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From the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in New York City. National Educational radio presents the Cooper Union forum series on peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. These programs were recorded by station WNYC. Here now is the chairman of the Cooper Union forum Dr. Johnson. Epeira child. Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the program you know the foreignness. Your German Johnson your parents are making to you from the great hall of the Copa Union where we are continuing what a section of our discussion of peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. And in this particular segment we are having a considerable number of philosophical discussions. The one which we are about to undertake receiving has to do with the Decline and Fall of the West. Which Mr. Spangler is something to do but was ours we cure is Dr. Raymond Langley.
Dr. Langley associate professor of philosophy at Manhattanville College. And he was one of those rare or unique individuals who comes from Washington DC. That's his hometown. As I understood Washington D.C. say most people wanted to write and out of it quickly but there is a gentleman who claims Washington D.C. for his home. He has a background in Georgetown University and in Fordham here in New York City of course has talked to Hunter College. He gave a tremendous course of existentialism here in the Cooper Union last year. Has published an article on Nietzsche
in the very immediate past if you will permit me to use that phrase. He is a tremendously fine individual and I'm awfully glad that Mr. Raymond Langley could be here tonight to speak to us on this topic of the Decline and Fall of the West. Something to do with Spangler. Why was. That. While Spangler's made it work. The decline of the West is a book that is an example of the philosophy of history by John Ross about which most professional philosophers and historians feel that a little bit goes a long way. It is now the fashion of Anglo-American thought to equate a philosophy of history with the awesome thing or
astrology or to consign it to the intellectual domain which W.H. in speaking of Yeats's view of history described as southern California. The practitioners of the subject are regarded with a suspicion usually reserved for gypsies sifting tea leaves. Yet the possibility of a unified theory of history never fails to excite our imagination. For every man inherits the time into which he is born a past as well as a present. And if history is understood as the portrait of what is given in time then its philosophy is of more practical and immediate concern than the branches of logic or system ology or cosmology Spangler's interest to us is the intellectual ambition of the decline of the West which stretches beyond the technical intricacies of philosophical debate and the monographs of historical scholarship to
focus on the problem of life itself and its expression as history. He opens the work by asking Is there a logic of history. Is there beyond all the casual and incalculable elements of the separate events something that we may call a metaphysical structure of historic humanity something that is essentially independent of the outward forms of social spiritual and political which we see so clearly. Spangler's rhetorical question about life expresses one aspect of the philosophy of history. The Evolved distinction between the metaphysics and the methodology of history permits these interrelated divisions to be treated separately. The Mehta historical as the name implies is a search for the pattern or meaning or overview of history whether encountered in the Bible or
in religious thinkers such as a custom or goose way for poets such as Blake and Elliot or in the works of social scientists such as Marx and Soroka. These philosophies of history attempt to disclose an overall plan which renders the historical process satisfactory either to faith or to reason. Again the possibility of there being a single meaning to history is ridiculed by professional philosophers and historians because of the several mutually contradictory interpretations. For this reason that a historical or speculative philosophies stemming from Hegel and Marx in the 19th century to Spangler and Toynbee and our own sense right have suffered a virtual eclipse in academic circles. Such systems are mentioned if at
all only to be dismissed as speculative anachronisms from a more naive Iran. This casual dismissal of speculative history is not I suggest a valid argument. Outright denial often masks a refusal to confront the issues. Spangler for example is quite of quite as aware as his critics. He thrives on the contradictions of past historical interpretation. He maintains as does every speculative thinker that his vision is correct and that other contrary assertions are faults for Spangler writes in the preface to the first edition of the decline. Quote I am convinced that it is not merely a question of writing one out of several possible. And the only logically justifiable philosophies of writing the philosophy of our time. One that is to some extent a natural philosophy and is dimly presaged by all those
quotation. And the proposition that one of several contradictory interpretations of history is correct may be unprovable. In fact but it is unavoidable as a hypothesis. Theoretically the resolution of which historical meaning is the correct one brings us to the second division of the philosophy of history. The question of historical methodology to substantiate a philosophy of history to say with Hegel for example that history is the process of the self realisation of the absolute or with Marx that history now writes the class antagonisms caused by economic relations or Finally with Spangler to interpret history as the eminent cyclical destiny by which every ideal culture declines into a materialist civilisation is to establish nothing less than a universal hypothesis
about history which must be measured against historical fact history. The methodological problem that historians and philosophers encounter derives from the nature of their facts unlike much scientific data historical facts are descriptive rather than predictive. History reports contingent singular event rather than the repetitive relations with which science deals and much of what is referred to today in the English speaking world as the philosophy of history consists mainly of a sophisticated and highly ironical debate over this issue whether in fact historical generalization is an art or a science. The irony results from the philosophers attempts to convince the historians against their better instincts that they are practicing scientists. The
historians in turn suggest that while the accumulation of historical facts you subject to the canons of empirical methodology the interpretation and reconstruction of historical data what distinguishes history from Chronicle is at best an art.. It is obvious I think that the central problem of both the metaphysical and methodological issues is the problem of historical relativism. That is how the historians justify selecting some facts and excluding others. And how the philosopher is justly appropriate the same arbitrary facts to support the universal interpretation of history which can be either idealistic or materialistic optimistic or pessimistic religious or atheist in
