You might wonder at why I
devoted an entire section of this book to quoting at length from one
chapter of Spengler. It is because the 27 pages of the quoted chapter
contain the penultimate distillation of Truth from the remaining
chapters. If you read and understand nothing else from Spengler, you
must read and understand THAT chapter. To ensure that you do so, I have
taken the liberty of quoting at length, inserting my own footnotes (and
mostly deleting his) to illuminate his teachings in light of current
Above all else, history is the record of political acts and omissions. Thus, one who seeks to understand history must first understand Politics.135 And Spengler seeks to have us all understand Culture and Civilization through reference to History. Accordingly, we must understand Politics in order to have any realistic chance of understanding Culture and Civilization.
As Spengler implies, a human being is, first and foremost, an animal. We are the descendants of the beasts of the jungle, and through that heritage, we are accustomed to living in accordance with the law of the jungle. From the lowest to the highest creatures, those who survive are those who are the fittest for the circumstances which exist at any given point in time.
For so long as the law of the jungle remains our primary rule of conduct, those individuals, groups, nations, peoples, and Civilizations which survive are going to be those who win the race of being the best prepared for survival.
The Politics described by Spengler is politics based upon the law of the jungle. Our capitalist economic system is also based upon the law of the jungle. The fewer rules which exist to constrain either activity, the closer that activity moves toward the jungle.
In the last two chapters of Volume II, Spengler deals with economic issues and the Machine. It seems clear that Spengler lacked a philosophical perspective of what the Industrial Revolution could truly mean to mankind. Accordingly, his writings concerning economic trends in Western Civilization fall well wide of the mark attained during the intervening decades. To that degree, Spengler's predictions are erroneous.
Spengler believed that there would be little achieved in the way of scientific discovery and invention after his book was written, in 1922. Clearly, viewed in retrospect, that is about as wrong a belief as it would be possible for him to have held.
But that does not mean there is no kernel of Truth lurking in his predictions. It is a reasonably accepted fact that an anti-scientific movement has burst forth during our times which is advocating the limitation and/or elimination of certain kinds of scientific inquiry. Also, it is a reasonably well accepted fact that our universities are not turning out anywhere as many engineers as they once did, and it is the engineers which are the backbone of most scientific progress.136 Thus, viewed from the perspective of our whole Civilization, scientific progress may well be decelerating.
And the real question is: why? The answer is that our Culture is dead; we have lost our soul.
From the perspective of the average man, the decline of our Civilization means that he is less safe on the streets and in his home; there is less order (and more chaos) in our society as a whole; people seem to think nothing of doing the most despicable acts,137 which (prior to their commission) nobody would have even imagined such a thing would actually happen; and from a psychological standpoint, there is a reduction in the internal sense of well being, security, and satisfaction which civilized life is supposed to generate.
Why has our Civilization declined so far, and shown no sign at all of reversing its continued direction towards further decline? Again, the answer remains: our Culture is dead; we have lost our soul.
This is the penultimate observation and prediction by Spengler: that the soul of Western Civilization died about 1800, more or less, and that with no soul to sustain it, our Civilization is on a sure road to its own decline and fall.138 Viewed from the perspective of seven decades later, I see no reason at all to argue with this basic premise.
The further thesis of Spengler is that the populace yearns for Order, and will submit itself to dictatorship in an attempt to achieve it. Thus, predicts Spengler, we are on the road to Cęsarism, where some new "Emperor" will proclaim his or her leadership of the world. That leads to the "Imperium of gradually-increasing crudity of despotism" which precedes the "fall," when some alleged "outside force" of strong barbarians will come in and kick over the traces of a weak Imperial government. I, for one, cannot truly envision that scenario as a realistic possibility.139
But there is no doubt that the population is increasingly more concerned with Order and, simultaneously, increasingly less concerned with the "civil rights" of the accused criminals. "Lock `em up" is the hue and cry in support of the new "three strikes" laws, which are sweeping across our nation. Furthermore, there are increasing legislative attempts to abridge some of the constraints on capital punishment which the courts have imposed over the years. Again, the rights of the populace to Order seem to be increasing, while the "civil rights" of the population are decreased.140
Essentially, Spengler believes in predestination. In other words, he believes that Western Civilization is declining (which I believe is true), and the decline will, ipso facto, eventually lead to a despotic Empire and a fall, just as happened in Rome (which I do NOT accept, even though it is not now possible to argue that it can't happen).
