Roots of German Philosophy, Part Two: Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
September 12, 2008
Oswald (“Ozzie”) Spengler was born in Blankenburg in the Harz Mountains, an area infested by canaries. The canaries, however, were useful in the nearby coal mines. Spengler’s father started out as a mining technician but ended up working in the post office. This is probably what got Spengler into thinking about how the West was declining, which he was to write about later. He had the habit of always walking downhill, never uphill, which led him into obvious dificulties. As a young man, he suffered from migraines and anxiety and at the age of 25 suffered a nervous breakdown. During the period of seclusion that followed, he tried his hand at writing and produced a children’s story called “Ludwig, the Friendly Whale.” It was never published, but it was prophetic in that he was later to make friends with Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was, in fact, rather whale-like in appearance. Spengler taught high school from 1908-1911. He taught grammar and also coached the volleyball team, which was above-average. When his mother died in 1911, he got depressed and moved to Munich, where he lived frugally and just stayed home and read books. He was a virgin until his big book, The Decline of the West, came out in 1917. It was a big success for a work of philosophy, and he suddenly found himself popular with women. It was at this time that Wittgenstein became his friend and took him to all the brothels in Munich. The Decline of the West said basically that all civilizations go through a process where they mature and then start to rot and go into decline. But if the West was already in decline in 1917, how come all these wogs and jigaboos from the Third World want to immigrate here now? Maybe we should tell them, “Hey, we’re declining! Go back to Sri Lanka!” Regardless of that, Spengler’s book became a hit with America’s beatniks and such writers as Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg. He also was a big influence on Alice Cooper, Ricky Nelson (son of Ozzie, of course!), Herman’s Hermits, and Bobby Darin. L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz was actually a fable based on The Decline of the West, and “Oz” was derived from “Ozzie” (Spengler). Spengler also wrote a book of aphorisms titled The Hour of Decision, which included this one: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Spengler’s landlady in Munich used to refer to him as “The Sad Marsupial of German Philosophy” because he carried his books and personal effects in a pouch around his stomach and always had a gloomy expression (before his book came out and he started getting laid). She also claimed just before her death that she had edited the manuscript of The Decline of the West by cutting out the dull parts, but scholars don’t believe this, as the dull parts are still in it. A statue of Spengler can be found in front of the North Residence Hall at Dordt College, in Sioux Center, Iowa, where he still has a lot of fans.
1. Ape Men of the Petrified Forest, by Billy Bob Heilbutt, 1980, Oglethorpe Univ. Press.
2. Teutonic Bullies and the Surge of Revisionism, by Helmut Blatz-Piranha, 1997, Anthropological Society of the Amazon Basin.
3. Munich Underground: The Forbidden Zone, by Harvey Agapopolis, 1973, Winkie Books.
Copyright@ 2008, by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org