ON GEOPOLITICS C R G
Research Paper No. 1996
RECEPTION OF MACRO-HISTORY IN SWEDEN
Center for Research on Geopolitics (CRG), SWEDEN.
Director: Mr. Bertil Haggman, LL.M., author. E-mail:
My personal view was that macro-historian Oswald Spengler did not have a very positive response in Sweden if any. This was partly based on the fact that his great work The Decline of the West was not translated into Swedish until 1996.
Now at last we know better. James Cavallie, author and former with the Swedish National Archive, has documented the Spengler reception in Sweden in a very detailed book, Spengler i Sverige – Den svenska reception av Oswald Spenglers teser om världshistorien och Västerlandets undergång (Spengler in Sweden – The Swedish Reception of Oswald Spengler’s Theories on World History and the Decline of the West), Stockholm: Hjalmarson & Hoegberg, 2009, 304 pages). Cavallie has extended his presentation to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and it covers the period from the 1920s to the present day. The author shows that a large number of leading Swedish cultural personalities have published about the German macro-historian. He has even had some influence on Swedish fictional works and on Swedish architectural theory.
Another recently published book by Per Landin, an author and liberal journalist also partly deals with Spengler in Dietrich Eckharts onda oega – essaeer (The Evil Eye of Dietrich Eckhart – Essays), Stockholm, Atlantis, 2009, 228 pages. In typical liberal fashion he assures the readers that conservatism presently is looked upon as reactionary. Maybe so in Landin’s own liberal circles in Sweden. In the new book Landin deals with several conservatives in what in Gerany is labelled as “revolutionary conservatives” in the Weimar Republic. Spengler was of course never a part of “revolutionary conservatism”. He was a pessimistic individualist and Landin’s view of Spengler is not only negative. The author admits that it is hard to classify the German macro-historian. There is a certain connection to Nazism, according to Landin (although he does not go deeper than that. Spengler does not belong to any political ideology.
Spengler's Baltic Journey
It had been a hectic year for Oswald Spengler. In February 1924 he had published "Politische Pflichten der deutschen Jugend" and in May "Neubau des Deutschen Reiches". In the beginning of October he lectured at the Orientalist Conference in Munich. Then also in October he published "Altasien" and "Nietzsche und sein Jahrhundert", a lecture at the Nietzsche Archive at the 80th birthday of the philosopher. These were only a few of his activities that year. Already before Spengler’s visit to Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia in 1924 there had been a number of reviews of his work The Decline of the West.
When he undertook the Baltic journey he probably wanted to continue to Russia but was prevented from that by erupting violence there.
The notes underneath are from Spengler's own hand on cards preserved at the Spengler Archive now at the Bavarian State Library from a visit of mine in Munich. The English translation from German is mine.
10.29 in the evening arrival after an enjoyable see journey.
Lecture: [d.] The Origin of the Great Cultures. (Academic Society) "German-Swedish Academic Union." Introduction by Professor E.A. Kock.
Lecture: The History of Language in the History of the Development of Human Life (?) (Philosophical Society)
In connection discussion: Nilsson, (?), Larsson, Ljungdahl, (?).
Postcard to me via Halle and Berlin (?)
Lectures in Lund.
Lecture at the "Aesthetic Society" with the couple Cornell (?), Dr. Stavenow and Dr. Mannheimer.
Back at the end of November.
Interview with Svenska Dagbladet.
Lecture on peoples, spaces and languages.
In the evening with Sundwalls ?
Newspaper of 10.11.1924
Arrived in the evening from Aabo. Rommen. Gave interview.
Lecture "How the Great Cultures Originated".
On 15th crossing to Reval.
Lecture at the Finnish-German Society about the Fate of the Cultures of Antiquity. Afterwards
Last lecture: Races, Peoples, Languages in the Great Hall of the university
Reval. Car journey into "the interior of the country"
Trotzki is deposed
Communist coup in Reval, Estonia. General Laidoner given martial law powers. Executions. 17 Dec. new cabinet.
In February-March 1925 Spengler travelled to Italy.
My research in the list of names of the Spengler Archive has produced indications that Spengler exchanged letters with a few Scandinavians:
Martin Persson Nilsson
Cavallie describes Spengler’s Swedish and Finnish lecture tour in great detail and points out that the Baltic tour was the last lecture tour of the German macro-historian outside Germany. Later tours to Argentina and Spain were cancelled.
In a short concluding remark Cavallie points to Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P. Huntington (who recently passed away) as possible modern successors of Spengler and Arnold Toynbee (who is also treated in a fair way in “Spengler in Sweden”. Fukuyama claimed that the questions had been solved with the collapse of the Soviet empire and the free enterprise had been victorious. There were no greater problems in the world unsolved. What Cavallie does not say is that Fukuyama could well be correct. The present onslaught on the West by islamofascism could well be a rearguard fight of reaction and autocratic extremists in the Arab world. If the creation of market economies in Afghanistan and Iraq are successful they could well be further steps of global liberty and democracy. In the long run American policies between 2009 and 2012 could just be a short term pause in the dominating ongoing American that started with Wilsonianism after the First World War.
