Prophet of Decay: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Oswald Spengler

Prophet of Decay: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Oswald Spengler was a limited print pamphlet published by Parallel-Aesthetics in October 2019. An abridged version of this text was delivered as a lecture a few days after publication.
Here the text appears online for the first time.

During his lifetime, Oswald Spengler was one of the most widely read Philosophers in the Western world. In spite of their complexity and scope, his books were widely-discussed best sellers before drifting into obscurity in the latter half of the twentieth century.

This piece is intended to serve as an introduction to the life and work of Oswald Spengler and present his ideas in their historical context. A particular emphasis will be placed on The Decline of the West, Spengler’s magnum opus.

Oswald Spengler was born in the small German town of Balkenburg on May 29th 1880. He had three younger sisters and his father was a humourless, duty bound postmaster. You can imagine the crowded, oppressive nature of the small apartment which they all shared together.

Young Spengler would often take refuge in the local libraries. A voracious reader, he would indulge not only in the literature of Antiquity but also in such topics as mathematics, chemistry, biology and history. After graduating from the local gymnasium (Prussian high school), Spengler went on to study mathematics and natural sciences at the universities of Berlin, Munich and Halle. Inspired by Goethe, he would occasionally take breaks from his studies to visit Italy.

Upon finishing his thesis on Heraclitus he undertook exams to become a teacher. Spengler had a successful career as a teacher, holding positions at several schools across Germany at different points of his career. His final teaching post was at a new, understaffed school where he was required to teach many different subjects.
He was deeply respected, popular among students and staff alike. In 1910, they assured him he would be missed as he took a year of paid leave. Spengler never returned.

During the year that followed Spengler lived a modest life supported by both his pay and inheritance from his mother. He would on occasion earn a little extra money writing articles for magazines. He became deeply moved by the Agadir Crisis of 1911 and commenced that which would become his master work: The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes).

Originally, Spengler intended to write only of Germany. However he soon broadened his scope and would eventually produce a long and complex two volume work on the subject of civilisation itself. In it, Spengler sets out to find something that we may call a metaphysical structure of human history, something that is that is essentially independent of the outward forms: social, spiritual, and political.
Spengler was critical of the Western view of History. He rejected both the concept of liner history originating from Abrahamic eschatology, and the division of history into epochs such as Ancient/Classical, Medieval and Modern. It could be said that Spengler viewed this interpretation as being too Eurocentric, problematic when applied to other cultures and of insufficient utility to address humanity as a whole. Additionally, Spengler saw the Classical epoch as its own civilisation, with its own history and culture, almost wholly alien to the modern world which could not be seen as a direct continuation of it (contrary to popular assumption). In Spengler’s analysis, the linear view history is rejected in favour of a morphology.

Decline of The West does not go into much detail regarding the early development of cultures. These early stages consist of incoherent structures of clans, tribes and individuals which go on to build settlements and towns that grow into cities. They develop cultures which develop in isolation, inward- looking, as the people seek to discover themselves and establish an identity. The culture becomes more and more sophisticated to the point where this internal, inward-looking growth stops, and the culture grows stagnant and becomes a civilisation. This is stage is the high watermark – the peak – and having reached this peak a civilisation begins to decline.

Cities grow larger, into mega-cities. The inhabitants develop a great disdain toward the “backward”, more traditional rural folk. A great shift from religion to rationalisation takes place, a phenomenon which can sometimes be marked by the presence of an individual thinker (Socrates, Buddha, Rousseau). Unable to continue its internal development, the civilisation begins to expand outwardly. A civilisation can continue to exist thousands of years after its creativity has been totally spent, thanks to this reflexive expansionist instinct.

Spengler avowed that this process had occurred at least 8 times throughout human history. The 8 civilisations which he identified were:

Babylonian
Egyptian
Chinese
Indian
Classical (Greek / Roman) Arabian (Magian)
Western (Faustian)
Mexican (Aztec / Mayan) [01]

The majority of the book focuses on the Classical, Arabian and Western; while the others are mentioned rather passively and without much detail.

Cultures develop their own perspectives and world-feelings, each culture has its own unique spirit. Spengler spent much of the book describing not only the spirits themselves, but their manifestation in culture. One of the early chapters of Decline is a rather lengthy description of the differences between the classical view of mathematics and the Western faustian view of mathematics, similar chapters latter appear regarding the topics of psychics and time. In his description of Faustian Civilisation he writes several pages on how the spirit can be seen in the colours and brush strokes of renaissance paintings. Such varied subject matter combined with a sententious, bombastic and typically Germanic writing style can make the book rather obtuse to the contemporary reader.

