Spengler’s Therapy for the German People

Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West following World War One, after his nation lost and was made weak. Spengler was a German philosopher and historian as well as an avid advocate for German hegemony. In his post-war writings he postulated that the European hold in world politics would inevitably come to an end. ((Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 1922)) To prove his point he showed a trend in history where empires would reign for decades, even centuries, but would eventually collapse in on themselves. ((Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 1922)) He was correct in that European hegemony was coming to an end to make way for the hegemonic rule of the United States; however, it’s arguable whether or not it was his sense of nationalism that drove him to this conclusion or his unbiased observations of history.


Germany was at the center of the losing side of World War One. The loss was decimating to the nation, as seen in the Treaty of Versailles, the document that ended the war in 1919. Every single article in the treaty weakens Germany, making them pay reparations, give up land, demobilize, and essentially fall under the power of the Allied Forces. ((The Treaty of Versailles, 1919)) As nationalist country that had just risen to extreme power to lose so greatly and be forced to submission of their neighbors was humiliating. Spengler was most likely engaging the German people in a form of therapeutic writing, reassuring them that the loss didn’t matter because Europe was on the decline anyways.

If Germany had won the war and had become the main power in Europe, would Spengler still have written that the hegemonic status of Europe as a whole was in decline? Or would he have reassured the German people that their status was as a prominent world leader, rather than the strongest nation of many in decline?

Inspiration and the Soul

Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian artist and art theorist, was one of the first painters noted as an abstract artist.  He wrote On the Spiritual in Art in 1912 during the time in which he was a member of the artist group ‘The Blue Rider,’ a group of abstract painters who were planning on doing an exposition but was curtailed because of the onset of World War I.  The language was one geared towards artists and those who were interested in understanding and observing art, using terms and phrases such as ‘observer,’ ‘inspiration,’ and ‘spiritual in art.’  Kandinsky’s intent was to help those less informed about art understand how to observe art and what it takes to create a truly ‘inspired’ work.  Kandinsky’s message ultimately was that “”Understanding” is the approach of the observer to the to the artist’s viewpoint” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)), which further explicates the concept that observers must do their best to see the art from an artist’s perspective.

Inspiration for art in itself is a very abstract concept; one in which I probably will never understand.  Learning about this concept of inspiration and understanding art was incredibly fascinating to read about, especially Kandinsky’s assumption that “Each painting mysteriously contains an entire life, a life of many sufferings, hours of doubts, of enthusiasm and of delighted inspiration” ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)).  This statement helped me understand the agony and jubilation an artist may experience during the process of trying to find inspiration in the world around him.

It made me think of how much that inspiration truly matters in the real world no matter what our field is; be it to better the field or find a better life, every person must have inspiration behind their passion.  Because without inspiration, there is no ‘soul’ in whatever one strives to accomplish; it is without base or foundation.

My question: what do you think inspiration came from during this time period (the early 1900s)?  Have these same things changed throughout time?  How could an artist’s inspiration differ from a professor’s, for example?

Art as the Zeitgeist



Wassily Kandinsky theorized that art was the essence of an era. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) Due to this idea, he believed that the observer of an art piece should not just casually look at art, instead he or she should really try to understand its meaning. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911)) He writes that because the masses just look at “art for art”, the artist becomes focused on the materialistic benefit of creating art, making his work greedy and vain. ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911))


Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with being the first modern artist. He wrote On the Spiritual in Art just after the height of the industrial revolution, when the consumer class was really emerging. He was watching a materialistic world emerging as he wrote his theory on art; he began to see the masses consume art as they would food or clothing. This consumption of something he believed was so sacred, and so integral to a society and time period, must have upset him deeply and led him to write On the Spiritual in Art.

If Kandinsky’s theories are valid, and art is the essence of a time period, then is art today a good example of today’s zeitgeist? Have we becomes further involved in a consumer culture? If so, how does this show in today’s art, music, and live performances?

The Effects of Spiritual Art

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian artist, theorist, and musician, born in Moscow in 1866. His belief contrasted the typical perception of art, for he perceived art through a spiritual and musical lens. He was a proud, emphatic leader of the abstract art movement in the 1900s. Through his works and ideas, he changed the foundation of art in the 1900s and beyond, forming the basis for modern art. ((Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1912)) Inspired by Monet and other painters of the time period, he sought to convince artists that they had a mission to convey a deeper message in their works. ((Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1912)) Kandinsky discusses in his introduction that artists should not create their work to fulfill an objective, as he says: “The artist seeks material reward for his skill, his power of invention, or vision.” ((Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1912)) Instead, he says, they should create work to fulfill a deeper meaning through a spiritual message. As artists, they have significant power. He also criticizes museum audiences for simply taking an interest in paintings for their beauty but not analyzing them for spiritual meaning.

