I confess I am a bit mystified by the high reviews some give this book. It’s not just the disturbing racial undertones of what Spengler says, but the lack of coherent, consistent, and original thinking that made this book a bit of a chore for me.
One highlight, however, is that here is a Spengler book I can actually understand (for the most part).
The book blurb talks of how this book influenced Nazism and Hitler in particular. Unfortunately, there is good reason for this link. Spengler talks a lot about race, racial vigor, blood, and so on in ways that are most definitely unnerving, considering that he wrote in 1933. So, some of it is distasteful, some of it is frightening, and some of his talk about race is downright absurd. But Spengler is too smart for us to dismiss this book outright.
This link between Spengler and the Nazis may not be fully justified. At one point Spengler writes, “Those who talk too much about race no longer have it in them. what is needed is not a pure race, but a strong one, which has a nation within it.” I think that Spengler would probably accuse the Nazis of “protesting too much” about race in general. He would have thought that their racial obsessions marked deep insecurities. At least I hope so.
If we unpack this quote I think one can get to his main point. Spengler likes things to be definite. He likes specific cultural achievements and style (i.e. the Gothic). He likes particular people to make their mark on history (i.e. Bismarck). He likes rights particularly defined, at one point praising Burke for talking about his ‘rights as an Englishman,’ as opposed to vague, uncontexualized, “human rights.” He critiqued the Weimar Republic , for example, for eroding all the best that “Prussianism” had to offer Germany. Here at least I don’t think I can agree. I admit it’s easy to dislike the Weimar Republic but much easier and better to hate the word “Prussianism.”
This is why he did not like democracy. He brings out the old saw that it essentially is mob rule and will create a blase and meaningless culture.
Is there anything here worth considering?
- He has a decent analysis of W.W. I as the wrong war to fight at that time. The real enemy was Russia, and any war fought by Germany with such opposites as Russia and France was bound not to be decisive.
- He makes thought-provoking comparisons between Russia and the U.S. Both, he argues, have despotism in their future. And his links between democracy and despotism are worth considering. The size and scope of the country (note again his preference for measurable, definite things) will naturally pull us in that direction. Of course Jefferson disagreed and thought the size of the country would prevent it from being centralized. We shall see, and I certainly hope that Spengler is wrong on this one.