The next few paragraphs will
review the three main cycles which Spengler examined in more detail.
These are the cycles of Spiritual, Cultural, and Political epochs. It
was from his study of these three areas of human experience that
Spengler drew his great conclusion, which others have summarized in but
a few words: "history repeats itself, . . . ."10
In my other book, I look at the forces within mankind which make this
assertion true, and what we must do to harness those forces to our own
best use. It is the harnessing of those forces into a new direction of
our own choice which gives us all hope for our ability to create our
own better future, away from the currents of cyclical history.
Spengler saw that each Culture begins with a driving spiritual force which arises within the minds of mankind. He saw the first step in the formation of a Culture as being "the birth of a myth of the grand style, expressing a new God-feeling, world-fear, [and] world-longing." This is followed by the "earliest mystical-metaphysical shaping of the new world-outlook [, and the] zenith of scholasticism." These two steps each fall under Spengler's spiritual "Spring," which he defines as "Rural-intuitive, Great creations of the newly-awakened dream-heavy Soul. Super-personal unity and fullness." Spengler cites Thomas Aquinas and Dante as creating prime examples of the late-Spring soul-feeling.
The Spring is the great idealistic time. With the beginning of Summer, realism opposes idealism, and at the end of the Summer period, a realistic "Puritanism [imposes a] rationalistic-mystic impoverishment of religion." For our Western Culture, the Summer is ushered in with Savonarola, Luther, and Calvin, and the English Puritans and French Jansenists usher it out. Since, as is mentioned above, Mohammed is the Cultural "contemporary" of the English Puritans, his military and religious legacy must be viewed as the conquest of the Arab world by an essentially Puritan belief system.
In our Western Culture, the Puritans did not entirely conquer the known world in either a religious or a military sense. In some ways, that battle is still unfinished, with the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland being one notable remnant, and the fight of at least the lay people in the American Catholic Church against the conservatism of the Roman hierarchy being another.11 In any case, the spiritual Summer ends with the final victory of rationalist thought over idealistic thought, setting the stage for the next period.
Autumn is characterized by Spengler as the "intelligence of the City [and the] zenith of strict intellectual creativeness." It begins with "`enlightenment,' [a] belief in [the] almightiness of reason, [a] cult of `nature,' [and a] `rational' religion." It proceeds on to develop "the great conclusive systems." For Western Culture, Spengler cites Goethe, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, and Fichte as the examples of such systems. The development of those systems ends the period of Culture, the Culture "dies" (according to Spengler's biological analogy), and Civilization is born.
Spengler's spiritual "Winter" is coincident with his period of "Civilization." He defines Winter as the "dawn of Megalopolitan Civilization, [and the] extinction of spiritual creative force. Life itself becomes problematical. Ethical-practical tendencies of an irreligious and unmetaphysical cosmopolitanism." The five final stages begin with a "materialistic world-outlook, [a] cult of science, utility and prosperity." They proceed through the "degradation of abstract thinking into professional lecture-room philosophy [and] compendium literature" to the "spread of a final world-sentiment." For our own Western Civilization, Spengler cites "Ethical Socialism from 1900" as our own particular "final world-sentiment."
Off the end of the spiritual chart would lie the "Second Religiousness" which Spengler asserts will accompany the formation of Cęsarism. You cannot truly view this "Second Religiousness" as part of spiritual development because it is a hollow and empty echo of spirituality, parroting the accepted belief system more out of a devout wish to regain the splendor of past religious glory. The followers of the "Second Religiousness" are devout to the point of consciously ignoring, or actively suppressing, any fact which is not in line with their beliefs. The "creation" versus "evolution" debate springs to mind.
