Chained to the Machine: Oswald Spengler’s ‘Man and Technics’

The following is the text of a speech that I delivered at the First National-Anarchist Movement (N-AM) Conference in Madrid, Spain, on 18th June 2017

OSWALD Spengler’s Man and Technics was first published in Berlin, in the Summer of 1931, as Der Mensch und die Technik. The author had specifically intended his work to function as a response to those among his critics who had argued that his two-volume opus, The Decline of the West (1918), had launched an unnecessary and detrimental attack on technology. As John Farrenkopf explains, in 1918 he

had dismissed prehistory as unimportant to his inquiry. A little more than a year after the revision of the first volume in November, 1922 (and approximately two years after the composition of the second volume), Spengler redirected his study of civilisational development away from high cultures.[1]

Another factor which greatly influenced his decision to undertake a serious examination of humans living in the prehistoric period was his close friendship with the brilliant ethnologist and archaeologist, Leo Frobenius (1873-1938). On March 13th, 1931, Spengler delivered a speech to an audience of the prestigious Deutsches Museum, entitled “Kultur und Technik”. This appearance at Germany’s famous technological centre provided him with a valuable opportunity to develop the theories that he eventually published in Man and Technics some four months later.

Before we look at Man and Technics, however, it is perhaps worth examining Spengler’s references to technology – or that which he terms “Technique” – in The Decline of the West, most of which appear in the final chapter, “The Form-World of Economic Life: The Machine”.

The matter of technology itself, however, is also mentioned earlier on in Spengler’s 1918 text, when he discusses the scientific and intellectual creativity that led the Middle Ages into the Renaissance:

Within Baroque philosophy, Western natural science stands by itself. No other culture possesses anything like it, and assuredly it must have been from its beginnings, not a “handmaid of theology”, but the servant of the technical Will-to-power, oriented to that end both mathematically and experimentally – from its very foundations a practical mechanics.[2]

By making a connection between the mechanics of science and the Faustian will-to-power, Spengler was exploring a theme that would later come to dominate his Man and Technics. As far as he was concerned, the transition between the religiosity of Medieval philosophy and the practical experimentation of the Enlightenment period represented an historical progression between the spheres of contemplation and action.

Elsewhere in The Decline of the West, Spengler had argued that two centuries after Puritanism had supplanted the Catholic Church, the rapid mechanisation that accompanied the Industrial Revolution had inspired a religiosity of another kind:

Even those who still thought themselves to be religious in the old sense, to be “believers in God”, were only mistaking the world in which their waking-consciousness was mirroring itself. Culture is ever synonymous with religious creativeness. Every great culture begins with a mighty theme that rises out of the pre-urban countryside, is carried through into the cities of art and intellect and closes with a finale of materialism in the world-cities.[3]

The domination of Nature that Spengler is describing, along with the indomitable march of human civilisation, are – at least according to the author – part of man’s Faustian destiny. Again, this concept was to be more seriously elaborated upon in Man and Technics thirteen years later.

As mentioned previously, it is “The Form-World of Economic Life: The Machine” which really sets out Spengler’s detailed thoughts on technology in great depth and he accounts for man’s eventual mastery over his natural environment thus:

Technique is as old as free-moving life itself. The original relation between a waking-microcosm and its macrocosm – “Nature” – consists in a mental sensation which rises from mere sense-impressions to sense-judgment, so that already it works critically (that is, separatingly) or, what comes to the same thing, causal-analytically.[4]

Ironically, Spengler – at this stage of his life – believed that the domination of Nature represents a fulfillment of human destiny and not a transgression of Nature itself. By expressing his true character, in other words, or by growing into himself over time, Man is acting in accordance with human nature. This theory, however, is rather questionable and the ecological devastation being wrought by modern civilisation today is evidence that something has gone seriously wrong and that Man and Nature always find themselves in conflict. In this sense, perhaps, one would do well to recall the words of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, the author of the sixth-century BCE Tao Te Ching:

He who abandons (Tao) is identified with the abandonment (of Tao). He who is identified with Tao – Tao is also happy to have him. He who is identified with virtue – virtue is also happy to have him. And he who is identified with the abandonment (of Tao) – the abandonment (of Tao) is also happy to abandon him.[5]

The Tao, or Way, may be said to represent the true fulfillment of one’s nature and therefore Spengler cannot truly reconcile the wayward founders of modern civilisation with the natural and organic habitat that they came to reject. Furthermore, of course, those species which find themselves falling out of step with Nature do not have a very good survival rate, something that certainly does accord very strongly with Spengler’s other views concerning the actual decline and fall of human civilisation itself. This, he says, is a morphological process that results in technology changing from servant into tyrant. The culprit, he argues, is materialism and man’s increasing dependence upon money, although blood always emerges as the victor:

The coming of Caesarism breaks the dictature of money and its political weapon, democracy. After a long triumph of world-city economy and its interests over political creative force, the political side of life manifests itself after all as the stronger of the two.[6]

Spengler believed, of course, that the money-power is represented by Capitalism and that it can only be vanquished by a form of German Socialism based, not on class, but upon race. Spengler is clearly right in the sense that blood is superior to money, but the disastrous and unforeseen effects of rampant Capitalism in the twenty-first century means that such a process cannot happen on the kind of scale that he envisaged. Spengler was undoubtedly correct to suggest that all forms of human civilisation are ultimately doomed, but it seems fair to say that the triumph of blood at the very end of the decaying human cycle will represent little more than a proverbial closing of the stable door once the horse has bolted.

