• Bitter Crank
    Here are a couple of books you might be interested in reading:

    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

    Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings by Jean Manco

    Britain Begins by Barry Conliffe

    The first, Horse, Wheel and Language is the best bet.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    The first two concern themselves with archeology and philology to trace physical and linguistic evidence of how a mix of various people eventually became "Europeans". Interesting books. The Horse/wheel book is the best of the those three.

    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Diamond concerns the geographic advantages of the people living in the Fertile Crescent and southern Eurasia. The climate and geography was roughly the same from east to west (plains, grass, forest, mountains, sea coasts, and rivers). The Chinese also benefitted from a similar configuration. Africans, Western Hemisphere and Australian aboriginals didn't benefit from their locations in a similar way. From the Mediterranean to the southern tip of Africa, from Hudson Bay to Terra del Fuego, there are many bands of climate and geographies. In Africa, and the Western Hemisphere, People tended to move from north to south. What worked in the Pacific Northwest didn't work in the desert southwest or central America.

    The domestication of various animals brought Eurasians into contact with several significant diseases -- smallpox, measles, and so on. They adapted, so that they didn't all die of the various afflictions that came with animal contact. When westerns and Amerindians came into contact, the Amerindian populations were devastated by the previously unmet diseases.

    The difference in E--->W, vs. N--->S movement is that the former were able to benefit from developments in one place as they moved on, and the latter were not. Also, Africans and Western Hemisphere peoples did not have animals that would agree to being convenient sources of labor. The Eurasian people had the advantage of several wild herd animals that were calm and cooperative enough to be domesticated -- water buffalo, sheep and goats, cow, horse, and hog (camels were a late arrival). There were buffalo in North America but buffalo are flighty herd animals which will not submit to close human contact. (Horses were introduced to the W.H. by the Spanish.)

    Diamond discusses some of the material determinants that helped produce Western Civilization. It isn't the case that Western Hemispheric aboriginals didn't develop complex civilizations and large structures: they did. The Cahokia monuments near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers is a very large cultural site. The earthwork structures are still quite large, even after a few centuries of erosion. Cahokia dominated much of the present central USA.

  • TheMadFool
    I don't think any region, western or eastern, has a ''civilization''.

    A ''true'' civilization should have harmonized itself with nature, thus enabling its sustainability or growth. All known ''civilizations'' are nothing more than different stages of ultimate self-destruction.
  • ssu
    (1) When we people refer to Western civilization today, do you think it is fair to say that they typically have in mind Anglosphere countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, New Zealand.johnGould
    Especially those people who come from the US, Canada, Australia, the U and New Zealand. Others not so.

    Do you think what we currently call "The West" is best represented by this group of Anglophone countries?

    I would be interested to hear what people's views are on these two questions.
    — johnGould
    As unenlightened commented earlier, the French likely don't think this way. But the Anglophones surely see themselves as being what is left of the West.

    I would argue that West Europeans would likely not think of themselves not being Western.

    Of course there is this West bias especially when it comes to what basically was called East Rome. Those people called themselves Romans for obvious reasons and were just called Byzantinians by the Westerners. They are typically forgotten and aren't viewed as part of "Western". Naturally for the Westerners eager to declare themselves the successors of Ancient Rome, the actual state surviving in the East for a thousand years was an uncomfortable detail. Also it is notable that Greece and Greeks, who now belong to the Orthodox Church are just given the spotlight for being the "cradle of Western thinking", but then are disattached from being part of the West for some reason.

    Much is argued about the Balkans being under Ottoman rule and about Russia being under Mongol rule and thus somehow East Europe isn't western. Yet seldom is Spain separated from the West for being under Muslim rule.

    I would argue that the definition of the "West" and "Western" culture depends on the issue at hand. If it's compared to "East" being Asian or "African", then "Western" has a lot within it starting from Latin America to Russia. If one makes a separation with West European and East European, just like North European or South European, then the issue is quite different.
  • Bitter Crank
    if Spengler were alive today to "fill in some of the gaps" for us , relating to his work, he would probably identify the Vikings, who appeared on the map of world history in the 7th (?) century, as the first genuinely Western (Faustian) people; that is, the first "fully fledged", bone fide Westerners.johnGould

    Why Vikings? Why not the English, the French, or the Irish who, one book says, saved Western Civilization? True, the Vikings took the initiative and ranged all the way from Oslo to Constantinople, or Copenhagen to Canada. I have nothing against the Vikings, but I don't see why you would see in them the roots of western culture more than Ukrainians, Germans, French, Greeks, or the Spaniards.

    "Western" is an amalgam of cultures stretching from the Levant, Greece, Rome, Northern Africa, Scandinavia, Finland (can't leave out the Finns, Balkans, Russians, etc.) and more.

    When do you think the West began? During the Age of Pericles? Augustus? In the several centuries after the last emperor of Rome? What about Byzantium? Charlemagne? Before or after the conversion to Christianity of Europe?

    I do not think it is possible to put one's finger on a date and place and say "That's where the West began!" The West, just like the East, China, the Maya, Inca, Aztec, Anasazi, Egyptian, or Islamic empire (and more besides these) -- is an emergent process. Babylon, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Alexandria, Moscow, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, London and so on are all way stations on the road to the West.

    The West that we belong to has been in existence for maybe 3000 years. Thanks to the colonial powers of Europe, much of the world is now tentatively western.
  • johnGould

    "Western" is an amalgam of cultures stretching from the Levant, Greece, Rome, Northern Africa, Scandinavia, Finland (can't leave out the Finns, Balkans, Russians, etc.) and more.Bitter Crank

    Before I discuss "The West", I must say,"Thank you" very much for your kind advice about cutting and pasting photos on the internet. Unfortunately I am still unable to do this. I could not use your tips, because I do not have an "Apple" computer. My lap - top is called a "Chromebook" ,and try as I might, I simply cannot get it to cut and post images?)


    I agree with you that Western civilization is a cultural amalgam; though I object to your intimation that it is a kind of "mongrel bitch", a creature who is a result of the crossing of all sorts of completely different breeds of dog. It is a mistake to conceive Western civilization in this this kind of way.

    I fully understand that when one is faced with such complex and difficult questions as: "What is the nature of the West/Western civilization"? What is bone fide Western culture? "What was the true ground of the Western Soul"? It is all too easy to respond by saying: "Geez... well, that's a big question you know; the notion of "the West" (the Occident) - the idea of a uniquely Western culture/civilization, has been kicking around for a mighty long time ! Expert historians in the mainstream academy tell us that Westerners have been on the scene for at least a 1000 years to date - ( and many scholars insist that the" West" actually began thousand of years before this, namely, with the "miracle" of Classical Athenian antiquity). In any case, throughout their long history, Westerners, have, we know been possessed of an intense wanderlust and they have travelled to countless different lands across all four quarters of the globe. Given the fact that since the era of the Vikings, Western man has continually set sail across the world on voyages of discovery, and given that ,in consequence, Westerners have over the centuries, encountered, interacted with, and lived among legion different ethnic and cultural groups, and given that they have borrowed so many important ideas from these different groups of peoples that I think, we are left with no real option but to" throw up our hands" and say that "The West" has pretty much always been, a giant, polymorphous hodge-podge - a king-sized cultural/civilizational "dog's breakfast."

