Resuming the Issue of Destiny
In 1923, Oswald Spengler published his impressive volume Der Untergang der Abendlandes. Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte, where he tackled the theme of the „destiny” of the age’s most wide-spread culture – the European modern culture. He was preoccupied with elaborating a methodology (a morphology, in fact) of interpretation of the course of history and, after discarding the principle of the unity of universal history, upon which, for instance, Hegel, Herder and many other had based their ample syntheses of the philosophy of history, he looked upon universal history as a collection of incommensurable cultures. I will not dwell on the entire interpretation of history elaborated by Oswald Spengler (which I briefly presented in Andrei Marga, Introducere în filosofia contemporană, Polirom, Iaşi, 2002, pp. 101-106), but I will emphasize rather the transition made by the philosopher, towards a “philosophy of the future (Philosophie der Zukunft)” (I, 6), understood as a “predetermination of history”.
“In this book – so Oswlad Spengler begins – there is a first attempt to determine history a priori. It’s about keeping track of the destiny of a culture, of that culture which is unique, which is today understood as being fulfilled, the Western-European-American culture, in its yet undiscovered stages” (I, 3). Oswald Spengler makes a relatively long incursion into the general method of the interpretation of history in order to shape the theme of the destiny of Western culture, and distances himself not only from the principle of the unity of universal history, but also from the methods based on factual research and on, especially causal, generalisations (even identifying laws). His request is for Western Europe to pass from the “Ptolemaic” representation of history to a “Copernican” representation (p. 24). He proposes a reorientation of philosophy towards the history of philosophy as “a last profound point of philosophy” (I, 64) and assuming “scepticism”, within a “morphology of world history which is developing into a universal symbology” (I, 64). He turns to “analogy” as a method of approaching historical facts and, of course, he praises Leopold Ranke for drawing the attention on the cognitive virtues of the method and for discussing the “logic of time”, upon which depends “the organic necessity of destiny”, as a complement, intrinsic to the approach of history, to the already established “logic of space”, connected to “the necessity of cause and effort”. However, beyond all this, in the long Einleitung to his ample opus, Oswald Spengler focuses on the destiny of Western culture. He considers that “the problem of the destiny asserts itself as a problem of history (the problem of time, therefore)” and he recommends the “physiognomic” as the only one able to capture that “other necessity, completely alien to the causal one”, which is active in the depth of history (I, 69).
Oswald Spengler’s diagnosis is presented from the beginning. It involves “the decline of the West (der Untergang des Abendlandes)”. He immediately makes it explicit: “The narrower theme (of the volume MN) is thus an analysis of the decline of Western-European culture, which is today spread world-widely. The aim, however, is to develop a philosophy and its own method; here the method to be examined is that of the comparative morphology of universal history” (I, 70).
Oswald Spengler approached the destiny of Western culture within the distinction between “civilisation” and “culture”, so characteristic of him. “Civilisation is the inevitable destiny of a culture. It is where the peaks of the deepest and most difficult questions of historical morphology are soluble. Civilisations are the most outward and artificial stages of a higher form of the human being. They represent a conclusion; they follow the becoming as become, life as death, growth as stillness… They are an irreversible ending, but they are again and again attained, with the most profound necessity” (I, 43). An example of transition from “culture (Kultur)”, understood as innovative creation of ideas, to “civilisation (Zivilisation)”, considered as a concretisation in institutions, actions, material facts of ideas, is the 4th century of Greek Antiquity; another example is the 19th century of European modern history. During these times, “grand spiritual decisions (große geistige Entscheidungen)” are now longer taken, only existent realities are being exploited. “Humanity (Menschheit)” no longer sets itself a goal, but it retrogrades to the obsession of surviving under the present conditions, thus becoming part of nature.
