The Decline of the West

The Decline of the West
Cover of Volume II, first edition, 1922

The Decline of the West (German: Der Untergang des Abendlandes), or The Downfall of the Occident, is a two-volume work by Oswald Spengler, the first volume of which was published in the summer of 1918. Spengler revised this volume in 1922 and published the second volume, subtitled Perspectives of World History, in 1923.

The book includes the idea of Muslims, Jews and Christians, as well as their Persian and Semitic forebears, being Magian; Mediterranean civilizations of the antiquity such as Ancient Greece and Rome being Apollonian; and the modern Westerners being Faustian. According to its theories, we are now living in the winter time of the Faustian civilization. His description of the Faustian civilization is one where the populace constantly strives for the unattainable—making Western Man a proud but tragic figure, for, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.



The Agadir Crisis of 1911 triggered [1] Spengler's decision to embark on his exhaustive investigations into the origins and future course of Western Civilisation. Spengler has said,[2] the intention of the book is to describe, in light of the decline of the Classical age, the several centuries long period of Western Decline which he saw as beginning in the early twentieth century. The first volume was published in 1918, when Spengler was 38, and was his first published work, apart from his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus. The second volume was published in 1922. Oswald Spengler spent over a decade writing the two volumes.


Spengler presented a worldview that resonated with post-WWI German culture. His grim view of an inexorable doom for western civilization implied acceptance of fate, but also offered a sense of freedom from the past. His historical idea influenced artists and architects, who used it as a justification for abandoning the historic styles, now no longer valid for the new era. Mies van der Rohe is known to have accepted Spengler's view, and used it as a framework to guide his search for a new architectural style that would represent the modern era.

His worldview also took a dim view of democracy as the type of government of the declining civilization. He argued that democracy is driven by money and therefore easily corruptible. Spengler initially supported the rise of a strong-willed leader type of government as the next phase after democracy fails.

A 1928 Time review of the second volume of Decline described the immense influence and controversy Spengler's ideas enjoyed during the 1920s: "When the first volume of The Decline of the West appeared in Germany a few years ago, thousands of copies were sold. Cultivated European discourse quickly became Spengler-saturated. Spenglerism spurted from the pens of countless disciples. It was imperative to read Spengler, to sympathize or revolt. It still remains so."[2]

The first volume, published in 1918, had by 1920 sold more than 600,000 copies.[3]


Scholars now agree that the word "decline" more accurately renders the intended meaning of Spengler's original German word "Untergang" (often translated as the more emphatic "downfall"; "Unter" being "under" and "gang" being "going", it is also accurately rendered in English as the "going under" of the West). Spengler explained that he did not mean to describe a catastrophic occurrence, but rather a protracted fall—a twilight or sunset. (Sonnenuntergang is German for sunset, and Abendland, his word for the West, literally means the "evening land".) Nevertheless, "Untergang" can be interpreted in both ways, and after World War II, most critics and scholars chose to read it in the cataclysmic sense.

Spengler’s world-historical outlook is informed by many philosophers, Goethe and Nietzsche among them, and the former more than the latter. He would later further explain the significance of these two German philosophers and their influence on his worldview in his lecture Nietzsche and His Century [3]. His analytical approach is that of "Analogy. By these means we are enabled to distinguish polarity and periodicity in the world."

Spengler's cultures

Spengler lists eight High Cultures that have existed:

Spengler seems to ignore Southeast Asian and Peruvian (Incan, etc.) cultures, and he thinks the Russian culture is still defining itself. The Indus Valley Civilization had not been discovered when he was writing and its relationship with later Indian civilization remained unclear for some time.

Although the "Decline" is largely concerned with comparisons between the Classical and Western cultures, attention is also given to the Arabian, Chinese, and Egyptian formations. Each culture arises within a specific geographical area and is defined by its internal coherence of style in terms of art, religious behaviour and psychological perspective. Whilst not amenable to a strictly logical examination, Spengler's idea of the culture is, he claims, justifiable through the existence of recurrent patterns of development and decline across the 1,000 years of each culture's active lifetime.

Spenglerian terms

Spengler invests certain terms with unusual meanings not commonly encountered in everyday discourse.

Apollonian / Magian / Faustian These are Spengler’s terms for Classical, Arabian and Western civilisations respectively.

