Tag Archives: Oswald Spengler

From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right – Tudor

“From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right” by Lucian Tudor (PDF – 261 KB):

From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right – Tudor

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Tudor, Lucian. “From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right.” In: Lucian Tudor, From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right: A Collection of Essays on Identitarian Philosophy, pp. 136-165. Santiago, Chile: Círculo de Investigaciones PanCriollistas, 2015.

Note: This essay has the same title as the book in which it was published and should not be confused with the book itself. It is, however, the most defining and comprehensive essay in Tudor’s book.

 

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Jünger’s Gurus and Contemporaries – Svensson

Ernst Jünger: His German Gurus, Contemporaries etc.

By Lennart Svensson

 

Author’s Note: Ernst Jünger lived between the years 1895 and 1998. As you all know he was a German writer. Personally I’d say that he was the greatest German novelist, essayist and diarist of the 20th century. In trying to portrait him you could look at some of his mentors and contemporaries. 

 

Ernst Jünger was a German. And it’s no secret that he in some way or another was influenced by other German writers and thinkers. Below I elaborate on this. The survey is by no means complete. I’d say it’s just ”some informal remarks”.

1. Goethe

Ernst Jünger had some similarities with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Some would say that Goethe was Jüngers chief guru and inspiration. However, that’s a bit hard to prove since Jünger seldom or never even mentions Goethe by name in his works. The only passage I’ve detected is when Jünger quotes, in ”Eumeswil”, the Weimar Apollo’s ”nur was sich nie und nirgends hat begeben, das allein ist war” (”only that which hasn’t happened anywhere, is true”).

Now then, ”Eumeswil”. In this novel Jünger speaks a lot about the Urbild and other Plotinic dealings, about plants receiving their shape from a transcendent idea (= Urbild), and that’s kind of Goethean. Like Goethe Jünger was enchanted by nature, by plants and animals, and both had the esoteric terminology to express that.

2. Hugo Fischer

Hugo Fischer (1897-1975) was Jünger’s friend, at least before the Second World War. They shared an interest in idealistic philosophy, in nature observation and in seeing the traces of God in the creation. In Leipzig in the 20s they both studied philosophy, and in the 30s Fischer accompanied Jünger on a Norwegian trip (q.v. ”Myrdun”, 1943).

In that book Fischer’s alter ego is Der Doktor. In another Jünger book, ”Das abenteuerliche Herz”, Fischer is said to figure as Nigromantanus, an eccentric scholar with a house full of iridizing materials, Vexierbilder and metamorphosing decorations. I’d say that this Nigromontanus may be 30% Fischer; the rest of his persona is Jünger with a tinge of Goethe, the name ”Nigromontanus” being for example purloined from a Goethe text.

3. Spengler

Jünger was a free-form writer and novelist, Spengler on the other hand was a systemizer. Jünger dreamed about techno landscapes devoid of farmland, Spengler for his part was a devout farmer idolizer.

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) once received a free copy of Jünger’s ”Der Arbeiter”. Spengler wrote and said that he wasn’t overly impressed. Why? Because Jünger had forgotten to lift the role of the farmer in his book. — On the farmer depends a nation’s welfare. That was Spengler’s view and Jünger’s vision wasn’t in sync with that.

That said, to me as a youngster, having read a Golo Mann’s essay about Germany in the 20s, the names of Spengler and Jünger almost seemed to merge. Writers writing about war, the decline of the west and all that, how alluring. Further on Jünger’s creed  to me seemed more varied and balanced, however, the Spengler attitude has in some way affected me too. In ”The Decline of the West” and in his late ”Man and Technology” Spengler has a lot of interesting material, looking at things from a fresh perspective.

4. Walter Benjamin

If Jünger differs from Spengler in not being a common systemizer, then in Walter Benjamin Jünger has a kindred spirit. Looking at odd subjects, studying the modern world from abstruse angles (like in the ontology of shops, the metaphysics of stamps). Certain pages in ”Das abenteuerliche Herz” and Benjamin’s ”Einbahnstrasse” (1928) are very similar in spirit. Walter Benjamin’s (1892-1940) most famous work is”Die Passagenarbeit”, a study of 19th century Paris.

5. Nietzsche

Jünger didn’t quite like Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). However, in his youth Jünger seems to have been affected by him. Maybe Jünger mellowed through the years and got fed up with the nihilism of Der Pulverkopf. Then again, Nietzsche, whether liked or disliked, is always there in Jünger’s works. He is referred to more or less directly in ”Heliopolis” and ”Eumeswil” for example.

6. C. G. Jung

Finally, a look at Carl Gustaf Jung (1875-1961). Jung contributed to Jünger’s and Eliade’s magazine Antaios. That said, I can’t trace the name ”Jung”, or references to his works, in Jünger’s books proper. However, Jung and Jünger were kindred spirits in that both were proficient in dreaming. They also preferred ancient authors to 20th century contemporaries. These Germans were both ”old in the land of dreams, myths and legends”…

 

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Svensson, Lennart. “Ernst Jünger: His German Gurus, Contemporaries etc.” Tankesmedjan Motpol, 10 July 2014. <http://www.motpol.nu/princip/2014/07/10/ernst-junger-his-german-gurus-contemporaries-etc/ >.

 

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Conservative Critique of Spengler – Tudor

The Revolutionary Conservative Critique of Oswald Spengler

By Lucian Tudor

Oswald Spengler is by now well-known as one of the major thinkers of the German Conservative Revolution of the early 20th Century. In fact, he is frequently cited as having been one of the most determining intellectual influences on German Conservatism of the interwar period – along with Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Ernst Jünger – to the point where his cultural pessimist philosophy is seen to be representative of Revolutionary Conservative views in general (although in reality most Revolutionary Conservatives held more optimistic views).[1]

To begin our discussion, we shall provide a brief overview of the major themes of Oswald Spengler’s philosophy.[2] According to Spengler, every High Culture has its own “soul” (this refers to the essential character of a Culture) and goes through predictable cycles of birth, growth, fulfillment, decline, and demise which resemble that of the life of a plant. To quote Spengler:

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when the soul has actualized the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul.[3]

There is an important distinction in this theory between Kultur (“Culture”) and Zivilisation (“Civilization”). Kultur refers to the beginning phase of a High Culture which is marked by rural life, religiosity, vitality, will-to-power, and ascendant instincts, while Zivilisation refers to the later phase which is marked by urbanization, irreligion, purely rational intellect, mechanized life, and decadence. Although he acknowledged other High Cultures, Spengler focused particularly on three High Cultures which he distinguished and made comparisons between: the Magian, the Classical (Greco-Roman), and the present Western High Culture. He held the view that the West, which was in its later Zivilisation phase, would soon enter a final imperialistic and “Caesarist” stage – a stage which, according to Spengler, marks the final flash before the end of a High Culture.[4]

Perhaps Spengler’s most important contribution to the Conservative Revolution, however, was his theory of “Prussian Socialism,” which formed the basis of his view that conservatives and socialists should unite. In his work he argued that the Prussian character, which was the German character par excellence, was essentially socialist. For Spengler, true socialism was primarily a matter of ethics rather than economics. This ethical, Prussian socialism meant the development and practice of work ethic, discipline, obedience, a sense of duty to the greater good and the state, self-sacrifice, and the possibility of attaining any rank by talent. Prussian socialism was differentiated from Marxism and liberalism. Marxism was not true socialism because it was materialistic and based on class conflict, which stood in contrast with the Prussian ethics of the state. Also in contrast to Prussian socialism was liberalism and capitalism, which negated the idea of duty, practiced a “piracy principle,” and created the rule of money.[5]

Oswald Spengler’s theories of predictable culture cycles, of the separation between Kultur and Zivilisation, of the Western High Culture as being in a state of decline, and of a non-Marxist form of socialism, have all received a great deal of attention in early 20th Century Germany, and there is no doubt that they had influenced Right-wing thought at the time. However, it is often forgotten just how divergent the views of many Revolutionary Conservatives were from Spengler’s, even if they did study and draw from his theories, just as an overemphasis on Spenglerian theory in the Conservative Revolution has led many scholars to overlook the variety of other important influences on the German Right. Ironically, those who were influenced the most by Spengler – not only the German Revolutionary Conservatives, but also later the Traditionalists and the New Rightists – have mixed appreciation with critique. It is this reality which needs to be emphasized: the majority of Conservative intellectuals who have appreciated Spengler have simultaneously delivered the very significant message that Spengler’s philosophy needs to be viewed critically, and that as a whole it is not acceptable.

The most important critique of Spengler among the Revolutionary Conservative intellectuals was that made by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck.[6] Moeller agreed with certain basic ideas in Spengler’s work, including the division between Kultur and Zivilisation, with the idea of the decline of the Western Culture, and with his concept of socialism, which Moeller had already expressed in an earlier and somewhat different form in Der Preussische Stil (“The Prussian Style,” 1916).[7] However, Moeller resolutely rejected Spengler’s deterministic and fatalistic view of history, as well as the notion of destined culture cycles. Moeller asserted that history was essentially unpredictable and unfixed: “There is always a beginning (…) History is the story of that which is not calculated.”[8] Furthermore, he argued that history should not be seen as a “circle” (in Spengler’s manner) but rather a “spiral,” and a nation in decline could actually reverse its decline if certain psychological changes and events could take place within it.[9]

The most radical contradiction with Spengler made by Moeller van den Bruck was the rejection of Spengler’s cultural morphology, since Moeller believed that Germany could not even be classified as part of the “West,” but rather that it represented a distinct culture in its own right, one which even had more in common in spirit with Russia than with the “West,” and which was destined to rise while France and England fell.[10] However, we must note here that the notion that Germany is non-Western was not unique to Moeller, for Werner Sombart, Edgar Julius Jung, and Othmar Spann have all argued that Germans belonged to a very different cultural type from that of the Western nations, especially from the culture of the Anglo-Saxon world. For these authors, Germany represented a culture which was more oriented towards community, spirituality, and heroism, while the modern “West” was more oriented towards individualism, materialism, and capitalistic ethics. They further argued that any presence of Western characteristics in modern Germany was due to a recent poisoning of German culture by the West which the German people had a duty to overcome through sociocultural revolution.[11]

Another key intellectual of the German Conservative Revolution, Hans Freyer, also presented a critical analysis of Spenglerian philosophy.[12] Due to his view that that there is no certain and determined progress in history, Freyer agreed with Spengler’s rejection of the linear view of progress. Freyer’s philosophy of culture also emphasized cultural particularism and the disparity between peoples and cultures, which was why he agreed with Spengler in terms of the basic conception of cultures possessing a vital center and with the idea of each culture marking a particular kind of human being. Being a proponent of a community-oriented state socialism, Freyer found Spengler’s anti-individualist “Prussian socialism” to be agreeable. Throughout his works, Freyer had also discussed many of the same themes as Spengler – including the integrative function of war, hierarchies in society, the challenges of technological developments, cultural form and unity – but in a distinct manner oriented towards social theory.[13]

However, Freyer argued that the idea of historical (cultural) types and that cultures were the product of an essence which grew over time were already expressed in different forms long before Spengler in the works of Karl Lamprecht, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Hegel. It is also noteworthy that Freyer’s own sociology of cultural categories differed from Spengler’s morphology. In his earlier works, Freyer focused primarily on the nature of the cultures of particular peoples (Völker) rather than the broad High Cultures, whereas in his later works he stressed the interrelatedness of all the various European cultures across the millennia. Rejecting Spengler’s notion of cultures as being incommensurable, Freyer’s “history regarded modern Europe as composed of ‘layers’ of culture from the past, and Freyer was at pains to show that major historical cultures had grown by drawing upon the legacy of past cultures.”[14] Finally, rejecting Spengler’s historical determinism, Freyer had “warned his readers not to be ensnared by the powerful organic metaphors of the book [Der Untergang des Abendlandes] … The demands of the present and of the future could not be ‘deduced’ from insights into the patterns of culture … but were ultimately based on ‘the wager of action’ (das Wagnis der Tat).”[15]

Yet another important Conservative critique of Spengler was made by the Italian Perennial Traditionalist philosopher Julius Evola, who was himself influenced by the Conservative Revolution but developed a very distinct line of thought. In his The Path of Cinnabar, Evola showed appreciation for Spengler’s philosophy, particularly in regards to the criticism of the modern rationalist and mechanized Zivilisation of the “West” and with the complete rejection of the idea of progress.[16] Some scholars, such as H.T. Hansen, stress the influence of Spengler’s thought on Evola’s thought, but it is important to remember that Evola’s cultural views differed significantly from Spengler’s due to Evola’s focus on what he viewed as the shifting role of a metaphysical Perennial Tradition across history as opposed to historically determined cultures.[17]

In his critique, Evola pointed out that one of the major flaws in Spengler’s thought was that he “lacked any understanding of metaphysics and transcendence, which embody the essence of each genuine Kultur.”[18] Spengler could analyze the nature of Zivilisation very well, but his irreligious views caused him to have little understanding of the higher spiritual forces which deeply affected human life and the nature of cultures, without which one cannot clearly grasp the defining characteristic of Kultur. As Robert Steuckers has pointed out, Evola also found Spengler’s analysis of Classical and Eastern cultures to be very flawed, particularly as a result of the “irrationalist” philosophical influences on Spengler: “Evola thinks this vitalism leads Spengler to say ‘things that make one blush’ about Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Greco-Roman civilization (which, for Spengler, is merely a civilization of ‘corporeity’).”[19] Also problematic for Evola was “Spengler’s valorization of ‘Faustian man,’ a figure born in the Age of Discovery, the Renaissance and humanism; by this temporal determination, Faustian man is carried towards horizontality rather than towards verticality.”[20]

Finally, we must make a note of the more recent reception of Spenglerian philosophy in the European New Right and Identitarianism: Oswald Spengler’s works have been studied and critiqued by nearly all major New Right and Identitarian intellectuals, including especially Alain de Benoist, Dominique Venner, Pierre Krebs, Guillaume Faye, Julien Freund, and Tomislav Sunic. The New Right view of Spenglerian theory is unique, but is also very much reminiscent of Revolutionary Conservative critiques of Moeller van den Bruck and Hans Freyer. Like Spengler and many other thinkers, New Right intellectuals also critique the “ideology of progress,” although it is significant that, unlike Spengler, they do not do this to accept a notion of rigid cycles in history nor to reject the existence of any progress. Rather, the New Right critique aims to repudiate the unbalanced notion of linear and inevitable progress which depreciates all past culture in favor of the present, while still recognizing that some positive progress does exist, which it advocates reconciling with traditional culture to achieve a more balanced cultural order.[21] Furthermore, addressing Spengler’s historical determinism, Alain de Benoist has written that “from Eduard Spranger to Theodor W. Adorno, the principal reproach directed at Spengler evidently refers to his ‘fatalism’ and to his ‘determinism.’ The question is to know up to what point man is prisoner of his own history. Up to what point can one no longer change his course?”[22]

Like their Revolutionary Conservative precursors, New Rightists reject any fatalist and determinist notion of history, and do not believe that any people is doomed to inevitable decline; “Decadence is therefore not an inescapable phenomenon, as Spengler wrongly thought,” wrote Pierre Krebs, echoing the thoughts of other authors.[23] While the New Rightists accept Spengler’s idea of Western decline, they have posed Europe and the West as two antagonistic entities. According to this new cultural philosophy, the genuine European culture is represented by numerous traditions rooted in the most ancient European cultures, and must be posed as incompatible with the modern “West,” which is the cultural emanation of early modern liberalism, egalitarianism, and individualism.

The New Right may agree with Spengler that the “West” is undergoing decline, “but this original pessimism does not overshadow the purpose of the New Right: The West has encountered the ultimate phase of decadence, consequently we must definitively break with the Western civilization and recover the memory of a Europe liberated from the egalitarianisms…”[24] Thus, from the Identitarian perspective, the “West” is identified as a globalist and universalist entity which had harmed the identities of European and non-European peoples alike. In the same way that Revolutionary Conservatives had called for Germans to assert the rights and identity of their people in their time period, New Rightists call for the overcoming of the liberal, cosmopolitan Western Civilization to reassert the more profound cultural and spiritual identity of Europeans, based on the “regeneration of history” and a reference to their multi-form and multi-millennial heritage.

Notes

[1] An example of such an assertion regarding cultural pessimism can be seen in “Part III. Three Major Expressions of Neo-Conservatism” in Klemens von Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism: Its History and Dilemma in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968).

[2] To supplement our short summary of Spenglerian philosophy, we would like to note that one the best overviews of Spengler’s philosophy in English is Stephen M. Borthwick, “Historian of the Future: An Introduction to Oswald Spengler’s Life and Works for the Curious Passer-by and the Interested Student,” Institute for Oswald Spengler Studies, 2011, <https://sites.google.com/site/spenglerinstitute/Biography>.

[3] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West Vol. 1: Form and Actuality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), p. 106.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See “Prussianism and Socialism” in Oswald Spengler, Selected Essays (Chicago: Gateway/Henry Regnery, 1967).

[6] For a good overview of Moeller’s thought, see Lucian Tudor, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought,” Counter-Currents Publishing, 17 August 2012, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/08/arthur-moeller-van-den-bruck-the-man-and-his-thought/>.

[7] See Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 238-239, and Alain de Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” Elementos: Revista de Metapolítica para una Civilización Europea No. 15 (11 June 2011), p. 30, 40-42. <http://issuu.com/sebastianjlorenz/docs/elementos_n__15>.

[8] Arthur Moeller van den Bruck as quoted in Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” p. 41.

[9] Ibid., p. 41.

[10] Ibid., pp. 41-43.

[11] See Fritz K. Ringer, The Decline of the German Mandarins: The German Academic Community, 1890–1933 (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1990), pp. 183 ff.; John J. Haag, Othmar Spann and the Politics of “Totality”: Corporatism in Theory and Practice (Ph.D. Thesis, Rice University, 1969), pp. 24-26, 78, 111.; Alexander Jacob’s introduction and “Part I: The Intellectual Foundations of Politics” in Edgar Julius Jung, The Rule of the Inferiour, Vol. 1 (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1995).

[12] For a brief introduction to Freyer’s philosophy, see Lucian Tudor, “Hans Freyer: The Quest for Collective Meaning,” Counter-Currents Publishing, 22 February 2013, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/02/hans-freyer-the-quest-for-collective-meaning/>.

[13] See Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God That Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 78-79, 120-121.

[14] Ibid., p. 335.

[15] Ibid., p. 79.

[16] See Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar (London: Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009), pp. 203-204.

[17] See H.T. Hansen, “Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors,” in Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Postwar Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002), pp. 15-17.

[18] Evola, Path of Cinnabar, p. 204.

[19] Robert Steuckers, “Evola & Spengler”, Counter-Currents Publishing, 20 September 2010, <http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/09/evola-spengler/> .

[20] Ibid.

[21] In a description that applies as much to the New Right as to the Eurasianists, Alexander Dugin wrote of a vision in which “the formal opposition between tradition and modernity is removed… the realities superseded by the period of Enlightenment obtain a legitimate place – these are religion, ethnos, empire, cult, legend, etc. In the same time, a technological breakthrough, economical development, social fairness, labour liberation, etc. are taken from the Modern” (See Alexander Dugin, “Multipolarism as an Open Project,” Journal of Eurasian Affairs Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 2013), pp. 12-13).

[22] Alain de Benoist, “Oswald Spengler,” Elementos: Revista de Metapolítica para una Civilización Europea No. 10 (15 April 2011), p. 13.<http://issuu.com/sebastianjlorenz/docs/elementos_n__10&gt;.

[23] Pierre Krebs, Fighting for the Essence (London: Arktos, 2012), p. 34.

[24] Sebastian J. Lorenz, “El Decadentismo Occidental, desde la Konservative Revolution a la Nouvelle Droite,”Elementos No. 10, p. 5.

 

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Tudor, Lucian. “The Revolutionary Conservative Critique of Oswald Spengler.” Tankesmedjan Motpol, 7 November 2014. <http://www.motpol.nu/english/2014/11/07/the-revolutionary-conservative-critique-of-oswald-spengler/ >.

Note: See also the mentions of various other Right-wing critiques of Spengler which are discussed by Karlheinz Weißmann in the editorial on Oswald Spengler in Sezession im Netz (May 2005): <http://www.sezession.de/wp-content/uploads/alte_nummern/sezession_spengler.pdf > (See alt. link).

Additional Note: This essay was also republished in Lucian Tudor’s From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right: A Collection of Essays on Identitarian Philosophy (Santiago, Chile: Círculo de Investigaciones PanCriollistas, 2015).

 

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Intro to Spengler – Borthwick

Historian of the Future: An Introduction to Oswald Spengler’s Life and Works  for the Curious Passer-by and the Interested Student

By Stephen M. Borthwick

 

There have been two resurgences in the popularity of Oswald Spengler since the initial blooming of his popularity in the 1920s; the first in the 1980s and the second most recently, with almost ten major books dealing directly with him or his thought published in the last ten years, and more articles in various academic journals. It is a resurgence in the popular mind that may yet be matched in the academy, where Spengler has hardly been obscure but nevertheless an unknown—a forbidden intellectual fruit for what was, in the words of Henry Stuart Hughes, his first English-language biographer, “obviously not a respectable performance from the standpoint of scholarship” calling Decline of the West, in form typical to Hughes’ species “a massive stumbling block in the path to true knowledge”.[1] This is a pervasive attitude amongst academics, whose fields, especially history, are dominated by a specialisation that Spengler’s history defies with its broad perspective and positivist influences. As such when Spengler’s magnum opus first appeared, it was immediately subject to what in popular parlance can only qualify as nit-picking, which did not cease when the author corrected what factual errors could be found in his initial text. Nevertheless, in the popular mind Spengler has remained an influential if obscure author. Most recently, his unique, isolated civilisations encapsulated in their own history has been observed in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, though the development of civilisations from Mediterranean to Western that he paints resembles the dominant theory posited by William McNeill in his Rise of the West rather than Spengler’s Decline of the West. Nevertheless, Spengler’s theory of encapsulated cultural organisms growing up next to one another, advanced by subsequent authors like Toynbee, remains a stirring line of thought, growing more relevant in the rising conflict between Western countries and the resurging Islamic world.

To understand this adversity that Spengler’s ideas struggle against in the academic establishment, and therefore to know why his ideas have filtered through the decades but left his name and book behind, it is necessary to do what very few academics dare to do: to explore and openly discuss the significance of Spengler’s thought. This is the project of this essay; to explain to any who have recently discovered Spengler, especially if they are a college student or college graduate, why they have never heard the name “Spengler” before, and what his thought entails at its most basic level. This discussion will deal not just with Spengler’s most famous work, Der Untergang des Abendlandes (“The Downfall of the Occident”, popularly known as Decline of the West, after C.F. Atkinson’s translation) but also with his numerous political pamphlets and subsequent works of philosophy and history. His philosophical texts include, chiefly: Man and Technics, a specialised focus expanding on the relationship of the human being and the age of technology in which we live already mentioned in Decline, The Hour of Decision, which foresees the overthrow of the Western world by what today would be called the “Third World”, or what Spengler refers to as the “Coloured World”, and Prussianism and Socialism, his first major political text, prescribing the exact form of political structure needed, in his view, to save Germany immediately after the First World War. Numerous other texts, published by C.H. Beck in Munich, also exist, compiled in two primary collections, Politischen Schriften (“Political Writings”) of 1934 and posthumous Reden und Aufsätze (“Speeches and Essays”) of 1936; these are joined by Gedanken (“Reflections”), also of 1936. His unfinished works, posthumously collected and titled by chief Spengler scholar Anton Koktanek in the 1960s, Urfragen and Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte, will not be touched upon in this brief introduction, since they are not available in the English language, but readers fluent in German are encouraged to explore them as well as Koktanek’s other works.

On the assumption that without understanding a man, one cannot grasp his thought, it seems most appropriate to begin any exploration of Spengler the philosopher with Spengler the man. Spengler was a conservative first, then a German nationalist, then a pessimist (though he regarded himself as a consummate realist). Further, he was one of the few men (if not the only man) to meet Adolf Hitler and come away completely unmoved by the demagogue and future dictator of Germany. He openly attacked National Socialism as “the tendency not to want to see and master sober reality, but instead to conceal it with… a party-theatre of flags, parades, and uniforms and to fake hard facts with theories and programmes” and declared that what Germany needed was “a hero, not merely a heroic tenor.”[2] Nevertheless, when voting in the 1932 elections, Spengler, along with some 13.5 million other Germans, cast his ballot for the National Socialist ticket; he explained his choice to friends by saying enigmatically “Hitler is an idiot—but one must support the movement.”[3] At the time people speculated what he meant, and have subsequently continued to speculate to what he was referring when he said “the movement”, especially after his sustained criticisms of National Socialism well into what other Germans were experiencing as “the German Rebirth” in the years between 1933 and his death in 1936.

Spengler’s sustained pessimism about the National Socialist future (he remarked sarcastically shortly before his death that “in ten years the German Reich will probably no longer exist”) is reflective of a realism he had well before the beginning of the First World War, when the idea that would become Decline of the West were first conceived shortly after the Agadir crisis in 1911. Spengler lived and wrote largely in unhappy times; his chief contributions were made in Germany’s darkest hours of the interwar period, dominated by an unstable, incompetent government, extraordinary tributes exacted by the victorious allies, and as a result unrivalled poverty, inflation, and unemployment while the former Allied Powers (save for Italy) were experiencing the so-called “Roaring ‘20s”. He was born and he died, however, in times when things were looking bright. Few regular Germans in 1936 could or did foresee the barbarity of Hitler’s reign, five gruelling years of World War and the planned extermination of non-“Aryans” in conquered territories as well as at home, just as Wilhelmine Germany was oblivious to the consequences of the First World War almost right through it. All that the Germans saw was Germany, their Germany, was on the rise! In 1880, when the young Oswald was born to Bernhard Spengler and his wife Pauline, the German Empire was led by Kaiser Wilhelm I and his Iron Chancellor Bismarck, and the German Reich was still celebrating its formation and the unification of the German nation. Aside from the tribulation of the “year of three emperors” when the young Oswald was eight, there was no reason for the average German to worry about catastrophe: the kindly old Kaiser Wilhelm was replaced by his young, virulent grandson, Wilhelm II, who promised his people “a place in the Sun”. Later, in 1936, when the now established scholar died in his sleep of a heart-attack, the German people were again in good spirits; from the popular perspective, all they could see was that they at last had jobs again, inflation no longer loomed as so painful a memory, their shattered Reich was being rebuilt, and someone had finally reasserted German control over the Rhineland and the Saar—where the memory of the insulting use of colonial occupation forces by the French, and the various abuses civilians suffered during the occupation, still lingered in the German mind.

Early Life (From Youth to Decline, 1880-1917)

All of this blithe cheerfulness and celebration, though, did not affect either the young or the old Oswald Spengler. The opening chapter of Koktanek’s biography of him is titled “Ursprung und Urangst” – “Origin and Original Anxiety”, and not without good reason. Throughout his life, Spengler suffered a nervous affliction and anxiety, leading to chronic headaches in later years so bad that they caused minor short-term memory loss. He would later reflect in his planned autobiography that in his youth he had “no friends, with one exception, [and] no love: a few sudden, stupid [infatuations], fearful of the bond [of relationship]. [I had] only yearning and melancholy.”[4] His home life was similarly dismal. John Farrenkopf characterises it as the typical bourgeois home of the period; his father, a former copper miner turned civil servant, was proud of the Fatherland, conservative in social attitudes, and generally took for granted his loyalty to the Prussian State. It was, in Spengler’s own eyes, a cold place, and an unhappy one. Spengler remarked that his parents were “unliterarisch”—“unlettered, unliterary”—and they “never opened our bookcase nor bought a book”; he himself developed an early love for reading, which earned him ire from his father, of whom he wrote was characterised by a “hatred for all recreation, most of all books”.[5] Despite his newspaper reading and bourgeois sensibilities, though, Bernhard Spengler rarely raised the topic of politics in the household, and young Oswald was only exposed to the workings of the State by outside influences. He would break from this aloofness of politics only once in his life, shrinking after his failure back into scholastic and theoretical efforts to influence the political climate.

