Oswald Spengler

From Kaiserreich

Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler (29 May 1880 – ) is a German poet, playwright, and sometime historian and philosopher whose interests also include mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for the operas which he has made in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht (with whom he has had an often stormy relationship) their most successful work to date being Jack the Knife. The pair has been called the Gilbert & Sullivan of the Wilhemine Age (Alfred Kerr had originally intended this as an insult to Brecht whom he has also assailed with accusations of plagiarism but it soon entered the popular vernacular).


Oswald Spengler was born in 1880 in Blankenburg (in the Duchy of Brunswick, Germany) at the foot of the Harz mountains, the eldest of four children, and the only boy. His family was typical conservative German petite-bourgeoisie. His father, originally a mining technician, who came from a long line of mineworkers, was a post office bureaucrat. He had a hard and joyless childhood, and the young Spengler turned to books and the great cultural personalities for succor. He had imperfect health, and suffered throughout his life from migraine headaches and from an anxiety complex.

At the age of ten, his family moved to the university city of Halle. Here Spengler received a classical education at the local Gymnasium (academically oriented secondary school), studying Greek, Latin, mathematics and natural sciences. Here, too, he developed his affinity for the arts—especially poetry, drama, and music—and came under the influence of the ideas of Goethe and Nietzsche. He even experimented with a few artistic creations, the foreshadowing his future career. At the age of ten he held his sisters spell-bound with fabulous tales of an Arabian imperial palace, and at fourteen he drew maps and composed a two-thousand year, history of a fantasy archipelagic empire, which fell in revolution and dictatorship. He as a youth also wrote the history of the phantasy empire Afrikasien while at seventeen he completed his first drama Montezuma and in his early twenties began work on a series of dramas on Prussian kings and also his work on Tiberius a work which is still incomplete but which Spengler has promised will dazzle theatergoers when it is finally unveiled.

After his father's death in 1901 Spengler attended several universities (Munich, Berlin, and Halle) as a private scholar, taking courses in a wide range of subjects: history, philosophy, mathematics, natural science, literature, the classics, music, and fine arts. His private studies were undirected. In 1903, he failed his doctoral thesis on Heraclitus because of insufficient references, which effectively ended his chances of an academic career. In 1904 he received his Ph.D., and in 1905 suffered a nervous breakdown.

He briefly served as a teacher in Saarbrücken and then in Düsseldorf, he was seen as a strict but fair teacher who was popular with his students. From 1908 to 1911 he worked at a practical high school (Realgymnasium) in Hamburg, where he taught science, German history, and mathematics.

In 1911, following his mother's death, he moved to Munich, he lived as a cloistered scholar, supported by his modest inheritance, and he burned the majority of his youthful literary works. Spengler survived on very limited means and was marked by loneliness. He owned no books, and took jobs as a tutor or writing for magazines to earn an additional income.

He began work on the first volume of Decline of the West intending at first to focus on Germany within Europe, and to be titled Liberal and Conservativebut the Agadir Crisis affected him deeply, and he widened the scope of his study, the book was to explain what the ramifications of the inevitable German victory in the Weltkreig would be. Spengler was inspired by Otto Seeck's work The Decline of Antiquity 'in naming his own effort. The book was completed in 1914, but publication was delayed by the Weltkrieg. Due to a congenital heart problem, he was not immediate called up for military service. During the war, however, his inheritance was largely useless because it was invested overseas; thus Spengler lived in genuine poverty for this period. The Decline of the West was not very successful. Historians took umbrage at an amateur effort by an untrained author and his unapologetically non-scientific approach. While Thomas Mann compared reading Spengler's book to reading Schopenhauer for the first time, academics gave it a mixed reception. Max Weber described Spengler as a "very ingenious and learned dilettante", while Karl Popper described the thesis as "pointless". The great historian of antiquity Eduard Meyer thought highly of Spengler, although he also had some criticisms of him. Spengler's obscurity, intuitionalism, and mysticism were easy targets, especially for the Positivists and neo-Kantians who saw no meaning in history. The critic and æsthete Count Harry Kessler thought Spemgler unoriginal and rather inane, especially in regard to his opinion on Nietzsche. On August 5th 1921 Spengler was conscripted into the army where he soon suffered a mental breakdown which led to Spengler being sent to a military hospital in Dossenheim where he first met his future collaborator Bertolt Brecht (who was serving as a medical orderly there after being transferred from a VD clinic in Augsburg), the pair found the other to be pretty much the only mentally stimulating companion in the provincial town and as Spengler began to recover they began hiking together in the hills. While both had serious political disagreements with the other they got along fairly well. It was during this time, with Brecht's help and encouragement that Spengler completed his memorandum on what Kaiser Wilhelm II should do following the war, calling for the reforming of the Prussian electoral system as well as allowing the socialists to play a more important role in the German government and the opening up of the upper ranks of the government and the military to the lower classes saying "I see the time drawing near, when positions of great responsibility, in government, the organisation of commerce, industry, transportation and colonies, will be filled not any more by privy councillors, but by self-made men" . It is unknown whether the Kaiser read his memoranda. Shortly after the signing of the Peace with Honour he was released from the hospital and in spite of the severe strain he had suffered, Spengler soldiered on publishing the second volume of Decline in 1923.

In 1924 the opera Diana's Wedding was performed to great acclaim, it was composed by Paul Strüver with Spengler writing the libretto, this brought Spengler to the attention of the art world and led to him renewing his friendship with Bertolt Brecht and the two of them began to work together on a number of plays. Nonetheless it was a sometimes strained working relationship, with Spengler disapproving of Brecht's obsession with Marx (Brecht began studying Marxism and syndicalism in earnest in 1928 shortly after their musicalJack the Knife premiered) and Brecht disliked Spengler's imperialistic sentiments. Indeed Alfred Kerr has called them "the Gilbert & Sullivan of the Wilhelmine age, except that when they break up the career of one of them shall go up like a bird. Brecht's of course shall go down like a rock". Brecht and Spengler both denied that there partnership would break up, with Brecht angrily denouncing Kerr and Spengler saying "Kempner knows less of art than a pig knows of flying".

He has long been working on a novel which will be a story of a German from the birth of modern Germany to the glorius victory in the Weltkrieg and beyond. It is expected to be published in 1936 or 1937.

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