Oswald Spengler
(1880 – 1936)

Oswald Spengler was a German historian and philosopher, who is most widely known for his two-volume tome, The Decline of the West (1918, 1922), in which he declared that Western Civilization had reached its peak, and was in decay.

He was born in 1880, in Blankenburg, Germany. For his education, he studied mathematics, philosophy, and history at Munich, and later Berlin. In Berlin, he received a doctorate in history, writing his thesis paper on Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher. Notably, this thesis was the only thing that he published before his first volume to The Decline of the West, Form and Actuality.

In his lifetime, he was mainly a scholar and an intellectual, who not only enjoyed philosophy, mathematics, and history, but also science and art. Before publishing Form and Actuality (Der Untergang des Abendlandes in its original German), and while he was researching his books, Spengler worked as a Schoolmaster for several years. He then published Form and Actuality at the outbreak of The First World War, and the book received good reviews from the German public.

Spengler himself attributes most of his inspiration to Goethe and Nietzsche, although his historical philosophy of civilizations seems most likely to be an expansion on Giovanni Battista Vico’s ideas of historical cycles and the uniqueness of human histories. His philosophy broke from the trend of his day in that he refused to deal solely with nations and states (as the then popular realist international theory did). Spengler saw things largely on the scale of cultures, and those culture’s respective civilizations. In his mind, the one distinguishing entity between civilizations was culture.

Spengler identified eight distinctive civilizations: India, China, ‘classical antiquity’ (Greece and Rome), Egypt, Babylon, Islam, the West (Faustian), and Mexico. Each civilization / culture follows a ‘life-cycle’, according to Spengler, and blossoms and decays in the same ways a living organism does. He states that there is a unique ‘spirit’ indigenous to each civilization, which cannot be transferred to another. His ideas have been recently expanded on by Samuel Huntington, in his book The Clash of Civilizations (1996).

The follow up to Form and Actuality was entitled Perspectives of World History and was published in 1918. The two volumes were translated, and published in English in 1918 as well, under the heading The Decline of the West. This publishing gave Spengler world renown, and he was heralded as an icon of German philosophy in the 1920’s. Spengler was a German Nationalist, who readily supported German hegemony in Europe, and contributed to the Fascist doctrine in concept. However, he opposed Nazi theories of racial superiority, and was ostracized by the German government in 1933, when Hitler came to power.

Oswald Spengler died of a sudden heart attack in Munich three weeks before his fifty-sixth birthday. Since his time, his predictions about world affairs have been noticeably accurate. As Nobel Laureate Isaac Singer mused in 1978, "All the dismal prophecies of Oswald Spengler have become realities since the Second World War". Oswald Spengler was indeed a visionary. Other notable publications by him include:

Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1931)

The Hour of Decision: Germany and World-Historical Evolution (1933)

Sources:

The Seekers
by Daniel Boorstin
The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington
www.infoplease.com
www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1978/singer-lecture.html

Editing thanks to KissThis

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