    As I say, I agree with notion that the West is "an amalgam". The way I conceptualise Western civilization is by arguing that it is the child of two parents. To use Spengler's terminology, one parent is Apollonian culture, ( the culture of Classical Greco-Roman civilization) culture; the other is "Magian "culture ( the culture of Islamic/Judeo-Christian worlds). Thus, Western/ "Faustian" culture/civilization is affiliated with the culture of Classical Athenian/Roman antiquity and with the Islamic/Judeo-Christian world, but it is nonetheless a unique entity; just as a child is unique being who is created by and affiliated with, but not in any sense identical to either of it's parents.

    I think it is worth emphasising the point, that is, that the terms: Western ("Faustian") culture/ civilization and Classical Greco-Roman ("Apollonian") culture/civilization are not synonymous; because this represents one decisive step forward in the monumental task we have of of trying to sort out what exactly we mean when we use terms like "The West" and "Western culture/civilization" Western/("Faustian") culture/civilization did not begin in the 5th century BC in Athens with Cleisthenes' and his famous political reforms. Classical Athenian culture does not equate to "Faustian" /(Western) culture. Western ("Faustian") culture and Ancient Athenian/Roman) culture are two very different "balls of wax", so to speak. What Spengler refers to as the the "Faustan" soul ( the unique metaphysic/spirit that perfuses and animates Western culture) is, metaphysically speaking, entirely different to the "Apollonian" Soul that infused of ancient Greco-Roman culture.

    Where is the evidence to substantiate this claim, you ask?

    There is no shortage of evidence, and I will again defer to Spengler in setting out some illustrations and explanations for you now below... (You will note that in my posts on this thread, I take Spengler to be the foremost authority to date on the nature of Western culture/civilization and the "Faustian"/Western soul. The reason for this is that I think the account he provides of the "Faustian" soul and its cultural manifestations in "The Decline of the West" (1922) is so well supported with concrete historical evidence ( of the kind that any modern reader can access and examine in detail for himself at the touch of a button on his computer !) that one has no optionbut to accept his thesis.

    "Apollonian" (Ancient Greco-Roman) Culture/Civilization.

    Spengler allocates each of the major world civilizations that have emerged what he calls a "prime symbol". As I mentioned in an earlier post the "prime symbol" of "Faustian" Western soul is infinity in the sense of infinite extension in space. Spengler views "Apollonian" (ancient Greco-Roman)culture/civilization are being very different from "Faustian" and the "prime symbol" he assigns to the "Apollonian"/Classical soul it is (quote):

    "the material, sensuously-present and individual body"

    The Classical soul is obsessed with everything that has to do with physical tangibility, even Greek metaphysis, for example, Plato's theory of Forms, has an implicitly sensual tactility. Likewise, the Stoic philosophers regarded even the properties and relations of things as "bodies". Chrysippus, for example, viewed the Divine Pneuma as being a body. In the field natural philosophy, Democritus is another Apollonian soul fixated on the concrete and finite. In his atomic theory, he proposed that everything was made up of tiny, indestructible, individual, material bodies called "atoms". Democritus believed that these tiny atoms were physically indivisible, i.e; one could not cut an atom in half and then cut the the half into two quarters, the quarters into two eighths and so on ad infinitum He also hypothesised that human vision consisted in our eyes being penetrated by material particles of the things that we are seeing.

    For the Classical Greco-Romans, their (metaphysical) ideal was the physical body, in particular, the perfectly defined, precisely-chiselled, muscular, athletic, naked human body. In many of their finest marble and bronze statues like "The Discus Thrower", the statues of Heracles, son of Zeus or the magnificent marble sculpture "Laocoon and his Sons", etc; there is a strict harmonizing and balancing of body proportions in accordance with the mathematical "Golden Ratio". In sum, these statues represent an obsessive/ meticulous/ perfectionist/sensual/ corporeal aesthetic. They exemplify the fixation of the Apollonian Soul with what is: near, concrete/material, finite and restrained, wholly appreciable (visible), tactile,"present", clearly defined, controlled and delimited... As Spengler puts it...

    "The Classical statue in its splendid bodiliness - all structure and expressive surfaces and no incorporeal arriere - pensee whatsoever - contains without remainder all that Actuality is for the Classical eye. The material, the optically definite, the comprehensible, the immediately present."
    For the "Apollonian" Soul, everything needed to be kept in-bounds, that is why the ancient Athenians saw an ideal ideal city state as being one that could be seen within the 360 degree horizon that was created for an observer when he stood atop the Acropolis and looking around to see what could be seen.

    We see the same fixation with the finite, near, and present in Classical cosmology. "Apollonian" cosmology was Ptolemaic (geocentric). When Aristarchus, the ancient Greek astronomer presented the first known heliocentric (Copernicus defers to him, BTW) model of the solar system it was rejected by Aristotle, Plato and other Athenian thinkers/ cosmologists who favoured a geocentric model. The claim that the Earth was moving through space around the sun vexed the "Classical soul", because to suggest this, was, of course, to open the door to the infinite, and the ancient Greeks were very intent indeed on keeping the infinite locked out of their world-view. They absolutely did not want to hear about things, especially their own Earth, flying through a boundless, infinite void They only wanted to hear about things that were close to hand, things that they could readily see and touch, in particular,individual things that were finite, "corporeally -present" The "Apollonian" soul craved a reality wherein all things were emphatically concrete and discrete, where they possessed a conspicuous, sensual/perceptual tactility. Spengler provides a neat summary of the Classical Greco-Roman universe in the following passage from "The Decline"...

    "The Classical universe, the "Cosmos" or well-ordered aggregate of all near and completely viewable things, is concluded by the corporeal vault of heaven (the "firmament"). More there is not. The need that is in us to think of "space" as being behind as well as before this shell was wholly absent from the Classical world-feeling."

    The "prime symbol" of the "Apollonian soul" (or, if you like, the ideal metaphysic of Classical Greco-Roman civilization) , which is "the material, sensuously-present individual body" and this "world feeling" as Spengler calls it can be seen very clearly in Classical architecture. Here, noblest and most exemplary expression is probably in the stone body of the Classical temple. Consider, for instance the typical Doric temple, this consists of a windowless rectangular inner chamber called a "cella" or "nao" surrounded by an outer perimeter of robust and relatively squat "Doric"- style, fluted, stone columns. These massive columns appear to bore into the ground the Temple sits upon and there is an overall impression of them forming an imposing closed rank ; this is expressly intended to convey to the observing eye that here is a solid "body" with no Inward. As architectural works, the Doric temples have a purely external effectiveness, they are seen set upon the landscape as a massive, weighty and majestically static image, but they deny and artistically disregard the space within, they viewed this space as being in the category of, "that which which is held to be incapable of existence". Like all of the other cultural expressions of the "Apollonian soul" Classical Greco-Roman architecture is characterised by individual structures ("bodies"): finite, concrete/material," present" and immediately appreciable, restrained/orderly, "tactile" , decisively bounded, minimalist ( in the sense of exhibiting a primal elegance of form) Here, to conclude this paragraph on "Apollonian" architecture, are some lucid insights from Spengler's "Decline of the West"...

