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The Decline of the West

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Author: Oswald Spengler

Published: February 14th 1991 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1918)

Format: Paperback , Abridged , 492 pages

Isbn: 9780195066340

Language: English


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Since its first publication in two volumes between 1918-1923, The Decline of the West has ranked as one of the most widely read and most talked about books of our time. In all its various editions, it has sold nearly 100,000 copies. A twentieth-century Cassandra, Oswald Spengler thoroughly probed the origin and "fate" of our civilization, and the result can be (and has bee Since its first publication in two volumes between 1918-1923, The Decline of the West has ranked as one of the most widely read and most talked about books of our time. In all its various editions, it has sold nearly 100,000 copies. A twentieth-century Cassandra, Oswald Spengler thoroughly probed the origin and "fate" of our civilization, and the result can be (and has been) read as a prophesy of the Nazi regime. His challenging views have led to harsh criticism over the years, but the knowledge and eloquence that went into his sweeping study of Western culture have kept The Decline of the West alive. As the face of Germany and Europe as a whole continues to change each day, The Decline of the West cannot be ignored. The abridgment, prepared by the German scholar Helmut Werner, with the blessing of the Spengler estate, consists of selections from the original (translated into English by Charles Francis Atkinson) linked by explanatory passages which have been put into English by Arthur Helps. H. Stuart Hughes has written a new introduction for this edition. In this engrossing and highly controversial philosophy of history, Spengler describes how we have entered into a centuries-long "world-historical" phase comparable to late antiquity. Guided by the philosophies of Goethe and Nietzsche, he rejects linear progression, and instead presents a world view based on the cyclical rise and decline of civilizations. He argues that a culture blossoms from the soil of a definable landscape and dies when it has exhausted all of its possibilities. Despite Spengler's reputation today as an extreme pessimist, The Decline of the West remains essential reading for anyone interested in the history of civilization.

30 review for The Decline of the West

  1. 4 out of 5

    James P.

