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OSWALD SPENGLER a MAN AND TECHNICS A CONTRIBUTION TO A PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY CHARLES FRANCIS ATKINSON Technical Notes This e-book was scanned November 2001 from the 1976 Greenwood Press hardcover reprint of the 1932 English edition published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., ISBN X. The original work appeared in German as DER MENSCH UND DIE TECHNIK, published by C. H. Beck sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich, For reasons of expedience, no attempt has been made to preserve the original typeset, formatting, or pagination, and as such this can in nowise be considered a facsimile edition e-book. 2 Contents PREFACE...4 I. TECHNICS AS THE TACTICS OF LIVING...5 Process and means. The contest and the weapon. Evolution and fulfilment. Passingness as the form of the actual. II. III. IV. HERBIVORES AND BEASTS OF PREY...12 Man as beast of prey. The spoil and the spoiler. Movement, as flight and onset. The predatory eye and its world. Unalterable genus-technique and inventive human technique. THE ORIGIN OF MAN: HAND AND TOOL...19 The hand as organ of touch and of deed. Differentiation of the making and the using of the weapon. Liberation from the compulsion of the genus. Thought of the eye and thought of the hand. Means and aim. Man as creator. The single act. Nature and art. Human technique artificial. Man versus Nature. The Tragedy of Man. THE SECOND STAGE: SPEECH AND ENTERPRISE...25 Collective doing. How old is speaking in words? Purpose of speech, collective enterprise. Purpose of enterprise, the enhancement of human power. Separation of thought and hand, leader s work and executant s work. Heads and hands, the hierarchy of talents. Organization. Organized existence, state and people, politics and economics. Technics and human numbers. Personality and Mass. V. THE LAST ACT: RISE AND END OF THE MACHINE CULTURE...37 Vikings of the intellect. Experiment, working hypothesis, perpetual motion. Meaning of the machine, the inorganic forces of Nature compelled to work. Industry, wealth, and power. Coal and population. Mechanization of the world. Symptoms of the decline, diminution of leader-natures. Mutiny of the hands. The lost monopoly of technics. The coloured world. The End. 3 Preface I N the following pages I lay before the reader a few thoughts that are taken from a larger work on which I have been engaged for years. It had been my intention to use the same method which in The Decline of the West I had limited to the group of the higher Cultures, for the investigation of their historical pre-requisite namely, the history of Man from his origins. But experience with the earlier work showed that the majority of readers are not in a position to maintain a general view over the mass of ideas as a whole, and so lose themselves in the detail of this or that domain which is familiar to them, seeing the rest either obliquely or not at all. In consequence they obtain an incorrect picture, both of what I have written and of the subject-matter about which I wrote. Now, as then, it is my conviction that the destiny of Man can only be understood by dealing with all the provinces of his activity simultaneously and comparatively, and avoiding the mistake of trying to elucidate some problem, say, of his politics or his religion or his art, solely in terms of particular sides of his being, in the belief that, this done, there is no more to be said. Nevertheless, in this book I venture to put forward some of the questions. They are a few among many. But they are interconnected, and for that reason may serve, for the time being, to help the reader to a provisional glimpse into the great secret of Man s destiny. 4 Chapter One m Technics as the Tactics of Living 5 One T HE problem of technics and its relation to Culture and to History presents itself for the first time only in the nineteenth century. The eighteenth, with its fundamental scepticism that doubt that was wellnigh despair had posed the question of the meaning and value of Culture. It was a question that led it to ever wider and more disruptive questions and so created the possibility for the twentieth, for our own day, of looking upon the entirety of world-history as a problem. The eighteenth century, the age of Robinson Crusoe and of Jean Jacques Rousseau, of the English park and of pastoral poetry, had regarded original man himself as a sort of lamb of the pastures, a peaceful and virtuous creature until Culture came to ruin him. The technical side of him was completely overlooked, or, if seen at all, considered unworthy of the moralist s notice. But after Napoleon the machine-technics of Western Europe grew gigantic and, with its manufacturing towns, its railways, its steamships, it has forced us in the end to face the problem squarely and seriously. What is the significance of technics? What meaning within history, what value within life, does it possess, where socially and metaphysically does it stand? There were many answers offered to these questions, but at bottom these were reducible to two. On the one side there were the idealists and ideologues, the belated stragglers of the humanistic Classicism of Goethe s age, who regarded things technical and matters economic as standing outside, or rather beneath, Culture. Goethe himself, with his grand sense of actuality, had in Faust II sought to probe this new fact-world to its deepest depths. But even in Wilhelm von Humboldt we have the beginnings of that anti-realist, philological outlook upon history which in the limit reckons the values of a historical epoch in terms of the number of the pictures and books that it produced. A ruler was regarded as a significant figure only in so far as he passed muster as a patron of learning and the arts what he was in other respects did not count. The State was a continual handicap upon the true Culture that was pursued in lecture-rooms, scholars dens and studios. War was scarcely believed in, being but a relic of bygone barbarism, while economics was something prosaic and stupid and beneath notice, although in fact it was in daily demand. To mention a great merchant or a great engineer in the same breath with poets and thinkers was almost an act of lèse-majesté to true Culture. Consider, for instance, Jakob Burckhardt s Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen the outlook is typical of that of most professors of philosophy (and not a few historians, for that matter), just as it is the outlook of