The decline of the West (1918)
v. 1. Form and actuality.--v. 2. Perspectives of world history
Excerpt from the translator's introduction:
I found in Spengler's vast ordered multitude of facts, Eduard Meyer honourably bears testimony to our author's "erstaunlich umfangreiches, ihm stdndig prasenfes, IVissen" (a phrase as neat and as untranslatable as Goethe's "exakte sinnliche Phantasie"). He insists upon the fruitfulness of certain of Spengler's. ideas such as that of the "Second Religiousness." Above all, he adheres to and covers with his high authority the basic idea of the parallelism of organically- living Cultures. It is not necessarily Spengler's structure of the Cultures that he accepts — parts of it indeed he definitely rejects as wrong or insufficiently established by evidence
This last phrase of Dr. Meyer's expresses very directly and simply that which for all-around students distinct from an erudite specialist) constitutes the peculiar quality of Spengler's work. Its influence is far deeper and subtler than any to which the conventional adjective "suggestive" could be applied. It cannot, in fact, be described by adjectives at all, but only denoted or adumbrated by its result, which is that, after studying and mastering it, one finds it nearly if not quite impossible to approach any culture-problem — old or new, dogmatic or artistic, political or scientific — without conceiving it primarily as "morphological."
The work comprises two volumes — under the respective sub-titles "Form ^. and Reality" and "World-historical Perspectives" — of which the present '' translation covers the first only. Some day I hope to have the opportunity of completing a task which becomes — such is the nature of this book — more attractive in proportion to its difficulty. References to Volume II are, for the present, necessarily to the pages of the German original; if, as is hoped, this translation is completed later by the issue of the second volume, a list of the necessary adjustments of page references will be issued with it. The reader will notice that the translator's foot-notes are scattered fairly freely over the pages of this edition. In most cases, these have no pretensions to being critical annotations.
They are merely meant to help the reader to follow up in more detail the points of fact which Spengler, with his "standing presented Wissen," sweeps along in his course.
This is their object, they take the form, in the majority of cases, of references to appropriate articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which is the only single work that both contains reasonably full information on the varied (and often abstruse) matters alluded to and is likely to be accessible wherever this book may penetrate.
Every reader no doubt will find these notes, where they appertain to his own special subject, trivial and even annoy- ing, but his thought that, for example, an explanation of the mathematical Limit may be helpful to a student who knows all about the Katharsis in Greek drama, and vice versa.
At the close of an undertaking which, from the first brief sketch to the final shaping of a complete work of quite unforeseen dimensions, has spread itself over ten years, it will not be out of place to glance back at what I intended and what I have achieved, my standpoint then and my standpoint to-day. In the Introduction to the 191 8 edition — inwardly and outwardly a fragment — I stated my conviction that an idea had now been irrefutably formulated which no one would oppose, once the idea had been put into words. I ought to have said: once that idea had been understood.
And for that, we must look — as I more and more realize — not only in this instance but in the whole history of thought — to the new generation that is bom with the ability to do it. I added that this must be considered as a first attempt, loaded with all the customary faults, incomplete and not without inward opposition.
The remark was not taken anything as seriously as it was intended. Those who have looked searchingly into the hypotheses of living thought will know that it is not given to us to gain insight into the fundamental principles of existence without conflicting emotions. A thinker is a person whose part is to symbolize time according to his vision and understanding.
He has no choice; he thinks as he has to think. Truth, in the long run, is to him the picture of the world which was born at his birth. It is that which he does not invent but rather discovers within himself. It is himself over again: his being expressed in words; the meaning of his personality formed into a doctrine which so far as concerns his life is unalterable because truth and his life are identical. This symbolism is the one essential, the vessel and the expression of human history.
The learned philosophical works that arise out of it are superfluous and only serve to swell the bulk of professional literature. I can then call the essence of what I have discovered "true" — that is, true for me, and as I believe, true for the leading minds of the coming time; not true in itself as dissociated from the conditions imposed by blood and by history, for that is impossible.
But what I wrote in the storm and stress of those years was, it must be admitted, a very imperfect statement of what stood clearly before me, and it remained to devote the years that followed to the task of correlating facts and finding means of expression which should enable me to present my idea in the most forcible form.
Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler was a German historian and philosopher of history whose interests included mathematics, science, and art and their relation to his organic theory of history. He is best known for his two-volume work, The Decline of the West, published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history.
Translated by Charles Francis Atkinson
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