Spengler, Germany, and Nazism

Unlike most prophets of doom, Spengler quickly found a large audience. Published between 1918 and 1922, in the aftermath of a world war that left Germany exhausted and humiliated, «The Decline of the West» was a runaway best seller at home and it soon became a hit in other European countries. Many found in it a – convenient? – explanation of the havoc that had befallen Europe, interpreting it as an inevitable episode in Western man’s unstoppable march toward decay. Remarkably, unlike his more sanguine contemporaries, Spengler predicted that the Great War was only the preamble to a more catastrophic second world war. Spengler ran counter to the typical 19th century belief in constant improvement and historical progress. Academic circles were not impressed by his ideas and Spengler often came under fire for his supposedly unscientific methods. His poetic argument and forceful prose that cut across different civilizations, sciences, arts, empires, cities and peoples came up against a more rigid and meticulously referenced academic discourse. Remarkably, the polymath Spengler – a former student of mathematics, philosophy, history and art – turned down a seat at the University of Goettingen and, many years later, at the University of Leipzig so that he could fully dedicate himself to his writing. Spengler’s relationship with Nazism remains controversial to this day. Some of his ideas appear to have anticipated fascism. His critique of what he slammed as decadent liberal democracy, his racialist theories, and his adoration of the Prussian soul – all found sympathetic ears among the National Socialists. To their disappointment, Spengler turned down repeated invitations to join the party, put off by its «primitive anti-Semitism.» After a meeting with Hitler in 1933, Spengler is reported to have said that what Germany needed was not a «heroic tenor but a real hero.» His skepticism about the Nazi regime led to his gradual alienation. In 1936, Spengler predicted in a letter that in 10 years the German Reich would be no more. He died first of a heart attack in the same year.