those 6 literates and æsthetes of today who view the making of a novel as something more important than the designing of an aircraft-engine. On the other side there was Materialism in its essence an English product which was the fashion among the half-educated during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and the philosophy of liberal journalism and radical massmeetings, of Marxist and social-ethical writers who looked upon themselves as thinkers and seers. If the characteristic of the first class was a lack of the sense of reality, that of the second was a devastating shallowness. Its ideal was utility, and utility only. Whatever was useful to humanity was a legitimate element of Culture, was in fact Culture. The rest was luxury, superstition, or barbarism. Now, this utility was utility conducive to the happiness of the greatest number, and this happiness consisted in not-doing for such, in the last analysis, is the doctrine of Bentham, Spencer, and Mill. The aim of mankind was held to consist in relieving the individual of as much of the work as possible and putting the burden on the machine. Freedom from the misery of wage-slavery, equality in amusements and comforts and enjoyment of art it is the panem et circenses of the giant city of the Late periods that is presenting itself. The progress-philistine waxed lyrical over every knob that set an apparatus in motion for the supposed sparing of human labour. In place of the honest religion of earlier times there was a shallow enthusiasm for the achievements of humanity, by which nothing more was meant than progress in the technics of laboursaving and amusement-making. Of the soul, not one word. Now, such ideals are not at all to the taste of the great discoverers themselves (with few exceptions), not even to that of the finished connoisseurs of technics. It is that of the spectators around them who, themselves incapable of discovering anything (or anyhow of understanding it if they did), sense that there is something to their own advantage in the wind. And out of these conditions, since in every civilization 1 materialism is distinguished by its lack of imaginative power, there is formed a picture of the future in which the ultimate object and the final permanent condition of humanity is an Earthly Paradise conceived in terms of the technical vogue of, say, the eighties of last century a rather startling negation, by the way, of the very concept of progress, which by hypothesis excludes states. This order of ideas is represented by books like Strauss s Alte und Neue Glaube, Bellamy s Looking Backward, and Bebel s Die Frau und der Sozialismus. No more war; no more distinctions of law, peoples, states, or religions; no criminals or adventurers; no conflicts arising out of superiorities and unlikenesses, no more hate or vengeance, but just unending comfort through all millennia. Even today, when we are still living out the last phases of this trivial optimism, these imbecilities make one shudder, thinking of the appalling boredom the tædium vitæ of the Roman Imperial age that spreads over the soul in the mere 1 The word is used, of course, in the specific sense which it bears throughout The Decline of the West Tr. 7 reading of such idylls, of which even a partial actualization in real life could only lead to wholesale murder and suicide. Today both views are out of date. At last, with the twentieth, we have come to a century that is ripe enough to penetrate the final significance of the facts of which the totality constitutes world-history. Interpretation of things and events is no longer a matter of the private tastes of individuals of a rationalizing tendency, or of the hopes and desires of the masses. The place of it shall be so and it ought to be so is taken by the inexorable it is so, it will be so. A proud skepsis displaces the sentimentalities of last century. We have learned that history is something that takes no notice whatever of our expectations. It is physiognomic tact, as I have elsewhere called it 1 namely the quality which alone enables us to probe the meaning of all happening the insight of Goethe and of every born connoisseur of men and life and history throughout the ages that reveals in the individual his or its deeper significance. 1 The Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. I, p Two I F we are to understand the essence of Technics, we must not start from the technics of the machine age, and still less from the misleading notion that the fashioning of machines and tools is the aim of technics. For, in reality, technics is immemorially old, and moreover it is not something historically specific, but something immensely general. It extends far beyond mankind, back into the life of the animals, indeed of all animals. It is distinctive of the animal, in contrast to the plantwise, type of living that it is capable of moving freely in space and possesses some measure, great or small, of self-will and independence of Nature as a whole, and that, in possessing these, it is obliged to maintain itself against Nature and to give its own being some sort of a significance, some sort of a content, and some sort of a superiority. If, then, we would attach a significance to technics, we must start from the soul, and that alone. For the free-moving life of the animal 1 is struggle, and nothing but struggle, and it is the tactics of its living, its superiority or inferiority in face of the other (whether that other be animate or inanimate Nature), which decides the history of this life, which settles whether its fate is to suffer the history of others or to be itself their history. Technics is the tactics of living; it is the inner form of which the procedure of conflict the conflict that is identical with Life itself is the outward expression. This is the second error that has to be avoided. Technics is not to be understood in terms of the implement. What matters is not how one fashions things, but what one does with them; not the weapon, but the battle. Modern warfare, in which the decisive element is tactics that is, the technique of running the war, the techniques of inventing, producing, and handling the weapons being only items in the process as a whole points a general truth. There are innumerable techniques in which no implements are used at all, that of a lion outwitting a gazelle, for instance, or that of diplomacy. Or, again, the technics of administration, which consists in keeping the State in form for the struggles of political history. There are chemical and gas-warfare techniques. Every struggle with a problem calls for a logical technique. There is a technique of the painter s brush-strokes, of horsemanship, of navigating an airship. Always it is a matter of purposive activity, never of things. And it is just this that is so often overlooked in the study of prehistory, in which far too much attention is paid to things in museums and far too little to the innumerable processes that must have been in existence, even though they may have vanished without leaving a trace. 