Dr. Spengler believed that civilizations go through life cycles of about the same duration, and that each civilization goes through similar phases.
Spengler divided up the life phases of civilizations in different ways, depending on whether he was talking about their artistic life, political history, or spiritual life (the latter covering, roughly, philosophy and religion). To put all the possible periods together, he makes mention of:
A precultural period, when people are essentially barbarians, as was the case in what is usually called the Dark Ages of Europe;
Spring, an age of faith like the High Middle Ages in Europe;
Summer, like the Renaissance and early Baroque, when the culture develops its distinctive arts and sciences;
Autumn, when the fundamental insights of the culture reach full maturity (if not necessarily final form), as in late seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe; and
Winter, when the creations of the past in art and science and spiritual life are perfected and elaborated, but not fundamentally extended. Technology flourishes here, rather than fundamentally new science. For Spengler the science of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not essentially new, because it was in the characteristically Western style of science established by people like Newton and Leibnitz. This final age is the time of increase in quantity, not quality. Spengler called Spring, Summer and Autumn "Culture," while Winter was the era of "Civilization" in his special sense of the term. The computer program, and so this book, are concerned exclusively with Winter.
Keep in mind that this outline distorts Spengler's ideas because it mentions only Western examples. His method was to find examples of the art or political life of the "Spring," for instance, from a variety of peoples and cultures. Thus, the pyramids of the Old Kingdom period in Egypt and the cathedrals of the High Middle Ages in Europe are both characteristic products of the Spring. He treated these illustrations as all of equal significance in their own stories, not as part of a great story leading up to the modern West.
Perhaps the most disconcerting premise of Spengler's for many readers will be his assertion that "modern times," roughly the early Winter of Western civilization beginning at the end of the eighteenth century, is not unique. Other civilizations have also experienced comparable periods of secularism and aggressively individual art and revolutionary politics, though each in its own form. Perhaps Spengler owed a lot of his popularity to the prediction that this kind of thing does not go on forever.
Neither, thankfully, does the program, which can now become more specific about how it operates:
When a person occupies the same place in the life cycle of one
civilization as someone else does in another civilization's cycle, these
people are said to be 'contemporary.' For instance, Spengler (and other
historians) say that Alexander the Great in Classical times and Napoleon in
the modern West are 'contemporary.'
There are several "other historians" who might be mentioned in this context, since Spengler has not had this kind of history all to himself, even in the twentieth century. His chief competitor as a comparative historian was the English scholar, Arnold Toynbee. The latter's great work, A Study of History, began to appear in 1934 and ultimately reached twelve volumes by the time it was completed in 1961. Toynbee, like Spengler, was convinced that the modern West was repeating, in its own style, much of the behavior of the ancient Greek and Roman civilization. Toynbee, however, did not see the cycles as in quite the same relationship as Spengler did. Toynbee believed that the First World War in the West was "contemporary" with the Peloponesian War between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece, which occurred more than 200 years before the Punic Wars which so impressed Spengler. More generally, Toynbee did not believe in the fairly rigid cycles of Spengler's imagination. Toynbee's Study was explicitly intended as a British empiricist's correction of the German's dogmatic Decline. Among other things Spengler never attempted, the Study made a serious, indeed earnest, effort to cover the whole world. Toynbee would note the parallels and common patterns in the lives of different civilizations when they could be documented, but he refused to believe that history had ever been predestined, or that the fate of the West was already sealed. Events could always be traced to some individual or collective act of will.
The result was that Toynbee's history was built around certain loose sociological generalizations, notably his notion that historical change was a matter of "challenge" and "response." Since counter-examples to Toynbee's illustrations of these principles were always available, historians since the late 1950s (when Toynbee was the most famous of their number in the world, thanks to the patronage of Henry Luce at Time magazine) have been able to dismiss Toynbee because his explanations did not quite hold up, even if no one ever succeeded in explaining away the empirical historical parallels he described.
Toynbee's efforts can be considered a real advance on Spengler's, since Toynbee recognized that the different civilization cycles were obviously related to each other and fell into certain classes. Both historians recognize Greco-Roman (or "Classical") civilization as distinct from the more properly so-called "Western civilization" which arose in Western and Central Europe during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire. Spengler said that the two societies had nothing in common but a partial coincidence of territory and some inessential technology. Toynbee, on the other hand, insisted that Western Culture was obviously a successor to ("apparented by") the Classical world. He also pointed out that, while the Classical world was the creature of a certain limited geographical region, the West was at least in principle a "universal" civilization, a characteristic it shared with China (which also had a "classical" forerunner followed by a Dark Age) and with Islam. In comparison to both these latter generations of civilization, the earliest civilizations, which in Eurasia arose in river valleys, were really very local developments. Egypt, to take an example employed by the program, was never more than a small country. Still, even these early societies seemed to manifest many of the crises and phases which their later regional and universal descendants also experienced.
Finally, it must be noted that one of Toynbee's chief preoccupations was what he called "universal states." This is the final political form into which civilizations tend to fall. While Spengler was also keenly conscious of this final stage of his Winter phase of the historical cycle, he did not discuss the universal states in great detail. The program, on the other hand, deals primarily with the universal state phase of the West's cycle. After all, the program was designed to foretell the future, and almost the only part of the West's cycle still left to be played out is its destiny as a universal state.
Another slight delay, and the screen further explains:
Dr. Spengler's Temporal Analogizer selects events from the
histories of past civilizations which will be "contemporary" to events in our
Which civilizations are we talking about? The ones from which data lines have been entered are ancient Egypt (from the Hyskos to the XXII Dynasty), China (from the Hegemony of Chin to the end of the Latter Han Dynasty), the Classical world (from Alexander to the end of the Roman Empire), and a peculiar hybrid creature called "Islam." Spengler held that by the beginning of the Christian Era, the Middle East was the home of an awakening new culture which he called "Magian," after the Magi of ancient Persia. Spengler's idea was that the culture was composed of religious communities the way that the later West would be composed of "nation states" (an idea suggested, perhaps, by the ethnically-based administrative practices of the Ottoman Empire). Thus, the Jews, the Christians of Syria and Anatolia, and the Zoroastrians of Persia were all "Magian" communities. The birth of this new culture was masked, however, by the accident that the Romans had political control over much of its territory.
The distortion was as great as if the Arabs had conquered Merovingian France, imposing Arabic culture and art on people who had not yet had time to create their own. (Spengler calls this kind of distortion "pseudomorphosis," and says that much the same thing happened to Russia.) The new society had to express itself in alien forms; it pretended to be Greek and Roman. The Byzantine Empire, the successor to the Roman Empire of the East, was in reality a Magian polity. It was not essentially different in spirit from its long-time foe, Sassanid Persia, or more importantly, from the Islamic "Reformation" which ultimately destroyed it. This culture reached its final form in the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed as recently as the end of the First World War.
You do not have to accept Spengler's hypothesis of a "Magian culture" to see why the Ottoman Empire was included as one of the four sample civilizations: like Han China, the Roman Empire, and the Empire phase of Egyptian history, it lasted roughly 500 years and went through many of the same crises which these other empires also experienced. It was arguably a "universal state," since it swallowed a whole international system when it conquered the Middle East. The question is whether it can really be said to represent the final form of a single, mature "culture."
The program, however, can proceed undaunted by this kind of reservation to assure you: