The Fates: Optimism is Cowardice
The New Modern Man | Spengler’s Decline of the West Series
Looking beyond our short lives can give us tremendous insight into the past and the future. History is in large part the study of the rise and fall of great civilizations. Expanding on The New Modern Man Spengler series, which began with How a German Historian Predicted The Decline of Western Civilization 100 Years Ago is this introduction to the fates as laid down by Oswald Spengler.
Each of the foundational ideas of his civilization model: The Fear of Death, which leads to a Prime Symbol, and the expression of it through Will, Force and Deed as the symbolic seasons of a civilization pass, develop from a sense of what Spengler called Sehnsucht, or a longing, that all cultures coming into being have.
We have already observed that, like a child, a primitive mankind acquires (as part of the inward experience that is the birth of the ego) an understanding of number and ipso facto possession of an external world referred to the ego. As soon as the primitive’s astonished eye perceives the dawning world of ordered extension and the significant emerges in great outlines from the welter of mere impressions, and the irrevocable parting of the outer world from his proper, his inner-world gives form and direction to his waking life, there arises in the soul — instantly conscious of its loneliness — the root-feeling of longing.
It is this that urges “becoming” towards its goal, that motives the fulfillment and actualizing of every inward possibility, that unfolds the idea of individual being. It is the child’s longing, which will presently come into the consciousness more and more clearly as a feeling of constant direction and finally stand before the mature spirit as the enigma of Time — queer, tempting, insoluble. Suddenly, the words “past” and “future” have acquired a fateful meaning.
Predictable features of civilizational growth and decline which develop from this longing can be informative to those who see the arc of history. Those who don’t see will be dragged along anyway, according to Spengler’s theory. The following fates provide the foundations for Spengler’s organic, mathematical, and theoretical model of the rise and fall of civilization. The process begins with a High Culture organically arising, of which there have been eight in recorded history. A culture forms around a shared myth which develops from the Fear of Death.
Fear of Death
The culture, its myths and the symbolism that arise from the Fear of Death are meaningful for that culture alone. Spengler explains how the Fear of Death develops in no other species but man:
The beast knows only life, not death. Were we pure plantlike beings, we should die unconscious of dying, for to feel death and die would be identical. But animals, even though they hear the death cry, see the dead body, and scent putrefaction, behold death without comprehending it. Then, and only then, life becomes the short span of time between birth and death, and it is in relation to death that the other great mystery of generation arises also.
Only then does the diffuse animal fear of everything become the definite human fear of death. It is this that makes the love of man and woman, the love of mother and child, the tree of the generations, the family, the people, and so at last world history itself the infinitely deep facts and problems of destiny they are. In the knowledge of death is originated that world outlook which we possess as being men and not beasts.
A Prime Symbol arises from the Fear of Death and the civilization expresses it through stages of youthful vigor, middle age refinement, then decline and eventually death as the progression of seasons from Spring to Summer, Autumn and Winter pass.
In the Western world, the Prime Symbol is infinity. Expression of this symbol is in all aspects of the society:
- Architecture: Soaring cathedrals and soaring skyscrapers, rising towards infinity
- Engineering: The search for perpetual motion and infinite energy
- Exploration: Manifest Destiny, exploring the infinite universe/space exploration
- Finance: Infinite economic growth, globalization
- Music: Polyphony, or two or more simultaneous melodies, infinity-seeking sound
- Mathematics: Infinitesimal calculus
- Science: Infinities of space and time, evolution of biology and the universe
- Politics: The quest for an infinite Socialist Utopia
Spengler explains the Prime Symbol is not conciously known by the culture even though its existence revolves around it:
But the Prime Symbol does not actualize itself; it is operative through the form sense of every man, every community, age, and epoch and dictates the style of every life expression. It is inherent in the form of the state, the religious myths and cults, the ethical ideals, the forms of painting and music and poetry, the fundamental notions of each science – but it is not presented by these.
Prime Symbols of some other high cultures include:
- Egyptaic: The Path, a preoccupation with sequential passages of the soul.
- Classical: The Point-Present Body, a preoccupation with the space of immediate visibility.
- Mesoamerican: Rhyming Time, assuming past and present times rhymed, or repeated.
- Chinese: The guiding principle of the Tao, pushing mankind down a righteous path.
- Magian: The Cavern, into which light shines down and does battle with darkness.
The Prime Symbol guides the Will, Force, and Deed of each high culture.
Will, Force and Deed
As the culture overcomes its Fear of Death with mythology, Will, Force and Deed develop as derivatives of this Prime Symbol. Spengler writes:
If we look at the whole picture – the expansion of the Copernican world into that aspect of stellar space that we possess today; the development of Columbus’s discovery into a worldwide command of the earth’s surface by the West; the perspective of oil-painting and the theater; the sublimation of the idea of home; the passion of our civilization for swift transit, the conquest of the air, the exploration of the Polar regions and the climbing of almost impossible mountain-peaks – we see, emerging everywhere, the prime symbol of the Faustian soul, [Infinite] Space. And those specially Western creations…must be regarded as derivative of this prime symbol.