    "...the Greek culture is that of the small, the easy, the simple. Its technique is, compared with Egyptian or Babylonian, a clever nullity. No ornamentation shows such a poverty of invention as theirs, and their stock of sculptural positions and attitudes could be counted on one's fingers. In its poverty of form, which is conspicuous, even allowing that at the beginning of its development it may have been better off than it was later, the Doric style pivoted everything on proportion and measure. Yet, even so, what adroitness in avoiding ! The Greek architecture with its commensuration of load and support and its peculiar smallness of scale suggests a persistent evasion of difficult architectural problems that on the Nile and, later, in the high North were literally looked for, which moreover were known and not burked in the Mycenaean age. The Egyptian loved the strong stone of immense buildings; it was in keeping with his self-consciousness that he should choose only the hardest for his task. But the Greek avoided it, his architecture first set itself small tasks, then ceased altogether. If we survey it as a whole, then compare it with the totality of Egyptian or Mexican or even, for that matter, Western, we are astounded at the feeble development of the style. A few variations of the Doric temple and it was exhausted. It was already closed off about 400 when the Corinthian capital was invented., and everything subsequent to this was merely a modification of what existed...The result of this was an almostbodily standardisation of form-types and style-species. One might choose between them but never overstep their strict limits - that would have been in some sort an admission of an infinity of possibilities. There were three order of columns ( i.e; Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) and a definite disposition of the architrave corresponding to each; to deal with the difficulty (considered as early as Vitruvius, as a conflict) which the alternation of triglyphs and metopes produced at the corners, the nearest intercolumniations we narrowed - no one thought of imagining new forms to suit the case. If greater dimensions were required, the requirements were met by superposition, juxtaposition, etc; of additional elements. Thus, the Colosseum possesses three rings, the Didymaeum of Miletus three rows of columns in front, and the Frieze of the Giants of Pergamum an endless succession of individual and unconnected motives."

    I could, of course, ramble on and discuss the "prime symbol" of Apollonian soul culture as it reveals itself in other branches of Classical culture, literature, for example, and so on but this post is already too lengthy.

    To summarise, my objective in this post has been to argue that Classical Greco-Roman culture/civilization is not, as is widely presumed, equivalent to Western culture/civilization. What we call "The West" was not born in Athens in 500.BC. The nature of "Faustian"/ Western soul; that is, the nature of the essential, inner spiritual characteristics of the Western man, are very different from those of the Classical Greco-Roman/"Apollonian" man. (And) this his being the case, "Faustian" culture/civilization and "Apollonian" culture/civilization are, in turn, wholly and fundamentally different from one another.

    So, finally, if there are no objections, I will hereby declare that we have made some modest, though very encouraging progress in the formidable task of attempting to clarify what exactly that controversial term "The West" truly means.


  • DiegoT

    Where is the evidence to substantiate this claim, you ask? There is no shortage of evidence, and I will again defer to Spengler in setting out some illustrations and explanations for you now below...
    John Gould, is it not obvious to you that Spengler wrote his books from the standpoint of a Victorian man who is watching how the British Empire is declining? And who studied a curriculum that was strong on classical studies and the sculptural nudes? (pederasty was widespread in Victorian elite schools and it was justified on Classical authors and art). When we talk about the past we have to bear in mind that we always put in those centuries appreciations of our own times. And more critically: we were not there, we do not know what people two millennia ago really thought and felt about things. We can not know, because we mostly have written documents that are a tiny fraction of what existed, and in which certain authors like Plato or Herodotus might have more credit than they enjoyed in their own time, when the alternative thinkers and intellectuals also had their now lost books, in circulation. We have to be very cautious. We really don´t know. When we have so little information, is very easy and tempting to add from our own imagination to fill in the blanks.

    For example, I´m not so sure that Greeks had a problem with infinity or incorporeal stuff. Chaos is a Greek word, and it meant very much what we know understand as quantum vacuum; not exactly corporeal or limited. Greeks took chaos from Egyptian Nun, the emptiness with maximum potential that is nothing in particular but gave birth to the Universe. Well-off Greeks went to Egyptian temples like people now go to universities, to learn medicine, philosophy or maths. Temples in Egypt were not churches; they were in many senses more like colleges or professional schools and kept large libraries. In Egypt you had the Nile, a mighty river that allowed Egyptians to transport massive limestone pieces from quarries in the South all the way to the Delta, and through a channel to the Gizah plateau. In Greece, which is all mountains, hills, and small islands, massive constructions were not a good idea so instead they went for noble materials and fine artists, which they did have. Greeks were not so limited in their art. In fact, in comparison with other cultures they were quite creative and outrageous. You have to be an expert in Egyptian art to tell if a fresco belongs to the Ancient, Middle, New Empire, or Hellenistic Egypt. Greek art on the contrary (even the usually more conservative religious art) is very easy to assign to periods, precisely because it was not canonized and simple. It kept changing at a pace that is surprisingly fast given the communications back then.
  • Ciceronianus the White

    I've heard about this, and am glad for it, but haven't attended. Perhaps I should.
  • ssu
    John Gould, is it not obvious to you that Spengler wrote his books from the standpoint of a Victorian man who is watching how the British Empire is declining?DiegoT
    Why on Earth would you call this German historian a Victorian man? German thinkers are typically quite positive about things German (that is, before certain Adolf H).

    Spengler sponsored, in “Prussianism and Socialism,” a brand of socialism which was anti-Marxian, anti-republican, anti-proletarian, nationalistic, bellicose, capitalistic, and aristocratic. Germans were not revolutionaries, he maintained. The sadistic French, yes. The Frenchman is not satisfied without human heads on pikes, aristocrats hanging from lamp posts, priests massacred by women. As for Marx—Marx belongs to England.

    Here, of course, Spengler, who from 1914 to 1918 was occupied with the first volume of the “Decline,” was doing his bit after the armistice, but he went on to explain that the Prussian socialist ethic says, “Do your duty, work,” while the English capitalist ethic says, “Get rich, then you don’t have to work any more”
  • BrianW
    If I were forced to chose just one figure from Western history whom I felt exemplified the spirit of Western culture in what was closest to its most pure formjohnGould

    I would just like to share my opinion for future consideration (if you would indulge me) - Emanuel Swedenborg. He seems to have had two lives, the first incarnation as a marquee man of science, and the second as a confidante of the heavenly host of angels. Unfortunately, only his spiritual writings seem to have survived intact. Ábout his scientific works, I can only find brief incomplete text references and a few honourable mentions, e.g. http://www.nsbcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Emanuel-Swedenborg.pdf,
    or http://spiritualfrontier.org/essci.html

    Also, Ralph Waldo Emerson gives a wonderful account of Swedenborg in his 'Representative Men'.