Apollonian Civilisation is focused around Ancient Greece and Rome. Spengler saw its world view as being characterised by appreciation for the beauty of the human body, and a preference for the local and the present moment.

Magian Civilisation includes the Jews from about 400BC, early Christians and various Arabian religions up to and including Islam. Its world feeling revolved around the concept of world as cavern, epitomised by the domed Mosque, and a preoccupation with essence. Spengler saw the development of this civilisation as being distorted by too influential presence of older cultures, the initial vigorous expansionary impulses of Islam being in part a reaction against this.

Faustian Civilisation began in Western Europe around the 10th century and according to Spengler such has been its expansionary power that by the 20th century it was covering the entire earth, with only a few Regions where Islam provides an alternative world view. The world feeling of Faustian civilisation is inspired by the concept of infinitely wide and profound space, the yearning towards distance and infinity.

Pseudomorphosis The concept of pseudomorphosis is one that Spengler borrows from mineralogy and a concept that he introduces as a way of explaining what are in his eyes half-developed or only partially manifested Cultures. Specifically pseudomorphosis entails an older Culture so deeply ingrained in a land that a young Culture can not find its own form and full expression of itself. This leads to the young soul being cast in the old moulds, in Spengler's words. Young feelings then stiffen in senile practices, and instead of expanding creatively, it fosters hate toward the other older Culture.

Spengler believes that pseudomorphosis began with the Battle of Actium. Here the gestating Arabian Culture lost to the Classical Civilization. He asserts that it should have been Mark Antony who won. The battle was not the struggle of Rome and Greece that came there to an issue—that struggle had been fought out at Cannae and Zama, where it was Hannibal who stood as champion for Hellenism. Antony’s victory would have freed the Magian Culture, but his defeat imposed Roman Civilization on the young Culture.

In Russia, Spengler sees a young, undeveloped culture laboring under the Faustian (Petrine) form. Peter the Great distorted the tsarism of Russia to the dynastic form of Western Europe. The burning of Moscow, as Napoleon was set to invade, he sees as a primitive expression of hatred toward the foreigner. This was soon followed by the entry of Alexander I into Paris, the Holy Alliance and the Concert of Europe. Here Russia was forced into an artificial history before its Culture was ready or capable of understanding its burden. This would result in a hatred directed toward Europe, a hatred which Spengler argues poisoned the womb of emerging new culture in Russia. While he does not name the culture, he claims that Tolstoy is its past and Dostojevsky is its future.

Morphology is a key part of Spengler's philosophy of history, using a methodology which approached history and historical comparisons on the basis of civilizational forms and structure, without regard to function.

Becoming / Being For Spengler Becoming is the basic element, not the other way around. He advises that his philosophy in a nutshell is contained in these lines from Goethe "the God-head is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly the intuition is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and logic only to make use of the become and the set-fast"

Culture / Civilisation For Spengler Civilisation is what a culture becomes once its creative impulses wane and the critical impulse gains ascendancy. Culture is the becoming, Civilisation is the thing become. Rousseau, Socrates & Bhudda each mark the point where their Cultures transformed into Civilisation. They each buried centuries of spiritual depth by presenting the world in rational terms – the intellect comes to rule once the soul has abdicated.

Napoleonism and Caesarism These are discussed in the The State and Caesarism section below.

Blood Spengler sees Blood as the only power strong enough to overthrow Money, currently the dominant power of our age. Blood is commonly understood to mean race-feeling, and this is partially true but misleading. Spenglers idea of race has nothing to do with ethnic identity, indeed he was hostile to racists in that sense. The book talks about a population becoming a race when it's united in outlook, possibly diverse ethnic origins are not a concern. Crucially Spengler talks about the final struggle with money also being a battle between Capitalism and Socialism, but again Socialism in a special sense: "the will to call into life a mighty politico-economic order that transcends all class interests, a system of lofty thoughtfulness and duty sense" . He also writes " A power can be overthrown only by another power, not by a principle, and only one power that can confront money is left. Money is overthrown and abolished by blood. Life is alpha and omega ... It is the fact of facts .. Before the irresistible rhythm on the generation-sequence, everything built up by the waking –consciousness in its intellectual world vanishes at the last." Therefore if we wanted to replace Blood by a single word it would be more correct to use life-force rather than race-feeling.

