On Ethical Socialism — Guest Post by Oswald Spengler


This excerpt is drawn from the 1965 Oxford University Press abridged edition of The Decline of the West, pages 185-187.

Let us, once more, review Socialism (independently if the economic movement of the same name) as the Faustian example of Civilization-ethics. Its friends regard it as the form of the future, its enemies as a sign of downfall, and both are equally right. We are all Socialists, wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly. Even resistance to it wears its form.

Socialism—in it highest and not its street-corner sense—is, like every other Faustian ideal, exclusive. It owes its popularity only to the fact that it is completely misunderstood even by its exponents, who present it as a sum of rights instead of as one of duties, an abolition instead of an intensification of the Kantian imperative, a slackening instead of a tautening of directional energy. The trivial and superficial tendency towards ideals of “welfare”, “freedom”, “humanity”, the doctrine of the “greatest happiness of the greatest number,” are mere negations of the Faustian ethic–a very different matter from the tendency of Epicureanism towards he ideal of “happiness,” for the condition of happiness was the actual sum and substance of the Classical ethic. Here precisely is an instance of sentiments to all outward appearance much the same, but meaning in the one case everything and in the other nothing.

Similarly, and equally necessarily, all Classical men of the Late period were Stoics unawares. The whole Roman people, as a body, had a Stoic soul. The genuine Roman, the very man who fought Stoicism hardest, was a Stoic of a stricter sort than ever a Greek could be.

The directional movement of Life that is felt as Time and Destiny, when it takes the form of an intellectual machinery of means and ends, stiffens in death. Ethical Socialism is the most exalted expression possible of life’s aims.

In spite of its foreground appearances, ethical Socialism is not a system of compassion, humanity, peace and kindly care, but one of will-to-power. Any other reading of it is illusory. The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit. The Stoic adapts himself, the Socialist commands. He would have the whole would take the shape he desires, thus transferring the idea of the Critique of Pure Reason into the ethical field. This is the ultimate meaning of the Categorical Imperative, which he brings to bear in political, social and economic matters alike—act as thought the maxims that you practise were to become by your will the law for all. And this tyrannical tendency is no absent from even the shallowest phenomena of the time. It is not attitude and mien, but activity that is to be given form. As in China and Egypt, life only counts insofar as it is deed. And it is mechanicalizing of the organic concept of Deed that leads to the concept of work as commonly understood, the civilized form of Faustian effecting. Apollian man looked back to a Golden Age; this relieved him of the trouble of thinking upon what was still to com. The Socialist feels the Future as his task and aim, and accounts the happiness of the moment as worthless in comparison. The Classical spirit, with its oracles and its omens, wants only to know the future, but the Westerner would shape it. The Third Kingdom is the Germanic ideal. From Joachim of Floris to Nietzsche and Ibsen—arrows of yearning to the other bank, as the Zarathustra says—every great man has linked his life to an eternal morning.

And here Socialism becomes tragic. It is of the deepest significance that Nietzsche, so completely clear and sure in dealing with what should be destroyed, what transvalued, loses himself in nebulous generalities as soon as he comes to discuss the Whither, the Aim. His criticism of decadence is unanswerable, but his theory of the Superman is a castle in the air. And therein lies a deep necessity; for, from Rousseau onwards, Faustian man has nothing more to hope for in anything pertaining to the grand style of Life. Something has come to an end. The Northern soul has exhausted its inner possibilities, and of the dynamic force and insistence that had exposed itself in world-historical visions of the future—visions of a millennial scope—nothing remains but the mere pressure, the passionate desire to create, the form without the content. The soul was Will and nothing but Will. It needed an aim for its Columbus-longing; it had to give its inherent activity at least the illusion of a meaning and an object. And so the keener critic will find a trace of Hjalmar Ekdal in all modernity, even its highest phenomena. Ibsen called it the lie of life. For deep down beneath it all is the gloomy feeling, not to be repressed, that all this hectic zeal is the despairing self-deception of a soul that may not and cannot rest. This is the tragic situation—the inversion of the Hamlet motive—and a thread of it runs through the entire fabric of Socialism, political, economic and ethical, which forces itself to ignore the annihilating seriousness of its own final implications, so as to keep alive the illusion of the historical necessity of its own existence.


Stoicism is as distant from the mind of the modern Westerner as Polynesian taboos. It is now possible only to gain an intellectual and not a working idea of these systems. The prevailing sentiment is Ethical Socialism, as Spengler claims. “The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit.” Scientism is an offshoot of ES. On this site once appeared the article Ought Wrongs To Be Righted? which came supplied with the not necessarily Stoical but with the Christian answer “not always”. There was tremendous resistance to this deduction, which included such truths that it is futile to wage war against necessary evils. Even today’s conservatives must change the future.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer states “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This in its simplified way is the center between Stoicism, which without complaint accepts fate, and Socialism, which must exert control and which must descend into tyranny as it brushes against what can’t be changed. Tradition and Christianity is the Golden Mean.


  1. Joy

    That prayer I had on a rather twee stained glass window ornament which I
    kept on my dressing table at boarding school.
    I’m still working on it and the window was broken years ago.

  2. Ray

    The nice thing about socialism is that it doesn’t make any demands on the socialists but rather on society. What’s not to like about that?

  3. Mike Smith

    So good, (I found you off a link from Jo Nova), I LOVE YOU NOW, don’t be scared.

    Let me pull it together.

    Please consider yourself to be recognized and encouraged, to the extent that I have the performative capacity to do so.

