The Disciples (and Critics) of Oswald Spengler

     A Century of Crisis? Spengler’s Influence Across the Years

     Since I last posted, I have studied the writings of three significant cultural pessimists from the Western World: the Italian mystic Julius Evola, the American neo-Nazi Francis Parker Yockey, and the Finnish Professor Georg Henrik von Wright.  I have additionally surveyed a wide helping of academic literature that discusses Oswald Spengler’s influence throughout the twentieth century.  While at times frustrating, these past few weeks have been very productive.  I have established firm links between Spengler and the three aforementioned figures, and I will detail how those figures used and reacted differently to Spengler’s ideas.  Altogether, I have a great selection of notes at hand.  This development has helped me establish a solid point of tension for me to open my essay.  That is to say, while some observers might suggest we study lesser-known intellectuals from the early twentieth century instead of Spengler, I would argue that few academics have studied his long-run influence.  Even less have analyzed how Spengler’s views impacted European and American reactionaries–thus the motive for my research.   I know that I will face more roadblocks in the future, especially as I begin to construct a comprehensive essay outline.  But, I also know that both my work ethic and the quality of my research have paid off up to this point.

unnamed

The aftermath of a few days’ good work

     After studying The Decline of the West, I covered Julius Evola’s strange relationship with Oswald Spengler.  Evola–an esoteric alchemist, lay scholar, and self-proclaimed aristocrat–never communicated with Spengler, although they were contemporaries.  But he read much of the German philosopher’s works, and even translated The Decline of the West into Italian.  Before coming into contact with Spengler’s ideas, Evola had already developed an extreme conservative worldview.  He rejected democracy, Capitalism, Marxism, Feminism, and Egalitarianism with antipathy.  Only spirituality and warrior-values could make an ideal life, in his view.  As a result, he held both the ancient Spartan and Indo-Iranian societies in high regard.  By the time he read Spengler’s magnum opus, Evola had developed a unique reactionary belief system.  Yet while this trait put him in conflict with some of Spengler’s ideas, he still used quite a few of Spengler’s ideas to promote his own philosophy.  For example, he adopted Spengler’s concept of “second-religiousness,” the revival of popular religious feelings in a Culture after a long period of Atheism, but reapplied it to argue that “the masses” had destroyed true spirituality in the modern world.

     Analyzing Evola was a challenge, since he tends to repeat the same ideas over and over, but with different language and examples.  Rather than help explain himself, however, this technique just obfuscates from his arguments.   His frequent digressions about topics unrelated to those he focuses on at a given time makes organizing his ideas difficult on my end (although they’re quite telling about his views on the Masons, Judaism, and ancient Aryans).  In turn, I had to move beyond Evola’s obtuseness and jargon to examine what he was really getting at, at a given point.  Like I said of Spengler in my last post, it just takes time to rethink and cross-reference certain passages.  This tactic let me piece together the critical parts of Evola’s philosophy, and I found a distinct link to the ideas of Oswald Spengler as a result.

three reactionaries

From left to right: Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey, and Georg Henrik von Wright

     Francis Parker Yockey was easily the most vociferous adherent of Spengler’s ideas in the United States.  Yockey’s main work, Imperium, is, in essence, a sequel to The Decline of the West.  The American’s treatise follows Spengler’s theory on the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations.  However, Yockey applies this system to the circumstances he saw in the 1940s.  For instance, Yockey employs Spengler’s geographic concept of race (that the physical place where we live determines our spiritual “race”) to promote his view that the Jews were spiritually-foreign elements that had an inherent enmity with the West.   He insists that the different “souls” of Western and Jewish (or “Magian”) peoples are in eternal opposition.  It’s a subtle form of antisemitism, by depicting his racist beliefs not as his own opinions, but as a natural fact: their supposed mutual hatred that has existed since both groups have been around.  Of course, his hatred comes through regardless.  On top of this argument, Yockey goes into verbose philosophical tangents at times, but compared to the other two authors I’ve mentioned, he is surprisingly coherent and well-organized.   I have noticed that he has a tendency to use the passive voice, which hides the subjects he’s blaming or praising at some points in his work.  Nevertheless, my research on Yockey has revealed a deep influence from Spengler, so the American writer will no doubt take a large place in my paper.

     The last of the three post-Spengler authors in my study, Georg Henrik von Wright, also absorbed many of Spengler’s philosophical concepts.  Unlike Evola, von Wright’s discussion of Spengler’s ideas shows a general concurrence between the two.  Von Wright agreed with the idea that the Western World was “Faustian,” and had a reckless desire to learn and do as much as possible in life.  By the same token, he went beyond Spengler’s opposition to reckless scientific-industrial growth, which both considered meaningless and even destructive.  Von Wright takes an even more apocalyptic stance on this issue than Spengler, perhaps due to environmental decay, atomic weaponry, and the growth of social anxiety becoming more visible issues by the late twentieth century (when von Wright’s cultural criticism was its strongest).   Between all four authors I’m studying, von Wright easily had the clearest thought process, and the most concise style.  So, it was a nice relief to save him for last, after weeks of going over many intense and gloomy passages.

     These authors all treat on wide but significant concepts in different ways: how Europe should face the present “crisis” they perceived, how the “crisis” affects national identity and masculinity, and the definition of “the West” itself.  In the coming week, besides reviewing more secondary literature, I will piece together the authors’ different attitudes towards each aforesaid issue, among others.  I can see my outline starting to solidify.  But I still have a long road ahead.  It’s exciting stuff!

     It almost goes without saying that studying reactionary authors is a bit of a drain on its own.  So, I’ve made sure to take time to catch up with friends, and even babysit a bit on the side (which is a well-needed moral break).  My research has been a lot less lonely as a result.

Comments

  1. micrittenden says:

    Hey Aaron,

    I went back to read your previous posts and this is a really interesting research project, especially in light of recent reactionary movements in Germany, the UK, and the US (the few I am familiar with). Big respect for reading all 935 pages – that is a mountainous work with not much brevity indeed! Allowing time to step back and think and recharge with friends has definitely helped with my research this summer and I’m glad it has helped you too.

    Your blog posts clearly show a strong work ethic and devotion to the topic, so I must ask: what brought you to research this topic? I don’t think you have mentioned in your posts why you decided to focus on Spengler and Decline of the West, and I’m interested in knowing what past experiences or research influenced your curiosity in the subject.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your progress and best of luck finishing!
    Matt

  2. achiggins says:

    Hi Matt,

    Thank you for your kind comments! Although the work has been slow-going at times, it’s always interesting. As dreary as the material can be, I have been awestruck to see how consistent the language and motives of the far-right have been throughout the years.

    Your question is a very pointed one. I would guess that my interest in the topic began as far back as the mid-2010s, around the time when the AltRight became a visible force in American and European life (especially when Pegida emerged). What fascinated me about this movement–and still does today–was how strange their views were, compared to the values I had been raised with. On top of that, I think that I first learned about Spengler when reading The Clash of Civilizations. That book discussed him in his capacity as a historian, philosopher, and sociologist, but not as a reactionary. Only later, when I saw his name mentioned in some articles about the AltRight’s chief ideologists (like Steve Bannon, for instance), did I put two-and-two together. Going back to around six months ago, I wanted to see how much influence Spengler’s views actually had in the AltRight: what was real, and what was imaginary? That personal interest led me to discover a huge variety of far-right intellectuals and writers across Europe and the United States. I had never heard of people like Ernst Junger, Miguel Serrano, Rene Guenon, or Nicolas Gomez Davila. But as I came to learn, they and others with similar views played a massive role in a very under-looked side of intellectual history.

    The lack of academic literature on this element of the twentieth century finally inspired me to do research on my own. It’s not hard to tell why so few academics have wanted to touch this subject. But, as recent events have shown, it is very pertinent to today…

    I decided on Spengler because I had seen so many reactionary authors mention him in some capacity. I knew that he was important, somehow. And, he lived far back enough so that I could use him to discuss the long-run origins of the modern far-right. Choosing the other three people to study in relation to Spengler was a bit more difficult. I wanted to employ figures from a variety of backgrounds, but who all took from Spengler’s views in some way. As I’ve begun writing, I’m happy with the trio of Yockey, Evola, and von Wright. I think they illustrate the broad evolution of reactionary thought over the past century very well.

    Wishing you the best for your research!

Speak Your Mind

*