There are many different types of artists. There are the artists who paint for reward, there are artists who paint for passion, and there are artists like Kandinsky who paint to convey deep messages. Kadinsky, a musician, believed in not putting too much detail in his paintings; he sought to portray spirituality more, such as emotion and feeling. It’s interesting how music and art can be related. I feel like this day in age, as a result of painters such as Kandinsky, young painters who have deep thoughts seek to convey those thoughts and emotions through art. With so many social, political, and economic issues going on in the world today, people establish beliefs on these issues, and as a result many of them paint to convey their beliefs. On the other hand, many individuals paint based on their individual feelings and their perceptions of the world and seek to share their feelings with the world. Art has an effect on people, as it stimulates people’s minds and allows them to relate to artists and think critically. But let me ask you this: how much of an effect does it have? Do people this day in age–me and you, how much do we care about art?

Art as an Emotive Experience

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist. However, he initially was educated to become a teacher of law, ethnography and economics. He studied these subjects at the University of Moscow and taught for a few years before going to art school. He was one of the first people to experiment with abstract art and was influenced by the works of Monet and other impressionist painters. He studied art in both Russia and Munich, eventually developing a unique style. As Kandinsky worked through his style and further developed his art, he developed a theory of art. Some of this theory is expressed in “On the Spiritual in Art” where he discusses the difficulty in expressing emotion and feeling in art. He writes that some ‘pure’ artists are able to put spirituality in their art and communicate feelings through their art. To Kandinsky, this is the ultimate goal of art, it should be able to “intensify the observer’s sentimental mood and purify it”. He writes that the observer should recognize this as the meaning of art and devote significant time to the study of art and not browse through paintings casually, remarking on them as being ‘nice’ or ‘splendid’ ((Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1946)).

Kandinsky’s influence on art was widespread, becoming one of the inspirations behind the field of Abstract Expressionism. He influenced many later artists, such as Jackson Pollack, with his theories on the expressive qualities of art, and how it should impact the viewer through all of the senses.

Early Kandinsky, The Blue Rider

Early Kandinsky, The Blue Rider, 1903.

Later Kandinsky, Composition 6, 1913.

Later Kandinsky, Composition 6, 1913.

Kandinsky introduced a new way of looking at art, how did this impact the middle class? Did this make the general populace more appreciative of art? Or did the introduction of abstract art distance the general public from art?

Darwinism and its Implications in Other Fields

Charles Darwin, the son of a wealthy doctor/financier, originally studied medicine before developing a fascination with natural history. While traveling aboard the HMS Beagle as a “self-financed naturalist”, he collected flora and fauna from many different parts of the world, one of which, the Galapagos Islands specifically influenced his work On the Origin of Species. The island had species that, although geographically isolated, shared similar traits with species from nearby South America. His idea was that although they shared similar ancestors, each of these species had developed traits beneficial to their survival in their own respective environments.The slow and methodical transformations resulted in drastic changes over millenniums (which humans cannot see) and the creation of two distinct species. This work was published as a result of his research and other scholarly works on the subject of evolution; however, it took him 25 years to publish his work as a result of the trip. His tone in the piece reflects a philosophical upbringing designed to persuade readers to support his idea of ‘natural selection’ as a natural phenomena.

Future thinkers would corrupt Darwin’s idea that pre-determined traits create advantageous or disadvantageous realities for creatures; while influential in biology and the sciences, thinkers like Francis Galton would corrupt it and propose human manipulation of these concepts in order to create a “perfect” individual. While one cannot state that Darwin’s ideas caused many eugenics programs around the world, they did add scientific reason behind individuals’ desires to attempt to shape their realities through science. Social Darwinism was built upon this idea of “survival of the fittest” (a phrase which does not appear in On the Origin of Species) to apply nature to explain human enterprises, specifically the success or failures of groups and organizations.

Was “The Origin of Species” the foundation for evolutionary biology?

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England in 1809. Darwin was from a family of scientists. His father was a medical doctor and his grandfather was a botanist. His mother died when Darwin was just eight years old. Darwin’s family was wealthy and was able to send him to Edinburgh University at age sixteen. He then attended Christ’s College in Cambridge. At Christ’s College, Darwin’s botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, recommended Darwin for a position as a naturalist on the HMS Beagle. In 1831, he set sail to travel the world and study nature all over the globe. He was particularly interested in the Pacific Islands and the Galapagos Islands. These studies led him to create his theory of evolution. After returning to England, he started to write about his findings in the Journal of Researches. In his writings, he developed a theory about the origin of living things that was controversial with other naturalists, who disagreed with him.

In his most famous work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, he writes about this controversial theory. This piece was published in 1859. He wrote about his theory that animals and humans have evolved over time and came from common ancestors.[1] He focuses a great deal on his theory of natural selection, or the theory that only the strongest of species reproduce so that only the best qualities are passed down to the next generation. The book was written for the general public and sparked widespread interest after it was published.

How has our understanding of nature and evolution changed since Darwin wrote The Origins of Species? How has it stayed the same? Why do you think it was so hard for other scientists to accept Darwin’s theory? It has been said that this book is considered the “foundation of evolutionary biology.” Do you agree with this? If not, why?