    And I heartily appreciate your delineation of the western civilisation/culture. It is very interesting.
  • Ciceronianus the White

    It may be my character is such that I'm unsympathetic to explanations of history, and peoples, and civilizations or most anything by reference to such things as a "Faustian Soul" and "prime symbols." I think more mundane, and less romantic, explanations are available for most phenomena and am leery of generalization.

    For example, the wheel makes a good deal of sense when there are animals available and amenable to domestication with the strength to haul wagon loads of goods from place to place. When the largest and strongest animals available for domestication are llamas, or whatever was available in Australia before Europeans arrived (Kangaroos? Emus? Wombats?) it's unsurprising, to me, that the wheel was not "discovered" in those cases. It's not a question of a particular kind of soul. When a need arises, when a problem is encountered we wish to resolve, that's when we humans think and achieve, and our achievements are necessarily limited by the resources available to us, and by what is significant to us in living our lives.

    The concept of private property, and the desire for money and what it could buy, baffled Native Americans but was all important to the Europeans who invaded the Americas. Such factors seem to me to account for "Manifest Destiny" and the Spanish conquests, for the fervent lust for acquisition that motivated them, much more readily than any reference to a nebulous will to conquer. And conquest certainly is not peculiar to Europeans nor do I think they had any special gift for it. The Mongols annihilated European armies arrayed against them, and did so because they were much better at warfare, at tactics and strategy, than the Europeans were. Europe escaped conquest for reasons entirely unrelated to any Faustian Soul.
  • Bitter Crank
    To summarise, my objective in this post has been to argue that Classical Greco-Roman culture/civilization is not, as is widely presumed, equivalent to Western culture/civilization. What we call "The West" was not born in Athens in 500.BC.johnGould

    That Classical Greece and Rome are not Western Civilization per se makes sense. There were at least two breaks between Classical Athens and us: One is the Roman Empire which engulfed Greece and the second is the Medieval period where life without Rome had to be negotiated. Further, parts of Europe that had never been part of the Roman Empire came into their own (eventually). And Rome itself wasn't classical Greece just enlarged. Its ethos was quite different.

    Question: Why did Spengler call it "Faustian"? When I think of Faust I think of Faustian bargain.

    I haven't read Spengler; might have to add it to the collection of books to get read.
  • DiegoT
    then I was wrong about the man and my personal explanations were unjustified.

    However, it is still true that what he says seems to be more related to his time than to Classical zeitgeist, that is too far from us to really know. We can only come near to what particular authors whose works have survive thought; but to understand what was in the mind of the actual people who went to visited the Acropolis for religious reasons or the people who were buried by the Vesubius´ eruption involves a lot of guesswork.
  • johnGould
    Dear BC,

    Question: Why did Spengler call it "Faustian"? When I think of Faust I think of Faustian bargain.Bitter Crank

    For Spengler, the terms "Faustian culture" and "Western culture" were synonymous; ditto: "Western soul" and "Faustian soul". I think there are two reasons he decided to use the descriptor "Faustian." instead of Western" in the text of "The Decline of the West". Firstly, Faust" is the title of a famous tragic play written by Johann Goethe. It was published in 1806 and is regarded by many to be Goethe'smagnum opus and the greatest work of German Literature. Moreover, the play was extremely popular, it always drew the largest audiences whenever it was performed on German-languages stages. (And) today, not just Germans, but many Westerners,( people like us, for instance), living in the Anglosphere are still familiar with the name "Faust". Like yourself (BC), they often have at least some basic knowledge of the Faustian legend such, for example, as the fact that the story is based on a wager ( "a bet") that the Devil ("Mephistopheles") makes with God.

    When Spengler was asked (during an interview) which thinkers he felt had exerted the most profound influence on his own work he replied that there were two; the first and most important he said, was Goethe, and the second was Nietzsche. So, Spengler was clearly a big fan of Goethe and doubtless a great admirer of "Faust" (the play). Secondly, some of the major themes in Goethe's "Faust", as I will explain below, deal with concepts that are strikingly similar to those that Spengler ultimately formulated in his efforts to explain the unique nature of Western culture, the distinctive essence of the Western soul and the definition of what he referred to as the West's "prime symbol"; cf., for instance, Chapter V ( "Makrokosmos") of "The Decline."

    Here is a brief account of the Faustian legend for you...

    In the late middle ages in Germany there is said to have been a remarkably erudite scholar who was reputed to have unravelled some of the great mysteries of nature and to have been able to use this knowledge in wonderful and magical ways. Some people said he was a talented alchemist who had gain his special powers through diligent work in the laboratory. Others thought that he was a charlatan, a mere trickster who was a master, not of the arts of alchemy, but rather, the "sleight of hand" . Most people of the time , however, eventually came to view him as a conjuror who had made a pact with the Devil selling his soul in return for knowledge and power.

    This mysterious scholar/alchemist was a man called Dr Johann Faust (c.1480 or 1466 - c.1541) and the many myths and legends that grew up around him captured the imaginations of writers, poets and composers over the succeeding generations. Fifty rears after Faust's death a chapbook entitled "Historia von D. Johann Fausten" was printed by Johann Spies in 1587 in which these legends were compiled. Later in the 16rh century the English playwright, Christopher Marlowe wrote his tragic drama: "The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus" which was published in 1604, based upon the legends that were set down in Johann Spies chapbook. After this, countless others took up the Faustian theme - namely, the theme of a man striving to exceed his ordained bounds, of a man obsessed with the quest for knowledge and power beyond that which is allotted to others The most noted writer in this tradition was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the first part of his long dramatic poem "Faust" was published in 1808. Goethe's "Faust" was tremendously influential; throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century, symphonies,plays, poems and novels dealing with the Faustian mythos continued to appear, all of them drawing primarily on Goethe's treatment of the legend.

    Ever since the real Dr Johann Faust wandered through the towns of southern Germany in the 16th century performing magic tricks, reading horoscopes and boasting of his supernatural powers he has been, in short, an object of fascination. There is something about the legend of Faust that captivates and enthrals the Western mind.; the subject evidently resonates with something deep in the European soul, in fact, I believe that a precursor of the Faustian legend can actually be traced back to around 6 AD because this is when we find the earliest (?) historical records that reference the great Norse god, Odin. In Norse mythology, In Nordic mythology, Odin was the chief god and he was widely revered by the Germanic peoples. Odin features prominently in the historical record, as I say, from about 6 AD when the Romans first occupied parts of "Germania", all the way up to and throughout the era of the Vikings ( 800 AD - 1066) . So what, you may ask, is the connection between Odin and the Faustian legend ? Well, it is quite uncanny actually, and the details are set down very clearly in two sources. The first is a 13th century Icelandic manuscript called the Codex Regius ("Royal Book).(NB: Although it was written in the 13th century, the Codex Regius contains material from earlier traditional sources reaching into the Viking Age). The Codex contains a collection of anonymous Old Norse poem that are collectively referred to as "The Poetic Edda" One of these poems is the "Hamaval" - The Sayings of the High One" (.e, Odin). The second source is an Old Norse work of literature called the "Prose Edda". It is believed to have been either written or compiled by Snom Sturluson in Iceland around about 1220.

