Re-thinking Spengler Part 5: On Elitism

I wanted to add a short supplemental post that follows the thread from the last post as I now think that the problem of the Magian, including the problem of pseudomorphosis, reveals a larger generalisation which solves a few of the analytical problems I have with Spengler’s thesis.

One of those problems was the one I’ve already discussed in this series which is that Spengler gives the Magian esoteric reaction against the Classical its own name – pseudomorphosis – while failing to account for the seemingly opposite process happening with the beginning of the Faustian; namely, that the Faustian eagerly adopted the Classical-Magian symbiosis. If pseudomorphosis, the hatred of a nascent culture towards a dominant one, is valid, then we also need a name for the dynamic where a nascent culture willingly adopts a different culture.

Toynbee solves this problem by calling the Faustian a “child” of the Classical. This fits within Toynbee’s classificatory framework where he notes that some cultures seem to be children of others while other cultures seem to pop out of nowhere. Toynbee also accounts for the combination of the Classical and Magian by noting that the Magian was born out of the internal proletariat of the Classical world. Thus, he implies, but never makes explicit, the Classical-Magian symbiosis which the Faustian inherited.

What happens if we combine these ideas? We use Toynbee’s child-parent relation but we also acknowledge that the Magian had fused with the Classical giving us what I have been calling the Classical-Magian symbiosis. The result is that Faustian culture is the child of the Classical-Magian. There is ample evidence for this analysis. In fact, Spengler makes the point numerous times without ever generalising it.

But the parent-child relationship between the Classical and the Faustian is not one of simple inheritance. Rather, it looks like an inversion. We see Spengler time and again refer to the Faustian and the Classical as opposites. He calls the Classical day and the Faustian night. The Classical is the single point, the Faustian the infinite. The Classical is the single body, the Faustian the vanishing point stretching indefinitely into the distance.

But what do all of these properties of the Classical mean if not what is clearly available to everybody; what anybody can see with their own eyes. This is a point that Spengler also makes:-

“Now, whatever is sensuously near is understandable for all, and therefore of all Cultures that have been, the Classical is the most popular, and the Faustian the least popular…”

“The Classical geometry is that of the child, that of any layman – Euclid’s Elements are used in England as a school-book to this day…..All other kinds of natural geometry that are possible…are understandable only for the circle of the professional mathematicians.”

If the Classical is understandable by all, this seems to contradict Spengler’s assertion that all culture is only ever understood by “elites” and this is another occasion where Spengler’s own contradictions reveal something very important. If the Faustian is the child of the Classical, it is a child that seems to have a love-hate relationship with its parent and Spengler himself embodies exactly that relationship. Time and again he points out how even modern western scholars were in thrall to the Classical. Meanwhile, his entire book is a clarion call to the discovery and elucidation of the true Faustian.

Thus, the worship of the Classical in modern western society is exactly what Spengler is trying to overcome. But, for him, the real Faustian sits with the “elites”. The Faustian elites are the ones who can overcome surface appearance. But what they are overcoming is the Classical itself because the Classical represents that which is available to all. In this way, the Faustian ends up being the opposite of the Classical. Spengler makes this exact point:

“The spirit of Classical history and the spirit of Western history can only be really understood by considering the two souls as in opposition.”

Putting all this together we arrive at the following conclusion: the Classical culture during western history is the culture of the general public while the Faustian culture is the culture of the “elites”.

We can summarise the oppositions that this creates as follows:

General Public“Elites”
Present MomentPast and future
Home             Homeless (the wanderer)
The DeedThe Idea (dogma, ideology)
AppearanceThe Mask
ConsciousSubconscious (superconscious?)
Noon day sunMidnight
Leaders and HeroesPriests, Popes, Scientists, Experts
Self-EvidentRequires explanation and theory

The general public demands the exoteric. It wants strong, visible leaders and laws that are applicable to all. But, right from the start, the Faustian was put together by elites. It was created by popes, artists, scientists and experts. These are the ones who overcome appearance and learned to see beyond.

This also helps to clarify another problem I had with Spengler which is that the Magian and the Faustian were remarkably similar to each other. In this reading, the Magian was simply an earlier response to the Classical while the Faustian represents a continuation of the same dynamic. Both are esoteric reactions against the Classical. Thus, many of the properties of the Faustian in the table above also apply to the Magian (priesthood, esoteric, dogma, homeless, midnight etc).

Finally, we can see that this distinction is not just theoretical. It is now an urgent political issue in the modern west and what better way to capture it than in this tweet I saw just today which sparked this whole train of thought.

On the left is the Classical. Everybody can agree on its beauty as its proportions are based on those of the human body. It is, at least in theory, a universal. On the right is the Faustian: cold, hard and stretching out to infinity.   

Consider that when Trump was president he signed an executive order requiring all federal buildings in the US be constructed in Classical style of the buildings on the left of the picture above instead of the style of the buildings on the right. In this and many less symbolic ways, the battle between the Faustian elites and the general public is now very real and it’s not hard to see that corona represented the elites fighting back.

With this we arrive at another core concept of Spengler’s which is Caesarism. Within this analysis, Caesarism is really a reversion back to the Classical and Trump’s demand for classical architecture is indicative of exactly that; a populist demanding buildings that the public could appreciate. Spengler was right in thinking that Caesarism was a return to the original culture but wrong in thinking that the original culture would be the Faustian.

Note that the other prediction Spengler made, the second religiosity, invokes the Magian. Thus, in the Caesarism-Second Religiosity prediction, we have a reversion to the Classical-Magian foundation that existed at the start of the Faustian.

Are we therefore trapped between a Caesarism-Classical rock and a Technocrat-Magian Priest hard place? Not necessarily. The crux of the matter lies with the assertion which both Spengler and Toynbee took for granted that culture is always and only created by elites and everybody else just has to passively follow along. There is historical precedent in the form of Luther who provided an alternative opinion on the subject.

A related concept, although one that’s been misunderstood countless times and is tainted by association with the Nazis, is Nietzsche’s Übermensch. What that concept implies is that we must all become self-governing and self-organising Faustian elites (note that Nietzsche himself would not agree with this reading since he too was an unashamed elitist).

The Übermensch takes the best elements from both the bourgeoisie and the romantics. From the bourgeoisie we take the concepts of personal responsibility, hard work and a striving for self-improvement. From the romantics we take an appreciation of the higher things in life, a desire to contribute to culture rather than be led by the nose and a desire that life should mean something even if it’s only that meaning we give it. This all might sound far-fetched and yet it is really a repeat of the internal proletariat dynamic which gave birth to the Faustian in the first place.

Could there be a culture of self-organising Übermenschen? Were the anarchists were right after all? At the rate we’re going, it’s either that or live in a dystopian Brave New World-1984 mashup. Which way, western man?

All posts in this series:-
Re-thinking Spengler Part 1: Morphological Thinking
Re-thinking Spengler Part 2: The Psychology of Pseudomorphosis
Re-thinking Spengler Part 3: The Problem of the Magian
Re-thinking Spengler Part 4: Bourgeoisie vs Romantics
Re-thinking Spengler Part 5: On Elitism
Re-thinking Spengler Part 6: Rogue Priests and Rebel Commanders
Re-thinking Spengler Part 7: A Pop Culture Interlude
Re-thinking Spengler Part 8: Kings and Commoners
Re-thinking Spengler Part 9: Escape from the Tyrannical Father
Re-thinking Spengler Part 10: The USA (Universal State of America)
Re-thinking Spengler Final

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