Spengler’s mother led an unhappy life; she married Bernhard, it would seem, out of convenience rather than deep feeling, and bitter about her lot. Originally from the famous Grantzow clan of ballerinas and ballet masters, Pauline Spengler was prevented from ballet and the stage because of her figure, and then forced to leave her beloved home town, the quiet hamlet of Blanckenburg in the Harz mountains, for the bustling Hessian city of Halle-an-der-Saale when young Oswald was ten and her husband changed his trade from mining to postal work (a change he was not especially excited about, either). She displayed her dissatisfaction by brooding over her painting (an effort to cling to what artistry she could maintain in competition with her sisters) and playing petty tyrant over her children.

The young Spengler escaped this life through fantasy and fiction, inventing imaginary kingdoms and world-empires and writing childish theatre-plays with echoes of Wagner. He found further escape after he began his schooling at the Latina, administered by the Franckean Foundation in Halle, where he formally studied Greek and Latin, but in his free time devoured Goethe and Schiller, the first of literary influences that would later be joined by such eclectic writers as William Shakespeare, Gerhart Hauptmann, Henrik Ibsen, Maksim Gorky, Honoré de Balzac, Heinrich von Kleist, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Friedrich Hebbel, Heinrich Heine, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Émile Zola, Gutave Flaubert, and others.[6] Spengler complained of the Franckean focus on Greek and Latin that prevented him from learning “practical languages”, and he was forced as a result to teach himself French, English, Italian, and, later, during his university days, Russian, through reading authors in those languages. His fluency in the languages was astounding to many, but he himself never felt comfortable enough with them to correspond with many of the authors he would later read and who would bring to bear influence on his own magnum opus in their own languages. Anton Koktanek blames this anxiety and lack of formal training in modern foreign languages for Spengler remaining “a German phenomenon”.[7]

Spengler’s interest in world history and contemporary history also began here, and added to the fiction he wrote, including a short story set in the Russo-Japanese War titled Der Sieger as well as poetry, librettos, dramatic sketches, and other notes and such, most of which he would commit to the flames in 1911.[8] At University, he read the entirety of Goethe’s corpus and discovered two men who would bear tremendous influence on his later writing: Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He would also become a devotee of Richard Wagner during this time, declaring his favourite work to be Tristan and Isolde.[9] His interest in Nietzsche especially would have great bearing on his choice of thesis topic, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus.

Spengler’s father died in 1901, just as Oswald was beginning University studies. He was by and large emotionally unaffected by the loss, and began all the more focusing on his studies. Like most students at University in those days, Spengler matriculated at several Universities while formally enrolled at the University of Halle. First, he travelled to Munich, a city with which he would fall in love and later make his home. Subsequently he would also study at the University of Berlin and then returned to Halle to complete his dissertation topic, entitled “Heraklit: eine Studie über den energetischen Grundgedanken seiner Philosophie” (“Heraclitus: A Study of the Energetic Fundamental Thought of his Philosophy”). It was, as Klaus Fischer observes, “a daring subject for a young scholar because Heraclitus had only left a few and highly cryptic fragments of his thought.”[10] Spengler, however, dared, and presented the first form of his thesis in 1903, but failed the oral defence. Despite his own typically depressed personality, however, he was not downtrodden at the failure; rather, he agreed with almost every criticism that was offered against his work—in his autobiography he called himself “naïve”. He had not, as most biographers observe, consulted any professors on his thesis before submitting it, and therefore had made errors and omissions that one only really avoids from consultation and discussion of one’s work.[11] The primary complaint was his lack of citations. He would repeat this mistake with the first edition of Decline of the West in 1917, writing the book entirely alone and isolated from the outside world—after initial criticism of the book he would revisit and largely revise the text, such that when it arrived in second edition in 1922 he had fixed most of his errors, but did not, as the academics insisted he should, increase the number of citations.

Spengler received his Ph.D. in 1904 and immediately went on to pass State examinations in a number of subjects that allowed him to become a Gymnasium teacher. His first assignment was a major turning point in his life, when he resolved not to be a teacher after stepping off the train in the little town of Lüneburg, taking a glance about at the town and the school and realising how terribly provincial his life would be. Spengler promptly boarded a train for his home town of Blankenburg and had a nervous breakdown. From this point forward he resolved to use teaching as a support for his true passions of study and writing. He recovered from his breakdown and took a different assignment, this time in Saarbrücken, happy to be so close to the French border that would allow him to take several holidays in France.[12] After a year there, he moved on to Düsseldorf, where he taught for another year before taking on a permanent (or so it appeared at the time) position in Hamburg.

Spengler flourished in these cities of big industry and metropolitan life—despite his writings criticising money power and the soul-stealing metropolis, Spengler remained a cosmopolitan urbanite throughout his life. An attestation to this aspect of his personality is his behaviour while teaching. Spengler remembered his days in the Franckean Latina with mixed disdain for the parochial moralists he had as teachers and gratitude for the training he received. He resolved, in the words of Klaus Fischer, “to avoid the foibles commonly attributed to schoolteachers: pedantry, narrow provincialism, and incivility” and made an effort to keep himself fully attuned to the petty culture of fashion and the latest advances in his scholarly fields (he taught German, mathematics, and geography). He would also frequent the theatre (where he would weep easily at especially moving plots and concertos) and local museums—in Düsseldorf he was even spotted frequently in the casino, a place quite foreign to most schoolteachers![13] His time in teaching, however, was short-lived. By almost all accounts Spengler hated Hamburg, not for itself, nor because he disliked the people, his colleagues or his students—indeed in all these respects he was well-respected and well-loved and returned these feelings of affection—but because of the weather. The cold, wet north German city terrorised him, increasing the acuteness and the frequency of his chronic headaches to such a degree that he took a year sabbatical in 1911 from which he would never return. His immediate plans were a holiday in Italy, where he would sojourn frequently in imitation of Goethe.[14]

His complete departure from teaching, much to the disappointment of both colleagues and students, who regarded him as a superlative teacher and amicable fellow, was by and large decided by his mother’s death in 1910. He had little regard for his mother, who psychologically tortured his sister Gertrude, disdained his other sister Hildegard, and was no kinder to his beloved sister Adele.[15] While he marked his father’s passing in 1901 with reflections of the latter’s loyalty to Prussia, his mother’s death was marked only with his inheritance and departure from his childhood home, leaving his sister Adele to dissolve the household.[16] Adele, a frustrated bohemian and largely talentless aspiring virtuoso, quickly spent the 30,000DM she inherited and committed suicide in 1917. Oswald’s inheritance, on the other hand, was wisely invested and used with some measure of thrift, giving him a comfortable lifestyle in Munich and allowing him to pursue his desire to be a writer.

At first, Spengler hadn’t the slightest idea what to write about. In Heraklit he displayed some of the budding thought which came to fruition as his magnum opus, to be sure. In one of the thicker sections of notes for Eis Heauton, the author proclaims that “my great book, Untergang des Abendlandes, was already emotionally conceived in my twentieth year” (four years before he would submit his doctoral thesis).[17] Farrenkopf observes that Spengler’s dissertation bears the marks of Decline as well, declaring that “what Spengler later attempted as a philosopher of history is analogous to what he claimed Heraclitus had accomplished in Greek philosophy”.[18] The true inspiration for Decline, however, came not from Heraclitus nor from Goethe or Nietzsche; nor did it come to him, as it did with Gibbon and Toynbee, from a physical visit to any landmarks. Rather, the genesis of Decline of the West was in a much different, political work titled Liberal and Conservative, which Spengler began writing in response to the Agadir Crisis of 1911.

Agadir, briefly put, was an attempt on the part of Kaiser Wilhelm II to imitate the American support of the Panamanian rebellion against Columbia, which was accomplished by placing the American fleet off the coast of Panama to prevent Columbian intervention. When Moroccans rebelled against the puppet Sultan Abdelhafid after years of allowing his country to be exploited by European powers, the French offered to support Fez by sending in troops. Wilhelm attempted to assert German interests in the region by sending the gunboat Panther to the harbour of Agadir, much to the chagrin of the French, who would later take over Morocco as part of their colonial Empire, and the British, who viewed the act as a challenge to their own power and a threat to peace in Europe. The end result of the whole event was a strengthened Entente cordiale that would eventually become the Allied Powers in the First World War.

Spengler was keenly aware of the situation at the time, and took on the task of writing a book on the subject that would contrast German and British world-aims and national spirits. The general thrust of this work would become his later work Prussianism and Socialism of 1919, but as he worked on Liberal and Conservative, he found his topic broadening more and more, to the point where he was taking into account not the national rivalries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the great trials and tribulations of entire civilisations over the course of millennia. Thus the work transformed into the first volume of his Decline of the West, the title of which he probably derived from discovering Otto Seeck’s Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt (“History of the Downfall of the Ancient World” or The History of the Decline of Antiquity) in a store-front window.[19] He would complete the work over the next few years, well into the World War, about which he maintained a positive outlook, to the extent that his introduction to the first volume of Decline, appearing in 1917, bore the hope of the author (omitted in Atkinson’s translation) that “this book might not stand entirely unworthy next to the military achievements of Germany.”[20]

The book that took shape was sweeping in scale, painting the picture of a broad history of mankind as the life cycle(s) of massive organisms to which Spengler gave two names: Kultur and Zivilisation, each representing the youth and the adulthood of the organism. These organisms passed through four seasons of life—(as Kultur) Spring, Summer, (as Zivilisation) Autumn, and Winter—before passing from existence and leaving the soil to which it is tied to give rise to a new organism. A more detailed discussion of the theory may be required before departing into Spengler’s life after the War and the publication of Decline.

Decline of the West and its Influences

Der Untergang des Abendlandes occurs as a part of a long tradition of German historical writing, dating from the early nineteenth century and in which the giants of the field, both famous and infamous, stand: G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Heinrich von Treitschke, Leopold von Ranke, Heinrich Friedjung, among others. It also occurs as a part of a long tradition of German philosophy and social thought, dating even further into history and starting, not with the rational Kant, but with the intuitive and romantic, sometimes quasi-mystical writings of Goethe, following to Nietzsche, Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, and still more. More can be said of Spengler’s influences, and has been said in the works of Farrenkopf and Fischer on the subject, but a brief discussion of chief influences will be sufficient for our purposes.

If Spengler was the first to propose a World-Historical view, as he claims in the early pages of Decline, Leopold von Ranke preceded him by for the first time proposing a European-Historical view in his two-volume Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation (“German History in the Age of Reformation”) of 1845/47.[21] Ranke wrote a history which belongs to a very specific school of historical inquiry, dependent on objectivity and a slice of historical fact drawn from primary source work with bearing only on that exact moment in history, showing things wie es eigentlich gewesen, as he proclaims in his 1824 work Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1514 (“History of the Latin and Teutonic Peoples, 1494-1514”). For all his efforts at objectivity in history, he was a firm believer in the balance of power of nation-states, and his loyalty to this state philosophy bleeds through in his writing. He is significant to Spengler in that both men sought to broaden historical inquiry into an objective rather than national project, and that Spengler was certainly beholden to the school of narrative historicism that Ranke would found, inasmuch as his project was heavily criticised by more loyal Rankeans than himself.

Spengler’s other major historical inheritance was G.W.F. Hegel, who stood with Ranke in his typical nineteenth century fascination with the nation-state but was completely opposed to Ranke’s objective, slice-of-history approach, demanding a broader view, and the ability to see the future in the past. Hegel was also a dedicated Prussian, much like Spengler’s father and Spengler himself—so much so, in fact, that he is among several German historians of preceding centuries who are mentioned by Shirer in his fumbling, attempt to link National Socialism and the Prussian state in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. His declaration in Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (“Elements of the Philosophy of Right”) that “the course of God in the world—that is the State—and its foundation is the mighty force of Reason actualising itself as Will” is reflected in Spengler’s own firm belief in the role of fate in the lifespan of Kultur-Zivilisation organisms.[22] Furthermore, like Hegel, Spengler’s history is a designated march to a designated end: for Hegel, the “end of history” is a progressive, linear movement from antiquity to modernity and the pinnacle of mankind’s development—a belief that has earned Hegel accusations of arrogance and stubbornness, among other things, from detractors. He would pass this view onto his student Karl Marx, who proclaimed the same progression, but from a strictly economic view, of modes of production through history, culminating in the elimination of alienation and the realisation of Species-being in Communism. The difference between the Hegelian and Marxian view of history and Spengler, however, is two-fold: while the given lifespan of a Kultur-Zivilisation organism can be viewed as linear, it is a downward motion rather than the upward motion Hegel and Marx see; further, there is no single linear history of all mankind, the way Hegel and Marx see it. Quite the contrary, Spengler echoes Goethe, declaring that “‘Mankind’ is a zoological concept or merely an empty word.”[23]

It seems contradictory, of course, that Spengler would reject that “mankind” exists while attempting very earnestly to write a “world-history.” As much as Spengler reflects Hegel and Ranke as historical predecessors, his views of the organism of society bear the marks of Ferdinand Tönnies, whose famous work Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft would practically found the discipline of sociology, influencing both Max Weber’s seminal The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as well as Emile Durkheim’s functional theories of society.[24] Tönnies summarises his project in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft in the very first page, saying “The connexion will be understood either as real and organic – this being the nature of the Gemeinschaft – or in an ideological and mechanistic form – this being the notion of Gesellschaft” and further summarising the difference between the two by saying that, “all that is familiar, private, living together exclusively (we find) is understood as life in a Gemeinschaft. Gesellschaft is the public sphere, it is the World”.[25]

Spengler’s structure of the communal, agrarian Kultur passing into individualised, urban Zivilisation has much in common with Tönnies’ conception of the organic Gemeinschaft and its artificial counterpart Gesellschaft. It is also important to bear in mind that the key to the Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft schema is two-fold—both the contrast of the private with the public spheres as well as the organic with the artificial—when considering Spengler’s own contrast of the representative of Kultur, which is the “country-town” with the representative of Zivilisation, which is the megalopolis. As Spengler says himself, “long ago the country bore the country-town and nourished it with her best blood. Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost uninhabited waste of country.”[26]

The contrast of the organic with the artificial, the personal with the impersonal, and the village with the city runs throughout Spengler’s whole structure. Spengler’s vision is two-fold: both the binary progression of Kultur crystallising and stagnating into Zivilisation as well the four-phase life cycle that all Kultur-Zivilisation structures (or, more properly, organisms) follow. Describing this, Spengler uses two sets of terms: organic terms, describing the actual birth, growth, decline, and death of the Kulture-Zivilization organism as a life form, and the fatalistic language for which he has been so criticised: he declares “the Civilisation is the inevitable destiny of a Culture… Civilisations are… a conclusion, the thing-become succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life”.[27] The central concept there—Werden and Gewordene, “becoming” and “become”—are ideas for which Spengler is deeply indebted (as he admits) to Goethe, and play strong role in the contrast he makes between the vivacious, developing Kultur and the stagnant, crystallised Zivilisation.[28]

These Kultur-Zivilisation organisms are detailed in three tables he includes in his work: the first details the passage of Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter, which for the Occident begins in 900, after the Carolingian period and the final death of Antiquity, and ends (or begins to end) with modernity, completely the roughly thousand-year lifespan which Spengler assigns to his Kultur-Zivilisation organisms (except those of the far east). Each Kultur-Zivilisation organism has a symbol which accompanies it in the Kultur phase; for the West it is infinite space; for the Egyptian, the long corridor; the Semitic, the cavern; the Greeks, the idealised statue, etc. Spengler also specifically names three of the “souls” of these organisms with especial bearing on the Occident. The West itself is “Faustian” defined by Goethe’s own character and his constant outward-reaching for knowledge and more; Antiquity, which the West has replaced, is “Apollonian”, a term readily borrowed from Nietzsche, defined by the Nietzschean Apollonian rationality and thirst for worldly perfection; finally, the Semitic, being Jewish, Arabic, etc. is a sort of mixed Kultur-Zivilisation organism called “Magian”, after the mystics who visited the birth of the Christ-child, and is defined by the preoccupation with essence rather than space.

The Magian requires some further discussion, since it represents for Spengler a different “mutation” (to keep with the biological sense of an organism) of the main species of Kultur-Zivilizationen. This is because of a process Spengler describes in the second volume of Decline called “pseudomorphosis”. He asserts in the first volume that the “Arabian soul was cheated of its maturity—like a young tree that is hindered and stunted in its growth by a fallen old giant of the forest,” but after critiques of the work began to circulate back to him, realised that this was inadequate to explain the unique situation that the Magian Kultur-Zivilisation finds itself.[29] He therefore suggests a parallel with mineralogy, pointing the phenomenon of “pseudomorphosis”, by which volcanic molten rock flows into spaces left by washed away minerals in the hollows of rocks; likewise, since the Arabian culture’s pre-historical period is encompassed by Babylonian Civilization, and later as it develops it is stunted by Antiquity with the Roman conquest of Egypt.[30] Spengler sees a similar occurrence with the Russian Kultur-Zivilisation, which is pressed between the Faustian Kultur-Zivilisation and the Asiatic hordes which repeatedly conquer it. He maintains even in his last work, Jahre der Entscheidung, that the Bolshevist revolution represented a part of this pseudomorphosis that Russia is experiencing: “Asia has conquered Russia back from “Europe” to which it had been annexed by Peter the Great”.[31]

This is the structure within which the subject of Spengler’s title exists. Spengler remarked on his title at length in an essay titled “Pessimismus?” (“Pessimism?”) appearing in the Preußischer Jahrbücher in 1921:

But there are men who confuse the downfall [literally “going under”] of Antiquity with the sinking of an ocean liner. The notion of a catastrophe is not contained in the word. If one said—instead of downfall—completion, an expression that is linked in a special way with Goethe’s thought, the “pessimistic” side is removed without the real sense of the term having been altered.[32]

He is not, therefore, discussing a cataclysmic event that would bring about the end of Western civilisation, though no doubt much of the appeal of his work was the recent catastrophe of the Great War. What he sees instead is a general inadequacy in the trends coming out of his contemporary West, which the Great War only compounded. Faustian civilisation had come to stagnate with the rise of bourgeois economists; as he says, “through the economic history of every Culture there runs a desperate conflict waged by the soil-rooted tradition of a race, by its soul, against the spirit of money”.[33] The capitalism and industrialisation of liberal Europe represents the bleeding dry of the soul of Faustian Kultur; it, too, however, shall pass in the coming Ceasarism of the Faustian Winter that Spengler predicts. He speaks of “the sword” being triumphant over money-power and finance capital, bringing about the final period of where violence of spirit triumphs and is marked by the rise of the “Caesars”, demagogues who will bring about a Western World Imperium that Spengler envisioned being headed by Germany. It is worth noting that John Farrenkopf believes this to remain an accurate prediction for America, which Spengler himself discounted, as most Europeans at the time, as an adolescent child of Europe, hardly capable of contributing to Faustian Zivilisation in any great way.

It is, at last, important to note that while Spengler offers this structure that explains history, it is not his intent to “save” the Occident. He participated in politics that would, in his view, further the progression of Faustian Zivilization out of its Autumn and into Winter, but, in true Nietzschean fashion, he encourages his readers to adopt an amor fati toward the decline of their Kultur-Zivilisation. Indeed, the hope one retains after reading Spengler is of a peculiar kind—since all Kultur-Zivilisationen are destined to wither and die, the Faustian man should embrace the destruction of the Occident with an eye to the subsequent Kultur-Zivilisation organism that will take its place, which Spengler predicts will be Russian, a society which due to close contact to both the Occidental and Asian Kultur-Zivilisation organisms has not been able to come into itself—in short, it is not yet Werden, existing in the historyless period that marks the beginning and end of every Kultur-Zivilisation organism.

The Conservative Revolutionary (Political Writings and Speeches, 1919-1924)

The Decline of the West marks a high-point in Spengler’s life, and also a turning point for both his own life and the life of Germany as a whole. Decline appeared complete in two volumes in 1922, four years after Germany’s defeat in the First World War and in the midst of the Weimar Republic struggling to get on its feet. As mentioned above, this contributed greatly to the book’s circulation, though it is unclear how many enthusiasts made an effort to read the entire text. Spengler found himself now ushered into higher intellectual circles, battling with intellectual greats over the value of his work, and once again able to enjoy the delicacies he had to go without for the duration of the War (he wrote that much of the work he did on Decline was done by candlelight). In 1919 he joined such famous names as Hermann Alexander Graf Keyserling (for his seminal work Reisetagebuch eines Philosophen, “Travel-Diary of a Philosopher”) and distinguished Kant scholar Dr. Hans Vaihinger (for his work Philosophie des Als Ob, “The Philosophy of As-If”) in being awarded the Nietzsche Archives’ “Distinguished Scholar Award” with an academic diploma and the sum of 1,500.00DM (roughly $45.00 in 1919).[34]

Despite his acute sense of the depressing reality of his work, Spengler was materially well-off and led a generally comfortable life because of its popularity. He moved from the small flat where he had written Decline during the war to a spacious apartment that overlooked the Isar River. He decorated it with a variety of fine paintings, Chinese and Greek-styled vases, and other pieces obtained at auctions or gifted to him by admirers, and shocked visitors with his vast library, which literally lined the walls of his new home. He covered the fine hard-wood floors with even finer rugs, most markedly a strikingly red carpet in his office upon which he was known to pace endlessly in the night while he worked.[35] He was, though, of relatively modest tastes, and was frugal with his money. He took holidays to Italy frequently, but otherwise only left Germany when another party could pay for his travel; his tastes at home included trips to the theatre, fine wines, and a regular supply of dark cigars. He never hired a housekeeper or married, and his sister Hildegard, widowed by the World War, would keep house for him. He rarely entertained and continued to devote himself to work. His work now, though, was not strictly scholarly.

A well-known name now, Spengler began to take a greater interest in politics than he had hitherto. He wrote to Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz in 1920 regarding the recovery of the flag from the SMS Scharnhorst, which was sunk in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914, taking Admiral Maximillian Graf von Spee to the bottom with it; the flag, Spengler wrote, had fallen into the hands of an anti-German party who wished to send it to Britain to be a trophy of war, something offensive to Spengler as a German nationalist.[36] Admiral von Tirpitz replied that he would refer the matter to the admiralty, but the flag was undoubtedly not that from the Scharnhorst’s main post, which went down flying, and therefore the value of the demands of the original owners for the flag (50,000-60,000DM) was probably not equal even to its sentimental value. The admiral added, probably much to Spengler’s satisfaction, that he had thoroughly enjoyed reading Prussianism and Socialism, and wrote “I only wish that your ideas could find response in the Marxist-infected working classes.”[37]

The work Admiral Tirpitz praised so highly was Spengler’s second attempt to reflect on the Agadir crisis and the significance of German and British relations. Prussianism and Socialism appears in English translation by Donald O. White with a number of other shorter articles that Spengler penned in the early 1920s. The work appears in White’s 1967 collection Selected Essays, which is roughly a translation of Politischen Schriften, but making some omissions and drawing also from Rede und Aufsätze. The overall collection gives a decent introductory glance at Spengler’s social and political thought, which merits it some exposition here. Other works included in it are “Pessimism?”, which was written as a response to the charge levelled against Decline, his two speeches “The Two Faces of Russia and Germany’s Eastern Problems” (delivered to a conference of influential Ruhr industrialists in 1922) and “Nietzsche and his Century” (delivered at a conference hosted by the Nietzsche Archive in 1924 before Spengler severed ties with Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche because of her alignment with Hitler ten years later), another short essay titled “On the German National Character”, published in 1927, and finally a brief response given by Spengler to a query posited internationally by Hearst International’s The Cosmopolitan, titled “Is World Peace Possible?”, which was published in what White calls “barely adequate translation” in 1936 alongside answers from Mohandas K. Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, General Billy Mitchell, and Lin Yu-tang.[38]

Prussianism and Socialism abandons Spengler’s earlier, less informed political alignment with the Kaiser, but beyond this minor change it expresses and sets the tone for almost all of Spengler’s other political writings before and after, including his final major work, Hour of Decision. It is also the work that initiated Spengler’s name into the collection of intellectuals and aristocrats that formed the “Conservative Revolution” movement in Weimar Germany. The names he is included with range from the completely obscure to the internationally famous. Among them are obscure authors like Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, for his work, later appropriated by the Nazis, Das Dritte Reich (1923—available in English as Germany’s Third Empire) and Edgar Julius Jung, who is seen as the leader of the movement, for his work Die Herrschaft der Minderwertigen (“The Reign of the Mediocre”, 1927), and more famously for Franz von Papen’s “Marburg Speech”, the last open condemnation of Nazism made in Weimar Germany. However, members of the movement also included men like the internationally acclaimed Ernst Jünger, for his famous memoir of the World War, In Stahlgewittern (first published in 1920 and having been revised by the author 7 times, it is now available in very good translation by Michael Hoffmann as Storm of Steel), Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (“Battle as Inner Experience”, 1922), Das Wäldchen 125 (“Copse 125”, 1925) and Feuer und Blut (“Fire and Blood”, 1925) as well as the famous and widely translated Carl Schmitt, now well known for his works Die Diktatur (1921—now available in translation as On Dictatorship), Politische Theologie (1922—available as Political Theology), Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus (1923—now available in a good translation by Ellen Kennedy titled The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy), and his extremely significant Der Begriff des Politischen (1926—now available as The Concept of the Political). The unifying feature of the movement was a desire to bridge the gap between nationalist conservatism and socialism, though another major factor was the distaste that all the men had for Adolf Hitler and his, in the words of Moeller van den Bruck, “proletarian primitiveness”.[39]

Spengler’s interactions with other conservatives were largely done through his involvement in the Juniclub (“June Club”) a gathering of Conservatives and Monarchists who shared Spengler’s hatred of the Versailles Treaty (commonly known in Germany as the Versailles Diktat because of the lack of input allowed from the German delegation). Among the group’s founding members was Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, with whom Spengler had many encounters from 1919 until Moeller’s suicide in 1925 through lectures that both gave to the Juniclub. At the Juniclub he also had the opportunity to meet and begin correspondence with Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, Walther Rathenau, Erich Ludendorff, Hans von Seeckt, and create friendships and lasting ties to major industrialists like Paul Reusch, Roderich Schlubach, Alfred Hugenberg, Karl Helfferich, and Hugo Stinnes.[40] Aside from Moeller, however, his encounters with the other major thinkers of the Conservative Revolutionary movement seemed few; he had some contact later with Jung, who wrote him on several occasions. However, his major inclination during his years of involvement with the Juniclub was toward becoming actively involved in conservative politics, not merely being a theoretician. His ambitions during this time were as disparate and far-flung as leading German intellectuals into politics and founding a newspaper cartel in imitation of William Randolph Hearst.[41]

Spengler’s letters during this time are often brief (owing to his preference for meeting people rather than writing them) and to a wide variety of people, including invitations to tea with Erich Ludendorff and his wife, which he maintained as a regular affair until Ludendorff’s involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. There was also an extended correspondence with the German government regarding interaction with General Jan C. Smuts, who had invited General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (with whom Spengler also corresponded) to a dinner for African commanders of the war.[42] He also met semi-regularly, it would seem, with the Prussian royal family; Crown Prince Wilhelm wrote him a number of times, and Spengler sent copies of his magnum opus to Huis Doorn. He also managed to elicit a positive response from Gregor Strasser, a prominent rival of Hitler’s in the National Socialist party who was murdered in the Night of the Long Knives.[43]

Spengler, however, remained primarily a theoretician; he met many men with whom he had lasting friendships, but he was not a man of political action and he was acutely aware of that. Throughout his brief political career, he was advised by friends not to waste his genius on petty affairs of state, and he eventually gave in and retreated from public life in 1924 after five years of immense popularity and prolific writing. In addition to the one or two speeches and articles in the White collection, in 1924 alone Spengler published Frankreich und Europa (“France and Europe”), Aufgaben des Adels (“Tasks of the Nobility”), Politische Pflichten der deutschen Jugend (“Political Duties of the German Youth”), Neubau des deutschen Reiches (“Reconstruction of the German Reich”), Neue Formen der Weltpolitik (“New Forms of Global Politics”) all of which were derived from speeches and lectures he had given at the Juniclub or at various Industrial clubs and conferences during his involvement there. Some of them, including Politische Pflichten and Neubau would appear in Spengler’s Politischen Schriften of 1932, the others would only be published together in 1937 in the posthumous Reden und Aufsätze collection. The works, all expressing a common theme of the necessity to “reclaim socialism” from Marx and bring about a new birth of “Prussianism” in the German population, brought Spengler immense notoriety in Germany while Decline was making its way through foreign circles. Other presentations included his Das Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Steuerpolitik seit 1750 (“The Relationship of Economy and Tax Policy since 1750”, 1924). His lectures drew tremendous crowds and he participated in a number of public debates between 1919 and 1924.