Spengler tells us that the Egyptian soul “saw itself as moving down a narrow and inexorably prescribed life- path to come at the end before the judges of the dead.” [02] The pyramids and other examples of great Egyptian architecture are not simply buildings but a path enclosed by mighty masonry. [03] The feeling of defined direction is suggested in the way that tomb paintings appear in rows. “But where as the Egyptian treads to the end a way that is prescribed for him with an inexorable necessity, the Chinese wanders through his world.” [04] The Chinese spirit connected to God and the ancestral tomb not through masonry, but through benevolent nature. Rocks, plants, and gently flowing streams. Spengler sees Chinese culture as the only one in which the art of gardening has grand, religious significance. The image of a stroll through the garden can be seen as a representation of how the Chinese spirit envisions life as pilgrimage.

Borrowing a term from Nietzsche, Spengler identifies the Classical Spirit as the Apollonian – for whom the essence of existence expressed itself in visceral, physical form. The activities and speculations of Apollonian man were based in the here and now, he abhorred the idea of size and distance. Geometry alone, of all mathematical disciplines, appealed to the Apollonian man.“The free-standing nude statue, with its harmonious contours and untroubled gaze, symbolised in visible form the classical attitude of personal detachment and serene acceptance of an inscrutable destiny.” [05]

“In opposition to [The Apollonian] we have the Faustian soul, whose prime symbol is pure and limitless space, and whose “body” is the western culture that blossomed forth with the birth of the Romanesque style in the tenth century on the Northern plain between the Elbe and the Tagus.” [06]

In his later work Man & Technics Spengler sees early manifestations of the Faustian Spirit in the explorations of the Vikings, “thrusting insatiably out from the Far North into the infinite.” [07] The spirit of the Western man is eternally restless and always longing for the unattainable, thus Spengler sees it characterised in Goethe’s Faust.

The Faustian fascination with limitless space found its first aesthetic expression in the skyward-reaching spires of the European Gothic cathedrals, finding a new outlet in the perspective and colours of Renaissance and seventeenth century painting, before finally finding its home in Music; a medium uniquely able to sufficiently express an abstract sense of spiritual infinity.

The springtime of the Faustian culture occurred during the Gothic era. The period that followed was the Renaissance. Spengler disagrees with the idea that the Renaissance brought about a revival of classical culture as many would like to see it. The Apollonian was not be resurrected. The era remained Faustian. In addition to this, the renaissance interpretation of Classical culture was neither new or original. This interpretation did not only exist during the previous era, but was in fact the dominant interpretation during the late Gothic era! Martin Luther’s reformation, however, brought about a huge cultural shift. The Priests no longer served as an intermediary link with God, whom Western man now faced alone. The enormity of this change was difficult for many to process. For Luther the intellect was the handmaid of theology. However science, post- Luther, was not the servant of God but the servant of the Will to Power.

This occurs in every culture. There is an upsurge of religious faith, which then faces a great deal of intellectual criticism and rationalisation. Science replaced religion, religious moral concepts became secularised This leads toward the final stage, the stage of decline – civilisation.

Not all Cultures follow the morphological structure.

“In a rock-stratum are embedded crystals of a mineral. Clefts and cracks occur, water filters in and the crystals are gradually washed out, so that in due course only their hollow mold remains. Then come volcanic outbursts which explode the mountain; molten masses pour in, stiffen and crystallise out in their turn. But these are not free to do so in their own special forms. They must fill up the spaces available. Thus there arise distorted forms, crystals whose inner structure contradicts their external shape, stones of one kind presenting the appearances of stones of another kind. The mineralogists call this phenomenon Psudomorphosis…[07]

By the term “historical pseudomorphosis” [Spengler proposes] to designate those cases in which an older alien culture lies so massively over the land that a young Culture cannot get its breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific expression-form, but even to develop fully its own self consciousness. All that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in the old moulds, young feelings stiffen in senile practices, and instead of expanding its own creative power, it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be monstrous.” [08]

Spengler sees pseudomorphic development occurring in the development of both Arabian and Russian culture.
“In the decades before the birth of Christ, between the Nile and Tigris, the black sea and South Arabia, the Magian spirit awoke to life.” [09]

Roman political power and Hellenistic culture dominated the lives of men, forcing any new way of feeling to express its self in preexisting forms of art and culture – twisting them to fit fresh purposes. The youthful Magian soul and the ageing Classical civilisation lived side by side in overlapping territories. Many of the achievements of the Late Roman period such as Neo-Platonism, the Dome of the Pantheon and the government of Diocletian and Constantine are all manifestations of the Magian spirit. This youthful spirit would find its independent embodiment in the eastern part of the Empire, in Southern Arabia.