    Liked this book so much I quit drinking for a month

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    All genuine historical work is philosophy, unless it is mere ant-industry. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of my favorite books, not only because it is written so beautifully, but because of the spectacle of decline—of a great empire slowly and inevitably crumbling. The scene is irresistibly tragic. Like a Macbeth or an Oedipus, the Empire succumbs to itself, brought down by its own efforts at self-expansion. Or perhaps the scene can be better compared to the Fall of Man All genuine historical work is philosophy, unless it is mere ant-industry. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of my favorite books, not only because it is written so beautifully, but because of the spectacle of decline—of a great empire slowly and inevitably crumbling. The scene is irresistibly tragic. Like a Macbeth or an Oedipus, the Empire succumbs to itself, brought down by its own efforts at self-expansion. Or perhaps the scene can be better compared to the Fall of Man in Milton’s poem, a grand cosmic undoing, followed by the heroic struggle against the inevitable. Besides the sublime tragedy of Rome’s decline, it fascinates because it gives us a foreboding of what might happen to us. Indeed, maybe it is already? This would explain all the banality we see on television every day, all the terrible music on the radio. More than decline—a loss of political and economic power—this is decadence: a decay of taste, morals, artistic skill. Decadence seems observable in many historical instances: the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines: they all petered out, losing cultural vitality until they disappeared completely. Couldn’t the same thing be happening to us? Oswald Spengler thought so, and he turned this thought into the basis for an entire philosophy of history. He was not a professional historian, nor an academic of any kind. He worked as a school teacher until his mother’s inheritance allowed him quit his job and to devote all of his time to scholarship. This scholarship was mustered to write an enormous book, whose publication was delayed by World War I. Probably this was very lucky for Spengler, since the pessimism and anguish caused by that war set the mood for his grand theory of cultural decline. The Decline of the West puts forward a radically unconventional view of history. Spengler divides up world history, not into countries or epochs, but into “Cultures.” There have been only eight: the Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Meso-American, the Chinese, the Indian, the Classical (Greco-Roman), the Arabian (includes the Byzantine), and the Western (European culture, beginning around the year 1000). Each of these Cultures he conceives as a super-organism, with its own birth, middle-age, and dotage. These Cultures all age at a similar rate, and go through analogical stages in the process (Napoleon is the Western equivalent to Alexander the Great, for example). Spengler believed that he had delineated these Cultures and traced their basic growth and aging process, thus providing a valid scheme for all future history as well, if any new Culture should arise. Spengler is a cultural determinist and a cultural relativist. This means that he does not see these Cultures as dependent on the talent of individuals to grow; the individual is a product of the Culture and not the reverse. He also thinks that each of these Cultures creates its own self-contained world of significance, based on its own fundamental ideas. There is no such thing as inter-cultural influence, he thinks, at least not on any deep level. Each of these Cultures conceives the world so differently that they can hardly understand one another, let alone determine one another, even if one Culture can overpower another one in a contest of arms. Their art, their mathematics, their architecture, their experience of nature, their whole mental world is grounded in one specific cultural worldview. Because Spengler is a determinist, he does not present us with a Gibbonian spectacle of a civilization succumbing to its own faults, struggling against its own decline. For Spengler, everything that happens in history is destiny. People don't make history; history makes people. Thus, while often classed as a political conservative, it is hard to put any political label on Spengler, or to co-opt his views for any political purpose, since he didn’t think we directed our own history. To be a true Spenglerian is to believe that decline is inevitable: decadence wasn't anyone's "fault," and it can't be averted. Much of this book consists of a contrast between what he calls the Apollonian (Greco-Roman) worldview, and the Faustian (Western) worldview. The Apollonian world-picture is based on the idea of definite form and definable shape; the nude statue is its most characteristic art, the delineated human body; its mathematics is all based on geometry, concrete shapes and visible lines. The Faustian picture, by contrast, is possessed by the idea of infinity; we make fugues, roving explorations of musical space; our mathematics is based on the idea of a function, an operation that can create an endless series of numbers. Spengler dwells on this contrast in chapter after chapter, trying to prove his point that Western Culture, far from being a development of Classical Culture, is entirely incompatible with it. His own Culture, the Western, he traces to around the year 1000, at the commencement of the Romanesque. How or why new a Culture begins, Spengler doesn’t venture to say; but once they do begin, they follow the same definite steps. It was inevitable, he thinks, that the Romanesque transformed into the Gothic, and then eventually flourished into the Baroque, the high point of our Culture, wherein we expressed our deep longing for the infinite in Bach’s fugues and Descartes’s mathematics. Sometime around the year 1800, the Western Culture entered its late, senescent phase, which Spengler terms ‘Civilization.’ This is the phase that follows cultural growth and flourishing; its onset begins when a Culture has exhausted its fundamental idea and explored its inherent forms. A Civilization is what remains of Culture when it has spent its creative forces: “The aim once attained—the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual—the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization.” The ‘decline’ that forms the title of this book is just this transition from Culture to Civilization, wherein major creative work is at an end. Civilization is, rather, the age of Caesarism, the consolidation of political power. It is the age of world cities, major metropolises filled with cosmopolitan urban intellectuals. It is the age of academics rather than geniuses, the Alexandrine Greeks instead of the Golden-Age of Athens. It is, in other words, the period that corresponds with the onset of the Roman Empire, a period of no substantial innovation, but of magnificent stability. The Western Culture, Spengler thought, was entering just this period. Whereas those who are actuated by a Culture during its creative period feel themselves driven by inevitable impulses, which allow even mediocre artists to create great works, people within a Civilization are creatures of the intellect, not the instinct; and instead of being given creative power and direction by their Culture, they are left to substitute their own subjective tastes and whims for cultural destiny. Instead of, for example, having one overriding epoch in our artistic productions—such as the Gothic, the Baroque, or what have you—we have artistic ‘movements’ or trends—Futurism, Dadaism, Cubism—which, far from being necessary phases in a Culture’s self-expression, are merely intellectual fads with no force behind them. Spengler’s theory does have the considerable merit of being testable, because he made very specific predictions about what the immediate future held. We had gone through the period of ‘Warring States,’ he thought, in which country fought country and money ruled everything, and were about to enter a period of Caesarism, wherein people would lose faith in the power of self-interested capitalism and follow a charismatic leader. This would also be a period of ‘Second Religiousness,’ a period of faith rather than reason—a period of patriotism, zeal, and peaceful capitulation to the status quo. Nowadays, one-hundred years later, it seems these predictions were certainly false. For one, he did not foresee the Second World War, but thought the period of internecine warfare was coming to a close. What is more, economic power has grown even more important—far more important than political power, in many ways—and no Caesar has arisen, despite many contenders (including Hitler, during Spengler’s lifetime, of whom Spengler didn’t think highly). Aside from its breadth, one thing that sets this book apart is its style. Spengler is a remarkable writer. He can be poetic, describing the “flowers at eventide as, one after the other, they close in the setting sun. Strange is the feeling that then presses in upon you—a feeling of enigmatic fear in the presence of this blind dreamlike earth-bound existence.” He can be bitter, biting, and caustic, castigating the blind scholars who couldn’t see the obvious, satirizing the pseudo-sauve intellectuals who populated the cities of his time. He can be lyrical or epigrammatic, and can write ably about art, music, and mathematics. His most characteristic mode, however, is the oracular: Spengler proclaims, predicts, pronounces. His voice, resonating through the written word, booms as if from a mountaintop. He sweeps the reader up in his swelling prose, an inundation of erudition, a flood that covers the world and brings us, like Noah in his ark, even higher than mountaintops. Perhaps a flood is the most apt metaphor, since Spengler is not only overwhelming in his rhetorical force, but all-encompassing in his world-view. He seems to have thought of everything, considered every subject, drawn his own conclusions about every fact; no detail escapes him, no conventionality remains to be overturned by his roving mind. The experience can be intoxicating as he draws you into his own perspective, with everything you thought you knew now blurry and swirling. Spengler is so knowledgeable that, at times, he can sound like some higher power declaiming from above. But he was a man, after all, and his erudition was limited. He was most certainly an expert on music, mathematics, and the arts, and writes with keen insight in each of these subjects. But in politics, economics, religion, and especially science, he is less impressive. He completely fails to understand Darwin’s theory, for example, and he thought that physics was already complete and there would be no more great geniuses (and this, in one of the greatest epochs of physics!). He doesn’t even mention Einstein. Spengler also thought that our scientific theories were culturally determined and culturally bound; the Western conception of nature, for example, would have no validity for the Chinese (which doesn't seem to stop the Chinese from learning Newton's theories). His grand theory, though undeniably fascinating, is also impossible to accept. What is the nature of a Culture? Why do they arise, why are they self-contained, why do they follow the same life-course? Why would one single idea determine every single cultural production—from mathematics to music, from architecture to physics—in a Culture from birth to death? All these seem like fundamental questions, and yet they are not satisfactorily addressed—nor do I see how they could be. By insisting on the Culture as the unit of history, Spengler seems to be at once too narrow and too broad. Too narrow, because he does not allow for the possibility that these Cultures can influence one another; while it seems obvious to me that, yes, there was influence from the Classical to the Western, as well as from the Classical to the so-called ‘Magian’ (his term for the Arabian Culture), and from the Magian to the Western, and so on. And too broad, because within any given Culture there are not only different ages but different areas. Is the cultural difference between Spain and England ultimately superficial, but between the Renaissance and Classical Greece unbridgeable? Really, the more you think about Spengler’s claims, the less credible they seem. After all, if Spengler were right, how could he, a Western intellectual living in the Civilization phase of Western Culture, delineate the fundamental ideas of other Cultures and produce what he regarded as a major intellectual achievement? I am certainly not saying that this book is intellectually valueless. By comparison, Walter Pater had this to say about aesthetic theories: “Many attempts have been made by writers on art and poetry to define beauty in the abstract, and express it in the most general terms, to find a universal formula for it. The value of these attempts has most often been in the suggestive and penetrating things said by the way.” This seems equally true with regard to Spengler’s universal formula for history. Although I think his theory is untenable, this book is nevertheless filled to the brim with suggestive and penetrating observations, especially about art, architecture, music, and mathematics. Spengler may be a failed prophet, but he was an excellent critic, capable of making the most astonishing comparisons between arts of different eras and epochs. Even if we reject Spengler’s proposed theory, we may still savor the grand vision required to see all of human history as a whole, to scan one’s eye over the past and present of humankind, in all its forms and phases, and to form conjectures as to its destiny. And Spengler was undeniably original in his inclusion of Babylonian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Meso-American Cultures as of equal importance as Western history; indeed, it is at least in part to Spengler that we owe our notion of world-history. Rich in ideas, set forth in ringing prose, invigorating in its novelty, breathtaking in its scope—here we have a true classic, yet another example of a book whose enormous originality outweighs every conventional defect we can detect in it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    It has to be stated up front that I read TDOTW in its abridged format—and while Werner and Helps did as well as they could have under their space restrictions, this book is still a stunted patchwork of Herr Spengler's full-form thought. I've been referencing my unabridged PDF copy alongside this handsomely bound patient; and at times the surgery has been severe, the amputation close to the joint. If you have neither the money nor the time to do Spengler the justice of imbibing the entirety of hi It has to be stated up front that I read TDOTW in its abridged format—and while Werner and Helps did as well as they could have under their space restrictions, this book is still a stunted patchwork of Herr Spengler's full-form thought. I've been referencing my unabridged PDF copy alongside this handsomely bound patient; and at times the surgery has been severe, the amputation close to the joint. If you have neither the money nor the time to do Spengler the justice of imbibing the entirety of his intellectual offering, then in such a pinch the abridgement will certainly do: but I would recommend searching out the two volumes in order to experience to the full the magisterial effort that the author has made in presenting his complex theory to the public. The literal translation of Der Untergang des Abendlandes could be read as something like The Sunset of the Evening Lands or The Setting of the Twilight Realms, either of which nicely convey the lyrical touch that Spengler has liberally applied to his great work of poetic historical philosophy. It's a text rich with erudition across a broad field of disciplines, rife with the dense structural elements of an organic Culture that is born, lives, and dies in a fashion both comparable and comprehensible to the human beings who constitute it. It is a work that proceeded from a burgeoning conception of the requirement for a combinatory application of the empirical and the intuitional, of the gaze both within and without, of the extended-material with the soul-spiritual, the organic with the inorganic, the dead with the living, time with space, magnitude with function, the become with the becoming—the unification of a bifurcation—if the essential truth—that is, the depth—of what constitutes History was ever to be understood. It is at once both a difficult and a delightful read, wildly overreaching and conceptually sound, profoundly insightful and intelligent and peppered with controversial claims and interpretations. It should be read if for no other reason than the stimulation it provides, for it is difficult to imagine that there exists a reader who would not emerge at the end having found himself been given much to reflect upon—even those predisposed to flatly disagree—or take issue—with Spengler's conclusions. Proceeding in a somewhat Hegelian fashion, Spengler posits an interpretation of history that has eluded all others, principally due to their being hampered by the conditions of the Civilization they live within. For the author, many years of study and reflection had lead him to the conclusion that History, of necessity linked with the direction and destiny of what we—lacking a better word—call Time (Becoming, Potentiality), has revealed itself within our world through the Higher Cultures: Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Indian, Classical (Graeco-Roman), Magian (Arabian), Mexican, and Faustian (Modern Western). Of these eight, one—the Mexican—had been extirpated; another—the Magian—was a pseudomorphical, or stunted Culture; and one more—the Russian, also pseudomorphical—at the time of the book's publication had the possibility of achieving High Cultural status of its own. Each of these Cultures was organic, with a life cycle of waxing and waning stages comparable to the lives of the human beings who lived within it, stages in which similar periods of flowering or morphologies in the fields of art, politics, religion, mathematics, philosophy, engineering, etc. would occur; and each of which would— irrevocably, once the Culture had fully become and all of its potentialities or possibilities had been actualized—wither away, becoming Civilizations, inorganic, mechanical, existent fully in the material world of causality and measurement, effectively dead to the spirituality of History and dominated by the vast, sprawling Megalopolises that had arisen and from which the decline—at varying speeds and over varying intervals—would occur. These processes are inseparably engendered within History, in Destiny, and, whilst realized and carried out by the masses of individual humans whose blood and souls are attuned to that particular Culture, the Culture itself is also an organic unit, necessary within Time as we experience it and only capable of developing and actualizing as it actually does. The Culture enables and drives forward its human members; these same humans realize the Culture and allow it to blossom, and all the while proceeding from a state of Becoming in active Time to one of Become, dead (actualized) within the extended, material world. It's a system of cyclical history that is inexorable and finite. To make the case for his impressively deep philosophy, Spengler draws upon a wide field of studies and knowledge, displaying a frightful erudition and forcefully, logically, compellingly producing his examples, making his analogies, drawing his conclusions, at all times aware of the reader and leading him through an encompassing vision that Spengler believes must, in the end, prove irrefutable. It is written in a poetic and baritone text, serious, beautiful, dense, and sprinkled with a mordant wit, blasts of caustic irony. It makes for a mesmerizing