The Coming of Nihilism




Civilisation                            -                      Culture
Mechanism                            -                      Organism 
Barren                                    -                      Fertile  
                   



Each of the three [Buddhism, Stoicism, Socialism] buried a millennium of spiritual depth [...] In each case, the ideals of yesterday, the religious and artistic and political forms that have grown up through the centuries, are undone.

Each proclaimed his gospel to mankind, but it was to the mankind of the city intelligentsia, which was tired of the town and the Late Culture, and whose "pure" (i.e., soulless) reason longed to be free from them and their authoritative form and their hardness, from the symbolism with which it was no longer in living communion and which therefore it detested.

The Culture was annihilated by discussion.

If we pass in review the great 19th-Century names with which we associate the march of this great drama - Schopenhauer, Hebbel, Wagner, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Strindberg - we comprehend in a glance that which Nietzsche, in a fragmentary preface to his incomplete master-work, deliberately and correctly called the Coming of Nihilism.

Every one of the great Cultures knows it, for it is of deep necessity inherent in the finale of these mighty organisms. Socrates was a nihilist, and Buddha. There is an Egyptian or an Arabian or a Chinese de-souling of the human being, just as there is a Western.

This is a matter not of mere political and economic, nor even of religious and artistic, transformations, nor of any tangible or factual change whatsoever, but of the condition of a soul after it has actualized its possibilities in full.

Not external life and conduct, not institutions and customs, but deepest and last things are question here - the inward finishedness (Fertigsein) of megalopolitan man, and of the provincial as well. For the Classical world this condition sets in with the Roman age; for us it will set in from about the year 2000.

For Western existence the distinction lies at about the year 1800 - on the one side of that frontier life in fullness and sureness of itself, formed by growth from within, in one great uninterrupted evolution from Gothic childhood to Goethe and Napoleon, and on the other the autumnal, artificial, rootless life of our great cities, under forms fashioned by the intellect.

Culture and Civilization - the living body of a soul and the mummy of it […] Culture and Civilization - the organism born of Mother Earth, and the mechanism proceeding from hardened fabric. Culture-man lives inwards, Civilization-man outwards in space and amongst bodies and “facts."

That which the one feels as Destiny the other understands as a linkage of causes and effects, and thenceforward he is a materialist - in the sense of the word valid for, and only valid for, Civilization – whether he wills it or no, and whether Buddhist, Stoic or Socialist doctrines wear the garb of religion or not.

The feeling of strangeness in these forms, the idea that they are a burden from which creative freedom requires to be relieved, the impulse to overhaul the stock in order by the light of reason to turn it to better account, the fatal imposition of thought upon the inscrutable quality of creativeness, are all symptoms of a soul that is beginning to tire.

Only the sick man feels his limbs.

Life is no longer to be lived as something self-evident - hardly a matter of consciousness, let alone choice - or to be accepted as God-willed destiny, but is to be treated as a problem, presented as the intellect sees it, judged by “utilitarian” or “rational” criteria.

The brain rules because the soul abdicates. Culture-men live unconsciously, civilisation-men consciously. The megalopolis - sceptical, practical, artificial - alone represents Civilisation to-day. The soil-peasantry before its gates does not count. The "People" means the city-people, an inorganic mass, something fluctuating. The peasant is not democratic - this again being a notion belonging to mechanical and urban existence - and he is therefore overlooked, despised, detested. With the vanishing of the old "estates" - gentry and priesthood - he is the only organic man, the sole relic of the Early Culture.

[Faust] is Civilization in the place of Culture, external mechanism in place of internal organism, intellect as the petrifact of extinct soul.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p.352-4, 357



Related posts: