29. Historic awareness

The division of history

The division of nature has always been a dream of mankind: because if everything could be understood and given a fixed place and time, man would be like a god. Control over the classification in a communication gives the power to influence its outcome, which is expressed in the saying ‘divide and rule‘.

However, partitioning is not a simple matter. There are several ways to specify a (hypothetical) space/time, and the subsequent outcome has its own characteristics. A communication ruled by a two-division (dualism) is completely different from an information-exchange guided by a three- or four-fold division. So the ‘rule’ after any kind of division is not as plain as it seems, because the texture of the governance depends directly on the type of (sub) division, which is chosen. Despite this fundamental point of departure, mankind was never deterred from searching for the secrets of nature in its orderly arrangement.

The present investigation of the tetradic order has no intention to rule, nor does it promote a hierarchy of its individual subdivisions. All parts are equal, only the temporary attention of the observer to their character may differ. In fact, it follows Nicolaus Cusanus’ maxim of the ‘coincidentia oppositorum‘, but not by reducing the primary division – and denying certain facts their position in space and time – but to allow all phases of a communication to exist in their own right, giving them as much space as possible.

How could a division of history be scientifically based? This question was seriously studied, and even partly answered, in the first half of the twentieth century by historians like Oswald Spengler in Germany and Arnold Toynbee in England. The following quote is given in TOYNBEE’s book ‘Greek Historical Thought’ (1952, Introduction, p. XV):

‘If we take 1125 BC as a conventional year for Hellenism, in which Hellenic civilisation began to emerge out of the wreckage of the shattered Minoan world, and AD 675 as a conventional year of a similar kind for the West, in which Western civilisation began to emerge out of the wreckage of Hellenism (in its Roman extension), we shall estimate at something like 1800 years the chronological interval between Hellenism and Western history which has always to be eliminated in order to find their correspondence, at any given stage, as measured from their respective starting points.’

Elaborating on this ‘time difference of 1800 years’, Toynbee calculated – ‘with this magic wand in our hand’ – that Plutarch would have been born in 1846 and would be destined to die in 1925 as a last grand survivor of the Victorians! And Marcus Aurelius died in 1980.


Fig. 187 – This (fanciful) proposal by Arnold Toynbee (1952) gave a linear comparison of the Hellenistic and Western European civilization, based on the first visible sign of cultural presence in history as a common point of reference. The time-difference is 1800 years.

This comparison (fig. 187) is good for a smile, and Toynbee himself called it a fanciful scheme of measurements. The shortcoming of this type of parallelism is clear. However, the idea that Hellenism and Western civilization can be regarded as equal cultural developments in time is challenging and invites to further study.

Toynbee’s linear comparison is too simple, but a parallel based on a number of specific cultural changes in time could be a feasible option. ‘For the first time in history the powers of realization, of achievement, have outstripped those of mere fantasy’ wrote the Spanish philosopher ORTEGA Y GASSET (1936), and it is from this point of view that an innovative model of thought is developed. The division of history must include the whole specter of knowledge and the position of man within a world of ever more complex connections. The division of time is a philosophical matter and is finely entwined in the primeval desire of man to understand himself as a lost fragment in space.

The Scottish scientist James Hutton was searching for the relation between God, man and earth when he proposed in 1785 a ‘Theory of the Earth’ and published the work in two huge volumes in 1795. The earth was, in his expose, subject to the four causes (entelecheia) of Aristotle: final, formal, material and efficient. In particular the final cause was a necessary ingredient of any explanation (and in his view could be equated with God). The rejection of the final cause was, according to GOULD (1987), the major change in scientific methodology between Hutton and the present.

‘If moments have no distinction’, Hutton said, ‘then they have no interest’. He denied, in a way, history itself and subsequently any evolutionary development in nature. The history of the earth had ‘no vestige of a beginning – no prospect of an end.’

Hutton, with his emphasis on the final cause and its boundless character, opened up a new era of division thinking. The beginning of the nineteenth century marked an important stage in European history, which was later – together with evidence in other fields of intellectual activity – identified as the re-emergence of tetradic thinking. This type of thinking had been more or less dormant for about six hundred years, since the dispute between Joachim of Fiore (the trinitarian) and Petrus Lombardus (the quarternarian) was won in favor of the first (and the Roman Catholic Church, which saw its power-ideal best served with this type of thinking).