read, one that requires a slow and methodic pace if the reader is to absorb the seemingly endless barrage of details; but it is a wonderful, a fascinating, a compulsively readable journey. It is impossible to convey the breadth of information imparted by the book in the space of a Goodreads review, but several parts in especial stood out for me: his proposition of a Faustian mathematics that embraced the infinite through functions and spatial abstractions—abandoning purely magnitudinous calculations—and an art that sought the same through the usage of brush strokes, atmospheric colors, prolific and contrapuntal instrumentation, soaring architectures and blossoming spaces, that endeavored to capture the sum of a person's—and hence a Culture's—soul in a maturing era that accepted no limits or boundaries. There is also the interpretation of the Faustian God as coterminous with Destiny, with Time, with Becoming—in other word's, God as Eternal-Potentiality-Eternally-Realized—and its juxtaposition with the Apollinian and Magian godheads that, for me, proved very enlightening; and his composition of the Magian world-view, its purview of existence as within a vaulted and glittering cavern, and his original outline of the conception and development of both the principal monotheisms and their pre- and post-birth offshoots, is first rate. His chapters, so brilliantly done, on the Soul-Image and Life-Feeling and Nature-Knowledge would, really, be worth the price of the book in and of themselves. Furthermore, when he speaks of a Civilizational Stage's Dead Art, an art completely overwhelmed by the critical faculty, in thrall to overriding causality and the promotional whim, the solo genius of the individual untethered from the wings of an onrushing or soaring Cultural Destiny, the reader cannot help but cast glances at such entities as portions of modern literature, philosophy, theory, psychology and psychoanalysis, and the variegated offerings of modern art—the manner in which everything has been progressively compartmentalized and broken down and dissected into minute portions, such that the wonder or beauty or inspiration or meaning of the original, of life, of the magical creative power itself, seems to have become lost, replaced by sterile minutiae and plastic posing and semantic games—to feel that Spengler might actually have been on to something. Anticipating that the majority of the attacks upon his work would come from the analytic school, at the outset of Decline Spengler cautions that an over-reliance upon a materialistic and mechanistic system of causality is what both has blinded modern man to the Historical Destiny unfolding about him and is a principal symptom of the Culture that has Become and, consequentially, is already in a process of decline and decay. In such a work there will inevitably be inaccuracies and forced analogies and manipulations of historical fact undertaken by the author, if for no other reason than the sheer size, the audacity of the task he has endeavored to carry out, the timeline depth and the events like grains of sand—some were apparent to me as I read along, others I only discovered when I went online, after particularly rousing chapters, to investigate the response to Spengler's postulations. But really, this far removed from the period of its publication and with all the societal and cultural changes that have occurred, readers will almost surely have preconceived positions going into the tome, and it is unlikely - not impossible, but unlikely - that they will emerge at the end swayed in their opinion. Spengler is not just concocting a historical analysis here—he is engaging in philosophy, in establishing an ontology, dancing with metaphysics, in an effort to mentally place the reader into a position where the chain of events and interpretations that follow will seem of a plausibility that would elevate them to veracity. If the reader does not fully embrace Spengler's depiction of being, of the unprovable claim of an organic Destiny that, functioning as History's will, moves these cultures into the birth canal and ensures their fulfillment, then the entire affair cannot, in the end, hold together. For myself, I am not in accord with Spengler's philosophy. I cannot accept the removal of contingency, the all-bases-covered necessity involved in accepting such a High Cultural position: it both denies individuals the fullness of the genius they summoned to achieve the heights in their field that they did, and excuses the excesses and savageries committed by those who gave free reign to the baser or sanguinary side of their personalties—by stating that the Culture ensured that there were humans available to undertake the actions that needed to be taken, that what was required to be done would be done, by hook or by crook, provides too much cover for the deplorable and not credit sufficient for the glorious. It could be used to accept injustice or repression or brutality as simply being in and of the Culture under which it occurred. Responsibility and freedom are vital in my conception of humanity. Furthermore, it is an inherently untenable philosophy by his own standards: since he admits that every thinker is inescapably bound by the purview and mindset of his own particular Culture-in-Time, his own World-Image and World-Feeling, then it beggars any standard of truth outside of the Faustian flavor that his limit-seeking-and-testing analysis and perception of the past Cultures, of utterly foreign construction and timber, could be so patently slotted and fitted into a particular cyclical system that coincides with an interpretation aligned to his own Teutonic spirit. For notwithstanding Spengler's assertion that History cannot be measured upon the scales of truth, but rather by its depth, the impressiveness of the latter in the German's conception has actually been achieved, the layers built one upon another through this same Faustian perception, one whose profundity may be exaggerated to readers of the same Cultural milieu. With all of that said, the manner in which he interlocks the events and attitudes of Cultural eras across time is quite impressive and powerful, and the fact that in several of his conclusions and predictions—especially in the realms of religion, technics and politics—he proved chillingly prescient and accurate is but proof of the remarkable sagacity and judgement that filled his historical insight. Yet he dismisses too readily within his destinal organicity the effects of evolutionary change, of genetic adaptability, of the capacity for the human mind, a sensory input machine beyond our full ken, to process data and adjust the brain's functional abilities over time—even of the manner in which complex societies interact and change, the organizational rules under which they operate, combine and separate, overcome problems and challenges that arise. Of course, this can all be laid upon an overriding Culture whose incorporeal hand is aligning with humanity along Destiny's pathways, wherein there is no stochasticity or circumstance but only purpose and fulfillment; but again that is entering into metaphysics and requires belief or faith to be accepted, neither of which I find myself in possession of. To keep things in perspective, I am not saying that Spengler is wrong—just that I, one small unit of the Faustian Civilization, don't hold with his grand theory—and in the face of the massive and deep learnedness that I am making this declaration, I may not unreasonably be likened to a zoo-kept monkey instinctively and ignorantly flinging poop. The conclusion? This is a work of unmitigated brilliance, and if I remained unpersuaded by the entirety of Spengler's thought, I was blown away by its magnificence and given much to ponder and consider about the interrelations and possibilities of the analogies he made and the conclusions he reached. He has stirred the cup of my mind in a more vigorous manner than most of the books I have read in the past year or two. Conceived prior to the Great War, completed during its brutal undertaking, published just anterior to its cessation of hostilities, it is a work of Teutonic passion and mordant pessimism, a great celebration of the organic spirit and being, a somber meditation upon the material world, a deep penetration through the constituent tissues of known human cultures and societies, a crushing outline of the money-democracy triumph through enslavement and the looming specter of a blood-soaked Caesar, an ontological imprinting of Time, an Anti-Faustian Faustian tract birthed during the civilizational stage of the latter by a man seemingly forgetful of his own proclamation that his Culture had become and that he was penning not a tract driven by Destiny, but by the pervasive rational cause-and-effect whose suzerainty he mistrusted; that his philosophical thought ran a curious gamut of the infinite and the cyclical, evinced traits of the Magian mindset at work within the Faustian, a curious recession from infinite space to enshrouded cavern, that might help to account for the original and unique interpretation he brought to bear upon the events he recorded; the aethereal agonies of the star-slung and the earthy proskynesis of the entombed, peering into the depths of his conceptional cultures from such a towering, weightless height, such a cramped, crushed, gravitational embrace, that the vision-swept ofttimes blurred or shimmered out of focus and required a series of longing, heart- and soul-driven looks backward, away from the melting horizon, before their image sharpened itself through his complex arrangment of Platonic, Hegelian, Nietzschean, and oversized Goethean lenses set in their durable Spenglerian frames. It is a stunning work of art, a paean to the brilliance of man and his eternal quest to summon answers out of this question-bound cosmos: triumphs, profundities, mars and blemishes all.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West was a huge international bestseller after the First World War for reasons that will become obvious, and for reasons that may be just as much so, Spengler considered his theories prophetic and completely justified given that he started this book in 1911 before the shit totally hit the fan. Spengler’s wide ranging theories on the subject of history writing include the repeated idea that the vast majority of historians can do no more than write history from Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West was a huge international bestseller after the First World War for reasons that will become obvious, and for reasons that may be just as much so, Spengler considered his theories prophetic and completely justified given that he started this book in 1911 before the shit totally hit the fan. Spengler’s wide ranging theories on the subject of history writing include the repeated idea that the vast majority of historians can do no more than write history from from their self-centered points of view of a present they consider more important than any other time. Spengler turns out to be guilty of this charge himself, imparting a special meaning onto his own time that many others have seen in theirs- the End of Days. However, Spengler did not mean this in the completely apocalyptic Christian sense, but instead termed it the “wintertime of Faustian civilization.” In admittedly fascinating and frequently beautiful (if problematically rather mystical) language, Spengler divides space and time amongst dominant Cultures, which are definite entities with specific, distinct underlying motivations and perceptions of the world that differentiate each entity from the others. He concentrates mostly on contrasting the “Apollonian,” culture capturing the Classical age, which he sees as characterized by a perception of all time as Present and centered on the body, and “Faustian,” which is his name for current Western age, characterized by a precise conception of time and the continual and unfulfilled longing for the unattainable (in class we talked about the fact that if we are “Faustian” we should really discuss what our deal with the devil was- I don’t think we got an answer other than unlimited power). Each Culture has a natural and “inevitable” life cycle, which he articulates in terms of the seasons and life stages of men. In each great Culture’s “Autumn,” it becomes a “Civilization,” which is the signal of a definite and inevitable decline. Spengler draws a distinction between Culture, which is the “thing becoming,” and Civilization, which is the “thing become”, and symbolizes inertia and death and can only refine and push to the limits the ideas that Culture has put forward and then indulge an “expansion” instinct until the Civilization has exhausted itself and dies- as, he posits, Faustian civilization is on its way to doing, shown by the period of imperialism and expansion and finally “Caesarism,” which is the final sign of death. Each phase is characterized by certain symbols that appear at identical moments in each culture and civilization’s life phase, and tell us what phase the Culture is in. Therefore there is a kind of “code” that can be deciphered that will in theory be able to show an informed person what the next step is. He names about 8 great civilizations, but ends up collapsing it to Apollonian, Faustian, and Magian (Arabian) culture. He does not care about that which is not “world-historical,” and leaves many things outside his concept because, quite frankly, they do not matter. Don’t agree with him? Well, that’s probably just because of your Culture’s shaping of you and the fact that you inevitably can’t- perhaps it is due to your Faustian need to beat a theory you can’t possibly prove wrong. Spengler’s theories rely on several underlying assumptions that are still prevalent and frequently acted upon in our present age, and the different inferences that have been drawn from ideas similar to his have supported different conclusions that I see in my reading quite often. The most prominent of course being the inevitable conclusions of his ideas about culture. How people, communities and states choose to deal with the idea of “cultural difference,” is one of the most important and politicized issues in today’s world. Spengler can be used to support some fairly innocuous ideas, such as his rejection Eurocentric world view of a “privileged” Western culture emphasizes the theoretical equality of cultures at a value judgment level, therefore supporting cultural diversity by showing that each culture has something to offer the world. However, I spend the great majority of my studies encountering the more polarizing aspects of his work, where like ideas have caused incredible amounts of damage. Specifically, his strong emphasis on the “natural,” differences between people and his firm conviction that there are no universal truths that apply to all mankind because of cultural differences. This often leads to the conclusion that there is only one right way to do things with has been mystically ordained and all who do not act the way that a person of their Culture is supposed to act are evil. It is the basis of ideas that allow for the creation of racial hierarchies, or terming “Others” a completely different (usually lesser) species, and time and time again, the inability to identify past a certain line stopping any hope of solving problems or establishing partnerships. (Unsurprisingly, Henry Kissinger effing loved this book- he wrote his undergraduate thesis on it. As my professor put it, “Of course he loved it. It means he can make decisions on his private plane and feel justified.”) One of the most fascinating sites for debate that deals with the extent to which cultural ‘differences’ are something that must be recognized is in theory about how democracies should deal with multiple ‘cultures’ under their rule- should these be recognized and given rights, therefore lending perhaps dangerous support to the idea of naturalized difference or should people be merely citizens in the eyes of the law, with no differentiation, as is the French ideal (at least in theory)? The exploration of where one should draw the line, what compromises between theory and reality are necessary, is absolutely fascinating. Going too far one way or the other seems to produce negative results. Beyond its effect on the shape of nations and international relations, Spengler’s emphasis on the role of Culture, “style,” and civilizational path as the determinants of what we do as individuals is very dissatisfying. This Calvinistic sense of “predestination,” and the “inevitability” of our actions leaves little room for human agency and free will. I have struggled with this in judging actions in different historical periods because it is true that the environments in which we grow up certainly has an effect on us. I recently read Isabel Hull’s Absolute Destruction, in which an episode was discussed in which a German officer pursued defeated, dying enemies into a desert to little practical purpose at the cost of his own life and those of his men- was this an effect of the military culture German officers operated in? Or was this decision due to the specific personality of the officer involved? Spengler might find it “predestined,” by the declining path of civilization and the need for “expansion,” but there were also many people who left Germany as rising militarism set in, and a member of the militaristic Hollenzollern family, the short lived Emperor Frederick III, was an unshakeable liberal who fought against the more right-wing elements in Germany until his death. Spengler does not account for these “anomalies” of people who do not act as his map of their Culture would dictate that they, by all rights, should. But really, you guys, I feel like I am not doing this book justice. It is written in this dreamy, mystical language that can work like an incantation, with your mind sinking into the crazy until the expression of it seems beautiful. It is originally written in German, and perhaps due to the fact that many words are untranslatable, you get things like “soul-world,” and “world-feeling,” “life-essences,” “morphological world order,” “world-consciousness,” and “form-feeling.” And he repeats these nonsense words over and over like they explain everything- it is beyond the mystical words of nationalist primordalists, even more religiously oriented. But I can’t even totally dismiss it as perhaps a crazy man’s poetry when it yields up random gems all the time: “mankind is but a zoological expression,” or “The word Europe ought to be struck out of history… Europe expresses no reality but merely a sketchy interpretation of a map… ‘East’ and ‘West’ are notions that contain real history, whereas Europe is an empty sound. Everything great that the Classical world created, it created in pure denial of the existence of any barrier between Rome and Cyprus, Byzantium and Alexandria,” “The ground of West Europe is treated as a steady pole, a unique patch chosen on the surface of the sphere for no better reason, it seems, that because we live on it- and great histories of millennial duration and mighty far away Cultures are made to revolve around this pole in all modesty. It is a quaintly conceived system of sun and planets!” I don’t know.. he’s crazy, like totally over the hill nutzo, but it is based on incredibly impressive learning and knowledge. He’s able to do a history of art, a comparison of complicated notions of time, and a history of mathematics completely comfortably. He gets facts wrong again and again, but you can sort of see the weird logic in the end. He’s not THAT off a lot of the time. And it is terribly seductive at times- you can see how so many people want to think this way. There were certainly enough of them in the Bush administration- and in Al Qaeda. Samuel Huntington’s theories are a crude adaptation of Spengler. The echoes of his influence are still being felt. This is a massive, massive tome, but I recommend reading at least a bit of it to better understand the method behind the madness.

