Oswald Spengler and the Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler
(1880 – 1936)
Image: Bundesarchiv

On May 29, 1880, German historian and philosopher Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler was born. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history. He proposed a new theory, according to which the lifespan of civilizations is limited and ultimately they decay.

Already in Oswald Spengler was highly interested in historical events and he used his vivid phantasy to design fictional states into smallest details. After high school he decided to enroll at the universities of Halle, Munich, and Berlin studying philosophy, mathematics, and nature science. During his years in school and university, Oswald Spengler’s most significant influences were Ernst Haeckel, Hans Vaihinger, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Spengler originally planned on becoming a teacher, but after inheriting a large amount of money from his mother, he began his career as a writer.

First, Oswald Spengler authored several articles in magazine’s and newspaper’s culture sections and started working on ‘The Decline of the West’ in 1911. His masterpiece was published in 1918 as well as 1922 and Spengler face a wide ranged criticism. In certain social areas, he was praised as a political, literary, and cultural genius, and in others he was deeply despised.

In his work, Spengler emphasizes how the Western world is about to end while its civilization witnesses the last season he titles as winter time. In his views, a western civilized person has a tragic role in history as he will never be able to reach his final goals. Oswald Spengler describes in his book that nearly all cultures somewhat undergo a similar patterns and the western world was about to reach its end. These theories were highly controversial and further explanations emphasized the author’s anti-democratical and anti-liberal view. He developed new thoughts on races, but his further explanations reject Hitler’s philosophy.

After his major work, Oswald Spengler distributed his philosophies and theories on the future of western civilizations in smaller works. He often mentioned his anti-democratic views and wished for a dictator, able to master the country’s inner and foreign policies, but at the same time he openly refused to accept Hitler as a leader and was known to be an emphatic opponent of the National Socialism.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a six part video lecture by John David Ebert on Oswald Spengler and his significant theories.

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