Monday, November 30, 2015

Oswald Spengler and the Decline of the West

"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."

Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) was one of the last great voices of literary history. Like Gibbon and Michelet, he had no formal training, but he had passion, a gift for turning a phrase, and a modest income, which afforded him time for study and reflection. And, like Gibbon and Michelet, he was the voice of an age. To understand him, we must say a few words about that age, for at the time he wrote (1919), The Decline of the West was not so much a poetic book title, but a visible and obvious fact.

From the time of its formation under Bismarck in 1871, to the armistice that ended the Great War in 1918, the German Empire was by far the strongest power in Europe. Germans were justly proud of their country, not simply for its military strength, but also for its booming economy, its magnificent music and literature, and its world-class scientists. Germans felt that they were in the vanguard of European commerce, culture, and power, and this was more or less correct. It was in this spirit that Germany went to war in 1914. After a dreadful struggle of four years, which Germany came very near to winning, the allies imposed a humiliating peace at Versailles (1919).


Part of a Series on Philosophy of History

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