  5. 5 out of 5

    anton

    The Decline of the West is as much a chemical phenomenon as it is cultural, social, etc. Archons have engineered civilizations to prioritize the stimulation of dopaminergic circuits over its counterpart, serotonin. That is, the economy of differentials which explodes into human life after basic survival needs are met is always in virtual suspension. Serotonin is released into the brain after experiencing a gratification that is "earned". The West's fundamental mistake is to assume what is essent The Decline of the West is as much a chemical phenomenon as it is cultural, social, etc. Archons have engineered civilizations to prioritize the stimulation of dopaminergic circuits over its counterpart, serotonin. That is, the economy of differentials which explodes into human life after basic survival needs are met is always in virtual suspension. Serotonin is released into the brain after experiencing a gratification that is "earned". The West's fundamental mistake is to assume what is essential to healthy gratification is the frequency of gratification itself. If one is not hungry, one is bored. If one cannot afford to be bored, it is probably because he is hungry, or his children are, etc. Actuality is desiccating. Too much life, too much comfort, too much wakefulness, is rotting you. The West is declining and will continue to decline until it realizes only intentional suffering can give human life solid dimensionality. If the bread tastes flat after one has gorged themselves on it, the solution is not to keep eating, or to eat more and more exotic kinds of bread, but to admit the utility of hunger and suffering, and live within certain boundaries. That the full life is more like a rhythm or a dance played with different ontological tolerances, and not some static, Messianic condition to be achieved at some point in the future, is the one thing one is not willing to admit. America is a worm hole into the future. The Omega Point. You have entered into the final phase of what might be called homeostatic obscolescence, what Spengler saw as the inevitable decline of cultures into twilight of civilizations: the sedentarization of a once-vital species, or: dusk as ontological principle, when you put down your spears and planted your roots in the earth: agriculture neotenized your skulls, made your forms and thoughts and beings more baby-ish, you were laid by the Death's Head, and grew bored in your yokes. Punched through the Egg's shell into the mirror-ball of the self. I believe the Cut was made with the first man bored of creation. After that you were never yourselves again. What cities do is convert White Noise into Platonic fantasia. Dead grey time into technicolor. You are contracting into the tech singularity. You Throat is getting narrower and narrower. You are children locked in your father's closet.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    This is truly an awful book. It has an overriding incoherent theory of a ‘morphology’ on history and the author’s frustrations against democracy, and it has a sympathy for Nationalism while fascism flows throughout the second volume (yes, I read both volumes I and II). First, the author is not really ‘erudite’ and he has an incredibly shallow grasp of complex subjects but it runs a mile long, and he is definitely frustrated with his country losing The Great War and by Volume II having lost the w This is truly an awful book. It has an overriding incoherent theory of a ‘morphology’ on history and the author’s frustrations against democracy, and it has a sympathy for Nationalism while fascism flows throughout the second volume (yes, I read both volumes I and II). First, the author is not really ‘erudite’ and he has an incredibly shallow grasp of complex subjects but it runs a mile long, and he is definitely frustrated with his country losing The Great War and by Volume II having lost the war. Goethe and Nietzsche are his inspirations especially in Volume I, but by Volume II he barely relies on them because his full on fascism comes through. In Volume I he spoke incredibly intelligently on ‘entropy’, ‘Einstein’s General Theory’, and ‘theory of groups’ from Topology. He ties those items into his nonsense on all of history repeats itself through different forms, and that there is no truth but only myths and that ‘that history of humanity is meaningless, culture gives us meaning, leading to Civilizations which will inevitably disappear’. All civilizations will end with a ‘Caesarsism’ collapse, according to him, and you know what, darn those pesky little Enlightenment Ideals like democracy, equality, fairness, reason over faith by authority, or that the other fellow not a member of your tribe just might have something worthwhile to bring to the table. The author moves around a lot and tries to make everything that has ever happened fit his weird theory. He has an ode against ‘double entry accounting’, for example; he states that it was discovered in 1490 and was as important as Columbus discovering America; he’s probably right, but he doesn’t like it because of his weird take on money and power and politics. He’s certain that women have their feminine place and men have their lordly place and puts that into his twisted narrative. Myth is all there is and truth is nothing but a complex word game with a series of facts, at least that is how this author plays the game. There is a fascist strain that oozes thru out this book. Trump and his Republican enablers would just lap those parts up. Trump has many times made statements such as ‘only I can save you’; he’ll say that about the stock market, immigration, or a host of other things. Spengler thinks that for most of us destiny happens but only a few make destinies. We are doomed (and I think Spengler wants us) to be led by someone who will pull us up by our bootstraps (I wanted to use that metaphor of ‘bootstraps’ because it is impossible as far as I know to pull myself up by one, and the Nationalist leader will not be able to do such a thing either). Spengler believes ‘blood, soil and character that is formed by the small towns’ makes people cultured and Jews without history are not capable of forming a worthwhile image of themselves as are the ‘Negroes’ of Africa. Trump calls himself a ‘Nationalist’ because he does not want ‘inclusive Patriotism’ but rather an ‘exclusive Patriotism’, a belief that the definition of ‘right and wrong’ starts with the appearance of a self proclaimed charismatic strong leader and ends with the simplistic jingoism such as ‘make America great again’ or as Spengler says ‘my country right or wrong’ (Spengler actually used that expression in one of his extended ramblings on history) which will inevitably lead to the end of logical and rational debate because the methodology is to manipulate ones passions through emotional appeals against people who are not part of your tribe as defined by the supreme leader who is only charismatic to those who have made him so from their own manipulated feelings. Tolerance of the other is anathema to exclusive patriots or Nationalists; ‘build that wall’, ‘lock her up (without a trial)’, make sense only to those who process their truths through emotions based on fear, hate and intolerance. Spengler does not like the rational. The rational to him is where the urban elite (he calls them ‘megapolitans’ or something like that) consensus uses the abstract to take away from the real facts in the world; in addition he’ll blame money, commercialism and controls foisted upon us by democratic processes which will inevitably lead to our own downfall. He desperately wants to bring back the wonder and awe of the Homeric Greeks and the gratitude that they would say we owe to the universe all of which we have misplaced today (1920ish), and he wants us to re-embrace pride in ourselves as individual parts of a Nation greater than ourselves; our foundation for meaning must come from something greater than ourselves such as national pride therefore allowing us to embrace an exclusive patriotism, a Nationalism tending towards fascism in the mode of Benito Mussolini. Truth, for him, would emanate from the nation not the individual. The individual needs the state with a great leader and each individual’s meaning can only come from a state as lead by a great charismatic leader. It’s obvious that this book was very influential in its day. Joseph Campbell ‘universal myths’ theory as shown in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ which I disliked as much as this book partially because it too has within it a nationalistic narrative similar to this book. Heidegger clearly is pointing to this book as the ‘greatness of the movement’ when he made the statement in the ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’ that "the works that are being peddled about nowadays as the philosophy of National Socialism but have nothing whatever do with the inner truth and greatness of the movement (namely the encounter between global technology and modern man)", and I suspect Heidegger was contrasting Spengler’s book with the most vile best seller ever ‘The Myth of the 20th Century’ as one of the ‘works that are being peddled about nowadays’. Spengler definitely dislikes ‘the encounter between global technology and modern man’ and believes it weakens us and separates us from the soil, blood and culture. Spengler wisely down plays race except he didn’t seem to like the ‘Negroes’ or the ‘Jews’, he does walk a fine line and mostly focuses on a nation (or peoples, or culture) instead of a race. I would say that all Nazis would be able to enjoy this book, but that doesn’t mean one would have to be a Nazi to enjoy it. One could just as easily be a Nationalist, or exclusive Patriot, or ignorant of history and philosophy thus thinking this book was erudite, or curious to look at what was prevalent in 1920ish Germany and how the Germans were more than happy to soon embrace a monster for their leader. I recently read a book, ‘Critic of Everyday Life’, by Lefebvre. It’s three volumes long, and it’s a Marxist work and the overlap between these two books was surprising. For Marxist class is the ontological foundation for all truth, for a Nationalist (and Fascist, which Spengler definitely was, but wiki tells me he was not a Nazi supporter) the Nation as seen through the privileged tribe as interpreted by a charismatic leader who will always make every fact that disagrees with them a ‘false fact’ or ‘fake news’ the source of all truth. For one who has read both (especially Volume I of ‘Critic of Everyday Life’) there will be a lot of obvious overlap between these two works. A Nationalist like Trump (that’s his label for himself, not mine) and his Nationalist followers would get a foundation from this book that they clearly don’t have. They’d have to ignore the goofy ‘morphology’ part of the book, but this book would help them better understand themselves. The author inverts all of the lessons of The Enlightenment: rely on your feelings not reason, be exclusive not inclusive, nation trumps the individual, certainty in one’s own truths that comes from pride from one’s own tribe and anyone not a member of your tribe is not as good as you; and truth comes from the authority of one’s leader who you have elevated to a charismatic status. All of these items are within this book and wrapped in weird mysticism that the author definitely has. For example, he’ll say Euclidian spirit is finite and relative to all the other morphological shapes, while Faustian truth is infinite and absolute and leads to the death of the civilization. One can easily follow the author’s mystical convoluted story, but most readers will just ignore that crap.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    It's not often you come across a perfectly internally consistent and well-argued sociological theory-of-everything, often dipping into several other academic disciplines from art history over scientific theory to theology, that also happens to offend more or less every single currently popular ideology in every single chapter. Though generally categorized as conservative, if Spengler can be called that he's very selectively so. The model of cultural and social history presented in "The Decline of It's not often you come across a perfectly internally consistent and well-argued sociological theory-of-everything, often dipping into several other academic disciplines from art history over scientific theory to theology, that also happens to offend more or less every single currently popular ideology in every single chapter. Though generally categorized as conservative, if Spengler can be called that he's very selectively so. The model of cultural and social history presented in "The Decline of the West" does not fit easily into such a box even it that one happens to be the closest fit. The best way to describe Spengler's historiography is that he takes G. W. F. Hegel's idealistic model of history but removes the entire dialectic structure in addition to combining it with a hardline cultural relativism that wouldn't become popular in academia until many decades later. (one way Spengler foreshadowed post-modernism along with his departure from linear progressive historical narratives be they of the liberal/Whig or Hegelian/Marxist variety) To simplify things greatly: Spengler's thesis is that everything a culture does both materially and spiritually is shaped by a unifying worldview defined by the physical nature of the geographical area in which it emerges; furthermore a culture has a lifespan comparable to the cycle of a year or the life of an organism, starting when it becomes aware of its status as a community based around said worldview and develops a distinctive social structure around it to culminate when both material as well as intellectual work expresses this worldview most efficiently. The decline, one that Spengler identifies as having in Western Europe been in process since the Enlightenment, is where a culture becomes a civilization by becoming less and less focused on its founding ideological principles than on purely economic and practical matters. (he has similar examples from all over the world - his argument for Russia being culturally part of Asia rather than Europe is intriguing) Such an era can be characterized by increased globalization both political and economic, the declining influence of old aristocracies in favour of ascendant merchant classes and populist ideologies, the arts turning into increasingly crass and exaggerated takes on old archetypes as well as the simultaneous secularization of society and the rise of reactionary extremist religious movements. Here comes the part about how Spengler has something to offend everyone: Conservatives can clutch their pearls over his description of every aspect of modernity they dislike as inevitable and irreversible, libertarians can get indignated over his diagnosis of parliamentary democratic states as inherently plutocratic and short-lived with authoritarian collectivism being the default state of human society, likewise can socialists get offended over his presentation of a strong hierarchial structure as necessary to run an efficient and stable society. I have to say that I might only have found Spengler's argumentation for his odd worldview so persuasive because my grasp on the social sciences is rather basic at best and downright superficial at worst... a reader with an in-depth knowledge of economics or sociology might not have been anywhere as impressed as I was, and would probably be able to explain that Spengler has been forgotten by posterity for a reason! Still, quite a few of his predictions have in the long time passed since the 1920s come to pass in some sense so there might be a reason that much more influential writers of such varied nature from William S. Burroughs over Samuel Huntington and Arnold Toynbee to Malcolm X have drawn inspiration from Spengler.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Victor Finn

