides this particular source. Of course he fits himself into his relativistic scheme, but he presents himself as terminal pessimist and sceptic. The intense affirmation behind his poetic vision of creativity in history is concealed taken for granted............
an314 Spengler's chapter Primitives, Culture-peoples, Fellaheen.
Its brilliance. .. Trouble is that German culture is still surely dangerous,
partly because it is in some respects so superior. The German language brings
German literature. Some of the best German literature is most skilful and
profound rhetoric in favour of anti democratic forces. The cultural task of
aq108 The Mediaeval synthesis at the time
cc118 Toynbee's value judgements seem to betray a lack of understanding of the Heracliteanism that infuses Nietzsche and Spengler’s historical criticism, ie something does not have to last to be good and maybe transience and conflict are the essential prerequisites of high excellence. Also the total relativity of valuations that would be made by different groups at any one time. Also his condemnation of 'man worship' smacks of pious platitudinising of previous generations of historians. Generalisation in history must always amount to over simplification. The reason for his anti Heracliteanism is to be found in the fact that he is a man of his time, with the typical prejudices of the modern educated, liberal, Englishman. Prejudices have deteriorated in quality since the days of Gibbon when they were the expression of an enlightenment outlook, in a neo classical age of high culture and sound instinct. Spengler had assimilated much of the work of Nietzsche's genius.
ee51& Gordon Childe and his economic determinism. Different from Spengler. How to reconcile. Economic conditions make possibilities, environments. The will to utilise these may greatly depend upon motivating ideas which are subject to change development and decay. Adaptability. Is an idea viable? What determines the viability of an idea? Is all under the law of variation & selection a kind of random process? Or is there a feeling that goes with rightness, a subjective method of assessing what is viable and what is not? Is there some kind of appeal to instinct to inspiration? ..Octopi...
ee69 Pseudo science often a means of reacting to sets of phenomena as much as or rather than scientific theories. Thus perhaps we may see all kinds of historical theories the Spenglerian, the progress theory, the retrogression theory, as all equally applicable according to the purpose required.. Childe on the bronze age.
ff137 Against Spengler. Why we should study the Greeks, not from the culturally relativistic viewpoint that they give us a different perspective of special interest to us in our civilisation because we relate at certain points. ..all high points on same level.. self refuting.... There is a scale on which the Greeks excelled all others, so it is possible to talk objectively about the aims and achievements of different civilisations. S's value in showing these aims in an interesting light and that we do have to understand aims before we can begin to evaluate.
ff141& Comparison with Sorel and Nietzsche. Spengler does not say that the modern businessman is heroic only that he is inevitably what Nietzsche reduces to in the modern world. Falsity here. N. was far more farseeing than Spengler.
ff4 Spengler's most pessimistic conclusion, that the west will never escape from Christianity.
ff71& S writes that the most vital experience of spiritual forces possible in our age comes through socialism.. communal feeling etc....It may be in one sense that socialism is the most vital doctrine etc...Yet there nevertheless remains the possibility of the esoteric, which in a sense involves a conquest over the forces of the age. The spiritual vitality of socialism is to be felt as a result of yielding to the 'inertia' of the age ....much could be written against this aspect of Spenglerian determinism.
kk211 Spengler projects a short term trend, socialism and
egalitarianism, into an inexorable final historical force. What makes our high
culture is the number of different kinds of learning to which we have access.
Dean Norman, in his Reith lecture, says that Marxism is the form in which
intellectual seriousness expresses itself at the present day. Perhaps that
overstates the case. Conflict and dynamic tension are caused by ides and systems
which clash and the attempt to resolve them. Forces like classical culture, the
Catholic church, hermetic wisdom, cabbalism, science, all in conflict, give
motion and purpose to culture. Socialism, understood as a driving force towards
tyranny or mediocrity is the Mask (to borrow, perhaps adapting, Yeats's term}
of the present day. This takes different forms in east and west. We still have
an intellectual class which is interested in ideas. There is no reason to think
we are finished, if new ideas, new forces can come from somewhere. The culture
nn110 His genius, beautiful patterns he wove with his general ideas. Proof of what can be done with these things. Compare Freud. Fascination. It is like music. Older cultures knew the joys of this kind of thing but they spoke in symbolic languages which are mostly lost to us.
ss122 His analysis takes place from a particular perspective, namely the relativistic detachment with which he views all ideas and philosophies. He is the sceptical observer, for him all the forms taken by civilisation, art ideas etc. are as it were manifestations of life energy. He sees a progressive decline in the quality and originality of those forms, largely to do with the eventual triumph of a democratising egalitarian spirit. Whatever truth in the viewpoint, it is very illuminating, but is it really the right approach to value all these forms from such a purely aesthetic standpoint? If such a position is the only standard by which we could judge the worth of an idea we would surely be very ill equipped to come up with present day equivalent of what was best in the past. Such purely aesthetic motives provide no inspiration for action. It is the aesthetic motive itself that is so paralysing. The future will no doubt be full of surprises and there are ways of capturing euphoria which equip us for action. Having put ourselves into a condition of euphoria we become capable of perceiving beauty where we could no before. Benedictine monastery . If Spengler is right to think of modern society as decadence perhaps we do not have to partake of this decadence.
