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Spengler’s Prussian Socialism

  • Ben Lewis (a1)


Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) was one of the most significant thinkers of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first democracy. His work, notably the two-volume, 1200-page Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Decline of the West, 1918/22), had a profound influence on the intellectual discourses of the time in Germany and beyond. 1 Yet, despite the high esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries, his thought has been seriously under-researched. In English, only four major studies have appeared in the last 70 years. 2 This is all the more surprising in that the historical period in which he wrote has been extensively covered by both English- and German-language scholars and that some of the thinkers who drew critically on his ideas, such as Heidegger and Adorno, have become household names in Germany intellectual history.



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1.See Gasimov, Z. and Lemke Duque, C.A. (Eds) (2013) Oswald Spengler als europäisches Phänomen. Der Transfer der Kultur- und Geschichtsmorphologie im Europa der Zwischenkriegszeit 1919-1939 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).
2.See Hughes, H.S. (1952) Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate (New York: Scribner); J.F. Felleny (1972) Twilight of the Evening Lands: Oswald Spengler – a Half Century Later (New York: Brookdale); K.P. Fischer (1989) History and Prophecy: Oswald Spengler and the Decline of the West (New York: Peter Lang).
3. Farrenkopf, J. (2001) Prophet of Decline Spengler on World History and Politics (Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press).
4.The following recent studies are worth mentioning: Armin, M. and Weissmann, K. (2005) Die konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918-1932. Ein Handbuch (Graz: Ares), S. Maaß (2013) Oswald Spengler. Eine politische Biographie (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot); M. Falck (Ed.) (2013) Zyklen und Cäsaren. Mosaiksteine einer Philosophie des Schicksals. Reden und Schriften Oswald Spenglers (Kiel: Regin).
5. Graf, R. (2008) Die Zukunft der Weimarer Republik. Krisen und Zukunftsaneignungen in Deutschland 1918-1933 (Munich: Oldenbourg), pp. 104111.
6. Felken, D. (1988) Oswald Spengler. Konservativer Denker zwischen Kaiserreich und Diktatur (Munich: C.H. Beck), p. 114.
7. Adorno, T. (1950) ‘Spengler nach dem Untergang’, Der Monat, 20, pp. 115128, p. 117. And see also P. Lensch (1915) Das englische Weltreich, Mächte des Weltkrieges, Fünftes Heft (Berlin: Buchhandlung Vorwärts Paul Singer); P. Lensch (1915) Die deutsche Sozialdemokratie und der Weltkrieg (Berlin: Buchhandlung Vorwärts Paul Singer).
8. Sieferle, R.P. (1995) Die konservative Revolution. Fünf biographische Skizzen (Frankfurt: Fischer).
9.Letter to H. Klöres, 27 December 1918, cited in Helps, A. (Ed.) (1966) Spengler Letters: 1913-1936 (London: George Allen & Unwin), p. 71.
10. Naeher, J. (1994) Oswald Spengler (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt), p. 84.
11. Spengler, O. (1920) Preußentum und Sozialismus (Munich: Beck), p. 54. All subsequent references to this text will be placed in parentheses in the main text.
12. Spengler, O. (2009) Politische Schriften (Leipzig: Manuscriptum), p. 15.
13. Jenkings, R. (1992) Pierre Bourdieu (London: Routledge), pp. 7484.
14. Sieferle, R.P. (1995) Die konservative Revolution (Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag), pp. 104107.
15. Lübbe, H. (1974) Politische Philosophie in Deutschland (Munich: dtv), p. 185. The intellectual role model in this respect was Johann Gottlieb Fichte, whose Speeches to the German Nation during the German Wars of Liberation were seen as exemplary for intellectuals serving the German war effort in 1914.
16.See J. Hawes’s recent book Englanders and Huns, which outlines the development of this Anglo-German antagonism and draws on various press sources on both sides of the English channel to make his case. Hawes, J. (2014) Englanders and Huns: How Five Decades of Enmity Led to the First World War (London: Simon and Schuster).
17.Quoted in Falck, M. (Ed.) (2013) Zyklen und Cäsaren. Mosaiksteine einer Philosophie des Schicksals. Reden und Schriften Oswald Spenglers (Kiel: Regin Verlag), p. 79.
18. Lukács, G. (1954) Die Zerstörung der Vernunft (Berlin: Aufbau Verlag), p. 375.
19.K. Marx (1972) ‘Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte’. In: K. Marx and F. Engels (Eds) (1972) Werke, 8, (Berlin: Dietz Verlag).
20. Spengler, O. (1922) Untergang des Abendlandes vol. 2 (Munich: C. H. Beck), pp. 579580.
21. Engels, F. (1972) ‘Zur Kritik des sozialdemokratischen Programmentwurfes’. In: K. Marx/F. Engels, Werke vol. 22 (Dietz: Berlin), p. 235.
22. Michels, R. (1911) Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens (Leipzig: Werner Klinkhardt).
23. Maehl, W.H. (1980) Shadow Emperor of the German Workers (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society).
24. Lensch, P. (1918) Drei Jahre Weltrevolution (Berlin: Fischer).
25.On P. Lensch, see Lewis, B. (2014) The SPD left’s dirty secret. Weekly Worker, 1016, 26 June 2014. pp. 1011.
26.Not all Marxist thinkers of the 1920s thought in such terms, however, for more information see: Fankhauser, A. (1924–1925) Spengler und Marx. Rote Revue: Sozialistische Monatsschrift, 4(1), pp. 2935.
27. Barraclough, G. (1979) Culture and civilisation. New Republic, 181, pp. 2528.
28. Spenger, O. (1933) Jahre der Entscheidung (Munich: C. H. Beck), pp. 104105; reprint at: Last accessed 19 May 2015.


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