Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Oswald Spengler, Man is a Beast of Prey

Oswald Spengler
From Man and Technics, Knopf, 1932, 1st ed.

MAN is a beast of prey. Acute thinkers, like Montaigne and Nietzsche, have always known this. The old fairy-tales and the proverbs of peasant and nomad folk the world over, with their lively cunning: the half-smiling penetration characteristic of the great connoisseur of men, whether statesman or general, merchant or judge, at the maturity of his rich life: the despair of the world-improver who has failed: the invective of the angered priest — in none of these is denial or even concealment of the fact as much as attempted. Only the ceremonious solemnity of idealist philosophers and other . . . theologians has wanted the courage to be open about what in their hearts they knew perfectly well. Ideals are cowardice. Yet, even from the works of these one could cull a pretty anthology of opinions that they have from time to time let slip concerning the beast in man.

Today we must definitely settle accounts with this view. Scepticism, the last remaining philosophical attitude that is possible to (nay, that is worthy of) this age, allows no such evasion of issues. Yet, for this very reason, neither would I leave unchallenged other views that have been developed out of the natural science of last century. Our anatomical treatment and classification of the animal world is (as is to be expected from its origin) dominated entirely by the materialist outlook. Granted that the picture of the body, as it presents itself to the human (and only to the human) eye, and a fortiori that of the body as dissected and chemically treated and experimentally maltreated, eventuates in a system — the system founded by Linn├Žus and deepened in its pal├Žological aspect by the Darwinian school — a system of static and optically appreciable details, yet after all there is another, a quite other and unsystematic, ordering according to species of life, which is revealed only through unsophisticated living with it, through the inwardly felt relationship of Ego and Tu, which is known to every peasant, but also to every true artist and poet. I love to meditate upon the physiognomic of the kinds of animal living, the kinds of animal soul, leaving the systematic of bodily structure to the zoologists. For thereupon a wholly different hierarchy, one of life and not of body, discloses itself.

A plant lives, although only in the restricted sense a living being. Actually there is life in it, or about it. “It” breathes, “it” feeds, “it” multiplies, we say, but in reality it is merely the theatre of processes that form one unity along with the processes of the natural environment, such as day and night, sunshine and soil-fermentation, so that the plant itself cannot will or choose. Everything takes place with it and in it. It selects neither its position, nor its nourishment, nor the other plants with which it produces its offspring. It does not move itself, but is moved by wind and warmth and light.

Above this grade of life now rises the freely mobile life of the animals. But of this there are two stages. There is one kind, represented in every anatomical genus from unicellular animals to aquatic birds and ungulates, whose living depends for its maintenance upon the immobile plant-world, for plants cannot flee or defend themselves. But above this there is a second kind, which lives on other animals and whose living consists in killing. Here the prey is itself mobile, and highly so, and moreover it is combative and well equipped with dodges of all sorts. This second kind also is found in all the genera of the system. Every drop of water is a battlefield and we, who have the land-battle so constantly before our eyes that it is taken for granted or even forgotten, shudder to see how the fantastic forms of the deep sea carry on the life of killing and being killed.

The animal of prey is the highest form of mobile life. It implies a maximum of freedom for self against others, of responsibility to self, of singleness of self, an extreme of necessity where that self can hold its own only by fighting and winning and destroying. It imparts a high dignity to Man, as a type, that he is a beast of prey.

A herbivore is by its destiny a prey, and it seeks to escape this destiny by flight, but beasts of prey must get prey. The one type of life is of its innermost essence defensive, the other offensive, hard, cruel, destructive. The difference appears even in the tactics of movement — on the one hand the habit of flight, fleetness, cutting of corners, evasion, concealment, and on the other the straight-line motion of the attack, the lion’s spring, the eagle’s swoop. There are dodges and counter-dodges alike in the style of the strong and in that of the weak. Cleverness in the human sense, active cleverness, belongs only to beasts of prey. Herbivores are by comparison stupid, and not merely the “innocent” dove and the elephant, but even the noblest sorts like the bull, the horse, and the deer; only in blind rage or sexual excitement are these capable of fighting; otherwise they will allow themselves to be tamed, and a child can lead them.

Besides these differences in kind of motion, there are others, still more effective, in the organs of sense. For these are accompanied by differences in the mode of apprehending, of having, a “world.” In itself every being lives in Nature, in an environment, irrespective of whether it notices this environment, or is noticeable in it, or neither. But it is the relation — mysterious, inexplicable by any human reasoning — that is established between animal and environment by touching, ordering, and understanding, which creates out of mere environment a world-around. The higher herbivores are ruled by the ear, but above all by scent; the higher carnivores on the other hand rule with the eye. Scent is the characteristically defensive sense. The nose catches the quarter and the distance of danger and so gives the flight- movement the appropriate direction, away from something.

