Oswald Spengler

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Spengler, Oswald

(spĕng`glər, Ger. ôs`vält shpĕng`glər), 1880–1936, German historian and philosopher. His studies covered many fields, among them mathematics, science, philosophy, history, and art. His major work, The Decline of the West (2 vol., 1918–22; tr. 1926–28), brought him worldwide fame. Spengler maintained that every culture passes a life cycle from youth through maturity and old age to death. Western culture, he believed, had proceeded through this same cycle and had entered the period of decline, from which there was no escape. Spengler upheld the ideal of obedience to the state and supported German hegemony in Europe. His refusal to support Nazi theories of racial superiority led to his ostracism after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

Bibliography

See critical study by H. S. Hughes (1952).

Spengler, Oswald

 

Born May 29, 1880, in Blankenburg in the Hartz Mountains; died May 8, 1936, in Munich. German idealist philosopher, representative of the philosophy of life.

Spengler became famous after the sensational success of his principal work, The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes, vols. 1–2, 1918–22; Russian translation, vol. 1, 1923). During the 1920’s he was a publicist of conservative-nationalist views and was close to fascism; in 1933, however, he rejected a proposal to collaborate with the Nazis. Hitler’s regime boycotted Spengler, but this did not prevent the ideologists of Nazism from widely utilizing Spengler’s ideas, converting them into weapons for their own demagogical purposes.

The philosophy of F. Nietzsche was a decisive influence on Spengler. Spengler proceeds from the concept of organic life, subjected to unlimited expansion. Culture is treated as an organism that, in the first place, possesses the most rigid, thoroughgoing unity, and, in the second place, is individuated from other, similar organisms. This means that there is not, nor can there be, any single culture for all mankind; the idea of unilinear progress is subjected to ridicule.

Spengler enumerates eight cultures: the Egyptian, Indian, Babylonian, Chinese, Apollonian (Greco-Roman), Magian (Byzantine-Arabic), Faustian (Western European), and Mayan; the birth of a Russo-Siberian culture is awaited. Each cultural organism, according to Spengler, has its limits predetermined (approximately 1,000 years), depending on its internal life cycle. In dying, a culture is reborn as a civilization. Civilization as opposed to culture is, on the one hand, the equivalent of the Spenglerian concepts of dead extension, a soulless “intellect,” while, on the other hand, it stands within the context deriving from Nietzsche’s concept of mass society. The transition from culture to civilization is a transition from creativity to barrenness, from emergence to ossification, from heroic deeds to mechanical work; Greco-Roman culture passed into civilization in the period of Hellenism, and Western culture became the civilization of the 19th century. With the onset of civilization, artistic and literary creative work becomes, as it were, unnecessary; hence Spengler proposes that we abandon cultural pretenses and give ourselves over to naked technicism.

While acknowledging the senselessness of imperialistic politicking, Spengler calls for it to be accepted as the “lot” of present and future generations. Spengler’s expository style makes use of well-developed metaphors, but the metaphoric assimilation of words frequently subverts the logic of the concepts.

WORKS

Der Mensch und die Technik: Beitrag zu einer Philosophie des Lebens. Munich, 1931.
Reden und Aufsätze, [3rd ed.]. Munich [1951].
Urfragen: Fragmente aus dem Nachlass. Munich, 1965.
In Russian translation:
Filosofiia budushchego. Ivanovo-Voznesensk, 1922.
Prussachestvo isotsializm. Petrograd, 1922.
Pessimizm li eto? Moscow, 1922.

REFERENCES

Lazarev, V. N. O. Shpengler i ego vzgliady na iskusstvo. Moscow, 1922.
Osval’d Shpengler i zakat Evropy. Moscow, 1922.
Davydov, Iu. N. Iskusstvo i elita. Moscow, 1966. Pages 251–77.
Averintsev, S. “ ’Morfologiia kul’tury’ O. Shpenglera.” Voprosy literatury, 1968, no. 1.
Asmus, V. F. “Marks i burzhuaznyi istorizm.” In his Izbr. filos. trudy, vol. 2. Moscow, 1971.
Hughes, H. S. Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate. New York [1962].
Spengler-Studien: Festgabe für M. Schröter zum 85. Geburtstag. Edited by A. M. Koktanek. Munich, 1965.

S. S. AVERINTSEV

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