Prussianism and Socialism: A Brief Glance

Of all Spengler’s political writings and speeches, both from his public career and after, the most detailed and the most significant remains Prussianism and Socialism. In the work, Spengler makes two arguments, one unique to his own time and one with far-reaching relevance. The work’s principal argument surrounds the “true German spirit” with “the German Michel”, which Spengler declares “the sum of all our weaknesses: our fundamental displeasure at turns of events that demand attention and response; our urge to criticise at the wrong time; our pursuit of ideals instead of immediate action; our precipitate action at times when careful reflection is called for; our Volk as a collection of malcontents; our representative assemblies as glorified beer gardens.”[44] The thrust of the work is a contrast between “English” parliamentarianism and liberalism, which the “German Michel” typifies, the Marxist socialist movement of the Sparticists, which at least has the integrity that the “German Michel” lacked, and real “German” socialism, which Spengler ties to Prussian military spirit and civic duty to create the “Prussian socialism” that he insists is the only way to bring about a rebirth of the German Reich.

The opening of Prussianism and Socialism declares the same sense of destiny found in Decline, quoting Seneca’s aphorism ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt (“Fate leads along the willing soul and drags the unwilling”).[45] He declares that “the spirit of Old Prussia and the socialistic attitude, at present driven by brotherly hatred to combat each other, are in fact one in the same”, defining “socialism” itself, which he claims “everyone thinks… means something different”.[46] Spengler’s hero of socialism is August Bebel, the Marxist founder of the SPD who was famously born in a Prussian army barracks. He praises Bebels’ party for its “militant qualities…the clattering footsteps of workers’ battalions, a calm sense of determination, good discipline, and the courage to die for a transcendent principle” and damns the SPD in power in the Weimar Republic for abandoning the revolution and throwing in its lot with the “foe of yesteryear” and encouraging the Freikorps to crush the Spartacists, who Spengler felt “retained a modicum of integrity”.[47] It is not the Marxism of the Social Democrats Spengler admires, however; rather, it is their integrity and their dedication to their beliefs—something that simply does not exist for the “German Michel”, the contemporary parliamentarian.

He goes on to condemn the “so-called German Revolution” that took place in November, saying that the Germans “produced pedants, schoolboys, and gossips in the Paulskirche and in Weimar, petty demonstrations in the streets, and in the background a nation looking on with faint interest”—not at all what a real revolution entails, but something feeble, something belonging to the parliamentarian and the “German Michel”.[48] Spengler establishes the foundation of Prussian Socialism with “the real German Socialist Revolution” which he says happened in 1914—a real revolution because it involved “the whole people: one outcry, one brazen act, one rage, one goal”.[49] He further asserts that the revolution is not over—a notion he expands on in later speeches and essays. The Revolution of the German people cannot come to full fruition for Spengler and his fellow conservatives, until the German nation is truly born—for 1918 in Germany was not 1789 in France; the nation and the revolution were not the same.

He concludes that “Socialism is not an instinct of dark primeval origin… it is, rather, a political, social, and economic instinct of realistically-minded peoples, as such it is a product of one stage of our civilisation—not of our culture.”[50] He asserts a thoroughly modern origin and a thoroughly modern role for socialism: the realistic, the enemy of the dictatorship of money and capitalism, defined in socialistic form by a sense of duty to the whole, that whole being the German nation. It is in this way that “all Germans are workers”, so that the failing of Marx, he asserts, is his inability to grasp anything more in Hegel, “who by and far represented Prussianism at its best” than mere method.[51] Marx misleads socialism by creating class antagonism when in reality the bourgeois is a meaningless term, Spengler asserts—and the real enemy is the English spirit of mercantilism and parliamentarianism of the feeble “German Michel”; it is not worker against burgher, nor burgher against elite, but German against the Englishman in himself. This is why the German Revolution is incomplete: because the national revolution that unites and brings about the birth of the German nation has not been achieved.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this and subsequent political texts is the complete absence of any mention of Germany’s Jews. Spengler did not believe, as many of his day did, that the Jewish people had any connexion to parliamentarianism or Marxism or Capitalism or any other distinctly Western phenomenon; rather Western man was at war with himself and himself alone in the conflict between Prussian Socialism and English Mercantilism, between Revolution and Cowardice. He calls Marx “an exclusively English thinker”, unable to see beyond mere economics and ignoring the notion of everyone working for the whole, but each in his own destined place—the King for Spengler’s socialist is “the first servant of the state”, in the highest place among the rest of the nation serving a single, national goal. It is such a different picture than the typical anti-Bolshevik stance in Germany that never tired of reminding the world of Marx’s Jewish origins (his grandfather was a rabbi). This, for Spengler, was as much a simplification as Marx’s class antagonism, because it directed anger and action toward an invented foe instead of directing it toward corrective measures in the West itself.

The Hermit-Scholar (Return to Private Life 1924-1930)

After he retreated from public life, Spengler returned to the lonely life of the hermit scholar, and rededicated himself to work on the theories put forth in Decline. His re-entry into politics was prevented both my deteriorating health as well as a decrease in opportunity with the rising tide of National Socialism. Of all the Conservative Revolutionary thinkers, only Jünger and Schmitt would live to see the Second World War, and their literary lives were even shorter; Spengler was silenced by the Nazi state as early 1933, Jung was murdered, along with several of Spengler’s friends, in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, and Moeller van den Bruck had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide as early as 1925. Others, like Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Stefan George (especially famous for his Das Neue Reich of 1928), died of natural causes, Hofmannsthal of a stroke in 1929, George four years later of old age. It is indubitable with his voracious appetite for the latest works that Spengler encountered these men through their writing, but no correspondence between them exists. This is not terribly surprising—Spengler wrote letters when he felt the passion to do so (such as to Admiral Tirpitz), or when it furthered his studies (such as the many letters to academics and professors). This was not out of a dislike of people; rather, it was because he detested the task of writing letters and preferred to grant an interview or meet with friends in person, something he did frequently—his sister, Hilde, who became primary caretaker of his estate after his death, remarked that “he always disliked writing letters, even when he was a child.”[52] Those political letters he did write he wisely burned in 1933 to protect himself and others from the National Socialist state.

The return to private living gave Spengler a tremendous opportunity to begin scholarly work again after some years of pamphleteering (something he himself hated, remarking to a friend in 1919, referring to Prussianism and Socialism that “I am not a born journalist and consequently I wrote out 500 pages of rough draft in four weeks and then started paring to get 100 pages of readable German. I realise now how I ought to work and shall never again accept any assignment that carries a deadline with it”).[53] He never ceased his correspondences with high-level academics and contributors in almost every field of study, but after 1924 he was able to begin to write more widely. He wrote frequently to Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche and it was in 1924 after his departure from public life that he presented his paper “Nietzche and His Century”.

From 1925 onward his time was dominated by lectures, correspondences, and his old reading habits. He took several holidays in Italy and elsewhere, and as early as 1925 was in correspondence with Benito Mussolini, who would write a review of Hour of Decision in 1933 for Il Popolo d’Italia in December of that year. The Italian dictator, it would seem, was somewhat reserved about Spengler, who he felt tread close to Fascism but was not close enough.[54] He was not alone; after Spengler’s retreat from politics, was when his works came under heaviest fire from popular political personalities. His correspondence with Gregor Strasser in 1925 displays the chief dispute with Spengler, which seems to be his dislike of “popular movements”, like National Socialism, which he regarded as vulgar and mob-driven.[55] Aside from these, however, the bulk of his letters are not with political men but with academics.

The reason for this likely had much to do with Germany’s growing stability after 1925. Arthur Helps, who translated Spengler’s letters, suggests that Spengler left the public sphere precisely because of this; however, it is more likely that Spengler simply tired of the time he spent in the public eye—the constant assault of attention from both enthusiastic supporters and detractors of all stripes wore on the man whose sensitivity was well-known only to his sister and perhaps very close friends. He was a man who throughout his life was soft-hearted and sympathetic, ever striving to overcome the little boy whose nightmares in his bedroom in Halle haunted him vividly until he was well into his forties; the image he had inadvertently created of the hard-hearted, iron-willed prophet of doom was not an easy persona for him to fulfil on a constant basis, and put tremendous stress on his body. Fischer observes in his biographical sketch that “he agonised about his weaknesses with the same honesty as Rousseau did in the Confessions, with the difference that Spengler rarely tried to project his shortcomings on society… [he] believed that, in the final analysis, the individual has to assume responsibility for his own weaknesses”.[56]

Spengler’s physical weaknesses became acute during his time in politics, as the stress increased his headaches and other ailments. In 1925, rarely does a letter mention an illness or time of sickness—he seemed to recover from his ailments from getting away from stress of politics and the dismal state in which he perceived his beloved German Reich to be. He took cures in the sun of Italy, writing in February of 1925 from Palermo, after which he travelled to Rome and elsewhere.[57] In 1926, deep in the scholarly world once again, Spengler was invited by the Philosophical Congress in the United States to travel to America and conduct a lecture tour (C.F. Atkinson’s translation of the first volume of Decline appeared that very year). His excuse for declining the offer was that he felt America would leave too deep an impression on him that would disrupt the work he was conducting on his latest book (still unfinished at his death), Urfragen (“Primordial Questions”). His letters are strewn with questions to experts and professors of ancient history after information about Babylonian tablets and other Middle Eastern interests.

These interests, as a preparation for Urfragen, had begun as early as 1924, when Spengler appeared before the Oriental Institute in Munich with a lecture titled “Plan eines neuen Atlas Antiquus” (“Plan for a new Atlas Antiquus”), which detailed the need of a new cartographic project to map the ancient world within the scope of the Apollonian Kultur-Zivilisation organism.[58] The general thrust of his work, whether this lecture or the later letters to colleagues, is a collaborative effort that would overcome the increasing specialisation of history already in its adolescence in Spengler’s day and still increasing in contemporary academic history. During subsequent years he also became first enthralled and then embroiled with the famous archaeologist and ethnographer of Africa, Leo Frobenius, whose initial agreement with cyclical history caught Spengler’s attention, but his argued proofs for slow, gradual development of civilisations drew the censure of the author of Decline, who believed in epochal moments rather than gradual evolution (he detested all forms of Darwinism). His correspondence took him in more positive directions with the famous Assyriologist Alfred Jeremias, who took an immense interest in Spengler’s work.

Most striking about Spengler’s time as a private scholar in the late 1920s was the vast amount of interest being generated in his works abroad. 1927 saw contacts coming from The New York Times attempting to solicit an article from him; the paper had featured him in full-page articles twice before, and after including him in an article “Will our Civilization Survive?” of 1925, hoped he might appear in print with them—they even offered a sum of $100, which was no small sum of money in Germany at the time.[59] No response to their inquest ever came, however, and it does not appear Spengler showed any interest in taking up any journalistic venture. A query that Spengler felt did merit response came from André Fauconnet, a professor at Poitiers whose Un philosophe allemeand contemporain Oswald Spengler. Le prophète du déclin de l’Occident (“A Contemporary German Philosopher: Oswald Spengler, the Prophet of the Decline of the Occident”) appeared in 1925. He also received an invitation to speak at the University of Saragossa, which promised he could speak in German and translations of his speech would be distributed beforehand.[60] Spengler accepted the engagement, spending the entire month of April of 1928 on holiday in Spain; he loved the climate and found the place to have a profoundly positive affect on his demeanour—he even did some mountain climbing. He wrote his sister Hilde from Granada (where he stayed for about a week), “Grenada is beautiful beyond all description… I could live here”, and, later that week, that “here every day pleases me better”.[61]

During all of his touring and international correspondence, Spengler did manage to make one or two forays back into political life; the first occasion was a speech in Düsseldorf before the Industry-Club titled “Das heutige Verhältnis zwischen Weltwirtschaft und Weltpolitik” (“The Contemporary Relationship between World Economics and World Politics”) in 1926, and was solicited by Edgar Julius Jung a year later to make a speech before the German Student Union, historically a hotbed for right-wing politics. 1927 also saw him begin writing on the topic again, with “Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Deutschen Presse” (“Toward a Developmental History of the German Press”) appearing in the Der Zeitungsverlag and “Vom Deutscher Volkscharakter” (“On the German National Character”) appearing in Deutschland the same year. After some time of soliciting his attention, Richard Korherr also finally convinced Spengler to write a brief introduction to his thesis “Über den Geburtenrückgang” (“Regarding the Decline of Birthrates”) of two years previous, which the author had dedicated to Spengler. Korherr hounded Spengler with information of the thesis, especially when it was translated into Italian by deputies of Mussolini’s in 1928.[62] Spengler regarded the young student well, and congratulated him on his success; he would probably not have had so positive a view of the young Dr. Korherr twelve years later, when he became one of Heinrich Himmler’s most loyal lieutenants in executing the “Final Solution”.[63]

Cassandra (Last Writings and Death, 1930-1936)

The years of 1929 and 1930 were eventful for Germany, but for Spengler much of the same that he had experienced in the second half of the 1920s. His pessimism was beginning to be proven true, with the stock market crash in 1929 and the swift rise of National Socialist and German Communist party power in the shattered Weimar Republic. In September 1930, the results gave the Nazis 107 seats in the Reichstag, and increased the Communist seats from 54 to 77. When the Reichstag took its seats, no business could be conducted, with the National Socialist “delegates” showing up in full uniform, sometimes with flags, interrupting the proceedings with chants, shouts, and songs; the Communists, not to be outdone, followed suit, and together they made a mockery of what was left of Weimar democracy.[64] Spengler was generally not disappointed with the turn of events, and, having put his Urfragen project on hold, wrote a prolegomena to his planned work titled Der Mensch und die Technik (“Man and Technics”) in 1931.

The work can hardly be said to be of the same calibre as Decline or even of Prussianism and Socialism—but then, it was never meant to be. The most important introductory note that can be given on Man and Technics is that it is fundamentally meant to be a primer for planned works. It is, by and large, a restatement of things said in Decline, and an expansion on the relationship between human beings and the tools they create. Fischer describes the book by saying “Spengler tried to show that primitive man was a magnificent predatory animal who possessed two major advantages over other beasts of prey: a superior brain and ambidextrous hands.”[65] The work is a true experiment in Nietzschean psychology by Fischer’s estimate: a tragic conflict between a naturally savage and predatory human being with the moral codes he makes to contain his savagery, but he cannot flee from it, for as he develops his technology, he also develops his means of savagery, and therefore his savagery itself.[66]

In greater detail, the book develops themes of conflict between man and external nature as well. Farrenkopf highlights that Spengler sees a religious grounding for this conflict—a suggestion not lost on several subsequent environmentalists—declaring that Spengler “claims to have uncovered the ‘religious origins’ of Western technical thought in the meditations of early Gothic monks, who in their prayers and fastings wrung God’s secrets from Him.”[67] Farrenkopf, working at the turn of the twenty-first century, attempts to make Spengler the prophet of “climate change” and “ecological disasters”, and points to a thesis in his own work—that Spengler’s thought changed from Decline to his later works—to say that Spengler was arguing for the inevitable failure of mankind’s struggle against nature. Whether his thesis has merit or not is not really a line of inquiry this introduction need undertake, but the conflict and eventual failure of humankind because of its own “progress” is certainly present in the work. A line from Decline of the West, quoted above, accurately encapsulates the entire purpose of Man and Technics: “the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost uninhabited waste of country.”[68]

The urban sprawl and disappearance of the “green belt” that contemporary commentators, especially in America, where there is so much of the “green belt”, have witnessed is somewhat captured in this picture. The dangers of an industrial dystopia and plea for an agrarian Reich was one also being preached by the National Socialists at this time—Walther Darré’s 1928 pamphlet “Das Bauerntum als Lebensquell der nordischen Rasse” (“The Peasantry as the Life-source of the Nordic Race”) stands as a testament to that. The Nazis, though, were better at selling their message than Spengler was his own, primarily because of what each promised the German people. Spengler promised that the path of Western civilisation was destined and irreversible, and the coming destruction guaranteed by the very nature of Faustian man of his home-soil should be greeted with a Nietzschean amor fati. The Germans in 1931 were in no mood to hear that they were themselves to blame for their situation, and that it was an inescapable destiny.

The Nazis, on the other hand, gave the Germans an enemy—the Jews—that were causing this industrialisation and destruction of the nation, and if they could just get rid of them, there was a bright hope and future for Germans. The German people declared which message they preferred with dismal sales for Man and Technics, and subsequent tremendous victories at the ballot for the National Socialists. Hitler’s biographer, Lord Bullock gives a deep insight into the exact state of affairs; “taking 1928 as a measuring rod,” he declares, “the gains made by Hitler – close on thirteen million in four years – are still more striking,” adding that by early 1932, “with a voting strength of 13,700,000 electors, a party membership of over a million and a private army of 400,000 S.A. and S.S., Hitler was the most powerful political leader in Germany, knocking on the doors of the Chancellery at the head of the most powerful political party Germany had ever seen.”[69]

Spengler was shocked, if not a little appalled, by this turn of events. To Spengler, as he had been to Moeller, Adolf Hitler was an idiot in the scientific sense of the word: a vulgar proletarian clown shouting and flailing his arms and playing about in the muck, not a statesman who could lead Germany to her rebirth or a realistic forward-thinker. For the time being, though, there were few other options, and Spengler was willing to give the Führer the benefit of the doubt before meeting him—a meeting at which he hoped that his stature as one of Germany’s leading conservative intellectuals might moderate the Austrian firebrand somewhat.[70] He was dreadfully wrong.

Spengler met with Hitler in 1933 at the invitation of the National Socialist Party, hoping to make use of Spengler’s sustained popularity. Fischer describes the meeting, of which little account exists on either side. It was Hitler, characteristically, who did most of the talking when the two men met, and used all of his well-accounted-for charm. Spengler was sufficiently fooled that Hitler, though a clown, was a well-meaning clown who basically wanted what was best for Germany. He nevertheless would remark later that “sitting next to him one did not gain the slightest inkling that he represented anything significant”—the jobless Austrian post-card painter may have built himself up into a powerful and captivating demagogue, but in the end he remained the disaffected young delinquent who wandered the streets of Munich and Vienna building a fantasy world in which he was important.[71] According to a popular anecdote, when the men had finished their encounter, Hitler asked Spengler for advice, to which the scholar enigmatically replied “watch your Praetorian guard!” a comment many have taken to be a bit of advice Hitler acted on in the Night of the Long Knives, when he purged his “praetorian guard” and replaced it—the S.A.—with a new one, the S.S. There is no evidence that this is accurate, but if it is, as Fischer asserts, it would be the first time Spengler had any direct influence on a public leader.[72]

It was not long, however, before the spell of Hitler’s charm over coffee wore off. The Nazis went on to preach a proletarian utopian future founded fundamentally in scapegoating the Jews and answering Germany’s problems with “party-theatre” of mass rallies and a well-tuned propaganda machine. It was in answer to the delusions of the National Socialist political machine that Spengler wrote his final book, Jahre der Entscheidung (“Years of Decision”, more popularly known in translation as Hour of Decision) in 1933. This work, largely considered Spengler’s most overtly political and explicit in its message, was banned by the Nazis as soon as they figured out what was in it—which took them a full year, even after one of their own published a critique of the book (Arthur Zweininger’s Oswald Spengler im dritten Reich), by which time the book had already made it into English translation and had received extensive comment by The New York Times.[73] Spengler also, naïvely, sent a signed copy directly to Hitler, accompanied by an expression of hope that the two might meet and discuss the work in the future.[74] Hitler consented to meet, but disparaged Spengler’s pessimism in what he was selling as Germany’s brightest hour.

Jahre der Entscheidung
deserves some specific attention to be paid to it. The first thing worth mention is that it was originally intended to be the first volume of a several-volume work, but after it was banned in 1934, Spengler abandoned the work, writing Goebbels that he would only write the conclusions of his own mind and that he would “not write books for confiscation”.[75]

The press was especially cruel to the new work, evoking (despite Fischer’s claims to the opposite) a number of highly sympathetic letters to Spengler from old conservative colleagues like Alfred Hugenburg, Crown Prince Wilhelm, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler (later executed as a resistance leader), as well as some new names, including Grand Duke Joseph Franz von Habsburg, who was enthralled by the new work, and Rudolf Graber, a professor of Theology and later Bishop of Regensburg. Despite the press and the Nazis, however, the book was initially a tremendous success, especially compared with Man and Technics. Heinrich Beck wrote to Spengler in November of 1933 that “the success of your Jahre der Entscheidung already surpasses, at least as far as tempo is concerned, The Decline of the West. You will certainly be pleased and I am proud also of publishing such a book.”[76] The Roman Curia was also impressed, and allowed the book to be placed by the Cardinal Hayes Literature Committee in the “First Circle” of their “White List” for Roman Catholics in America; the section was named for the First Circle of Hell in Dante’s inferno, where honest pre-Christian thinkers who were valuable to Christianity resided—on the White List proper for that year were titles like Essays in History by Pope Pius XI.[77]

The contents of the book are significant not just for Spengler’s life, but to his overall philosophy as well. Spengler frequently uses what critics have called “fetishistic” terms in his works like “blood”, “race”, “soul”, etc. The accusations of critics were left largely unanswered until Jahre der Entscheidung, which saw Spengler for the first time seriously take on the task of defining what he meant by “race” especially. Benito Mussolini, at the time still in his virulent anti-racist stage, received a copy of the work almost immediately after it was published, and wrote a review of the work highlighting that “Spengler clearly wishes to differentiate his views from the vulgar, materialistic Darwinism now fashionable among anti-Semites in Europe and America” (words he was in fact borrowing from Spengler) and points to Spengler’s declaration that “ ‘racial unity’ is a grotesque phrase considering that for centuries all types and kinds have mixed.”[78]

Spengler does indeed use the word “race”; however, he defines against the biological racial theories of Chamberlain, Gobineau and the various authors of National Socialism. “Race” to Spengler was captured in a spiritual feeling or will of a culture—thus in Jahre der Entscheidung, even the Russians find themselves included in Spengler’s “Coloured World”. The Faustian soul—and the Faustian will—that is the Faustian “race”. Farrenkopf observes from reading Spengler’s unpublished political writings that “Race for Spengler meant having ‘strong instincts’”, something reflected in Gedanken, where Spengler says “Men without race are without Will. Indeed, the more of a “race” one has, the more resolute is his sense of self”.[79] Spengler references this notion in Man and Technics as well, concluding with the exemplary of a man with “strong race”, the legionary who kept his post in Pompey as Vesuvius erupted because his superiors had forgotten to relieve him; “It is greatness, namely to have race”.[80] This sort of conception of race is one that has fled the English and German languages (and most other languages, really) in the wake of the biological racialist movements of the early twentieth century, but is still present in English when one says “the human race”—but for Spengler, there is no “human race”, there are different spiritual types of humans. Farrenkopf quotes him “There are not any noble races. There are only noble specimens of all races.”[81]

With this sense of “race” in mind, Spengler portrays two revolutions taking place in the coming decades and centuries: a White World-Revolution and a Coloured World-Revolution, the former of which will be a class revolution, and the latter will be a racial revolution. As he suggested in Decline, the Occident is failing, and some other Kultur-Zivilisation organisms must come into itself in order to replace the dying Faustian Zivilisation. This is what is meant in the “Coloured World-Revolution”; a collapse of the Western direct control over the rest of the world and the beginning of a new birth. The “White World-Revolution”, on the other hand, will be one of class: not because of Bolshevism, but because of the liberalism that destroyed the social structure of the West in the Autumnal season and brought about the new sense of egalitarianism. These combined “World-Revolutions” must ultimately arise from a great World War which Spengler foresees in the near future; it is his hope that the War will set the West back on its path toward Ceasarism, and begin the final phase of decay which has been prevented, be believes, by the defeat of the “Prussian Spirit” in the First World War; he therefore proclaims at the end of the work that, “Only the militarist Prussian spirit remains as a shaping force, not only for Germany, but everywhere.”[82]

Farrenkopf offers the critique that Spengler does not sufficiently “probe” into “how geopolitical competition among non-Western powers will interact with the conflict between the West and the non-West”.[83] Nevertheless, for a German in a time of when the general feeling of the nation was one of peace and plenty, to foresee a world-shattering global conflict that would bring about a post-colonial age is hauntingly astute, and speaks to the significance of Spengler’s overall corpus to contemporary political and historical study. Another testament to his skills of prophecy is the very military power gained by the United States subsequent to the Second World War; Farrenkopf also observes that Spengler discounted America but nevertheless may be applied in an American paradigm.

With all the talk of “race” and the “militaristic Prussian spirit” and Spengler’s relationship to National Socialism, it seems fitting that a special word be said of Spengler’s relationship to the Jewish community. He himself found anti-Semitism especially abhorrent, and recognised it for exactly what it was: namely, social and political scapegoating. As Fischer observes, “Spengler observed that the character of the Jew was moulded by his position as an outsider…[who is] generally forced to adopt attitudes that are inimical to the mainstream of society,” which is why they are viewed as threats; the only solution Spengler could see for the Jews to escape this inevitable situation was to assimilate or, though Spengler never suggests it, to leave.[84] A similar conclusion was reached by Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, in his 1896 Der Judenstaat, which proposed the second option: that the Jews remove themselves from European society physically to escape anti-Semitism.

After his name was officially banned from the press and his book taken off the shelves in German bookstores, Spengler once again retreated from the public eye, this time never to return. Unlike other intellectuals of the day, he declined offers to university jobs, including the rectorship of the University of Leipzig’s Institute for Cultural and Universal History and a professorship at the University of Marburg. He was, nevertheless, honoured in 1933 with membership in the Senate of the German Academy, which he maintained even after his work was officially censored by the Nazi state. He was encouraged by friends to flee Germany and emigrate to America or England and continue his studies, but he refused to leave. He did, however, continue his work on Urfragen and his other unfinished book, Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte. He still received some attention from other countries, and in 1935 wrote an article entitled “Zur Weltgeschichte des zweiten vorchristlichen Jahrtausends” (“Toward a World History of the Second Millennium BC”) in the journal Die Welt als Geschichte.

