Oswald Spengler


Oswald Spengler : biography

May 29, 1880 – May 8, 1936

In his private papers, Spengler denounced Nazi anti-Semitism in even stronger terms, writing "and how much envy of the capability of other people in view of one’s lack of it lies hidden in anti-Semitism!" and that "when one would rather destroy business and scholarship than see Jews in them, one is an ideologue, i.e., a danger for the nation. Idiotic."

Publication of The Decline of the West (1918)

When Decline came out in the summer of 1918The original Preface is dated December, 1917 and ends with Spengler expressing hope that "his book would not be unworthy of the German military achievements".) it became a wild success. The perceived national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and later the economic depression around 1923 fueled by hyperinflation seemed to prove Spengler right. It comforted Germans because it seemingly rationalized their downfall as part of larger world-historical processes. The book met with wide success outside of Germany as well, and by 1919 had been translated into several other languages. Spengler rejected a subsequent offer to become Professor of Philosophy at the University of Göttingen, saying he needed time to focus on writing.

The book was widely discussed, even by those who had not read it. Historians took umbrage at an amateur effort by an untrained author and his unapologetically non-scientific approach. Thomas Mann compared reading Spengler’s book to reading Schopenhauer for the first time. Academics gave it a mixed reception. Max Weber described Spengler as a "very ingenious and learned dilettante", while Karl Popper described the thesis as "pointless".

The great historian of antiquity Eduard Meyer thought highly of Spengler, although he also had some criticisms of him. Spengler’s obscurity, intuitionalism, and mysticism were easy targets, especially for the Positivists and neo-Kantians who saw no meaning in history. The critic and æsthete Count Harry Kessler thought him unoriginal and rather inane, especially in regard to his opinion on Nietzsche. Ludwig Wittgenstein, however, shared Spengler’s cultural pessimism. Spengler’s work became an important foundation for the social cycle theory.


His book was a success among intellectuals worldwide as it predicted the disintegration of European and American civilization after a violent "age of Caesarism", arguing by detailed analogies with other civilizations. It deepened the post-World War I pessimism in Europe.Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (1927) German Kantian philosopher Ernst Cassirer explained that at the end of the First World War, Spengler’s very title was enough to inflame imaginations: "At this time many, if not most of us, had realized that something was rotten in the state of our highly prized Western civilization. Spengler’s book expressed in a sharp and trenchant way this general uneasiness."Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (1946) Northrop Frye argued that while every element of Spengler’s thesis has been refuted a dozen times, it is "one of the world’s great Romantic poems" and its leading ideas are "as much part of our mental outlook today as the electron or the dinosaur, and in that sense we are all Spenglerians."

Spengler’s pessimistic predictions about the inevitable decline of the West inspired Third World intellectuals, ranging from China and Korea to Chile, eager to identify the fall of western imperialism.Prasenjit Duara, "The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism." Journal of World History 2001 12(1): 99-130Neil McInnes, "The Great Doomsayer: Oswald Spengler Reconsidered." National Interest 1997 (48): 65-76. In Britain and America, however, Spengler’s pessimism was later countered by the optimism of Arnold J. Toynbee in London,Joll, James (1985). "Two Prophets of the Twentieth Century: Spengler and Toynbee," Review of International Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2. who wrote world history in the 1940s with a greater stress on religion.Levi, Albert William (1959). "History and Destiny: Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee." In Philosophy and the Modern World, Part II, Chap. IV, Indiana University Press.