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Oswald Spengler

German historian and philosopher

Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 18808 May 1936) was a German historian, philosopher and political writer, most famous for his Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918 and by 1926 had gone through thirty printings.


Prussianism and Socialism (1919)Edit

Prussianism and Socialism 1919, translated by Donald O. White

We do not seek to alter and improve [the conquered nations], but to destroy. ... The true International is imperialism, domination of Faustian civilization, i.e., of the whole earth, by a single formative principle, not by appeasement and compromise but by conquest and annihilation.
  • It is the heritage of anguished centuries, and it distinguishes us from all other people—us, the youngest and last people of our culture. ...

At the end of the [eighteenth] century Spain had long ceased to be a great power, and France was on the way to following her example. Both were old and exhausted nations, proud but weary, looking towards the past, but lacking the true ambition—which is to be strictly differentiated from jealousy—to continue to play a creative part in the future. [The end of the eighteenth century is the time of the French Revolution, which was all about equal rights.] ... "Equal rights" are contrary to nature, are an indication of the departure from type of ageing societies, are the beginning of their irrevocable decline. It is a piece of intellectual stupidity to want to substitute something else for the social structure that has grown up through the centuries and is fortified by tradition. There is no substituting anything else for Life. After Life there is only Death.

And that, at bottom, is the intention. We do not seek to alter and improve, but to destroy. In every society degenerate elements sink constantly to the bottom: exhausted families, downfallen members of generations of high breed, spiritual and physical failures and inferiors. ...

There is but one end to all the conflict, and that is death—the death of individuals, of peoples, of cultures. Our own death still lies far ahead of us in the murky darkness of the next thousand years. We Germans, situated as we are in this century, bound by our inborn instincts to the destiny of Faustian civilization, have within ourselves rich and untapped resources, but immense obligations as well. ... The true International is imperialism, domination of Faustian civilization, i.e., of the whole earth, by a single formative principle, not by appeasement and compromise but by conquest and annihilation.
  • To the new International that is now in the irreversible process of preparation we can contribute the ideas of worldwide organization and the world state; the English can suggest the idea of worldwide exploitation and trusts; the French can offer nothing. ...

Thus we find two great economic principles opposed to each other in the modern world. The Viking has become a free-tradesman; the Teutonic knight is now an administrative official. There can be no reconciliation. Each of these principles is proclaimed by a German people, Faustian men par excellence. Neither can accept a restriction of its will, and neither can be satisfied until the whole world has succumbed to its particular idea. This being the case, war will be waged until one side gains final victory. Is world economy to be worldwide exploitation, or worldwide organization? Are the Caesars of the coming empire to be billionaires or universal administrators? Shall the population of the earth, so long as this empire of Faustian civilization holds together, be subjected to cartels and trusts, or to men such as those envisioned in the closing pages of Goethe’s Faust, Part II? Truly, the destiny of the world is at stake. ...

This brings us to the political aspects of the English-Prussian antithesis. Politics is the highest and most powerful dimension of all historical existence. World history is the history of states; the history of states is the history of wars. Ideas, when they press for decisions, assume the form of political units: countries, peoples, or parties. They must be fought over not with words but with weapons. Economic warfare becomes military warfare between countries or within countries. Religious associations such as Jewry and Islam, Huguenots and Mormons, constitute themselves as countries when it becomes a matter of their continued existence or their success. Everything that proceeds from the innermost soul to become flesh or fleshly creation demands a sacrifice of flesh in return. Ideas that have become blood demand blood. War is the eternal pattern of higher human existence, and countries exist for war’s sake; they are signs of readiness for war. And even if a tired and blood-drained humanity desired to do away with war, like the citizens of the Classical world during its final centuries, like the Indians and Chinese of today, it would merely exchange its role of war-wager for that of the object about and with which others would wage war. Even if a Faustian universal harmony could be attained, masterful types on the order of late Roman, late Chinese, or late Egyptian Caesars would battle each other for this Empire—for the possession of it, if its final form were capitalistic; or for the highest rank in it, if it should become socialistic.