On Huntington Cavallie is equally careful in his remarks. He notes that Huntington believed that after the collapse of the Soviet tyranny there will be new tensions and conflicts this time between the seven or eight civilizations described by the American professor. The somewhat pessimistic view of Huntington was that the influence of the West will decline. Perhaps those views makes for a Spengler Redivivus in America. Unfortunately we will not be provided with more visionary views from the American Spengler. He passed away at 81 in December 2008. Huntington was of course correct when he wrote about the coming new phase of world history. The question is if the future clash between America and China will be a clash between two civilizations. There is much evidence today that there is a separate American civilization that in many respects has surpassed European civilization. The coming clash will more likely be between American civilization as the hegemon of the West against a communist regime in Peking that desperately clings to power and uses nationalism as a tool. The conflict has already begun to heat up. In March 2009 China called for a new global currency to replace the dollar. In late March 2009 a new Chinese book, Unhappy China, singled out the United States for special scorn and called for Chinese strengthening of reliance on technology and innovation as well as bolstering the military.
Moeller van den Bruck and Macro-history
The works on the Weimar Era German conservative Moeller van den Bruck (1876 - 1925) have generally taken little notice of his interest in the philosophy of history. He did not believe in the decline of the West and thought it necessary to refute Oswald Spengler in his historical-philosophical works. It was important, he believed, to popularize a "metaphysics of reality", which implied synthesis of the main traditions of western philosophy. Van den Bruck was a nationalist and therefore primarily saw the different peoples as the agents of history.
Landin in his Dietrich Eckart’s Evil Eye devotes an essay to van den Bruck but concentrates on the Weimar author’s creation of the term The Third Reich, which appropriated by the Nazis. They later, however, found out that the author in no way represented Nazi views on history. Already in 1922 he had taken a stand against Hitler. The Nazis took their time to discover the real van den Bruck. As late as 1933 he was still described as the Prophet of the Third Reich. After a few months, however, Bruck’s books on Russia were forbidden and confiscated.
In Das Recht der jungen Völker (1919) van den Bruck established a new outline of history. It was not only a struggle between young and old peoples. There was also a spiral movement without end. Van den Bruck based his new model on older ones. A source was Geschichte der Farbenlehre by Goethe, who also claimed that there was a spiral development in world history. But the most important influence was that of the German historian Kurt Breysig.
The rotation of world history resulted in geopolitical changes. Van den Bruck's model also provided indications of migration of history northwards, which gave it a spatial, geopolitical essence. Later, however, van den Bruck expressed the belief of migration toward the east (in which he differed from a general myth of history that civilization had from Babylon migrated in a westerly direction, eventually to America). But the view of the easterly direction had taken root among 'conservative revolutionaries' in Germany after World War I. It was a pretty common understanding among them that after the Russian revolution the center of gravity of world history would be placed in the European east. In the coming decades development would be based on what was happening in the western part of this area (Germany was after World War I still a country to a great extent based on its eastern territories: Pommerania, Brandenburg, Silesia and East Prussia).
The rotation had gained speed and the south had already joined the west as periphery. The change was turning into revolution. In the pessimistic climate of Weimar Germany it was important to the conservatives to instill confidence in the future. Thus Germans and Russians were described as "young peoples" of the future. The Germans had a great will to life. This would be important in the coming era of the world revolution. Overpopulation was working to the advantage of Germany and would strengthen her during the 20th century. The decline of the West was not Germany's decline. The future was determined by the "young peoples" which were throwing off their shackles. Thus the Germans were described in reality to be in the same category as the colonial peoples.
It has been claimed that Oswald Spengler’s great macro-historical work, The Decline of the West caused a stir similar to that caused by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. The great men were about the same age when rising to fame (Spengler was born 1880 and Einstein 1879). Both stood for changes of the way the world was viewed. Spengler’s book in Germany has been published in more than a quarter million copies and is widely translated.
Spengler in his great work did not set out to describe the death of Western culture. Instead the work is Spengler’s views on the end phase of our culture (rising around the year 1000 AD) as it turns into civilization. Neither is it a prophecy of the death of mankind. Man will live on without the West. What was shocking for the readers in 1918, most of them believing that the 19th and 20th centuries represented the height of development, was that someone could describe the West as being in a final phase.
Dr. John Farrenkopf, an American scholar, has recently provided the academic community and all interested in Spengler’s work with Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World Politics and History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001, 304 pages). After the attacks of Muslim terrorists of al Quaeda on the United States on September 11, 2001, this book is of increasing value, although the manuscript was completed and the book published before the attacks. Muslim terrorist actions and views are a threat to the present state system and ultimately the West.
Spengler is timely in 2009, both internationally and in Sweden, and especially Cavallie has provided a fine overview of the legacy of Spengler in the one Scandinavian country that has treated him seriously.