T.W. Adorno on Spengler & Heidegger


When the second volume of the Decline [of the West] appeared, in 1922, its reception did not even remotely approach that of the first, even though the thesis of the decline is not concretely developed until the second volume. The laymen who had read Spengler as they had read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer before him had in the meantime become estranged from philosophy; the professional philosophers were soon to flock to Heidegger, whose work was to give their irritation more dignified and refined expression. He exalted death and promised to transform the thought of it into a professional secret for academics; Spengler had simply decreed it without respect to persons. Spengler was left behind . . . .


Spengler scrutinizes the individual sciences from top to bottom, as though for a clearance sale. If one were to characterize Spengler himself in the terminology of the civilization he denounces and name him in his own style, one would have to compare the Decline of the West to a department store where the intellectual agent sells the dried literary scraps he purchased at half-price at the close-out sale of culture. His procedure reveals the embittered resentment of the German middle-class scholar who wants to make capital of his learning at last and invest it in the most promising banch of the economy, which at the time was heavy industry. Spengler's insight into the helplessness of liberal intellectuals in the shadow of rising totalitarian power prompts him to become a turncoat. By denouncing itself the mind makes itself capable of providing anti-ideological ideologies. Spengler's proclamation of the demise of culture conceals wishful thinking. The mind which denies itself and sides with force hopes to be pardoned.


This was not only Spengler, but Heidegger to a T, and the whole caboodle that have followed in his wake.

SOURCE: Adorno, Theodor W. "Spengler After the Decline", in Prisms (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1982), pp. 53, 63.

Anti-Spengler (1921) [Quotes] by Otto Neurath

Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide

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