The problem of division of time was carried to its ultimate boundaries by astronomers such as HOYLE & NARLIKAR (1980), who stated that ‘in physics, there is no explicit moment denoting the present. All moments of time exist together, with the whole world occupying four-dimensional space-time’. This is the familiar terrain of the invisible invisibility of quadralectic thinking: no division of time has taken place yet, and therefore the notion of a ‘present’ does not make sense.

There are different types of spatial and temporal experiences, from the lowest organic level to a perceptual space, consisting of an optical, tactual, acoustic and kinaesthetic component and finally to an abstract space (CASSIRER (1944/1979; p. 42). However, such an arrangement gives its roots in oppositional thinking away. Because there is also the unimaginable experience of place and time hidden behind the abstract space (or behind the organic space, for that matter). The meaning of any division in time is closely related with the (temporary) position held by the observer at a given moment of his observation and by his consciousness of such a status.

To divide history into periods is an established way to bring some unity in an otherwise boundless amalgam of facts and figures. DE RIJK (1977, p. 34) pointed to the fact that ‘every form of periodicity is based on inevitable scientific-theoretical presuppositions. Just like every form of knowledge and understanding is steeped in a value judgement which is fundamental for every historical observer.’ He concluded that the way of producing certain phases in history is a source of information about the scientific-theoretical insight of the historian, or just the lack thereof. This observation is granted, but the all-important connection of periodicity with historical division thinking is not dealt with.

The saying that history repeats itself is well known. Furthermore, its spiral addition comes to mind: history repeats itself, but never on the same way. Or, in a more economic environment: ‘Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.’ Apparently it is possible to notice a repetition in historical events, making the link to a cyclic notion of time.

The cyclic spirit – which is so important in the new, tetradic understanding – was defined by TROMPF (1979) as follows: ‘The belief that history or sets of historical phenomena pass through a fixed sequence of at least three stages, returning to what is understood to be an original point of departure, and beginning the cycle again.’

One of the first classical writers, who worked out a model for a cyclic division of history, was Polybius of Megapolis (in Arcada). This Greek scholar was held hostage in Rome between 166 and 150 B.C, became a friend of the younger Scipio and accompanied him on many of his campaigns. In this way the Greek Polybius became familiar with Latin. He wrote, for the benefits of the Greeks, a chronicle of Roman history of the Punic Wars, the ‘Historiae‘ (SCOTT-KILVERT, 1979).

Polybius described in the ‘Historiae‘ (Book VI) the so-called ‘anacyclosis‘: a cyclic model of government, consisting of six phases and preceded by a ‘primal monarchia‘. He envisaged the development of government as an ‘anacyclic zigzag‘, with consecutive phases of good and bad leadership in an evolutionary progression from unity (kingship) to majority rule.

0. The preliminary stage of social organization is a group, formed around a strong man, the ‘monarchos‘, in an instinctive way.

1. In a stable situation, further development of a rule by a kingship is possible. This state is called ‘basileia‘. The strong-man leadership is hereditary. Polybius rated this situation as positive.

2. Unfortunately, the monarchy degrades, become gradually eroded, due to unjust hereditary lines and vicious behavior of the rulers, and turns into a tyranny.

3. This negative phase is subsequently forced to an end by positive action, if capable men take over government as a minority. This phase of government is called an aristocracy.

4. However, the worthy rule is also not to last, as irresponsible conduct and greed brings an unworthy minority to power, called the oligarchy.

5. Their negative influence leads to intervention of the people. A government by the masses is called a democracy. The majority rule is positive, if the basis is a general intention to search the best for the masses.

6. Again, like before, the power cannot sustain. Bad elements of the majority take their chances and mob rule becomes the order of the day. The law of the jungle is back again. Polybius called this final (negative) stage the ‘ochlocracy‘ (or ‘cheirocratia‘). The circle of social behavior is closed: man is back in an animal environment. The search for a protective strong man can start all over again.