Phases of rise and decline

Main article: Spengler's civilization model

Spring: Intuition, powerful cultural creation from awakening souls, unity and abundance.

  • Religion: Birth of a grand myth signifying a new conception of God. Fear and longing for the world. Earliest metaphysical organization of the world. High scholasticism.
  • Art: Religious art considered as an integrated part of religious devotion. Gothic cathedrals, Doric temples. Development of Ornamental art as against the persistent, ahistorical type of Imitative art.
  • Politics: Feudalism, warrior aristocracies. Division between two primary Estates: Nobility, which is the estate proper, contains within itself the highest aspirations of its race and is therefore symbolic of the particular people in question, as well as being representative of Time in the sense of Directedness and Destiny; and Priesthood, which is the anti-Estate, pursuing eternal Truth and attempting to subordinate Blood to Intellect primarily through asceticism, but also through scholasticism.

Summer: Maturing consciousness. Earliest urban-civil society and critical thought.

  • Religion: Reformation: revolt of the religious moderates against the early religion. Beginnings of a purely philosophical movement. Contrasting idealistic and realistic systems. Mathematical breakthroughs leading to a new conception of the world. Rationalism. The depletion of mysticism from religion.
  • Art: Development of high artistic traditions. Both artistic medium and style express the fundamental nature of the soul of the culture. Struggle between different artistic mediums, representing the culture's striving to discover its proper mode of self-representation.
  • Politics: Absolutist states. Conflicts between aristocracy and monarchy. The political centre shifts from castles and estates to the cities.

Autumn: Urban rise. High point of disciplined organizational strength.

  • Religion: Faith in the omnipotence of rationality. Cult of Nature. The height of mathematical thought. The last idealists. Theories of knowledge and logic.
  • Art: Fulfillment of high artistic potentials of culture- sculpture in Greece, contrapuntal music in the West. At the beginning of Autumn, art possesses complete freedom to manifest the Destiny-vision of a people through its particular perfected formal technique. However, the end of Autumn witnesses the exhaustion of the possibilities of that technique, leading to craft-art in imitation of the great style as well as artistic revolt.
  • Politics: Struggles between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Revolutions. Napoleonism.

Winter: Coming fissure in the world-urban civilization. Exhaustion of mental organization strength. Irreligiousness rises.

  • Religion: Materialism: Cults of science, utility, and luck. Ethical-social ideals: philosophy without mathematics, skepticism. The last mathematical thinkers. Decline of abstract thinkers, and the rise of specialized academic philosophy. Spread of the last ideas.
  • Art: End of symbolic art. All art becomes meaningless subjects of fashion.
  • Politics: Democracy, the rule of the rich, followed by caesarism and bureaucracy.

The meaning of history

Spengler distinguishes between ahistorical peoples and peoples caught up in world-history. While he recognizes that all people are a part of history, he argues that only certain cultures imbue a wider sense of historical involvement. Thus some people see themselves as part of a grand historical design or tradition, while others view themselves in a self-contained manner. For the latter, there is no world-historical consciousness.

For Spengler, a world-historical view points toward the meaning of history itself, by breaking the historian or observer out of his crude culturally-parochial classifications of history. By learning about different courses taken by other civilizations, one can better understand his own culture and identity. Those who still maintain a historical view of the world are the very same who continue to "make" history. Spengler asserts that life and mankind as a whole have an ultimate aim. However, he maintains a distinction between world-historical peoples, and ahistorical peoples—the former will have a historical destiny as part of a high Culture, the latter will have a merely zoological fate. World-historical man's destiny is self-fulfillment as a part of his Culture. Further, Spengler asserts that not only is pre-Cultural man without history, he loses his historical weight as his Culture becomes exhausted and becomes a more and more defined Civilization.

