Compendium: A Reading of Oswald Spengler’s Prussianism and Socialism (Part III of IV)

A large portion of Prussianism and Socialism was devoted to the “English instinct,” the term Spengler chose to describe Liberal Capitalism. Spengler specifically chose this term, just as he had also identified Socialism as being the “Prussian instinct,” because he rejected the concept of ideologies. Regardless, it cannot be denied that Liberal Capitalism has its origins in England during the English Revolution during the 17th century. Furthermore, the relevant passages on Liberal Capitalism sought to identify the Liberal Capitalist origins of Marxism as being a manifestation of the “English instinct.” Spengler cited several pieces of evidence to buttress arguments that would later become targets of criticism in “Section IV: Marx.”

In Section III, Spengler explained the appearances of Socialism in Prussia and Liberal Capitalism in England as being caused by Prussians and Englishmen living in distinct geographical environments. What caused the divergence between these two Germanic peoples was the difference between isolated on an island and being situated on the European mainland:

In England, “splendid isolation” replaced the organized state. A stateless nation was only possible under those conditions; isolation was the necessary ingredient in the development of the spirit of modern England, a spirit that first gained full confidence in the seventeenth century, when the English became the undisputed masters of their island. It is a case of creative topography: the English people shaped and formed itself, while the Prussian people was shaped in the eighteenth century by the Hohenzollern, who brought with them the frontier experience of southern Central Europe, and who had thus become advocates of the organized state.

This is not to suggest that “Evolution,” a concept from the same Darwinism opposed by Spengler within Prussianism and Socialism, was responsible for Prussia and England developing differently. In fact, it may not necessarily be because of them having enemies or none at all. Put another way, it has more to do with the two peoples being more likely to experience Socialization with other peoples versus being isolated and having an entire landmass to themselves. Such an argument lends greater credence to the “Friend-Enemy Distinction” conceptualized by Carl Schmitt from The Concept of the Political.

Here, the problems Spengler stated about England can be seen as supporting Schmitt’s arguments about the “political absence” and “economic presence” that Liberal Capitalism has a tendency of creating. Everything in life under Liberal Capitalism is trivial and meaningless, revolving around economic concerns, and without any sense of higher purpose beyond the Individual. Liberal Capitalists do not refer to nation-states as “States”; they refer to them as “civil societies”:

As real political entities, as state and non-state, Prussia and England embody the maximum and minimum functioning of the suprapersonal socialistic principle. The liberal English “state” is completely intangible; it makes not a single claim on the individual citizen, nor does it make of him a meaningful element in a political system. It serves him exclusively as a means to an end. During the century between Waterloo and the World War, England went without compulsory education, compulsory military service, and compulsory social security—out of sheer antipathy to these negative privileges. The hostility of the English toward centralized organization is neatly expressed in their word “society,” which has displaced in their thinking the ideal notion of the “state.” The concept entered the French Enlightenment as société, Montesquieu arrived at this opinion: “Des sociétés de vingt à trente millions d’hommes—ce sont des montres dans la nature.” This was an anarchical French idea, but in British formulation. Rousseau, as is well known, used this word to conceal his hatred of rules and commands issued by authority; and Karl Marx, whose pattern of thought was likewise predominantly English, merely followed suit. Lessing, as a representative of the German Aufklärung, employed the term Menschengeschlecht in the sense of “human society.” Goethe, Schiller, and Herder preferred the word Gesellschaft, which then became a favorite expression of the German liberals, who used it to blot out of their minds the nobler but more demanding idea of the Staat.

England did away with the principle of the organized state, and put in its place the notion of the free private citizen. The citizen demands permission to fight alone in the ruthless struggle for existence, for this is the only way he can satisfy his Viking instincts. Buckle, Malthus, and Darwin later postulated that the basic essence of “society” was the naked struggle for existence. And they were absolutely right, at least as far as their own country and people were concerned. To be sure, in modern England this principle operates in a highly refined and perfected fashion. But evidence of a more rudimentary adherence to it can be found in the Icelandic sagas, where such behavior is obviously spontaneous and not borrowed from another culture. The forces with which William the Conqueror took England in 1066 could be called a “society” of knightly adventurers, and English trading companies have subdued and expropriated entire countries—most recently, since 1890, the inland regions of South Africa. Gradually the entire English nation assumed the characteristics of a “society.” The Old Norse instinct for piracy and clever trading has, in the end, influenced the Englishman’s attitude toward all of reality, including property, work, foreign peoples, and the weaker individuals and classes among his own people. The same instinct has also yielded political techniques that are extremely effective weapons in the struggle for mastery of the globe.