    The Edda tell us that Odin's quest for wisdom is relentless; that it never-ends and that he is willing to do anything, to pay any price, for knowledge of mysteries of life.In the Edda there are two stories in particular that underscore just how intensely Odin craved wisdom, they tell of two sacrifices he made to gain knowledge of the cosmos and of powerful magical forces. The first of these sacrifices made by Odin was for knowledge of the runes, and the story is recorded in the poem "Hamaval" ("The Sayings of the High One (i.e. Odin)) in "The Poetic Edda". In order to properly appreciate this story one needs to be aware that the ancient runes were not merely letters of an old Nordic/Germanic alphabet. The runic characters were also symbols of some of the most powerful forces in the cosmos. Through the runes it was possible to link into, interact with, and manipulate word-changing forces. So when it's said that Odin "sought knowledge of the runes", it was not anything mundane, like knowing how to pronounce the runic letters, for example, that interested him; rather it was knowledge of the secret of an extraordinary potent system of magic that he craved. So, to continue, Knowing that the runes only reveal themselves to one who has proved himself worthy of possessing their extraordinary and fearsome power, Odin decided he must make a fitting sacrifice. And the sacrifice he chose to make was ofhimself of himself. In the centre of the Nordic cosmos there is a giant tree called Yggdrasil ( the "World Tree") which grows out of a bottomless pool of water called the Well of Urd . To prove himself worthy Odin hanged himself from one of the branches of the World Tree and pierced himself with his own spear. He forbade the gods to offer him the slightest assistance, even a sip of water, and stared down into the shadowy water belo calling to runes, He survived like this balanced perilously on the cusp of life and death for 9 days and 9 nights. One the 9th night, finally, he perceived the forms of the rines emerging in the depths of the water. They has accepted his sacrifice and in return revealed to him their inner secrets.

    The tale of the second remarkable sacrifice that Odin made in his restless quest for knowledge and wisdom is told in the "Prose Edda" in the first of the three book it contains that is called called "Gylfaginning" As I mentioned above, at the bottom of the World Tree from which Odin had hanged himself there was a fathomless pool of water called the Well of Url. The guardian of this well was a shadowy being called Mimir. Mimir had a knowledge of all things that was said to be just about unparalleled among all the inhabitants of the cosmos. He is said to have achieved this status by drinking water from the well, which was infused with this comic knowledge. In his search for wisdom Odin decided he must venture to Mimir's well. When he arrived at the Well or Url, Odin asked Mimir for a drink from the water. Being the guardian of the well, Mirir knew the value of such a draught and he told Odin that he would only allow him a drink of the water if he were prepared to offer one of his eyes in return. Odin then gouged out one of his own eyes. The pain was great and searing but Odin made no sound nor showed any sign of his terrible suffering. He then handed the eye to Mimir who dropped it into the well. Then, true to his word, Mimir dipped his horn in the water of the well and offered the now-one-eyed god, Odin, a drink. We are told that as the water entered him, Odin saw the great and terrible suffering that must befall both men and gods. Yet he also saw their reasons and causes and could now understand why they must be. He drank again and now saw the ways that gods and men might, with outstanding, noble courage, fight and defeat the the evils that were destined to arrive. I'll. stop here, because I'm sure you get the idea.

    In short, Odin and Johann Faust are both examples of individuals who are obsessed and driven by an irrepressible will to prevail in the pursuit of their lofty goals. They are suffused with something like Nietzsche's "Will to Power". Both are ready and willing to do whatever it takes - Faust will sell his soul to the Devil, Odin will mutilate and torture himself to the very brink of death - solely in order to triumph in achieving for themselves that which is remarkable, astonishing extraordinary...; That which fate will deny other men.. I am reminded right now of a stanza from a song recorded by the 1980s punk rock band "The Clash". It was was written by band-member John Mellor (aka "Joe Strummer") and it says...

    "Now every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world
    And ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl
    "Love" and "Hate" tattooed across the knuckles of his hands
    Hands that slap his kids around coz they don't understand how
    "Death or Glory" became "just another story"
    "Death or Glory" became..."just another story."

    This, I think, is Mellor's poetic snapshot of a Western man's worse nightmare, namely, his realization that the former vainglorious "Death or Glory" sobriquet he applied to his spirit - all the self-perceived heroism and nobility of his infinite, thrusting "will to power"; of his vaunted will to over-throw and triumph - all of that which was once his proudest boast, is now dead within him.Or, he wonders, was it ever really alive at all? He see in the cheap, mundane ugliness of the world he has now created around himself, that the answer is: "No, it wasn't.".He must accept the fact he never really was anything special or honourable at all, just a "cheap hood" Life in the West has taught him that a commitment to it native code of "Death or Glory" means nothing unless one is prepared to interpret and live out the meaning of those three words in a strictly literal sense. If not, then what was your "Death or Glory" will inevitably become "just another (pitiful, tragic) story".

    This explains, in part, the enduring fascination of the West for the Faustian legend, for the Nordic mythology of Odin, for tales of the ferocious courage and fanatical "death before dishonour" fighting style displayed by his Viking warriors on the field of battle, the legend, - ( immortalised in a famous poem by the British Poet Laureate of the day, Alfred Lord Tennyson) -, of Lord Cardigan and the British cavalrymen he led in the doomed, suicidal, "Charge of the Light Brigade" against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.. Odin, Faust and the Norsemen, the cavalrymen of the "Light Brigade" are eternal Western heros because in their case, "Death or Glory" can never become "just another story."

    Returning now ( my apologies BTW, for the wayward diversions off- topic above !) to the issue that this post is supposed to be dealing with, i.e; the Faustian legend, I mentioned that Goethe's "Faust" ( of 1808) had inspired a tremendous number of musical symphonies, plays, poems, and novels throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century, all dealing with the Faustian mythos. In these many different versions of the Faust legend various elements are emphasised, but the persistent theme is that which I have already mentioned above, i.e; the quest of exceptional men for an understanding of life and nature; the reaching out for a new ( and more advanced) level of existence, the striving to cultivate a fuller development of latent powers. It is from this persistent theme rather than from any any semi-historical account of the life of Dr Johann Faust or from any fictional works using his name that we draw meaning attached to the adjective "Faustian" today.

    The word "Faustian" as it is currently used ( and as it was used by Spengler in the 20th century), refers to a spiritual tendency in Western man , who has shown such tremendous fascination down through the ages with the idea behind the Faust Legend. It describes a fundamental urge or drive that is latent in the soul of Western man and active in only a few individuals. The Faustian urge in the Western soul says to us:

    * "Thou shalt not rest or be content no matter what thy accomplishments." (i.e. Thou shalt never rest on thine laurels).

