The Spenglerian cycle, at least in part, has been accepted as the God-given truth by most on the side of it. I argue elsewhere that this is due to Spengler being a prophet and not a philosopher. Yet even prophets have trouble predicting the entire future, and every theory has holes, exceptions, and rules which are misconstrued by either the prophet or the followers. This piece will focus on one of these blind spots in Spengler, but less a blind spot and more of a natural occurrence that may not have registered in the mind of the author of Decline.
Spengler plays at naturalism in his theory, one of the key points of critique when various narrow-minded academics seeking tenure seek to character-assassinate him disguised in University prose in order to secure their place as an apparatchik and a mouthpiece. Such people will not be remembered of course, and that is why their critique of naturalism itself will not be acknowledged as having any merit or weight in this article, or any article in the future. Yet the naturalism of Spengler should be at the forefront of the reader’s mind when considering the following.
The end of all high cultures comes in two forms, according to Spengler: The Götterdamerung, as was the case with the Babylonians/Mesopotamians, Apollonians, and Mesoamericans, or the Petrification as was the case with the Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Magians, and likely the course of the Faustians. I.e., a High Culture ends when it’s either burned out of existence or becomes like a mummy in a crumbling tomb buried by sand in some unexplored section of the Valley of Kings. Such a thing is well-acknowledged among those familiar with Spengler’s work, and the lack of innovation among Indian and Chinese society for all of recorded history following the birth of Christ stands as a testament to the truth of the contention.
Yet, something seems missing. Spengler somewhat explains the adoption of previous culture-forms by later High Cultures through the idea of Pseudomorphosis, but that only accounts for succeeding High Cultures, i.e. the Magian living under the Apollonian Pseudomorphosis, the Faustian living under the Magian Pseudomorphosis, and the potential future Russian living under the Faustian Pseudomorphosis starting with the reign of Peter the Great. If Arnold Toynbee is introduced, holes begin to get filled.
As John David Ebert argues, Toynbee’s historical knowledge edges out Spengler, which is more glaring in some areas than others. Yet Toynbee could only ever add to Spengler’s theory, fill in holes, correct minute details, etc. Historians can never really create theories, and Spengler’s knowledge of the Arts of Form, Culture, Mathematics, and his instinctual German Idealist Scholarship allows for grand theories which the English bean-counter types such as Toynbee can only ever revise. Nevertheless, Toynbee adds two interesting ideas.
The first of which is the idea of Generations of High Cultures. With the Babylonian and Egyptian fulfilling the First Generation, the Apollonian, Indian, and Chinese fulfilling the Second, and the Magian and Faustian fulfilling the Third, with the Russian being the potential Fourth Generation. The concept of Generations presupposes at least a partial acceptance of the Whiggish “Progress” narrative of history, but it would be folly to assume certain things from previous High Cultures wouldn’t be adopted by later High Cultures.
The second Toynbeean idea is that of Satellite Civilizations. Such as the Hittites to the Babylonians (despite them being Indo-European,) the Minoans to the Egyptians, or the Japanese to the Chinese. I.e., Spengler (fitting his German Idealist Ethos) can often paint too broad a brush, which doesn’t account for nuanced cultures such as those too. But if Spengler can paint too broad, Toynbee paints far too narrow, and needlessly divides cultures and civilizations where none need to be, such as dividing India into three or four cultures (depending on which work you read.) Even so, there remains a contemporary issue with this idea: the Global Triumvirate of Euro-America, China, and Russia.
As is always the case, ideas and events seem far more (or less) important to their contemporaries than they likely are, yet two things strike me about China and Russia at the current time (I refer to the era post-1991 when I say current time.) According to the Spengler-Toynbeean reading, China is a dead High Culture re-living its own stereotypes perpetually, an animated mummy if you will, or perhaps the shades of Helen and Paris that Dr. Faust via Mephisto summons for Emperor Charles in Goethe’s Faust Part II. On the other hand, Russia is a High Culture in its infancy, one which has yet to find a suitable way of expressing itself outside of the Peter the Great-imposed Western Pseudomorphosis. Remaining in the Spenglerian Orthodoxy, China is a flesh-puppet and Russia is the future power. While I’m convinced of the latter, the former is not so clear to me.
China under the CCP has undergone an immense modernization, which forces at least a partial Western Pseudomorphosis in order to properly adopt Western Technics. Yet, China is expressing itself in ways I have not seen in the pages of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, A Dream of Red Mansions, Journey to the West, or even foundational texts like the Tao-Te-Ching and The Art of War. This is apparent in a sliver of the TikTok content one finds leaving that country, the booming Sinitic film industry which produces better and more compelling plotlines than any (mainstream) Western studio has for the past ten years, and the expansionism found in the Belt and Road Initiative.
China has always been the most isolationist of all the High Cultures. Despite understanding the concept of Gunpowder since before the time of Christ, having a functional Steam Engine during the Song Dynasty, and sending out colonization fleets that would put the Europeans to shame around a century prior, China has actively stopped itself from “advancing,” in the Western sense of the word. Indeed, the geographical borders of China have remained the same for millennia, only really expanded by the assimilation of the Mongol Consciousness during the Yuan Dynasty. China, while an empire, has never been imperialistic outside of its own natural borders. This is no longer the case.
China’s BRI seeks to fill the vacuum of Soviet Power in the middle east, which has remained unfilled since 1991 (it’s laughable to assume the U.S. ever did or could since this year.) This has been coupled with receding Russian ambitions in the region (for the time at least,) and a refocus of Moscow onto lucrative fuel markets in the too-highly industrialized Western Europe. Xi Jinping, the Hongzhao Emperor (the dear reader will indulge the author in his bastardized attempt to translate “Shining Red” into Latin characters,) on the surface seeks to re-establish the Chinese Order in place since the Xia Dynasty countless centuries ago. But it’s not the same as old, there’s something to it inherently, new. Youthful. Vital. This does not fit with Spengler’s idea of a dead and petrified High Culture.
If we return to my earlier point of naturalism, there’s a phenomenon that I believe fits here. When a tree is felled by man or by nature, should the roots not be pulled out, a new tree can just as easily sprout through the stump, and recycle the old tree’s supposedly “dead” root systems, growing faster and soon larger than the felled tree was.
Does the same apply to the petrified High Cultures?