A concept complementary to that of “society” is the “private citizen.” He represents the sum of certain positive ethical qualities which like all great ethical virtues are not acquired through training or education, but are borne in the blood and perfected after passing through generation after generation. The peculiarly English style of politics is essentially one that involves private citizens or groups of such individuals. This, and only this, is the very meaning of parliamentary government. Cecil Rhodes was a private citizen who conquered foreign countries. The American billionaires are private citizens who rule foreign countries by means of an inferior class of professional politicians. German liberalism, on the other hand, is ethically valueless. It merely says “No!” to the state, and is unable to justify its opposition by offering equally high-minded and vigorous positive suggestions.

The English were united by a common feeling of success and good fortune, unlike the Prussians, who were moved by a sense of challenge and duty. We may think of the English as Olympians of the business world at the banquet table, or as Vikings returned from distant explorations, but not as knights on the field of battle. Next to noble parentage, wealth is the major condition for acceptance in the group; it is also the criterion for rank within the group’s social structure. Wealth is the Englishman’s prime virtue, his distinguishing mark, his goal and his ideal. Today, only England has what may be called social culture, although it does not possess any other, more philosophical form of culture. The English are a people of profound superficiality; we Germans, in the “land of poets and thinkers,” so often display merely a superficial profundity.

England’s fashion in men’s wear is a matter of social obligation, even stricter than the specifications for uniform-wearing in the Prussian state. Whoever is anybody in England would not think of appearing before his peers in “civilian” dress, i.e., contrary to fashion and custom. But only the Englishman is capable of making a proper appearance in this “gentleman’s” costume. The Bratenrock of the provincial German philistine is a poor copy of the English model. Beneath it the philistine German heart continues to throb for “freedom” and “human dignity.” The Bratenrock is the symbol of the ideals of 1848, and is worn today with pride by the German socialists-gone-liberal.

The English, indeed the whole world, will never understand that the Prussian ethic carries with it a profound inner independence. For people of sufficient mental capacities a system of social obligations guarantees a supreme freedom of the inner life, which is not possible under a system of social privileges. A mentality such as that of General Moltke is unthinkable in England. The Englishman pays for his practical freedom with the loss of the other kind of freedom: he is inwardly a slave, whether as puritan, rationalist, sensualist, or materialist. For two centuries now he has been the inventor of all philosophies that do away with inner independence. Most recently he has produced Darwinism, which makes man’s entire psychic makeup dependent on material forces. Incidentally, the particularly crass form of Darwinism propagated by Büchner and Haeckel has become the Weltanschauung of the German philistine.

The Englishman belongs to his “society” in the spiritual sense as well. His clothing is also an expression of his uniformed conscience. He cherishes his right to act as a private citizen, yet for him there exists no such thing as private thinking. His life is governed by a unified, theologically oriented philosophy of little real content, as fashionable as frockcoat and gloves. The term “herd instinct” is appropriate here, if anywhere.

In essence, what Spengler was trying to imply here is that Liberal Capitalism emphasizes the “rights” of the Individual over their “duties” to the State. An Individual under Liberal Capitalism is, as far as his subconscious remains concerned, unfree. There is always a “herd mentality” that he is thrusted into by the “civil society.” That can take on the form of advertising, of chasing after the latest trends, and upholding some materialistic, consumerist expectation of what “civil society” expects every Individual to be. The Liberal Capitalist justifies these totalitarian measures to create a semblance of social cohesion within the “civil society.” The result leads to people trying to “be different” from “civil society,” rather than trying to change it.

A self-aware Socialist attuned to their sense of Dasein (in the Heideggerian sense) can point to countless examples of the English instinct. There is the Jeffersonian meme among American Protestants and Conservatives about the growing “secularization” of America, as a deterrent against Socialism since the Cold War, is a reflection of this same herd mentality. Another is the prevalence of “subcultures” that were artificially created through “pop culture,” where distinctions between high and low cultures do not exist. Others examples include the “nanny state” and “big government,” both of which are Liberal Capitalist terms used by British and Americans respectively to describe any regime that does not fit their utopian definition of “civil society.”

The ideal of the Liberal Capitalist civil society is this: provide as many “rights” to the Individual with as few “duties” as possible whilst deterring “the state” (both real and imaginary) from liquidating (to use a Liberal Capitalist term) those same rights. “The state,” no matter how many institutions and people it comprises, is an Individual unto itself. And while every “right” granted is good, but twice more if said “right” enhances an Individual’s usefulness. All of these factor immensely into Spengler’s objections to “wealth inequality” being Socialistic.