Polybius’ social cycle was based on two-division, with positive and negative values, in a linear hierarchical setting from few to many: (0) government of one man (neutral) grows into kingship (1, positive) and tyranny (2, negative). Then a minority rule – aristocracy (3, +) and oligarchy (4, -) that ends into a majority rule: democracy (5, +) and mob rule (6, -). ‘Monarchos‘ is the beginning (arche) and the end (telos) of the cycle. Polybius admitted that a full circle was actually never observed, but he believed in the merits of the model.

The Italian Giambattista Vico (1668 – 1744) was a follower of the historical views of Polybius (c. 203 – 120 BC). He was engaged in a life-long quest for the origin of things and a certain regular development in history. ‘Vico’s writing showed a tenacious and insatiable desire to discover origins, for example, the origin of law, of civil society, of language, of human history itself’, said HENDERSON (1985) in his article on the Italian scholar.

Vico designed a cyclic theory of human (or cultural) development: one sequence (corso) is followed by some kind of recurrence (ricorso). The subdivision of each succession is fixed and universal. The three-division corresponds with the main forms of communication (BURKE, 1985; p. 41). In his ponderous book ‘Scienza Nuova‘ (The New Science; Book I (XXVIII, 173) and Book IV (Introduction), he draws a reference to ‘the division of the three ages which the Egyptian said had elapsed before them in their world’ (BERGIN & FISCH, 1961), namely:

1. Age of the GODS  – men communicated by a ritual, as ‘mute religious acts or divine ceremonies’, inclu-ding the language of the hands.

2. Age of the HEROES – men communicated by a conventionally symbolic language of images (like the language of heraldry);

3. Age of the MEN    – men communicated by the invention of various alphabets.

The first edition of the book was published in 1725, the second edition in 1730 and a totally revised version came in circulation in 1744, just after the death of Vico. The attention paid to Vico – after he was mentioned as a footnote in Karl Marx’ ‘Das Kapital’ (Vol. II, 13) – has been on the increase ever since. Some – in particular, the early-twentieth century supporters of his linguistic ideas – see him as a scholar, who was far ahead of his time. His interest in major shifts in values and modes of thought gave him a ‘modern’ air, although his ideas were generated in a world of oppositional thinking.

Vico’s dictum ‘verum esse ipsum factum‘ (the truth lies in the things, which are being made) opens a vision of the modern Fourth Quadrant, with its overwhelming material presence, reaching in their quantity a state of visible invisibility. Vico actually never took a serious step in that direction. Instead, he highlighted the (dualistic) relation between the visible visibility (factum) and the invisible invisibility of the truth (verum).

These terms – the true (verum) and the made (factum) – were, in his view, interchangeable or ‘convertuntur‘ (convertible) (MINER, 1998). Between these two perceptions were the ‘Ideas’ of Plato – ‘the prince of Greek wisdom’ – situated as a solid link. ‘As a criterion for knowing, Vico’s doctrine required that one make, collect, order, or generally do something with (the elements of) a thing in order to know it: ‘just as divine truth is what God orders and produces as he comes to know it, so human truth is what man arranges and makes as he knows it’ (De Antiquissima)’ (HENDERSON, 1985; p. 100).

Vico (fig. 188) felt at home in this dynamic relationship, with the emphasis on creation as an act of being, and reaching visibility. Vico envisaged, in its origin, a poetical human being (knowing that the word is derived from the Greek ‘poiein‘ = to make) as maker and creator. This (regressive) view comes in conflict with the progressive thought of God as the ultimate and decisive creator. In fact, if Vico’s theory would be fully accepted, there would be no God, except One, which is made by man itself. This dangerous course was never taken: God remained a Providence behind the doings and makings of man.


 Fig. 188 – A gravure of Giambattista Vico (1668 – 1744) from the Cabinet des Estampes, Paris.  In: Larousse Encyclopaedia.

Vico resisted the influence of fate, which was preached by the Stoics, and also rejected the factor of chance, which was favored by the Epicurists. He was searching for a ‘Wissenschaft eine rationale bürgerthümliche Theologie der göttlichen Vorsehung‘ (a science of a rational common theology of the holy providence), as Wilhelm Ernst WEBER (1822) called it in his German edition of the ‘New Science‘. History could be ‘created’, in Vico’s view, if mankind could  (re)arrange the facts in a convenient way. The visionary product regarded as truth or ‘verum‘ starts to live its own life and influences a further creation.

