Deep

A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality (dem urseelenhaften Zustande) of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly-definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualised the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul…

The aim once attained—the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual—the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization… This—the inward and outward fulfilment, the finality that awaits every living Culture—is the purport of all the historic “declines,” amongst them the decline of the West.

Every Culture passes through the age-phases of the individual man. Each has its childhood, youth, manhood and old age. It is a young and trembling soul, heavy with misgivings, that reveals itself in the morning of Romanesque and Gothic. It fills the Faustian landscape from the Provence of the troubadours to the Hildesheim cathedral of Bishop Bernward. The spring wind blows over it.

“In the words of the old-German architecture,” says Goethe, “one sees the blossoming of an extraordinary state. Anyone immediately confronted with such a blossoming can do no more than wonder; but one who can see into the secret inner life of the plant and its rain of forces, who can observe how the bud expands, little by little, sees the thing with quite other eyes and knows what he is seeing…”

The more nearly a Culture approaches the noon culmination of its being the clearer its lineaments. In the spring all this had still been dim and confused, tentative, filled with childish yearning and fears—witness the ornament of Romanesque-Gothic church porches of Saxony and southern France, the early-Christian catacombs, the Dipylon vases. But there is now the full consciousness of ripened creative power that we see in the time of the early Middle Kingdom of Egypt, in the Athens of the Pisistratidae, in the age of Justinian, in that of the Counter-Reformation, and we find every individual trait of expression deliberate, strict, measured, marvellous in its ease and self-confidence…

At last, in the grey dawn of Civilization, the fire in the Soul dies down. The dwindling powers rise to one more, half-successful, effort of creation, and produce the Classicism that is common to all dying Cultures. The soul thinks once again, and in Romanticism looks back piteously to its childhood; then finally, weary, reluctant, cold, it loses its desire to be, and, as in Imperial Rome, wishes itself out of the overlong daylight and back in the darkness of protomysticism, in the womb of the mother, in the grave.

The spell of a “second religiousness” comes upon it, and Late-Classical man turns to the practice of the cults of Mithras, of Isis, of the Sun—those very cults into which a soul just born in the East has been pouring a new wine of dreams and fears and loneliness.

Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol 1, 106–108

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