“Unequal distribution of wealth” is the typically English proletarian formula, used repeatedly by [George Bernard] Shaw. Though it sounds ridiculous to us, it is precisely appropriate to the ideal of living professed by the civilized Viking. With due respect to the magnificent flowering of this ideal in the Yankee type, we might speak of two forms of socialism existing in the Anglo-Saxon world and in Germany: socialism for the billionaires and socialism for civil servants. As an example of the first type we can point to Andrew Carnegie, who first transformed a large amount of public funds into a private fortune, only to turn around and distribute it with sovereign gesture among public enterprises. His pronouncement, “Whoever dies poor dies in dishonor,” implies a high regard for the will to power over the totality. This kind of private socialism, in extreme cases simply the dictatorial administration of public monies, ought not to be confused with the socialism of true public servants and administrators (who themselves can be quite poor). Examples of this latter form of socialism are the otherwise quite different personalities of Bismarck and Bebel.     

The same style is still apparent today in every English trade company and every American trust. Their aim is not to work steadily to raise the entire nation’s standard of living, it is rather to produce private fortunes by the use of private capital, to overcome private competition, and to exploit the public through the use of advertising, price wars, artificial stimulation of the consumer, and strict control of the ratio of supply and demand. When the Englishman speaks of national wealth he means the number of millionaires in the country. As Friedrich Engels wrote, “Nothing is more foreign to the English mentality than solidarity.” Even in sports and recreation the Englishman sees a test of personal, and especially physical, superiority. He engages in sports for the sake of national and world records; he enjoys prize-fighting, a sport that is closely related to his economic habits and is quite alien to the minds of gymnasts in Germany.

All this proves that the economic existence of England is synonymous with business, i.e., a refined form of piracy. The English instinct regards all commodities as booty, items to be manipulated in order to get rich. The English machine industry was created in the interest of commerce and trade, its chief aim being the production of cheap goods. When English agriculture began to limit wage cuts by fixing its own prices, it was simply abandoned in the interest of commerce. The battles between capital and labor in English industry in 1850 were concerned with the commodity “labor”—one side wanted to get it cheap, the other wanted a high price for it. Everything that Marx has to say with grudging admiration about “capitalistic society” refers principally to English, and not to a universal, economic instinct.

What Spengler described about Liberal Capitalism can also applicable to Marxism in its metaphysical form. Marxism is great at criticizing the English instinct but not at advocating for asking “What is to be done?” about the English instinct. That famous question from Lenin will never be asked if Marxism has consistently been second nature to the English instinct.

One does not have to go very far to verify Spengler’s conclusions. For instance, it has been loosely argued by non-American Marxists in the 1970s that the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) is a reflection of this same mentality. That work in question is entitled, “Against Dogmatism and Revisionism: Toward a Genuine Communist Party.” The problem with the CPUSA, unbeknownst to its authors, has its origins in the party’s unconscious adoption of Jeffersonianism since the reign of Earl Browder.

The inclination toward Jeffersonianism by the CPUSA was a consequence of the English origins behind Marxism. As Spengler noted, everything about Marxism was a perversion of the “Class Struggle” between true Liberal Capitalism and true Socialism. The ideology obscured the real Revisionism that has been plaguing true Socialism for centuries, its own theological-like aversion toward the State with religious fanaticism. One cannot speak of “State Capitalism” as being a step toward Socialism than Liberal Capitalism any more than one cannot speak of a “De-Hitlerized National Socialism” as being a step toward Communism than Fascism.

The problem which Spengler identified in Section IV of Prussianism and Socialism is Marxism’s tendency to behave more like a religion than an ideology, let alone the instinct of a specific people. The economic tendencies of Liberal Capitalism, the ‘Capitalism’ half, is overemphasized without paying enough attention to its political tendencies, the ‘Liberalism’ half. Moreover, the “Socialism” favored by Marxists has consistently been “Internationalist” in its outlook. Although one might downplay the significance of a “National Socialism” over an “International Socialism,” that distinction alone had led to the appearances of “Socialism in One Country” and “Permanent Revolution” in the early years of the Soviet Union. It has also led to the need to suppress the Nationalistic tendencies among the Socialisms of the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc and China as “Socialist Patriotism.” Even the “Revisionism” which emerged from the Sino-Soviet, Yugoslav-Soviet, and Albanian-Soviet Splits of the Cold War were the results of attempts by China, former Yugoslavia, and Albania to create Socialisms distinctly tied to their nation-states.  

Everything described in the preceding paragraphs summarizes the crux of Spengler’s arguments against Marxism being worthy of furthering the Socialist cause. It should be noted that Spengler used those descriptions to differentiate what true Socialism should operate and why these factors tie in with his own arguments on Imperialism. For as Spengler demonstrated in Section V, there is a difference between “Socialism in Words, Imperialism in Deeds” and “Imperialism in Words, Socialism in Deeds.”  



Categories: Compendium, Economic History, Philosophy, Politics

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