this conflict between the universal philosophy and the singular of history. But Aristotle 2000 years ago to the observation that the generalisations of poetry are closer to philosophy than the facts of history. Yet the task for both methodology just and met a historian remains to offer a coherent account of the relation between factual circumstances and historical interpretation. Napoleon serves as an example of how the accidents of historical fact affect destiny. The poem was born on the island of Corsica which until two years before his birth had been Italian territory. How would the destiny of Europe have been affected if Napoleon had been an Italian citizen rather than a Frenchman. Or to cite a more recent
instance of the force of circumstances. Winston Churchill was at age 60 a man out of office and out of favor with his own party. Churchill as a practicing historian wasn't present so deeply by the accidental and relative facts of history. That he once wrote an essay entitled it in history in which he speculated how such slight circumstances have influenced our destiny. He ended the essay with a question of what he might have become had his father rather than his mother been born as an American citizen. And just as the object of circumstances. Influence historical events. So just subjective circumstances contribute to our judgement of their outcome. Jacob Urquhart in a famous essay on misfortune and fortune in history points out that one's
attitude toward the major events of European history such as the repulsion of the Moorish Turkish invasions and the Protestant Reformation are colored if not determined by our own national and religious prejudices. Historical facts are trivial. They report without and and without Patton and without message. And one stands mute before these trivial circumstances that influence the destiny and course of western civilization. In the interest of spangles work is to be found I believe in the ambitious attempt to work the relativistic limitations of historical methodology into a speculative philosophy of history. I have chosen to title this relation between theory and fact the universal in the singular. In short the attempted reconciliation of matter history and methodology
in spank Lariam terms as destiny and the triviality of circumstance I develop this theme in terms of Spangler's analysis of history and its methodological limitations. The interpretation of history as destiny. And finally an evaluation of the strengths and limits of his work. History as a general definition is the selective narration of what actually happened. Against this definition Spangler continually urges us to keep faith with our own experience that history must be lived before it can be known. But the continuity and sameness of much of our collective human destiny influences historians to reconstruct what is remembered of the past. Excuse me into routine izing patterns of recession and
prosperity. War and Peace in the mechanical style of first day and then be and much of history's charm finds its source in this procedure of linking all historical facts together since one might possess retrospectively more intelligibility of the past and knowledge about its factual circumstances than the individuals who participated in its making. But these noble deadened who are part of Wordsworth one great society alone on earth were at first the noble living who encountered what actually happened as a mere possibility as one alternative among many competitors. History is written. Indeed if not by then at least for the survivors. The mechanical style of building history up from the fact. Dominates not merely the narration of individual events but the descriptive
period education of history itself. The trio of ancient medieval and modern history is which conveniently corresponds to the philosophies of Syquest as a providence and progress are shallow classifications and interpretations to Spangles mind from the view of history is lived. These classifications are absolutely meaningless. The Greeks and Romans did not know that they were ancients. Aquinas and Chaucer were unaware that they lived in the Middle Ages and the artists and the intellectuals of the 14th to 16th centuries were not conscious of the renaissance that they had created until Burkhardt coined the term three hundred years later. In the retrospect of history has no consciousness projects its own needs upon the factual symbols of the past and creates the
sequences and supposed logics of history. The periods of history are in fact the beginning middle and present of a story a story line that represents for Spangler nothing but a sacrosanct program that culminates with justification of our own interests. The ancients found that history repeated itself. The medievals found Providence and salvation and we as moderns have discovered that progress is our most important product. The justification of the mechanical description and interpretation of history is the causal principle derived from the systematic observation of natural phenomena. Causality expresses the relation of if a appears then B must follow
necessarily. But all sorts of historical A's and B's appear and it is the task of historical interpretation to show which of these events are connected by necessity. But again the reading of the cause us to scale refers to the subjective thraldom of the observer's prejudices a Spangler calls it because to use a metaphor which perfectly expresses his viewpoint what we see is what we think. For example a 19th century materialist such as Marx will interpret religious and political ideas as a fact of economic relations and hence religion becomes in Marxist terms the opiate of the people but less than a century later the sociologist Max Weber's in his work the Protestant Ethic and the rise of capitalism
will interpret the same economic realities as the effect of religious and ethical causes. Thus the realist interprets the spiritual as the effect of material causes while the idealist sees in the decline of spiritual values the cause of materialism. Each side has in Spangler's terms quote made his view dependent upon his wish. Close quote. But both the realists and the idealists fail completely to explain why what happened occurred at this particular time and in this particular circumstance. In summary Spangler objects to the method and interpretation of history that is mechanical and causal. The descriptive periodization is for him an illegitimate extension
of the categories of natural science but natural science deals with inorganic repetitions in history with the wealth of living forms Spangler contrasts. This mechanical model with his own vision of history he writes and I quote I see in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can only be kept by shutting one's eyes to the overwhelming multitude of the facts the drama of a number like you call Charles each springing with primitive strength from the soil of another region to which it remains firmly bound throughout its whole life cycle. Each stamping its material its mankind in its own image each having its own ideas its own passions its own life will and feeling and its own death.