Spengler’s final contribution while he was alive was a reply to a cable from Hearst International Cosmopolitan magazine, which at the time was still a respectable publication that gave attention to serious global political issues. The work, entitled Ist Weltfriede moeglich? (“Is World Peace Possible?”) was translated by editors of the magazine and published in January of 1936. This last work is largely ignored by Spengler biographers, but is rather his last real political offering, in which he expressed that the question was one that “can only be answered by someone familiar with world history… [which] means to know most humans as they have been and always will be.”[85] His next words encapsulate his “strong pessimism”, when he says that “there is a vast difference… between viewing the history of the future as it shall be and as one might like it to be. Peace is the wish, war is an actuality”: he echoes his introduction to Jahre der Entscheidung, “it is the great task of the connoisseur of history to understand the actualities of his age and, using them, to sense the future, to indicate and to sketch out what will come, whether we desire it or not.”[86] He follows it saying that, ultimately, man will always resort to violence in some form or another. He declares that a man may “be branded a criminal, a class can be called revolutionary or traitorous, a people bloodthirsty, but that does not alter the actuality” that violence is in escapable.[87]

He then repeats a his message to the Western world, hoping perhaps for an audience in liberal America where he had lost his in Germany: “It is a deadly reality that today only the white peoples speak of ‘world peace’, not the many coloured peoples. As long as individual thinkers and idealists do this—and they have done it in all ages—it is ineffective. When, on the other hand, entire peoples become pacifistic, it is a symptom of senility. Strong and unspent breeds do not do it: it is abandonment of the future, because the pacifist ideal is a terminal state that contradicts the reality of life.”[88] Spengler would go to his grave convinced that half of the Occident had adopted this very abandonment of the future, and the other half had gone mad on the drunkenness of National Socialism. Fischer observes that “convinced of the truth of his ideas, Spengler seems to have resigned himself to a life of quiet desperation.”[89] His desperation ended before the dawn of the 8th of May 1936, when a sudden heart attack mercifully took him from the world before he could witness his most recent predictions of death and doom become reality.

Eleven days after Spengler’s death, his closest friend, August Albers, who Fischer calls his “philosophical sounding board”, which he had been since Decline in 1917, threw himself in front of a train, unable to cope with the absence of his mentor and friend. His sister collected his papers and would spend the rest of her life handling the publication of his remaining papers; her daughter would devote most of her academic life to studying and publicising his contributions to history, politics, and philosophy. Paul Reusch chose and paid for the grave marker, a simple block of polished black granite with SPENGLER etched across it in stark white letters. Beneath it Spengler rests holding a copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Goethe’s Faust.

Notes

[1] H. Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (New York: Charles Scribner Sons, 1952), 1.

[2] Anton Mirko Koktanek, Oswald Spengler in Seiner Zeit (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1968), 435.

[3] Koktanek, Spenger in Seiner Zeit, 427.

[4] Oswald Spengler, Ich beneide jeden, der lebt, ed. Gilbert Merlio and Hilde Kornhardt (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2007), 16. The original title of the text was to be Eis heauton, in imitation of Marcus Aurelius, and the manuscript was originally edited by Spengler’s niece and her mother, both named Hilde Kornhardt.

[5] Spengler, Ich beneide, 14.

[6] John Farrenkopf, Prophet of Decline, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2001), 9.

[7] Koktanek, Spengler in Seiner Zeit, 19.

[8] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 7-8.

[9] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 8-9.

[10] Klaus P. Fischer, History and Prophecy: Oswald Spengler and the Decline of the West (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 34.

[11] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 35.

[12] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 36.

[13] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 36.

[14] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 11.

[15] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 28.

[16] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 37.

[17] Spengler, Ich beneide, 73.

[18] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 15.

[19] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 45.

[20] Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1969), x.

[21] Thomas A. Brady, German Histories in the Ages of Reformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009), 3.

[22] G.W.F. Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Leiden: A.H. Adriani, 1902), 238.

[23] Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, trans. C.F. Atkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928), 21. He derives this notion from Goethe, who says in a letter to Heinrich Luden (†1847), “‘Die Menschheit’? Das ist ein Abstraktum. Es hat von jeher nur Menschen gegeben und wird nur Menschen geben.” (“‘Mankind’? It is an abstraction. There have only ever been men and will only ever be men.”) (p 281)

[24] The proper rendering of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft in English is highly disputed among translators; the former is often translated as “community” but may also be understood (perhaps more clearly) as “communion”, while the latter is rendered both as “society” and “association,” with the latter being favoured in recent scholarship. Cf. Ferdinand Tönnies: A New Evaluation, ed. Werner J. Cahnman (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973).

[25] Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Berlin: Karl Curtius, 1912), 3-4.

[26] Spengler, Decline, 109.

[27] Spengler, Decline, 31.

[28] Spengler, Decline, 53.

[29] Spengler, Decline, 212.

[30] Spengler, Decline, 191-192.

[31] Oswald Spengler, Jahre der Entscheidung (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1933), 43. He doesn’t, however, make clear what the implications of Stalin’s “modernisation” policies and the five-year plan might be.

[32] Oswald Spengler, “Pessimismus?” in Rede und Aufsätze (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1937), 63-64.

[33] Spengler, Decline, 485. N.B. The notion of “race” here should not be understood as the restrictive biological concept but retaining its nineteenth-century use as a term for a broad cultural unit.

[34] Oswald Spengler, Letters 1913-1936, trans. Arthur Helps (London: George Allen Unwin, 1966), 87.

[35] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 68.

[36] Spengler, Letters, 92.

[37] Spengler, Letters, 93.

[38] Donald O. White, Introduction to Selected Essays, by Oswald Spengler, trans. and ed. Donald O. White (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), xiii.

[39] Timothy Ryback, Hitler’s Private Library (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 112.

[40] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 61.

[41] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 61.

[42] Spengler, Letters, 133-138.

[43] Spengler, Letters, 181.

[44] Spengler, Selected Essays, 7.

[45] Spengler, Selected Essays, 3.

[46] Spengler, Selected Essays, 1, 3.

[47] Spengler, Selected Essays, 10-11.

[48] Spengler, Selected Essays, 13.

[49] Spengler, Selected Essays, 13.

[50] Spengler, Selected Essays, 29.

[51] Spengler, Selected Essays, 92.

[52] Spengler, Letters, 11.

[53] White, Introduction, xi.

[54] Benito Mussolini, “Anni decisive di Osvaldo Spengler”, Il Popolo d’Italia, 15 December 1933, p. 16.

[55] Spengler, Letters, 184.

[56] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 71.

[57] Spengler, Letters, 180.

[58] Cf. Oswald Spengler, Reden und Aufsätze (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1937), 96.

[59] Spengler, Letters, 211; “Will Our Civilization Survive?” New York Times, 24 May 1925, SM1; “Doom of Western Civilization,” New York Times, 2 May 1926, BR1.

[60] Spengler, Letters, 222.

[61] Spengler, Letters, 229.

[62] Spengler, Letters, 203, 204, 219-220, 235.

[63] Spengler, Letters, 2031.

[64] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 73.

[65] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 66.

[66] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 66.

[67] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 202.

[68] Spengler, Decline, 109.

[69] Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 217-218.

[70] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 74.

[71] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 74.

[72] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 74.

[73] William McDonald, “Spengler’s New Challenge” New York Times, 11 February 1934.

[74] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 78.

[75] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 238.

[76] Spengler, Letters, 291.

[77] “June ‘White List’ of Books Issued” New York Times, 26 May, 1934, p. 15.

[78] Spengler, Jahre der Entscheidung, 157.

[79] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 256; Oswald Spengler, Gedanken, (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1941), 23.

[80] Spengler, Der Mensch und die Technik (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1931), 89.

[81] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 256.

[82] Spengler, Jahre der Entscheidung, 165.

[83] Farrenkopf, Prophet, 258.

[84] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 76.

[85] Spengler, Reden und Aufsätze, 292.

[86] Spengler, Reden und Aufsätze, 292; Spengler, Jahre der Entscheidung, vii.

[87] Spengler, Reden und Aufsätze, 292.

[88] Spengler, Reden und Aufsätze, 292-293.

[89] Fischer, History and Prophecy, 68.

 

————

Borthwick, Stephen M. “Historian of the Future: An Introduction to Oswald Spengler’s Life and Works for the Curious Passer-by and the Interested Student.” Institute for Oswald Spengler Studies, 2011. <https://sites.google.com/site/spenglerinstitute/Biography >. (See this essay in PDF format here: Historian of the Future (Spengler)).

Note: See also “The Revolutionary Conservative Critique of Oswald Spengler” by Lucian Tudor: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/conservative-critique-of-spengler-tudor/ >.

 

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German Conservative Revolution – Tudor

The German Conservative Revolution & its Legacy

By Lucian Tudor

 

Translations: Suomi, Română

During the years between World War I and the establishment of the Third Reich, the political, economic, and social crises which Germany suddenly experienced as a result of its defeat in the First World War gave rise to a movement known as the “Conservative Revolution,” which is also commonly referred to as the “Conservative Revolutionary Movement,” with its members sometimes called “Revolutionary Conservatives” or even “Neoconservatives.”

The phrase “Conservative Revolution” itself was popularized as a result of a speech in 1927 by the famous poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was a Catholic cultural conservative and monarchist.[1] Here Hofmannsthal declared, “The process of which I am speaking is nothing less than a conservative revolution on such a scale as the history of Europe has never known. Its object is form, a new German reality, in which the whole nation will share.”[2]

Although these phrases give the impression that the Conservative Revolution was composed of people who shared the same worldview, this was in fact not the case because the thinkers and leaders of the Conservative Revolution often had disagreements. Furthermore, despite the fact that the philosophical ideas produced by this “new conservatism” influenced German National Socialism and also had links to Fascism, it is incorrect to assume that the people belonging to it are either Fascist or “proto-Nazi.” Although some Revolutionary Conservatives praised Italian Fascism and some also eventually joined the National Socialist Movement (although many did not), overall their worldviews were distinct from both of these political groups.

It is difficult to adequately summarize the views held by the Revolutionary Conservatives due to the fact that many of them held views that stood in contradistinction to certain views held by others in the same movement. What they generally had in common was an awareness of the importance of Volk (this term may be translated as “folk,” “nation,” “ethnicity,” or “people”) and culture, the idea of Volksgemeinschaft (“folk-community”), and a rejection of Marxism, liberalism, and democracy (particularly parliamentary democracy). Ideas that also were common among them was a rejection of the linear concept of history in favor of the cyclical concept, a conservative and non-Marxist form of socialism, and the establishment of an authoritarian elite. [3]

In brief, the movement was made of Germans who had conservative tendencies of some sort but who were disappointed with the state into which Germany had been put by its loss of World War I and sought to advance ideas that were both conservative and revolutionary in nature.

In order to obtain an adequate idea as to the nature of the Conservative Revolution and its outlook, it is best to examine the major intellectuals and their thought. The following sections will provide a brief overview of the most important Revolutionary Conservative intellectuals and their key philosophical contributions.

The Visionaries of a New Reich

The most noteworthy Germans who had an optimistic vision of the establishment of a “Third Reich” were Stefan George, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Edgar Julius Jung. Stefan George, unlike the other two, was not a typical intellectual but a poet. George expressed his Revolutionary Conservative vision of the “new Reich” largely in poetry, and this poetry did in fact reach and affect many young German nationalists and even intellectuals; and for this he is historically notable.[4] But on the intellectual level, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck (who popularized the term “Third Reich”) and Edgar Julius Jung had a deeper philosophical impact.

1. Arthur Moeller van den Bruck

Moeller van den Bruck was a cultural historian who became politically active at the end of the First World War. He was a founding member of the conservative “June Club,” of which he became the ideological leader.[5] In Der preussische Stil (“The Prussian Style”) he described what he believed to be the Prussian character, whose key characteristic was the “will to the state,” and in Das Recht der jungen Volker (“The Right of Young Peoples”) he presented the idea of “young peoples” (including Germany, Russia, and America) and “old peoples” (including England and France), advocating an alliance between the “younger” nations with more vitality to defeat the hegemony of Britain and France.[6]

In 1922, he contributed, along with Heinrich von Gleichen and Max Hildebert Boehm, to the book Die neue Front (“The New Front”), a manifesto of the Jungkonservativen (“Young-conservatives”).[7] A year later, Moeller van den Bruck produced his most famous work which contained a comprehensive exposition of his worldview, Das Dritte Reich, translated into English as Germany’s Third Empire.[8]

In Germany’s Third Empire, Moeller made a division between four political stances: Revolutionary, Liberal, Reactionary, and Conservative. Revolutionaries, which especially included Communists, were unrealistic in the sense that they believed they could totally brush aside all past values and traditions. Liberalism was criticized for its radical individualism, which essentially amounts to egotism and disintegrates nations and traditions. Reactionaries, on the other hand, were criticized for having the unrealistic position of desiring a complete revival of past forms, believing that everything in past society was positive. The Conservative, Moeller argued, was superior to the former three because “Conservatism seeks to preserve a nation’s values, both by conserving traditional values, as far as these still possess the power of growth, and by assimilating all new values which increase a nation’s vitality.”[9] Moeller’s “Conservative” was essentially a Revolutionary Conservative.

Moeller rejected Marxism because of its rationalism and materialism, which he argued were flawed ideologies that failed to understand the better side of human societies and life. “Socialism begins where Marxism ends,” he declared.[10] Moeller advocated a corporatist German socialism which recognized the importance of nationality and refused class warfare.

In terms of politics, Moeller rejected republicanism and asserted that true democracy was about the people taking a share in determining its destiny. He rejected monarchy as outdated and anticipated a new form of government in which a strong leader who was connected to the people would emerge. “We need leaders who feel themselves at one with the nation, who identify the nation’s fate with their own.” [11] This leader would establish a “Third Empire, a new and final Empire,” which would solve Germany’s political problems (especially its population problem).

2. Edgar Julius Jung

Another great vision of a Third Reich came from Edgar Julius Jung, a politically active intellectual who wrote the large book Die Herrschaft der Minderwertigen, translated into English as The Rule of the Inferiour,[12] which has sometimes been called the “bible of neo-conservatism.”[13] This book presented a devastating critique of liberalism and combined ideas from Spann, Schmitt, Pareto, and other thinkers.

Liberal democracy was rejected by Jung as the rule of masses which were manipulated by demagogues and also the rule of money because it had inherent tendencies towards plutocracy. The French Revolutionary ideas of “liberty, equality, fraternity” were all rejected as corrosive influences harmful to society and sources of individualism, which Jung viewed as a key cause of decay. Jung also rejected Marxism as a corrupt product of the French Revolution. [14] The Conservative Revolution for Jung was, in his words, the

Restoration of all those elementary laws and values without which man loses his ties with nature and God and without which he is incapable of building up a true order. In the place of equality there will be inherent standards, in the place of social consciousness a just integration into the hierarchical society, in the place of mechanical election an organic elite, in the place of bureaucratic leveling the inner responsibility of genuine self-government, in the place of mass prosperity the rights of a proud people. [15]

In the place of liberal and Marxist forms, Jung envisioned the establishment of a New Reich which would use corporatist economics (related to the medieval guild system), would be organized on a federalist basis, would be animated by Christian spirituality and the power of the Church, and would be led by an authoritarian monarchy and an elite composed of selected qualified members. In Jung’s words, “The state as the highest order of organic community must be an aristocracy; in the last and highest sense: the rule of the best. Even democracy was founded with this claim.”[16]

He also critiqued the materialistic concept of race as “biological materialism” and asserted instead the primacy of the cultural-spiritual entity (it was on this basis, rather than on biology, that the Jewish Problem was to be dealt with). Furthermore, he rejected nationalism in the normal sense of the term, supporting the concept of a federalist, supra-national, pan-European Empire, while still recognizing the reality and importance of Volk and the separateness of ethnic groups. In fact, Jung believed that the new Reich should be formed on “an indestructible volkisch foundation from which the volkisch struggle can take form.”[17]

Edgar Jung, however, was not content with merely writing about his ideas; he had great political ambitions and actively worked with parties and conservatives who agreed with him in the 1920s up until 1934.[18] The necessity of battle was already part of Jung’s philosophy: “If the German people see that, among them, combatants still live, then they become aware also of combat as the highest form of existence. The German destiny calls for men who master it. For, world-history makes the man.” [19]

During his political activity, he came to dislike the National Socialist movement due to a personal dislike for Hitler as well as his view that National Socialism was a product of modernity and was ideologically linked with Marxism and liberalism. Jung was highly active in his opposition to the NSDAP and was eventually responsible for writing Papen’s Marburg address which criticized Hitler’s government in 1934, which resulted in Jung’s death on the Night of the Long Knives.[20]

Theorists of Decline: Spengler and Klages

1. Oswald Spengler

The most famous theorist of decline is Oswald Spengler, the “doctor-prophet” who predicted the fall of the Western High Culture in his magnum opus, The Decline of the West. According to Spengler, every High Culture has its own “soul” (this refers to the essential character of a Culture) and goes through predictable cycles of birth, growth, fulfillment, decline, and demise which resemble that of the life of a plant.[21] To quote Spengler:

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when the soul has actualized the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. [22]

There is an important distinction in this theory between Kultur (“Culture”) and Zivilisation (“Civilization”). Culture refers to the beginning phase of a High Culture which is marked by rural life, religiosity, vitality, will-to-power, and ascendant instincts, while Civilization refers to the later phase which is marked by urbanization, irreligion, purely rational intellect, mechanized life, and decadence. Spengler particularly focused on three High Cultures which he made comparisons between: the Magian, the Classical, and the present Western High Culture. He held the view that the West, which was in its later Civilization phase, would soon enter a final imperialistic and “Caesarist” stage – a stage which, according to Spengler, marks the final flash before the end of a High Culture.[23]

Perhaps Spengler’s most important contribution to the Conservative Revolution, however, is his theory of “Prussian Socialism” which he expressed in Prussianism and Socialism, and which formed the basis of his view that conservatives and socialists should unite. In this short book he argued that the Prussian character, which was the German character par excellence, was essentially socialist. For Spengler, true socialism was primarily a matter of ethics rather than economics.[24]

This ethical, Prussian socialism meant the development and practice of work ethic, discipline, obedience, a sense of duty to the greater good and the state, self-sacrifice, and the possibility of attaining any rank by talent. Prussian socialism was differentiated from Marxism and liberalism. Marxism was not true socialism because it was materialistic and based on class conflict, which stood in contrast with the Prussian ethics of the state. Also in contrast to Prussian socialism was liberalism and capitalism, which negated the idea of duty, practiced a “piracy principle,” and created the rule of money.[25]

2. Ludwig Klages

Ludwig Klages was a less influential, although still noteworthy, theorist of decline who focused not on High Cultures, but on the decline of Life (which stands in contrast to mere Existence). Klages’s theory, named “Biocentrism,” posited a dichotomy between Seele (“Soul”) and Geist (“Spirit”); two forces in human life that were in a psychological battle with each other. Soul may be understood as pure Life, vital impulse, and feeling, while Spirit may be understood as abstract intellect, mechanical and conceptual thought, reason, and Will.[26]

According to Biocentric theory, in primordial pre-historic times, man’s Soul and body were united and thus humans lived ecstatically in accordance to the principle of Life. Over time, human Life was interfered with by Spirit, which caused humans to use conceptual (as opposed to symbolic) thought and rational intellect, thus beginning the severing of body and Soul. In this theory, the more human history progresses, the more Life is limited and ruined by the Spirit in a long but ultimately unstoppable process which ends in completely mechanized, over-civilized, and soul-less people. “Already, the machine has liberated itself from man’s control,” wrote Klages, “it is no longer man’s servant: in reality, man himself is now being enslaved by the machine.”[27]

This final stage is marked by such things as a complete disconnection from Nature, the destruction of the natural environment, massive race-mixing, and a lack of true Life, which is predicted to finally end in the death of mankind due to damage to the natural world. Klages declared, “. . . the ultimate destruction of all seems to be a foregone conclusion.”[28]

Spann and the Unified State

Othmar Spann was, from 1919 to 1938, a professor at the University of Vienna in Austria who was influential but who, despite his enthusiastic support for National Socialism, was removed by the Third Reich government due to a few ideological disagreements.[29] He was the exponent of a theory known as “Universalism” (which is entirely different from universalism in the normal sense of the term). His Universalist view of economics, politics, society, and science was expounded in numerous books, the most important of which was his most memorable work, Der wahre Staat (“The True State”).[30]

Spann’s Universalism was a corporatist theory which rejected individualism. To understand Spann’s rejection of individualism it is necessary to understand what “individualism” is because different and even contradictory definitions are given to that term; individualism here refers to the concept that the individual is absolute and no supra-individual reality exists (and therefore, society is nothing more than a collection of atoms). The reader must be aware that Spann did not make a complete denial of the individual, but rather a complete denial of individualist ideology.[31]

According to Universalist theory, the individual exists only within a particular community or society; the whole (the totality of society) precedes the parts (individuals) because the parts do not truly exist independent from the whole.[32] Spann wrote, “It is the fundamental truth of all social science . . . that it is not the individuals that are the truly real, but the whole, and that the individuals have reality and existence only so far as they are members of the whole.”[33]

Furthermore, society and the State were not entirely separable, because from the State comes the rights of the individual, family, and other groups. Liberalism, capitalism, democracy, and Marxian socialism were all rejected by Spann as individualist or materialist and corrupt products of French Revolutionary ideas. Whereas in past societies the individual was integrated into community, modern life with its liberalism had atomized society. According to Spann, “Mankind can reconcile itself to poverty because it will be and remain poor forever. But to the loss of estate, existential insecurity, uprootedness, and nothingness, the masses of affected people can never reconcile themselves.”[34] As a solution to modern decay, Spann envisioned the formation of a religious Christian, corporatist, hierarchical, and authoritarian state similar to the First Reich (the Holy Roman Empire).[35]

A lesser-known Revolutionary Conservative academic, Hans Freyer, also held similar views to Spann and challenged the ideas and results of the “Enlightenment,” particularly secularism, the idea of universal reason, the concept of a universal humanity, urbanization, and democratization. Against modern society corrupted by these things, Freyer posed the idea of a “totally integrated society” which would be completed by a powerful, non-democratic state. Culture, Volk, race, and religion would form the basis of society and state in order to restore a sense of community and common values. Freyer also joined the National Socialists believing that the movement would realize his aims but later became disappointed with it because of what he saw as its repressive nature during the Third Reich.[36]

Zehrer and Elitist Theory

Hans Zehrer was a notable contributor to and editor of the “neoconservative” magazine Die Tat, and thus eventually also a founding member of a group of intellectuals known as the Tat-Kreis (“Tat-Circle”). Zehrer held the view that “all movements began as intellectual movements of intelligent, well-qualified minorities which, because of the discrepancy between that which is and that which should be, seized the initiative.”[37] His theory was somewhat related to Vilfredo Pareto’s concept of a “circulation of elites” in that he believed that intellectuals, in most cases gifted and intelligent men emerging from any social class, were crucial in determining the succeeding social order and its ideas.

In Germany at that time, the middle class, which made up a large segment of society and of which Zehrer was a member, was facing a number of economic problems. It was Zehrer’s dream that a new political order could be established by young intellectuals of the middle class which he attempted to reach. This new order would result in the abolishment of the insecure Weimar republic and the establishment of an authoritarian elite made up largely of such intellectuals. This elite would not be subject to control by the masses and would choose its own members based on the criterion of personal quality and ability without regard to social class or wealth.[38]

Zehrer’s vision was not fulfilled due to a series of failures to establish a new state by a “revolution from above” as well because of the rise of the NSDAP, which he attempted to influence in the early 1930s despite his disdain for party rule and, after being unsuccessful, retreated from political activity. However, although most Revolutionary Conservative thinkers did not envision an elite composed almost solely of intellectuals, it is notable that they shared with Zehrer the view that an authoritarian elite should have its membership open to qualified individuals of all classes and ranks.[39]

Sombart and Conservative Socialism

Socialists with nationalist and conservative leanings such as Paul Lensch, Johann Plenge, Werner Sombart, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and Oswald Spengler to the rise of a new, national, conservative socialism. Of course, it should be remembered that non-Marxist socialism already had a long history in Germany, including such people as the Kathedersozialisten (“socialists of the chair”), Adolf Stöcker, and Ferdinand Tönnies.[40] Werner Sombart himself began as a Marxist, but later became disillusioned with Marxist theory, which he realized was destructive of the human spirit and organic community much in the same way capitalism was.

Sombart is for the most part remembered for his work on the nature of capitalism, especially his works linking the materialistic character of the Jews with capitalism. The obsession with profit, ruthless business practices, indifference to quality, and “the merely rationalizing and abstracting characteristics of the trader” which were key products of capitalism, destroy any “community of labor” and disintegrate bonds between people which were more common in medieval society.[41] Sombart wrote, “Before capitalism could develop, the natural man had to be changed out of all recognition, and a rationalistically minded mechanism introduced in his stead. There had to be a transvaluation of all economic values.”[42]

Sombart’s major objections to Marxism consisted of the fact that Marxism aimed to suppress all religious feelings as well as national feelings and the values of rooted, indigenous culture; Marxism aimed not at a higher mankind but mere base “happiness.” In contrast to Marxism and capitalism, Sombart advocated a German Socialism in which economic policies would be “directed in a corporative manner,” exploitation would be ended, and hierarchy and the welfare of the whole state would be upheld.[43]

Radicalism and Nationalism: Jünger and Niekisch

1. Ernst Jünger

Ernst Jünger is well-known for his work on what he saw as the positive effects of warfare and battle, with himself having experienced these in World War I. Jünger rejected the bourgeois civilization of comfort and security, which he saw as weak and dying, in favor of the hardening and “magnificent” experience of action and adventure in war, which would transform a man of the bourgeois world into a “warrior.” The warrior type battled “against the eternal Utopia of peace, the pursuit of happiness, and perfection.”[44] Jünger believed that the crisis and restlessness of Germans after the World War was essentially a good thing.

In his book Der Arbeiter, the “warrior” was followed by the “worker,” a new type which would become dominant after the end of the bourgeois order. Jünger had realized that modern technology was changing the world; the individual man was losing his individuality and freedom in a mechanized world. Thus he anticipated a society in which people would accept anonymity in the masses and obedient service to the state; the population would undergo “total mobilization.”[45] To quote Jünger:

Total Mobilization is far less consummated than it consummates itself; in war and peace, it expresses the secret and inexorable claim to which our life in the age of masses and machines subjects us. It thus turns out that each individual life becomes, ever more unambiguously, the life of a worker; and that, following the wars of knights, kings, and citizens, we now have wars of workers. The first great twentieth-century conflict has offered us a presentiment of both their rational structure and their mercilessness.[46]

Ernst Jünger’s acceptance of technology in the “worker” stage stands somewhat in contrast to the position taken by his brother, Friedrich Georg Jünger, who wrote critiques of modern technological civilization (although Ernst would later in life agree with this view).[47] Ernst Jünger later changed in his attitudes during World War II, and afterwards nearly inverted his entire worldview, praising peace and individualism; a change which had not come without criticism from the Right.[48]

2. Ernst Niekisch

Another notable radical nationalist in the Conservative Revolution was Ernst Niekisch, who began as a Communist but eventually turned to a seemingly paradoxical mixture of German nationalism and Russian communism: National Bolshevism. In accordance with this new doctrine, Niekisch advocated an alliance between Soviet Russia and Germany in order to overcome the Versailles Treaty as well as to counter the power of the capitalist and anti-nationalist Western nations. However, this deviant faction, in competition with both Communists and anti-Communist nationalists, remained an unsuccessful minority.[49]

Political Theory: Schmitt and Haushofer

1. Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt was a notable Catholic philosopher of politics and jurist who was a major influence on political thought and who also supported the Third Reich government after its formation. His most famous book was The Concept of the Political, although he is also the author of numerous other works, including Political Theology and The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.