    * "Thou must strive all the days of thy life."

    * "Thou must discover all things, know all things, master all things."

    Western man's Faustian urge is quite different from the urge in the Levantine soul, which is to accumulate, to possess, which is covetous and craves the piling up of riches/money/wealth beyond all reason, which exhibits a lust for personal aggrandisement and so on.It is different as well from the Classical Greco-Roman soul (and I have already discussed this in some detail an earlier post on this thread above) this soul is, - to briefly remind you,- driven by a desire for individuation, for the organisation of a reality that is sensuously tangible ( touchable, visible), concrete and finite, orderly restrained and well-bounded/ "in - bounds", material, stable, substantial,well-defined and precise, etc.The Western ("Faustian") soul is also dramatically different, one might even say, antithetical to what is typically called the "Manyana" spirit of the Latin peoples. This spirit says to them: "Enjoy life - take it easy and relax; don't worry; don't hurry - you can always finish what you are doing tomorrow or the next day; stay were you are and settle down, you have no need to know what lies beyond the next ridge. It is a comparatively stolid, languorous, lackadaisical, apathetic, feckless and insouciant spirit.

    The "Faustian" drive is the source of the Western soul's basic restlessness and it is also the primal origin of our basic inquisitiveness; it is what makes adventurers of us, what compels us to risk our lives in ventures which can bring us no conceivable material benefits - something wholly foreign to the nature of all other ethnic/cultural groups who are accustomed to evaluate everything purely in terms of utility . It is the Faustian urge which has made Westerners the pre-eminent explorers of the world, which has driven us to scale the highest mountains in lands inhabited by different ethnic/cultural groups who have hitherto been content to always remain in the valleys. It has impelled us to struggle on foot, step- by- step through the hazardous, frozen wastelands of the Arctic in a quest to be the first people to stand upon the North Pole of the Earth, it is what has insisted that we build a spacecraft to take a man to the moon, and what now has us reaching for the stars. The Faustian urge is also what has made we Westerners the most prominent, prolific and successful scientists, in particular in the days before the practice of science became a well-paid profession.

    Why? Why is it that Western man was so determined to send four American astronauts to the moon. Why did he spend so much time and effort organizing such a monumental feat ? Soon after "The Eagle" lunar module landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin crawled out of it and on to the surface of the moon. Over the next two hours, they erected an American flag, took a 2 -minute phone call from Richard Nixon, who rang to congratulate them from the Oval Office, kangaroo - hopped and loped about on the lunar surface for a while for fun, collected some samples of moon soil and about 50 moon rocks and then returned to the lunar module, climbed back inside and began making preparations for the return journey home to Earth. And that, I'm afraid, is all there is to report of mankind's first sojourn on the the surface of the moon (?) Similarly, WHY, exactly, was it that Edmund Hillary was so utterly determined to risk his life climbing to the top of Mount Everest in 1953? After all, when he and his guide finally made it to the summit of the highest mountain in the world, nothing particularly world-shattering took place; Hillary took a photograph of his guide, placed a cross a friend had given him on the summit, Tenzing left some chocolates and then the two of them promptly headed back down the North face of Everest toward their base-camp at the foot of the mountain. Altogether, Hillary and Tenzing spent just 15 minutes on the top of Everest.The first person Edmund Hillary met on his descent was an acquaintance named George Lowe. Hillary said to him: "Well George, we knocked the bastard off." And that was it. Hillary had nothing else of any import to say (?)
    .As another example, consider the life of Sir Donald Campbell, one which was entirely devoted to a "suicidal" obsession with breaking, setting and re-setting the official world land and water speed records. Briefly, Campbell was an Englishman who broke 8 absolute world speed records on water and land in the 1950's and 1960's, and he remains to date the only man to have set both world land and water speed records in the same year (1964). In March of 1964 Campbell and his latest super-car, the CN7, arrived in Australia from the UK. He was there with the intention of making a bid for the world land speed record on the salt flats of Lake Eyre in South Australia.The weather had failed to live up to Campbell's expectations and spells of rain showers had made the salt flats of Lake Eyre damp. Finally in July he took to the track and was able to post some speeds that approached the record. On the 17th of the month he took advantage of a break in the weather and made two courageous run along a shortened and still treacherously damp salt flat track posting a new world land speed record of 403.1 mph. Campbell was bitterly disappointed with the record as the CN7 vehicle had been designed for much higher speeds.When he was asked for his reaction to the success, Campbell said, " We made it - we got the bastard at last." Campbell died on the 4th of January, 1967, attempting to break his own world water speed record on Coniston Lake in Cumbria in his jet-engined boat the K7 "Bluebird", he was 46 years old. Campbell came to grief on the second run of the record attempt. His K7 "Bluebird" was travelling very fast at 328 mph about 200m out from the finish buoy. when it began to experience trouble. First the boat started "bouncing" on the water, then the jet engine powering the vessel experienced a " flame-out" which caused the K7 to rise up to begin "gliding through the air above the lake. The "Bluebird" then rose sharply up into the air and promptly completed a somersault before plunging down hard nose-first into the lake, the "Bluebird" then cartwheeled across the water before ultimately disintegrating. As a final example, there is the American teenager, Gertrude Ederle, who devoted herself to achieving the goal of becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel. Having spent untold hours practicing by swimming the lengths of a 25 meter pool in the US, on the 6th of August, 1926, Ederle, finally walked out into the waters of the English Channel from a beech on French coast and began swimming toward England.Twelve hours into her gruelling swim across the Channel the weather turned, and gusty squalls of wind rendered the water of the Channel very choppy. Ederle struggled mightily to continue in the difficult conditions. Her trainer, watching the teenager struggle defiantly against the wind-whipped, choppy water, from a tug boat beside eventually became extremely concerned for her welfare, and called to her: "Gertie, you must stop now - you must come out!" But Ederle refused.( And) so it was - if I might now to "cut-to-the-chase", - that 14 hours and 34 minutes after she had set out from France, Gertie Ederle finally clambered up onto the beach at Kingsdown (England), the first woman to succeed in swimming the English Channel.( I think that Ederle would, BTW, have been left in no doubt she had indeed made it to the English coast, for the very first person to greet her on arrival was an officious, British immigration officer requesting a passport from the shattered, waterlogged youngster ! ) It was widely believed at the time that women would never be able to swim the English Channel as they naturally lacked the physical strength and stamina of a man. But Ederle proved them wrong. In 1926, only five men had successfully swum the Channel before, and the fastest time had been 16 hours and 33 minutes, set by Enrique Tiraboschi. The 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle has lopped a massive 2 hours of the old record.

    To be the first to: swim the English Channel; to fly to the moon; to scale the world's highest mountain, to drive the world's fastest cars and boats, what can we infer from these things about the nature of the spirit/soul that drives these quintessentially Western obsessions ? I mean, that characteristically, restless Western compulsion to strive for and achieve the extraordinary and remarkable, at any cost, in particular where the achievement is valued, purly for its own sake?