1 Decline of the West, English edition, Vol. II, p. 3. 9 Every machine serves some one process and owes its existence to thought about this process. All our means of transport have developed out of the ideas of driving and rowing, sailing and flying, and not out of any concept such as that of a wagon or of a boat. Methods themselves are weapons. And consequently technics is in no wise a part of economics, any more than economics (or, for that matter, war or politics) can claim to be a self-contained part of life. They are all just sides of one active, fighting, and charged life. Nevertheless, a path does lead from the primeval warring of extinct beasts to the processes of modern inventors and engineers, and likewise there is a path from the trick, oldest of all weapons, to the design of the machines with which today we make war on Nature by outmanœuvring her. Movement on these paths we call Progress. This was the great catchword of last century. Men saw history before them like a street on which, bravely and ever forward, marched mankind meaning by that term the white races, or more exactly the inhabitants of their great cities, or more exactly still the educated amongst them. But whither? For how long? And what then? It was a little ridiculous, this march on infinity, towards a goal which men did not seriously think about or clearly figure to themselves or, really, dare to envisage for a goal is an end. No one does a thing without thinking of the moment when he shall have attained that which he willed. No one starts a war, or a voyage, or even a mere stroll, without thinking of its direction and its conclusion. Every truly creative human being knows and dreads the emptiness that follows upon the completion of a work. To development belongs fulfilment every evolution has a beginning, and every fulfilment is an end. To youth belongs age; to arising, passing; to life, death. For the animal, tied in the nature of its thinking to the present, death is known or scented as something in the future, something that does not threaten it. It only knows the fear of death in the moment of being killed. But man, whose thought is emancipated from the fetters of here and now, yesterday and tomorrow, boldly investigates the once of past and future, and it depends on the depth or shallowness of his nature whether he triumphs over this fear of the end or not. An old Greek legend without which the Iliad could not have been tells how his mother put before Achilles the choice between a long life or a short life full of deeds and fame, and how he chose the second. Man was, and is, too shallow and cowardly to endure the fact of the mortality of everything living. He wraps it up in rose-coloured progress-optimism, he heaps upon it the flowers of literature, he crawls behind the shelter of ideals so as not to see anything. But impermanence, the birth and the passing, is the form of all that is actual from the stars, whose destiny is for us incalculable, right down to the ephemeral concourses on our planet. The life of the individual whether this be animal or plant or man is as perishable as that of peoples of Cultures. Every creation is foredoomed to decay, every thought, every discovery, every deed to oblivion. Here, there, 10 and everywhere we are sensible of grandly fated courses of history that have vanished. Ruins of the have-been works of dead Cultures lie all about us. The hybris of Prometheus, who thrust his hand into the heavens in order to make the divine powers subject to man, carries with it his fall. What, then, becomes of the chatter about undying achievements? World-history bears a very different face from that of which even our age permits itself to dream. The history of man, in comparison with that of the plant and animal worlds on this planet not to mention the lifetimes prevailing in the star world is brief indeed. It is a steep ascent and fall, covering a few millennia, a period negligible in the history of the earth but, for us who are born with it, full of tragic grandeur and force. And we, human beings of the twentieth century, go downhill seeing. Our eye for history, our faculty of writing history, is a revealing sign that our path lies downward. At the peaks of the high Cultures, just as they are passing over into Civilizations, this gift of penetrating recognition comes to them for a moment, and only for a moment. Intrinsically it is a matter of no importance what is the destiny, among the swarms of the eternal stars, of this small planet that pursues its course somewhere in infinite space for a little time; still less important, what moves for a couple of instants upon its surface. But each and every one of us, intrinsically a null, is for an unnamably brief moment a lifetime cast into that whirling universe. And for us therefore this world-in-little, this world-history, is something of supreme importance. And, what is more, the destiny of each of these individuals consists in his being, by birth, not merely brought into this world-history, but brought into it in a particular century, a particular country, a particular people, a particular religion, a particular class. It is not within our power to choose whether we would like to be Sons of an Egyptian peasant of 3000 B.C., of a Persian king, or of a present-day tramp. This destiny is something to which we have to adapt ourselves. It dooms us to certain situations, views, and actions. There are no men-in-themselves such as the philosophers talk about, but only men of a time, of a locality, of a race, of a personal cast, who contend in battle with a given world and win through or fail, while the universe around them moves slowly on with a godlike unconcern. This battle is life life, indeed, in the Nietzschean sense, a grim, pitiless, no-quarter battle of the Will-to-Power. 11 Chapter Two p Herbivores and Beasts of Prey 12 Three M AN 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 worldimprover 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 philosoph
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