The “political,” for Schmitt, was a concept distinct from politics in the normal sense of the term, and was based on the distinction between “friend” and “enemy.” The political exists wherever there exists an enemy, a group which is different and holds different interests, and with whom there is a possibility of conflict. This criterion includes both groups outside of the state as well as within the state, and therefore both inter-state war as well as civil war is taken into account. A population can be unified and mobilized through the political act, in which an enemy is identified and battled.[50]

Schmitt also defended the practice of dictatorship, which he distinguished from “tyranny.” Dictatorship is a form of government which is established when a “state of exception” or emergency exists in which it is necessary to bypass slow parliamentary processes in order to defend the law. According to Schmitt, dictatorial power is present in any case in which a state or leader exercises power independently of the approval of majorities, regardless of whether or not this state is “democratic.” Sovereignty is the power to decide the state of exception, and thus, “sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”[51]

Schmitt further criticized parliamentary or liberal democracy by arguing that the original basis of parliamentarism — which held that the separation of powers and open and rational dialogue between parties would result in a well-functioning state — was in fact negated by the reality of party politics, in which party leaders, coalitions, and interest groups make decisions on policies without a discussion. Another notable argument made by Schmitt was that true democracy is not liberal democracy, in which a plurality of groups are treated equally under a single state, but a unified, homogenous state in which leaders’ decisions express the will of the unified people. In Schmitt’s words, “Every actual democracy rests on the principle that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally. Democracy requires, therefore, first homogeneity and second – if the need arises elimination or eradication of heterogeneity.”[52]

2. Karl Haushofer

Karl Haushofer was another philosopher of politics who is well-known for his theoretical work on “geopolitics” which aimed to advance Germany’s understanding of international politics and geography. Haushofer asserted that nations not only had the right to defend their land, but also to expand and colonize new lands, especially when experiencing over-population. Germany was one nation in such a position, and was thus entitled to Lebensraum (“living-space”) for its excess population. In order to overcome the domination of the Anglo-American power structure, Haushofer advocated a new system of alliances which particularly involved a German-Russian alliance (thus Haushofer can be viewed as a “Eurasianist”). Haushofer joined the National Socialists but his ideas were eventually rejected by Third Reich geopoliticians because of their hostility to Russia.[53]

The Influences of the Conservative Revolution

The thinkers of the Conservative Revolution had not only an immediate influence in Germany during the early 20th Century, but also a deep and lasting impact on right-wing (and in some cases even left-wing) thought up to the present day. Aside from the obvious influence on National Socialism, and if we assume that Otto Strasser cannot be included as part of the Conservative Revolution, then Strasserism was still clearly influenced by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Oswald Spengler.[54]

Francis Parker Yockey, the author of Imperium, also revealed influence from Spengler, Schmitt, Sombart, and Haushofer.[55] Julius Evola, the famous Italian traditionalist, is yet another writer who was affected by Revolutionary Conservative intellectuals, as is clear in such major works as Men Among the Ruins[56] and The Path of Cinnabar.[57]

More recently, the European New Right shows a great amount of inspiration from Revolutionary Conservatives. Armin Mohler, who may himself be considered a part of Germany’s Conservative Revolution as well as the New Right, is well-known for his seminal work Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932.[58] In addition, Tomislav Sunic also draws many intellectual concepts from Revolutionary Conservatives in his highly important book, Against Democracy and Equality, including Schmitt, Spengler, and to a lesser extent Spann and Sombart. [59]

Yet another intellectual in league with the New Right, Alexander Jacob, is the translator of Jung’s The Rule of the Inferiour and is also responsible for multiple works on various Revolutionary Conservatives.[60] When one considers these facts, it becomes apparent that much can be learned by studying the history and ideas of the German Conservative Revolution. It is a source of philosophical richness which can advance the Conservative position and which leaves its mark on the thought of the Right even today.

 

Notes

[1] On Hofmannsthal’s political views, see Paul Gottfried, “Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Interwar European Right.” Modern Age, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Fall 2007), pp. 508–19.

[2] Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation (Munich, 1927). Quoted in Klemens von Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism; Its History And Dilemma In The Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 9.

[3] Armin Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932 (Stuttgart: Friedrich Vorwerk Verlag, 1950).

[4] Robert Edward Norton, Secret Germany: Stefan George and his Circle (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

[5] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 102–111.

[6] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 156–159.

[7] Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland, p. 329.

[8] Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Germany’s Third Empire (New York: Howard Fertig, 1971).

[9] Ibid. p. 76.

[10] Ibid. p. 245.

[11] Ibid. p. 227.

[12] Edgar Julius Jung, The Rule of the Inferiour, trans. Alexander Jacob (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1995).

[13] Larry Eugene Jones, “Edgar Julius Jung: The Conservative Revolution in Theory and Practice,” Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association, vol. 21, Issue 02 (June 1988), p. 142.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Edgar J. Jung, Deutsche uber Deutschland (Munich, 1932), p. 380. Quoted in Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 121–22.

[16] Jung, The Rule of the Inferiour, p. 138.

[17] Jung, “Sinndeutung der konservativen Revolution in Deutschland.” Quoted inJones, “Edgar Julius Jung,” p. 167. For an overview of Jung’s philosophy, see: Jones, “Edgar Julius Jung,” pp. 144–47, 149; Walter Struve, Elites Against Democracy; Leadership Ideals in Bourgeois Political Thought in Germany, 1890-1933 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1973), pp. 317–52; Alexander Jacob’s introduction to Europa: German Conservative Foreign Policy 1870–1940 (Lanham, MD, USA: University Press of America, 2002), pp. 10–16.

[18] Jones, “Edgar Julius Jung,” pp. 145–48.

[19] Jung, The Rule of the Inferiour, p. 368.

[20] Jones, “Edgar Julius Jung,” pp. 147–73.

[21] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West Vol. 1: Form and Actuality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926).

[22] Ibid. p. 106.

[23] Ibid. For a good overview of Spengler’s theory, see Tomislav Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (Third Edition. London: Arktos, 2010), pp. 91–98.

[24] Oswald Spengler, Selected Essays (Chicago: Gateway/Henry Regnery, 1967).

[25] Ibid.

[26] See: Joe Pryce, “On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages,” Revilo-Oliver.com, 2001, http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/Ludwig_Klages.html, and Lydia Baer, “The Literary Criticism of Ludwig Klages and the Klages School: An Introduction to Biocentric Thought.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 91–138.

[27] Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joe Pryce, 14 May 2001, http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/515.html, 453.

[28] Ibid., http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/100.html, 2.

[29] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 204–5.

[30] Othmar Spann, Der Wahre Staat (Leipzig: Verlag von Quelle und Meyer, 1921).

[31] Barth Landheer, “Othmar Spann’s Social Theories.” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Apr., 1931), pp. 239–48.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Spann, quoted in Ernest Mort, “Christian Corporatism.” Modern Age, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer 1959), p. 249. http://www.mmisi.org/ma/03_03/mort.pdf.

[34] Spann, Der wahre Staat, p. 120. Quoted in Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality, pp. 163–64.

[35] Janek Wasserman, Black Vienna, Red Vienna: The Struggle for Intellectual and Political Hegemony in Interwar Vienna, 19181938 (Saint Louis, Missouri: Washington University, 2010), pp. 73–85.

[36] Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God that Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). The single book by Hans Freyer to be translated into English is Theory of Objective Mind, trans. Steven Grosby (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1998).

[37] Hans Zehrer, “Die Revolution der Intelligenz,” Tat, XXI (Oct. I929), 488. Quoted in Walter Struve, “Hans Zehrer as a Neoconservative Elite Theorist,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Jul., 1965), p. 1035.

[38] Struve, “Hans Zehrer as a Neoconservative Elite Theorist.”

[39] Ibid.

[40] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 57–58. On Tönnies, see Christopher Adair-Toteff, “Ferdinand Tonnies: Utopian Visionary,” Sociological Theory, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 58-65.

[41] Alexander Jacob, “German Socialism as an Alternative to Marxism,” The Scorpion, Issue 21. http://thescorp.multics.org/21spengler.html.

[42] Werner Sombart, Economic Life in the Modern Age (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p. 129.

[43] Jacob, “German Socialism as an Alternative to Marxism.”

[44] Ernst Jünger, ed., Krieg und Krieger (Berlin, 1930), 59. Quoted in Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 183. See also Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, trans. Basil Greighton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929) and Copse 125 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1930).

[45] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 185–88.

[46] Ernst Jünger, “Total Mobilization,” trans. Joel Golb, in The Heidegger Controversy (Boston: MIT Press, 1992), p. 129. http://anarchistwithoutcontent.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/junger-total-mobilization-booklet.pdf.

[47] Alain de Benoist, “Soldier Worker, Rebel, Anarch: An Introduction to Ernst Jünger,” trans. Greg Johnson, The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3 (Fall 2008), p. 52.

[48] Julius Evola, The Path of Cinnabar (London: Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009), pp. 216–21.

[49] Klemens von Klemperer, “Towards a Fourth Reich? The History of National Bolshevism in Germany,” The Review of Politics, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1951), pp. 191–210.

[50] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, expanded edition, trans. G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[51] Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), p. 1.

[52] Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. E. Kennedy, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), p. 9.

[53] Andrew Gyorgy, “The Geopolitics of War: Total War and Geostrategy.” The Journal of Politics, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Nov., 1943), pp. 347–62. See also Mohler, Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland, p. 474.

[54] Otto Strasser, Hitler and I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940), pp. 38–39.

[55] Francis Parker Yockey, Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics (Sausalito, Cal.: Noontide Press, 1962).

[56] Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2002).

[57] Evola, The Path of Cinnabar, pp. 150–55.

[58] See note #3.

[59] See Sunic, Against Democracy and Equality, pp. 75–98, 159–64.

[60] See Jacob, Europa; “German Socialism as an Alternative to Marxism”; Introduction to Political Ideals by Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2005).

 

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Tudor, Lucian. “The Conservative Revolution of Germany & its Legacy.” Counter-Currents Publishing, 14 August 2012. <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/08/the-german-conservative-revolution-and-its-legacy/ >.

 

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Arthur Moeller van den Bruck – Tudor

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought

By Lucian Tudor

 

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was one of the most important, perhaps even the single most important, figure of what is known as the “Conservative Revolution” in early 20th century Germany. His influence on conservative German thought, despite its limitations, is deep and lasting, carrying on even into the present day. Indeed there may be some truth to the mystical declaration made by his wife: “In trying to account for the question who was Moeller van den Bruck, you are really addressing a question to Germany’s destiny.”[1] An examination of his life and philosophical thought is an examination of one of those great forces in the realm of ideas that moves nations. And it is for the value to any nationalist or conservative inherent in such an examination that we aim to accomplish that here concisely.

Early Life and Development

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was born on April 23, 1876 in Solingen in the Rhineland area of Germany. At the age of sixteen, Moeller van den Bruck (we will hereafter shorten his last name to Moeller) was expelled from the Gymnasium which he was attending at Dusseldorf due to the fact that he was indifferent in his classes, which was a result of his preoccupation with German literature and philosophy. This expulsion did not stop him from continuing his literary studies and he even attended lectures at several intellectual centers, despite not being able to enter a university.[2]

Friedrich Nietzsche’s (and to some extent also Paul de Lagarde’s and Julius Langbehn’s) philosophy had a powerful influence on Moeller’s thought in his youth, and shaped his views of Bismarck’s Second Reich, a state which he found disagreeable because of its “forced patriotism.” At this time, Moeller was extremely “un-political” and decided to leave Germany in 1902 for some time to avoid military service.[3] The first location to which he traveled was Paris, where he began the writing of an eight-volume work titled Die Deutschen: unsere Menschengeschichte (“The Germans: Our People’s History”), published from the years 1904 to 1910, which was a cultural history that classified significant Germans according to characteristic psychological types.[4]

Supplementing Die Deutschen, Moeller published in 1905 Die Zeitgenossen (“The Contemporaries”), which presented his concept of “old peoples” and “young peoples,” an idea which he would reassert in later notable works.[5] During this time he also acquired a fascination with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work and also an admiration for the “Eastern[Russian] spirit,” which motivated him to produce a German translation of Dostoevsky’s works with the help of Dmitry Merezhkovsky.[6]

From the years 1912 to 1914, Moeller had traveled throughout various nations, particularly through Italy, England, Russia, and Scandinavia, having originally planned to write books describing the prime characteristics of certain nations, but he ultimately only finished a book on Italian art titled Die Italienische Schönheit (“The Italian Beauty”) in 1913.[7]

World War I, Young Peoples, and Racial Theory

When the First World War began, Moeller returned to Germany due to a feeling of attachment for Germany and enlisted in military service. In 1916, after having been discharged from the army due to suffering from nervous disorders, he produced a key work known as Der preussische Stil (“The Prussian Style”). This book, although its primary focus was on Prussian architecture, presented Moeller’s view on the nature of the Prussian character, which he now praised, writing that “Prussianism is the will to the state, and the interpretation of historical life as political life in which we must act as political men.”[8]

In 1919, Moeller produced another of his famous works known as Das Recht der Jungen Völker (“The Right of Young Peoples”), which reasserted his idea of “young peoples” and “old peoples” in a new form. In this theory, peoples or nations (Völker, which is the plural form of Volk) differed in “age,” which means not age in years or actual time but rather in their character and behavior. “Young peoples,” which included Germany, Russia, and America, possessed a high amount of vitality, hard work, will-to-power, strength, and energy. “Old peoples,” which included Italy, England, and France, were saturated, highly developed, valued “happiness” over work, and generally had a lower amount of energy and vitality.[9]

According to Moeller, the destiny of peoples would be determined by the “law of rise and decline of nations,” which held that “all aging states relentlessly sink down from their hegemonial positions.”[10] However, “young peoples” could be defeated in war by a coalition of “old peoples,” as Germany had been in World War I, although this would not crush a “young people” if the resulting conditions would still leave that nation with the ability to exist and grow. Consequently, Moeller advocated an alliance between Germany, America, and Russia, hoping that with this effort Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” could be implemented and Germany would live under reasonable conditions. However, the resulting peace treaty was the Versailles Treaty and not the Fourteen Points.[11]

In Das Recht der Jungen Völker Moeller also included some earlier writing he had done on the subject of race. Moeller believed that humans could not be divided into races solely by anthropology because Man is “more than nature.” He had a peculiar idea of race which presented a dichotomy between Rasse des Blutes (“Race of the Blood”), which refers to the common biological concept of race, and Rasse des Geistes (“Race of the Spirit”), which refers to psychological or “spiritual” character which is not hereditarily determined.[12]

Moeller argued that because peoples of the same biological race could have significant differences between each other, the English and the Germans being an example of this, “race of the blood” was not as powerful or important as a “race of the spirit.” Conversely, it was also proven by the fact that a people could be made of up of a mixture of races, such as the Prussians (who were the result of an ancient Slavic-Germanic mix), yet still have a positive and unified form; although, of course, it should be noted that despite this commentary, Moeller would certainly have not approved of any European group mixing with non-European (i.e. non-white) races.[13]

The June Club and the Spengler Debate

In 1919, Moeller founded, along with Heinrich von Gleichen-Russwurm and Eduard Stadtler, the “neoconservative” (an alternative term for “revolutionary conservative”) group known as the Juniklub (“June Club”), an organization of which Moeller would soon become the key ideological leader.[14] In early 1920, the June Club invited Oswald Spengler to discuss his book The Decline of the West with Moeller van den Bruck. Moeller and Spengler agreed on some basic issues, including the basic division between Kultur (“Culture”) and Zivilisation (“Civilization”), but had some significant disagreements as well.[15]

Moeller asserted that Spengler’s “morphological” theory of culture cycles had certain key inaccuracies. Firstly, he disagreed with Spengler’s rigidly deterministic and fatalistic view of history, in which the rise and decline of High Cultures were “destined” and could even be predicted, because for Moeller history was essentially unpredictable; it is “the story of the incalculable.”[16]

Secondly, the nations which Spengler claimed constituted the “West” had powerful differences between each other, especially in terms of being “young” and “old,” which affected whether they would rise or decline, as well as cultural differences. Moeller wrote that due to these significant differences there was clearly no “homogeneous Occident” and “for that reason alone there can be no homogeneous decline.”[17]

Not only that, but history resembled a “spiral” rather than a “circle,” and a nation in decline could actually reverse its decline if certain psychological changes and events could take place within it. In fact, Moeller felt that a nation like Germany could not even be classified as “Western” and even had more in common, in terms of spirit, with Russia than it did with France and England.[18]

The Third Empire

In 1922, Moeller, along with his two friends Heinrich von Gleichen and Max Hildebert Boehm, published a collection of their articles in the form of a book titled Die Neue Front (“The New Front”), which was intended to be a manifesto for young conservatives.[19] One year later, however, Moeller would publish his own manifesto, Das Dritte Reich (“The Third Empire,” translated into English as Germany’s Third Empire), which contained the most comprehensive exposition of his worldview.[20]

He began the book with a declaration of the ideal of the Third Empire which Germany had the potential to establish while simultaneously giving a warning that Germany must become “politically-minded.” In the first chapter he discussed the German Revolution of 1918 which established the Weimar Republic, declaring that this revolution introduced un-German political ideas which were imposed by the foreign powers of France and England, and that it must be overcome by a new, conservative and nationalist revolution.

Here Moeller also repeated his concept of “young peoples” and “old peoples,” emphasizing that the English and French nations were “old” but shrewd and politically experienced, while Germany was “young” and vigorous but had behaved in an inexperienced and impetuous manner. If Germany could rise above the defeated situation in which it was placed into, its leaders would need caution and political experience. Moeller warned that if German leaders would not handle the political situation “with the utmost care and skill” and with wisdom, “her[Germany’s] attempt will plunge us once more into impotence, into disintegration, into a non-existence which will last this time not for decades but for centuries.”[21]

The succeeding parts of Germany’s Third Empire would examine the four typical ideological types – Revolutionary, Liberal, Reactionary, and Conservative – in Germany and their essential attitudes and ideas.

Revolutionaries, Socialism, and the Proletariat

The political type known as the “Revolutionary” or the “Radical,” which was represented primarily by the Marxists, held the mistaken view that a nation and its society could be entirely transformed through a revolution, rapidly creating a new world. Moeller believed that this was a naive view of the life of nations, because the past customs, traditions, and values of a nation cannot ever simply be totally brushed aside. “We may be the victims of catastrophes which overtake us, of revolutions which we cannot prevent, but tradition always re-emerges.”[22]

Moeller spent much time critiquing the materialist and rationalist ideological foundations of Marxism. He critiqued rationalism for failing to understand that “reason” had limits and was entirely separate from “understanding.” “Reason should be one with perception. This reason ceased to perceive; she merely reckoned. Understanding is spiritual instinct; reason became mere intellectual calculation.”[23] Materialism (which shared a link with rationalism) and rationalism “embraces everything except what is vital.” Like rationalism, materialism could not understand either history or the nature of man:

The materialist conception of history, which gives economics greater weight than man, is a denial of history; it denies all spiritual values. . . . Man revolts against the merely animal in himself; he is filled with the determination not to live for bread alone – or, at a later stage, not alone for economics – he achieves consciousness of his human dignity. The materialist conception of history has never taken cognizance of these things. It has concentrated on half man’s history: and the less creditable half. [24]

Thus Marxism, because it was founded upon such ideas, made the error of conceiving of man as a soulless animal guided merely by economic motives, while in reality higher spiritual forces and ideas guided his actions. Furthermore, Marx failed to understand that there could be no international proletariat because people, whether they were proletariats or not, were differentiated by belonging to different Völker (this is often translated as “nations,” but may also be understood as “ethnicities”).

Moeller believed that this failing was partly a product of Marx’s rationalistic thought as well as his Jewish background, which made him “a stranger in Europe” who yet “dared to meddle in the affairs of European peoples.” Moeller struck out: “Jew that he was, national feeling was incomprehensible to him; rationalist that he was, national feeling was for him out of date.”[25]

However, socialism itself was not limited to Marxism and in fact, “international socialism does not exist . . . socialism begins where Marxism ends.”[26] Moeller called for the recognition of the fact that “every people has its own socialism” and that a conservative “national socialism” of German origin existed which should be the foundation of the Third Empire.

This German socialism was essentially a form of socialistic corporatism, a “corporative conception of state and economics,” which had its foundations in the ideas of thinkers such as Friedrich List, Frieherr von Stein, and Constantin Frantz, as well as in the medieval guild system.[27] Other notable intellectuals who were contemporaries of Moeller, most prominently Oswald Spengler and Werner Sombart, advocated similar conceptions of “German socialism.”[28]

Moeller also defied Marx’s concept of the proletariat as well as his concept of class warfare, asserting that “the proletarian is a proletarian by his own desire.” Thus the proletariat in the Marxian sense was not a product of his position in capitalist society, but merely of “the proletarian consciousness.” Socialism is a “population problem,” which is the “the most urgently socialist question conceivable” and which Marx was incapable of giving proper recognition to.[29]

The problem of the proletariat was essentially the problem of a nation having too much surplus population due to a lack of “living space,” which meant that its people began to live in bad conditions. Because Germany was being prevented by foreign powers from solving its population problem, “the proletariat is learning that if oppressed classes suffer in body, oppressed nations suffer in soul.” German proletarians and non-proletarians were both German and would have to unite in order to free themselves from oppression, for “only the nation as a whole can set itself free.”[30]

Liberalism and Democracy

Liberalism was attacked by Moeller as a negative force which must be absolutely eliminated and which was the prime enemy of both the conservative Right and revolutionary Left. Liberalism, Moeller taught, is at its essence based upon individualism, meaning not simply the idea that the individual has value but a kind of egotism which refuses to recognize anything above the individual and which even puts total value upon self-interest. “The liberal professes to do all he does for the sake of the people; but he destroys the sense of community that should bind outstanding men to the people from which they spring.”[31]

Thus, liberalism is a degenerating force which weakens nations and atomizes society; it is an ideology tolerated only by nations which no longer have a sense of unity or “state-instinct.” Liberals consequently have no sense of responsibility towards their nation, being indifferent to both its past and its future and seeking only personal advantage. The disintegrating power of this ideology is obvious: “Their[liberals’] dream is the great International, in which the differences of peoples and languages, races and cultures will be obliterated.”[32]

Moeller concluded that liberalism had created a form of state – the republic – in which the old aristocracy was replaced by a “dangerous, irresponsible, ruthless, intermediate stratum” of corrupt politicians who were guided solely by self-interest. Moeller even maintained that liberals did not even have proper idea of freedom: “Freedom means for him[the liberal] simply scope for his own egotism, and this he secures by means of the political devices which he has elaborated for the purpose: parliamentism and so-called democracy.”[33]

In place of the liberal-republican concept of democracy, Moeller offered a new idea: “The question of democracy is not the question of the Republic” but is rather something that comes into being when the people “take a share in determining their own Fate.”[34] Germans had originally been a democratic people in ancient times, which had nothing to do with theoretic rights or even voting, but rather with the bond of peoplehood and with the monarch executing the people’s will.

Thus, even a strong monarchy could be a democracy. However, Moeller believed that the old monarchy of the Second Reich had lost touch with the people and a new kind of monarchical state should come into being, a “democracy with a leader – not parliamentism.”[35] This Leader would abolish the rule of the parties and institute a system in which leaders would “feel at one with the nation” and “identify the nation’s fate with their own.”[36]

Reactionaries and Conservatives

Reactionaries and Conservatives are often seen as interchangeable, but Moeller emphasized that there are important differences between the two groups. A reactionary is essentially someone who believes in a total reinstitution of a past form. That is, he seeks to reverse history and bring back into being all old practices, regardless of whether they are actually good or bad, because he believes that everything of the past was good. Moeller thus distinguished the reactionary from the conservative:

The reactionary’s reading of history is as superficial as the conservative’s is profound. The reactionary sees the world as he has known it; the conservative sees it as it has been and will always be. He distinguishes the transitory from the eternal. Exactly what has been, can never be again. But what the world has once brought forth she can bring forth again. [37]

What is meant here is that while a reactionary seeks to completely revive past forms, the conservative understands how the world actually functions. Societies evolve and therefore some values and traditions change, but at the same time certain values and traditions do not change or should not change. The conservative tries to preserve the values and customs which are good for the nation or are eternal in nature while simultaneously being accepting of new values and practices when they are helpful for the nation or when they replace older ones which were negative in effect. Therefore,

He [the conservative] has no ambition to see the world as a museum; he prefers it as a workshop, where he can create things which will serve as new foundations. His thought differs from the revolutionary’s in that it does not trust things which were hastily begotten in the chaos of upheaval; things have a value for him only when they possess certain stability. Stable values spring from tradition. [38]

What, then, is a “Revolutionary Conservative” or “Conservative Revolutionary”? In many ways, Moeller’s definition of conservative is basically equivalent to revolutionary conservative; one who values what is eternal or good while leaving behind what is no longer tenable or is bad. However, strictly speaking, for Moeller the revolutionary conservative is a conservative who merges conservative and revolutionary ideas for the benefit of the nation. Moeller wrote that “conservative-revolutionary thought” is the “only one which in a time of upheaval guarantees the continuity of history and preserves it alike from reaction and from chaos.”[39] It is thus a necessary development which recognizes and reconciles “all the antitheses which are historically alive amongst us.”[40]

Conservative Nationalism and the Third Empire

According to Moeller, conservatism and nationalism are linked, meaning that a conservative is now a nationalist. But how does he define “nationalism,” a term which often has contradictory definitions? Nationality (or alternatively, ethnicity) is not based simply on being born in a specific country and speaking its language, as has often been assumed in the past; a nation is in fact defined by “its own peculiar character from the manner in which the men of its blood value life.”[41] Thus Moeller wrote:

Consciousness of nationhood means consciousness of a nation’s living values. Not only those are Germans who speak German, or were born in Germany, or possess her citizen rights. Conservatism seeks to preserve a nation’s values, both by conserving traditional values, as far as these still possess the power of growth, and by assimilating all new values which increase a nation’s vitality. A nation is a community of values; and nationalism is a consciousness of values. [42]

It is of interest to note here that liberal-egalitarian intellectuals oftentimes claim that nationalists believe that a nation is a totally unchanging entity in terms of character, while Moeller’s concept of conservatism and nationalism, as explained above, entirely defies these anti-nationalist prejudices. Similarly, Moeller’s associate, the influential volkisch (“Folkish”) thinker Max Hildebert Boehm, held the view that a Volk was not an unchanging organism but always in a state of flux.[43]

Finally, Moeller declared that “The crumbling state threatened to bury the nation in its ruins. But there has arisen a hope of salvation: a conservative-revolutionary movement of nationalism.”[44] It will establish a “Third Empire, a new and final Empire” which would unite the German people as a whole, would be founded upon conservative values and the love of country, and would resolve Germany’s economic and population problems. However, Moeller emphasized that the aim was not to fight only for Germany’s sake, but in fact “at the same time he[the German nationalist] is fighting for the cause of Europe, for every European influence that radiates from Germany as the centre of Europe.”[45] Thus, the fulfillment of German destiny would mean the salvation of Europe.

Influence and Death

Moeller’s grand vision for the future of German nationalism and conservatism had much influence among right-wing groups in Germany and was critical in the development of “revolutionary conservatism.” However, his most prominent influence was on Hitler’s National Socialist movement, even to the extent that Moeller is oftentimes said to be a precursor of National Socialism.

Although the term “Third Reich” did not originate with him, it was he who popularized it during the Weimar Republic and was the source from which the National Socialists adopted it.[46] Furthermore, Moeller’s concept of a Leader who identifies with the nation, the concept of a “national socialism,” his anti-liberalism, and his belief in the importance of nationality all bear an obvious relationship to Hitler’s National Socialism.

However, on the other hand, these ideas are certainly not unique to either Moeller or Hitler, and in fact predate both of them. There are also conspicuous differences between Moeller’s worldview and Hitler’s. Moeller did not share Hitler’s anti-Slavism or his particular racial views, nor were his anti-Jewish attitudes as strong as Hitler’s, even though he recognized Jews as a problem.