For Spengler to be correct, we must continue to sacrifice our Civilization on the alter of the law of the jungle. For so long as we, as a Civilization, continue to be selfish in our concerns, we must continue down the road towards the eventual fall of our Civilization. It gets even worse: for as we convert increasing percentages of the population of the world to an industrial economy, a fall of our Civilization could easily lead to the death of our species. As things stand now, if our Civilization fell tomorrow, somewhere between seventy and ninety percent of all of the people alive today would be dead of starvation within six months, or perhaps, six weeks. If we ever do reach a point in time where there are no agrarian peasants left in the world, then the fall of our Civilization would lead to the annihilation of all mankind.
Thus, the correctness of Spengler's predictions is bound up in the correctness of his underlying premise: that mankind MUST live in accordance with the law of the jungle. As Spengler clearly asserts, war is just mankind making an organized application of the law of the jungle. And diplomacy and Politics are just war by other means.
I would assert that we must live in accordance with the law of the jungle for only so long as we continue to view life as a zero-sum game. The minute you admit that my two dollars of labor applied to your two dollars of capital can yield nine dollars of product which one or both of us can sell, splitting the proceeds between us in some way, it no longer behooves us to fight over who gets to keep the four dollars we have between us. This is all bound up in the assertion by Spengler that one life-unit survives only at the expense of another. Once you alter that premise to one of cooperation producing highly beneficial results for BOTH life-units, then the whole thesis advanced by Spengler goes out the window.
Part III of this book deals with my own hope for a better future; one that does not involve a Decline of the West, but instead involves a Rebirth of the Soul of the West. Now seems as good a time as any to end this Section and begin a new Book.
134 If you compare mine with the original, you will find that I have redacted much of the illustration which Spengler uses in his own presentation. In part that is because illustrations which would seem obvious to a highly educated German from 1920 (such as Spengler, himself) are obscure, or worse, to an average American from 1996. I have also taken the liberty of making editorial changes, noted in brackets (""), in order to clarify certain thoughts which I felt did not come through the translation from German to English very well.
135 And by "Politics" I mean to imply the same broad scope of that word which Spengler implied when he defined both diplomacy and war as branches of Politics.
136 Little good is achieved by a scientific discovery, such as Einstein's Theory of Relativity, if no engineer exists who can translate that theory into a practical application. Even today, there are less than 100 people in the world who have a complete grasp of this important scientific discovery. None of those people is an engineer working to turn that theory into a practical invention.
137 The speech which Newt Gingrich was roundly criticized for making used just such a despicable act, the murder of a woman and two of her three older children for the purpose of kidnapping (and claiming as her own) the unborn child of the murdered woman, as an example of the degradation which our Civilization is currently experiencing. Newt hit the nail on the head on the point of the crime being a clear example of the decline of our Civilization, but missed the mark when he attributed the cause as certain specific government programs which he wished to reform.
138 For many years, the standard text on classical Rome was "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (1776-1788), by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). Virtually any reference to a "decline and fall" implicates the fate of Rome.
139 This could mean that I have chosen to blind myself to the possibility of that occurring. And it need not even occur in my lifetime. It was almost three hundred years from the death of Alexander to the victory of Julius Cęsar, and it is less than two hundred years from the final fall of Napoleon in 1815, after the "Hundred Days." Thus, it could easily take a century or more for our own Emperor to proclaim the new Empire of our Western Civilization. There is no fixed time-table; even three centuries might not be too long to still be "in form" (as Spengler would assert).
140 Of course, this is all just Politics. Nobody has ever shown that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Due to the nature of murder (when it is usually committed, and by whom), I doubt that any penalty would ever act as a deterrent to the crime itself. Even a sentence of a lifetime of torture would probably not be a deterrent, and if that is true, how do you expect to get deterrence by imposing a clean and simple death sentence? The "three strikes" laws are another matter; the basic effect here is to just raise the cost of prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating large numbers of criminals. There would be a much more dramatic effect on the crime rate by making an honest attempt to suppress drug dealers. But drug dealing has become an important economic activity, and there is thus a disincentive to mount any real effort at suppression, especially since the only effective way to eliminate the problem is to incarcerate all (essentially non-violent) drug addicts. The drug problem is insoluble for so long as we: 1) view addicts as sick, as opposed to being criminals; and 2) fail to instill in our children a "soul" which would prevent their becoming drug addicts. For further discussion of this, please see Book V, Section F.
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