segunda-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2013

Oswald Spengler's Faustian Deal: The Last Act of the Western Civilization

The Second Comming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

W.B. Yeats

Oswald Spengler Watches the Sunset
By Stephen Edgar

The air is drenched with day, but one by one
The flowers close on cue,
Obedient to the declining sun.
Forest and grasses, bush and leaf and stem,
They cannot move (and nor, you dream, can you);
It is the wind that plays with them.
Only the little midges dancing still
Against the evening move at will.

This tiny swarm still dancing on and on
Like something in a net
Expanding and contracting, that late swan
Towing its wake, a solitary crow
Crossing the twilight in its silhouette,
The fox proceeding sly and slow:
They are small worlds of purpose which infuse
The world around with will to choose.

An animalcule in a drop of dew—
And so diminutive
That if the human eye should look clear through
That globe there would be nothing there to see—
Although it only has a blink to live,
Yet in the face of this is free;
The oak, in whose vast foliage this dot
Hangs from a single leaf, is not.

NOTES: Drawn from the opening pararaphs of the first chapter of VOLUME II of The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, translated by Charles Francis Atkinson.


Vikings of the intellect. Experiment, working hypothesis, perpetual motion. Meaning of the machine, the inorganic forces of Nature compelled to work. Industry, wealth, and power. Coal and population. Mechanization of the world. Symptoms of the decline, diminution of leader-natures. Mutiny of the hands. The lost monopoly of technics. The coloured world. The End.

THE culture of the armed hand had a long wind and got a grip on the whole genus man. The Cultures of speech and enterprise — we are at once in the plural, and several can be distinguished — in which personality and mass begin to be in spiritual opposition, in which the spirit becomes avid of power and lays violent hands on life, these Cultures embraced even at their full only a part of mankind, and they are today, after a few millennia, all extinguished and replaced. What we call “nature-peoples” and “primitives” are merely the remains of their living material, the ruins of forms that once were permeated with soul, cinders out of which the glow of becoming and departing has gone.

On this soil, from 3000 B.C. onwards, there now grew up, here and there, the high Cultures,[1] Cultures in the narrowest and grandest sense, each filling but a very small portion of the earth’s space and each enduring for hardly a thousand years. The tempo is that of the final catastrophes. Every decade has significance, every year, almost, its special “look.” It is world-history in the most genuine and most exacting sense. This group of passionate life-courses invented for its symbol and its “world” the city, in contrast to the village of the previous stage — the stone city in which is housed a quite artificial living, that has become divorced from mother earth and is completely anti-natural — the city of rootless thought, that draws the streams of life from the land and uses them up into itself.[2]

There arises “society”[3] with its hierarchy of classes, noble, priest, and burgher, as an artificial gradation of life against the background of “mere” peasantry — for the natural divisions are those of strong and weak, clever and stupid — and as the seat of a cultural evolution that is wholly intellectualized. There “luxury” and “wealth” reign. These are concepts which those who do not share them enviously misunderstand. For what is luxury but Culture in its most exacting form? Consider the Athens of Pericles, the Baghdad of Haroun-al-Raschid, the Rococo. This urban Culture is luxury through and through, in all grades and callings, artificial from top to bottom, an affair of arts, whether arts of diplomacy or living, of adornment or writing or thought. Without an economic wealth that is concentrated in a few hands, there can be no “wealth” of art, of thought, of elegance, not to speak of the luxury of possessing a world-outlook, of thinking theoretically instead of practically. Economic impoverishment at once brings spiritual and artistic impoverishment in its train.

And, in this sense, the technical processes that mature in these Cultures are also spiritual luxuries, late, sweet, and fragile fruits of an increasing artificiality and intellectuality. They begin with the building of the tomb pyramids of Egypt and the Sumerian temple-towers of Babylonia, which come into being in the third millennium B.C., deep in the South, but signify no more than the victory over big masses. Then come the enterprises of Chinese, Indian, Classical, Arabian, and Mexican Cultures. And now, in the second millennium of our era, in the full North, there is our own Faustian Culture, which represents the victory of pure technical thought over big problems.

For these Cultures grow up, though independently of one another, yet in a series of which the sense is from South to North. The Faustian, west-European Culture is probably not the last, but certainly it is the most powerful, the most passionate, and — owing to the inward conflict between its comprehensive intellectuality and its profound spiritual disharmony — the most tragic of them all. It is possible that some belated straggler may follow it — for instance, a Culture may arise somewhere in the plains between the Vistula and the Amur —during the next millennium. But it is here, in our own, that the struggle between Nature and the Man whose historic destiny has made him pit himself against her is to all intents and purposes ended.

The Northern countryside, by the severity of the conditions of life in it — the cold, the continuous privation — has forged hard races, with intellects sharpened to the keenest, and the cold fires of an unrestrained passion for fighting, risking, thrusting forward — that which elsewhere[4] I have called the passion of the Third Dimension. There are, once more, beasts of prey whose inner forces struggle fruitlessly to break the superiority of thought, of organized artificial living, over the blood, to turn these into their servants, to elevate the destiny of the free personality to being the very meaning of the world. A will-to-power which laughs at all bounds of time and space, which indeed regards the boundless and endless as its specific target, subjects whole continents to itself, eventually embraces the world in the network of its forms of communication and intercourse, and transforms it by the force of its practical energy and the gigantic power of its technical processes.

At the beginning of every high Culture the two primary orders, nobility and priesthood — the beginnings of “society” — take shape clear of the peasant-life of the open land.[5] They are the embodiment of ideas, and, moreover, mutually exclusive ideas. The noble, warrior, adventurer lives in the world of facts, the priest, scholar, philosopher in his world of truths. The one is (or suffers) a destiny, the other thinks in causality. The one would make intellect the servant of a strong living, the other would subject his living to the service of the intellect. And nowhere has this opposition taken more irreconcilable forms than in the Faustian Culture, in which the proud blood of the beast of prey revolts for the last time against the tyranny of pure thought. From the conflict between the ideas of Empire and Papacy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to the conflict between the forces of a thoroughbred tradition — kingship, nobility, army — and the theories of a plebeian rationalism, liberalism, and socialism    from the French to the German revolution — history is one sequence of efforts to get the decision.

[1] Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. I, pp. 103 et seq.

[2] Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. II, ch. iv, “The Soul of the City.”

[3] Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. II, pp. 327 et seq., 343 et seq.

[4] Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. I, pp. 165 et seq., pp. 308 et seq.

[5] Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. II, pp. 334 et seq.

In: Man & Technics - A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life. Translated from the German by Charles Francis Atkinson. 2001. pp. 38-40.

John David Ebert on Oswald Spengler's Man and Technics 1/3

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