Friday, 17 October 2014

A few notes on Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West

I have been reading in Spengler's big book over the past few days ('reading in' means I have only sampled it - by no means read it all).

I have had a shot at Decline of the West before, about ten years ago I think; but then I was reading it on recommendation whereas this time I was reading it because I wanted to - consequently this time was much more rewarding.

Indeed, to my great surprise, I found the introduction and early chapters to be absolutely superb metaphysics (i.e. 'first philosophy', about the primary nature of reality and our concepts of it - not history) - it was about the nature of knowing and the deficiencies of thinking in terms of causality. To me, it seems more profound than the monism/ pluralism distinction I have been using recently (derived from William James, and lying behind Wittgenstein's late work).

I have read other works in this line of 'lebensphilosophie', such as Dilthey, which was popular and dominant in German academia and literary culture of the late 19th and early 20th century, but nothing I have come across before was anything like so good as Spengler.

On the basis of these early chapters of DotW, I would regard Spengler as being in the first rank as a modern writer on metaphysics. Of course, I will need to go back over this again soon - because it was too much to take in at one go.

As for the rest of the book, the bulk of it and the best known part, it contains all sorts of insights - but I often got bogged down.

The lesson I take away is as follows: 100 years ago Spengler wrote that the culture of the West was dead, and this was generally accepted by many of the deepest and most thoughtful thinkers of Central Europe (Wittgenstein for instance) - not because Spengler said it, but because they already knew it.

That is our present situation and has been for five generations - nowadays, we are not awaiting nor even experiencing the death of the West, we are living at least a century after it has happened! - We are currently living in the decaying of the already-dead West.

That seems to make sense of the things that Spengler did not predict, did not imagine - the literal insanity of political correctness, the aggressive official enforcement of ridiculous lies and inversions of reality, virtue, truth and beauty.

One aspect Spengler remarked-on which is illustrative and probably a deep poetic truth: that (in contrasting men and women) women embody destiny; women are history - bound-up in the process, so that it is wrong to talk of causality. So we need to look at what women are, generically - rather than what men say - in evaluating Western culture.

And that is the measure of our situation.


1 comment:

Adam G. said...

You may want to hunt down John Reilly's Perfection of the West.