When Hitler visited the June Club in 1922 and had a discussion with Moeller, Moeller believed that while Hitler clearly was fighting for German interests, he did not have the right personal qualities or tendencies: “Hitler was wrecked by his proletarian primitivism. He did not understand how to give his national socialism any intellectual basis. He was passion incarnate, but entirely without measure or sense of proportion.”[47]

According to Otto Strasser, another associate of Moeller, Hitler also did not understand Moeller’s phrase “We were Teutons, we are Germans, we shall be Europeans,” which meant that Germany should become “a member of the great European family”[48] Yet in spite of all this, Hitler still admired Moeller and a signed copy of his Das Dritte Reich was found in Hitler’s bunker in 1945.[49]

By the year 1925, Moeller began to despair over the political situation in Germany and various negative developments. He did not have any confidence in the right-wing political forces which emerged, and it has also been suggested that he had feared that the National Socialists abused or distorted his ideas. As he began to withdraw from political activism, Moeller became lonelier and more depressed, and was finally struck by a nervous breakdown, after which he committed suicide on May 30, 1925.[50] But as Arthur Moeller van den Bruck passed from this world he left behind his imposing vision:

German nationalism fights for the possible Empire . . . . We are not thinking of the Europe of Today which is too contemptible to have any value. We are thinking of the Europe of Yesterday and whatever thereof may be salvaged for Tomorrow. We are thinking of the Germany of All Time, the Germany of a two-thousand-year past, the Germany of an eternal present which dwells in the spirit, but must be secured in reality and can only so be politically secured . . . . The ape and tiger in man are threatening. The shadow of Africa falls across Europe. It is our task to be guardians on the threshold of values. [51]

 

Notes

[1] Lucy Moeller van den Bruck as quoted in Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), p. 184.

[2] Gerhard Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck: Inventor of the ‘Third Reich,’” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 35, No. 6 (Dec., 1941), pp. 1085–86.

[3] Klemens von Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism; Its History And Dilemma In The Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), pp. 154–55.

[4] Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Die Deutschen, 8 vols. (Minden, Westphalia: J. C. C. Bruns, 1910).

[5] Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1093.

[6] Kemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 155–56.

[7] Ibid., p. 156.

[8] Moeller, Der preussische Stil (Munich, 1916), p. 202. Quoted in Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 156.

[9] Moeller, Das Recht der Jungen Völker (Munich: R. Piper & Co., 1919).

[10] Moeller as quoted in Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1093.

[11] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 158–59.

[12] On Moeller’s racial views, see Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, pp. 142–43, 187, and Alain de Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: Une ‘Question a la Destinee Allemande,’” Nouvelle Ecole, Paris, 35, January 1980, http://www.alaindebenoist.com/pdf/arthur_moeller_van_den_bruck.pdf, pp. 13 & 35.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 103.

[15] Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” p. 28.

[16] Moeller, Das Recht der Jungen Völker, pp. 11–39. Quoted in Zoltan Michael Szaz, “The Ideological Precursors of National Socialism,” The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), p. 942.

[17] Moeller as quoted in Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 239.

[18] Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” pp. 13, 27–30.

[19] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, p. 232 and Krebs, “Moeller Van Den Bruck,” p. 1087.

[20] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire (Howard Fertig, New York, 1971). Note that a new edition of this work in English has recently been published by Arktos Media (London, 2012).

[21] Ibid., p. 24.

[22] Ibid., p. 223.

[23] Ibid., p. 212.

[24] Ibid., p. 55.

[25] Ibid., p. 43.

[26] Ibid., p. 76.

[27] Ibid., pp. 60, 74, 160.

[28] See Oswald Spengler, Selected Essays (Chicago: Gateway/Henry Regnery, 1967) and Werner Sombart, Economic Life in the Modern Age (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Transaction Publishers, 2001).

[29] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, pp. 160–62.

[30] Ibid., p. 161.

[31] Ibid., p. 90.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid., p. 110.

[34] Ibid., p. 132.

[35] Ibid., p. 133.

[36] Ibid., p. 227.

[37] Ibid., p. 181.

[38] Ibid., p. 223.

[39] Ibid., p. 192.

[40] Ibid., p. 254.

[41] Ibid., p. 245.

[42] Ibid., p. 245.

[43] Max Hildebert Boehm, Das eigenständige Volk (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1932).

[44] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, p. 248.

[45] Ibid., p. 264.

[46] Klemperer, Germany’s New Conservatism, pp. 153, 161–62.

[47] Moeller as quoted in Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 238.

[48] Otto Strasser, Hitler and I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1940), pp. 39 & 217.

[49] Cyprian Blamires, World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO, 2006), p. 431.

[50] Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair, p. 266 and Benoist, “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck,” p. 49.

[51] Moeller, Germany’s Third Empire, p. 264.

 

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Tudor, Lucian. “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought.” Counter-Currents Publishing, 17 August 2012. <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/08/arthur-moeller-van-den-bruck-the-man-and-his-thought/ >.

Note: For a discussion related to Revolutionary Conservative thought, see also the Interview with Robert Steuckers on our site.

Additional Note: This essay was also republished in updated form in Lucian Tudor’s From the German Conservative Revolution to the New Right: A Collection of Essays on Identitarian Philosophy (Santiago, Chile: Círculo de Investigaciones PanCriollistas, 2015).

 

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History and Decadence – Sunic

History And Decadence: Spengler’s Cultural Pessimism Today

By Tomislav Sunic

 

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) exerted considerable influence on European conservatism before the Second World War. Although his popularity waned somewhat after the war, his analyses, in the light of the disturbing conditions in the modern polity, again seem to be gaining in popularity. Recent literature dealing with gloomy post­modernist themes suggests that Spengler’s prophecies of decadence may now be finding supporters on both sides of the political spectrum. The alienating nature of modern technology and the social and moral decay of large cities today lend new credence to Spengler’s vision of the impending collapse of the West. In America and Europe an increasing number of authors perceive in the liberal permissive state a harbinger of “soft” totalitarianism that may lead decisively to social entropy and conclude in the advent of “hard” totalitarianism(1).

Spengler wrote his major work The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes) against the background of the anticipated German victory in World War I. When the war ended disastrously for the Germans, his predictions that Germany, together with the rest of Europe, was bent for irreversible decline gained a renewed sense of urgency for scores of cultural pessimists. World War I must have deeply shaken the quasi-religious optimism of those who had earlier prophesied that technological inventions and international economic linkages would pave the way for peace and prosperity. Moreover, the war proved that technological inventions could turn out to be a perfect tool for man’s alienation and, eventually, his physical an­nihilation. Inadvertently, while attempting to interpret the cycles of world history, Spengler probably best succeeded in spreading the spirit of cultural despair to his own as well as future generations.

Like Gianbattista Vico, who two centuries earlier developed his thesis about the rise and decline of cultures, Spengler tried to project a pattern of cultural growth and cultural decay in a certain scientific form: “the morphology of history”- as he himself and others dub his work – although the term “biology” seems more appropriate considering Spengler’s inclination to view cultures as living organic entities, alternately afflicted with disease and plague or showing signs of vigorous life(2). Undoubtedly, the organic conception of history was, to a great extent, inspired by the popularity of scientific and pseudo­scientific literature, which, in the early twentieth century, began to focus attention on racial and genetic paradigms in order to explain the patterns of social decay. Spengler, however, prudently avoids racial determinism in his description of decadence, although his exaltation of historical determinism often brings him close to Marx­ – albeit in a reversed and hopelessly pessimistic direction. In contrast to many egalitarian thinkers, Spengler’s elitism and organicism con­ceived of human species as of different and opposing peoples, each experiencing its own growth and death, and each struggling for survival. “Mankind,” writes Spengler, should be viewed as either a “zoological concept or an empty word.” If ever this phantom of “mankind” vanishes from the circulation of historical forms, “we shall then notice an astounding affluence of genuine forms.” Appar­ently, by form (“Gestalt”) Spengler means the resurrection of the classical notion of the nation-state, which, in the early twentieth century, came under fire from the advocates of the globalist and universalist polity. Spengler must be credited, however, with pointing out that the frequently-used concept “world history,” in reality encompasses an impressive array of diverse and opposing cultures without common denominator; each culture displays its own forms, pursues its own passions, and grapples with its own life or death. “There are blossoming and aging cultures,” writes Spengler, “peo­ples, languages, truths, gods, and landscapes, just as there are young and old oak trees, pines, flowers, boughs and petals – but there is no aging `mankind.’”(3) For Spengler, cultures seem to be growing in sublime futility, with some approaching terminal illness, and others still displaying vigorous signs of life. Before culture emerged, man was an ahistorical creature; but he becomes again ahistorical and, one might add, even hostile to history: “as soon as some civilization has developed its full and final form, thus putting a stop to the living development of culture” (2:58; 2:48).

Similarly, each culture undergoes various cycles or different his­torical “seasons”: first appears the period of cultural blossoming or the spring-time of culture, followed by the period of maturation, which Spengler alternately calls summer or fall, and finally comes the period of decadence, which in Spengler’s view is synonymous with “civilization.” This “seasonal” flow of history is a predicament of all nations, although the historical timing of their decline varies with the virility of each nation, geographical area, or epoch. In the field of politics and statecraft, the process of decadence is very much the same. Thus, the closing years of the First World War witnessed the passing of the feudal rule of the landed aristocracy and the emergence of budding forms of parliamentary plutocracy – soon to be followed by the rise of rootless mobocracy and the “dictatorship of money” (2:633; 2:506). Undoubtedly Spengler was inspired by the works of Vilfredo Pareto and Gustave le Bon, who had earlier attempted to outline similar patterns of the rise and fall of political elites. In Pareto’s and Le Bon’s scheme, decadence sets in when the power elite no longer follows the established rule of social selection, and fails to identify internal and external enemies(4). Once it becomes emasculated by economic affluence and debilitated by the belief in the boundless goodness of its political opponents, the elite has already signed its own obituary. In similar words, Spengler contends that the rise of Caesarism must be viewed as a natural fulfilment of the money-dictatorship as well as its dialectical removal: “The sword wins over money; the master-will conquers again the booty-will” (2:634; 2:506). Then a new cycle of history will begin, according to Spengler, although he remains silent about the main historical actors, their origins, and their goals.

Spengler was convinced, however, that the dynamics of decadence could be fairly well predicted, provided that exact historical data were available. Just as the biology of human beings generates a well­-defined life span, resulting ultimately in biological death, so does each culture possess its own aging “data,” normally lasting no longer than a thousand years – a period, separating its spring from its eventual historical antithesis, the winter, or civilization. The estimate of a thousand years before the decline of culture sets in, corresponds to Spengler’s certitude that, after that period, each society has to face self-destruction. For example, after the fall of Rome, the rebirth of European culture started anew in the ninth century with the Carolingian dynasty. After the painful process of growth, self-asser­tiveness, and maturation, one thousand years later, in the twentieth century, cultural life in Europe is coming to its definite historical close.

As Spengler and his contemporary successors see it, Western culture now has transformed itself into a decadent civilization fraught with an advanced form of social, moral, and political decay. The first signs of this decay appeared shortly after the Industrial Revolution, when the machine began to replace man, when feelings gave way to ratio. Ever since that ominous event, new forms of social and political conduct have been surfacing in the West – marked by a wide-spread obsession with endless economic growth and irreversible human betterment – fueled by the belief that the burden of history can finally be removed. The new plutocratic elites, that have now replaced organic aristocracy, have imposed material gain as the only principle worth pursuing, reducing the entire human interaction to an immense economic transaction. And since the masses can never be fully satisfied, argues Spengler, it is understandable that they will seek change in their existing polities even if change may spell the loss of liberty. One might add that this craving for economic affluence will be translated into an incessant decline of the sense of public responsibility and an emerging sense of uprootedness and social anomie, which will ultimately and inevitably lead to the advent of totalitarianism. It would appear, therefore, that the process of de­cadence can be forestalled, ironically, only by resorting to salutary hard-line regimes.

Using Spengler’s apocalyptic predictions, one is tempted to draw a parallel with the modern Western polity, which likewise seems to be undergoing the period of decay and decadence. John Lukacs, who bears the unmistakable imprint of Spenglerian pessimism, views the permissive nature of modern liberal society, as embodied in America, as the first step toward social disintegration. Like Spengler, Lukacs asserts that excessive individualism and rampant materialism increas­ingly paralyze and render obsolete the sense of civic responsibility. One should probably agree with Lukacs that neither the lifting of censorship, nor the increasing unpopularity of traditional values, nor the curtailing of state authority in contemporary liberal states, seems to have led to a more peaceful environment; instead, a growing sense of despair seems to have triggered a form of neo-barbarism and social vulgarity. “Already richness and poverty, elegance and slea­ziness, sophistication and savagery live together more and more,” writes Lukacs(5). Indeed, who could have predicted that a society capable of launching rockets to the moon or curing diseases that once ravaged the world could also become a civilization plagued by social atomization, crime, and addiction to escapism? With his apoc­alyptic predictions, Lukacs, similar to Spengler, writes: “This most crowded of streets of the greatest civilization: this is now the hell­hole of the world.”

Interestingly, neither Spengler nor Lukacs nor other cultural pes­simists seems to pay much attention to the obsessive appetite for equality, which seems to play, as several contemporary authors point out, an important role in decadence and the resulting sense of cultural despair. One is inclined to think that the process of decadence in the contemporary West is the result of egalitarian doctrines which promise much but deliver little, creating thus an endless feeling of emptiness and frustration among the masses of economic-minded and rootless citizens. Moreover, elevated to the status of modern secular religions, egalitarianism and economism inevitably follow their own dynamics of growth, which is likely to conclude, as Claude Polin notes, in the “terror of all against all” and the ugly resurgence of democratic totalitarianism. Polin writes: “Undifferentiated man is par excellence a quantitative man; a man who accidentally differs from his neighbors by the quantity of economic goods in his pos­session; a man subject to statistics; a man who spontaneously reacts in accordance to statistics”(6). Conceivably, liberal society, if it ever gets gripped by economic duress and hit by vanishing opportunities, will have no option but to tame and harness the restless masses in a Spenglerian “muscled regime.”

Spengler and other cultural pessimists seem to be right in pointing out that democratic forms of polity, in their final stage, will be marred by moral and social convulsions, political scandals, and cor­ruption on all social levels. On top of it, as Spengler predicts, the cult of money will reign supreme, because “through money democracy destroys itself, after money has destroyed the spirit” (2:582; 2:464). Judging by the modern development of capitalism, Spengler cannot be accused of far fetched assumptions. This economic civilization founders on a major contradiction: on the one hand its religion of human rights extends its beneficiary legal tenets to everyone, reas­suring every individual of the legitimacy of his earthly appetites; on the other, this same egalitarian civilization fosters a model of economic Darwinism, ruthlessly trampling under its feet those whose interests do not lie in the economic arena.

The next step, as Spengler suggests, will be the transition from democracy to salutary Caesarism; substitution of the tyranny of the few for the tyranny of many. The neo-Hobbesian, neo-barbaric state is in the making:

Instead of the pyres emerges big silence. The dictatorship of party bosses is backed up by the dictatorship of the press. With money, an attempt is made to lure swarms of readers and entire peoples away from the enemy’s attention and bring them under one’s own thought control. There, they learn only what they must learn, and a higher will shapes their picture of the world. It is no longer needed-as the baroque princes did-to oblige their subordinates into the armed service. Their minds are whipped up through articles, telegrams, pictures, until they demand weapons and force their leaders to a battle to which these wanted to be forced. (2:463)

The fundamental issue, however, which Spengler and many other cultural pessimists do not seem to address, is whether Caesarism or totalitarianism represents the antithetical remedy to decadence or, rather, the most extreme form of decadence? Current literature on totalitarianism seems to focus on the unpleasant side-effects of the bloated state, the absence of human rights, and the pervasive control of the police. By contrast, if liberal democracy is indeed a highly desirable and the least repressive system of all hitherto known in the West – and if, in addition, this liberal democracy claims to be the best custodian of human dignity – one wonders why it relentlessly causes social uprootedness and cultural despair among an increasing number of people? As Claude Polin notes, chances are that, in the short run, democratic totalitarianism will gain the upper hand since the security it provides is more appealing to the masses than is the vague notion of liberty(7). One might add that the tempo of democratic process in the West leads eventually to chaotic impasse, which ne­cessitates the imposition of a hard-line regime.

Although Spengler does not provide a satisfying answer to the question of Caesarism vs. decadence, he admits that the decadence of, the West need not signify the collapse of all cultures. Rather, it appears that the terminal illness of the West may be a new lease on life for other cultures; the death of Europe may result in a stronger Africa or Asia. Like many other cultural pessimists, Spengler ac­knowledges that the West has grown old, unwilling to fight, with its political and cultural inventory depleted; consequently, it is obliged to cede the reigns of history to those nations that are less exposed to debilitating pacifism and the self-flagellating guilt-feelings which, so to speak, have become new trademarks of the modern Western citizen. One could imagine a situation where these new virile and victorious nations will barely heed the democratic niceties of their guilt-ridden former masters, and may likely, at some time in the future, impose their own brand of terror which could eclipse the legacy of the European Auschwitz and the Gulag. In view of the ruthless civil and tribal wars all over the decolonized African and Asian continent, it seems unlikely that power politics and bellicosity will disappear with the “decline of the West.” So far, no proof has been offered that non-European nations can govern more peacefully and generously than their former European masters. “Pacifism will remain an ideal,” Spengler reminds us, “war a fact. If the white races are resolved never to wage a war again, the colored will act differently and be rulers of the world”(8).

In this statement, Spengler clearly indicts the self-hating “homo europeanus” who, having become a victim of his bad conscience, naively thinks that his truths and verities must remain irrefutably valid forever, forgetting that his eternal verities may one day be turned against him. Spengler strongly attacks this Western false sympathy with the deprived ones – a sympathy that Nietzsche once depicted as a twisted form of egoism and slave moral. “This is the reason,” writes Spengler, why this “compassion moral,” in the day-­to-day sense, “evoked among us with respect, and sometimes strived for by the thinkers, sometimes longed for, has never been realized” (1:449; 1:350).

This form of political masochism could be well studied particularly among those contemporary Western egalitarians who, with the decline of socialist temptations, substituted for the archetype of the European exploited worker, the iconography of the starving African. Nowhere does this change in political symbolics seem more apparent than in the current Western drive to export Western forms of civilization to the antipodes of the world. These Westerners, in the last spasm of a guilt-ridden shame, are probably convinced that their historical repentance might also secure their cultural and political longevity. Spengler was aware of these paralyzing attitudes among Europeans, and he remarks that, if a modern European recognizes his historical vulnerability, he must start thinking beyond his narrow perspective and develop different attitudes toward different political convictions and verities. What do Parsifal or Prometheus have to do with the average Japanese citizen, asks Spengler? “This is exactly what is lacking to the Western thinker,” continues Spengler, “and which precisely should have never lacked to him; insight into historical relativity of his achievements, which themselves are the manifestation of one and unique, and of only one existence” (1:31;1:23). On a somewhat different level, one wonders to what extent the much vaunted dis­semination of universal human rights can become a valuable principle for non-Western peoples if Western universalism often signifies blatant disrespect for all cultural particularities.

Even with their eulogy of universalism, as Serge Latouche has recently noted, Westerners have, nonetheless, secured the most com­fortable positions for themselves. Although they have now retreated to the back stage of history, vicariously, through their humanism, they still play the role of the undisputable masters of the non-white­-man show. “The death of the West for itself has not been the end of the West in itself,” adds Latouche(9). One wonders whether such Western attitudes to universalism represent another form of racism, considering the havoc these attitudes have created in traditional Third World communities. Latouche appears correct in remarking that Eur­opean decadence best manifests itself in its masochistic drive to deny and discard everything that it once stood for, while simultaneously sucking into its orbit of decadence other cultures as well. Yet, although suicidal in its character, the Western message contains mandatory admonishments for all non-European nations. He writes:

The mission of the West is not to exploit the Third World, nor to christianize the pagans, nor to dominate by white presence; it is to liberate men (and even more so women) from oppression and misery. In order to counter this self-hatred of the anti-imperialist vision, which concludes in red totalitarianism, one is now compelled to dry the tears of white man, and thereby ensure the success of this westernization of the world. (41)

The decadent West exhibits, as Spengler hints, a travestied culture living on its own past in a society of different nations that, having lost their historical consciousness, feel an urge to become blended into a promiscuous “global polity.” One wonders what would he say today about the massive immigration of non-Europeans to Europe? This immigration has not improved understanding among races, but has caused more racial and ethnic strife that, very likely, signals a series of new conflicts in the future.

But Spengler does not deplore the “devaluation of all values” nor the passing of cultures. In fact, to him decadence is a natural process of senility which concludes in civilization, because civilization is decadence. Spengler makes a typically German distinction between culture and civilization, two terms which are, unfortunately, used synonymously in English. For Spengler civilization is a product of intellect, of completely rationalized intellect; civilization means uproot­edness and, as such, it develops its ultimate form in the modern megapolis which, at the end of its journey, “doomed, moves to its final self-destruction” (2:127; 2:107). The force of the people has been overshadowed by massification; creativity has given way to “kitsch” art; geniality has been subordinated to the terror of reason. He writes:

Culture and civilization. On the one hand the living corpse of a soul and, on the other, its mummy. This is how the West European existence differs from 1800 and after. The life in its richness and normalcy, whose form has grown up and matured from inside out in one mighty course stretching from the adolescent days of Gothics to Goethe and Napoleon – into that old artificial, deracinated life of our large cities, whose forms are created by intellect. Culture and civilization. The organism born in countryside, that ends up in petrified mechanism. (1:453; 1:353)

In yet another display of determinism, Spengler contends that one cannot escape historical destiny: “the first inescapable thing that confronts man as an unavoidable destiny, which no thought can grasp, and no will can change, is a place and time of one’s birth: everybody is born into one people, one religion, one social status, one stretch of time and one culture.”(10) Man is so much constrained by his historical environment that all attempts at changing one’s destiny are hopeless. And, therefore, all flowery postulates about the improvement of mankind, all liberal and socialist philosophizing about a glorious future regarding the duties of humanity and the essence of ethics, are of no avail. Spengler sees no other avenue of redemption except through declaring himself a fundamental and resolute pessimist:

Mankind appears to me as a zoological quantity. I see no progress, no goal, no avenue for humanity, except in the heads of the Western progress-Philistines…. I cannot see a single mind and even less a unity of endeavors, feelings, and understandings in these barren masses of people. (Selected Essays 73-74; 147)

The determinist nature of Spengler’s pessimism has been criticized recently by Konrad Lorenz who, while sharing Spengler’s culture of despair, refuses the predetermined linearity of decadence. In his capacity of ethologist and as one of the most articulate neo-Darwinists, Lorenz admits the possibility of an interruption of human phylo­genesis – yet also contends that new vistas for cultural development always remain open. “Nothing is more foreign to the evolutionary epistemologist, as well, to the physician,” writes Lorenz, “than the doctrine of fatalism.”(11) Still, Lorenz does not hesitate to criticize vehemently decadence in modern mass societies which, in his view, have already given birth to pacified and domesticated specimens unable to pursue cultural endeavors. Lorenz would certainly find positive resonance with Spengler himself in writing: “This explains why the pseudodemocratic doctrine that all men are equal, by which is believed that all humans are initially alike and pliable, could be made into a state religion by both the lobbyists for large industry and by the ideologues of communism” (179-80).

Despite the criticism of historical determinism which has been leveled against him, Spengler often confuses his reader with Faustian exclamations reminiscent of someone prepared for battle rather than reconciled to a sublime demise. “No, I am not a pessimist,” writes Spengler in “Pessimism,” for “pessimism means seeing no more duties. I see so many unresolved duties that I fear that time and men will run out to solve them”(75). These words hardly cohere with the cultural despair which earlier he so passionately elaborated. Moreover, he often advocates force and the toughness of the warrior in order to stave off Europe’s disaster.

One is led to the conclusion that Spengler extols historical pessimism or “purposeful pessimism” (“Zweckpessimismus”), as long as it translates his conviction of the irreversible decadence of the European polity; however, once he perceives that cultural and political loopholes are available for moral and social regeneration, he quickly reverts to the eulogy of power politics. Similar characteristics are often to be found among many poets, novelists, and social thinkers whose legacy in spreading cultural pessimism played a significant part in shaping political behavior among European conservatives prior to World War II (12). One wonders why they all, like Spengler, bemoan the decadence of the West if this decadence has already been sealed, if the cosmic die has already been cast, and if all efforts of political and cultural rejuvenation appear hopeless? Moreover, in an effort to mend the unmendable, by advocating a Faustian mentality and will-to-power, these pessimists often seem to emulate the optimism of socialists rather than the ideas of those reconciled to impending social catastrophe.

For Spengler and other cultural pessimists, the sense of decadence is inherently combined with a revulsion against modernity and an abhorrence of rampant economic greed. As recent history has shown, the political manifestation of such revulsion may lead to less savory results: the glorification of the will-to-power and the nostalgia of death. At that moment, literary finesse and artistic beauty may take on a very ominous turn. The recent history of Europe bears witness to how easily cultural pessimism can become a handy tool for modern political titans. Nonetheless, the upcoming disasters have something uplifting for the generations of cultural pessimists whose hypersensitive nature – and disdain for the materialist society – often lapses into political nihilism. This nihilistic streak was boldly stated by Spengler’s contemporary Friedrich Sieburg, who reminds us that “the daily life of democracy with its sad problems is boring, but the impending catastrophes are highly interesting.”(13)

One cannot help thinking that, for Spengler and his likes, in a wider historical context, war and power politics offer a regenerative hope against the pervasive feeling of cultural despair. Yet, regardless of the validity of Spengler’s visions or nightmares, it does not take much imagination to observe in the decadence of the West the last twilight-dream of a democracy already grown weary of itself.

California State University, Fullerton, California

Notes:

1. In the case of the European ‘New Right’, see Jean Cau, Discours de la décadence (Paris: Copernic, 1978), Julien Freund, La décadence: histoire sociologique et philosophique d’une expérience humaine (Paris: Sirey, 1984), and Pierre Chaunu Histoire et décadence (Paris: Perrin, 1981). In the case of authors of “leftist sensibility,” see Jean Baud­rillard’s virulent attack against simulacra and hyperreality in America: Amérique (Paris: Grasset, 1986)-in English, America, trans. Chris Turner (New York, London: Verso, 1988)-and Jean-François Huyghe, La soft-idéologie (Paris: Laffont, 1987). There is a certain Spenglerian whiff in Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Warner Books, 1979), and probably in Richard Lamm, Megatraumas: America at the Year 2000 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985). About European cultural conservatives see my Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (forthcoming).

2. See Spengler’s critic and admirer Heinrich Scholz, Zum ‘Untergang des Abendlandes’ (Berlin: von Reuther and Reichard, 1920). Scholz conceives of history as polycentric occurrences concentrated in creative archetypes, noting: “History is a curriculum vitae of many cultures having nothing in common except the name; because each of them has its own destiny, own life, and own death” (11)-my translation.

3. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson, 2 vols. (1926; New York: Knopf, 1976), 1:21. My text, however, contains my own translations from Der Untergang des Abendlandes (München: Beck, 1923), 1:28-29. Citations hereafter are in the text, in parentheses, giving references to these two editions, respectively.

4. Vilfredo Pareto, ‘Dangers of Socialism’, in The Other Pareto, ed. Placido Bucolo, trans. Gillian and Placido Bucolo, pre. Ronald Fletcher (New York: St. Martin’s, 1980). Pareto writes: “There are some people who imagine that they can disarm the enemy by complacent flattery. They are wrong. The world has always belonged to the stronger and will belong to them for many years to come. Men only respect those who make themselves respected. Whoever becomes a lamb will find a wolf to eat him” (125). In a similar vein, Gustave le Bon, Psychologie politique (1911; Paris: Les Amis de G. L. Bon, 1984), writes: “Wars among nations have, by the way, always been the source of the most important progress. Which pacifist people has ever played any role in history?” (79)-my translation.

5. John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age (New York: Harper, 1970), 10, 9.

6. Claude Polin, L’esprit totalitaire (Paris: Sirey, 1977), 111: my translation.

7. Claude Polin, Le totalitarisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires Françaises, 1982) argues that egalitarianism, universalism and economism are the three pivots of totalitarianism: “Totalitarian power is first and foremost the power of all against all; the tyranny of all against all. Totalitarian society is not constructed from the top down to the bottom, but from the bottom up to the top” (117) – my translation.

