In all its various editions, it has sold nearly , copies. A twentieth-century Cassandra, Oswald Spengler thoroughly probed the origin and "fate" of our civilization, and the result can be and has been read as a prophesy of the Nazi regime. His challenging views have led to harsh criticism over the years, but the knowledge and eloquence that went into his sweeping study of Western culture have kept The Decline of the West alive.
As the face of Germany and Europe as a whole continues to change each day, The Decline of the West cannot be ignored. The abridgment, prepared by the German scholar Helmut Werner, with the blessing of the Spengler estate, consists of selections from the original translated into English by Charles Francis Atkinson linked by explanatory passages which have been put into English by Arthur Helps.
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Stuart Hughes has written a new introduction for this edition. In this engrossing and highly controversial philosophy of history, Spengler describes how we have entered into a centuries-long "world-historical" phase comparable to late antiquity. Guided by the philosophies of Goethe and Nietzsche, he rejects linear progression, and instead presents a world view based on the cyclical rise and decline of civilizations.
He argues that a culture blossoms from the soil of a definable landscape and dies when it has exhausted all of its possibilities. Despite Spengler's reputation today as an extreme pessimist, The Decline of the West remains essential reading for anyone interested in the history of civilization. Varieties of human portraiture Hellenistic portraiture.
The Soulimage a function of the Worldimage Much of The Strange Death of Europe reads more like a sensational novel than an exercise in analysis. The book has the form of a narrative, comprising a succession of arresting vignettes — migrants burning down a camp in Lesbos, sexual assaults by immigrants on women and children in Germany, racism among migrant groups in Lampedusa, terrorist atrocities in France — and concluding with a dramatic denouement.
The story is necessarily selective, and misses out a number of salient facts. One of them is that the migrant crisis is global in its reach.
The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler
It is not only Europe that shuts out Muslims. So do many Muslim countries.
Saudi Arabia has built a mile-long fence along its border with Iraq, and there are similar barriers between Turkey and Syria, and Iran and Pakistan. Beyond the Muslim world, Mexico deports larger numbers of migrants back to Central and Latin America than the Trump administration does.
Elsewhere war and environmental collapse are powerful factors in population flows.
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Worldwide, large flows of people are a by-product of globalisation. Rapid movements of capital and production continuously destroy livelihoods, and uneven economic development gives workers an incentive to seek opportunities in richer countries where they may not be welcome. Even so, it passes over key facts. The Schengen treaty is barely mentioned but it is this agreement that has made the migrant crisis intractable by removing internal borders from much of the continent.
Migrant numbers have fallen over the past year. Macron in France is holding out against the trend, but he is alone. In a paradox that Murray does not explore, the result of pursuing the stupendous liberal project of Europe-wide freedom of movement is the illiberal Europe we have today. Once they are enfranchised, popular majorities resist open borders because they fear the effects on welfare provision and wage levels and demand some say in the overall direction of society.
When their protests are ignored by mainstream politicians, they turn to authoritarian leaders. The trilemma that has defeated European institutions is being resolved by events. Borders are being reinstated in a disorderly scramble. Liberal Europe is fading from memory. As part of this process the European social democratic model is becoming extinct.
Writing in the New York Review of Books in , the historian Tony Judt — an impassioned social democrat — noted: It is not by chance that social democracy and welfare states have worked best in small, homogeneous countries, where issues of trust and mutual suspicion do not arise so acutely. There is nothing accidental in the demise of social democracy. It was always at odds with continent-wide labour mobility — a neoliberal project that presupposes the rollback of national welfare states and downward flexibility in wages.
Decline of the West, a hundred years on
With the centre left shrunken and moribund, voters have flocked to fringe parties, many of which have links with interwar fascism. Murray thinks there is little to fear from the rise of the far right. Indeed, except in a few fringe cases, he denies that anything of the sort is occurring.
It is difficult to share his complacency. There is a temptation — which Murray shares, curiously, with many bien pensant liberals — to regard the advance of the far right as a passing episode in the evolution of European politics. Far-right parties will become more moderate, or else the centre will reassert itself.
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Either way, politics will soon revert to normal. Such reasoning is delusional. The illiberal Europe of today may not be the prelude to a full-scale rerun of the Thirties. Economic dislocation has so far been on a smaller scale, and its social effects blunted by what remains of the welfare state.