These cultures sublimated life essences grow with the same superb aimlessness as the flowers of the field. They belong like the plants and animals to the living nature of God and not to the dead nature of new. I see world history as a picture of endless formations and transformations of the marvelous waxing and waning of organic forms. The professional historian on the contrary sees it as a sort of tapeworm industriously adding onto itself one app after another close quote taking quotations. History known is derived from history has lived and the intellectual embarrassments of relativism and subjectivism become in Spangler's analysis the first proof of historical interpretation. He
states quote It is this that is lacking to the Western thinker an insight into the historically relative character of his data. Which are expressions of one specific existence and one online knowledge of the necessary limits of their validity. The conviction that his unshakable truths and eternal views are simply true for him and eternal for his worldview. The duty of looking beyond them to find out what men of other cultures have with equal certainty of Ald. out of themselves is the task of the historian. Close quotation. Historicism as a technical term which admits the relativity of the method and interpretation of history expresses for Spangler the truth that the activity of thinking and the
result of thinking are mutually implemented. The causal interpretation of history which is derived from the mechanical models of natural science presupposes a parallelism between psychological understanding and object of explanation which is vitiated by the fact that for Spangler wrote every man class nation or family sees the picture of history in relation to itself. Close quotation. Spanglish conclusion is that the only consistent attitude that one may take toward history its methodology and its philosophy is one of profound scepticism. The Spangler is aware that skepticism is an emotional
attitude which doesn't explain anything about history. And although the decline of the West may be dismissed as an expression of the intellectual pessimism of post-World War One Europe. The work was intended by its author as a philosophy of history and not as a mood piece. Again the problem is to explain the trivialities and the contingencies of historical circumstance from a viewpoint that is detached from the relativity of personal interest. But what alternative can be proposed to explain the totality of the unlimited arbitrary and relative fact of history. Spangler seems to have concluded logically enough that the only alternative to relativism is an absolute relativism. I've shown that Spangler's criticism of historical methodology and
past interpretation have as its source the notion that the model of explanation derives from the physical sciences. It isn't adequate to the complexities of history as lived. Spangler ingeniously carries over the anti life criticism into a biological metaphor which is the basis for his philosophy of history. The only limit to life is death. Death is the one invariable and natural limit that confront every living thing. And in this sense intellectual relativism can be understood as a reflection of the fact that idea of spiritual possibilities live and die just as their creators live and die. Spangler substitutes the
analogy of a biological organism for the mechanical model of history. Specifically he interprets culture as the primary unit of historical study. As organisms someone somewhat like exotic plants rather than its physical models built by systematically linking historical data and the exchange of the mechanical or the biological metaphor which Spangler describes as the difference between a frog perspective and a bird's perspective yields the interesting hypothesis that history becomes the narration of how the living experience of possibility is transformed into actuality. What Spangler cause the physio rhythms of life and death as
opposed to the systematic compilation of data provides the basis for his methodology of comparative history. Although each culture makes its own adaptation to the relative circumstances which determine the precise relations between possibility and actuality each culture must traverse the same cycle from birth to death. Spangler acknowledges his debt to Gaza and Nietzsche for the organic view of history got his view of art as quoted by Spangler art is quote a living thing that must have been in conspicuous beginning a slow growth a brilliant moment of fulfillment and a gradual decline. Like every other organic beginning though it is presented in a set of individuals close quote just
as art is the expression of a unique style. So also according to Spangler every culture is the singular expression of a style of life.
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Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind
Decline and fall of the West: Spengler, part one
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a lecture from Raymond Langley, Professor of Philosophy, Manhattanville College.
Series Description
This series presents lectures from the 1968 Cooper Union Forum. This forum's theme is Peace, Love, Creativity: The Hope of Mankind.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Speaker: Fairchild, Johnson E.
Speaker: Langley, Raymond J., 1935-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-10-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:11
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Chicago: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Decline and fall of the West: Spengler, part one,” 1968-05-09, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
MLA: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Decline and fall of the West: Spengler, part one.” 1968-05-09. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <>.
APA: Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; Decline and fall of the West: Spengler, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from