Spengler sees the Magian spirit bringing a sort of spiritual unity to the Eastern Mediterranean, and this union became stronger with the growing dominance of Islam. However, this lead to a split with West as its own culture and spirit came into being.

“A second pseudomorphosis is presented to our eyes today in Russia.” [10]
This case differs from the previous as there was no raging civilisation to crush or distort the development of the new culture. Rather, a neighbouring (Faustian) culture, still in the vigour of full creativity, prematurely awoke the Russian Spirit which was then distorted by the brutal Europeanising of the nation by Peter the Great. Spengler did not name the Russian spirit nor did he characterise it. But he characterises Russia’s past as Tolstoy, and her Future as Dostoevsky.

Spengler set him self the goal of finding the where the West was in the morphological cycle, and as the title suggests it is in decline. It has reached its peak, hit the point of civilisation and entered its final season. Much of the second volume documents the stages of the decline of Western civilisation.

Outward expansion is on the horizon. “Ever since Napoleon, hundreds of thousands, and latterly millions, of men have stood ready to march, and mighty fleets renewed every ten years have filled the harbours.” [11] Civilisation will attempt to force its shallow secularised morality on other cultures, in various wars of aggression in which the whole world will contend.

The coming of the civilisation phase was followed by the dominance of Money. Financial capital ruled over the chaos of the Great War and the Weimar Republic.
“The private powers of the economy wants free paths for their acquisition of great resources, no legislation must stand in their way. They want to make the laws themselves, in their interests, and to that end they make use of the tools they have made for them-selves, democracy, the subsidised party.” [12]
Those who maintain the culture-spirit would find this deeply sickening.

Spengler held great skepticism toward democracy and the press, both of which he seen as the weapons of Financial Capital. He wrote: “Gunpowder and the printing press belong together.”[13] Coincidentally, the two simultaneously appeared in Germany during the Gothic late period. The French revolution – the beginning of the Civilisation phase – witnessed a storm of pamphlets as well as a storm of steel with the first mass barrage of artillery at Valmy. The press is able to be produce propaganda in high qualities and distribute it over vast areas. The printed word can be a useful weapon to those who knew how to use it. “The war of articles, flysheets, spurious memoirs, that was waged from London on French soil against Napoleon is the first great example.”[14] Spengler described the media of his time as intellectual artillery, something which bombards the public so heavily that only a minority can achieve a sense of inward detachment which one needs to maintain a clear view of current events. “The Will-to-Power operating under a pure democratic disguise has accomplished its task so well that the object’s sense of freedom is actually by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.” [15]

The public perception of Truth is heavily dictated by the Press. Information that can be used to determine actual truth may gather and settle over time however “the public truth of the moment” [16] is what matters in regarding the success actions and influence on democracy. “No tamer has his animals more under his power.” [17]

Such things never happened in the classical world, which was lacking universal school education-the enlightenment idealists invoked this concept innocently however it lead the masses being herded like sheep into the era of mass party politics. “Those who have learned to read succumb [to the power of the press]”[18] Those advocating for freedom of the Press would “smooth the path for the coming Caesars of the world- press.” [19]

“The press today is an army,” he wrote. “…with carefully organised arms and branches, with journalists as officers, and readers as solders. But here as in every army, the solder obeys blindly and war-aims and operation-plans change without his knowledge. The reader neither knows, nor is allowed to know, the purposes for which he is used, nor even the role that he is to play. A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined. Formerly a man did not dare to think freely. Now he dares, but cannot; his will to think is only a willingness to think to order, and this is what he feels as his liberty.” [20]

The rule of Money would come to an end when the age of Caesarism begins.
The swords victorious over money, the master-will subdues again the plunderer-will.”[21]

In his predictions of the future Spengler says that these new Caesars and their bands of followers would battle against the power of Plutocracy, as well as one another, for the control of civilisation in a series of wars which the masses do not understand. They will leave the large cities and return to the rural traditions that their ancestors attended to generations before. The faith and symbols of the old culture would come again as a “Second Religiousness.” [22]

The first volume of Decline of the West appeared on shelves at the end of the First World War and by 1919 it was a best seller. After its release Spengler began revising the first volume as well as work on the second which was realised in 1922.

Spengler’s ideas impressed the general public, however they were widely rejected by both academic Philosophers and Historians. According to his Biographer Henry Stuart Hughes, university professors warned their students against reading Spengler, claiming his ideas were too dangerous. Spengler received no credibility from the academia until 1924 when Edward Meyers spoke in favour of Decline at the 1924 German Historic Congress, however by then Spengler’s popularity had began to fade as a result of the rising political instability. Artists had fairly mixed views on the book, but it became fairly popular among the George circle influenced literary figures such as Ernst Jünger, H.P. Lovecraft and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

To the German public Spengler was a rather mysterious figure. He had appeared from nowhere with a long and complex best seller, he had no previous work and held no academic position. Those who met him described him as a friendly and soft spoken man, deeply interesting to talk to. The Success of the book brought Spengler out of poverty, he moved to a larger apartment that overlooked the Isar river, which he filled with book and paintings by the lesser Italian Masters. He lived a retiring life, and enjoyed long walks and mountain climbing. He would often speak with the local peasantry, among who’s company he forwent his habitual austerity and frequented a beer hall. He became well acquainted with the regulars. He refused a position offered to him at the University of Göttingen so that he could focus on his own work.

Many people came to visit Spengler, one of which was a young man called August Albers whom befriended the Philosopher and became his unofficial clerk. A few days after the assassination of Kurt Eisner, Albers asked Spengler about his thoughts on Socialism and found his friends thoughts so striking that he suggested writing them up in a book. The following December, Prussianism and Socialism was published.

In this short volume, critical of Marx, Spengler states that although German Conservatives and German Socialists seen one another as enemies they were in fact in basic agreement. The hostility between the two had allowed their mutual enemy – Parliamentary Democracy- to win Germany’s constitutional battle. If they put down their differences and realised their similarities they could unite and over throw the Wiemar Republic.

Spengler accuses Marx and Engels of developing socialism from an English perspective as a result of their analysis of the English working class, and advances Prussianism as the true form of Germanic Socialism. British-style Parliamentary Democracy was incompatible with German culture and to impose it on the nation was a form of treason. Despite selling rather well this book did not enjoy the same success as Decline, potentially because it crossed too many party lines.

In the 1920s – the height of his popularity – Spengler received many requests for articles and lectures. Spengler accepted several of these invitations. He spoke at the Nietzsche

Archive, but after disagreements regarding Elisabeth Förster Nietzsche’s antisemitism, Spengler distanced him self from the organisation. He was also invited to speak to a private audience of German aristocrats, however the exact details of this event remain unknown. Occasionally he was invited abroad. In 1923 he went to Holland to meet the Crown Prince of Germany and in 1924 he embarked on a speaking tour of Sweden, Finland and the Baltic States. The foreign office asked him to take note of Russian influence in these areas. He failed to gain access to the Soviet Union, but he did return to Italy.

Spengler suffered a slight stroke in 1927, causing him to decrease his work load. This was not the first time his health interfered with his work – the second volume of Decline was slowed down when the writer suffered a series of headaches. Spengler’s sister Hildegard and her daughter, also called Hildegard, moved into his apartment to help take care of him. At this time in his life he had more friends than ever, and even shared his living space with people who loved him. The once isolated Philosopher was now surrounded by people. Spengler never openly expressed his feelings. However, in a posthumously published book titled “Thoughts,” Spengler expressed a deep sense of loneliness which he acknowledged and accepted as a product of the path he chose for himself. It is perhaps the case that Spengler, as Nietzsche suggested, loved his fate.

Bad health did not stop Spengler, it only slowed him down. Less than a year after his stroke he took trips to both Spain and Italy and published a few fragments of his metaphysical work and in 1931 Spengler published perhaps his second most famous work: Man and Technics.

Written with a violently poetic tone, the book characterises Man as a beast of prey; “Acute thinkers, like Montaigne and Nietzsche have always known this.” [23]
As the title of the book would suggest, Spengler’s primary concern is the relationship of Man to Technology. He argues that technology should be regarded as the dominant psychological source animating the West. The dichotomy between Man – an organic being- and Technics – the realm of the artificial, can only result in alienation and trauma, as man becomes the slave of the tool he created. Technology has its own agenda and wishes to spread. As it propagates throughout less developed people and nations, Spengler argues that the inevitable result will be resentment of, competition with and hostility towards the West.

Man and Technics failed to impress the intellectuals after its initial release. However, the modern reader of Spengler is often deeply impressed by it.

Oswald Spengler opposed National Socialism. He delivered his first critique in a lecture titled “Political Duties of the German Youth.” The talk was delivered to an audience of Bavarian students on 26th February 1924, the same day Adolf Hitler began his trial for High Treason after his failed uprising. The talk scolded German youth for their lack of political realism. Both the National Socialists and their rivals had turned politics into a form of “intoxication” [24], inspiring the youth with “colours and badges, music and processions, theatrical vows and amateurish appeals and theories…” and stated that successful policy had “never yet had been made with the heart alone.” [25]

Spengler much preferred the Italian Fascists, who focused on “results” rather than “programs and parades.” [26] The talk became infamous among Youth Movements however Spengler complained they had not understood his message. In the year following the release of Man & Technics, Spengler’s publisher printed a popular edition of his political works. In the preface to this edition Spengler addressed National Socialism once more. He openly critiqued Adolf Hitler, stating that the leader of the national movement needed to be a hero – something the future Führer impersonated rather than embodied.

Spengler’s most infamous critique came in the form of a rather short volume titled “The Hour of Decision.” Work began on the project in the Autumn of 1932 and it was prematurely published in 1933, despite knowing that it would anger the nations new rulers. “Spengler criticised above all the illusory aspects of national socialism” [27] as well as the rising tide of race eugenics and antisemitism advocated by the new ruling party. The book also repeated this critique of Marxism as well as other ideas from Prussian Socialism and Man and Technics.

For Spengler the Jews were a product of the Magian culture and outsiders to the Faustian. In the middle ages there had been a great clash of heritage between the two when they simply could not understand one another. This lack of understanding was ended with the coming of the enlightenment, which broke down both barriers and cultural traditions on both sides.

The Führer didn’t respond to the complimentary copy the publishers had sent to him and the authorities were slow to react. Over twelve thousand copies were sold before they took alarm. The press attacked the book, but this only furthered sales. It was only three months latter, after a further 150 thousand copies were sold and in circulation, that the Nazis decided to ban the book as well as any mention of Spengler in press.

Spengler continued writing notes for a second volume of Hour of Decision, critiquing the actions of the government and life in Germany. One note chillingly predicts that one day the National Socialists would embark on their own Napoleonic invasion of Moscow. It was perhaps the result of a growing sense of pessimism that this second volume was never finished.

Despite the suppression of his work, Spengler continued to write. After a slight improvement in health and some encouragement from friends he published a few Historical Fragments in an incredibly obscure journal called The World as History (Die Welt all Geschichte), with very limited circulation. This would be the last of his work to be published in his life time.

During the early hours of May 8th 1936, Oswald Spengler died of a heart attack. He was 55 years old.
Spengler destroyed most of his notes and manuscripts, leaving little that could be published posthumously. The only unrealised work that he left behind was that which he was working on at the time of his death, such has his metaphysical project, a set of autobiographical memoirs, and a few scribbled notes.

At end end of Man & Technics Spengler writes: “Our duty is to hold onto a lost position, without hope, without rescue.” [28] Spengler upheld his position in the face of adversity, regardless of whether it came in the form of poverty, bad health or state tyranny.

After his death Spengler’s work fell into obscurity but did occasionally reemerge on the edges of public philosophical discussion before fading back out. Over the past few years there has been a renewed interest in Spengler’s work online. Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Decline of the West, and to mark this passing a newly formed Oswald Spengler society hosted a conference titled “Oswald Spengler in the age of Globalization” and awarded the first Oswald Spengler Prize to the French novelist Michel Houellebecq.

There is no telling how long this renewed popularity will last, however it seems clear at this moment in time that the ideas of Oswald Spengler can not be ignored.