Vico might have seen a glimpse of higher division here, but his historical position (in the European cultural history) prevented him from counting higher than three. He was unable to picture a full four-fold division, in which the creative results of man are part of a holistic communication process, including origin, past, present and future.

The German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel (1772 – 1829) used – in his ‘Cours d’Histoire Universelle’ (1805/1806) – again the (linear) six/seven partition model of history (of Polybius). He was – after Kant – ‘the last of the dichotomous thinkers’ with sweeping statements like: ‘Die Universalhistorie teilt sich in zwei Teile, in alte und neue‘ (The universal history is divided in two parts, old and new). Alexander the Great placed the division-line in time. This straightforward view, which is typical for dual thinking, was subdivided in four periods in the past and two in the future. Together with the present era this adds up to seven periods as follows:


 as formulated by Friedrich Schlegel (in ‘Le Cours d’Histoire Universelle‘, p. 311)  (ANSTETT, 1939):

        Period                                                                             Type


        (history)        Paradise, innocence, pure nature;

                            Turmoil, battle of the elements; Religion as  expression of fear                                                   for the power of nature;

                                Development and struggle of all against all; greed, conquest;

                               Religion of love, return to order;

        5 (present)        Revolutionary spirit, back to nature, mental development, vanity;

        6                          Strife for virtuousness and morality, division, justice,  judgement;

        7  (future)          The Celestial Empire.

The terrain of periodicity has been ploughed quite heavily in Europe, and a cold eastern wind is blowing over the field. A number of intellectuals – in particularly of German and Austrian origin – made their name in this field. They joined scientific creativity with eccentricity. There is nothing against this combination, but the colorful stories did not contribute greatly to credibility of division thinking in the conservative scientific establishment. The names of Oswald Spengler, Wilhelm Fliess, Paul Kammerer and Hermann Swoboda were all related to some kind of ‘lawful recurrence’ in particular events and human affairs.

Wilhelm FLIESS (1925), for example, a good friend of Sigmund Freud, developed a theory of periodicity in human life. ‘Die periodischen Tage des Menschen‘ are (‘ohne Ausnahme‘, no exceptions) in the female twenty-eight days and in the male twenty-three (‘Das weiss der Normaltertianer‘, that knows every schoolboy). The days of crisis are preceded, according to Fliess, by a state of euphoria (‘das trügerische Wohlbefinden‘, the misleading feeling of well-being). These observational facts never impressed a wider scientific audience. Fliess lamented, in advance, over the consequences of his vision (p. 86): ‘Der Wissenschafter darf heute ja nicht über das ‘Individuum’ hinaussehen, ohne in den Ruf des Mystikers zu kommen‘ (The scientist is not allowed to view further than the ‘individu’ on pain of being called a mystic).

Fliess’ theory was described, in the ‘Selected papers of Ernst KRIS’ (1975), as ‘numerical mysticism’. And it must be admitted that any serious reader is at times flabbergasted by the analogies used by Fliess. So, for instance, is the relation between the shape of the nose and the female sexual organs one of his major fields of research. I did not see his publication on this subject (‘Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weiblichen Geschlechtsorganen‘; FLIESS, 1897), but it might be entertaining in its own right.

A nose operation by Fliess – performed to cure the hysterical tendencies of Emma Eckstein, a patient of Freud – had a near fatal result due to some bandage left in the wound. Even after the removal of the gauze the bleeding continued, but Freud wrote to his friend that these discharges were probably caused by (sexual) ‘desire’ and had nothing to do with the shabby job performed by Fliess.

This story gave a good insight into the bizarre medical climate in which he (together with Freud and others) operated around the turn of the century. Curious and interesting – but from a human point of view understandable – was the painstaking efforts to remove all references to Emma Eckstein from the 1950-edition of Sigmund Freud correspondence, which was edited by the leading psycho-analytics of the time: his daughter Anna Freund and the above-mentioned Ernst Kris (ISRAELS, 1989).

Another tragic individual in the field of periodicity was the Austrian scientist Paul KAMMERER (1880 – 1926). He described in his book ‘Das Gesetz der Serie’ (1919) a collection – hundred to be precise – of simultaneous events, which are, in his view, not ruled by coincidence but express a deliberate synchronism. ‘A ‘Serie‘, he defined in his book (p. 36), ‘manifests itself as a lawful recurrence of the same or similar things and events – a recurrence, or clustering, in time or space whereby the individual members in the sequence – as far as can be ascertained by careful analysis – are not connected by the same active cause’ (KOESTLER, 1971).