For example, Spengler classifies Classical and Indian civilizations as ahistorical, whereas the Egyptian and Western civilizations developed conceptions of historical time. He also rejects a Euro-centric view of history, especially the division of history into the linear "ancient-medieval-modern" rubric. He sees all cultures as necessarily placed on equal footing in the study of world-historical development. From this idea flows a kind of historical relativism or dispensationalism. Historical data, in Spengler's mind, are an expression of their historical time, contingent upon and relative to that context. Thus, the insights of one era are not unshakeable or valid in another time or culture—"there are no eternal truths." Each man has a duty to look beyond his own Culture to see what men of other Cultures have with equal certainty created for themselves. What is significant is not whether the past thinkers' insights are relevant today, but whether they were exceptionally relevant to the great facts of their own time.

Culture and civilization

In a footnote, Spengler describes the essential core of his philosophical approach toward history, culture, and civilization:

"Plato and Goethe stand for the philosophy of Becoming, Aristotle and Kant the philosophy of Being. [This saying of Goethe] must be regarded as the expression of a perfectly definite metaphysical doctrine. I would not have a single word changed of this: “The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding only to make use of the become and the set-fast.” This sentence comprises my entire philosophy."

Spengler adopts an organic conception of culture. Primitive Culture is simply a collection, a sum, of its constituent and incoherent parts (individuals, tribes, clans, etc). Higher Culture, in its maturity and coherence, becomes an organism in its own right, according to Spengler. The Culture is capable of sublimating the various customs, myths, techniques, arts, peoples, and classes into a single strong undiffused historical tendency.

Spengler divides the concepts of culture and civilization, the former focused inward and growing, the latter outward and merely expanding. However, he sees Civilization as the destiny of every Culture. The transition is not a matter of choice—it is not the conscious will of individuals, classes, or peoples that decides. Whereas Cultures are "things-becoming", Civilizations are the "thing-become." As the conclusion of a Culture's arc of growth, Civilizations are outwardly focused, and in that sense artificial or insincere. Civilizations are what Cultures become when they are no longer creative and growing. For example, Spengler points to the Greeks and Romans, saying that the imaginative Greek culture declined into wholly practical Roman civilization.

Spengler also compares the "world-city" and province, as concepts analogous to civilization and culture respectively. This argument has elements of Marxist conceptions of a core and periphery. The city draws upon and collects the life of broad surrounding regions. He contrasts the “true-type” rural born, with the nomadic, traditionless, irreligious, matter-of-fact, clever, unfruitful, and contemptuous-of-the-countryman city dweller. In the cities he sees only the "mob", not a people, hostile to the traditions that represent Culture (in Spengler's view these traditions are: nobility, church, privileges, dynasties, convention in art, and limits on scientific knowledge). City dwellers possess cold intelligence that confounds peasant wisdom, a new-fashioned naturalism in attitudes towards sex which are a return to primitive instincts, and a dying inner religiousness. Further, Spengler sees in urban wage-disputes and a focus on lavish sport expenditures for entertainment the final aspects that signal the closing of Culture and the rise of the Civilization.

Spengler has a low opinion of Civilizations, even those that engaged in significant expansion, because that expansion was not actual growth. One of his principal examples is that of Roman "world domination." It was not an achievement because the Romans faced no significant resistance to their expansion. Thus they did not so much conquer their empire, but rather simply took possession of that which lay open to everyone. Spengler asserts that the Roman Empire did not come into existence because of the kind of Cultural energy that they had displayed in the Punic Wars. After the Battle of Zama, Spengler believes that the Romans never waged, or even were capable of waging, a war against a competing great military power.

Race and culture

Spengler attempts to tie race and culture together, echoing ideas similar to those of Friedrich Ratzel and Rudolf Kjellén. These ideas, which were prevalent throughout German culture at the time, were likely the most significant elements for the National Socialists who would later ban publication of Spengler's book (because of Spengler's disdain for the Nazis—see: Spengler's The Hour of Decision).

A race, writes Spengler, has “roots,” just like a plant. It is connected to a landscape. “If, in that home, the race cannot be found, this means the race has ceased to exist. A race does not migrate. Men migrate, and their successive generations are born in ever-changing landscapes; but the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old and the appearance of the new one.” In this instance, he writes of “race” in the tribal and cultural rather than biological sense, a 19th Century use of the word that was still common when the book was written.