[1] Darwin, The Origin of Species. 1859.

Gladstone: A Theologian, Scientist, or Both?

John Hall Gladstone’s interest in science and religion began during his childhood. He and his three brothers were tutored throughout their youth. They became quite interested in natural science through this education. Gladstone furthered his interest in science while attending chemistry lectures during his time at University College London. Additionally, during his adolescence, he held a great passion for religion and claimed he wanted to work for the ministry. In 1850, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious group of European scientists who contributed a fair amount of research and work to the natural sciences. Gladstone’s interests ultimately focused on both science and religion.


Gladstone wrote “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science” in 1872. This work showcased his support for both religious and scientific hypotheses associated with creation. When considering his interest in both of these fields, it is evident why he supported these conflicting views on creation. Gladstone wrote this piece about a decade after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Darwin made controversial arguments regarding how species were created in this work. He claimed that God was not the sole creator of all beings. Instead, he believed that evolution and natural selection were the root cause of this phenomenon. A great deal of Europe’s population, a society dominated by Christian ideology, felt frustrated by these assertions. Gladstone, however, was not horrified by Darwin’s views. He stated that while reading On the Origin of Species, “I felt no shock to my religious faith: indeed the progressive development of animated nature seemed to harmonize with that gradual unveiling of the divine plan which I had loved to trace in the Bible.”[1] Rather than seeing Darwin’s claims as an attack against Christianity, Gladstone believed they helped solidify many of his religious ideas regarding creation. He believed that scientific and spiritual beliefs regarding creation could coexist. By writing in this way, it is possible that both scientists and theologians agreed with his work.

Rather than solely supporting religious or scientific hypotheses on creation, Gladstone interestingly supports both in “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science.” How do you think Europe’s population reacted to such claims? Although he exerted an interest in both ideologies throughout his life, do you believe he should have supported only one side on this controversial topic?

[1] Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science, 1872.

Is it Enough?

Pope Leo XIII concludes his writing by stating that the employer and the worker need each other; they have a dependent relationship. This may seem obvious, but the simplicity of the situation did not occur to me until I read Rerum Novarum where Pope Leo related the struggle of the worker to human nature. Pope Leo was an intelligent, adaptable, decently educated young boy who caught the eye of members in the Church. He eventually worked up the line on rank due to his enthusiastic energy and self-control. Pope Leo XIII offered a new pursepective during the time of nation wide suffering. He earned his popularity through his acceptance of the changing world around him and his willingness to prove to the public that the church was willing to adapt to these changes.


In his piece Rerum Novarum meaning “of new things”, written in 1891, the pope acknowledges the struggle many members of the working class were facing during that time as a result of the Industrial Revolution. He explains the reasons why he sees this struggle, stating that since the guilds were abolished, there was no one to protect the working class man. One can tell from this reading, that he is not a fan of the State, although he believe that its existence is necessary when resolving familial issues etc. he believes that man is in charge of his own life and therefore does not need to rely on the state. He brings up God when discussing the idea of private property (which he is in favor of) stating that He did not create land for people to own all for themselves as a symbol of power, rather He created it as a resource so man could satisfy his needs. He also critiques socialism, a proposed solution to the power struggle capitalism created, by saying that it would only hinder the working class man and cause more chaos. He ends his piece by analyzing the relationship between the landowner and the laborer, stating that they need each other in order to survive and progress.


Pope Leo XIII analyzes and proposes an abundance of ideas in this piece, some I am still trying to wrap my head around. Do you think that the working class accepted his theory about the relationship between the landowner and laborer? Do you think because it was coming from the Pope, people would be more or less likely to accept this idea? What I am getting at is, do you think religion was enough for people to settle and accept their situation and Pope Leo XIII says they should?

Peter Kropotkin and Anarchism

Prince Peter Kropotkin had widespread knowledge in numerous different subjects but anarchy was a subject that he was a prominent figure in. Anarchism is “a doctrine urging the abolition of government or governmental restraint as the indispensable condition for full social and political liberty.”[i] Kropotkin was originally a prince in Russia but gave his title up and started reading the works of French anarchists and then declared himself an anarchist. He started this piece by talking about how men trembled when they heard that society someday could be without police, judges, or jailers.[ii] Kropotkin uses this to grab the attention of the educated class to show and convince those of the anarchist way.

Kropotkin views on society show that he is trying to persuade his audience to take on another ideology that would change the current capitalist society into an anarchist one. He uses the examples of jailers, judges and the police, mentioned earlier, to show society without these systems in place and what affect that might have. The absence of these systems in any society today would create chaos among everyone, but Kropotkin is trying to create a society where everyone fends for themselves without government at all.


Do you believe that a society where there is no government at all and every person fends for themselves is a plausible goal for this time period?

[i] Dictionary.com

[ii] Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal, 1896