  4. I know of no truth that it is futile to attempt to right necessary evils. You may not always be able to right them, but to accept them is antithetical to civility at the very least. Many a great invention, a great innovation, a great improvement in our lives has come from the search to eradicate a necessary evil.


  5. Anon

    JMJ—Great inventions–such as?

    Spengler doesn’t say so here, but there are other tools in the Christians’ “arsenal” that are an aid to overcome evil. The battle doesn’t necessarily take place on a material plane.

  6. acricketchirps

    Maybe ‘futile’ and ‘necessary’ don’t mean what I always thought they meant.

  7. Well, maybe that’s why you come off so conservative, chirp. It’s most definitely why anon comes off that way. Just sheer blithe idiocy.


  8. acricketchirps

    Okay! What were those ‘inventions’ again?

  9. Milton Hathaway

    This is where a wiser man would just stfu, but . . . this blog post lost me at “both are equally right”.

    I’ve had enough relativism for one lifetime, thank you. (Not that engineers have a high tolerance for it to begin with.)

  10. Oldavid

    The demon of God-hatery is ever the chameleon, it always takes principles of right reason and subtly adapts them to its own narcissistic political convenience.

    Man is, according to his designed nature and purpose, intentionally a social being. We are interdependent and, to some extent, “our brother’s keeper”. The good of the whole society is a function of the good of all its members. More particularly, the purpose of society (all humanity, cultures, nations, communities all the way down to families) should be the good of all the individuals therein. We could call that a kind of socialism. Good stuff, eh?

    Then enters the diabolical deception. The “good” of the society is portrayed as the material wealth or influence of a particular society (say nation or ideology or corporation) then its citizens become mere tools to be expended or minimally maintained in the service of the “commune”. Anyone see the mind-trick inherently saleable to Materialists of every status?

  11. Okay, cricket, let’s have some fun. What would you call a necessary evil? Was slavery a necessary evil? Darkness? The migrations of fish?

    For Christ’s sake man, what the heck kind of a ridiculous argument are you making? Progress can be thought of simply as making necessary evils obsolete.

    Conservatives, and in general people who have a harder time seeing the bigger picture in life, throw up their hands to necessary evils, especially of those evils are somehow beneficial to them.


  12. Oldavid, for the most part those people you like a child call “materialists” are too smart for those little Jedi “mind-tricks” you imagine. You can not lump together such an intellectual diverse bunch of folks like that anyway. The political spectrum of atheists, though it leans a little left, does not include communism. Loony.


  13. Steve E

    “The political spectrum of atheists, though it leans a little left, does not include communism. Loony.”

    JMJ, you really need to start using sarcasm tags.

  14. Oldavid

    Jersey, nice to see you trying to put some of your prejudices into words… we might soon have a basis for a real argument.

    If you are an indication of the “intellectual” clever-dicks who are too smart for “mind-tricks” you will not be able to coherently explain your objection to my statements.

    I further assert: the clever-dicks who are so myopic in their egomaniac ideology eagerly embrace and disseminate any stupid notion (usually no more than a slogan) if it suits their God-hatery.

  15. Dean Ericson

    What a fine portrait of Spengler – positively Spenglerian – whom wiki notes was, “moody, irritable, and morose”. Black and white becomes a man seeking truth. Forsooth, he finds it!; see the Black?, see the White? Ah, but in the searching he also finds… the Gray. Hence the furrowed brow and penetrating stare that seems crushed under tons of insoluble mysteries. As if the search for truth finds not only truth, but an inevitable portion of Gödelian unknowns, as well. You’d be glum, too (that is, if you were already moody, irritable, and morose).

    But you do have to admire a man who wears a four-in-hand necktie with a winged collar while entertaining excruciating cogitations (note the cruciform portrait backdrop; thus the excruciation). Wiki also describes Spengler as a bit of a romantic, poet, and bohemian. I’ll bet he loved Wagner. I haven’t read Spengler, but like to imagine myself doing so, in a cozy oak paneled study, with a cheery fire crackling, and snowflakes falling under a full moon outside the velvet draped window. Pour a glass of port and crack open the rich, leather binding (hand-tooled, deckled, gilded) of Der Untergang des Abendlandes (to get the full flavor it must be read in the original Deutsche, nein?) while the Siegfried Idyll wafts in from a chamber orchestra playing… they’re standing out in the snow under the window wearing winged collars and four-in-hand ties and Homburg hats fringed with snow.

    But before I can read that book I must finish reading our host’s latest magnum opus, Uncertainty, the Soul of Modeling, and So On and So Forth (And while I’m reading that fine tome, dear reader, believe me, my face looks just like Oswald Spengler’s.)

  16. Nate

    JMJ, how do you define evil? What is your moral reference point? How does evil come to exist, in your philosophy?

    I really do what to know, because I think that’s where the disagreement lies.

  17. I suppose the fall of man is a necessary evil, but there doesn’t seem to necessarily be one for my thesis to be true.

    Jersey, you still haven’t named one of those inventions.

    Chattel slavery may be a necessary evil to the stoic but it was not, in fact, ended by by the socialist progressive, but rather by that middle way, touted here, Christianity. Nor has the socialist ended wage slavery, nor does he show any sign of succeeding to.

    I think it was Zog who discovered fire… curing darkness. He was well known conservative thinker, but prechristian if I’m not mistaken.

    I’ll admit I’m not sure what the answer to evil fish migrations is.

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    I’ll admit I’m not sure what the answer to evil fish migrations is.


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