    Spengler is officially my second favourite mainstream philosopher, after only Nietzsche. Spengler, rather like Nietzsche, wrote like a poet and with the profundity of a sage. Nearly every single page filled me with intellectual ecstasy. There is not a single topic under the sun that Spengler does not offer insight into and synthesize into his overwhelmingly elegant thought-system. Much like Nietzsche, Spengler is deliberately rejected by academia simply because they are afraid of him. People and Spengler is officially my second favourite mainstream philosopher, after only Nietzsche. Spengler, rather like Nietzsche, wrote like a poet and with the profundity of a sage. Nearly every single page filled me with intellectual ecstasy. There is not a single topic under the sun that Spengler does not offer insight into and synthesize into his overwhelmingly elegant thought-system. Much like Nietzsche, Spengler is deliberately rejected by academia simply because they are afraid of him. People and especially the various species of Liberals do not want to have their presumptions challenged. In order to keep Spengler out of mainstream discussion they will deliberately ignore and twist his words to obfuscate him. Calling Spengler a mere "Prophet of Doom" is like calling Nietzsche simply a "Nihilist" - not only are either of those statements superficial, but they fail to even come close to the core of what either of them said or believe. Anybody who says either of those things to you should be immediately disqualified from being "Intelligent" in your mind. Spengler is the only philosopher of history who ever mattered, recognizing that other philosophical historians before him like Hegel are themselves only the products of a civilization experiencing a particular turning of the wheel of birth-growth-death-rebirth. Spengler is the single most self-aware Westerner who ever lived, penetrating more deeply than anyone into the core of the unique psychology of Western Man. His process of differentiating between Classical and Western Man as well as Western Man and "Magian" Man ("Magian" Spengler's term for the religious ethos of the Middle-East) really make you feel, in your very blood and bones, how as a Westerner, you are a unique being with a way of looking at the world that is utterly without precedent and thoroughly exciting. Days after opening this book I could feel the Spenglerian thought-system refining my mind, and it is hard not to see the world from a Spenglerian lens after reading it. It is best to be able to see the world from as many lenses as possible, but without falling into the delusion that all lenses are equal. The Spenglerian lens is a particularly illuminating one. Without question the best book I read this summer. It will haunt me for a long time and I cannot wait to read it again, which I will do without question. Next time I will read the un-abridged version. HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mattatja

    ok, this is epic.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

    It took me about a year, but I finally finished reading the complete, unabridged version of Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West. This is an awe-inspiring book that presents an epic yet tragic view of the rise and inevitable fall of the world's great civilizations. As the title suggests, its main focus is on the impending decline and fall of Western civilization. Spengler's thesis is that all cultures are born, mature, and then die, just like organisms. The early stages of culture are the most c It took me about a year, but I finally finished reading the complete, unabridged version of Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West. This is an awe-inspiring book that presents an epic yet tragic view of the rise and inevitable fall of the world's great civilizations. As the title suggests, its main focus is on the impending decline and fall of Western civilization. Spengler's thesis is that all cultures are born, mature, and then die, just like organisms. The early stages of culture are the most creative and dynamic while the later stages (what Spengler calls "civilization") become formalized and mechanical before withering away. One of the most controversial aspects of Spengler's book is his claim that once it has descended into its declining stages, there is no future or hope for the rejuvenation of a culture. The West, Spengler claims, has reached just this point. One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is Spengler's insistence that we recognize the tremendous achievements of all the world's great civilizations, not just those of Western civilization. Spengler rejects the traditional division of history into a three-stage ancient/medieval/modern progression. Such a reading of history attempts to forge a false continuity between an assortment of cultures that really share more differences than commonalities, according to Spengler. Additionally, such a reading overlooks the grand achievements of non-Western cultures, like those of the Chinese and the South Americans. Spengler is, in essence, a cultural relativist who sees greatness in the inner destiny pursued by all of the world's cultures, and though they all must decline and die, every culture possesses a tragic grandeur that is worthy of admiration. Some of the most engrossing portions of Decline are, to me, the sections in which Spengler articulates his ideas on how space has been interpreted by various civilizations. According to Spengler, space is the most fundamental component of reality, and it is out of our experience of space that we build our cultures. The great civilizations of the world have all interpreted space in their own unique manner, and this can be seen in the art, architecture and the religions of the Greeks, Egyptians, Middle Easterners, and of course Western Europeans. For instance, in the Greek temple we see the enclosure of space in a manner that emphasizes the formal, this-worldly, "Apollonian" nature of Greek culture. In the spires of the Gothic Cathedral, on the other hand, we see the aspiration toward infinity that characterizes the "Faustian" culture of Western Europe, while in the domed mosques of the Muslim world we encounter the "world as a cave," which understands the world as an enclosure watched over by God. The most tedious portions of Decline of the West are those in which the author spends pages recounting, listing and comparing detailed events from the history of various civilizations. Spengler had an amazing, encyclopedic understanding of the details of world history, but as someone who is not a historian, much of what Spengler purports to illustrate with these accounts was lost on me. In these sections, minutiae obscure the message, and I found my attention waning. Decline of the West is, on the whole, an amazing, monumental work. It consists of the sort of creative and wild speculation that is discouraged by mainstream scholars; but this is what makes it so exciting. I admire this book as a kind of imaginative poem that presents Spengler's own grand, beautiful and tragic vision of reality.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Avery

    The greatest book written in the 20th century. Nobody can really call themselves well-read if they haven't read this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brett Green

    Things come and go, rise and fall...youth spring summer midlife autumn decline winter perish. History is made and as such, that which is history is itself ephemeral. From this basic premise, many an internally consistent metaphysics of history follows. Why this book matters: It may not matter at all. I enjoyed if only because it is a wholly unique specimen of a philosophy of history, a sort of time-independent philosophy of the nature of civilizations and their attendant cultures, a sort of Heracl Things come and go, rise and fall...youth spring summer midlife autumn decline winter perish. History is made and as such, that which is history is itself ephemeral. From this basic premise, many an internally consistent metaphysics of history follows. Why this book matters: It may not matter at all. I enjoyed if only because it is a wholly unique specimen of a philosophy of history, a sort of time-independent philosophy of the nature of civilizations and their attendant cultures, a sort of Heraclitian metaphysics (he wrote is doctoral thesis on Heraclitus as it turns out!) The thing is is that this guy was a High School math instructor, and then he retires, and then writes shit like this. And by "like this," I mean not only one of the most important tracts contributing to German national conservative thought in between the two world wars - once could easily cherry pick a self-constructed national socialist ideology if one desired - but a book of pretty incredible learning across millennia and discipline alike. He mainly looks at Classical, Magian (Arabian/Persian/Judeo-Christian), and Faustian (Western/European) civilizations and shows how they start off with a certain vivacity for ideas, architecture, and the arts, an economy focused on the exchange of goods, hierarchical political organization, populations organically tied to traditional trades in the country side, and an overall mystical/religious worldview (anti-rationalist). Each of these three cultures/civilizations has its own "prime symbol," a sort of fundamental stuff out of which all the other symbol elements of the cultural sphere refer back to (oh yeah, he's a crazy-ass German idealist, however much he may speak of " blood" and "facts" trumping reason and ideas; meaning, he believes that all reality is basically a wholly culturally contained array of symbols that are to be understood vis-a-vis the "prime symbol" (the "physiognomic" method as opposed to, you know, your typical abstract system of reason). So blood and facts, which means LIFE and not DEATH. Time/history is made my men, and men ARE time; ARE that microcosm within the macrocosm; are those beings that live "in tension" who, one step removed from the purely organic world can hypostatize their experiences/sensations/BECOMING in THOUGHT/the BECOME. Spengler is all about "becoming" and not the "become." Hence, his strong dislike of rational systems of explanation/causality (scienctism and technology in general). Basically, crazy ass Nietzschean ubermensch stuff except for the fact that with Spengler - lol - there's no way out. Cos the culture is collapsing so all we can do is hang on tight and fight like MEN, not like a bunch of pansies (take this historical kick in the balls and LIKE IT). Anyway, in all serious, the erudition on display is really awesome. You will learn A LOT. The chapters on the Arabian/Judeo-Christian/Persian civilization and its prime symbol of "the cave" are particularly fantastic. Anyway, basically he's saying that Classical man had "form", Magian had "consensus," and Faustian has "infinity" as their respective prime symbols, whereupon he seizes upon all the evidence and erudition he can muster (and he musters) to prove his point. To top it off, the whole thing is not so much prose as it is poetry/prose. I guess he initially was planning on writing the whole thing as a series of aphorisms. Too appropriate.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    I was a Spengler guy before I'd even heard of Spengler and my first read of this last year only confirmed it. * Re-reading this and tried it on the free Kindle edition - filled with odd formatting, typos, errors, and even missing sections. If you pay attention, you can make out what is being explained but be forewarned, it's not pretty; switching back to my trusty paperback. Sloppiness aside, the Kindle edition still is, however, FREE. There is also another Kindle edition for sale, which I assume I was a Spengler guy before I'd even heard of Spengler and my first read of this last year only confirmed it. * Re-reading this and tried it on the free Kindle edition - filled with odd formatting, typos, errors, and even missing sections. If you pay attention, you can make out what is being explained but be forewarned, it's not pretty; switching back to my trusty paperback. Sloppiness aside, the Kindle edition still is, however, FREE. There is also another Kindle edition for sale, which I assume does not contain the monstrous errors.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amy Jackson