    I have already suggested that it is the "Faustian" drive which is the source of the Western soul's unique will - to - overcome/overthrow; of its singular desire to be continually striving/reaching beyond the set limits for that which is extraordinary. Typically this "Faustian" drive is latent in the Western soul/psyche, and it is actualised only in relatively few men (Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Donald Campbell were two modern-era examples of the later which I briefly described above). What Hillary, Campbell, Neil Armstrong, Gertie Ederle and others like them have in common is that they are "men (and women) of the deed." For these individuals the extraordinary deed: to be the first to scale the world's tallest mountain, to drive cars and boats faster than any other man in the world has ever done before, to defy those who claimed no woman had the strength or heart to swim across the English Channel, is far more important than physical existence.

    These individuals exemplify the "deed-oriented" nature of the "Faustian"/Western man in the sense that they are not satisfied with the challenges of a Darwinian struggle for existence, nor, say, the political /ideological (Marxist) struggle for economic equality. The "Faustian" soul of Western man is not preoccupied with mere adaption, reproduction and conservation. When the drive of "Faustian" soul actualises itself in Western man, he craves to climb higher, run faster, to sorm up into the heavens and shape the world, to smash through the given barriers and achieve ever higher levels of existential intensity and meaningfulness. But WHO exactly, is this "Faustian"/Western man? Is he, perhaps, like Hegel's Master who fights to the death for the sake of prestige? Or is Spengler closer to the mark when he paraphrases Nietzsche and writes that the primordial forces of Western culture reflect the...

    "...primary emotions of energetic human existence, the cruelty, the joy in excitement, danger, the violent act, victory, the thrill of a conqueror and destroyer."

    Nietzsche also wrote of the "aristocratic" warrior who had longed for the "proud, exalted states of the soul " as experienced intimately through: "combat, adventure, the chase, the dance, war games." But WHO precisely, are these people ? Are their "primary emotions" different from those of humans from other cultures? If they are, then why is this this case?

    The answers to these complex question deserve a separate post, as they will require, first and foremost an investigation into the ground of the "Faustian"/Western soul, or, if you like, an account of where and how what is genuinely and distinctively Western culture first came to emerge. I am confident I have the answers and, As I say, I will set them down in a separate post on this thread. To conclude this post, I will now set out some final noteworthy particulars relating to the history of Faustian legend.

    The opening scene in Goethe's "Faust" conveys the idea of the Faustian Soul/spirit through the character of the chief protagonist Faust who is depicted as restless scholar who has plumbed all of human knowledge, but whose soul remains unslaked, his craving for ultimate truth is unabated. Alone in his study late at night he gazes with a mixture of awe and desire on the sign of the Macrocosmos and says to himself:

    "Was it a god who engraved this sign which stills my inner tumult and fills my heart with joy, which with a mysterious force unveils the secrets of nature all around me. Where shall I grasp thee O infinite nature ?"

    But Goethe paints other aspects of his hero's character beside what we would call "Faustian" (Western), and given this, a better - or a least, a less ambiguous representation - might be Ulyssian (or Odyssian), chiefly because the English Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his one short poem, "Ulysses" really strikes closer to the sense of what we are trying to convey, in the concept of the "Faustian soul/spirit, than does Goethe or any of the others who have written about the legend of Dr Faust. Despite this, common usage still favours the term "Faustian" over "Ulyssian."

    To conclude this post, I will provide a brief account of Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses" in order to summarise the essential features of what we call the "Faustian" soul of Western man; for these are the spiritual drivers of his distinctive cultural achievements and the uniqueness of his civilization over the past millennium. Moreover, Tennyson captures them all very elegantly in this one relatively brief poetic monologue.

    Tennyson's poem "Ulysses" is a dramatic monologue, which sets down the thoughts of Ulysses ( Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus who was, a hero in ancient Greek literature) who is now an old man living a sedate and mundane life at home with his elderly wife. Ullyses begins by telling us that he is still restless and craves to be once again sailing the high seas and journey around the world as his did for most of his life when he was younger. He still feels compelled to live life to the fullest and swallow every last drop of excitement and wonder it has to offer, and says...

    "I cannot rest from travel; I will
    drink life to the lees"

    He recalls how his travels to distant quarters of the world, exposed him to many different types of people and culture, telling us...

    "For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manner, climates, councils, governments
    Maybe not least, but honoured of them all"

    Ulysses recounts how it was through travelling that he was able to experience the thrill of battle while fighting the Trojan war; how he had...

    "Drank delight of battle with my peers
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy"

    He goes on to explain to us that his travels and encounters have shaped who he is: "I am a part of all that I have met" he proclaims; and it is only when he is travelling that the "margin" of the globe he has not yet traversed shrinks and fades and ceases to goad him, saying....

    "Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
    Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
    For ever and ever when I move"

    Ulysses then tells us again how boring it is to be anchored in one place; how to remain stationary is to "rust" rather than to shine; how it is like pretending that all there is in life is the simple act of breathing. His own spirit still constantly yearns for new adventures, for new excitements, for novel experiences that will broaden his horizons. He fervently desires...

    "To follow knowledge like a star
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought"

    In the final stanza of the poem, Ulysses addresses the mariners with whom he has worked, voyaged and weathered life's stormy seas. He declares that although he and they are now old men, they still have the potential to do something noble and honourable before "the long day wanes." He exhorts them...

    "'Tis not too late, to seek a newer world
    Push off, and sitting well in order smile
    The sounding of the furrow; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the Western stars, until I die...
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved Earth and Heaven, that which we are, we are
    One equal temper of heroic hearts
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"

    Thus, in Tennyson's "Ulysses" all of the essential attributes of the adjective "Faustian"are neatly condensed and crystallised...

    * The restless desire to strive forward - to reach beyond the limits of the visible.

    * The compulsion to break through the finite limitations and mundane boundaries that restrict the scope of everyday life to what is mundane, banal and spiritually stultifying.

    * The irrepressible presence of a strong, robust will "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield."

    Lastly, what strikes me as being perhaps the most important fact of all regarding "Ulysses" is that Tennyson composed it shortly after hearing of the death of his close friend, Arthur Hallam, in 1833. "Ulysses" is best understood as an elegy for a dearly cherished friend. The character Ulysses in the poem symbolises the grieving poet. The tragic loss of his friend, bought with it a vivid awareness for Tennyson that - ( as he put it) - "death closes all", by which he means that we, human beings, are all born to die and for us, death is "finis" ( i.e. dead IS dead). Thus, in the words of his poetic character "Ulysses", we are, in fact, hearing the devastated Tennyson exhorting himself to "rally" - to keep pushing forward, to keep fighting and keep striving forth despite the tragic loss of his friend. Through Ulysses he is commanding himself not to falter and fall, to "dig deep" and find the moral courage to to stay strong; to never cease the heroic battle that is to ardently "hammer" some kind of decent meaning for his life out of an utterly meaningless and absurd world.

