Out of nearly a thousand pages
of text, perhaps the most telling portion of Spengler's "Decline of the
West" is the mere 27 pages of Chapter XII of Volume II, where he sets
forth (from the perspective of 1922, mind you) his vision of Politics
down through the ages. What he has to say is so true, still today (over
seven decades later), that it frightens me to contemplate the potential
truth of his vision for what should follow!
This Section consists of some extensive quotations from that chapter, beginning from page 439 of Volume II:
"To Politics as an idea we have given more thought than has been good for us, since [this leads us to] understood all the less about the observation of Politics as a reality. The great statesmen are accustomed to act immediately and on the basis of a sure flair for facts. This is so self-evident, to them, that it simply never enters their heads to reflect upon the basic general principles of their action - supposing indeed that such exist.50 In all ages they have known what they had to do, and any theory of this knowledge has been foreign to both their capacities and their tastes. But the professional thinkers who have turned their attention to the faits accomplis of men have been so remote, inwardly, from these actions that they have just spun for themselves a web of abstractions - for preference, abstraction-myths like justice, virtue, freedom - and then applied them as criteria to past and, especially, future historical happening. Thus in the end they have forgotten that concepts are only concepts, and brought themselves to the conclusion that there is a political science whereby we can form the course of the world according to an ideal recipe. As nothing of the kind has ever or anywhere happened, political doing has come to be considered as so trivial in comparison with abstract thinking that they debate in their books whether their is a `genius of action' at all.
"Here, on the contrary, the attempt will be made to give, instead of an ideological system, a physiognomy of politics as it has actually been practiced in the course of general history, and not as it might or ought to have been practiced. The problem was, and is, to penetrate to the final meaning of great events, to `see' them, to feel and to transcribe the symbolically important in them. . . . .
". . . A people is, really, only in relation to peoples. But the natural, `[competition],' relation between them is for that very reason a relation of war - this is a fact that no truths avail to alter. War is the primary politics of everything that lives, and so much so that in the deeps battle and life are one, and being and will-to-battle expire together. . . . And even though all high politics tries to be a substitution of more intellectual weapons for the sword and though it is the ambition of the statesman at the culminations of all the Cultures to feel able to dispense with war,51 yet the primary relationship between diplomacy and the war-art endures. The character of battle is common to both, and the tactics and stratagems, and the necessity of material forces in the background to give weight to the operations. The aim, too, remains the same - namely, the growth of one's own life-unit (class or nation) at the cost of the other's.52 And every attempt to eliminate the `[competition]' element only leads to its transfer to other ground; instead of the conflict of states we have that of parties, or that of areas, . . . .
"In every war between life-powers the question at issue is which is to govern the whole. It is always a life, never a system, law, or program that gives the beat in the stream of happening. . . . The struggle of, not principles but men, not ideals but [competition]-qualities, for executive power is the alpha and the omega. Even revolutions are no exception, for the `sovereignty of the people' only expresses the fact that the ruling power has assumed the title of people's leader instead of that of king. The method of governing is scarcely altered thereby, and the position of the governed not at all. And even world-peace, in every case where it has existed, has been nothing but the slavery of an entire humanity under the regimen imposed by a few strong natures determined to rule.
"The conception of executive power implies that the life-unit - even in the case of the animals - is subdivided into the subjects and objects of government. This is so self-evident that no mass-unit has ever for a moment, even in the severest crisis (such as 178953), lost the sense of this inner structure of itself. Only the incumbent vanishes, not the office, and if a people does actually, in the tide of events, lose all leadership and float on haphazard, it only means that control has passed to outside hands, that it has become in its entirety the mere object.
"Politically gifted peoples do not exist. Those which are supposed to be so are simply peoples that are firmly in the hands of a ruling minority and in consequence feel themselves to be in good form. The English as a people are just as unthinking, narrow, and unpractical in political matters as any other nation, but they possess - for all their liking for public debate - a tradition of confidence. The difference is simply that the Englishman is the object of a regimen of very old and successful habits, in which he acquiesces because experience has shown him their advantage. From an acquiescence that has the outward appearance of agreement, it is only one step to the conviction that this government depends upon his will, although paradoxically it is the government that, for technical reasons of its own, unceasingly hammers the notion in his head. The ruling class in England has developed its aims and methods quite independently of the `people,' and it works with and within an unwritten constitution of which the refinements - which have arisen from practice and are wholly innocent of theory - are to the uninitiated as opaque as they are unintelligible.54 But the courage of a troop depends on its confidence in the leadership, and confidence means involuntary abstention from criticism. It is the officer who makes cowards into heroes, or heroes into cowards, and this holds good equally for armies, peoples, classes, and parties. Political talent in a people is nothing but confidence in its leading. But that confidence has to be acquired; it will ripen only in its own good time, and success will stabilize it and make it into a tradition. What appears as a lack of the feeling of certainty in the ruled is really lack of leadership-talent in the ruling classes, which generates that sort of uninstinctive and meddlesome criticism which by its very existence shows that a people has got `out of condition.'
50 As I write this, President Clinton has ordered troops into Bosnia, leaving me to mutter: "how true; how true indeed!" Even now, our leaders act according to their perception of the political imperatives of the moment, as opposed to grand principles which our nation has adhered to throughout its history. The party in power makes no difference. The names of supporters and opponents would change, but the outcome would not. Some unseen force (Money?) declared that our troops should go to Bosnia, and it matters not what the people or their representatives have to say; they are on their way.
51 Note that, now the Cold War has ended, this feeling is permeating our own lives that war is an obsolete method of actually achieving political objectives. Even when war breaks out, the objective is to settle it with a peace agreement rather than on the battlefield. This surely indicates that Western Civilization has reached its own point of "culmination."
52 This seems to be an immature (or at least overly morose) observation, as it denies the possibility of any "win-win" solution. Such exchanges are the basis of all modern economies. As we move into increasingly abstract measurements of success, we are no longer constrained to a reality of either/or.
53 The reference here to 1789 implies the chaos surrounding the French Revolution.
54 The United States adopted its political traditions virtually intact from England. One example of this "unwritten constitution" is the view that we should only have two main political parties. Such a view enhances the grasp of the power-elite because they only need to co-opt two individuals to have total control over the masses. Any third party threatens this system, and will be vigorously suppressed. Another example is exceptions to supposedly "absolute" rights, such as the right to free speech.
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