Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Megalopolis versus Social Retardation: The Continuing Relevance of the Views of Spengler and Toynbee on the Variability of the Rate of Cultural Change

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Megalopolis versus Social Retardation: The Continuing Relevance of the Views of Spengler and Toynbee on the Variability of the Rate of Cultural Change

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

There is a consensus, displayed in the media every day, that some US regions are more advanced than others, and some more backward. New York and Boston are centers of Culture, the Ozarks and Alabama are backward. Why?

Both Spengler and Toynbee had strong beliefs on the variability of the rate of cultural development in various regions that they noted in their own time. This paper will discuss their views, which turn out to be roughly the same, although they reflect, respectively, the famous pessimism and optimism of the two authors. Thereafter, this paper will seek to show that the views of Spengler and Toynbee are spot-on and that they accurately reflect the situation extant in the United States today.1

But before I attack this subject, I will note that I am describing a phenomenon - not necessarily endorsing either metropolitan progressivism nor rural conservatism. Obviously not all people who live in large cities are progressive nor all people in the suburbs or countryside conservative. This study is exploring a general tendency which is observable around the world - unequal development. Furthermore, not all "development" is good - no more than all traditions that conservatives want to save good either.

II. Spengler's Megalopolitans

Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West (the "Decline")2 in what he considered the founding and most important country - or region - of the Western Culture, i.e., Germany. When Spengler wrote the Decline during World War I, Germany had been overshadowed, first by France, and then Great Britain for 2-1/2 centuries, from the time of the Thirty Years War. This perspective (and his resentment of it) permeates Spengler's philosophy throughout the Decline and his subsequent works.

Thus, Spengler looked at the decline of the West from the perspective of a German looking at "his" Culture, that had hardened into a "Civilization" through the doings of the French revolutionaries and their English adversaries, and the British development that changed everything: the Industrial Revolution. Germany was playing catch-up, and although Spengler believed that the West could not be rejuvenated3, it would at least experience the glory of a world state, the "imperium mundi",4 which Germany would establish. The West would then eventually decline into oblivion. Seen from this perspective, Spengler's distaste for the great cities produced during the Civilizational stage and their Culture is logical, even predictable.

Spengler summarized "the problem of Civilization" as follows:

For every Culture has its own Civilization... The Civilization is the inevitable destiny of the Culture... Civilizations... are a conclusion, the thing-become succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following expansion, intellectual age and the stone-built, petrifying world-city following motherearth and the spiritual childhood of the Doric and Gothic. They are an end, irrevocable, yet by inward necessity reached again and again. . .

...In a word, Greek soul - Roman intellect, and this antithesis is the differentia between Culture and Civilization. . . Pure Civilization, as a historical process, consists in a progressive exhaustion of forms that have become inorganic or dead.5

Spengler believed that the transition from Culture to Civilization took place in the Classical world in the fourth century B.C., and in the Western world in the 19th century A.D.6 Thus, according to Spengler, the West is now well advanced into its Civilization stage.

The defining component of the civilization stage is the "megalopolis" or "world-city." Spengler's translator, Charles Francis Atkinson, coined the term "megalopolitan,"7 to mean overgrown urban region, in translation of Spengler's grossstaedtisch. According to Spengler:

From these periods onward the great intellectual decisions take place... in three or four world-cities that have absorbed into themselves the whole content of History, while the old wide landscape of the Culture, become merely provincial, serves only to feed the cities with what remains of its higher mankind. …

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