Turning now to Man and Technics, in which Spengler sought to further refine his ideas about technology, the author begins his “Preface” by explaining that he intends to provide an historical account of our actual origins and that

the destiny of Man can only be understood by dealing with all the provinces of his activity simultaneously and comparatively, and avoiding the mistake of trying to elucidate some problem, say, of his politics or his religion or his art, solely in terms of particular sides of his being, in the belief that, this done, there is no more to be said.[7]

Man and Technics, then, promises to be a more well-rounded and interconnected analysis of human development than the one presented in The Decline of the West. At the same time, Man and Technics represents a vastly condensed summary or précis of the earlier work. The reader is left wondering whether Spengler can fully justify – or even acknowledge – Man’s rejection of his natural origins. Thankfully, unlike some of the half-formed ideas that he had developed in The Decline of the West, when he came to write Man and Technics Spengler had substantially revised his theories.

In “Technics as the Tactics of Living”, the first of five detailed chapters, Spengler claims that the meaning of culture was not even discussed until the nineteenth century, a period which sought to improve upon the prevailing scepticism of the eighteenth century by addressing the problematic nature of world history as a whole. The politicians and novelists of the eighteenth century had tried to portray Man as a simple, basic creature, whose idyllic lifestyle was effectively ruined by the coming of civilisation. In the wake of the Napoleonic wars of the early-nineteenth century, however, technology began to advance at a quite astonishing rate and few could deny that the lives of those in the towns and cities had been utterly transformed by the arrival of industry, shipping and the railways. Spengler believes that Man’s divided approach to the question of technology and its place in history falls into two main categories: Idealism and Materialism.

The case for Idealism, as represented by figures such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), author of the two-volume Faust, rested upon

things technical and matters economic as standing outside, or rather beneath, “Culture.” Goethe himself, with his grand sense of actuality, had in Faust II sought to probe this new fact-world to its deepest depths. But even in Wilhelm von Humboldt we have the beginnings of that anti-realist, philological outlook upon history which in the limit reckons the values of the pictures and books that it produced.[8]

In other words, Spengler argues that Goethe’s appreciation of culture and the arts was, ironically, dependent upon the reliance of production and technology. This attitude represents

the outlook of those literates and aesthetes of today who view the making of a novel as something more important than the designing of an aircraft engine.[9]

Whilst the present writer is inclined to agree with the Idealists, at least to a certain extent, the other face of Spengler’s two-sided dichotomy concerns the Materialists. Their origins, according to Man and Technics, can be found amongst the liberal journalists and Marxist writers who were active during the second half of the nineteenth century. Spengler never mentions the philosophical aspects of Materialism discussed earlier by George Berkeley (1685-1753) in both his Treaty Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous (1713). Nor, for that matter, the thoroughly materialistic stance taken by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and various others in the preceding centuries. Spengler’s main protagonists on the Materialist side of the fence are classic English liberals such as Jeremy Bentham (1748-1932), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Comparing the Idealists with the Materialists, Spengler says:

If the characteristic of the first class was a lack of the sense of reality, that of the second was a devastating shallowness. Its ideal was utility, and utility only. Whatever was useful to “humanity” was a legitimate element of Culture, was in fact Culture. The rest was luxury, superstition, or barbarism.[10]

For the liberal intelligensia, therefore, if human effort could be alleviated by the machinery of a new technological age, Man himself could be free at last. This rather simplistic and naïve assertion, highly fashionable in the late-nineteenth century, is regarded by Spengler as a manifestion of the panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, that appears towards the end of a civilisation. There is nothing wrong, of course, with cutting the number of working hours or creating more free time – and modern sociologists have capably demonstrated that hunter-gatherer societies have considerably more leisure time than their civilised counterparts – but technology still comes with a price. Not simply in terms of removing Man from his environment, but also as a result of the fact that technological societies inevitably become weak and decadent. The liberal and, thus, Materialist perspective, also fails to take into consideration the religious or spiritual aspect of Man’s innate being. Spengler believes that Materialism lacks imagination and that its exponents merely seek to take advantage of those technological discoveries which have been made by others. Furthermore,

there is formed a picture of the future in which the ultimate object and the final permanent condition of humanity is an Earthly Paradise conceived in terms of the technical vogue of, say, the eighties of the last century – a rather startling negation, by the way, of the very concept of progress, which by hypothesis excludes “states.” [11]

The chief literary suspects behind the promotion of this utopian world-view, according to Spengler, were Der alte und der neue Glaube by the Christian author David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), the science-fiction novel Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1850-1898) and Die Frau und der Sozialismus by the Marxist writer August Bebel (1840-1913):

No more war; no more distinctions of law, peoples, states, or religions; no criminals or adventurers; no conflicts arising out of superiorities and unlikeness, no more hate or vengeance, but just unending comfort through all millennia.[12]

For those of us living in the twenty-first century, the results of this liberal utopianism can be seen everywhere. The effeminacy of the Western male, for example, is but one consequence of modern civilisation and its tendency to weaken and subdue the individual. Spengler, then, is opposed to both the Idealist and the Materialist interpretations of history, preferring, instead, to examine human development in its totality and not according to individual taste. History, he suggests, remains both unperturbed and unconcerned with the whimsical desires of humanity.