A similar pattern exists for the "Culture Epochs" defined by Spengler, although here he abandons the analogy with seasons, instead dividing the same time period into three major subdivisions: Early Culture, Late Culture, and Civilization. The early and late Culture periods are epitomized by Gothic and Baroque architecture, respectively, for Western Culture, just as they are also epitomized by Doric and Ionic architecture, respectively, for the Classical (Greek) Culture. The Culture period is defined as the "life-history of a style formative of the entire inner-being, [a] form-language of deepest symbolic necessity." The Civilization period devolves down to "existence without inner form, megalopolitan art as a common-place: luxury, sport, nerve-excitement: rapidly-changing fashions in art (revivals, arbitrary discoveries, borrowings)." In other words, when the Culture period gives way to Civilization, architecture, music, and other arts lose their inner meanings and become pure entertainment. It is for this reason that what we call "classical" music can still move us, even today. Classical music is a product of a period where the music had great inner meaning, a quality which we still perceive, and miss, in our "modern" megalopolitan existence.
Spengler's "Political Epochs" are organized into the same categories as are the "Culture Epochs," but here the labels have more currency to both our history and our present state of affairs. The Early Culture Period begins with an "organic articulation of political existence; the two prime classes (noble and priest); feudal economics; [and] purely agrarian values." In Western Culture, this covers roughly 900 a. d. through about 1500 a. d., a period of roughly six centuries. The Late Culture Period results in the "actualizing of the matured State-idea; town versus countryside; [the] rise of the Third Estate (Bourgeoisie); [and ends with the] victory of money over landed property." This period usually ends with some dramatic form of military and/or social revolution which transforms Culture into Civilization. For Western Culture and Civilization, the defining moment is probably the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, although the American Revolution is a strong precursor of those events.
The Civilization Period is marked by a process where "the body of the people, now essentially urban in constitution, dissolves into formless mass; megalopolis and provinces; the fourth estate (`masses'), inorganic, cosmopolitan." Spengler lists three subdivisions of the Political Epochs which occur during the Civilization Period. The first is "domination of Money (`democracy'); economic powers permeating the political forms and authorities." Spengler lists this period as occurring from 1800 to 2000, the latter date of which is obviously a guess. If you are at all well read about our present political system in the United States (as of 1996), you will well recognize the quoted statement from Spengler as being representative of our current state of affairs.
What should be important to us is Spengler's definition of what comes next as the second subdivision of the Political Epochs of the Civilization Period: "formation of Cęsarism; victory of force politics over money; increasing primitiveness of political forms; inward decline of the nations into a formless population, and constitution thereof as an Imperium of gradually-increasing crudity of despotism." When you hear our present political leaders argue for "campaign reform," they are really making a case for taking the money out of political campaigns, which would clearly constitute the "victory of force politics over money."
In my other book, I indulge in a rather lengthy quote from Spengler in order to illustrate the parallels between the current state of modern politics and the state of affairs during the equivalent time in ancient Rome:
"The career of office in Rome from the time when its course took form as a series of elections, required so large a capital that every politician was the debtor of his entire entourage. Especially was this so in the case of the aedile-ship, in which the incumbent had to outbid his predecessors in the magnificence of his public games, in order later to have the votes of the spectators. . . . Then again, to flatter the crowd of loafers it was necessary to show oneself in the Forum daily with a brilliant following. . . . Dinners were offered to the electors of whole wards, or free seats for the gladiatorial shows, or even (as in the case of Milo) actual cash, delivered at home - out of respect, Cicero says, for traditional morals. Election-capital rose to American dimensions, sometimes hundreds of millions of sesterces;12 vast as the stock of cash available in Rome, the elections of 54 locked up so much of it that the rate of interest rose from four to eight percent.13 . . . But the conquest and exploitation of Gaul - this also an undertaking motivated by finance - made [Cęsar] the richest man in the world. . . . For it was for power that Cęsar amassed these milliards, like Cecil Rhodes,14 and not because he delighted in wealth like Verres15 or even like Crassus,16 who was first and foremost a financier and only secondarily a politician. Cęsar grasped the fact that on the soil of a democracy constitutional rights signify nothing without money and everything with it.17 When Pompey was still dreaming that he could evoke legions by stamping on the ground, Cęsar had long since condensed the dream to reality with his money. It must be clearly understood, however, that he did not introduce these methods but found them in existence, that he made himself master of them but never identified himself with them. For practically a century parties grouped on principles had been dissolving into personal followings grouped upon men who pursued private political aims and were expert in handling the weapons of their time.18
of 54 b. c. were so expensive that everyone involved with the
political process rebelled at the thought of its repetition, and in
Rome there were elections each year! It is little wonder that the
political system dissolved into civil war a few years after this, and
that a hereditary Imperium resulted after things settled down.19
This was "campaign reform" as practiced by Rome. Technically, the
elections were still held each year, but in actuality, those elected to
the traditional offices had little actual power compared with the power
held by hereditary rulers.