For this reason, a race is not exactly like a plant. “Science has completely failed to note that race is not the same for rooted plants as it is for mobile animals, that with the micro-cosmic side of life a fresh group of characteristics appear and that for the animal world it is decisive. Nor again has it perceived that a completely different significance must be attached to 'races' when the word denotes subdivisions within the integral race ‘Man.’ With its talk of casual concentration it sets up a soulless concentration of superficial characters, and blots out the fact that here the blood and there the power of the land over the blood are expressing themselves – secrets that cannot be inspected and measured, but only livingly experienced from eye to eye. Nor are scientists at one as to the relative rank of these superficial characters.”

Spengler writes that, “Comradeship breeds races… Where a race-ideal exists, as it does, supremely, in the Early period of a culture… the yearning of a ruling class towards this ideal, its will to be just so and not otherwise, operates (quite independently of the choosing of wives) towards actualizing this idea and eventually achieves it.” He distinguishes this from the sort of pseudo-anthropological notions that were common when the book was written, and he dismisses the idea of "an Aryan skull and a Semitic skull." He also does not believe language is itself sufficient to breed races, and that “the mother tongue” signifies “deep ethical forces” in Late Civilizations rather than Early Cultures, when a race is still developing the language that fits its “race-ideal.”

Closely connected to race is Spengler’s definition of a “people,” which he defines as a unit of the soul. “The great events of history were not really achieved by peoples; they themselves created the peoples. Every act alters the soul of the doer.” Such events include migrations and wars. For example, the American people did not migrate from Europe, but were formed by events such as the American Revolution and the U.S. Civil War. “Neither unity of speech nor physical descent is decisive.” What distinguishes a people from a population is “the inwardly lived experience of ‘we’,” which exists so long as a people’s soul lasts. “The name Roman in Hannibal’s day meant a people, in Trajan’s time nothing more than a population.” In his view, “Peoples are neither linguistic nor political nor zoological, but spiritual units.”

Spengler disliked the contemporary trend of fusing a definition of race similar to his with the biological definition. “Of course, it is quite often justifiable to align peoples with races, but 'race' in this connexion must not be interpreted in the present-day Darwinian sense of the word. It cannot be accepted, surely, that a people were ever held together by the mere unity of physical origin, or, if it were, could maintain that unity for ten generations. It cannot be too often reiterated that this physiological provenance has no existence except for science—never for folk-consciousness—and that no people was ever stirred to enthusiasm by this ideal of blood purity. In race (Rasse haben) there is nothing material but something cosmic and directional, the felt harmony of a Destiny, the single cadence of the march of historical Being. It is the incoordination of this (wholly metaphysical) beat which produces race hatred… and it is resonance on this beat that makes the true love—so akin to hate—between man and wife.”

To Spengler, peoples are formed from early prototypes during the Early phase of a Culture. "Out of the people-shapes of the Carolingian Empire—the Saxons, Swabians, Franks, Visigoths, Lombards—arise suddenly the Germans, the French, the Spaniards, the Italians." These peoples are products of the spiritual "race" of the great Cultures, and "people under a spell of a Culture are its products and not its authors. These shapes in which humanity is seized and moulded possess style and style-history no less than kinds of art or mode of thought. The people of Athens is a symbol not less than the Doric temple, the Englishman not less than modern physics. There are peoples of Apollinian, Magian, and Faustian cast... World history is the history of the great Cultures, and peoples are but the symbolic forms and vessels in which the men of these Cultures fulfill their Destinies."

In his later works, such as Man and Technics and The Hour of Decision, Spengler expanded upon his "spiritual" theory of race and tied it to his metaphysical notion of eternal war and his belief that "Man is a beast of prey."

Religion's role

Spengler is neither wholly pro-religion nor anti-religion, but he does differentiate between manifestations of religion that appear within a civilization’s developmental cycle. He sees each culture as having an initial religious identity, which eventually results in a reformation-like period, followed by a period of rationalism, and finally entering a period of second religiousness that correlates with decline. Intellectual creativeness of a Culture's Late period begins after the reformation, usually ushering in new freedoms in science.

The scientific stage associated with post-reformation Puritanism contains the fundamentals of Rationalism. Eventually rationalism spreads throughout the Culture and becomes the dominant school of thought. To Spengler, Culture is synonymous with religious creativeness. Every great Culture begins with a religious trend that arises in the countryside, is carried through to the cultural cities, and ends in materialism in the world-cities.