The ‘Law of Seriality‘ was arrived at after a methodical description of typology, morphology and systematization of series (of events). There was, in Kammerer’s view, no such thing as ‘coincidence‘: incidences occur in space and time due to a selective force of attraction, which is comparable to (non-selective) universal gravity. Kammerer worshiped the (modern) Fourth Quadrant as the one and only place to be, but he used – de facto – the oppositional thinking of the Third Quadrant to determine his position.

Communication was visualized by Kammerer to occur between two poles, called Similarity and Diversity, guided by a process of attraction (A) and repulsion (R) (fig. 189). The position is measured in every communication in terms of the balance between these two entities. The ‘Tücke des Objekts‘ (the tricks of the object) can always be explained that way. In a theoretical communication where everything is related with everything – this would, indeed, be the case. However, the human mind is more complex. The narrowing down of conceptual borderlines can never be so complete as to make analogy into the only, universal principle.


Fig. 189 – A loop-shaped (communication) model between the poles of similarity and diversity, based on attraction (A) and repulsion (R). Kammerer interpreted the recurrence of similar events as the result of periodic or cyclic processes, which propagated them-selves like waves along a time-axis in the space-time continuum. The observer only is aware of the crests of the waves and notices the individual events and isolated coincidences, but does not see the inner spatial connection of them (in time and place). Adapted from an illustration of Paul Kammerer in his book ‘Das Gesetz der Serie’ (1919).

Kammerer’s creative thinking had serious repercussions, when he tried to prove the hereditary nature of required qualities. This biological presumption was a rather hot issue in the early days of evolutionary thinking. The French biologist Lamarck (1744 – 1829) postulated the thesis in 1809, in his opus magnum ‘Philosophie zoologique’, written when he was 65 years old (JORDANOVA, 1984). He introduced a new classification based on transformism. The first public statement was nine years earlier in a lecture in Paris, when he discussed a natural classification of animal series in decreasing complexity. He distinguished four classes in the animal kingdom: mammals, birds, reptiles and fish (invertebrates). These four major animal classes could be followed in time and remained unchanged, but the species (of the genera defined in a class) were subject to gradual change in time.

Lamarck’s speculations were not in line with Charles Darwin’s notions of evolution (as expressed in 1859). Darwin’s theory gave all the credit to the selective influence of the environment as the all-important regulator in hereditary matters. Biological changes, in his view, came from the outside, not from the inside.

This crude rule was subsequently challenged, and Darwinism found itself in a confused state at the end of the nineteenth century. Fortunately, the hereditary side of Darwin’s theory got strong ‘scientific’ support due to the discovery – in 1900 – of Mendel’s paper (already published in 1865). All was well again (and still is) and the ‘survival of the fittest’ is generally accepted as a selection medium. Any suggestion to think otherwise is nowadays regarded a heresy. Let alone if someone could prove the hereditary character of self-acquired qualities.

The Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer (fig. 190) entered therefore a dangerous stage when he introduced a number of toads (Alytes obstetricans), with nuptial pads between their toes. These features arrived at after several generations of breeding in an artificial environment, had to give proof of a hereditary adaptation (to the water). Kammerer produced micro-photographs of the Alytes pads, but most experts – like Bateson – were not convinced. An academic dispute flared up and erupted,  when the  Curator of Reptiles at the American Museum of Natural History, Dr G.K. Noble, claimed – in an article in ‘Nature‘ (on 7 August 1926) – that the example of the toad was a fake.

kammererFig. 190 –  Paul Kammerer (1880 – 1926) in 1924, forty-four years old and two years before he committed suicide. Photo in: KOESTLER (1971; p. 100).

Arthur KOESTLER (1971) brilliantly described this dramatic story in his book ‘The Case of the Midwife’s Toad‘. The destruction of Kammerer’s reputation had a detrimental effect on his health: he was found on the 23rd of September 1926 at the Schneeberg near Vienna with a pistol in his hand and a hole in his head. A creative life ended this way, because it was unable to free itself from the constraints of lower division thinking, leaving no way out.

