Friday, May 29, 2009


For a number of years I have enjoyed the essays written under the nom de plume "Spengler" at the Asia Times site. This continues to be an excellent source of information, from a perspective beyond our shores. The irony of his appropriation of Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West, in a premier Asian news source was not lost on me. Spengler has recently revealed his identity. He is, in fact, Donald P. Goldman. His story is an interesting one: a former bureaucrat at the National Security Council, musicologist , successful but disaffected Wall Street financier, a disciple of Franz Rosenzweig, who at last rediscovered Judaism. Goldman revealed his identity after recently assuming a position as associate editor of First Things. There was a time when I read every issue from cover to cover, but in recent years have given them a pass. The magazine have been a bit too triumphalist for my taste, too clearly identified with partisan American politics and have never really owned-up to their complicity in neocon misadventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. But who knows, with Spengler now associated, I may give them a look from time to time.

Goldman made a number of important points in his revelatory essay, below:

Youth culture...was an oxymoron, for culture itself was a bridge across generations, a means of cheating mortality. The old and angry cultures of the world, fighting for room to breathe against the onset of globalization, would not go quietly into the homogenizer. Many of them would fight to survive, but fight in vain, for the tide of modernity could not be rolled back….The end of the old ethnicities, I believed, would dominate the cultural and strategic agenda of the next several decades. Great countries were failing of their will to live, and it was easy to imagine a world in which Japanese, German, Italian and Russian would turn into dying languages only a century hence. Modernity taxed the Muslim world even more severely, although the results sometimes were less obvious.

Goldman explains his use of the pseudonym in this way:

To inform a culture that it is going to die does not necessarily win friends, and what I needed to say would be hurtful to many readers. I needed to tell the Europeans that their post-national, secular dystopia was a death-trap whence no-one would get out alive. I needed to tell the Muslims that nothing would alleviate the unbearable sense of humiliation and loss that globalization inflicted on a civilization that once had pretensions to world dominance. I needed to tell Asians that materialism leads only to despair. And I needed to tell the Americans that their smugness would be their undoing….And it was not hard to show that the remnants of the tribal world lurking under the cover of Islam were not living, but only undead, incapable of withstanding the onslaught of modernity, throwing a tantrum against their inevitable end.

Spengler references a prescient quote from Benedict XVI, made in 1996 when he was a Cardinal:

"Perhaps we have to abandon the idea of the popular Church. Possibly, we stand before a new epoch of Church history with quite different conditions, in which Christianity will stand under the sign of the mustard seed, in small and apparently insignificant groups, which nonetheless oppose evil intensively and bring the Good into the world." The best mind in the Catholic Church squarely considered the possibility that Christianity itself might shrink into seeming insignificance….The wells of culture had run dry, because they derived from faith to begin with….Art doesn’t exist for art’s sake.

The essay can be found here.


Ranger said...

brilliant! IZ'm glad that I can be vicariously well read by reading your blog!

Milton T. Burton said...

I read Spengler's entire archive last year. I always enjoyed him when he was wrong, which he frequently was. He was better on cultural analysis than on predictions. I put forward his blanket statement that Obama could not possibly win. I think he was dead right on the condition of Western Civilization while at the same time I desperately hope he wasn't. But what real confidence can you you have in a cultural leadership willing to declare Aztec temple scribblings equal to Botticelli? Or to claim that Chief Mongo-Bongo beating on a hollow log down in the Congo is making music equal to Beethoven's Ninth Symhony?