Spengler described the process by which Enlightenment rationalism undermines and destroys itself, passing from unlimited optimism to unqualified skepticism. The Cartesian self-centered rationalism leads to schools of thought that do not cognize outside of their own constructed worlds, ignoring actual every-day life experience. It applies criticism to its own artificial world until it exhausts itself in meaninglessness. In reaction to the educated elites, the masses give rise to the Second Religiousness, which manifests as deeply suspicious of academia and science.

The Second Religiousness appears as a harbinger of the decline of mature Civilization into an ahistorical state. The Second Religiousness occurs concurrently with Caesarism, the final political constitution of Late Civilization. Both the Second Religiousness and Caesarism demonstrate the lack of youthful strength or creativity that the Early Culture once possessed. The Second Religiousness is simply a rehashing of the original religious trend of the Culture.

The state and caesarism

Spengler sees a leader’s responsibility as only to a minority that possesses the proper breeding for statesmanship, and which represents the rest of the nation in its historical struggle. Most states, he argues, have only a single social stratum which, constitutionally or otherwise, provides the political leading. That class represents the world-historical drive of a State, and within that stratum a skilled and self-contained minority actually holds the reins of power.

Spengler rejects Parliamentarianism as a distinct Civilizational stage like the absolute Polis and the Baroque State were summits. Instead it represents a transitional period between the mature Late-Culture period and the age of state formlessness.

The fault for turning a Culture into a Civilization he lays partly at the feet of the bourgeoisie. At the inflection point he sees an independent and decisive bourgeois intervention in political affairs. The bourgeois is hostile (often violently) toward the absolute state, which represents the traditional institutions, aristocrats and cultural symbols.

Decline is also evidenced by a formlessness of political institutions within a state. As the proper form dissolves, increasingly authoritarian leaders arise, signaling decline. The first step toward formlessness Spengler designates Napoleonism. A new leader assumes powers and creates a new state structure without reference to "self-evident" bases for governance. The new regime is thus accidental rather than traditional and experienced, and relies not on a trained minority but the chance of an adequate successor. Spengler argues that those states with continuous traditions of governance have been immensely more successful than those that have rejected tradition. Spengler posits a two-century or more transitional period between two states of decline: Napoleonism and Caesarism. The formlessness introduced by the first contributes to the rise of the latter.

Spengler predicts that the permanent mass conscription armies will be replaced by smaller professional volunteer armies. From millions, states will revert to armies of hundreds of thousands. However, the professional armies will not be for deterrence, but for waging war. Spengler states that they will precipitate wars upon which whole continents—India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam—will be staked. The great powers will dispose of smaller states, which will come to be viewed merely as means to an end. This period in Civilizational decline he labels the period of Contending States.

Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions. It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its de jure constitutional structure. The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight. The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar. This is the beginning of the Imperial Age.

Spengler notes the urge of a nation toward universalism, idealism, and imperialism in the wake of a major geopolitical enemy’s defeat. He cites the example of Rome after the defeat of Hannibal—instead of forgoing the annexation of the East, Scipio's party moved toward outright imperialism, in an attempt to bring their immediate world into one system, and thus prevent further wars.

Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights. People cease to take part in elections, and the most qualified people remove themselves from the political process. This is the end of great politics. Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point. The wars are private wars, "more fearful than any State wars because they are formless." The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war. The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation, ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one's neighbor. In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power. Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain over top the rest of humanity.

Democracy, media, and money

Spengler asserts that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and the media is the means through which money operates a democratic political system. The thorough penetration of money's power throughout a society is yet another marker of the shift from Culture to Civilization.

Democracy and plutocracy are equivalent in Spengler's argument. The "tragic comedy of the world-improvers and freedom-teachers" is that they are simply assisting money to be more effective. The principles of equality, natural rights, universal suffrage, and freedom of the press are all disguises for class war (the bourgeois against the aristocracy). Freedom, to Spengler, is a negative concept, simply entailing the repudiation of any tradition. In reality, freedom of the press requires money, and entails ownership, thus serving money at the end. Suffrage involves electioneering, in which the donations rule the day. The ideologies espoused by candidates, whether Socialism or Liberalism, are set in motion by, and ultimately serve, only money. "Free" press does not spread free opinion—it generates opinion, Spengler maintains.