8. ‘Is World Peace Possible?’ in Selected Essay, trans. Donald O. White (1936: Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), 207.

9. Serge Latouche, L’occidentalisation du monde (Paris: La Découverte, 1989), 9; my translation. About Westerners’ self-hate and self-denial, see Alain de Benoist, Europe, Tiers monde même combat (Paris: Laffont, 1986): “And whereas Christian universalism had once contributed to the justification of colonization, Christian pastoralism today inspires decolonization. This `mobilization of consciences’ crystallizes itself around the notion of culpability.” The colonized is no longer “a primitive” who ought to be “led to civilization.” Rather, he is a living indictment, indeed, an example of an immaculate morality from whom the “civilized” has much to learn (62). See also Pascal Bruckner, Le sanglot de l’homme blanc. Tiers monde, culpabilité, haine de soi (Paris: Seuil, 1983), 13: for the bleeding-heart liberal Westerner “the birth of the Third world gave birth to this new category; expiatory militantism.” My translations here.

10. Spengler, ‘Pessimismus’, Reden and Aufsätze (München: Beck, 1937), 70; in English, ‘Pessimism?’ in Selected Essays, 143.

11. Konrad Lorenz, The Waning of Humaneness (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 58-59.

12. It would be impossible to enumerate all cultural pessimists who usually identify themselves as heroic pessimists, often as conservative revolutionaries, or aristocratic nihilists. Poets and novelists of great talent such as Gottfried Benn, Louis F. Céline, Ezra Pound, and others, were very much inspired by Oswald Spengler. See Gottfried Benn, “Pessimismus,” in Essays und Aufsätze (Wiesbaden: Limes, 1959): “Man is not alone, thinking is alone. Thinking is self-bound and solitary” (357). See also the apocalyptic prose of Ernst Jünger, An der Zeitmauer (Werke) (Stuttgart: Klett, 1959): “It seems that cyclical system corresponds to our spirit. We make round-shaped watches, although there is no logical compulsion behind it. And even catastrophes are viewed as recurrent, as for example floods and drought, fire-age and ice-age” (460-61). My translations.

13. Friedrich Sieburg, Die Lust am Untergang (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1954), 54. My translation.

 

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Sunic, Tomislav. “History And Decadence: Spengler’s Cultural Pessimism Today.” CLIO – A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History, Vol. 19, No 1 (Fall 1989), pp. 51-62. Text retrieved from: <http://home.alphalink.com.au/~radnat/tomsunic/sunic4.html >.

Note: This essay was also republished in Tomislav Sunic’s Postmortem Report: Cultural Examinations from Postmodernity – Collected Essays (Shamley Green, UK: The Paligenesis Project, 2010).

 

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Interview with Steuckers

Interview with Robert Steuckers by Troy Southgate

 

Troy Southgate: When and why did you decide to become involved in politics?

Robert Steuckers: I was never actually involved in politics, as I was never a member of a political party. Nevertheless I am a citizen interested in political questions but of course not in the usual plain and trivial way, as I have no intention to become a candidate, council deputy or Member of Parliament.

For me “politics” means to maintain continuities or, if you prefer, traditions. But traditions that are embedded in the actual history of a particular human community. I started to read historical and political books at the tender age of 14. This lead to a rejection of established ideologies or non-values.

From the age of 15 onwards, with the help of a secondary school history teacher, a certain Mr. Kennof, I realized that people should grasp the main trends of history in keys and always make use of historical atlasses (I have collected them ever since) in order to understand in one glimpse the main forces animating the world scene at a precise moment of time. Maps are very important for politics at a high level (diplomacy, for instance).

The principal idea I acquired at this young age was that all ideologies, thoughts or blue prints which wanted to get rid of the past, to sever the links people have with their historical continuities, were fundamentally wrong. As a consequence, all political actions should aim at preserving and strengthening historical and political continuities, even when futurist (pro-active) actions are often necessary to save a community from a sterile repetition of obsolete habits and customs.

The discourses of most ideologies, including the various expressions of the so-called far right, were in my eyes artificial in the Western World just as communism was an abstraction in front of the whole of Russian history in the East or an abstraction obliterating the genuine historical patterns of the East-European peoples submitted to Soviet rule after 1945. The rupture of continuities or the repetition of dead past “forms” leads to the political-ideological confusion we know nowadays, where conservatives aren’t conservative and socialists aren’t socialists anymore, and so on.

Fundamental political ideas are better served in my eyes by “Orders” than by political parties. Orders provide a continuous education of the affiliated and stress the notion of service. They feel reluctant in front of the mere politicians’ petty ambitions. Such Orders are the Chivalric Orders of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance in Europe, the notion of fatwa in the Persian Islamic world as well as later experiments, including in the 20th Century (The Legion of Michael the Archangel Michael in Romania, the Verdinaso in Flanders, etc.).

Troy Southgate: Please explain what you mean by the term “Conservative Revolution” and, if possible, provide us with an outline of some of its chief ideologues.

Robert Steuckers: When the phrase “Conservative Revolution” is used in Europe, it is mostly in the sense given to it by Armin Mohler in his famous book Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918-1932. Mohler listed a long list of authors who rejected the pseudo-values of 1789 (dismissed by Edmund Burke as mere “blue prints”), stressed the role of the Germanic in the evolution of European thought and received the influence of Nietzsche. Mohler avoided, for instance, purely religious “conservatives,” be they Catholics or Protestants.

For Mohler the main brandmark of “Conservative Revolution” is a non-linear vision of history. But he doesn’t simply take over the cyclical vision of traditionalism. After Nietzsche, Mohler believes in a spherical conception of history. What does that mean? It means that history is neither simply a repetition of the same patterns at regular intervals nor a linear path leading to happiness — to the end of history, to a Paradise on Earth, to felicity, etc. — but is a sphere that can run (or be pushed) in every direction according to the impulsion it receives from strong charismatic personalities. Such charismatic personalities bend the course of history towards some very particular ways, ways that were never previously foreseen by any kind of Providence.

Mohler in this sense never believes in universalistic political receipts or doctrines but always in particular and personal trends. Like Jünger, he wants to struggle against everything that is “general” and to support everything that is “particular”. Further, Mohler expressed his vision of the dynamic particularities by using the some awkward terminology of “nominalism.” For him “nominalism” was indeed the word that expressed at best the will of strong personalities to cut for themselves and their followers an original and never used path through the jungle of existence.

The main figures of the movement were Spengler, Moeller van den Bruck, and Ernst Jünger (and his brother Friedrich-Georg). We can add to these triumviri Ludwig Klages and Ernst Niekisch. Carl Schmitt, as a Catholic lawyer and constitutionalist, represents another important aspect of the so-called “Conservative Revolution”.

Spengler remains the author of a brilliant fresco of the world civilizations that inspired the British philosopher Arnold Toynbee. Spengler spoke of Europe as a Faustian civilization, at best expressed by the Gothic cathedrals, the interaction of light and colors in the glass-works, the stormy skies with white and gray clouds in most of the Dutch, English, and German paintings. This civilization is an aspiration of the human soul towards light and towards self-commitment.

Another important idea of Spengler is the idea of “pseudo-morphosis”: a civilization never disappears completely after a decay or a violent conquest. Its elements pass into the new civilization that takes its succession and bends it towards original paths.

Moeller van den Bruck was the first German translator of Dostoevsky. He was deeply influenced by Dostoevsky’s diary, containing some severe judgments on the West. In the German context after 1918, Moeller van den Bruck advocated, on the basis of Dostoevsky’s arguments, a German-Russian alliance against the West.

How could the respectable German gentleman, with an immense artist’s culture, plea in favor of an alliance with the Bolsheviks? His arguments were the following: in the whole diplomatic tradition of the 19th century, Russia was considered as the shield of reaction against all the repercussions of the French Revolution and of the revolutionist mind and moods. Dostoevsky, as a former Russian revolutionist who admitted later that his revolutionist options were wrong and mere blue prints, considered more or less that Russia’s mission in the world was to wipe out of Europe the tracks of the ideas of 1789.

For Moeller van den Bruck, the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia was only a changing of ideological clothe Russia remained, despite the Bolshevik discourse, the antidote to the Western liberal mind. So defeated Germany should ally to this fortress of anti-revolutionism to oppose the West, which in the eyes of Moeller van den Bruck is the incarnation of liberalism. Liberalism, stated Moeller van den Bruck, is always the final disease of a people. After some decades of liberalism, a people will ineluctably enter into a terminal phase of decay.

The path followed by Ernst Jünger is known enough to everyone. He started as an ardent and gallant young soldier in the First World War, leaving the trenches with no gun, simply with a hand grenade under his arm, worn with elegance like the stick of a typical British officer. For Jünger the First World War was the end of the petty bourgeois world of the 19th Century and the “Belle Epoque,” where everyone had to be “as it should be,” i.e. behave according to said patterns pre-cut by borrowing teachers or priests, exactly as we all today have to behave according to the self-proclaimed rules of “political correctness.”

Under the “storms of steel,” the soldier could state his nothingness, his mere fragile biological being, but this statement couldn’t in his eyes lead to an inept pessimism, to fear and desperation. Having experimented the most cruel destiny in the trenches and under the shelling of thousands of artillery guns, shaking the earth thoroughly, reducing everything to the “elemental,” the infantrymen knew better of cruel human destiny on the surface of this planet. All artificiality of civilised urban life appeared to them as mere fake.

After the first World War Ernst Jünger and his brother Friedrich-Georg turned out to be the best national-revolutionist journalists and writers.

Ernst evolved to a kind of cynical, soft, ironical, and serene observer of humanity and the facts of life. During a carpet bombing raid on a Parisian suburb, where factories were producing war material for the German army during WWII, Jünger was terrified by the unnatural straight air path taken by the American flying fortresses. The linearity of the planes’ path in the air above Paris was the negation of all the curves and sinuosities of organic life. Modern war implied the crushing of those winding and serpentine organicities. Ernst Jünger started his career as a writer by being an apologist of war. After having observed the irresistible lines thrust forward by the American B-17s, he became totally disgusted by the unchivalrousness of the pure technical way of running a war.

After WWII, his brother Friedrich-Georg wrote a first theoretical work leading to the development of the new German critical and ecological thinking, Die Perfektion der Technik (The Perfection of Technics). The main idea of this book, in my eyes, is the critique of “connection.” The modern world is a process trying to connect human communities and individuals to big structures. This process of connection ruins the principle of liberty. You are a poor chained prole if you are “connected” to a big structure, even if you earn £3000 or more in one month. You are a free man if you are totally disconnected from those big iron heels. In a certain way, Friedrich-Georg developed the theory that Kerouac experimented untheoretically by choosing to drop out and travel, becoming a singing tramp.

Ludwig Klages was another philosopher of organic life against abstract thinking. For him the main dichotomy was between Life and Spirit (Leben und Geist). Life is crushed by abstract spirit. Klages was born in Northern Germany but migrated as a student to Munich, where he spent his free time in the pubs of Schwabing, the district in which artists and poets met (and still meet today). He became a friend of the poet Stefan Georg and a student of the most original figure of Schwabing, the philosopher Alfred Schuler, who believed himself to be the reincarnation of an ancient Roman settler in the German Rhineland.

Schuler had a genuine sense of theater. He disguised himself in the toga of a Roman Emperor, admired Nero, and set up plays remembering the audience of the ancient Greek or Roman world. But beyond his lively fantasy, Schuler acquired a cardinal importance in philosophy by stressing for instance the idea of “Entlichtung,” i.e. the gradual disappearance of Light since the time of the Ancient City-State of Greece and Roman Italy. There is no progress in history: On the contrary, Light is vanishing as well as the freedom of the free citizen to shape his own destiny.

Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin, on the left or conservative-liberal side, were inspired by this idea and adapted it for different audiences. The modern world is the world of complete darkness, with little hope of finding “be-lighted” periods again, unless charismatic personalities, like Nero, dedicated to art and Dionysian lifestyle, wedge in a new era of splendor which would only last for the blessed time of one spring.

Klages developed the ideas of Schuler, who never wrote a complete book, after he died in 1923 due to an ill-prepared operation. Klages, just before WW1, pronounced a famous speech on the Horer Meissner Hill in Central Germany, in front of the assembled youth movements (Wandervogel). This speech bore the title of “Man and Earth” and can be seen as the first organic manifesto of ecology, with a clear and understandable but nevertheless solid philosophical background.

Carl Schmitt started his career as a law teacher in 1912 but lived till the respectable age of 97. He wrote his last essay at 91. I cannot enumerate all the important points of Carl Schmitt’s work in the frame of this modest interview. Let us summarize by saying that Schmitt developed two main idea the idea of decision in political life and the idea of “Great Space.”

The art of shaping politics or a good policy lays in decision, not in discussion. The leader has to decide in order to lead, protect, and develop the political community he is in charge of. Decision is not dictatorship as many liberals would say nowadays in our era of “political correctness.” On the contrary: a personalisation of power is more democratic, in the sense that a king, an emperor, or a charismatic leader is always a mortal person. The system he eventually imposes is not eternal, as he is doomed to die like any human being. A nomocratic system, on the contrary, aims at remaining eternal, even if current events and innovations contradict the norms or principles.

Second big topic in Schmitt’s work the idea of a European Grand Space (Grossraum). “Out-of-Space” powers should be prevented to intervene within the frame of this Great Space. Schmitt wanted to apply to Europe the same simple principle that animated US President Monroe. America for the Americans. OK, said Schmitt, but let us apply “Europe to the Europeans.” Schmitt can be compared to the North-American “continentalists,” who criticised Roosevelt’s interventions in Europe and Asia. Latin Americans also developed similar continentalist ideas as well as Japanese imperialists. Schmitt gave to this idea of “Greater Space” a strong juridical base.

Ernst Niekisch is a fascinating figure in the sense that he started his career as a Communist leader of the “Councils’ Republic of Bavaria” of 1918-19, that was crushed down by the Free Corps of von Epp, von Lettow-Vorbeck, etc. Obviously, Niekisch was disappointed by the absence of a historical vision among the Bolshevik trio in revolutionist Munich (Lewin, Leviné, Axelrod).

Niekisch developed a Eurasian vision, based on an alliance between the Soviet Union, Germany, India, and China. The ideal figure who was supposed to be the human motor of this alliance was the peasant, the adversary of the Western bourgeoisie. A certain parallel with Mao Tse-Tung is obvious here. In the journals that Niekisch edited, we discover all the German tentatives to support anti-British or anti-French movements in the colonial empires or in Europe (Ireland against England, Flanders against a Frenchified Belgium, Indian nationalists against Britain, etc.).

I hope I have explained in a nutshell the main trends of the so-called conservative revolution in Germany between 1918 and 1933. May those who know this pluri-stratified movement of ideas forgive my schematic introduction.

Troy Southgate: Do you have a “spiritual angle”?

Robert Steuckers: By answering this question, I risk being too succinct. Among the group of friends who exchanged political and cultural ideas at the end of the Seventies, we concentrated of course on Evola’s Revolt Against the Modern World. Some of us rejected totally the spiritual bias, because it lead to sterile speculation: they preferred to read Popper, Lorenz, etc. I accepted many of their criticisms, and I still dislike the uttermost Evolian speculations, alleging a spiritual world of Tradition beyond all reality. The real world being disregarded as mere triviality. But this is of course a cult of Tradition mainly supported by young people “feeling ill in their own skin,” as we say. The dream to live like beings in fairy tales is a form of refusing to accept reality.

In Chapter 7 of Revolt Against the Modern World, Evola, on the contrary, stresses the importance of the “numena“, the forces acting within things, natural phenomena or powers. The initial Roman mythology laid the accent more on the numena than on the personalised divinities. This bias is mine. Beyond the people and the gods of the usual religions (be they Pagan or Christian), there are acting forces and man should be in concordance with them in order to be successful in his earthly actions.

My religious/spiritual orientation is more mystical than dogmatic, in the sense that the mystical tradition of Flanders and Rhineland (Ruusbroec, Meister Eckhart), as well as the mystical tradition of Ibn Arabî in the Muslim area or of Sohrawardî in the Persian realm, admire and worship the total splendor of Life and the World. In these traditions, there is no clear-cut dichotomy between the godly, the sacred, and the holy on the one side and the worldly, the profane, and the simple on the other. Mystical tradition means omni-compenetration and synergy of all the forces yeasting in the world.

Troy Southgate: Please explain to our readers why you place such importance on concepts like geopolitics and Eurasianism.

Robert Steuckers: Geopolitics is a mixture of history and geography. In other words of time and space. Geopolitics is a set of disciplines (not a single discipline) leading to a good governance of time and space. Geopolitics is a mixture of history and geography. No serious power can survive without continuity, be it an institutional or historical continuity. No serious power can survive without a domination and a yielding of land and space.

All traditional empires first organized the land by building roads (Rome) or by mastering the big rivers (Egypt, Mesopotamia, China), then lead on to the emergence of a long history, to the sense of a continuity, to the birth of the first practical sciences (astronomy, meteorology, geography, mathematics) under the protection of well structured armies with a code of honor, especially codified in Persia, the womb of Chivalry.

The Roman Empire, the first empire on European soil, was focussed on the Mediterranean Sea. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation couldn’t find a proper core as well coordinated as the Mediterranean. The waterways of Central Europe lead to the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, or the Black Sea, but without any link between them. This was the true tragedy of German and European history. The country was torn between centrifugal forces. The Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen tried to restore the Mediterranean realm, with Sicily as the central geographical piece.

His attempt was a tragic failure. It is only now that the emergence of a renewed imperial form (even under a modern ideology) is possible in Europe: after the opening of the canal between the Rhine-Main system and the Danube river system. There is a single waterway now between the North Sea, including the Thames system in Britain, and the Black Sea, allowing the economical and cultural forces of Central Europe to reach all the shores of the Black Sea and the Caucasian countries.

Those who have a good historical memory, not blinded by the usual ideological blue-prints of modernism, will remember the role of the Black Sea shores in the spiritual history of Europe: in Crimea, many old traditions, be they Pagan or Byzantine, were preserved in caves by monks. The influences of Persia, especially the values of the oldest (Zoroastrian) Chivalry in world history, could influence the development of similar spiritual forces in Central and Western Europe. Without those influences, Europe is spiritually mutilated.

Therefore the Mediterranean area, the Rhine (also coupled to the Rhone) and the Danube, the Russian rivers, the Black Sea and the Caucasus should constitute a single civilization area, defended by a unified military force, based on a spirituality inherited from Ancient Persia. This, in my eyes, means Eurasia. My position is slightly different than that of Dughin but both positions are not incompatible.

When the Ottomans gained complete control over the Balkan Peninsula in the 15th Century, the land routes were cut for all Europeans. Moreover, with the help of the North African sea rovers assembled by the Turkish-born Barbarossa based in Algiers, the Mediterranean was closed to peaceful European commercial expansion towards India and China. The Muslim world worked as a bolt to contain Europe and Moscovy, core of the future Russian Empire.

All together, Europeans and Russians joined their efforts to destroy the Ottoman bolt. The Portuguese, Spaniards, English and Dutch tried the sea routes and circumvented the African and Asian land mass, ruining first the Moroccan kingdom, which drew gold from subtropical Western African mines and claims in order to build an army to conquer again the Iberian Peninsula. By landing in Western Africa, the Portuguese got the gold more easily for themselves and the Moroccan kingdom was reduced to a mere residual superpower. The Portuguese passed around the African continent and entered the Indian Ocean, circumventing definitively the Ottoman bolt, and giving for the first time a real Eurasian dimension to European history.

At the same time, Russia repelled the Tartars, took the City of Kazan, and destroyed the Tartar shackle of the Muslim bolt. This was the starting point of the continental Russian Eurasian geopolitical perspective.

The aim of American global strategy, developed by a man like Zbigniew Bzrzezinski, is to recreate artificially the Muslim bolt by supporting Turkish militarism and Panturanism. In this perspective, they support tacitly and still secretly the Moroccan claims on the Canary Isles and use Pakistan to prevent any land link between India and Russia. Hence the double necessity today for Europe and Russia to remember the counter-strategy elaborated by ALL European people in the 15th and 16th Century.

European history has always been conceived as petty nationalist visions. It is time to reconsider European history by stressing the common alliances and convergencies. The Portuguese seaborne and the Russian landborne actions are such convergencies and are naturally Eurasian. The Battle of Lepanto, where the Venetian, Genoan, and Spanish fleets joined their efforts to master the East Mediterranean area under the command of Don Juan of Austria, is also a historical model to meditate upon and to remember.

But the most important Eurasian alliance was without any doubt the Holy Alliance lead by Eugene of Savoy at the end of the 17th Century, which compelled the Ottomans to retrocede 400,000 sq. km of land in the Balkans and Southern Russia. This victory allowed the Russian Tsars of the 18th Century, especially Catherine II, to win decisive battles once more.

My Eurasianism (and of course my whole geopolitical thought) is a clear answer to Bzrzezinski’s strategy and is deeply rooted in European history. It is absolutely not to be compared with the silly postures of some pseudo-national-revolutionist crackpots or with the poor aesthetic blueprints of new rightist would-be philosophers. Besides, one last remark concerning geopolitics and Eurasianism: my main sources of inspiration are English. I mean the historical atlas of Colin McEvedy, the books of Peter Hopkirk about the secret service in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, along the Silk Road and in Tibet, the reflections of Sir Arnold Toynbee in the twelve volumes of A Study of History.

Troy Southgate: What is your view of the State? Is it really essential to have systems or infrastructure as a means of socio-political organization, or do you think a decentralized form of tribalism and ethnic identity would be a better solution?

Robert Steuckers: Your question needs a whole book to be properly and completely answered. Firstly, I would say that it is impossible to have A view of THE State, as there are many forms of States throughout the world. I make of course the distinction between a State, which is still a genuine and efficient instrument to promote the will of a people and also to protect its citizens against all evils be they machinated by external, internal or natural foes (calamities, floods, starvation, etc.).

The State should also be carved for one population living on a specific land. I am critical, of course, of all artificial States like those that were imposed as so-called universal patterns. Such States are pure machines to crush or to exploit a population for an oligarchy or foreign masters. An organization of the peoples, according to ethnic criteria, could be an ideal solution, but unfortunately as the events in the Balkans show us the ebbs and flows of populations in European, African, or Asian history have very often spread ethnical groups beyond natural boarders or settled them within territories which were formerly controlled by others. Homogeneous States cannot be built in such situations. This is the source of many tragedies, especially in Middle and Eastern Europe. Therefore the only perspective today is to think in terms of Civilizations as Samuel Huntington taught us in his famous article and book, The Clash of Civilizations, first written in 1993.

Troy Southgate: In 1986, you said “the Third Way exists in Europe at the level of theory. What it needs is militants.” [“Europe: A New Perspective” in The Scorpion, Issue #9, p.6] Is this is still the case, or have things developed since then?

Robert Steuckers: Indeed, the situation is still the same. Or even worse because, growing older, I state that the level of classical education is vanishing. Our way of thinking is in a certain way Spenglerian, as it encompasses the complete history of the human kind.

Guy Debord, leader of the French Situationnists from the end of the Fifties until the Eighties, could observe and deplore that the “society of the spectacle” or the “show society” has as its main purpose to destroy all thinking and thought in terms of history and replace them by artificial and constructed blueprints or simple lies. The eradication of historical perspectives in the heads of pupils, students, and citizens, through the diluting work of the mass-media, is the big manipulation, leading us to an Orwellian world without any memory. In such a situation, we all risk becoming isolated. No fresh troops of volunteers are ready to take over the struggle.

Finally, tell us about your involvement with Synergies and your long-term plans for the future.

“Synergies” was created in order to bring people together, especially those who publish magazines, in order to spread more quickly the messages our authors had to deliver. But the knowledge of languages is also undergoing a set-back. Being plurilingual, as you certainly know, I have always been puzzled by the repetition of the same arguments at each national level. Marc Lüdders from Synergon-Germany agrees with me. It’s a pity for instance that the tremendous amount of work performed in Italy is not known in France or in Germany. And vice-versa. In order to keep this short: my main wish is to see such an exchange of texts realized in a swift manner within the next twenty years.

 

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Steuckers, Robert. “Interview with Robert Steuckers.” Interview by Troy Southgate. Synthesis, 2001. <http://www.rosenoire.org/interviews/steuckers.php>.

Note: See also Robert Steucker’s website Euro-Synergies: <http://euro-synergies.hautetfort.com >.

Notes on further reading: Armin Mohler’s book Die Konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918-1933 (Graz & Stuttgart: Ares-Verlag, 2005), mentioned in this interview, is one of the most important works concerning the Conservative Revolution. It has been translated into French as La Révolution conservatrice en Allemagne: 1918-1932 (Puiseaux, Loiret: Pardès, 1993).  Also worth noting is Mohler’s Von Rechts Gesehen (Stuttgart: Seewald Verlag, 1974).

On Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, one of the founding intellectuals of the Conservative Revolution, an excellent overview of his thought in English is Lucian Tudor’s “Arthur Moeller van den Bruck: The Man & His Thought” (originally published online: Counter-Currents.com, 17 August 2012), available on our website here: <https://neweuropeanconservative.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/arthur-moeller-van-den-bruck-tudor/ >.

For a good overview of Carl Schmitt’s works and philosophy in English, see Paul Gottfried, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990).

For an overview of Ludwig Klages’s works and philosophy, see Joe Pryce, “On The Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages,” Revilo-Oliver.com, 2001, <http://www.revilo-oliver.com/Writers/Klages/Ludwig_Klages.html > (this essay was republished in print as an introduction to Klages anthology, The Biocentric Worldview [London: Arktos, 2013]). (See this essay in PDF format here: On the Biocentric Metaphysics of Ludwig Klages).

 

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Evola’s Critique of Modernity – Bertonneau

Against Nihilism: Julius Evola’s “Traditionalist” Critique of Modernity

By Thomas F. Bertonneau

With the likes of Oswald Spengler, whose Decline he translated for an Italian readership, and Jose Ortega y Gasset, Julius Evola (1898 – 1974) stands as one of the notably incisive mid-Twentieth Century critics of modernity. Like Spengler and Ortega, Evola understood himself to owe a formative debt to Friedrich Nietzsche, but more forcefully than Spengler or Ortega, Evola saw the limitations – the contradictions and inconsistencies – in Nietzsche’s thinking.

Evola differed from Spengler and Ortega in another way: like certain other Men of the Right during the same decades, he involved himself deeply in matters mystical and occult, creating a reputation during the last part of his life as an expert in such topics as Eastern religiosity, alchemy, and the vast range of esoteric doctrines. Hermann Keyserling comes to mind also, as having directed his interest to these matters. Nevertheless, Keyserling, who knew Evola’s work, avoided Evola, rather as Spengler had shied from Keyserling. It would have been in part because Evola’s occult investment struck Keyserling as more blatant and far-reaching than his own and in part because Evola appeared, in the early 1930s, to be sympathetic to Fascism and National Socialism, whereas Keyserling, like Spengler, saw these unequivocally as signs of the spreading decadence of his time and so criticized them from their beginnings.

While Evola’s transient proclivities justified Keyserling’s misgivings, swift mounting mutual distaste put actual distance between Evola and the dictatorships. Had he known, Keyserling might have warmed to Evola. By the time war broke out, the self-styled Baron had explicitly repudiated dictatorial principles. Evola, who had his own theory of race, expressed particular revulsion towards Nazi race-policy and Mussolini’s aping of it in Italy after 1938.

