I’ve been reading Oswald Spengler again, and what he writes about destiny. If you’re going to discover your destiny – the destiny of your culture, of your family, or your own personal destiny – you need to get out of the habit of thinking about cause and effect. This seemed absurd the first time I read Spengler, but I think I understand it now.
If you think that everything is grounded in cause and effect, then you’ll make the ostensibly logical step from “x caused y” to “if x hadn’t happened, then y wouldn’t have happened.” This is often a mistake, especially when dealing with human life. Human life has a destiny, which in short means: if not by this cause, then by another.
Spengler gives Napoleon as an example. Paradoxically, Napoleon’s role in history was to allow for the dominance of the British spirit, which led to the expansion of the British Empire. Spengler tells us that in Napoleon’s time there were only two powers with really the same level of imperial ambition: Britain and France. The stage was set, and the creation of an empire “on which the sun never sets” was inevitable. Determinism is false, and events can go one way or another – Napoleon might have been victorious, and never met his Waterloo – but destiny is certain, and whatever the events certain trends are inevitable. If Napoleon had been victorious then it would have been the French who would have had the greatest Empire in the 19th century. But he was defeated and, since the time for empire was ripe, his downfall meant the dominance of the British Empire.
This is important: it wasn’t Britain’s destiny that was realised in the British Empire, but the destiny of the West, which means the destiny of West European and North American Civilisation. Even as Britain and France fought, they were working together to bring about the next step in the decline of the West . . .
Strange to call it a decline, of course, when you’re talking about the success of Empire building. But Empire building is always a sign of the death of a culture. There is nothing new to be created, and so the civilisation just expands, sharing the relics of its past, spreading its already dated ideas of freedom, technology, ambition . . .
Is Spengler saying that things are predetermined?
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In a sense yes. He thinks that every culture has its own unique characteristics from birth, that determine how that culture will grow. And what cultures have in common is that they are fated to blossom and grow, and finally decline and die.
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