We all know that the candidate with a lot of money has a great advantage in any modern election. What would occur if all of that money came from a public fund raised from the taxpayers? In that case, only those in favor with the political class would get the funds necessary to run for office. If that occurs, or if the media were simply ordered to run a "quota" of campaign ads for each "major" candidate, it would be the "victory of force-politics over money" predicted by Spengler. We cannot now see the exact form which will result from our own devolving political system, but we can predict that it will result in some sort of "hereditary" system of political rule.20 By "hereditary" in this context, I mean to suggest that each group of ruling politicians chooses, in some form or another, its own successors.21 That is the implication of Spengler's use of the word "Cęsarism." We are not yet to that point in time, but as soon as our own politicians implement some significant form of "campaign reform" for the purpose of eliminating the vast influence of money over our politicians, we should expect something discernable as Cęsarism as the next really significant development in our political system.
In Spengler's chart of Political Epochs, the final stage is the "maturing of the final state form; private and family policies of individual leaders; the world as spoil; Egypticism, Mandarinism, Byzantinism; history-less stiffening and enfeeblement even of the imperial machinery, against young peoples eager for spoil, or alien conquerors; primitive human conditions slowly thrust up into the highly-civilized mode of living." The net result is that the Imperium gradually loses strength, from the forces of its own internal corruption, until some outside force provides a conquering army to come in and kick over the last traces of Imperial rule.
Spengler predicts this third stage of Western Civilization will occur some time after 2200 a. d. However, once we have some form of Cęsarism develop for us, there will be little distinction between the second and third subdivisions. We can already see "primitive human conditions slowly thrust up into the highly-civilized mode of living." That sentence echoes our own "homeless problem," a problem without a solution in sight. That sentence also echoes Jerry Brown's "era of limits." However, the "era of limits" is not defined by any physical barrier which we cannot surpass. Instead, it is defined by a loss of willpower (i.e., spiritual motivation) to engage in joint effort to surmount the difficulties which we see around us. We lack the willpower to take on the grand tasks, and those which we do take on seemingly end up as little more than the grand displays of architecture which Spengler perceives as so characteristic of the late Civilization period.
There is hope; but hope does not lie in attempting to prolong our own Western Culture, Civilization, or values. Instead, hope lies along the path of forming a new Culture, which will rise, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of Western Civilization. That hope is the subject of the bulk of my other book.
For the purposes of this book, we have enough of Spengler to begin to discuss the debate which inspired this book. I will now proceed on to discuss an Agnostic view of the debate over the existence of God.
10 The full quotation is "history repeats itself, historians repeat each other." This is from "Supers and Supermen" (1920), by Philip Guedalla (1889-1944).
11 I recently stumbled upon a partial explanation for this phenomena. In an obscure book, "A History of Western Morals," Crane Brinton asserts that Western Civilization has never really resolved its intermal moral conflict between the ideals of Christianity and those of the "fully enlightened" intellectuals.