    Thus, IMO, the "Faustian" soul of Western man can be understood as a uniquely strident, combative and passionate denial of philosophical nihilism. But that's enough for one post. I will conclude what I wanted to say about the primal GROUND of the Western ("Faustian") soul in a separate post.


  • Terrapin Station
    (1) When we people refer to Western civilization today, do you think it is fair to say that they typically have in mind Anglosphere countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, New Zealand.johnGould

    Not just Anglo countries. European countries in general, and the places where European countries had a significant influence through colonization, etc.

    Do you think what we currently call "The West" is best represented by this group of Anglophone countries?

    Not really. That would give too limited of a view.
  • johnGould
    Not really. That would give too limited of a view.Terrapin Station

    True; because it excludes such modern, Western European countries as France, Germany and Holland etc; and also the Scandinavian (Nordic) nations of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, all of which I would place, without hesitation, under the rubric of "The West."

    ( NB: Having said this I think it is fair to say that the United States has been the undisputed powerhouse and "Flagship" of Western civilization throughout the 20th century and much of the 19th century. Now, unfortunately, as Spengler predicted so very accurately in 1918, the US has entered a phase of (potentially terminal) civilizational decline. He predicted that the rise of leftist, liberal-progressive political ideology, (such as multiculturalism) in America during the 20th century would result in open-immigration policies that would, in turn, swamp the traditional Western/European descended native population and their traditional culture, with non-Western immigrants who would bring with them cultural traditions/ mores that were incompatible with basic Western ("Faustian") cultural values. Spengler's prediction was chillingly accurate; for it is now confirmed that by the year 2042, native Americans of Western European descent who have alway comprised the majority of the population will become a demographic minority group. When this happens, it will not be a matter of if, but when America dies; and by America, I mean America the Western nation. Moreover, when America, the great lynchpin of modern Western civilization around the world dies, so too will Western nations like Canada, Australia and the UK also fall in rapid succession. As to what will replace them, I am afraid the prospect is too depressing for me to discuss in any further detail. The point I wish to emphasise for the moment is that what we now call "The West" has entered a phase of civilizational decline, so it will likely become increasingly difficult in the decades ahead to identify where, exactly, what is left of the true "True West" is located.)

    To continue now from where I left off at the end of the first paragraph above. Although there are many who would disagree, in my view, Western culture/civilization is both distinctive and very unique in comparison with all the other world cultures/civilizations that have existed either in the past (e.g. the Classical Athenian-Roman culture/civilization or the ancient Egyptian civilization) or are in existence today (e.g. modern China and the civilizations of latin America).

    I believe that the first, nascent manifestation of "bone fide" Western culture can be traced back to the ancient Germanic tribes of the Nordic Bronze Age who inhabited the regions propinquitous to, and including, the land mass we now call Scandinavia. (These tribes were, BTW, originally members of the Neolithic, proto-Indo- European people who were based in the Pontic-Caspian steppe zone of Eurasia around 4000 BC). The harsh climate and landscape of the Scandinavian region played a critical role, I believe, in the evolution of what Spenger would call the archetypically "Faustan" (Western) soul within the proto - Germanic/Nordic Bronze age people, (to whom I refer),, who had migrated there. This, in short, is where Western man and Western culture first emerged in their embryonic form. It would not be until around the year 1000 AD in France (Burgundy) that Western civilization per se would be born following the Cluniac reforms mediated by the Roman Catholic Church of the time.

    This, of course, is just a very "quick and dirty" summary of what I believe is the primeval ground of the Western ("Faustian") soul, though if anyone is interested I can provide what I think is a compelling and eminently rational argument in support of my theory.


  • Bitter Crank
    Thank you for your exhaustive answer to my question about "Faustian". You exhibit a very Faustian Urge in your study of Spengler, Nietzsche, et al. I haven't read Goethe's Faust; I did read Marlowe's Faust, but that was 50 odd years ago, probably during a summer term class on Shakespeare. What I remember about it isn't worth mention.

    But WHO precisely, are these people ? Are their "primary emotions" different from those of humans from other cultures? If they are, then why is this this case?johnGould

    This is the key question in our discussion of Western Civilization. On the one hand I am hesitant to embrace the idea that Western people, personified by Europeans and North Americans, are fundamentally different than African or Asian people. On the other hand, there are clear cultural differences among peoples. The Chinese culture is clearly capable of producing high achievement-oriented individuals, but collective effort (emphasizing community over individual) seems to be a hallmark of that culture. African cultures (from what little I know of it) did not produce much in the way of large scale projects or batches of high-achievement individuals--outside of Egypt. Western hemispheric aboriginal people exercised extensive dominance over the landscape, and at least between northern South America and Central North America built some outstandingly large projects over an extended period of time.

    Let me cite again Jared Diamond's theory that geographical determinism had a lot to do with which people dominated which territory and how. The Indo-European and East Asian cultural areas came to dominate the world because geography favored the development of high energy crops (grains and animals), and provided this part of this world with two huge assets not available in Africa or the Americas: an animal appropriate for domestication (then traction and transportation)--the horse--and thus the wherewithal to further exploit resources.

    Africa and the Americas had no animals suitable for traction and transportation, and agricultural gains simply don't move very well between north and south--because highly desirable plants are hard to adapt to the N-S climate changes. It's much easier to move agriculture and cultural development east and west--which is what happened across the Eurasian continent.

    The spread of agriculture, horse power, metal technology, etc. presumably came before the establishment of cultural characteristics -- like the Faustian personality. The European peoples are the product of a demographic mixmaster that was at work well before the Roman Empire stirred things up even more.

    By the time of Augustus some of the major population movements were finished. The Scandinavians were largely in place and would stay where they were. Some of the Germanic and Celtic people were also settled, and would stay put for some time (until the later days of the Empire). There was quite a bit of population movement after the Empire, and some of it during the late medieval - early modern period, mostly affecting eastern Europe.

    Some people claim Classical Greece as the source of the western personality (basically your Faustian type) and some claim the Vikings. It would seem like the hardly-laid-back Romans would figure into this somewhere. Christianity is given credit too in various quarters.

    Whatever it was, it would appear that individualism, a respect for the individual person, was a key factor. Every human strives for individual survival, but not every culture rates individual achievement as paramount. Western culture did, at least for some layers of the society, and here we are, for better or worse.

    I would like to have the Faustian capacity to review Western Civilization back to its earliest roots and trace all the various contributing factors that produced our unique characteristics. While I'm at it, I might as well do the same thing for Asian, African, and Amerindian cultures -- and publish it all in one big fat book that would leave the intellectual community gasping in awe. Alas, the world is safe from this epiphany. It was never going to happen.

    The western personality now seems to have become a global personality. China recently landed a vehicle on the far side of the moon. (Why didn't we do more on the moon? My impression is that Kennedy's challenge to land a man on the moon within the decade was motivated by competition with the USSR. We had to prove ourselves superior (after missing the boat on satellites). We did, and there didn't seem to be anything about the moon that was of financial interest.) Maybe the Chinese will find something of more interest.
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