Bibliography

[01] Comments
(Bob Corbett, October 2008)http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/personal/reading/spengler-decline.html

[02] Page 78, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)
[03] Page 78, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)

[04] Page 78, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)
[05] Page 78, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)

[06] Page 97, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[07] Page 64, Man and Technics – Oswald Spengler
(Arktos Media Ltd, 2015)

[08] Page 268, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[09] page 75, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)

[10] Page 270, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[11] Page 375, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)

[12] Page 414, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[13] Page 394, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[14] Page 394, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)

[15] Page 394, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[16] Page 394, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler

(Oxford University Press, 1991)
[17] Page 395, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[18] Page 395,Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[19] Page 395, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[20] Page 395, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[21] Page 414, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[22] Page 391, Decline of the West: An Abridged Edition – Oswald Spengler (Oxford University Press, 1991)
[23] Page 33, Man and Technics – Oswald Spengler
(Arktos Media Ltd, 2015)
[24] Page 124, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes
(Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)
[25] Page 124, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)
[26] Page 124, Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate – H. Stuart Hughes (Charles Scribner’s sons, New York, 1962)
[27] Page 218, The Conservative Revolution in Germany1918-1932 Armin Mohler & Karlheinz Weissmann
(Radix/Washington Summit Publishers, 2018)
[28] Page 77, Man and Technics – Oswald Spengler
(Arktos Media Ltd, 2015)

Pale Angel

Cold sunlight shined down into the cemetery
Where your deep beauty wandered through the trees
Both dark and innocent

And on the night that followed
We wandered through cold empty streets
The Moon light reflected in the river
As towers reached out into the darkness
Dimly lit street lamps illuminate dark eyes

Our longing for unity came down this
Burnt down by the burdens
Of my ignorance and pride.
Future faded and Prospects in ruin

And after all these years of silence
I see the years of hurt
And I hear of the pain that came
Long before our bleak reunion
meaningful memories begin to fade
and soon all will be forgotten.

Departed once before and soon to depart again.
Depart, return, depart again….


Books And The People Who Used To Own Them

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time and money in used book stores. I’ve purchased books both famous and obscure – editions both common and rare.
Used books often have little markings left by their pervious owner. They often give books a little character or sometimes even mystery.
Here I’d like to display a few of these little marking that for one reason or another I found interesting.

It used to rather common for people to write their name on the inside cover of books. It’s something few people still do.

A few years ago I came across a rare English translation of Ernst Jünger’s “On The Marble Cliffs.” The novel was first published in Hamburg, Germany in 1939 and first published in English in 1947, a time when German literature was very unpopular in Britain.
This copy of the anti-authoritarian novella was originally purchased by Brenda Horsefeild in London 1948.

Although rather rare it’s not to hard to find a copy of “D’Annunzio” by Tom Antongini for a reasonable price. Despite being obscure it is considered to be one of the best biographies of D’Annunzio due to Antongini’s long service as the poets right-hand man.
In this copy a pervious owner has signed not only their name but given the place of purchase as Cairo, dating 14.26.38 (putting the month before the date suggests that the previous owner was an American). This little note has always inspired by my curiosity and imagination. I’ve not doubt that this book has a lot of untold history and has had adventures of it’s own. I’ve always wondered who it was who picked up this book all those decades ago.

Worn out, battered and falling apart by the time I’d got it this copy of 1984 was previously owned by Sarah Hughes. I assume she was an English literature student who studied this book as several sections are underlined and annotated in mostly blue ink.

At first I enjoyed reading Sarahs little insights until she gave away the ending less than half way in. I have never forgiven her.

This pre-owned copy of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy is almost completely unmarked other than a faintly copied the Walt Disney logo in pencil on page 21.

I picked up a copy of Plato’s Symposium in an English book store in Amsterdam. The previous owner had used a boarding pass as a book mark, which they left between pages 56 & 57. They had travelled from Montreal to Brussels.

In this collection of Thomas Mann novellas the previous owners name has been blacked out with marker pen, presumably by a book store worker.

In the days before Doctor Who fans could rewatch their favourite episodes on VHS or DVD several classic series stories were novelised and published by Target books. This copy of “Death to the Daleks” was perviously owned by Robin Turner who illustrated his own little Dalek making it’s way across a blue ink landscape.

Young Robin Turner was an avid reader of Doctor Who books as he ticked off almost all the titles advertised on the inside cover.

This copy of “The Joke” by Milan Kundera was gifted to it’s previous owner by two of their travelling companions. I’ve always felt it was rather sad that this one ending up in a used book store.

One of many notes made in “Nietzsche: The Man and his Philosophy” by R.J. Hollingdale.