    The rare honest conservative intellectual. Spengler explores the factors that make all cultures unique. The decline of the west he speaks of needs not be a negative one, but a simple passage in the narrative of history. It is a shame his work was appropriated by fascists, but it serves as a very useful insight into the state of culture and globalization at the time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Von Rietberg

    Everybody with even the slightest interest in History must read this. It`s one of the most influental book of the last century, and one of the most original History book ever written. You might love it, you might hate it, but you must read it. Everybody with even the slightest interest in History must read this. It`s one of the most influental book of the last century, and one of the most original History book ever written. You might love it, you might hate it, but you must read it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pieter-Jan Beyul

    It’s impossible to review this monumental work in its entirety, as Spengler deals with such a vast array of ideas that one could use it as a reference for a myriad of studies on world history. It's a pity no one followed in his footsteps to do just that. This book has a lot to offer in terms of methodology. Just to demonstrate: Spengler foresaw the end of theory long before postmodernism. He stressed the importance of the narrative and the artist’s suave in studying history, not the analytical an It’s impossible to review this monumental work in its entirety, as Spengler deals with such a vast array of ideas that one could use it as a reference for a myriad of studies on world history. It's a pity no one followed in his footsteps to do just that. This book has a lot to offer in terms of methodology. Just to demonstrate: Spengler foresaw the end of theory long before postmodernism. He stressed the importance of the narrative and the artist’s suave in studying history, not the analytical and dissecting mind of the laboratory positivists tried to transpose to their field ( something most historians only figured out with the linguistic turn ). To Spengler the historian reaches closest to how it "eigentlich gewessen" was by being an artist rather than a scientist. He was no oracle with supernatural qualities. Neither can his predictions be casted aside as a matter of sheer luck. It’s in his thinking itself we must see the power of his premonitions. That is a bitter pill to swallow for the humanities, but as time moves on I’m expecting Spengler to be proven right in more regards. Trained as I was in modern historiography, I largely ignored Spengler’s magnum opus up until recently as well. He was mentioned once, in my time as a sophomore, but never did he get that honour again. I’m sure this is the case in most colleges and universities out there. “Just another cyclical thinker.” Peripheral. Cyclical theories were never really en vogue in modern times, as the mind of this era presupposes a continuous growth/decline, depending on one’s politics. The academia still considers such systems of thought as relapses into archaic thinking, something to be avoided at all costs. Like Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as consecutive phases in world history, so do historians do the same when they observe the oneiric past. To them the movement of history is one which goes to an increasing refinement of different civilizations, or it’s a development from one production mode to the other. But Spengler does more than bring just another “spring-summer-autumn-winter”-chronology of civilizations. He delivers an almost botanical study of Cultures and Civilizations. Dealing with them as if they were plants, which grow like mold as cells congregate. To Spengler high cultural man produces just that, soil bound expressions. Such expressions are different in accordance to each landscape. The Faustian ( or Western ) landscape is dominated by the boundless northern forests and plains, the Magian is lured to take the descent into the domes of desert mountains, the Egyptian lives and dies alongside the single path ( of the Nile ) to divinity, etc. Each landscape, each a weltanschauung that wishes to envelop itself in an Aristotelian sense to completion, like the tree encapsulated in the seed. Most of Spengler's attention is spent on the in-depth study of them. This is no cheap “Blut und Boden”, since it’s the land itself being the true spell caster over the cultures their respective world-views. The spell lasts even when the inheritors of that Culture move elsewhere. Spengler scoffs at those who obsess over eugenics and racialist nonsense. Which brings me to Adorno’s critique of Spengler. Adorno claimed Spengler was wrong for having predicted the end of Western civilization as he was writing long after the book in a post-WW II world where capitalism goes on unceasingly. Adorno saw it as self-evident to state that Spengler’s forecast was incorrect. And that alone convinces me that Adorno didn’t even bother reading the book and just based his review of Spengler’s thesis on hearsay and maybe a cursory read at best. In “Decline of the West” Spengler foresees megalopolises for tens of millions by the year 2000. And to enter a decline in Spengler’s thinking doesn’t mean an imminent collapse. Rome entered its decline when Caesarism dominated the Classical world. More than five centuries passed before the deathblow was struck. The West still needs to enter that phase, but it’s dawning upon us. Also sprach Spengler. "Der Führer hat von meinem Buch den ganzen Titel gelesen," says Spengler about Hitler. It seems a lot more have been guilty of that sort of intellectual laziness.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quest

    Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West is not what it appears to be at all. The book is not merely a tract by a prophet of doom nor a European thinker who compares world civilizations only to condemn them at the expense of an imperial mind. This book has philosophy, politics, aesthetics, and theology all rolled into one. It is a tour de force of mystical instincts and elemental drives which are proposed as making up intellectual and social movement history. Influenced by Nietzsche and Goethe, Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West is not what it appears to be at all. The book is not merely a tract by a prophet of doom nor a European thinker who compares world civilizations only to condemn them at the expense of an imperial mind. This book has philosophy, politics, aesthetics, and theology all rolled into one. It is a tour de force of mystical instincts and elemental drives which are proposed as making up intellectual and social movement history. Influenced by Nietzsche and Goethe, what is proposed is "a grand politics" or "a philosophy of becoming" which is said to be in decline in the face of the welfare state of mind. Spengler's discussion of socialism as at its best not an economic movement but "civilization-ethics" and his criteria for evaluating statesmen and state formation are outstanding, sober, and co-exist uneasily next to an otherwise mystical discourse which nevertheless would be rewarding to those in particular who like studies of comparative religion and art criticism.

  18. 4 out of 5

    michael

    In our current age of science mania, people seem to think that history and the social sciences are completely objective endeavors, and worse, that they are sciences. Spengler serves up a view of history that is deep, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. If I remember correctly - as its been a few years since I read it - he sets out on the premise that a historical study should not be measured on its 'truth' - since 'truth' is culturally biased and not a black-and-white thing - but rather on its d In our current age of science mania, people seem to think that history and the social sciences are completely objective endeavors, and worse, that they are sciences. Spengler serves up a view of history that is deep, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. If I remember correctly - as its been a few years since I read it - he sets out on the premise that a historical study should not be measured on its 'truth' - since 'truth' is culturally biased and not a black-and-white thing - but rather on its depth of insight. It's the same measuring stick upon which to gauge the great psychologists and social theorists. The best parts are in the first half - his surveys of art, science, and especially Ancient Greece. After reading Spengler, just thinking about Ancient Greece will set your mind turning for hours on end. The last half of the book, in contrast, is either genius or complete nonsense - hard to follow.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Spengler is an astute observer of long-term historical trends, but his attempts to squeeze these observations into the framework of his system don't always hold up to close scrutiny. Yet they do more often than I had expected they would. Whatever the case, later historians and political scientists given to grand systematizing—your Braudels, your Quigleys, your Huntingtons, your Barzuns, your Fukuyamas, your Fergusons—owe Spengler a debt of gratitude (whether they agree with his views or not), if Spengler is an astute observer of long-term historical trends, but his attempts to squeeze these observations into the framework of his system don't always hold up to close scrutiny. Yet they do more often than I had expected they would. Whatever the case, later historians and political scientists given to grand systematizing—your Braudels, your Quigleys, your Huntingtons, your Barzuns, your Fukuyamas, your Fergusons—owe Spengler a debt of gratitude (whether they agree with his views or not), if only because he made the educated public more receptive to this kind of bold and ambitious theorizing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    Rapidly becoming one of my favorite books both in prose and in subject matter. Truly a learned mind exploding into powerful allegories on almost every page, limitless in scope and made more poignant by the fact that is was published in the era of the Versailles Treaty, wracked with national demoralization and the smell of revolution (or senseless violence) in the air. And this is only the abridged version! From epistelomology to philosophy to the arts and the final cynical commentary on the stat Rapidly becoming one of my favorite books both in prose and in subject matter. Truly a learned mind exploding into powerful allegories on almost every page, limitless in scope and made more poignant by the fact that is was published in the era of the Versailles Treaty, wracked with national demoralization and the smell of revolution (or senseless violence) in the air. And this is only the abridged version! From epistelomology to philosophy to the arts and the final cynical commentary on the state of post-war world politics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Daly

    Oswald Spengler was one of the world's greatest authors--I can reread'over and over again passages just for the visuals. Not for everyone though, especially not the Englishspeaking mind, which tends to visualize in snapshots rather than motion picture. More than history and philosophy, it is also a glimpse into a different way to think and think about things. A masterpiece, comparable to the Barberini Faun.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nodas

