Man and Technics

by Oswald Spengler, translated by C.F. Atkinson
Knopf, $3.50

It is characteristic of Alfred Knopf’s loyalty to authors he has long esteemed to have reissued two of Spengler’s minor writings which have been out of print for ten years. In terms either of sales or of intrinsic merit, I question whether the books deserve such attention. They are dated, chaotic and intellectually disreputable; it is difficult to see what the public of the 1960s will make of these tracts written only a generation ago, yet under such totally different circumstances. But now that Knopf has performed his quixotic gesture, we can only be grateful to him. It means that the corpus of Spengler’s translated work is back in print again and that we can see him in perspective as something more (or less) than the author of The Decline of the West; we can rediscover the second role which Spengler himself considered as important as his historical writing—his function as political spokesman and national prophet.

After the phenomenal success of The Decline in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Spengler faced a difficult choice. From a retired Gymnasium teacher living in obscurity in Munich, he had suddenly been transformed into a public figure. His every utterance commanded attention as a clue to the future of the Western world whose cultural ossification and political decay he had already delineated. On one hand, Spengler might confine himself to the task of enriching the historical perspectives he had presented in The Decline—taking a stand above the day-to-day battle as the cool observer of the millenial (and ineluctable) tendencies of history. The other choice was to get into the fight and show his own countrymen that all was not lost, that the German nation, if only it could organize itself aright, might provide the “Caesar” who would give the Western world strength for a last-ditch stand in the age of iron which it was entering.

By temperament, Spengler preferred the latter course. He was an activist and a German patriot, and for the five years of Germany’s post-war turmoil, he devoted his major energies to trying to steer his country toward national order and hierarchical discipline. Unfortunately, for this transition period in his writing English translations are totally lacking. We must go to the original texts for the articles and lectures in which Spengler preached his own brand of national regeneration, and more particularly to the slim polemical volume, Preussentum und Sozialismus, in which he outlined his prophetic suggestion of a reconciliation between German socialist ideals and the Prussian military tradition.

By 1924, Spengler’s failure as a polemicist was amply evident. With the apparent stabilization of the German economy and of democratic institutions, authoritarian conservatives of his type went into temporary eclipse. Ill and discouraged, Spengler returned to historical speculations, toying for years with two vast projects which finally became one—a “metaphysical” book and a study of prehistory in the Mediterranean basin. It was a fragment of these broodings that he decided to publish in 1931 under the title Man and…

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