Spengler admits that in his era money has already won, in the form of democracy. But in destroying the old elements of the Culture, it prepares the way for the rise of a new and overpowering figure: the Caesar. Before such a leader, money collapses, and in the Imperial Age the politics of money fades away.

Spengler's analysis of democratic systems argues that even the use of one's own constitutional rights requires money, and that voting can only really work as designed in the absence of organized leadership working on the election process. As soon as the election process becomes organized by political leaders, to the extent that money allows, the vote ceases to be truly significant. It is no more than a recorded opinion of the masses on the organizations of government over which they possess no positive influence whatsoever.

Spengler notes that the greater the concentration of wealth in individuals, the more the fight for political power revolves around questions of money. One cannot even call this corruption or degeneracy, because this is in fact the necessary end of mature democratic systems.

On the subject of the press, Spengler is equally as contemptuous. Instead of conversations between men, the press and the "electrical news-service keep the waking-consciousness of whole people and continents under a deafening drum-fire of theses, catchwords, standpoints, scenes, feelings, day by day and year by year." Through the media, money is turned into force—the more spent, the more intense its influence.

For the press to function, universal education is necessary. Along with schooling comes a demand for the shepherding of the masses, as an object of party politics. Those that originally believed education to be solely for the enlightenment of each individual prepared the way for the power of the press, and eventually for the rise of the Caesar. There is no longer a need for leaders to impose military service, because the press will stir the public into a frenzy, clamor for weapons, and force their leaders into a conflict.

The only force which can counter money, in Spengler's estimation, is blood. As for Marx, his critique of capitalism is put forth in the same language and on the same assumptions as those of Adam Smith. His protest is more a recognition of capitalism's veracity, than a refutation. The only aim is to "confer upon objects the advantage of being subjects."


Spengler borrows frequently from mathematical philosophy. He holds that the mathematics and art of a civilization reveal its world-view. He notes that in Greek classical mathematics that there are only integers and no real concepts of limits or infinity. Therefore, without a concept of the infinite, all events of the distant past were viewed as equally distant, thus Alexander the Great had no problem declaring himself a descendant of a god. On the other hand, the western world—which has concepts of the zero, the infinite, and the limit—has a historical world-view which places a high amount of importance on exact dates.


In 1950, Theodor W. Adorno published an essay entitled "Spengler after the Downfall" (in German: Spengler nach dem Untergang) to commemorate what would have been Oswald Spengler's 70th birthday. Adorno reassessed Spengler's thesis three decades after it had been put forth, in light of the catastrophic collapse of Nazi Germany (although Spengler had not meant "Untergang" in a cataclysmic sense, this was how most authors after WWII interpreted it).

As a member of the Frankfurt School of Marxist critical theory, Adorno's professed project in this essay was to "turn (Spengler's) reactionary ideas toward progressive ends." Thus Adorno conceded that Spengler's insights were often more profound than those of his more liberal contemporaries, and his predictions more far-reaching. Adorno sees the rise of the Nazis as confirmation of Spengler's ideas about "Caesarism" and the triumph of force-politics over the market. Adorno also draws parallels between Spengler's critique of Enlightenment and his own analysis of Enlightenment's self-destructive tendencies. However, Adorno also criticizes Spengler for an overly deterministic view of history, ignoring the unpredictable role that human initiative plays at all times. He quotes Georg Trakl's poem "How sickly seem everything that grows", to illustrate that decay contains new opportunities for renewal. Adorno also criticizes Spengler's use of language, which overly relies on fetishistic terms like "Soul", "Blood" and "Destiny."

Test of the Theory

Some such as Amaury de Riencourt in The Coming Caesars[4] have argued that Spengler's predictions have been borne out as the United States has pushed aside the other powers of the West and established a Pax Americana. Although this view based in part on a theory of historical acceleration can be said not to mesh very well with a macro-historical model based upon generations. de Reincourt's work argued that the United States of America would enter its Ceasararian phase in the 1990s. They also point to trends in arts, and philosophy.