But the eye of the preying animal gives a target. The very fact that, in the great carnivores as in man, the two eyes can be fixed on one point in the environment enables the animal to bind its prey. In that hostile glare there is already implicit for the victim the doom that it cannot escape, the spring that is instantly to follow. But this act of fixation by two eyes disposed forward and parallel is equivalent to the birth of the world, in the sense that Man possesses it — that is, as a picture, as a world before the eyes, as a world not merely of lights and colours, but of perspective distance, of space and motions in space, and of objects situated at definite points. This way of seeing which all the higher carnivores possess — in herbivores, e.g. ungulates, the eyes are set sideways, each giving a different and non-perspective impression — implies in itself the notion of commanding. The world-picture is the environment as commanded by the eyes. The eye of the beast of prey determines things according to position and distance. It apprehends the horizon. It measures up in this battle field the objects and conditions of attack. Sniffing and spying, the way of the hind and the way of the falcon, are related as slavery and dominance. There is an infinite sense of power in this quiet wide-angle vision, a feeling of freedom that has its source in superiority, and its foundations in the knowledge of greater strength and consequent certainty of being no one’s prey. The world is the prey, and in the last analysis it is owing to this fact that human culture has come into existence.

And, lastly, this fact of an innate superiority has become intensified, not only outwards, with respect to the light-world and its endless distances, but also inwards, as regards the sort of soul that the strong animals possess. The soul — this enigmatic something which we feel when we hear the word used, but of which the essence baffles all science, the divine spark in this living body which in this divinely cruel, divinely indifferent world has either to rule or to submit — is the counter-pole of the light-world about us, and hence man’s thought and feeling are very ready to assume the existence of a world-soul in it. The more solitary the being and the more resolute it is in forming its own world against all other conjunctures of worlds in the environment, the more definite and strong the cast of its soul. What is the opposite of the soul of a lion? The soul of a cow. For strength of individual soul the herbivores substitute numbers, the herd, the common feeling and doing of masses. But the less one needs others, the more powerful one is. A beast of prey is everyone’s foe. Never does he tolerate an equal in his den. Here we are at the root of the truly royal idea of property. Property is the domain in which one exercises unlimited power, the power that one has gained in battling, defended against one’s peers, victoriously upheld. It is not a right to mere having, but the sovereign right to do as one will with one’s own.

Once this is understood, we see that there are carnivore and there are herbivore ethics. It is beyond anyone’s power to alter this. It pertains to the inward form, meaning, and tactics of all life. It is simply a fact. We can annihilate life, but we cannot alter it in kind. A beast of prey tamed and in captivity — every zoological garden can furnish examples — is mutilated, world-sick, inwardly dead. Some of them voluntarily hunger-strike when they are captured. Herbivores give up nothing in being domesticated.

Such is the difference between the destiny of herbivores and that of the beast of prey. The one destiny only menaces, the other enhances as well. The former depresses, makes mean and cowardly, while the latter elevates through power and victory, pride and hate. The former is a destiny that is imposed on one, the latter a destiny that is identical with oneself. And the fight of nature-within against nature- without is thus seen to be, not misery, as Schopenhauer and as Darwin’s “struggle for existence” regard it, but a grand meaning that ennobles life, the amor fati of Nietzsche. And it is to this kind and not the other that Man belongs.

Man And Technics and DOTW
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Many years ago, I was a student of Allan Bloom's at Chicago, and attended his final series of lectures on political philosophy before his death.  His famous thesis in The Closing of the American Mind was that leftist academics had used the awesome critical power of Nietzsche's philosophy as a battering ram to advance a relativist and nihilist agenda, completely ignoring the inegalitarian and elitist aspects of his thought.  Their conclusions of course would have appalled Nietzsche.

Spengler, and Leo Strauss after him, are both continuations of Nietzsche's thought from the right instead of the left.  Both should be taken very seriously today.


Christian Gustafson said...

Aha! I spotted you there!

I now recognize you as one of those nihilists from Steve from Virginia's place, where he teaches the nihilism and the down-going.

Racine, WI. Beloit, WI. Rockford, IL. Dixon, IL. What the heck happens to all of these old industrial towns now?

I was shocked to see Rockford show up in a list of the most dangerous cities in the America. But Ed Viesturs is from there! So is James Henry Breasted, the great archaeologist.

We're just waiting for the market to top (again).

Bicycle said...

Well the eagles have returned in force to the river around Dixon now that industrial pollution has subsided. It's quite impressive actually, how quickly the food chain has restored itself.

Most Illinois industrial towns like Dixon just continue to wither slowly, returning to an economy that is some combination of agriculture, health care (winding down boomers), and state welfare (roadbuilding and that sort of thing).

The more people leave the state or are scared away by the news, the more attractive it becomes. Like Michigan, actually--really a beautiful place that is very much off the beaten path now, as long as you keep your distance from the urban decay.

Hey, have you ever been to Millie's Pancake House?

Christian Gustafson said...

I have not, Bicycle.

I'm a big fan of Lou Mitchell's in Chicago, excellent food for starting the day or finishing the previous night.

I used to haunt this place, too, 20 years ago, when the neighborhood was completely desolate. A Whole Foods next door? The horror!

The Chicago Fire started down there. Light it again!

Bicycle said...

Did you know that Northwestern is tearing down Goldberg's hospital at this very moment?


They're replacing it with this, of course:


Bryan Franco said...

today could be a good start...

Christian Gustafson said...

We are agreed, Bryan.

2007 top had a 14pt rally and key reversal -- 30 handle drop.

USDJPY looking good! Also, we violated the lower bound of the proposed ending diagonal on the SPX from February 13th.