The extravagant nature of the personalities and events in this period cast a cloud over the scientific merits of historical division-thinking. In hindsight, it can be noticed, that the early quarter of the twentieth century was a time of incredible creativity in all kinds of areas. However, these activities were, more often than not, rooted in lower division-thinking, like the political events (World War I) showed in a clear-cut way. Freud’s theories were, despite their astuteness of observation, based on an oppositional representation of the relation between man and woman. The fact that such a simplified picture provided the foundation for serious scientific research is informative from a quadralectic point of view.

Furthermore, the work of Hans VAIHINGER  (1852 – 1933) – called ‘Die Philosophie des Als Ob’ (The Philosophy of ‘As if’) (1913) was a period piece. Vaihinger was obsessed by the fundamental role of the reflex scheme:

alles Seelenleben ist eine weitere Ausbildung des Reflex-vorganges: Einwirkung von aussen, innere Verarbeitung, Wirkung nach aussen. Die inneren Verarbeitungen dienen zu der nach aussen sich entladenden Tat.’

(All activity of the soul is a further development of the reflex principle: influence from the outside, assimilation in the inside and effect to the outside. The internal identification serves to initiate an outward going act).

This description pointed to a Hegelian-dialectic environment with a thesis – antithesis and synthesis as main constituencies. The three-division is able to accommodate a ‘Theorie des Vergleichens‘ (theory of commensurability) based on analogy:

‘Alle Fiktionen sind in dieser Weise auf Vergleichungen, Analogien zurückzuführen, nur dass in den Einen Fällen die Vergleichung direkt ist, in anderen Fällen indirekt durch ein Mittelglied.’

(All fictions are only comparisons and can be traced back to analogies, with the difference that in one case the comparison is direct and in other cases indirect through an intermediary).

His greatest success was gained in 1920, when an ‘Als Ob‘-conference was organized in his birthplace Halle, Germany. Hans Vaihinger was familiar with the (analogy) principle, which is typical for (the last stage of) tetradic thinking. He explored a methodology of the means. His ‘As – if’ (Als Ob) might be explained – in a quadralectic perception – as an effort to project Platonic ‘Ideas’ (of the Second Quadrant) into the Fourth Quadrant. This situation, although not presented in a clear-cut way, was most likely what Vaihinger had in mind when he wrote about his ‘Logische Theorie der Fiktionen‘. Therefore, this analysis was an important addition in a philosophical sense.

The difference between ‘Fiktion‘ and ‘Hypothese‘ was a key in the understanding of his theory, according to VLACH (1926; p. 156). The hypothesis was an assumption to reach reality: ‘ein adäquater Ausdruck der noch unbekannten Wirklichkeit’ (an adequate expression of a still unknown reality). This conceptual position belongs, in a quadralectic understanding, to the Second Quadrant. The fiction, on the contrary, does not aim to represent a truth. It is: ‘eine inadäquate, subjektive, bildlich Vorstellungsweise‘ (an inadequate, subjective, figurative way of presentation). Fiction has passed the reality (of the Third Quadrant) and is situated in the world of ‘Empfindungen‘ (human experiences). This ‘Fourth Quadrant’ position could give rise to the writing of a ‘Geschichte der Fiktion und ihrer Theorie‘ (History of Fiction and its Theory). Vaihinger paved, in this way, new ground for the foundation of the tetradic way of thinking in a modern sense.

Oswald SPENGLER (1880 – 1936) wrote his monumental book ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes‘ as a contribution to the division of history. This two-parted book, created between 1911 and 1914 (the title dated from 1912), was first published in 1917. ‘In Germany, a book that is not hard to read is scarcely considered worth reading’ noted HUGHES (1952) in his judgement on Spengler’s work. This verdict may be too harsh. Part I of ‘Der Untergang‘  (Gestalt und Wirklichkeit) makes good reading, in particular the chapter on ‘Musik und Plastik‘. In Part II (Welthistorische Perspektiven) concepts like ‘Blut und Boden‘, the ‘magische Seele‘ and a ‘magischen Weltbewusstsein‘ are more prominent and the narrative looses – except for the occasional sharp observation – its spell.


