Is the West in decline? Is it in decline relative to the Arab world’s exploding birthrate? Is it in decline relative to the rise of Asia, after having downloaded the West’s “killer apps“? Are we in inexorable decline having passed the point of empire and will we increasingly feel the temptation to tyranny?
Merry takes a look at Oswald Spengler:
‘So it is with America and Europe. Hence, an analysis of American decline must lead to questions about Western decline. And an analysis of Western decline must lead to Oswald Spengler, the German intellectual who in 1918 produced the first volume of his bombshell work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), followed by the second volume in 1922. Spengler’s thesis forced his readers to look at history through an entirely new prism. They did, and he enjoyed a surge of influence. But the man and his work are in eclipse today, and there’s little evidence that scholars pondering American decline have consulted the dark musings of this German romantic or his overarching theory of history’
Perhaps we can view Spengler partially as a product of his age, influenced by the Great war and a strong romanticism that rejected a more thorough rationalist framework of “linear” science guiding historical analysis while making his own more polemical framework (the trap of Continental Europe we can avoid). He seems to have made grand and sweeping pronouncements within the scope of his own thinking while deploying history, the arts, symbolism, anthropology, culture and German nationalism and idealism. He was in a Germany increasingly feeling the pinch.
Yet he’s had a lot of influence, and some prescience:
‘As John Farrenkopf points out in his Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics, Spengler’s Decline beguiled numerous prominent men of ideas and action in post–World War II America. They included George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Paul Nitze, Louis Halle, Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Niebuhr. Kennan read Spengler in the original language during a stay in Germany in his youth. Kissinger’s undergraduate thesis at Harvard focused on Spengler, along with Toynbee and Kant, and he once confessed to a “perverse fascination” with the German’s thinking, although Kissinger ultimately rejected the idea of inevitable decline.’
Lots of food for thought, including mention of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama:
‘ And isn’t the great foreign-policy debate of our time—whether America should continue its post–Cold War policy of interventionism in the name of American exceptionalism and Western universalism; or whether it should abandon that mission in favor of a more measured exercise of its military and economic power—fundamentally a debate over whether Spengler had it right?’
Well worth a read.
***As an aside, and a possibly feckless exercise of the type you can find on this blog:
Just to contrast the Anglo and German approaches towards nihilism and the arts, the idea of tragic decline, and the movement of the individual artist isolated from society in the West, one could possibly contrast Werner Herzog’s deep, gloomy, serious German approach (and excellent filmaking):
….with what I would call more the Anglo tradition on this blog: a similar nihilism and existential lament of the individual up against the void and the meaninglessness of life…but expressed through a more lively punk and rock music scence, the American talent for advertising, T.V. and movies and all of this occurring inside a framework of the Anglo genius for law and governance, the focus on capitalism and commercialism, religion and sports etc.
Here’s Walter Russel Mead discussing his ideas on the successes of America and Britain, which I submit highlights the Anglo/German divide a bit:
Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
***I should add that Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.
Samuel Huntington’s page at Harvard here.
Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?: The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘ (previews)available.
From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work…From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington…From Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’…Is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’
Was Leo Strauss on the other side of the Anglo-German divide, perhaps missing some important liberal traditions that Germans (like many Arabs) simply mistake for decadence in the Anglosphere? How did the Strauss of his youth, at one point steeped in Nietzsche and Nietzsche via Heidegger, find a way to escape the paroxysms of the German State, the narrowing vision of that state under German idealism, and the possibility of a non-fascistic German conservatism which could accommodate a German Jew? Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx…From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’…
Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft…Kant often leads to a liberal political philosophy: Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy
Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Enlightenment project?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant…Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”
Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science: Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube