The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 1938
Spengler Comes True:
Dawn for Dictators
Evening in the West, by W. J. Cash
WHEN I originally read that formidable book, "The Decline of the West" (a heck of a way to translate a title which means literally "The Downgoing of the Evening Lands"), I wasn't inclined to take much stock in its theory.
That theory, if you have read it, is, in brief, that civilizations have a life cycle which is as inexorably fixed as that of the human body. Spengler studies the story of seven civilizations of the past and concludes that the advance through barbarism to feudalism to civilizations substantially as we have known it since the Renaissance is invariable in its main outlines. In some cases, indeed, the stages--in particular the first two--draw themselves out much longer than others, but always the pattern is the same. And when civilization in the strict sense has arrived, the pattern grows more and more complex with great rapidity until presently the time arises when it is no longer possible for men either to comprehend its ramifications or to compose the ideological conflicts which have sprung up into any semblance of order. Moreover, he argues, there is a very definite playing out of the primitive energies from which the whole pattern originally sprang. Wherefore decay sets in. Come war and social chaos, and out of war and chaos dictators, and out of dictators more war and chaos arise, until at length civilization has disappeared and barbarism stands once more master of the scene--ready to begin again the long march upward toward civilization!
THE CAUSE OF DECAY
And, said Mr. Spengler in 1918 (that is the year of publication--he actually said it earlier since the book was mainly written in the ten years before 1914), our Western civilization had already arrived at the point where no man could any longer really understand its complexities, and where creative energies were exhausted (as witness, Cubist and Futurist art)--was already embarked with the Great War on the course of decay. Presently we should have dictators and peoples organizing on a barbaric basis, and more great wars, and more dictators and peoples organizing on a barbaric basis, and more great wars...
I am no more prepared now than at first to accept the theory that all this is inevitable. But it is surely startling to observe how his prophecies are fulfilling themselves. And it is interesting to speculate what may come next if he should happen to be right. Already, of course, we have the dictatorships and peoples organizing on a purely barbaric basis. Nor is that last any figure of speech. The pattern which is developing in Germany and Italy and spreading through Central Europe is exactly and precisely the pattern of barbarism, as defined by anthropology. For the distinguishing feature of barbarism is just this: complete suppression of the individual by the group and organization complete of the group on military lines, its complete subordination to the military end of conquest. The organization of Germany and Italy now is ominously like the organization, and the watchwords of Blood and Soil are ominously like the watchwords, with which the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, the Alani and the Huns, the Suevi and the Vandals, the Saxon and the Dane, poured over Europe between the Second and the Ninth Centuries.
REMEMBER THE ROMANS
And they are even more ominously like that organization which the Roman State took on long after the death of Trajan and the definite beginning of collapse before barbarism. Indeed, Gibbons' "Decline and Fall" becomes immensely absorbing reading for our time in light of Spengler's theory. First, you know, there was complete militarization. and conquest of enormous territories, under relatively stable dictatorships. Then came the period when the soldiers began to make and unmake dictators on their own account, the period when dictators were regularly murdered, only to be succeeded by other--and morally worse--dictators. And always the head men waited and waited. Afterwards, the land began to become wasted. Men no longer tilled the soil, knowing that they would be robbed of its fruits at the harvest and probably murdered into the bargain, and crowded instead into cities for protection. Great mobs feated in the market place for bread and circuses and got them. But at length there was no bread, only circuses. Art declined to primitive crudity. The dictators turned effeminate, and new and ruthless barbaric conquerors poured in from outside to seize the sceptre from their nerveless fingers. And under these--barbarism established itself in completeness.
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