Oswald Spengler: A Critical Estimate

Since its publication in 1918, Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West has been the object of academic controversy and opprobrium. In their efforts to dispose of it, scholars have resorted to a variety of tactics: bitter invective, icy scorn, urbane mockery, or simply pretending that the book is not there. Yet generations of readers have refused to be warned off, finding in Spengler a prophetic voice and a source of profound intellectual excitement. H. Stuart Hughes's Oswald Spengler offers a judicious and objective reading of Spengler's works that admirably fills the gap between hypercritical invective and naIve enthusiasm. This pioneering volume makes clear why Spengler's pessimistic reading of the fate of European civilization continues to resonate with contemporary anxieties. Despite the author's self-imposed intellectual and social isolation, Spengler's work was as Hughes demonstrates, a part of the enormous effort of intellectual reevaluation that has characterized the early twentieth century. Viewing Spengler in the broadest possible perspective, the author places his thought in its cultural relationship to that of such predecessors as Giambattista Vico, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Nikolai Danilevsky and contemporaries including Benedetto Croce, Henri Bergson, and Vilfredo Pareto. A chapter of Hughes's book is devoted to Spengler's influence on later cyclical thinkers such as Arnold Toynbee and Pitirim Sorokin. Another chapter clarifies the essentially antagonistic relationship between his thought and Nazi ideology. Throughout, Hughes is carefully attuned to the complex and often bewildering shifts of Spengler's ideas and manner, providing a unified picture of the sober historian; the lofty seer; the cool, detached observer; and the impassioned participant. In his introduction to this new edition, Hughes comments on the timeliness of Spengler's message with respect to technology and environmental issues and draws some unexpected and fascinating parallels between Spengler's thought and that of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Oswald Spengler offers an illuminating view of the achievements and limitations of one of the most influential and representative figures of the twentieth century. It will be of concern to intellectual historians, philosophers, political scientists, and sociologists.