Spengler on Democracy

YESTERDAY a portion of Spengler’s discussion of the peace question, in the light of his theory of history, was quoted in this column. When read out of their context, and without any clear idea of the author’s thesis, such passages may be regarded lightly as no more than the expression of personal opinion by a very gloomy man. Now that nearly everyone entertains “opinions” on nearly everything, little knowing, as a rule, the real source of such opinions, it would be natural for the casual reader to assume that Spengler is doing only what millions of others are doing — that is to say, making the sort of noise he thinks he likes to make. But when such passages are related to the general structure of his thought, they are likely to strike the thoughtful reader with terrific force.

Furthermore, the causal reader, naturally enough, may infer from such passages that Spengler is to be classified as a pessimist. But, as a matter of fact, “pessimism” is too small a meaning to describe the Spenglerian world view for a pessimist, in the strict sense, must maintain an intensely personal attitude, a fragmentary view with himself as central in it, in his gloomy judgment of the “meaning” of the human predicament.

Spengler’s attitude appears to be utterly impersonal, and in the wholeness of his vision he finds no more sanction for sorrow in the rounding out of a human culture cycle than he finds in the completion of a lunar orbit. He deplores nothing; he only seeks to understand.

How much he may understand is a question for time to decide, for the most powerful intellect, when confronted with such problems, is a puny enough thing: but the Spenglerian vision is, at the very least, a grand and chastening one that can do no harm to a headlong and cocksure generation.

Spengler’s view on the future course of democracy and its destined destruction, as he believes, by money working through publicity under the guise of a new freedom but toward a new form of enslavement, seems especially pertinent. “Today we live so [ ? ]” he writes, “under the bombardment of this intellectual artillery (publicity) that hardly anyone can attain to the inward detachment that is required for a clear view of the monstrous drama. The will to power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the objects sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.

Democracy has, by its newspaper, completely expelled the book from the mental life of the people. The book-world, with its profusion of standpoints that compelled thought to select and criticize, is now a real possession only for a few.

If one or another specimen of a book does emerge into visibility, the press forestalls and eliminates its possible effects by reviewing it.

“What is truth? For the multitude, that which it continually reads and hears. The public truth of the moment, which alone matters for effects and successes in the fact-world, is today a product of the Press. What the Press wills, is true.

“Three weeks of press work, and the truth is acknowledge by everybody. Everybody convinces himself at once of the new truth, and regards himself awakened out of error.

“The idealist of the early democracy regarded popular education, without arriere pensee, as enlightenment pure and simple, and even today one finds here and there weak heads that become enthuseastic over the Freedom of the Press — but it is precisely this that smooths the path for the coming Caesars of the world press.

A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined. Formerly a man did not dare to think freely. Now he dares, but cannot; his will to think is only a willingness to think to order, and this is not what he feels as his liberty.

“This is the end of democracy. If in the world of truths it is proof that decides all, in that of facts it is success.

The thought, and consequently the action of the mass, are kept under iron pressure — for which reason, and for which reason only, men are permitted to be readers and voters — while the parties become the obedient retinues of the few, and the shadow of coming Caesarism already touches them. As the English kingship became in the nineteenth century, so parliaments will become in the twentieth, a solemn and empty pageantry. As then scepter and crown, so now people’s rights are paraded for the multitude, and all the more punctiliously the less they signify.

Elections are degenerating for us into the farce that they were in Rome. Money organizes the process in the interests of those who possess it and election affairs become a preconcerted game that is staged as popular self-determination.

“Through money, democracy becomes its own destroyer, after money has destroyed intellect.”