The title of Oswald Spengler’s book, which he intended to publish in 1913, but published only after World War I, has been translated into English as "The Decline of the West." The German title is "Der Untergang des Abendlandes," and the word Untergang means in English “sinking,” “self-destruction,” “ruin,” “fall” of the Abendlandes, the West.
According to Spengler, a civilization such as the post-Roman West, or its one country, Germany, is viable as long as genius comes forth and thrives therein. Otherwise its overall mediocrity, and hence der Untergang, ensues.
The post-1913 Germany confirmed Spengler’s prophecy of 1913. The German music of genius of the 18th and 19th centuries is still the music of genius in the West today. But in the 20th century Germany no such great music came forth, which Spengler predicted in 1913. Der Untergang was coming. First, the absurd war, World War I, then the absurd Nazism, with its even more absurd World War II, which Germany lost disastrously — Stalin occupied the Eastern Germany and even East Berlin.
The United States was much freer than the Kaiser Germany. But genius still came forth in the Kaiser Germany. Fortunately for the United States, Hitler launched anti-Semitism, and many Germans geniuses, such as Einstein, emigrated to the United States. That was one reason why the United States — not in Germany! — developed nuclear weapons.
According to Spengler, genius in different fields thrives for the same reason: a profound elitist culture. Elitist admirers of a genius enable him or her to live in sufficiency, create and become nationally or internationally known — without academic degrees or titles and without any publicity in mass culture.
I recalled Spengler when Leopold Tyrmand (an immigrant from Poland), the editor of the magazine “Chronicles of Culture,” began sending me for reviewing those works of American literature that had received glowing reviews in “The New York Times” and other such guardians of great literature.
For example, John Updike’s “Rabbit Is Rich” was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1981, and an opening page listed his 26 (!) books, showing, judging by their reviews, that as of 1981 he (a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard) was regarded as a living classic, a writer of genius, an American genius like (I take three Russian names well known in the West) Tolstoy, or Dostoyevsky or Chekhov (none of whom had an academic degree), in combination with Edgar Poe or Baudelaire, since four of Updike’s 26 books as of 1981 were books of poetry.
Baudelaire’s summa cum laude? Very early in life, Baudelaire contracted a venereal disease from which he died.
Tyrmand and other such rebels also sent me for reviewing the best sellers of other “New York Times” greats of the time: William Styron, Roth Zuckerman, Irwin Shaw, Jersy Kosinski, Philip Roth, etc., but there was one difference.
Shortly before, Updike had made a trip to Russia, and when his guide-interpreter saw him off, she gave him what she called the best present from Russia: Mikhail Prishvin’s “Nature’s Diary.”
In Russia before 1917, Prishvin was paid by the publishers at a par with Chekhov. But what could he write about in Stalin’s Rusia? Nature!
I translated Prishvin’s book into English for the same reason Prishin had written it: nature was apolitical. Updike brought the book to a New York publishing house, and they published it with his preface in which he praised my translation so that they paid me for it though there was no American-Soviet copyright agreement, and they did not have to pay me a cent.
It may be supposed that in my review I praised Updike’s book to the skies and thus he became a highly influential friend of mine. Right?
I contended that all those literary celebrities whose books were sent to me by Tyrmand and listed above was not literature, but der Untergang. Ironically, Irwin Shaw had written a good play in the 1930s, “The Gentle People,” when the Untergang had not yet been on. Recall Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck. But his book “The Top of the Hill,” published in 1979 and sent to me by Tyrmand for reviewing was der Untergang as much as the rest of the above pile.
Irwin Shaw phoned Tyrmand and screamed at him so that possibly this was the cause of death of the sick Leopold. As for me, I would stop a hurt author’s screaming at me by saying: “Look, I resisted Stalin. Do you think your screaming will scare me?”
Der Untergang is full on.
Today in the United States there is not a single internationally or even nationally recognized thinker of genius. Hence the human intelligence of a group of people is in inverse ratio to the number of people in the group. In the United States, debates of 2008 presidential candidates, every candidate (with exceptions like Duncan Hunter) has been trying to appeal to the largest group of voters possible; that is, to the lowest level of intelligence.
Suffice it was for him to say publicly that China is a dictatorship, and the destiny of Duncan Hunter awaited him. So the result of the voting of the least intelligent voters is the least intelligent (or the most stupid) person as the U.S. president. Is any example needed?
An official cause of the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq in 2003 was Hussein’s alleged intention to create an honest-to-goodness atom bomb. Now, China tested its first atom bomb in the early 1960s. The testing of a nuclear bomb cannot be concealed. Since then China has been testing all the nuclear weapons the dictatorship wanted. To say nothing of post-nuclear super weapons.
But a successful presidential candidate McCain has said that it is necessary for the United States to wage “the pre-emptive war” in Iraq even if it takes yet another hundred years to win it. And thus, in particular, to prevent the creation in Iraq of that honest-to-goodness atom bomb which Hussein allegedly intended to create?
Is McCain’s statement intended, in the absence in the United States of a single recognized thinker of genius, for the most numerous and hence most stupid American voters? In der Untergang, to use Spengler’s word, the presidential elections become the stupidity Olympics, which make the annihilation of the free West by the unmentionable dictatorship of China the surest possible.
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