The Western world displays its Will, Force and Deed through its belief in and search for eternal progress, a word popularly used by the Socialists of today. The quest for “ethical Socialism” represents what Spengler called the Final World Sentiment of the West as the culture withers and dies. The Collected Essays of The Hammering Shield writes:
According to Spengler, what really sets Western Civilization apart from other Civilizations, is the West’s view of the world, and of itself, as progressing. Closely related to this worldview is the Westerner’s belief in his own power to improve his situation. Unlike for those members of, say, the Greco-Roman world, society for the Western man is not static. Neither is history cyclical, Westerners feel empowered to rebel, to make improvements, to progress.
The Will Force, and Deed, i.e. the way a society searches for fulfillment of its Prime Symbol evolves as the society shifts from an organic Culture phase to an inorganic Civilization phase.
Culture Vs. Civilization
The difference between Culture and Civilization can be generalized into a battle of New vs. Old ideas, organic and inorganic stages, and rural vs. metropolitan culture. Ultimately, metropolitan and uninspired Civilization extinguishes the foundational, rural, inspired Culture. As the society moves away from the Culture phase in which religion and traditions dominate and into Civilization in which rationalism, money, and urban life dominate, Civilization is defeated by its own victory as it extinguishes the life-giving force of Culture.
The society moves from intrinsic cultural goals to extrinsic civilizational goals. Art, music, and architecture lose form and become bland repetitions of past great works. Religion and traditions are mocked, and the society becomes so over-analytical that it sterilizes the culture and eventually itself demographically. Life becomes something no longer to be lived, but a problem to solve. People can no longer think of a “reason” to have children as life is based on theory rather than tradition. Nihilism spreads in the late stage of Civilization and skeptics tear down every belief people have.
This is where we find ourselves today, late in the Civilization phase, in the season of Winter. The Culture and Civilization phases are further broken down into four seasons. Generally speaking, each season is 250 years long with a an average life span of 1,000 years.
Each of the eight high cultures and subsequent civilizations Spengler studied showed these general patterns, which he broke down into seasons:
- Spring: A culture’s principles and myths arise resulting from the Fear of Death. It is a religious and heroic period. The Great Myths of the society are written. People are Rural-Intuitive and tied to the land. People’s lives are based on maintaining crops and farmland.
- Summer: The culture reaches its peak. Traditions still rule. People in the society are still Rural-Intuitive although an increasingly urban population starts showing equal influence in the society. Summer is the time of a culture’s greatest achievements (from which all subsequent achievements are derived). Rationality and the mystical foundations of the culture begin to struggle with one another. Politics in summer is the era of the Divine Right of Kings and the aristocratic state.
- Autumn: Past its peak, traditions begin to break down. The once rich culture and myths are slowly sterilized by rational analysis. Art begins to “excite” rather than inspire and becomes urban focused. Politics begin to move away from tradition and towards economic concerns and theory.
- Winter: The culture becomes rigid and cold, petrifying into its final form. Atheism spreads (i.e. Darwin, Marx). Everything rural is disdained as the civilization becomes metropolitan and uninspired by its myths. Fertility declines as people cannot think of a “reason” to have children. The society becomes increasingly autocratic as money infiltrates politics. Art becomes repetitive imitations of past works.
Spengler’s full civilization model detailing each of these seasons and how each culture expressed them can be found here. This brings us to the present day, the time when things begin to fall apart and the arc of Western history ends. What are our options if the fates have brought us to the end of our road and the West either disentegrates from within or is conquered from without, or both?
Face Fates With Courage or Cowardly Optimism
Spengler knew his model of history was a pessimistic one. But, in reality our preferences do not determine what is true, paraphrasing astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Spengler said had this to say about those who rejected or dismissed his findings:
Does anyone I ask, see over and beyond his time, his own continent, his country, or even the narrow circle of his own activities?
Spengler believed differing philosophies like linear (always progressing) model of history (so popular with today’s liberals) were based on a philosophy of cowardly optimism. For the man who wishes to know the truth, he believed it was much better to possess brave pessimism.
Little as one knows of events in the future – for all that can be got from a comparison of other civilizations is the general form of future facts and their march through the ages – so much is certain: the forces which will sway the future are no other than those of the past. These forces are: the will of the Strong, healthy instincts, race, the will to possession and power; while justice, happiness, and peace – those dreams which will always remain dreams – hover ineffectively over them.
In short, nothing will bring about a Utopia on earth; best to buckle in for the ride as great cultures rise and fall, bravely following the fated course of human history to its end rather than trying to escape its cycles.
We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.
This philosophy on life definitely has a Red Pill flavor to it. This is perhaps why Spengler is so interesting to the awakened man.
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