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America and Russia, Part Two: The Far Side of Progress

America and Russia, Part Two: The Far Side of Progress

Two weeks ago, in the first part of this sequence of posts, we explored the way that Oswald Spengler’s insights into the cycles of history can be used not only to make sense of the past, but also to get some idea of the shape of the future ahead of us. That’s explosive stuff, because the future thus revealed isn’t the one demanded by the cultural obsessions of the present day.

Every great culture, to use Spengler’s phrase, has its own vision of what the future ought to be like. In Apollonian culture—the great culture of the ancient Mediterranean basin, which hit its cultural stride in classical Greece and metastasized beneath the eagles of Rome—the future everyone expected was the present endlessly prolonged. The vision of time and change that guided Apollonian culture in the centuries of its maturity had three phases: first, things were in chaos, then a mighty power arose to set things in order, and that order endured forever.  In religious terms, the mighty power was the god Jupiter taming the Titans with his thunderbolts; in political terms, the mighty power was the Roman Empire bringing the warring kingdoms of the world under its sway; the same logic applied to classical philosophy, which sought to teach the rational mind how to reduce the chaos of the self into an enduring order, and so on.

In Magian culture—the great culture that emerged in the Middle East as Apollonian culture peaked and began to fade, hit its cultural stride during the Abbasid caliphate and metastasized under the Ottoman Empire—this vision found few takers once the Apollonian pseudomorphosis faded out. The Magian vision of time and change, rather, is the one familiar to most of my readers through its reflection in Christian theology.

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