Inside “An Outline of the Doctorates of Thomas Carlyle” the previous owner left not only their name but also a newspaper article on Carlyle dated Friday February 8th 1952. The book however is much older, dated 1869.

I came across these three books in the winter of 2015. I was surprised to find all three had belonged to the same person, who marked how and when they got them. Two of these books were gifts from to the previous owner from their father for their Philosophy degree at the university of Hull. Like another book mentioned in this article, I think it’s a little sad to see these gifts ended in a used book shop.

I own perhaps over a dozen books that have been either stolen from or sold off by various libraries.

One favourite used book store finds was a collection of essays by Schopenhauer. J.R. Adamson purchased this book in 1911 – just a few years before the start of the first world war. I’ve always wondered if Adamson found him self involved with that conflict and what fate would he later meet?

This Ugly Civilization: A Review

Ralph Brosodi’s This Ugly Civilisation was originally published in 1929. It gain popularity with various “back to the land” movements active during the great depression and the subculture of the 1960s & 70s before fading into obscurity and out of print for several decades. In late 2019, American Publishing company Underworld Amusements brought the book back into print in celebration of its 90th anniversary.

This fairly long volume comes with a lengthy introduction by Bill Sharp, historian and trustee of Borsodi’s School of Living, which not only educates the unfamiliar reader with the biography of this little known thinker but also shows how he lives unto the ideas and principles put forward in his work.

Brosodi begins this text by telling us that we live in an ugly civilisation – a civilisation filled with pollution, the unnatural noise of machinery, over crowded streets and unending traffic.
He tells us of huge cloud of soot that engulfed Pittsburgh, blackening the buildings and dirtying the homes of cities large population. He tells of similar things occurring in Chicago and New York.
Brosodi tell us that what makes civilisation ugly in the domination of Industry and factory living.

Brosodi sees the factory as an oppressive force that dominates our lives. During the industrial revolution people were led to believe that factory work and living would make their lives more comfortable, the people of Brosodi’s time believed that factory living and consumerism saved them from the brutality of pre-industrial living. Brosodi does not see the Factory system as providing the comfort in promises. He see it forcing us into unsatisfying, monotonous, meaningless work in factories and offices – these jobs we spend the majority of our time working.

The little free time we have we spend consuming – spending our hard-earned money on shallow entertainment, poor quality food, clothing and products – which, much like our work, we take no real satisfaction from.
Brosodi believed that man taken more satisfaction in his pre-industrial way of life and praises Homestead living. He proposed that man should leave his cities and return to the land believing that they would find this to be a much more meaningful and natural life.

Much of the book, if not most of it, details the methods of production that would be used to live outside the industrial system as well as criticism of their factory counterparts. These section of the book feature lengthy and detailed chapters on food-producing / preserving, agriculture, clothing and so on. Many may see these sections are being some of the duller parts of the book, however their presents can be defended as they enlighten us on how we could live an independent life outside of the system.

In my opinion one of the most interesting part of the book is a section in which Brosodi his concept of the three personality types: The Herd Minded, The Quantity Minded and the Quality Minded.
These three personality types are the actors in the tragedy of civilisation. The Herd mind set is the personality type of the unquestioning common man. The Quantity Minded dominate civilisation. They make up the businessmen and industrialists and as their title suggests they favour quantity over quality. They are interested in the accumulation wealth and the expansion of his business empire. His duel opposite is the quality minded, whom Brosodi frequently associates with Artists and Philosophers. The Quality minded man is interested in quality of life. He also appears to speculate that had the rise of industrialism been in the hands on the Quality minded and not is opposite, technology would be utilised for the sake of independent living and civilisation would be less ugly.

I think it is worth noting that unlike many of the other critics of industrial civilisation is not against technology, only the way it has been used. He also published this Ugly Civilisation before several better known thinkers published their own views on Technology.

Ralph Brosodi’s This Ugly Civilisation is worth the read and I would recommend it to any critic of Technology and modern living as well as any self-described environmentalist.
I’ve occasionally dipped into the Philosophy of Technology over the past two years and I feel it’s rather refreshing to read something on the topic which is in some way optimistic and rather surprised to read something that gave the reader a possible solution rather the description of sorry state of society. I’d also feel that this book is in many ways superior to some of the environmentalist literature I’ve tried reading recently. It is certainly a book I would read again in the future, perhaps next time with a notebook by my side.

A Saturday afternoon reading “This Ugly Civilization.”