The Decline of the West (1918, 1923)Edit

  • One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be—though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain—because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.
  • Vol. I, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1925), p. 168
  • Kritische—„schneidende”—Methoden bezieht sich allein auf die Welt als Natur. Eher ließe sich ein Thema con Beethoven mit Seziermesser oder Säure zerlegen, als die Seele durch Mittel des abstrakten Denkens. Naturerkenntnis und Menschenkenntnis haben in Ziel, Weg und Methode nichts gemein.
  • Critical (i.e., separating) methods apply only to the world-as-nature. It would be easier to break up a theme of Beethoven with dissecting knife or acid than to break up the soul by methods of abstract thought. Nature-knowledge and man-knowledge have neither ways nor aims in common.
  • Vol. I, C. Atkinson, trans., p. 300
  • Man kann von gewissen Seelenregungen, die in Worte nicht zu fassen sind, andern ein Gefühl durch einen Blick, ein paar Takte einer Melodie, eine kaum merkliche Bewegung vermitteln. Das ist die wahre Sprache von Seelen, die Fernstehenden unverständlich bliebt. Das Wort als Laut, als poetisches Element, kann hier die Beziehung herstellen, das Wort als Begriff, als Element wissenschaftlicher Prosa nie.
  • Certain ineffable stirrings of soul can be imparted by one man to the sensibility of another man through a look, two bars of melody, an almost imperceptible movement. That is the real language of souls, and it remains incomprehensible to the outsider. The word as utterance, as poetic element, may establish the link, but the word as notion, as element of scientific prose, never.
  • Vol. I, C. Atkinson, trans., p. 300
  • Alles, was von Psychologen heute gesagt und geschrieben wird—es ist nicht allein von systematischer Wissenschaft, sondern auch von physiognomischer Menschenkenntnis im weitesten Sinne die Rede—, bezieht sich allein auf den gegenwärtigen Zustand der abendländischen Seele, während die bisher selbstverständliche Meinung, diese Erfahrungen seien für die »menschliche Seele« überhaupt gültig, ohne Prüfung hingenommen worden ist.
  • Everything that our present-day psychologist has to tell us—and here we refer not only to the systematic science but also in the wider sense to the physiognomic knowledge of men—relates to the present condition of the Western soul, and not, as hitherto gratuitously assumed, to “the human soul” at large.
  • C. Atkinson, trans., Volume I, p. 303
  • Glaubt jemand, das Seelische fremder Kulturen aus seinen Wirkungen zu erkennen, so unterlegt er ihm das eigne Bild. Er assimiliert die neuen Erfahrungen einem vorhandenen System, und es ist kein Wunder, wenn er endlich ewige Formen entdeckt zu haben glaubt.
  • When one convinces oneself that that one knows the soul of an alien culture from its workings in actuality, the soul-image underlying the knowledge is really one’s own soul-image. New experiences are readily assimilated into the system that is already there, and it is not surprising that in the end one comes to believe that one has discovered forms of eternal validity.
  • Vol. I, p. 303
  • There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, and for the time being permitted by money – and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.
  • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 401
  • To-day we live so cowed under the bombardment of this intellectual artillery that hardly anyone can attain to the inward detachment that is required for a clear view of the monstrous drama. The will-to-power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object's sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.
  • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 461
  • To-day a democrat of the old school would demand, not freedom for the press, but freedom from the press; but mean-time the leaders have changed themselves into parvenus who have to secure their position vis-a-vis the masses.
  • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928) p. 461; a portion of this has sometimes been severely misquoted as if it were a statement of Spengler : "What we need is not freedom of the press, we need freedom from the press."
  • The press to-day is an army with carefully organized arms and branches, with journalists as officers, and readers as soldiers. But here, as in every army, the soldier obeys blindly, and war-aims and operation-plans change without his knowledge. The reader neither knows, nor is allowed to know, the purposes for which he is used, nor even the role that he is to play. A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined. Formerly a man did not dare to think freely. Now he dares, but cannot; his will to think is only a willingness to think to order, and this is what he feels as his liberty.
  • Vol. II, trans. C.F. Atkinson (1928), p. 462

On the German National Character (1924)Edit

First published in Deutsches Adelsblatt, XLII (1924).

  • And now to the decisive factor: our boundless urge to follow and serve, to worship anyone or anything, to believe blindly and with doglike loyalty, all advice to the contrary notwithstanding.
  • Cf. the above with the following quote from Carl Jung:
The Germans are everlasting adolescents positioned between the embryonal East and the adult West.

The Germans display a specific weakness in the face of these demons because of their incredible suggestibility. This shows itself in their love of obedience, their supine submission to commands, which are only another form of suggestion. This hangs together with the general psychic inferiority of the Germans, the result of their precarious position between East and West. Of all the Western peoples, they were the ones who, at the general exodus from the Eastern womb of the nations, remained too long with their mother. Finally they did get out, but arrived too late, while the mujik never broke loose at all. Hence the Germans are profoundly troubled with a national inferiority complex, which they try to compensate by megalomania: "Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen"[1]—though they are none too comfy in their own skins! It is a typical adolescent psychology, apparent not only in the extraordinary prevalence of homosexuality but in the absence of an anima figure in German literature (the great exception here is Goethe). It is also apparent in German sentimentality and "Gemütlichkeit", which is really nothing but hardness of heart, unfeelingness, and soullessness. All those charges of soullessness and bestiality which German propaganda levelled at the Russians apply to themselves; Goebbels's speeches are nothing but German psychology projected upon the enemy. The immaturity of the personality also displayed itself in a terrifying way in the German General Staff, whose lack of character resembled the squashiness of a mollusc inside a panzer.