uu127 Spengler writes that intolerance is basic to the whole Faustian world view, inescapable whether you are an anarchist a romantic Catholic or Buddhist. All such people Spengler expects to find among his readers. He conveys a real sense of intellectual and spiritual adventure. Shame that the profound German culture had to end in the catastrophe of the third Reich.
uu130 We may talk today of transvaluing all our values; we may as Megalopolitans go back to Buddhism or Paganism or a romantic Catholicism, we may champion as Anarchists an individualist or as Socialists a collectivist ethic- but in spite of all we do will and feel the same II p346.
uu167 Spengler on Proclus, saying that Proclus was as intolerant as the Christian fathers. Even if he was, arguably it was less reprehensible. He was still a counter revolutionary. He wanted to replace the harmful decadent propaganda with a good positive healthy propaganda. He made the same mistake as some fascists made.
uu86 Against Spenglerian pessimism, say, for example, we regret the lack of creativity or beauty in modern culture. Consider what might possibly be done about it, best hope lies in the dissemination of ideas. Comparable world weariness at the close of the middle ages. Mcluhan's comparison of dance of death with theatre of the absurd. Renaissance and new culture it brought with it largely the product of deliberate dissemination of ideas on the part of neo platonic philosophers and magi. ..provide them with the appropriate emotional and aesthetic charge and then let them out in the world to do their work. Spengler sees himself as some kind of socialist and the possibilities of change as largely predetermined. Eliade. ... correctness of some of Spengler's observations.
vv1 After the great synthesis, the rationalisation, the formulation of an adequate rule, there are no tasks left to perform. But every completed idea breeds its antithesis, its negation, which appeals to the excluded. Hence communism, Marxist-Leninism, following on from imperialism as its antithesis. The communism of the true believer is especially repellent. Yet for some people servitude as it is is extraordinarily attractive. As soon as the synthesis is perfected the antithesis arises. The synthesis is not given time. Christianity and Marxism almost precisely parallel. Hegel contains a lot of half truths and so does Spengler.
xx355 Chaudhuri says, wisely enough, that a fault of recent western civilisation is that recently some of its ideals have been set by servile or proletarian elements. Only criticism one might make of this that it assumes a certain Spenglerianism that civilisation at any one time has an 'idea' the Hegelian suggestion that this is generally accepted.
yy205 There is a pretence that our society is flourishing according to all the old forms. That Ted Hughes & Philip Larkin are major poets worthy to be classified with the greats of literature. Is this something like what Spengler calls pseudomorphism? we have a success structure that depends upon the pretence that a lot of the traditional categories still have figures to fill them...
zz203 People committing themselves to socialism for reasons which an awareness of Spengler or D.H. Lawrence might render obsolete. The anti Spengler perspective. It may be trying to get what energy and kicks still seem available.
ar215 From Theodore Kisiel:- The genesis of
Heidegger's Being and time. Heidegger on Spengler p 337:- "Confidence in the possession of universally valid
sentences replaces the repeated questioning back to the original ground- giving
contexts of being which constitute the respective ground matters of the
sciences. This applies especially to the research whose task is to
interpretatively expose the self referential dimension of Dasein itself, in
particular "intellectual history" (Geisteschichte + history of the mind
or spirit) and philosophy. A time can claim the "historical
consciousness" as its own unique possibility for self interpretation. It
works itself out by taking a full look at the full range of the most remote and
exotic cultures of world history. It controls this wandering look by way of
classification and the systematic recording of types.
And since the way a time views the past is the criterion by which it interprets and evaluates itself, the present is also subjected to a comparative typology. (Spengler's physiognomic morphology thus naturally prompts him to predict a 'decline of the west'.
"Systematic and dialectic philosophy provide the foundation for such ordering schemes. Subsumption under a type becomes the goal of knowledge, that is, of a knowledge whose basic preoccupation is really a concealed curiosity. And although these research endeavours seek ultimately to interpret "humanity", the question of Dasein in its being is seldom raised, or it is explored in terms of an already finished system or an unquestioned definition of man as a "rational animal". Even a philosophy of life" by and large strays into the study of the manifold forms of cultural expression of life or its worldviews. To the degree that life itself in its being and as "being" is thematised, it is interpreted in terms of the being of the world or of nature. But the
sense of being remains in the indifference of a self evident and unquestioned verbal concept… the explication of the being experienced by Dasein as Dasein and the development of the ontology suitable for this entity is suppressed by the latent domination of Greek ontology in the externalised form in which it has come to us by way of traditional interpretations".
This assault on Spengler's vision, this assault on the romantic, the
tourist, this promotion of the sick soul. It is very like the Christian attack
on paganism. How to deal with it? "Existential"
"transcendentals". The aim to destroy that romantic freedom. We look
back on pagan culture. Certainly that had its tensions. Looking back to
something else. We have to go beyond it. But we confront the criticisms of the
Christians not by reversion to paganism, but by going forward into
anti-Christianity. How is this an advance on original paganism? That would be
vulnerable to renewed infection. The trouble with the Italian renaissance.
These things are not abstract. I cannot be a mere pagan, that is all there is
to it. I desire the pagan freedom that comes from negation. But not little
other links:- post war bibiliography:-http://www.connix.com/~gapinton/spengler.html