A Civilization’s Death Rattle
….Decline is also evidenced by a formlessness of political institutions within a state. As the “proper” form dissolves, increasingly authoritarian leaders arise, signaling decline. The first step toward formlessness Spengler designates Napoleonism. A new leader assumes powers and creates a new state-structure without reference to “self-evident” bases for governance. The new régime is thus accidental rather than traditional and experienced, and relies not on a trained minority but on the chance of an adequate successor. Spengler argues that those states with continuous traditions of governance have been immensely more successful than those that have rejected tradition. Spengler posits a two-century or more transitional period between two states of decline: Napoleonism and Caesarism. The formlessness introduced by the first contributes to the rise of the latter.
Spengler predicts that permanent mass-conscription armies will be replaced by smaller professional volunteer armies. Army sizes will drop from millions to hundreds of thousands. However, the professional armies will not be for deterrence, but for waging war. Spengler states that they will precipitate wars upon which whole continents—India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam—will be staked. The great powers will dispose of smaller states, which will come to be viewed merely as means to an end. This period in Civilizational decline he labels the period of Contending States.
Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions. It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its de jure constitutional structure. The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight. The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar. This marks the beginning of the Imperial Age.
Spengler notes the urge of a nation toward universalism, idealism, and imperialism in the wake of a major geopolitical enemy’s defeat. He cites the example of Rome after the defeat of Hannibal—instead of forgoing the annexation of the East, Scipio‘s party moved toward outright imperialism, in an attempt to bring their immediate world into one system, and thus prevent further wars.
Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights. People cease to take part in elections, and the most-qualified people remove themselves from the political process. This marks the end of great politics. Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point. The wars are private wars, “more fearful than any State wars because they are formless”. The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war. The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one’s neighbor. In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power. Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain atop the rest of humanity.