Germany has always been the land of psychic catastrophes: the Reformation, peasant wars and wars of religion. Under National Socialism, the pressure of the demons became so great that they got human beings into their power and blew them up into lunatic supermen, first of all Hitler who then infected the rest. All the Nazi leaders were possessed in the truest sense of the word, and it is assuredly no accident that their propaganda minister was branded with the ancient mark of the demonized man—a clubfoot. Ten per cent of the German population today are hopeless psychopaths.
  • William Mcguire, R. F. C. Hull (eds.), C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Princeton University Press, 1977

Man and Technics (1931)Edit

  • Optimism is cowardice.

The Hour of Decision (1933)Edit

The Hour of Decision 19 August 1933

  • The principle of inorganic equality was for them crucial. Men of the stamp of Jahn and Arndt had no notion that it was Equality that had first sounded the cry of "Vive la nation" in the September massacres of 1792.

They forgot, too, one basic fact. The Romanticism of their Volkslieder sang only the heroism of the common soldier, but the inner worth of these armies (at first amateurs in the calling of arms), their spirit, their discipline, and their training, depended upon the quality of the officer‑corps, whose adequacy was due entirely to eighteenth-century traditions. With the Jacobins also a body of soldiers was morally worth precisely as much as its officer, who had trained it by his example. Napoleon confessed at St. Helena that he would not have been beaten had he had for his superb fighting material a corps of officers like the Austrian, a corps in which chivalrous traditions of loyalty, honour, and silent self-discipline still survived. Once the command wavers in its intentions and its attitude—or itself abdicates, as in 1918—the bravest regiment becomes on the spot a cowardly and helpless herd. ...

All young sects are at bottom hostile to State and property, class and rank, and are attracted to universal equality.
And these same everlasting "Youths" are with us again today, immature, destitute of the slightest experience or even real desire for experience, but writing and talking away about politics, fired by uniforms and badges, and clinging fantastically to some theory or other.
  • Romanticism is no sign of powerful instincts, but, on the contrary, of a weak, self-detesting intellect. They are all infantile, these Romantics; men who remain children too long (or for ever), without the strength to criticize themselves, but with perpetual inhibitions arising from the obscure awareness of their own personal weakness; who are impelled by the morbid idea of reforming society, which is to them too masculine, too healthy, too sober. ...

And these same everlasting "Youths" are with us again today, immature, destitute of the slightest experience or even real desire for experience, but writing and talking away about politics, fired by uniforms and badges, and clinging fantastically to some theory or other. There is a social Romanticism of sentimental Communists, a political Romanticism which regards election figures and the intoxication of mass-meeting oratory as deeds, and an economic Romanticism which trickles out from behind the gold theories of sick minds that know nothing of the inner forms of modern economics. They can only feel in the mass, where they can deaden the dull sense of their weakness by multiplying themselves. And this they call the Overcoming of Individualism.

  • The above quotation explains why the Nazis were defeated in the war for the right to build a global empire. Despite their toughness, the Teutons are infantile, or, which is the same, effeminate:
  • He was very young, very handsome, save that his eyes were too close-set; an outstanding example of that blond mixture of effeminacy and toughness which may be observed in any Teutonic night-club.
And any woman wins when she loses:
  • My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself
Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - Promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - Couldn't escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - Knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - Finally facing my Waterloo
My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose
The infantility, or, which is the same, femininity of the Teutons also explains their hatred towards the Jews, who are the most mentally masculine race:
  • Something dies within the woman when she conceives—hence comes that eternal hatred of the sexes, child of world-fear. The man destroys, in a very deep sense, when he begets—by bodily act in the sensuous world, by "knowing" in the intellectual.

Quotes about SpenglerEdit

  • Today this unquestioned faith in the machine has been severely shaken. The absolute validity of the machine has become a conditioned validity: even Spengler, who has urged the men of his generation to become engineers and men of fact, regards that career as a sort of honorable suicide and looks forward to the period when the monuments of the machine civilization will be tangled masses of rusting iron and empty concrete shells. While for those of us who are more hopeful both of man's destiny and that of the machine, the machine is no longer the paragon of progress and the final expression of our desires: it is merely a series of instruments, which we will use in so far as they are serviceable to life at large, and which we will curtail where they infringe upon it or exist purely to support the adventitious structure of capitalism.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934) Ch. VIII "Orientation"

External linksEdit


  1. Roughly, "the German spirit will be the world's salvation". A Nazi slogan derived from a poem by Emanuel Geibel (1815–84), "Deutschlands Beruf". Geibel's lines became famous when Wilhelm II quoted them (inaccurately, as above) in a speech at Münster in 1907.