Fig. 191 – Two portraits of Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936). Left: a photo taken in 1917, at the height of his creativity; right: a photo from 1935, a year before his death. In: BOTERMAN (1992).

More important than the actual reading of the book, was its message: the Doomsday-character, which was spelled out in its title, transmitted the fear, which was generally felt during and immediately after the First World War in Europe. In hindsight, there was a close connection between the cruel character of the war – in which so many soldiers were prepared to die for nothing – and the belief in the end of times: both are inspired by a narrowing down of division-thinking to an elementary level.

Spengler (fig. 191) tried to create a ‘Logik des Raumes’ (Logic of Place) and a ‘Logik der Zeit’ (Logic of Time), with the intention to explain the position of the human being in this incomprehensible world. He accepted the principle that the morphology of world-history could be read as a universal symbol. History is like man it-self: it is an organic unity, with all the characteristics of life.

The position of the observer in place and time was of all-embracing importance: ‘Truth is only applicable to a distinct cultural unit. My philosophy is, subsequently, an expression and mirror-image of the Western European soul, distinct from the Antique or Indian, and can only exist in its present, civilized appearance, which limits the world view in its practical influence and relevance’.

Spengler stretched the importance of the analogy within this given context: ‘Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis‘ (all transitoriness is only an analogy). And the comparison is sought in an organic environment: cultures are regarded as living things, passing through four phases:  to sprout, flower, wither and die (TAINTER, 1988). The maturity of a culture (Zivilisation) leads eventually to its downfall.

Spengler dismissed the triple scheme of Antiquity – Middle Ages and New Era and voted for a four-fold model (following Goethe in his essay ‘Geistesepochen‘). The historical development (of a culture) is a passage through four seasons (‘Der Untergang des Abend-landes’, Band I: Gestalt und Wirklichkeit. p. 70: I. Tafel ‘Gleichzeitiger Geistesepochen‘):

 SPRING: Environmental – intuitive  (Landschaftlich – intuitive)

                                              1. The birth of a myth. A new feeling of holiness;

                                                                                        Fear of the world; ‘Weltsehnsucht‘.

                                              2. Development of mystical-metaphysical features.

SUMMER: Growing consciousness (Reifende Bewussheit)

                                              3. Reformation

                                              4. Philosophical formation (idealist versus realist)

                                              5. Mathematical development

                                              6. Puritine revival

 AUTUMN: Metropolian Intelligence (Grosstädtische Intelligenz)

                                              7. Aufklärung

                                              8. Culmination of mathematical thinking

                                              9. Large (finalizing) philosophical systems

 WINTER: Beginning of a civilisation of worldcities

                                               (Anbruch der weltstädtischen  Zivilisation)

                                              10. Materialism/cult of science

                                               11. Ethical-social problems/sceptisism

                                               12. Final understanding in a mathematical world of forms

                                               13. Lecturers-philosophy/compendia

                                               14. End-of-the-world mood

Spengler elaborated on the division in short notes in later years (1924 -1936; ‘Früh-geschichte der Menschheit‘). He spoke of four ‘Kulturstufen‘ (SPENGLER, 1966; pp. 44 – 81), simply called a, b, c and d. They comprise: a. Old-Palaeoloticum (before 20.000 BC); b. Young-Palaeolicum (20.000 – 6/7000 BC); c. Neolithicum (6/5000 – 3000 BC) and d. ‘World-history’ (‘Weltgeschichte‘), divided in periods of 1000 years.

The life and ideas of Spengler were thoroughly studied by BOTERMAN (1992) and submitted as a Ph.D.-thesis at the University of Amsterdam. ‘No serious historian’, he stated, ‘will defend his theories any longer’. His work was a sign of the time: a symbol of cultural pessimism, proclaiming the end of the present cultural period around the year 2000. Boterman drew special attention to his political message and activities at the time.

Oswald Spengler was born on the 29th of May 1880 in Blankenberg am Harz and died in 1936. His father was ‘Postsekretär‘ and had a practical/technical mind. His mother was depressive and a hypochondriac with an artistic-cultural streak. Oswald was the oldest child in the family and had three younger sisters. He followed a teacher-training course in Saarbrücken and taught from 1908 to 1911 at two gymnasia in Hamburg. In 1911 he had a crisis, after a disappointing love affair, and gave up teaching to become a full-time writer. The philosophy of the ‘Untergang des Abendlandes‘ was developed between 1912 and 1913.