Evola nevertheless makes difficulties for those of conservative temperament who would appreciate his critique of modernity. He could be dismissive of Christianity, at least in its modern form, as a social religion; and like his counterparts on the Left, he despised the bourgeoisie and its values, so much so that at least one of his biographers has compared him, by no means implausibly, to Frankfurt-School types like Herbert Marcuse and Theodor W. Adorno. Yet Evola’s all-around prickliness belongs to his allure. Thus in a 1929 article, “Bolchevismo ed Americanismo,” Evola condemns with equal fervor Muscovite communism and American money-democracy, as representing, the both of them, the mechanization and dehumanization of life. Unlike the Marxists – and unlike the Fascists and National Socialists – Evola saw the only hope for Western Civilization as lying in a revival of what he liked to capitalize, on the one hand, as Tradition and, on the other, as Transcendence; he thus rejected all materialism and instrumentalism as crude reductions of reality for coarse minds and, so too, as symptoms of a prevailing and altogether repugnant decadence.

I. Evola scholar H. T. Hansen sets out the details of his subject’s political involvements, making a generous exculpatory case, in the article that serves as introduction to the English translation of Men among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1951). I direct readers to that article and to Evola’s own Autodifesa, which the same volume offers as an appendix to the main text, should they be interested in the particulars. Evola’s analysis of modernity interests me in what follows more than his vanishing political affinities in the Italy of his early maturity. Evola’s passionate distaste for the vulgarity of such things as democracy (that fetish of the modern world), “the social question,” and economics which, as E. Christian Kopff points out in a recent article at the online journal Alternative Right, he regarded as “demonic” – belongs to his absolute conviction that the West has been locked in a downward-spiraling crisis of nihilism since the Eighteenth Century at the latest. The break-up of the Holy Roman Empire in the wars of religious factionalism presaged the break-up of coherent wisdom in the self-nominating Enlightenment’s war against faith. The era of the nation-state, as Evola sees it, disestablished the principle that political authority derives from a transcendent source. Evola admired what he calls the Ghibellinism of the Empire although he defends it against its modern detractors without nostalgia. One can never go back; one must deal with conditions, as they exist.

Evola seems to have conceived Men among the Ruins, its title already commenting on existing conditions, and Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for Aristocrats of the Soul (1961) as a dual introduction to his masterwork, Revolt against the Modern World (1934).

In Men among the Ruins, Evola assesses the contemporary crisis, the “disease” and “the disorder of our age,” paradoxically: Totalitarianism, a grim trend fully abetted by eager widespread conformism, is, in effect, a type of chaos such that the maximum of illegitimate coercion exists in a society simultaneously with the maximum of riotous lawlessness; meanwhile the proliferation of dazzling technical gadgetry, in fascination with which the masses believe themselves to be participating in progress, coexists with a descent from the social and ethical refinements of medieval civilization into various resurgences of degrading primitivism. One might think of the way in which the Internet is bound up with pornography and gambling. In Evola’s scheme, the Reformation, the rise of science, and the Industrial Revolution mark stages of descent, not of ascent, in the history of viable socio-political forms. For Evola, the modern exaltation of the instrumental, the practical, and the material is tantamount not only to a petulant rejection of every “higher dimension of life” but also to a perverse embrace of “spiritual formlessness.”

Thus the degradation of the person, a term that Evola uses in a special way, belongs to a regime that achieves control, entirely for the sake of control, by encouraging the lowest appetitive urges of that desperate but useful creature, the mere numerical individual. Evola here avails himself frankly of Ortega’s category of the mass man, whose sole quality consists in his unavoidable overwhelming quantity.

Evola identifies the proximate source of these trends in “the subversion introduced in Europe by the revolutions of 1789 and 1848” although analysis could trace both outbursts to prior stages and events. In equality, the central fetish of revolutionary subversion, Evola sees a phenomenon neither natural nor properly cultural that suggests the deeply seated aversion of a reputedly liberated consciousness to the actual, graduated structure of reality. In particular, as Evola remarks, contemporary humanity has cut itself off entirely from the only context that could clarify a man’s worth for him and integrate him into a meaningful life: that concinnity of “sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy” by which “every true State” achieves “transcendence of its own principle.” More Platonist than Christian – perhaps in certain moods, as I have suggested, anti-Christian – Evola insists that the meaning of a polity consists solely in its embodying “a higher order,” through which alone its “power” derives. A traditional polity, being essentially hierarchical, will thus never adopt the face of democracy; indeed, its aristocrats will rule by “absoluteness,” in the sense that their stewardship of order, their “Imperium,” will always take direction from their spiritual participation in the same “aeterna auctoritas” that bestows intelligibility on the physical cosmos.

The social classes of the traditional polity recognize the authority embodied in their governors by its outward signs of dignity and justice proper to regal persons. Democracy represents the opposite principle to these (insofar, that is, as it can be said to represent any principle): democracy is dissolute; it liquefies all achieved structure and all justified value-subordination in its amoeba-like abolition of true differences.

One might note that a faint echo of what Evola would recognize as genuine order informs even so late a stage of modernity as the American founding, with its references to a “Creator.” Nevertheless, Evola’s assertion that the polity and its governors must make manifest a transcendent order – cosmic, divine, and paternal – lies so far from the prevailing definition of existence that even most of those calling themselves conservative must gape at it in dumb non-understanding. Modern practice has crassly inverted the traditional vision of order, orienting itself downwards to the chthonic, the animistic, and the maternal. Democracy, for Evola, belongs with this infantilizing abasement of life, as does the obsessive and vacuous notion, as he sees it, of individuality. Here too the prevailing mentality must recoil – how could anyone not advocate for the individual? Is not the sanctity of the individual the indispensable basis of Anglo-Saxon society? Is not the Bill of Right a set of guarantees for the individual?

But Evola rigorously distinguishes the individual from the person, valorizing the latter. “The person,” Evola writes, “is an individual who is differentiated through his qualities, endowed with his own face, his proper nature, and a series of attributes that make him who he is and distinguish him from all others.” By distinction, “the individual may be conceived only as an atomic unit… a mere fiction of an abstraction.” Persons, being actually individuated, hold rank as “peers” in the differentiated company; in “the will to equality,” by contrast, Evola sees only “the will to what is formless.”

Evola also insists on distinguishing “the organic State” from “the totalitarian State,” linking the former to individuation within a functioning hierarchy (to persons) and the latter to the featurelessness of democracy: “A state is organic when it has a center, and this center is an idea that shapes the various domains of life in an efficacious way; it is organic when it ignores the division and the autonomization of the particular and when, by virtue of the system of hierarchical participation, every part within its relative autonomy performs its own function and enjoys an intimate connection with the whole.” Evola writes that, “In totalitarianism we usually find a tendency toward uniformity and intolerance for any autonomy and any degree of freedom, [and] for any intermediate body between the center and periphery, between the peak and the bottom of the social pyramid.” In a society where Tradition governs, the “axiom… is that the supreme values… are not liable to change and becoming.” In a liberal society where democracy governs (which will be indistinguishable from a dictatorship), “there are no principles, systems, and norms with values independent from the period in which they have assumed a historical form, on the basis of contingent… and irrational factors.”

Evola refuses to retreat from the two phases of a stark judgment: First that “the beginning of the disintegration of the traditional sociopolitical structures, or at least what was left of them in Europe, occurred through liberalism,” which is the direct precursor of revolution; and second that “the essence of liberalism is individualism.” Because the notion of equality amounts to “sheer nonsense” and constitutes a “logical absurdity,” any implementation of equality will necessarily entail a destruction of that which, by existing really and actually, offends democratic sentiment. Thus for Evola democracy itself is nihilism.

II. Where Men among the Ruins takes on the task of describing our post-catastrophic predicament, Ride the Tiger prescribes how a genuinely individuated person might comport himself in a culturally devastated and morally degenerate environment. Ride the Tiger nevertheless also analyzes the topics that fascinate Evola, generally the grand spectacle of civilization in deliquescence and particularly the outward forms of the dominant corruption. The reader finds then, in Ride the Tiger, chapters devoted to “The Disguises of European Nihilism,” “[The] Collapse of Existentialism,” “Covering Up Nature – Phenomenology,” “The Dissolution of Modern Art,” and “Second Religiosity,” among many others. In respect of the mid-Twentieth Century situation Evola urges his readers not to mistake the ongoing visible disintegration of the bourgeois world for the primary cataclysm in whose shattered landscape they live: “Socially, politically, and culturally, what is crashing down [today] is the system that took shape after the revolution of the Third Estate and the first industrial revolution, even though there were often mixed up in it some remnants of a more ancient order, drained of their original vitality.” Evola remains steadfastly loyal to that “more ancient order,” in the resurrection of whose vitality the wellbeing of persons in a hostile world is implicated.

Nihilism, in Evola’s discussion of it, knows how to conceal and dissimulate itself, how to smile, soothe, and cajole. The ability to ferret out nihilism’s hiding places and to penetrate its masks thus plays a key role in the continued autonomy of the individuated person or “aristocrat of the spirit.” Evola takes Nietzsche’s trope of “The Death of God” as usefully designating a particular “fracture… of an ontological character” that afflicts the contemporary scene. Through this “fracture,” Evola writes, “human life loses any real reference to transcendence,” and in its train the innumerable “doubles and surrogates” of “the God who is Dead” rise into prominence. Thus “when the level of the sacred is lost,” only empty formulas – ideologies – persist, like the “categorical imperative” posited by Kant or the “ethical rationalism” (as Evola names it) promulgated by Mill and his followers. Lurking beyond the scrim of these and other constructions, Evola sees “nihilism already visible.” For example, nihilism bodies forth in “the Romantic hero: the man who feels himself alone in the face of divine indifference” and who “claims for himself exceptional rights to what is forbidden.”

After Romanticism, the spirit of negation appears under the label of “the absurd,” with its axiom of universal non-meaning and its dramatis personae of “lost youth,” “teddy boys,” and “rebels without a cause.” Hollywood and commercial culture continuously reinvent these limited types.

With a reference to Kopff’s recent article, I mentioned earlier how Evola characterizes modern economic theory as “demonic.” Evola applies this label irrespective of whether the theory under scrutiny advocates a view rooted in Karl Marx or in Adam Smith because both represent masquerading nihilism. A rational concept of wealth becomes a “demonic” theory when the idea of money and its relation to goods, first, reduces itself to something entirely abstract and, next, inflates itself until it is the central and dominating Mumbo-Jumbo of a polity. It matters not whether the prevailing ideology is socialism or capitalism: “The error and illusion are the same,” namely that “material want” is the cause of all “existential misery” and that abundance generates happiness and lawfulness. In a stunning sentence, whose import almost no currently serving politician could grasp, Evola offers that, “the truth of the matter is that the meaning of existence can be as lacking in one group [rich or poor] as in the other, and that there is no correlation between material and spiritual misery.” Evola remarks that all of modern politics tends towards “socioeconomic messianism.”

According to Evola, virtually all of modern and Twentieth Century philosophy is evasion or deception. Ride the Tiger’s chapters on Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre – not to mention Nietzsche – exposit the view that these thinkers, too, partake in the process of reducing reality to nothingness. Nietzsche, in Evola’s commentary, participates in the reduction of Transcendence to immanence: “Once the idols have fallen, good and evil have been surpassed, along with all the surrogates of God, and this mist has lifted from one’s eyes, nothing is left to Nietzsche but ‘this world,’ life, the body.” The Übermensch is Nietzsche’s ersatz-Transcendence. Evola ranks the Übermensch, a deferred futurity that supposedly justifies action now on its non-present behalf, as “not very different from Marxist-communist ideology,” with its sinewy image of Socialist Humanity. Nietzsche’s Will and Power are mere guises of “formlessness.” Husserl strikes Evola also as misguided, engaging in the old project of Saving the Appearances by de-realizing the appearances even further and so cutting off consciousness from its contact both with nature and Transcendence. As for Heidegger, as Evola sees things, the Dasein-philosopher has failed to go beyond Nietzsche and like his precursor has reduced life to desperate immanence. Heidegger’s doctrine “is a projection of modern man in crisis, rather than of modern man beyond crisis.”

Nihilism can counterfeit itself in the guise of spirituality and religion. Thus what Evola calls “modern naturalism” and “the animal ideal” is linked to what he calls, while borrowing the term from Spengler, “second religiosity.” The labels “modern naturalism” and “the animal ideal” refer to the “back to nature” idea that the history of concepts traces to an original codification in Jean-Jacques Rousseau. “The natural state for man has never existed,” writes Evola, because “at the beginning [man] was placed in a supranatural state from which he has now fallen.” A de-individuating descent to the bosom of Mother Earth remains impossible by definition for culturally mature persons. Thus “every return to nature is a regressive phenomenon, including any protest in the name of instinctual rights, the unconscious, the flesh, life uninhibited by the intellect, and so forth.” The neo-Chthonic movements familiar on the modern scene belong to “second religiosity.” Like the “second religiosity” of the ancient world, that of the modern world is effeminate, matriarchal, and anti-intellectual; it is also thoroughly anti-spiritual. “Second religiosity” permeates modern life in “sporadic forms of spirituality and mysticism, even in irruptions from the supersensible.” However, such “symptoms” definitely “do not indicate re-ascent” to anything genuinely metaphysical.

Evola died before environmentalism found its pseudo-Gospel in the scientifically now-discredited “Global Warming” hysteria, before organized feminism began its systematic emasculation of Western institutions, and before these trends had coalesced in Mountebanks and Priests-of-Atargatis like “Gaia” theorist James Lovelock and ex-Senator Albert “We-are-the-Enemy” Gore. Readers may take Evola as prescient when he writes that, “nothing is more indicative of the level of… neospiritualism than the human material of the majority of those who cultivate it.” Evola notes that, “mystification and superstition are constantly mingled in neospiritualism, another of whose traits, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, is the high percentage of women (women who are failures, dropouts, or ‘past it’).” In a metaphor, Evola compares these manifestations of “escapism, alienation, and confused compensation” to “the fluorescence that appears when corpses decay.”

III. It might seem to have entailed an insuperable contradiction when, in my introduction, I wrote that Hermann Keyserling had shunned Evola because Evola’s investment in occult ideas stood in uncomfortable excess to Keyserling’s own; whereas, at the end of the foregoing section I reported on Evola’s critical hostility to “mysticism” and “superstition,” using his own terms from Ride the Tiger. There is no actual contradiction. Evola’s idea of Transcendence lies not so distant from similar ideas in the work of Giambattist Vico, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Eric Voegelin, and Richard Weaver. Evola, whose literary education was large, knows from the ancient texts that the sequence of intense visionary experience – followed by virile propagation of an at-first essentially religious order – lies at the inception of all known complex societies and civilizations. The similitude of mythic or prophetic foundations suggests that they all correspond to a singular source even though they cannot tell us, in modern rational language, what that source is.

Whether it is Homer’s “Dike” (“Justice”) whose origin is Zeus, the Hebrew’s “I am that I am,” the Middle Kingdom’s “Dao,” or the beatific vision in Plato, Augustine, and Dante – the formative effect of the experience is to establish a notional hierarchy of structures, oriented to that which is “above” the human world, which, while announcing itself as eternal Being, takes physical form through human creative activity in the actual world. Founding visions organize people anagogically. That is an historical fact. Even Spengler, a rigorous skeptic, writes, in The Decline (Vol. I), that, “a Culture is born when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality… and detaches itself, a form from the formless.” Toynbee, quirkily Catholic, writing in Civilization on Trial (1948), recognizes Christianity as a vision of life that “arose out of the spiritual travail which was a consequence of the breakdown of the Graeco-Roman civilization” and which forecast the shape of a successor-civilization amidst the ruins of the old. As for Voegelin, in Israel and Civilization (1956), he writes: “Cosmological symbolization is neither a theory nor an allegory. It is the mythical expression of the participation, experienced as real, of the order of society in the divine being that also orders the cosmos.”

Evola, while prickly and eccentric, may nevertheless claim lively company in the convergent testimonies of so many legends and sagas from antiquity and the middle ages. Evola’s great work, Revolt against the Modern World, makes explicit the philological and anthropological bases of his convictions concerning Tradition. Evola divides Revolt into two parts: First, a comprehensive description of the structures and assumptions of those historical societies that body forth Tradition; Second, a “genealogy” of modern decadence. In Part One of Revolt, Evola draws heavily on James G. Frazer, Franz Cumont, Georges Dumézil, Fustel de Coulanges, and other scholars who, without prejudice, had attempted to understand primitive and archaic customs and institutions, as it were, from the inside out. Evola admires ancient and historical societies for the virility of their structures – royalty, aristocracy, priesthood, warrior, worker, and serf – which, in his view, allowed people to integrate themselves in a meaningful, living arrangement with others, including their superiors, with a minimum of invidious friction. Every station in the hierarchy has its privileges, but every station also has its obligations to the stations below it, just as each has its duties to the whole.

Modern people find in social hierarchies, and such institutions as castes and guilds, something arbitrary and limiting, but Evola insists that traditional estates and vocations allowed for a natural sorting-out of talents and potentials and that they permitted people, by apprenticeship and initiation, to realize personal progress in a well-defined context. Evola also remarks that, especially in medieval society, certain institutions cut across the estates, so that a man whose trade, say, was a cobbler, might, as a member of one or another lay order, attain social recognition for activity outside that by which he earned his bread. Hans Sachs, in Richard Wagner’s Meistersinger, is by trade a shoemaker, but his peers celebrate him as an artist-adept of Stabreim and Minnelied. The Church, too, cut across the estates and offered avenues of mobility. By constant implication, Evola suggests that, insofar as happiness concerns us, people have been happier in traditional societies than they are, despite material comforts, in modern society. Evola is aware, as was Nietzsche, that the dissolution of forms exacerbates resentment and that modern people are more resentful than their predecessors.

Evola goes so far as to defend the attitudes of Aristotle and the Old Testament to slavery, attitudes that occasion reflexive dudgeon in modern commentary: “Let us set aside the fact that Europeans reintroduced and maintained slavery up to the nineteenth century in their overseas colonies in such heinous forms as to be rarely found in the ancient world; what should be emphasized is that if there ever were a civilization of slaves on a grand scale, the one in which we are living is it.” Modern people wear the badge of their “dignity” brazenly. Yet “no traditional civilization ever saw such great masses of people condemned to perform shallow, impersonal, automatic jobs.” It is the case furthermore that, “in the contemporary slave system the counterparts of figures such as lords or enlightened rulers are nowhere to be found,” but only rather “the absurd structures of a more or less collectivized society.” Must one say that this makes no brief for slavery? Rather it condemns the parochialism and self-righteousness of liberals and democrats, and castigates the spiritually destructive tedium of the bureaucratic functions on which liberal-democratic society bases itself.

In the same paragraph from which I draw the foregoing lines, Evola mentions the Soviet slave-labor camps, which attest for him the evil inherent in “the physical and moral subjection of man to the goals of collectivization.”

As any admirer of chivalry must, Evola deplores feminism and female enfranchisement, both belonging, in his view, to the trend of the purely quantitative individual, with his infantilized egocentrism. “A practical and superficial lifestyle of a masculine type,” Evola writes, “has perverted [woman’s] nature and thrown her into the same male pit of work, profits, frantic activity, and politics.” It follows that, “modern woman in wanting to be for herself has destroyed herself” because “the ‘personality’ she so much yearned for is killing all semblance of female personality in her.” But Evola never spares anyone: “We must not forget that man is mostly responsible for [female] decadence… In a society run by real men, woman would never have yearned for or even been capable of taking the path she is following today.” As Kopff writes: “Evola rejected the Enlightenment Project lock, stock, and barrel, and had little use for the Renaissance and the Reformation. For Evola those really opposed to the leftist regime, the true Right, are not embarrassed to describe themselves as reactionary and counterrevolutionary.”

IV. Part Two of Revolt against the Modern World traces the pedigree of the existing nihilism-crisis by providing “a bird’s eye view of history.” Naturally, Evola refuses to follow standard historiography, dismissing roundly its most basic assumption – namely that the original human societies were primitive and that civilization is a late stage in the social development of humanity. Evola similarly rejects the related Darwinian idea that complex entities evolve from primitive entities. In both instances he sees things the other way around, not out of egocentric crankiness, but rather as he writes, because Tradition itself, to which he defers, sees things the other way around. He takes seriously, for example, the archaic poet Hesiod’s five phases of humanity from the didactic poem Works and Days; he takes seriously Plato’s “Atlantis” story from the tandem dialogues Timaeus and Critias, and he admits as respectable similar model polities or societies that the variety of myth and literature locates in an antediluvian age. In the Hesiodic scheme, the earliest men were those of the Golden Race after which came the Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and Iron Races. Hesiod famously vows that he wished he did not belong to the degenerate Iron Race, so wicked and unsalvageable is it. In Plato’s “Atlantis” story, the original Atlanteans are demigods, who live in a technically and morally perfected state; but their descendants become gross, materialistic, and degenerate.

Before one dismisses this framework as an instance of irremediable credulity, one should carefully note two things. The first is that unlike the ideologues whom he criticizes, who place their Social Justice or their Master Race in the indefinite future, Evola places the irreproducible model-polity in an irretrievable past, from which locus it can justify no reality-altering agenda; it can only serve as a remote measure for conscientious persons who seek standards other than contemporary ones. The second is that Evola thinks by habit in mythopoeic terms, as did Plato and Giambattist Vico; and it is through symbols and metaphors that he defeats the mechanistic-literalistic pseudo-cognition that he deplores. Like Plato and Vico – and like P. D. Ouspensky, who also entertained the idea of cycles of civilization and destruction, and who was certainly not a fantasist – Evola would advise honest people to begin their contemplation of human achievement from a position of humbleness rather than arrogance. I note that this tenet, central to Evola’s ethos, excuses him from the charge of Gnosticism. Despite Evola’s many references to esoteric knowledge, he never qualifies such knowledge as miraculously or uniquely vouchsafed him. He asserts that he has teased it out of myth, saga, and folklore by diligent study.

One might also note that in the last fifty years archeology has steadily deepened the chronologies of complex human associations and of material achievement; and that in the same period the once-discredited idea of a primordial human language from which all others descend has reappeared, quite respectably, in the “Nostratic” and “World” hypotheses. Why, one might ask, as long as the theory of African Genesis remains formally unobjectionable, should anyone object to Evola’s theory of Far-Northern or Hyperborean ethogenesis, formally speaking? The theory of the Hyperborean Ur-Tradition explains cultural diffusion as adequately as the standing theory; the preference for which is a matter largely of sanctified prejudice. Indeed, a “boreal” first formation of high culture in no way makes impossible a prior equatorial appearance of Homo sapiens, considered under a purely biological category. As Evola points out, many southern people place their culture-ancestors in a northern homeland. Of course, the main interest in Revolt, Part Two, is in the diagnosis of modern corruption.

What is Evola’s history of that corruption? In a remote first collapse in “the regression of the castes,” as Evola calls the long-term degenerative process, “the regality of blood replaced the regality of spirit,” and this alteration corresponded with an insurgency of “The Civilization of the Mother” over the original “Patriciate.” Much later – in the Late Medieval Period – “a second collapse occurred as the aristocracies began to fall and the monarchies to shake at the foundations,” when “through revolutions and constitutions they became useless institutions subject to the ‘will of the nation.’” Next comes the collapse from an already-narrowed nation-consciousness to the paradoxical undifferentiated collectivism of the bourgeois society of mere individuals, where equality is the tyrannical Shibboleth and absolute conformity the mode. Next, out of the incipient collectivism of the bourgeois society, comes “the proletarian revolt against capitalism,” in which Evola discerns “a reduction of horizon and value to the plane of matter, the machine, and the reign of quantity.” The phenomenon is a nadir, entirely “subhuman.” Thus, “in the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution it is possible to detect a ruthless ideological coherence.”

As his early article “Bolschevismus ed Americanismus” should lead one to guess, Evola never spares the United States: “America too, in the essential way it views life and the world, has created a ‘civilization’ that represents the exact contradiction of the ancient European tradition.” In words reminiscent of Spengler’s diction, Evola describes the United States “a soulless greatness of a purely technological and collective nature, lacking in any background of transcendence.” Whereas “Soviet communism officially professes atheism,” Evola remarks, and whereas “America does not go that far”; nevertheless, “without realizing it, and often believing the contrary, it is running down the same path in which nothing is left of… religious meaning.” According to Evola, “the great majority of Americans could be said to represent a refutation on a large scale of the Cartesian principle… they ‘do not think and are.’” Evola links American anti-intellectualism with the proliferation in the United States of “the feminist idiocy,” which travels in tandem with “the materialistic and practical degradation of man.”

In its conclusion, Evola’s Revolt forecasts a new “dark age,” for which his preferred term is the Vedic Kali Yuga. America will assimilate the crusading impulse of Soviet communism and will begin to try to universalize its destructive pseudo-values through imperialistic aggression; the Imperium will be a short-lived calamity leading to global wreckage. When Evola speaks thusly in 1934, one listens, and dismissing him becomes difficult.

What is one to do then with a writer of foresight, whose literacy and education remain indubitable, who nevertheless serves up his social and political analysis, however trenchant it is, in the context of an alternate history, the details of which resemble the background of story by Lord Dunsany or Clark Ashton Smith? I am strongly tempted to answer my own question in this way: That perhaps we should begin by reassessing Dunsany and Smith, especially Smith, whose tales of decadent remnant-societies – half-ruined, eroticized, brooding over a shored-up luxuriance, and succumbing to momentary appetite with fatalistic abandon – speak with powerful intuition to our actual circumstances. I do not mean to say, however, that Evola is only metaphorically true, as though his work, like Smith’s, were fiction. I mean that Evola is truly true, on the order of one of Plato’s “True Myths,” no matter how much his truth disconcerts us.

 

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Bertonneau, Thomas F. “Against Nihilism: Julius Evola’s ‘Traditionalist’ Critique of Modernity.” The Brussels Journal, 29 March 2010. <http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4371 >.

Notes on further reading: For a larger introduction to Evola’s thought, see H.T. Hansen’s “Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors” in Evola’s Men Among the Ruins: Postwar Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002), available online here: <http://www.juliusevola.com/julius_evola/texts/MenAmongtheRuins.pdf >. Also significant in this regard is Evola’s autobiography The Path of Cinnabar (London: Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009). For a record of written works by Evola and translations, see the World Catalogue: <http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au%3AEvola%2C+Julius%2C >.

For an interesting evaluation of Evola’s thoughts on authority and the state as well as the ideas of other traditionalists, see Alain de Benoist’s “Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power” (originally published in: TYR: Myth, Culture, Tradition, vol. 3 [Atlanta: Ultra, 2007–2008]), available online here: <http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/11/spiritual-authority-and-temporal-power/ >. (See this essay in PDF format here: Spiritual Authority & Temporal Power).

For a notable critical analysis of Evola’s philosophy from a New Right perspective, see: Alain de Benoist, “Julius Evola, réactionnaire radical et métaphysicien engagé. Analyse critique de la pensée politique de Julius Evola,” Nouvelle Ecole, No. 53–54 (2003), pp. 147–69. Available online here: <http://www.alaindebenoist.com/pdf/julius_evola.pdf >. This essay was also translated into Spanish as “Julius Evola, Reaccionario Radical y Metafísico Comprometido. Análisis crítico de su pensamiento político” (originally published in Sebastian J. Lorenz’s Elementos Nº 16 [9 Junio 2011], published online on the ISSUU site), available online here: <http://www.alaindebenoist.com/pdf/julius_evola_reaccionario_radical.pdf > (alt. link). There is also a recent translation of this essay into English as “Julius Evola, Radical Reactionary and Committed Metaphysician: A Critical Analysis of the Political Thought of Julius Evola” (The Occidental Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 [Spring 2015], pp. 17-62). In this analytical essay, Benoist agrees with some of Evola’s ideas, such as his critique of nationalism, the support of the imperial idea, the basic anti-egalitarian idea, and certain ethical principles. However, Benoist also criticises and rejects other ideas and attitudes in Evola’s thought, including many (although not all) of his metaphysical and religious principles, his rigid elitism, his contempt for social and popular principles, his rejection of the value of collective identities (such as ethnicity), his lack of true organicism and rejection of the value of community solidarity (in the anti-individualist sense), and his hostility to feminine values. Benoist’s basic conclusion is that Evola is an interesting thinker worthy of study, but who must be studied with a critical eye.

 

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