Spengler believes that a serious examination of world history should not begin with the technological age, and nor should it insinuate that the production of tools is the ultimate goal of technology itself:

For, in reality, technics is immemorially old, and moreover it is not something historically specific, but something immensely general. It extends far beyond mankind, back into the life of the animals, indeed of all animals.[13]

It is argued that animals, human beings among them, exercise their independence over Nature simply by moving around, something that plants are unable to do. This self-will, Spengler contends, gives animals a superiority over Nature:

For the free-moving life of the animal is struggle, and nothing but struggle, and it is the tactics of its living, its superiority or inferiority in face of “the other” (whether that “other” be animate or inanimate Nature), which decides the history of this life, which settles whether its fate is to suffer the history of others or to be itself their history. Technics is the tactics of living; it is the inner form of which the procedure of conflict – the conflict that is identical with Life itself – is the outward expression.[14]

The expression “Technics”, therefore, is not used to denote an implement or tool of some kind, but relates to what an animal – in this case, Man – actually does with it. There are countless examples in Nature where a predator does not have to rely on a weapon of any kind, or where diplomacy is used to avoid conflict, all of which demonstrate that objects are less important than their actual function. Methodology itself is a valuable weapon, says Spengler, and Nature is there to be outmaneuvered.

But there is no respect for “progress” in Spengler’s work. That rather vague and indeterminate catchword of the last two or three centuries gives no indication of the final trajectory upon which Man is likely to find himself:

To development belongs fulfilment – every evolution has a beginning, and every fulfilment is an end.[15]

The very idea of “progress” is bound up with Man’s deep-seated fear of his own demise. Other creatures do not interpret death in the way that we do, as something that is a long way off in the future. In fact they only sense death at the very moment when they are being killed. This is why humans tend to avoid that which reminds them of their own mortality and, instead, entertain the most shallow and unrealistic notions of optimism. Compared to the history of the earth, Spengler reminds us, human history is fairly inconsequential. Furthermore, whilst the idea of “progress” is an attempt to portray the history of human civilisation as part of a perpetual upward trend, the very fact that we are so interested in our past is an indication that we are beginning to head in the opposite direction. But whilst Man attributes so much importance to civilisation, we also need to consider the matter of destiny:

It dooms us to certain situations, views, and actions. There are no “men-in-themselves” such as the philosophers talk about, but only men of a time, of a locality, of a race, of a personal cast, who contend in battle with a given world and win through or fail, while the universe around them moves slowly on with a godlike unconcern. This battle is life – life, indeed, in the Nietzschean sense, a grim, pitiless, no-quarter battle of the Will-to-Power.[16]

The second chapter of Man and Technics, “Herbivores and Beasts of Prey”, follows the example set by Michel de Montaigne (1933-1592) and the aforementioned Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), each of whom portray Man as a creature who is decidedly red in tooth and claw. Despite efforts to conceal the fact by both the liberal idealists and the Christian Church, Spengler’s contention is that humans behave like any other carnivorous beast. This does not, however, preclude him from noticing that almost every theory developed by the purveyors of natural history, has – unsurprisingly, given the academic supremacy of Darwinian ideas – been drawn from a Materialist source. But Spengler is not concerned with the biological aspects of humans and other animals:

I love to meditate upon the physiognomic of the kind of animal living, the kinds of animal soul, leaving the systematic of bodily structure to the zoologists. For thereupon a wholly different hierarchy, one of life and not of body, discloses itself.[17]

Spengler is quick to distance the beasts of prey from the plant life that surrounds them, comparing the latter with the most basic forms of natural phenomena such as day and night, sunshine and rain. Plants lack the will and independence of their animalistic counterparts, being unable to make decisions and finding themselves helplessly rooted to the spot. The beasts, however, possess a mobility that functions in two stages:

There is one kind, represented in every anatomical genus from unicellular animals to aquatic birds and ungulates, whose living depends for its maintenance upon the immobile plant-world, for plants cannot flee or defend themselves. But above this there is a second kind, which lives on other animals and whose living consists in killing. Here the prey is itself mobile, and highly so, and moreover it is combative and well equipped with dodges of all sorts.[18]

This incessant, warlike philosophy can be found throughout nature and the predator has a natural freedom that is expressed through fighting and killing. At the top of this necessarily cruel and violent order stands Man, the most adaptable and intelligent animal on the planet. The herbivores, on the other hand, or non-meat eaters, are prey and rely upon just as many ‘dodges’ as those creatures which populate the ranks of the predators. However, the intellectual capacity of the average herbivore is far lower and they are more easily tamed or outwitted.

Mobility is not the only distinguishing feature between animals and plants, one must also consider the role of the senses. Whilst the predator is able to use its sight, the herbivore – as prey – relies upon scent. The predator, therefore, with its eyes set to the front of its head, rather than to the side, is considerably more aware of its own place in the environment and, more often than not, is able to manipulate events to its own advantage:

The eye of the beast of prey determines things according to position and distance. It apprehends the horizon. It measures up in this battlefield the objects and conditions of attack.[19]

Another vital component that Spengler takes into consideration during his thorough analysis of the natural world, is that of the soul. This unquantifiable essence, ignored by science, is something that imparts an inner strength to the most dominant creatures of all. Needless to say, the complete reverse applies to the herbivores:

What is the opposite of the soul of a lion? The soul of a cow. For strength of individual soul the herbivores substitute numbers, the herd, the common feeling and doing of masses. But the less one needs others, the more powerful one is. A beast of prey is everyone’s foe. Never does he tolerate an equal in his den.[20]

Spengler compares the territorial supremacy of the predator with the human desire to have total control and sovereignty over one’s own property. No amount of religious humanitarianism, liberal platitudes or pseudo-egalitarianism, therefore, can ever change the true nature of the beast:

Once this is understood, we see that there are carnivore and there are herbivore ethics. It is beyond anyone’s power to alter this. It pertains to the inward form, meaning, and tactics of all life. It is simply a fact. We can annihilate life, but we cannot alter it in kind. A beast of prey tamed and in captivity – every zoological garden can furnish examples – is mutilated, world-sick, inwardly dead. Some of them voluntarily hunger-strike when they are captured. Herbivores give up nothing in being domesticated.[21]

The anarcho-primitivist view is considerably different and John Zerzan has this to say about the domestication of animals:

Transmuted from a state of freedom to that of helpless parasites, these animals become completely dependent on man for survival. In domestic mammals, as a rule, the size of the brain becomes relatively smaller as specimens are produced that devote more energy to growth and less to activity. Placid, infantilised, typified perhaps by the sheep, most domesticated of herd animals; the remarkable intelligence of wild sheep is completely lost in their tamed counterparts. The social relationships among domestic animals are reduced to the crudest essentials. Non-reproductive parts of the life cycle are minimised, courtship is curtailed, and the animal’s very capacity to recognise its own species is impaired.[22]

But Spengler’s line of reasoning, which celebrates life as the epitome of the positive self-affirmation of the individual, clearly has far more in common with Nietzsche than it does with philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). Spengler also dismisses the overly simplistic approach of the famous biologist, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), and the Darwinist painter, Gabriel Max (1840-1915), both of whom portray Man as a more technocratic version of the common ape. In one of the footnotes to this particular chapter, Spengler – and rightly so, in my opinion – pours scorn on the entire theory that Man himself is somehow descended from apes, something which continues to be taught as fact in Western schools and universities. Nevertheless, Spengler’s work is not designed to function as a biological sketch of humanity and his main purpose is to demonstrate that we are predatory creatures who possess both a destiny and a soul.

Technique, according to Spengler, is purely generic in other animals but something which became a later development in the case of Man. In other words, whilst most creatures have tended to behave in exactly the same way throughout the course of their history, we humans have developed a sense of inventiveness and it is this which eventually led to the growth of civilisation. The differences between Spengler’s ideas and those of the average natural scientist, are as follows:

Distinctions between bodily structure and way of life are only anatomists’ distinctions; if we start from the inner form of the life instead of that of the body, tactics of living and organisation of body appear as one and the same, both being expressions of one organic actuality. “Genus” is a form, not of the visible and static, but of mobility – a form, not of so-being, but of so-doing. Bodily form is the form of the active body.[23]

Man achieves nothing that cannot be found, one way or another, elsewhere in nature. Everything that Spengler describes as ‘free-moving life’, therefore, has a hidden potential to achieve. However, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with human technique and relates merely to instinct. Other animals have no conception of love and hate, or good or evil, and their quest to survive is done in a purely unconscious fashion. In fact this is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, because our ability to create, structure and alter our own environment is a conscious phenomenon:

It is the one instance in all the history of life in which the individual frees himself from the compulsion of the genus. One has to meditate long upon this thought if one is to grasp its immense implications.[24]

One is reminded of the anti-Zionist historian, Shlomo Sand, and the comments he made about Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), one of the leading Marxist theorists of the twentieth-century:

Hence, though he accepted the Darwinist theories of evolution, he refused to apply them to the human sphere. All living beings adapt themselves to their environment in order to survive, he contended, but humanity also adapts its environment to suit its needs. Thus human labour creates a different kind of evolution, in which man’s consciousness changes as he works – in other words, in the process of altering his environment.[25]

There are, without question, some interesting similarities here. But Spengler, who was certainly not a Marxist of any description, was convinced that it is culture which gives us the ability to create our own blueprint for survival and that this is something which is completely unique and personal to us as a species.

In Chapter Three of Man and Technics, “The Origin of Man: Hand and Tool”, Spengler attempts to establish precisely how and when Man attained the kind of characteristic inventiveness that marks him out from the other animals. The point at which we find ourselves today, he says, is a result of the innumerable advantages offered by the human hand:

Here is a weapon unparalleled in the world of free moving life. Compare it with the paw, the beak, the horns, teeth, and tail-fins of other creatures. To begin with, the sense of touch is concentrated in it to such a degree that it can almost be called the organ of touch, in the sense that the eye is the sense of vision, and the ear of hearing. It distinguishes not only hot and cold, solid and liquid, hard and soft, but, above all, weight, form, and position of resistances etc. In short – things in space.[26]

In addition, Spengler believes that the entire body is structured in accordance with the hand itself. Coupled with his predatory eye, therefore, Man appears to be the ultimate master of his environment. However, rather than accept the theory discussed by Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and others that this process was very gradual and “evolutionary”, Spengler is of the opinion that the supremacy of the hand took place in a very sudden and abrupt manner:

Such a slow, phlegmatic alteration is truly appropriate to the English nature, but it does not represent Nature.[27]

Spengler discounts the dating processes that are used by geologists to ‘prove’ their theories and, instead, contends that hardly anything at all is really known about our ancestors. The human skeleton has remained completely unchanged, he argues, and the Neanderthal type can still be observed walking around in modern society:

It is impossible, therefore, that hand, upright gait, the position of the head, and so forth should have developed successively and independently. The whole thing hangs together and suddenly is. World-history strides on from catastrophe to catastrophe whether we can comprehend and prove the fact or not.[28]

Following on from the work of the Dutch botanist, Hugo de Vries (1848-1935), who was also one of the first geneticists, Spengler accepts that the human hand underwent some form of drastic mutation. In the natural world, mutational phenomena almost always leads to degeneration and perhaps the development of the human hand is no different in that it may very well lead to our own downfall.

But Man’s supremacy over the other animals could not be complete, of course, without the addition of the hand-held tool. The appearance of both hand and tool, we are informed, happened simultaneously and at no time was the hand forced to survive without the use of this non-biological appendage. Indeed, tools are consistently found amongst the most ancient of human remains. According to de Vries’ two-volume The Mutation Theory, written between 1900 and 1903, unlike the gradualist approach to evolution the sudden appearance of mutated features – or saltationism, as it is known – happens far more frequently in Nature than in relation to those changes which, in Darwinian theory, have allegedly taken place on a much larger scale.

Weaponry, one of the more crucial tools developed by human hands, is a good indication of the technological break we have made with the rest of the animal kingdom. Other animals have to rely on their teeth and talons, but Man not only has the ability to select his weaponry he can also make and develop it accordingly. This is what gives humans such domination over their living counterparts and, furthermore, this

is what constitutes his liberation from the compulsion of the genus, a phenomenon unique in the history of all life on this planet. With this, man comes into being. He has made his active life to a large extent free of the conditions of his body. The genus-instinct still perseveres in full strength, but there has detached itself the thought and intelligent action of the individual, which is independent of the genus.[29]

Archaeologists have found countless examples of partially constructed and discarded fragments beside primitive settlements all over the world, evidence that Man has always created and selected his tools very carefully indeed. Meanwhile, the relationship between the eye and the hand, as well as the wider philosophical implications discussed by Spengler, demonstrate that the entire process worked in accordance with the interests of a particular societal caste:

The eye seeks out cause and effect, the hand works on the principle of means and end. The question of whether something is suitable or unsuitable – the criterion of the doer – has nothing to do with that of true and false, the values of the observer. And an aim is a fact, while a connection of cause and effect is a truth. In this wise arose the very different modes of thought of the truth-men – the priest, the scholar, the philosopher – and the fact-men – the statesman, the general, the merchant.[30]

Even contemporary terminology, the author tells us, is influenced by the hand as an expression of will and

figures of speech such as the “heavy hand” of the conqueror, the “dexterity” of the financier, and the “hand” revealed in the work of a criminal or an artist.[31]

Spengler notes that whilst most animals engage in various forms of activity, the human is the only animal which partakes of the deed. One example used by the author, is that of fire. Other animals are capable of recognising the dangers of a conflagration when it begins and take the necessary steps to avoid its deadly consequences, but Man has managed to defy Nature by creating fire at will and then using it for his own ends.

Beyond the vital partnership that has been established between the hand and the tool, comes the formation of the human soul. Spengler does not discount the fact that other animals, too, possess souls, but Man is different in that his soul represents something incredibly solitary and individualistic:

This soul is profounder and more passionate than that of any animal whatsoever. It stands in irreconcilable opposition to the whole world, from which its own creativeness has sundered it. It is the soul of an upstart.[32]

For Spengler, the earliest humans lived – along with their women and children – in loose packs that were entirely devoid of communal expression. In other words, they did not constitute a tribe in the way that purely genus-animals form herds. But as Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) notes in his 1902 work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, as a survival mechanism co-operation can be found throughout Nature and therefore Spengler is perhaps exaggerating the extent to which Man was able to exist as a solitary predator when his natural instincts seem to lean towards the formation of societies.

We humans are certainly aware of the pride and aggressiveness that courses through our veins and which reminds us of our fundamentally animalistic essence, particularly when emotion gets the better of us, but rather than accept that our defiant souls are the result of Nature, Spengler believes that mutation has turned humans into something diametrically opposed to Nature itself:

Creative man has stepped outside the bounds of Nature, and with every fresh creation he departs further and further from her, becomes more and more her enemy. That is his “world-history,” the history of a steadily increasing, fateful rift between Man’s world and the universe – the history of a rebel that grows up to raise his hand against his mother.[33]

But rather than seek, fruitlessly, to attribute the blame for this process, it is worth mentioning the thoughts of the anarcho-primitivist writer, Kevin Tucker, who notes in his “Preface” to John Zerzan’s Against Civilisation: Readings and Reflections (1999):

I don’t think that the first people to domesticate plants and animals knew what they did would turn the world they loved into something to eventually fear. Or that growing the fear of wildness would eventually mean destroying everything outside the barriers of the gardens to ensure that they did not creep in. It’s really doubtful that the first people to settle in one area thought they were taking steps toward a life of warfare. Or that having more children would mean a constant and increasing state of growth.[34]

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) explains in one of his rare moments of insight, the domesticated human is a pitiful sight indeed and

as he becomes sociable and a slave he grows weak, timid and servile; his effeminate way of life totally enervates his strength and courage.[35]

The consequences for this act of transgression have been disastrous. Humans, being comparatively weaker than Nature, are forced to depend upon it for their sustenance and are, ultimately, subservient. It is this senseless pride which eventually leads to all civilisations, both large and small, to decline and fall into ruin.

In “The Second Stage: Speech and Enterprise”, Spengler tells us that another mutation associated with Man led to him developing his hand-based technology further by making sophisticated utensils, constructing houses, taking up agriculture and traveling large distances. The author suggests that such a mutation occurred sometime during the fifth millennium BCE, around two thousand years prior to the high cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Spengler claims that there are links between certain events and the development of further advances in technology:

These techniques, one and all, presuppose one another’s existence. The keeping of tame animals demands the cultivation of forage stuffs, the sowing and reaping of food plants require draught-animals and beasts of burden to be available, and these, again, the construction of pens. Every sort of building requires the preparation, and transport of materials, and transport, again, roads and pack-animals and boats.[36]

Echoing the sentiments expressed long before in Metamorphoses by the Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE – 17 CE), Roy Walker describes the transition of humanity from wild state to civilisation perfectly:

Men ‘gan to shroud themselves in house; their houses were the thicks, / And bushy queaches, hollow caves, or hurdles made of sticks. / Then first of all were furrows drawn, and corn was cast in ground; / The simple ox with sorry sighs to heavy yoke was bound.[37]