A historical consciousness is born in analogy, and the key was, according to Spengler, the acceptance of fate: ‘Schicksal ist das Wort für eine nicht zu beschreibende innere Gewissheit‘ (Fate is the name for an inner truth which cannot be described). And he continued: ‘Erst aus dem Urgefühl der Sehnsucht und dessen Verdeutlichung in der Schicksalsidee wird das Zeitproblem zugänglich‘ (Only in the primary feeling of desire and its concretisation in the idea of fate can the problem of time be approached). In this context, the realization of time becomes a historic discovery. Fate determines in Spengler’s view the perception of visibility: ‘Das Schicksal ist immer jung‘ (Fate is always young). And how right he was at the time of the first publication of his book at the end of the First World War.

The process of visibility – which is such an important item in the theory of division-thinking – becomes in the end the sole legitimization of the existence of an observer and is always an actual occurrence: ‘Es ist eine Tatsache, dass die Form der Anschauung sich mit dem Grade der Entfernung ändert‘ (It is a fact that the form of observation changes with the degree of distance).

The connection of Spengler with the tetradic way of thinking is, despite certain superficial features, not easy to establish. His thoughts were strongly influenced by Nietzschian terms like the ‘faustische Seele‘ and ‘Umkehrung‘, but he also criticized the dynamics of the process: ‘Der antike Geist mit seinen Orakeln und Vogelzeichen will die Zukunft nur wissen, der abendländische will sie schaffen. Das dritte Reich ist das germanische Ideal, ein ewiges Morgen, an das alle grossen Menschen von Joachim von Floris bis Nietzsche und Ibsen – Pfeile der Sehnsucht nach dem andern Ufer, wie es im Zarathustra heisst – ihr Leben knüpften‘ (I, 467) (The antique mind with its oracles and predictions by means of the flight of birds is only interested in the future, while the Western mind wants to create her. The Third Reich is a German ideal, an eternal morning, which connected the lives of all great men from Joachim of Fiore to Nietzsche and Ibsen – arrows of desire to the other shore, like Zarathustra called it).

In this statement (re)emerged the verum-factum theory of Giambattista Vico, saying that the process of creation provides the only truth, which is now declared to an axiom of the European cultural history. Creation is, in the realm of visible visibility – the Third Quadrant ruled by Fact and Figure – a way to enhance consciousness. A means to feel the presence of the material, and – last but not least – power.

DANIEL BOORSTIN (1992/93) described the theme of the creative human being in the Western culture. He was less concerned with the compelling, ‘Faustian’ character of men to create, but offers a ‘neutral’ and wide survey of creative results. Boorstin does not suggest any motives or connects any conclusions to these results. His summary breathed a sense of satisfaction and pride.

Spenglers conclusions were far more dispirited: ‘The nordic soul has exhausted its inner possibilities and is only left with the dynamic ‘Sturm und Drang‘, as will be its clear future place in world history’. This pessimistic view was implicated in his own work, where ‘in der tiefsten Tiefe ein dumpfes Gefühl nicht schweigen will, dass dieser ganze atemlose Eifer die verzweifelte Selbsttaüschung einer Seele ist, die nicht ruhen darf und kann.’ The cultural analogies, which form the backbone of his work, were established in a crude way and no formal base for comparison was given. A (superficial) similarity provided the comparability. His outline of ‘gleichzeitiger Geistesepochen‘ (Band I, p. 70) was a collection of rather arbitrarily chosen data, suggesting a resemblance.

The absence of a wider philosophical structure leads to a pessimistic and apocalyptic view, which is typical for the no-way-out situation of lower division-thinking. Features of beginning and end become an obsession in an oppositional mind. Such fixations do not occur in a cyclic (quadralectic) environment, in which beginning and end only represent certain locations in a scale of visibility.

Quadralectic understanding regards the four quadrants as equals, none of them with a higher or lower importance. Our human presence, just like a great culture or a geological era, is a phase of visibility of something what always was and will be. There is no dramatic twist to it. Spengler’s book, with its particular doomsday message, was time-bound. It reached its sweeping success and fame due to widespread two-fold thinking of the masses at the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe.


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