Today, we can observe, with renewed interest, Oswald Spengler in his effort to describe Western culture and civilisation, by handling with ample historical information and with sagacity the opposition between Goethe’s perception of nature and that of Newton’s. We are, however, interested in something else and that is: to continue the open issue of determining the future of European culture and to instate it in today’s conditions under the title of “the destiny of today’s Europe”. Oswald Spenler put the question regarding the destiny of “Western culture” (or that of Western-European-American culture) in a historical context marked by the deceptions of the First World War and of the European crises that preceded it; his answer to that question was the explicit abandonment of the scientifically-inspired rationalism, which predominated over the intellectual atmosphere of the crisis. The current context is different, and scientific rationalism has unveiled not only its limits, but also the force that cannot be replaced in a Europe that has changed on a large scale. For instance, in the meanwhile, we find ourselves after the putting in motion of the European project of unification (through the Treaty of Rome, 1959) and its implementation (through the three expansions: towards the West, towards the South and towards the East), we find ourselves in the midst of the process, with real accomplishments and promises that have yet to be kept and with perspectives that need clarification. The road back is closed, the current situation of Europe is full of uncertainties, the future hasn’t been uncovered. By approaching this book, The Destiny of Europe, I intend to draw a diagnosis of the current situation and to prefigure (maybe even anticipate) the future.
Oswald Spengler is approached here, in my book, as the author of an original questioning, which is worth being reproduced especially during this period of history set as “the dialogue of cultures” and marked by the uncertainty of the situation and of the future. Precisely during these times I will resume the problem of the destiny, the destiny of Europe, in this book. The methodological restrictions set by Oswald Spengler in order to capture the destiny of the Western culture are not efficacious. These methodological restrictions include: the appeal to “analogy” as a basic procedure, the exaltation of the “physiognomic” of cultures, the rigid separation between “culture” and “civilisation”. We will abandon such restrictions, explicitly, maintaining, however, from the vigorous research done in Der Untergang der Abendlandes, the strong and fresh interrogation on the destiny, which remains the basis of a renewed philosophy of history. Our book, The Destiny of Europe, will answer the question “what is there for us in unified Europe?”, by doing a comprehensive research on the European identity, on Europe’s cultural sources, on the difficulties of the challenges of today’s situation, and will state prognoses for the medium future. The volume considers the main current facts and interpretations, but it shapes its own point of view in a matter which needs updating since, in time, in the life of the Europeans, difficulties and queries, even the opacity of the situation have become poignant.
We have been living, ever since the eighth decade, the crisis of the positivist methodology, not only in what concerns the social sciences and the other sciences, but in the consecrated natural sciences as well. The interpretation of knowledge as “mirroring”, as a “painting” or as an almost isomorphic rendering of the reality strikes itself against convincing arguments in favour of the idea of an inevitable intervention in the knowledge of a “prerequisite”. From Kant, through Husserl, Heidegger, Heisenberg, to Quine, Gadamer and Habermas, components of the “prerequisite of knowledge” have been indicated: the concepts, the transcendental intentionality, the existential experience, the inventory of measurements, the ensemble of the propositions, the language, the quasi-transcendental interests that lead to knowledge. The description of the “prerequisite” is not a concluded philosophical operation even today. It is highly probable that the limit is going to be reached as soon as one is able to provide a comprehensive list of actions presupposed by the meaningful cultural reproduction of human life.
However, it is not the description of the prerequisite that is of interest here, but the fact that, especially in the intellectual environments little exerted in the factual sciences and of the instrumental and strategic actions, we are now before a direct turning from the legitimate crisis of positivism, indicating the hidden “prerequisite” of knowledge, to neo-romanticisms with cognitive claims, which have been null and void for a long time. Under this aspect, one can easily observe, by proliferating around, brief judgements of the type: “Americans are mercantilists”, “Russians are nostalgic”, “Germans are the advocates of an unconditional order”, “British are arrogant”, “French are frivolous”, “Romanians are imaginative”, and many others, Such types of judgements are formulated without precautions, usually with apodictic claims, as a sort of indisputable truths. And when the essayistic language is seductive, the appearance of the truth increases.
If one sets as a goal the identification of the prototype for this turning, with the above-mentioned literary qualities – as we are not talking here of any tendency, nor about a new intellectual current, but of a mere update – then they may find it in Das Spektrum Europas (Niels Kampmann Verlag, Heidelberg, 1929). He himself being preoccupied with capturing the “future of Europe”, the renowned author of the famous book, Hermann Keyserling, has configured a methodology that has found its adepts and it still finds them nowadays. Let us stop upon it with a brief characterization.
