The Long View 2008-02-25: Spenglers False & True


John J. Reilly mentions here his extended review of Amaury De Riencourt’s The Coming Caesars. An updated version of the book came out in 2013, but the original was published in 1957. Like John, I am struck by de Riencourt’s outsider’s assessment of America.

Spenglers False & True

The fact that Senator Barack Obama is an inexperienced politician with a turn for vacuous oratory is criticism enough for some people, but not for the insatiable malice of that Spengler at Asia Times, who dares to argue that Obama's women reveal his secret:

We know less about Senator Obama than about any prospective president in American history. His uplifting rhetoric is empty, as Hillary Clinton helplessly protests. His career bears no trace of his own character, not an article for the Harvard Law Review he edited, or a single piece of legislation...

Nonetheless, we can divine his inner nature from the people in his life, and not least from his anthropologist mother:

Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics. Anthropologists, though, proceed from resentment against the devouring culture of America and sympathy with the endangered cultures of the primitive world. Obama inverts the anthropological model: he applies the tools of cultural manipulation out of resentment against America. The probable next president of the United States is a mother's revenge against the America she despised.

Then Spengler goes on to become even less gallant about the senator's wife, Michelle. Actually, I think there is little to be learned about Michelle Obama from her college thesis. She was an undergraduate at Princeton during the mid-1980s, the goofiest phase of multiculturalism. As a black student, she pretty much had to sound resentful and alienated in her thesis. No one would have suggested to her that it might be possible not to express these emotions.

In any case, Spengler proceeds from slighting remarks about the Obama womenfolk to an indictment of America in general:

There is nothing mysterious about Obama's methods. "A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is," wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world's biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture.

Maybe, but I think that, on this subject, Amaury de Riencourt was on to something. To quote from my review of The Coming Caesars

None of this should suggest that Americans are gullible or obtuse. “American Civilization is successful because of the remarkable American gift for psychological understanding…When they choose political or business leaders, Americans do so on the basis of their general human qualities rather than their technical proficiency.” Americans have an expert's distrust of all experts.

This is why presidential candidates are asked to name their favorite book, or to say whether they had a pet when they were children. Running for the presidency is a little like applying for an entry-level job on the executive track. The interviewer assumes that you learned nothing in college, and that your work experience, if any, is irrelevant to the job in question. What he is interested in is whether you take the job seriously and have a personality that he could bear encountering every day.

My own view is that Obama is too emollient to pass the months-long interview with the American people, but we will see.

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Meanwhile, "Spengler" threatens to become more than a pseudonym, if we may judge from an upcoming workshop at the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS):

Workshop "Spengler Revisited: The Decline of the West, 2000-2200"
Fifth Annual Conference "Workshops in Political Theory"
Manchester Metropolitan University, England
10-12 September, 2008

The Call for Papers says in part:

This workshop invites papers on any aspect of "The Decline of the West" as well as on non-Spenglerian political theory and philosophy that engages Spengler's concerns. Spengler expected the final stage of western civilization for the years 2000 to 2200. We have now entered that period and it will be timely to revisit his predictions and see to what extent they have, or have not, come true yet. Within these parameters, it is up to participants how they frame the relevance of Spengler's thought and concepts to political theory. Questions to be addressed may include, but are not limited to: Will we have to fall back, post democracy, into the abyss of authoritarian despotism, as envisaged by political thinkers and philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Nietzsche and Spengler? How could the term "Caesarism" be reinterpreted to make sense in our time? Will the "wars" Spengler foresaw for the end time of western civilization still be decided on a battlefield? Has the "Second Religiousness" already begun? Are changes occurring so gradually that we do not notice them? And what, if anything, did Spengler miss in his predictions?

The Centre is apparently a break-away think-tank. It has received some good reviews, as we see from The Guardian:

Frustrated PhD students who feel their abilities and potential are "stifled" by higher education have set up a new research centre on the grounds of the University of Sussex.

The Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS) is situated on the Brighton campus, but is independent from the university and will raise its own funding from wealthy individuals...Rather than relying on funding councils for money, [Centre Manager Erich] Kofmel said he hoped to attract funding from "rich businessmen who perceive themselves to be strong individuals".

Actually, old Oswald Spengler himself became the darling of a circle of German industrialists after his big book came out. The world has never lacked for people who believe themselves to be proto-Caesars, and who are willing to pay to be strengthened in that belief.

Copyright © 2008 by John J. Reilly

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