See also

Civilizational studies

  • Ibn Khaldun: wrote in his magnum opus, Muqaddimah, about the rise and fall of dynasties and the formation of sedentary civilization. He takes an empirical and religious approach to history and sociology, and focuses mostly on the Islamic world. Considered by some to be the 'father of sociology'.[5] Influenced Arnold J. Toynbee.
  • Giambattista Vico: Vico wrote Scienza Nuova positing a three-stage rise and decline pattern which pertains to every nation's historical path. He was the pioneer of ethnology as a discipline of study.
  • Nikolai Danilevsky: a conservative Russian ethnologist, Danilevsky pioneered the use of biological and morphological metaphors in the comparison of cultures.
  • Konstantin Leontiev: a conservative Russian social and political thinker. He proposed, in 1875, that civilizations mirror natural organisms in experiencing growth and flowering followed by decline and death. According to Leontiev, the former period is marked by increasing diversity while the latter by progressive simplification. Leontiev, like Spengler later, felt that the West had moved into the latter phase.
  • Arnold J. Toynbee: Toynbee wrote a similar comparative study of the rise and decline of civilizations, A Study of History, somewhat concurrently with Spengler, which was released much later, around the conclusion of World War II.
  • Alexander Zelitchenko: a Russian psychologist, philosopher, theologian and historian in his Svet Zhizni (Light of Life) continues elaboration of Spengler's theory from the point of view of developmental psychology correcting some minor errors and shows how changing one other cultures develop human psyche creating new patterns of mental activity.
  • Fernand Braudel: Braudel wrote a comparative history of civilizations during the Cold War in his A History of Civilizations.
  • Samuel Huntington: Professor Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, a comparative look at civilizations in the post-Cold War order of international relations. His work has been likened to Spengler's.
  • Neagu Djuvara: a Romanian historian who wrote Civilisations et lois historique. Essai d'étude comparée des civilisations (Civilizations and Historical Laws. Essay of Comparative Studies on Civilizations), Mouton, 1975.
  • Jeremy Griffith: an Australian biologist who has developed a theory comparable to Spenglers in which the growth of civilisations are analyzed in terms of the human life span of youthful vigour and aged fatigue. Griffith lacks the depth of historical reference evident in Spengler's work. However, Griffith has grounded such ideas in contemporary evolutionary theory making his work an important gloss on or complement to Spengler's thesis.

Race and the state

Spengler's philosophical background

Others influenced by Decline

  • Paul Nitze: author of NSC-68, a foundational document in the U.S. Cold War strategy of containment.
  • Shamil Basayev: Chechen warlord given Decline as a gift by a Russian radio journalist. He reportedly read it in one night and settled on his plan to organize life in Chechnya.[6]
  • Henry Kissinger: National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger stated he was influenced by Spengler and urged Nixon to read Decline of the West.
  • Joseph Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 31, 1987) an American professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion. Claimed Decline of the West was his biggest influence.[citation needed]
  • Francis Parker Yockey, an influential post-war neo-Nazi ideologist - who argues (based on Spengler's thesis) that Western History "took the wrong course" when Germany lost World War II;[7] in other words, Nazi Germany (despite all its horrors) would eventually have paved the way for the transition to "Caesarism".
  • Northrop Frye reviewing the Decline of the West said that "If... nothing else, it would still be one of the worlds great Romantic poems".
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein named Spengler as one of his philosophical influences.


  • William H. McNeill, 1963 [1991]). The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community [With a Retrospective Essay], University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-56141-7. Synopsis, Table of Contents Summary and scrollable preview.
  • Hughes, H. Stuart. "Preface to the Present Edition." Preface. The Decline of the West. By Oswald Spengler. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. ISBN 0-19-506751-7
  • Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Ed. Arthur Helps, and Helmut Werner. Trans. Charles F. Atkinson. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. ISBN 0-19-506751-7
  • Scruton, Roger, "Spengler's Decline of the West" in The Philosopher on Dover Beach, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1990. ISBN 0-85635-857-6
  1. ^ According to the publisher on the first page of the 'First Vintage Books Edition' (2006)
  2. ^ that in the Introduction to the first edition
  3. ^ Thomson, Iain. "Heidegger on Ontotheology - Technology and the Politics of Education." Page 94. Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-85115-7
  4. ^
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Murphy, Kim. (10 September 2004) "Chechen Warlord Always Brazen – but Never Caught", Los Angeles Times, pp. A1.
  7. ^

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