12 Figuring out a rate-of-exchange for the "sesterce" is no easy task. My best guess is that the Roman "denarius," listed as "equivalent to" a Greek "drachma" (which was 65 grains of silver, after the time of Alexander the Great), was probably about 60 grains of silver, and a sesterce is one quarter of a denarius, or about 15 grains of silver. There are 480 grains to the troy ounce (by which silver is measured, to this day), so there would be 32 sesterces to the ounce, and an ounce of silver currently is worth about $5 (U. S.). So, when Cęsar and Pompey contrived to extort 144,000,000 sesterces out of King Ptolemy of Egypt, the payoff was worth about $22,500,000 in current dollars (1996). So, things have not changed much, as that is nearly half of the maximum amount which the Federal Election Commission has doled out to each candidate for President of the United States for running in the general election (roughly $60 million).
13 This is a phenomena that any modern economist would instantly understand.
14 Prominent in South Africa, he controlled diamond and gold mining interests there. As Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, he acquired Matabeleland, which was renamed "Rhodesia" in his honor (but is now called Zimbabwe). He was forced to resign in 1896, and his last few years were marked by scandals associated with Princess Radziwill (a Polish royal family later associated with the family of President John Kennedy). His will established the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford, still given today. Just recently, they were awarded to over 30 American scholars for them to study for a year at Oxford.
15 A notoriously corrupt Roman politician, prosecuted by Cicero in 70 b. c. He left town before the trial ended, and lived in exile, until he was murdered upon orders from Mark Antony, in 43 b. c.
16 Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives (115 b. c. - 53 b. c.) was a member of the First Triumvirate (formed in 60 b. c.), with Julius Cęsar and Gnęus Pompey. His untimely death (he was defeated and killed in the battle of Carrhę, in southern Anatolia) in 53 b. c. led to civil war between Cęsar and Pompey (which war raged in 49 b. c. - 46 b. c.).
17 We still grapple with this. While we attempt to provide a "good" defense to every poor criminal defendant, we never do supply enough money to allow them to "get away with murder," as did the wealthy O. J. Simpson. Just think about how the taxpayers would revolt if the courts ordered them to pay for an O. J.-like defense of EVERY criminal defendant. And constitutional "freedom of the press" really applies only to those who are wealthy enough to own a newspaper of some size with a significant circulation. (The classic slogan for this concept is: "freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one." Another similar dictum is attributed to Hannen Swaffer (1879-1962) from about 1902: "Freedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to." Neither of these ever contemplated a technology such as the Internet, where a small investment in a home computer would give the ability to publish one's own prejudices throughout the world, without any advertisers present who could object.) While some organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union try to ameliorate this by providing legal assistance to those who are not wealthy, such assistance is basically conditioned on the ability of these organizations to fit the plight of the impoverished into the overall scheme of their own political agendas. This is merely "borrowed" wealth, obtained at the sufferance of the contributors.
18 "An Estate has instincts, a party has a program, but a following has a master." There are unkind souls out there asserting that Ross Perot's new Reform Party is not one based on principles, but just the personal following of Ross Perot, seemingly mesmerized into doing his bidding, on demand.
19 The First Triumvirate was founded in 60 b. c. by Pompey, Cęsar, and Crassus. That union dissolved into the civil war of 49-46 b. c., which was won by Cęsar, who by that time was the sole surviving member of the First Triumvirate. Cęsar was assassinated on March 15, 44 b. c., and the Second Triumvirate took power in November of 43 b. c. The Second Triumvirate consisted of Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian (who was the heir of Cęsar). It lasted officially until 32 b. c., but was not terminated in actuality until Octavian defeated Mark Antony in August of 30 b. c.
20 It should be remembered that the Romans offset the weakness of a hereditary form of rulership by allowing each ruler to "adopt" his successor in order to create a stronger succession than could be expected to result from a continuous bloodline relationship, such as the English royal family.
21 In Rome, the choice was by adoption, i.e. Caesar adopted his successor, Octavian (Agustus).
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