THE MAN of the MONTH
OSWALD SPENGLER’S Decline of the West was an important contribution to the philosophy of history. It was a remarkable achievement to produce a ponderous two-volume work which it was a strenuous mental discipline to read, which was long a best seller in Germany, and was translated into every important language. Now a little book by the same author follows, from out of Hitler’s Germany. Does it contain an equally interesting and arresting message?
For many the answer will be ’No.’ It lacks the stimulating originality of the first pronouncement. Nevertheless it is not a book to be summarily dismissed.
To follow its argument a leader must know the thesis of the Decline of the West. There Spengler tried to show that distinct civilizations have succeeded each other in human history. Each had a birth, youth, maturity, decline, and death, like a physical organism, or perhaps like a geologic age. The successive stages of its life history expressed themselves in political organizations, social institutions, literature, art, religion, and all other forms of thought and action. Our modern or ‘ Faustian ’ civilization began in the Middle Ages and is now drawing to a close.
A period like the present, when a civilization ceases to grow but stands like a heart decayed tree awaiting its fall, exhibits definite symptoms. These include the herding of the people in great cities like Alexandria and Rome or modern metropolises, the growth of a rabble citizenry fed from the public bin, — bread and circuses in ancient Rome, or the doles, bonuses, and what Spengler calls the ‘political or uneconomic wages of the present day, — a loosening of family ties accompanied by falling birth rates, the appearance of mystic cults in place of lost religious faiths, and the vogue of decadent forms of literature, art, and music, like sex novels, cubism, and jazz. These betoken the withering of creative power not only in human propagation but in mental processes, which become imitative and repetitional, as manifested in journalistic instead of inspirational literature, mechanized instead of craft skill, and propaganda mass suggestion instead of independent thought. Spengler calls people in this decaying phase of civilization ‘fellahin.’ Like these they lack vigor to govern themselves, and wearily surrender their destinies into the hands of dictators and Cæsurs.
All this is assumed in The Hour of Decision. Spengler believes that the white race has completed a revolution which began with Rousseau’s equalitarian theories in the eighteenth century and has ended with the present elevation of the less fit to political supremacy. Bolshevism, now ascendant everywhere, ‘is capitalism from below. . . . Both grew out of the same intellectual root, thinking in money, trading in money . . . whether as wage levels or profits.’ The Germans, ‘a nation of poets and thinkers,’ are ‘in process of becoming a nation of babblers and persecutors.’ The other white nations, including ourselves, are equally demoralized. Does the Yankee ‘stand for an indestructible kind of life, or is be only a fashion in physical, mental, and moral clothing?’ Pacifism, which is the timidity of tired old age translated into political theory, appeals to our slothful and subservient fellahin mentality. It is thought the climax of achievement for the League, ‘that swarm of parasitic holiday makers on the Lake of Geneva,’ to formulate a resolution. Meanwhile just beyond the threshold of white civilization lurk the hostile hosts of color. Russia, nominally Bolshevist but under ’a Tartar-like absolutism,’ stands ready to lead them against their hated and no longer feared oppressors, The age of world wars which we have entered and which is to determine the survival of white civilization will outlast the twentieth century. But the creators and wardens of that, civilization are deserting their trust. Their numbers are declining relatively to those of their enemies, and they are weakened by class treason and dissension in their own camp. Will a great leader arise to save Byzantium from the hordes of Asia? ‘Destiny once compacted in meaningful forms and great traditions will now proceed to make history in terms of formless individual powers. Cæsar’s legions are returning to consciousness. . . . He whose sword compels victory here will he lord of the world.
VICTOR S. CLARK