    A masterpiece of 20th century philosophy & sociology. Clearly influenced by the thought of Nietzsche; Spengler provides a timeless classic with affluent historical background of Europe and the Western world, since the Greek and Roman times. 8 decades after its publication, this book is still very relevant to the contemporary world arena. A must. A masterpiece of 20th century philosophy & sociology. Clearly influenced by the thought of Nietzsche; Spengler provides a timeless classic with affluent historical background of Europe and the Western world, since the Greek and Roman times. 8 decades after its publication, this book is still very relevant to the contemporary world arena. A must.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheppard

    WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE GREAT HISTORIANS OF WORLD HISTORY--HERODOTUS, THUCYDIDES, SIMA QIAN, IBN KHALDUN, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOLS, JULIUS CAESAR, PLUTARCH, LIVY, POLYBIUS, TACITUS, GIBBON, MARX, SPENGLER & TOYNBEE----FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." is an apt admonition to us a WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE GREAT HISTORIANS OF WORLD HISTORY--HERODOTUS, THUCYDIDES, SIMA QIAN, IBN KHALDUN, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOLS, JULIUS CAESAR, PLUTARCH, LIVY, POLYBIUS, TACITUS, GIBBON, MARX, SPENGLER & TOYNBEE----FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." is an apt admonition to us all from George Santayana, who, in his "The Life of Reason," echoed the similar earlier words of the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. But the great histories and historians of World History bring us far more than events of nations, chronicles of the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, or lessons and precedents from the past; they also constitute a fundamental part of World Literature, bringing us great reading experiences and exciting sagas as in Thucydides' "History of the Peloponesian War," in-depth portraits and readings of the character of great men and shapers of the world as in Plutarch's "Parallel Lives" and China's "Records of the Grand Historian" by Si Ma Chen, and deep philosophical and scientific insights into the workings of human society its environment as revealed in the panoramic visions of great Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun, Karl Marx, Oswald Spengler and Sir Arnold Toynbee. As such, in our modern globalized world of the 21st century, where not only our own history, but also the interrelated histories of all of nations show so clearly that "the past is always present," and therefore every educated citizen of the modern world has an obligation to read the great works of history from all major civilizations to even begin comprehending the living world about us and the ultimate meaning of our own lives. WHAT WAS THE FIRST WORK OF HISTORY IN THE WORLD? If to begin our survey we put the daunting threshold question of what was the firs work of "history" in human experience, like most radical questions we will find that the answer all depends on how we put the question and define its terms. "History" undoubtedly began with the campfire stories of Neolithic man about families, tribes and conflicts far before the invention of writing. Histories were passed down in oral sagas memorized by poets such as Homer's "Iliad and Odyssey," and only centuries later recorded in script. But true history begins with works of systematic analysis and interpretation of human events, and in that light the general consensus is that the first great work of World History was that of the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th Century BC, "The Histories." HERODOTUS, AUTHOR OF "THE HISTORIES" Herodotus (5th Century BC) is thus often referred to as "The Father of History," a title conferred upon him by Cicero amoung others, but also disparagingly as "The Father of Lies" by some of his critics. He was born in Halicarnassus, a Greek city which had become part of the Persian Empire that enjoyed strong trade relations with Egypt. He travelled widely, spending time in Periclian Athens, Egypt, Persia and Italy and collected histories, tales and historical lore wherever he traveled, noting the customs of the people, the major wars and state events and the religions and lore of the people. He wrote in a "folksy" style and purported to record whatever was told to him, which led to critics deploring some of the "tall tales" or mythical accounts in his work, but which Herodtodus himself said he included without judgment to their ultimate truth to illustrate the historical beliefs of the peoples he encountered. His primary focus was to explain the history and background of the Persian War between the Greeks and the Persian Empire, though he also included cultural observations of other peoples such as the Egyptians. His "Histories" is entertaining and interesting, though somewhat voluminous and scattered for the modern reader unfamiliar with the context. THUCYDIDES, MASTER OF REPORTORIAL AND EYEWITNESS HISTORY Thucydides (460-395 BC) is most remembered for his epic "History of the Peloponnesian War" of Greece which recounts the struggle for supremacy and survival between the enlightened commercial empire of Athens and its reactionary opponent Sparta, which ended in the defeat of the Athenians. His approach and goal in writing was completely different from Herodotus, as he was himself a General in the wars he wrote about and set out to provide "the inside story" of eyewitnesses and personal accounts of the major participants in the great events of their history so that their characters, understanding, strategies and actions could be closely judged, especially for the purpose of educating future statesmen and leaders. This approach was later shared by Polybius in his "The Rise of the Roman Empire." As a more contemporary history it is often more exciting to read, and establishes the tradition followed by Livy and others of including the "key speeches" of the leaders in war council, the "inside story" of their schemes and motivations, and rousing tales of the ups and downs of fast-moving battles. It contains such classics such as Pericles "Funeral Speech" for the ballen war heroes reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. It is a must for those seeking to understand Classical Greece and a rich and exciting read. SIMA QIAN, AND THE "RECORDS OF THE GRAND HISTORIAN" OF HAN DYNASTY CHINA Sima Qian (Szu Ma Chien/145-86 BC) is regarded as the greatest historian of China's long and florid history and his personal tragedy is also held up as an example of intellectual martyrdom and integrity in the face of power. He like his father was the chief astrologer/astronomer and historian of the Han Imperial Court under Emperor Wu. His epic history "Records of the Grand Historian" sought to summarize all of Chinese history up to his time when the Han Dynasty Empire was a rival in size and power to that of Imperial Rome. He lived and wrote about the same time as Polybius, author of "The Rise of the Roman Empire," and like him he wrote from the vantage point of a newly united empire having overcome centuries of waring strife to establish a unified and powerful domain. In style, his history has some of the character of Plutarch in his "Lives" in that it often focuses on intimate character portraits of such great men as Qin Shi Huang Di, the unifier and First Emperor of China, and many others. It also contains rich and varied accounts of topic areas such as music, folk arts, literature, economics, calendars, science and others. He was the chief formulator of the primary Chinese theory of the rise and fall of imperial dynasties known as the "Mandate of Heaven." Like the theory of the Divine Right of Kings, its premise was that Emperors and their dynasties were installed on earth by the divine will of heaven and continued so long as the rulers were morally upright and uncorrupted. However, over centuries most dynasties would suffer corruption and decline, finally resulting in Heaven choosing another more virtuous dynasty to displace them when they had forfeited the "Mandate of Heaven," a kind of "Social Contract" with the divine rather than with mankind. Then, this cycle would repeat itself over the millennia. His personal life was occasioned by tragedy due to his intellectual honesty in the "Li Ling Affair." Two Chinese generals were sent to the north to battle the fierce Xiongnu hordes against whom the Great Wall was constructed, Li Ling and the brother-in-law of the Emperor. They met disaster and their armies were annihilated, ending in the capture of both. Everyone at Court blamed the disaster on Li Ling in order to exonerate the Emperor's relative, but Sima Qian, out of respect for Li Ling's honor disagreed publicly and was predictably sentenced to death by Emperor Wu. A noble like Sima Qian could have his death sentence commuted by payment of a large fine or castration but since he was a poor scholar he could not afford the fine. Thus, in 96 BC, on his release from prison, Sima chose to endure castration and live on as a palace eunuch to fulfill his promise to his father to complete his histories, rather than commit suicide as was expected of a gentleman-scholar. As Sima Qian himself explained in his famous "Letter to Ren An:" “If even the lowest slave and scullion maid can bear to commit suicide, why should not one like myself be able to do what has to be done? But the reason I have not refused to bear these ills and have continued to live, dwelling in vileness and disgrace without taking my leave, is that I grieve that I have things in my heart which I have not been able to express fully, and I am shamed to think that after I am gone my writings will not be known to posterity. Too numerous to record are the men of ancient times who were rich and noble and whose names have yet vanished away. It is only those who were masterful and sure, the truly extraordinary men, who are still remembered. ... I too have ventured not to be modest but have entrusted myself to my useless writings. I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world which were scattered and lost. I have examined the deeds and events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in one hundred and thirty chapters. I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and man, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, completing all as the work of one family. But before I had finished my rough manuscript, I met with this calamity. It is because I regretted that it had not been completed that I submitted to the extreme penalty without rancor. When I have truly completed this work, I shall deposit it in the Famous Mountain. If it may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have?” — Sima Qian JULIUS CAESAR: HISTORY AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND AUTOMYTHOLOGY Julius Caesar was famous for writing accounts of his own military campaigns, most notably in his "History of the Gallic Wars." Curiously, he writes of himself in the third person. Though a personal history, his writing contains little introspection or deep analytical thought and is rather the action-drama of the campaign, with special care to show his own personal courage and leadership. Before the 20th century most European schoolboys would read the work as part of their efforts to learn Latin in Grammar School. Later famous leaders such as Winston Churchill also followed in Caesar's tradition in writing history alonside making it, for which he received the Nobel Prize. Caesar's work is worth reading and exciting in parts, though sometimes becoming repetitive in the minutiae of the endless conflicts. THE GREAT ROMAN HISTORIES: LIVY, POLYBIUS, TACITUS, SEUTONIUS AND AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS The thousand-year history of the Roman Republic and Empire can be gleaned from these five great historians in the order presented. For the earliest history of the founding of the Roman Republic from the 6th-4th Centuries BC Livy (59BC-17 AD) in his "Ab Urbe Condita Libri" (From the Founding of the City) is the best source, tracing the saga from the tale of Aeneas fleeing from fallen Troy to the Rape of the Sabine Women, Romulus & Remus, the tyranical Tarquin Kings, the Founding of the Republic, the evolution of the Roman Constitution and up to the sack of the city by the Gauls in the 4th Century BC. Though ancient history is presumed to be boring, I surprisingly found Livy's account surprisingly lively, almost a "can't put down read." Polybius (200-118 BC) then picks up the story in his "The Rise of the Roman Empire" tracing the three Punic Wars with Carthage, Hannibal's campaign over the Alps and Rome's entanglement with the collapsing Greek Empire of Seleucis, Macedon and the Ptolmeys until attaining supremacy over the entire Mediterranean. Polybius is a surprisingly modern historian who saw as his challenge to write a "universal history" similar to that of our age of Globalization in which previously separate national histories became united in a universal field of action with integrated causes and effects. He was a Greek who was arrested and taken to Rome and then became intimate with the highest circles of the Roman Senate and a mentor to the Scipio family of generals. He like Thucydides then attempts to tell the "inside story" of how Rome rose to universal dominance in its region, and how all the parts of his world became interconnected in their power relations. Tacitus (56-117 AD) continues the story after the fall of the Republic and rise of the Roman Empire under the emperors. Along with his contemporary Seutonius who published his "History of the Twelve Caesars" in 121 AD, he tells of the founding of the Empire under Julius Caesar, the Civil Wars of Augustus involving Mark Anthony & Cleopatra, the Augustan "Golden Age" and the descent into unbelievable corruption, degeneration, homicidal and sexual madness and excess under Caligula and Nero, followed by a return to decency under Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. The endstory of the Roman Empire is reflected in Ammianus Marcellinus (395-391 AD) who wrote in the time of Julian the Apostate who unsuccessfully tried to shake off Christianity and restore the old pagan and rationalist traditions of Classical Greece and Rome. PLUTARCH, THE GREAT HISTORICAL BIOGRAPHER Plutarch (46-120 AD) is most famous for his historical biographies in "Parallel Lives" or simply "Lives." He was, like Polybius, a Greek scholar who wished to open understanding between the Greek and Roman intellectual communities. His "Parallel Lives" consists of character portraits and life histories of matching pairs of great Greeks and great Romans such as Alexander and Caesar, hoping to enhance appreciation of the greatness of each. Much of Shakespeare's knowledge of the classical world reflected in his plays such as "Julius Caesar," "Anthony and Cleopatra" and "Coriolanus" came from reading Plutarch in translation. His character analyses are always insightful and engaging to read. His biographical method was also used by the great near-contemporary Sima Qian of Han Dynasty China. IBN KHALDUN, ISLAMIC PIONEER OF MODERN HISTORY, SOCIOLOGY AND ECONOMICS One of the blind spots in our appreciation of World History is the underappreciation of the contributions of Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) and many other Islamic and non-Western thinkers, including Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (1247–1318), a Persian physician of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian, who wrote an enormous Islamic history, the Jami al-Tawarikh, in the Persian language, and Ala'iddin Ata-Malik Juvayni (1226–1283) a Persian historian who wrote an account of the Mongol Empire entitled Ta' rīkh-i jahān-gushā (History of the World Conqueror). Of these Ibn Khaldun was the greatest and a theoretical forerunner of our modern approaches to history, far ahead of his time and little appreciated in either the Western or the Islamic world until recently. His greatest work is the The "Muqaddimah" (known as the Prolegomena) in which he anticipated some of the themes of Marx in tracing the importance of the influence of economics on history, including the conflict between the economic classes of the nomadic pastoral and herding peoples, the settled agriculturalists and the rising urban commercial class. Like Marx he stressed the importance of the "economic surplus" of the agricultural revolution and the "value-added" of manufacture, which allowed the rise of the urban, military and administrative classes and division of labor. He stressed the unity of the social system across culture, religion, economics and tradition. He even anticipated some of the themes of Darwin and evolution, tracing human progress in its First Stage of Man "from the world of the monkeys" towards civilization. Toynbee called the Muqaddimah the greatest work of genius of a single mind relative to its time and place ever produced in world history. THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOL EMPIRE "The Secret History of the Mongol Empire" was precisely that, a private history written for the family of Ghengis Khan recording its rise and expansion from Ghengis Khan's humble personal origin to an empire stretching from China to Poland and Egypt. Its author is unknown but it contains an engaging account of the Khanate, the royal family and its traditions and the incredible expansion of its domain. While not a theoretical work it provides a useful missing link in our understanding of the Mongol Empire as a beginning stage of modern Globalization and a conduit for sharing between civilizations, East and West, and, unfortunatelyh for the transmission of the Black Plague across the world. THE GREAT MODERNS: GIBBON, MARX, SPENGLER & TOYNBEE The "must read" classics of modern World History include the work of Edward Gibbon "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" which traces its fall to a decline in civic virtue, decayed morals and effeminacy amoung the public and the debilitating effects of Christianity vis-a-vis the rationalism of the Greek-Roman heritage. Marx, of course is central to modern history, not only formulating the laws of social development based on economics, class conflict and the transition from agricultural to capitalist economies, but also formulating the revolutionary program of Communism. Oswald Spengler was a remarkable German amateur historian whose "Decline of the West" traced a theory of "organic civilizations" that have a birth, blossoming, limited lifespan and death like all living creatures. He held this to be a cyclical universal historical process of civilizations now exemplified by the West entering the stage of spiritual exhaustion and collaps in warfare. Arnold Toynbee charted a similar process analyzing 26 civilizaitons across all human history, but differed with Spengler in that he believed moral reform and a return to Christian ethics could revive the West and forestall its decline. SPIRITUS MUNDI AND WORLD HISTORY In my own work, the epic contemporary and futurist novel Spiritus Mundi World History plays a central role as various characters such as Professor Riviera in the Mexico City Chapter and Prof. Verhoven of the Africa chapters discourse on human history, evolution, evolutionary biology and the rise of civilization, culminating with the quest of the protagonists led by Sartorius to establish a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly for global democracy, a globalized version of the EU Parliament as a new organ of the United Nations. World Literature Forum invites you to check out the great historians of World History and World Literature, and also the contemporary epic novel Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard. For a fuller discussion of the concept of World Literature you are invited to look into the extended discussion in the new book Spiritus Mundi, by Robert Sheppard, one of the principal themes of which is the emergence and evolution of World Literature: For Discussions on World Literature and n Literary Criticism in Spiritus Mundi: http://worldliteratureandliterarycrit... Robert Sheppard Editor-in-Chief World Literature Forum Author, Spiritus Mundi Novel Author’s Blog: http://robertalexandersheppard.wordpr... Spiritus Mundi on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17... Spiritus Mundi on Amazon, Book I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CIGJFGO Spiritus Mundi, Book II: The Romance http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CGM8BZG Copyright Robert Sheppard 2013 All Rights Reserved