From the very beginning, Keyserling subordinates the exactness of his investigation dedicated to Europe to the “subjectivity” of the perceptions, of the propositions and of its evaluations. He begins his argumentation leaving from far, from the “uniqueness” of the individual life: “I am not a photographer, but a poet who takes pictures, which includes particularities related to my personality” (translation from the Romanian edition, The European Institute, Iaşi, 1993, pp. 8-9). Without any reserves or preliminaries, he really believes that “on the basis of their uniqueness, each individual has the right of judging entire peoples” (p. 12) and he emphatically assumes that “I see my capital meaning possible in mz subjectivity” (p. 7). His basic methodology, articulated on this ground, begins with an option that continuously maintains its value: “I write without any preconceived ideas, but not without presuppositions” (p. 15). His presuppositions are explicit and, unfortunately, disputable from the very beginning. They may be summarized in four propositions: a) “understanding is different from knowing; it is an immediate noticing of the meaning, not in a different way from the painting” (p. 13), while knowledge is, when mature, full of “understanding”; b) in the human ensembles (peoples, mainly) one may identify the “unconsciousness of totality” (p. 255), which represents the most profound reality of history “the fully determined unconsciousness conditions the particular history of a people”, p. 302); c) the “unconsciousness” is similar to a “substance” (Keyserling has in mind the Aristotelian meaning of the term), while each of the peoples of Europe have their own “substance” (p. 299); d) the living community of the individuals is characterized by “style” (p. 308), so that “only the peoples and the cultures embodying a high unity of style, under the form of an oeuvre in the hereditary inheritance of humankind, continue to live” (p. 305).
From the very beginning, such an articulated methodology can only be related to the taste, “subjective” in any way. The unconsciousness is much more postulated, the substance remains contingently established, the style is assumed according to one’s own affinities, the understanding is melted in contextual livings. Furthermore, the evaluations reached by Keyserling probate, through their failure, the obsoleteness of his methodology. Here are some examples: “truly speaking, the average British man does not ever reflect. If they do that, the result is disastrous most of the times” (p. 21); “Germans are physiologically a people of culture, just as Indians are” (p. 95); “America does not have a national body that can appreciate the value of the great and free spirit” (p. 97); “woe is Germany if it sees Americanism as an ideal” (p. 107). How wrong such propositions, produced abundantly by Keyserlig’s methodology, can be is to be evaluated by each individual, as one may speak here of empirical evidence that contradict the propositions of the above-mentioned type. The obsoleteness of this methodology shows us once again, even indirectly in this case, that it is not enough to assume that in knowledge there is, inevitably and irrepressibly, a “prerequisite” that shall have to be acknowledged, by turning to the neo-romanticism already consumed of the past eras. The book The Destiny of Europe assumes a different methodology, which, in its turn, assumes the irreplaceable value of today’s sciences to which a reflexive self-consciousness is added. The overcoming of the positivist methodology is not equal to its denunciation, but implies the careful examination of what it lives: the inevitable presence of the “prerequisite”. And this “prerequisite” has to be, in its turn, reconstructed in a rational way.
I hereby examine the current European situation, the “challenges” and the issues that mark it, as well as its future perspectives, the “destiny” awaiting it with the greatest probability. One cannot give an answer to the questions regarding destiny without assuming the complex and complicates current situation and, more profoundly, without considering the potential contained by the realities historically constituted and by the European “idea”. Therefore, this volume begins with two parts – Identity and Sources, which are approached until the most recent level of the solutions and brought to new personal solutions so that, in the end, to research the Difficulties, the Crises and the Challenges, parts acknowledging, at the same level, the current situation. Further on, in the part bearing the title Diagnoses, the European current societies are characterised from a determined point of view, while the concluding part, Prognoses, an anticipation of the evolution of Europe is formulated. The Conclusions shall present the improvements of an analysis such as the one we have before us, the claims connected to its results and validity conditions. We shall use reference analysis, in relation with which we shall try to profile our own point of view.