Technological developments of this kind involved humans working together. Time, effort and commitment all require serious co-operation on the part of those involved and this, according to Spengler, is how language developed for the very first time. He criticises the Romantics for daring to suggest that the original language of humanity was a “primary poesy” comprised of myth, lyric and prayer. He was to return to this theme two years later, in the opening pages of The Hour of Decision: Germany and World-Historical Evolution (1933), and here he also attacks the Rationalist view that speech is a type of monologue that always expresses a thought or judgment of some kind. As far as Spengler is concerned:

The correct way of putting the question is not how, but when did speaking in words come into existence? And once this question takes this form, all very soon becomes clear. The object of speaking in sentences, usually misunderstood or ignored, is settled by the period in which it became customary to speak thus (that is, “fluently”), and displayed quite clearly in the form of sentence-building.[38]

Speech began, says Spengler, as a result of Man’s basic need to engage in conversation with his fellow technocrats. The evidence, he continues, is found in the way that townspeople speak far more quickly and often than country folk, due to having to communicate with a larger number of people. The entire purpose of speech, then, arose as a response to the need for an increase in collaborative effort and speech was therefore entirely practical. More recent research, however, has disproved Spengler’s theory about technological advancement having preceded the development of speech and communication. It is now known, for example, that humans were able to speak before the arrival of agriculture.

Spengler describes these forms of collective effort as an “enterprise,” a term used to denote the manner in which groups of humans began to operate as a single unit. The primeval autonomy of the individual, which Spengler discussed earlier in his book, is now relinquished for the greater good:

Man, the preying animal, insists consciously on increasing his superiority far beyond the limits of his bodily powers. To this will-to-more-power of his he even sacrifices an important element of his own life.[39]

The freedom that Man had originally, therefore, now starts to be undermined and he becomes a slave to the harsh and uncompromising diktats of his own mind. At this point, too, Man began domesticating his environment by cultivating his own plant specimens and breeding cattle. Thus, we arrive at the notion of property:

The prey idea of the carnivore at once widens and includes not only the slain victims of the hunt, but also the free cattle that graze freely within (or even without) a man-made hedge. They belong to someone – a clan, a hunting-group – and the owner will fight to maintain his right of exploitation. The capture of animals for breeding-purposes, which presupposes the cultivation of foodstuffs for them, is only one of many modes of possession then practiced.[40]

Meanwhile, just as the human hand developed separate techniques for creating and then using weaponry, so, too, did human enterprise – aided by speech – divide into methods of planning and then fulfilling certain objectives. Inevitably, of course, the existence of leaders and followers led to the creation of a natural hierarchy:

As in every process there is a technique of execution, so, equally self-evidently, there are men whose nature is to command and men whose nature is to obey, subjects and objects of the political or economic process in question.[41]

Ironically, perhaps, Spengler considers this to be “artificial” and “contrary to Nature”, but a natural hierarchy also existed prior to the alleged mutation of humankind. But it is culture that Spengler targets most of all, regarding it as a consequence of the creative mind and something which is born of genius and talent:

Talent is a gift for particular tasks already there, which can be developed by tradition, teaching, training, and practice to high effectiveness. Talent in its exercise presupposes genius – and not vice versa.[42]

Despite the hierarchy that exists between leaders and followers, however, the loss of the former predatory freedom which accompanies the development of technology affects both categories. Spengler believes that each of them become incorporated within a spiritual and intellectual unit that unites body and soul. This, something he terms the “organisation”, is something which represents

the gathering of active life into definite forms, into the condition of being “in form” for the enterprise, whatever it may be. With collective doing the decisive step is taken from organic to organised existence, from living in natural to living in artificial groupings, from the pack to the people, the tribe, the social class, the State.[43]

From this, Spengler rightly surmises that organised human societies go to war with their neighbours and that the weak are inevitably enslaved by the strong. At the uppermost level, of course, this strength is epitomised today by the nation-state. In times of peace and diplomacy, on the other hand, warlike campaigns are waged through politics, but the objectives remain the same. We see this process take place whenever the modern world clashes with the old:

There are peoples whose strong breed has kept the character of the beast of prey, seizing, conquering, and lording peoples, lovers of the fight against men, who leave the economic fight against Nature to others, whom in due course they plunder and subject.[44]

Little has changed since Spengler first wrote those words in 1931, of course, and the globalists and international financiers rely on the same predatory tactics. These modern-day beasts of prey may live in the artificiality of the West, but they are more than eager to exploit those on the periphery who live closer to Nature. Regardless of this temporary domination of others, however, those who have decided to turn their backs on Nature ultimately pay a heavy price for their treachery:

The Culture, the aggregate of artificial, personal, self-made life-forms develops into a close-barred cage for those souls that would not be restrained. The beast of prey, who made others his domestic animals in order to exploit them, has taken himself captive. The great symbol of this fact is the human house.[45]

Human population levels have also risen dramatically over the last two centuries, but, nevertheless, Man – caught in a technological frenzy – still finds himself continually striving for the horizon in a never-ending Faustian quest for supremacy. His indomitable will-to-power, therefore, merely hastens his own demise.

Technology, we are led to believe, is an essential labour-saving device, but Spengler demolishes this notion entirely by explaining that

every discovery contains the possibility and necessity of new discoveries, every fulfilled wish awakens a thousand more, every triumph over Nature incites to yet others. The soul of this beast of prey is ever hungry, his will never satisfied – that is the curse that lies upon this kind of life, but also the grandeur inherent in its destiny.[46]

The greater the potential of an idea, then, the more other people have to become involved and the whole technological process is carried forward yet again in a self-perpetuating cycle of enslavement. The number of leaders at the top remains small, but those lower down increase in number until more and more individuals become swept away by the increasing scale of human industry. Some, however, at least once they realise what is happening, attempt to buck the trend:

Here, and only here, begins the individualism that is a reaction against the psychology of the mass. It is the last uprising of the carnivore soul against its captivity behind the bars of the Culture, the last attempt to shake off the spiritual and intellectual limitations that are produced by, and represented by, the fact of large numbers.[47]

Some of the ways that an individual can differentiate him or herself from the common herd is by rejecting society. Bohemians and criminals are well known for living on the margins of human civilisation, but Spengler believes that one can also attempt to reject mass society by ruling over it. The complex nature of hierarchy also leads to ressentiment:

Hate, the most genuine of all race-feelings in the beast of prey, presupposes respect for the adversary. A certain recognition of like spiritual rank is inherent in it. Beings that stand lower one despises. Beings that themselves stand low are envious.[48]

The conflict taking place between the different classes of society is merely a futile expression of their incarceration within the same unnatural system. Nothing can ever change this fact, Spengler argues, it is Man’s ultimate destiny.

In the final chapter of Man and Technics, “The Last Act: Rise and End of the Machine Culture”, Spengler begins to elucidate upon the philosophical argument that he had developed previously in The Decline of the West. The organic soul of the primitive world, he says, was – from 3000 BCE onwards – supplanted by the rapid growth of “high Cultures”, a term relating to

Cultures in the narrowest and grandest sense, each filling but a small portion of the earth’s space and each enduring for hardly a thousand years. The tempo is that of the final catastrophes.[49]

By studying these early developments, therefore, Spengler is able to predict what is likely to happen at the end of the present civilisational epoch.

The first step in the development of human civilisation is the establishment of the society. Spengler has already discussed hierarchy to a certain extent and the same process applies to the formation of the class system in contemporary societies, too. The consequential gulf between rich and poor that characterises the vast majority of human societies, of course, imparts unbridled luxury to the few and arouses considerable envy in the ranks of the many. Whilst humans possess natural hierarchical features such as intelligence and stupidity, or strength and weakness, the arrival of wealth and luxury is a relatively inorganic process and something peculiar to civilisation itself. After all, how else must we regard the ruling class extravagance that has shaped the upper echelons of all developed societies:

This urban Culture is luxury through and through, in all grades and callings, artificial from top to bottom, an affair of arts, whether arts of diplomacy or living, of adornment or writing or thought. Without an economic wealth that is concentrated in a few hands, there can be no “wealth” of art, of thought, of elegance, not to speak of the luxury of possessing a world-outlook. Of thinking theoretically instead of practically. Economic impoverishment at once brings spiritual and artistic improvement in its train.[50]

It would be a pity not to enjoy the cultural delights associated with High Culture, even if the vast majority only ever get to see it in the museums and public art galleries, but nothing comes without a price and the entire cycle of civilisation is like a flamboyant display of human pride before an inevitable and ignominious fall. And there is nothing so ultimately condemned as the civilisation that has risen from our own lands:

The Faustian, west European Culture is probably not the last, but certainly it is the most powerful, the most passionate, and – owing to the inward conflict between its comprehensive intellectuality and its profound spiritual disharmony – the most tragic of them all. […] But it is here, in our own, that the struggle between Nature and the Man whose historic destiny has made him pit himself against her is to all intents and purposes ended.[51]

Spengler believes that the roots of modern civilisation lie with the Vikings, who traveled throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa before conquering England in 1066 (as the Normans) and laying the foundations of what was to become the British Empire. But whilst the Norsemen conquered the world in a physical sense, they also did so intellectually with the Anglo-German scientists and mathematicians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Northern monks of the fourteenth century and the Nordic blood that was responsible for the later colonisation of the New World. What distinguished the Viking mentality from that of their Chinese or Arab counterparts, Spengler contends, is its tendency towards dynamism. Whereas the aforementioned races sought to develop ideas, rather than implement them practically, the Vikings replaced this static mindset with their own Promethean or Faustian strategy.

The development of technology was also concomitant with the growth of the bourgeoisie. Indeed, combined with the rise of materialism and rationalism, this process eventually saw technology evolve into a religion unto itself and resulted in Man’s present obsession with progress. Scientists and inventors became the high priests of a new technological cult, although, in reality, this is simply an example of Man’s ability to force Nature to act in his own interests. None of this, however, leads to a reduction of labour and resentment increases as more and more hands are required to keep these new discoveries and inventions operational:

A spiritual barrenness sets in and spreads, a chilling uniformity without height or depth. And bitterness awakes against the life vouchsafed to the gifted ones, the born creators. Men will no longer see, nor understand, that leaders’ work is the harder work, and that their own life depends on its success; they merely sense that this work is making its doers happy, tuning and enriching the soul, and that is why they hate them.[52]

But this is only the beginning. The wheels of the machine age have been slowing down for some considerable time and, even in 1931, Spengler was quite aware of the fact:

Every high Culture is a tragedy. The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian are greater than all others, greater than anything Aeschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the World is becoming the slave of the Machine, which is forcing him – forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not – to follow its course.[53]

Ironically, perhaps, Spengler mentions that a group comprised of Nordic blood have effectively carved up the world for themselves. But whilst this may have been the case at the beginning of the last century, today the world is mainly ruled by a coterie of Zionists. On the whole, the roots of modern imperialism are clearly Nordic, at least in part, but Western civilisation is now in the hands of an extremely wealthy, highly-influential and cosmopolitan Jewish élite. Spengler tells us that in his lifetime large numbers of men were shackled to the mass production of raw materials, particularly coal. Meanwhile, in the present, wars are fought to control oil and gas supplies. The numerical significance of all this is that whilst the manual labour is being done by the masses, superior technological knowledge remains in the hands of a diminishing few. The main casualty in this affair, of course, is Nature and our resources are being exhausted at a staggering rate:

All things organic are dying in the grip of organisation. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. The Civilisation itself has become a machine that does, or tries to do, everything in mechanical fashion.[54]

Spengler tells us that overproduction of this kind even undermines the achievements of technology itself, with surplus items – especially cars – filling up the planet to such an extent that in many parts of the world it becomes impossible to move around effectively. In a more positive vein, however, there does appear to be some hope on the horizon:

The Faustian thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism of the battle with Nature. Men are returning to forms of life simpler and nearer to Nature; they are spending their time in sport instead of technical experiments. The great cities are becoming hateful to them, and they would fain get away from the pressure of soulless facts and the clear cold atmosphere of technical organisation.[55]

Many people in the twenty-first century are rediscovering themselves in religion and other forms of spirituality, but the drift away from technology in general indicates that a mutiny is taking place and that people seek a more natural and organic existence. The collapse of Western civilisation – or any civilisation, come to that – cannot be avoided. In the words of Spengler:

Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles – better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every people, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. Time does not suffer itself to be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or wise renunciation. Only dreamers believe that there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.[56]

Spengler concludes his work with a passionate appeal to all that is noble in Man:

We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door at Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honourable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.[57]

Man and Technics, therefore, despite being ignored by mainstream historians and academics for more than eighty years, remains one of the most accessible and illuminating introductions to Spengler’s work. As John Farrenkopf notes:

Its flaws and disappointing brevity should not lead us to ignore the Olympian vision of world history, in an age of potential apocalypse, that this unusual book offers to the receptive reader.[58]

By writing Man and Technics, he continues, Spengler achieved two very important objectives:

First, he sensed the gravity of the threat to the global environment posed by industrialisation. Second, he grasped the centrality of the struggle between man and nature in all of world history, not merely in Western civilisation, though it is here that this struggle has climaxed. The global ecological crisis has raised the question of whether the industrial revolution has a profoundly dark and irrational side to it.[59]

Indeed, the leading German philosophers that came before Spengler – among them Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) – each failed to identify the potentially serious problems that now affect us so fundamentally. According to Ian James Kidd:

At present, when the “technologisation” of food, healthcare, recreation and all else has grown unabated, Spengler’s warning that we will be enslaved by technics – which we still narrowly interpret as practical labour-saving devices, rather than as powerful cultural forces – seems all the more prescient. Finally, his treatise on technics underscores the need for the philosophy of technology to assume a more prominent role in our current academic philosophical discourse.[60]

The political, social and economic ideas that seem most attuned with Spengler’s theories today, include those of the National-Anarchists. Few of us are suggesting that Man can ever return to a utopian lifestyle, of course, but the most important thing being offered by the National-Anarchist opponents of modern civilisation is that whilst there is no way back and certainly no way of avoiding our fate, they do still offer a way through. If you wish to avoid going down with the sinking ship, therefore, you had better start to explore the alternatives to the impending technological catastrophe.


1. John Farrenkopf; Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics (Louisiana State University Press, 2001), p.188.

2. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (Oxford University Press, 1965), pp.339-340.

3. Ibid., p.345.

4. Ibid., p.409.

5. Lao Tzu, “Tao Te Ching” in Wing-Tsit Chan [Trans.], A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1963), p.152

6. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, op.cit., p.414.

7. Oswald Spengler; Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (European Books Society, 1992), p.7.

8. Ibid., p.10.

9. Ibid., p.11.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., p.12.

12. Ibid., pp.12-13.

13. Ibid., p.14.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p.16.

16. Ibid., p.19.

17. Ibid., p.21.

18. Ibid., p.22.

19. Ibid., p.24.

20. Ibid., p.25.

21. Ibid.

22. John Zerzan; “Elements of Refusal” in John Zerzan [Ed.], Against Civilisation: Readings and Reflections (Feral House, 2005), p.71.

23. Oswald Spengler; Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, op.cit., p.26.

24. Ibid., p.27.

25. Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2010), p.270.

26. Oswald Spengler; Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, op.cit., p.29.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid., p.30.

29. Ibid., p.31.

30. Ibid., p.32.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid., p.34.

33. Ibid., p.35.

34. Kevin Tucker; “Preface: Unintended Consequences” in John Zerzan [Ed.], Against Civilisation: Readings and Reflections (Feral House, 2005), p.5.

35. Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Discourse on Inequality (Kessenger Publisher Co., 2004), p.21.

36. Oswald Spengler; Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, op.cit., p.38.

37. Roy Walker; “The Golden Feast (1952)” in John Zerzan [Ed.], Against Civilisation: Readings and Reflections, op.cit., p.12.

38. Oswald Spengler; Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life, op.cit., pp.40-41.

39. Ibid., p.43.

40. Ibid., p.45.

41. Ibid., p.46.

42. Ibid., p.47.

43. Ibid., p.48.

44. Ibid., pp.47-48.

45. Ibid., pp.49-50.

46. Ibid., p.50.

47. Ibid., p.51.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid., p.53.

50. Ibid., p.54.

51. Ibid., p.55.

52. Ibid., p.62.

53. Ibid., p.63.

54. Ibid., p.65.

55. Ibid., p.67.

56. Ibid., p.72.

57. Ibid.

58. John Farrenkopf; Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics, op.cit., p.194.

59. Ibid., p.205. 60. Ian James Kidd; “Oswald Spengler, Technology, and Human Nature” in The European Legacy, Volume 17, No. 1 (2012), p.30.


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