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    I will eventually get around to reading this book but I am suspicious of it and its fans. So until I get around to it and find a free copy in the library (I won't pay for it) I am just gonna post this three arrows video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b-Qt... I will eventually get around to reading this book but I am suspicious of it and its fans. So until I get around to it and find a free copy in the library (I won't pay for it) I am just gonna post this three arrows video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b-Qt...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zach Vaughn

    Well, it’s official; I have finally finished reading The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler (and it’s only the abridged version). It has taken a long time for me to finish reading this particular book. It is an intriguing review of world history, and an interesting contrast to other philosophies of history, such as that of G.W.F. Hegel. In his work, Spengler identifies three major cultures: Classical (Greek and Romans), Magian (Egyptians, Persians, Jews and Arabs), and Faustian (the West). Sp Well, it’s official; I have finally finished reading The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler (and it’s only the abridged version). It has taken a long time for me to finish reading this particular book. It is an intriguing review of world history, and an interesting contrast to other philosophies of history, such as that of G.W.F. Hegel. In his work, Spengler identifies three major cultures: Classical (Greek and Romans), Magian (Egyptians, Persians, Jews and Arabs), and Faustian (the West). Spengler identifies how each Culture views the world, the symbols of each culture, and how this affects the art, philosophy, religion and science within each Culture. He argues that each Culture is unique, and when it dies, it’s art, science, etc. die with it. For example, Spengler does not see the Renaissance as a rebirth of the Classical period, because that Culture had died: ‘The Renaissance never even touched the real Classical, let alone understood it or “revived” it’ (p. 124). Spengler’s main line of attack is against the idea of that history has a universal destiny towards which all mankind is inexorably moving. Instead, there are different cultures which arise, grow, fade and die (not limited to the 3 cultures listed above). As he writes in his introduction, “Each has it’s own new possibilities of self-expression, which arise, ripen, decay and never return” (p. 17). However, there is a pattern which Spengler identifies in the rise and fall of cultures. The last stage of this pattern is “Civilization,” which ends in Caesarism. Caesarism is defined as an age of Imperialism, and the model is obviously the Roman Empire. Spengler notes that by the time Caesar took power many people, especially the most capable, had long since stopped participating in politics and elections. In this final period of a culture, what Spengler calls “high politics” comes to an end, and it is all private feuds, ambitions, etc. I can’t say I understood everything Spengler was writing about (e.g., my understanding of science is limited), nor can I say I agreed with everything he wrote, but it was definitely worth the read. It puts many things in perspective, and gives one a lot to chew on when considering the movement of history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angelmae

    Currently at Volume II...can anyone give me any insight into the first Chapter of Volume II - "The Cosmic and the Microcosm"? No wonder it's considered the most influential book of the 20th Century and no wonder it's not so well known. Read the abridged version (sorry Oswald) as the full two volume original will kill you. If you have a love of history and what it means, it will profoundly affect you. I cannot even begin to consider reviewing this amazing work (a) because I am in fact still readin Currently at Volume II...can anyone give me any insight into the first Chapter of Volume II - "The Cosmic and the Microcosm"? No wonder it's considered the most influential book of the 20th Century and no wonder it's not so well known. Read the abridged version (sorry Oswald) as the full two volume original will kill you. If you have a love of history and what it means, it will profoundly affect you. I cannot even begin to consider reviewing this amazing work (a) because I am in fact still reading it (the abridged version, albeit with the two volume english translation pdf net version online to reference) and (b) because it is the work of a mind so obviously superior to anything I can even imagine. How Spengler was never taught in my politics classes at Uni I will never know....but then come to think of it....it probably would have blown my mind back then. If I have one more goal in life, it is to read the full original version.....then maybe I'll check into the nursing home.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Public_enemy

    A grandiose masterpiece. The last poetic monument of german philosophy (Heidegger who?). The fact academics are marginalizing him proves he can be pretty right; it's only about how unpleasant for them and their blind sleepy holy scientific views is what he's writing. ...This book is in need to be read very actively several times in order to access an abundance of implications this masterpiece can offer. Spengler is always topical, maybe today more then ever. His shadow is upon us.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gerard

    This massive treatise is quite tendentious, as many critics point out. But the magnificence of the undertaking as well as the encyclopedic knowledge of history contained herein, make this 2-part opus a monumental achievement.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michaeldelicio

    Spengler's organic theory of history. One of the most important books I've ever read. Theory in a nutshell: cultures, like any organism, have births, lives, and deaths. Spengler argues that Western civilization has entered the death throes.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Frederich

    This is an abridged version, but read it several years ago, and it did a fair job in presenting this intellectual Giant, to the massess of the twenty-first century. It definitely is a good read.

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