On Possible Implications of a Global Model of Development: Current Trends in Sociological Development Theories and Oswald Spengler's World-History Development Theory
Scott David Foutz


This paper will begin with brief overview the movement of the sociological models of development theory over the last half century from a strictly localized toward an entirely global perspective. The paper will then turn to the historical model of development found in the works of Oswald Spengler, which provides predictions of a global nature pertaining to a possible destiny for modern Western society.

It is the intent of this paper to: (a) show that as research (and modernity) continue, the need for a global development theory becomes more apparent; and (b) show one author's historical model of development and its claims regarding the future global influence upon Western modernity.

Sociological Models of Development

Urbanization Theory

Discussions of modernity employ a variety of sociological models whereby the increasingly complex phenomena of modern society are defined, organized and then combined into overarching superstructures. These superstructures are then used to attempt an explanation of current trends in economical, social, spiritual and psychological spheres. Perhaps the earliest of these models, dating back to the middle ages, was what came to be known as Urbanization Theory which viewed the amassment of an inordinate variety of peoples and philosophies into a small geographical area as the primary influence upon the thought and life structures of urban society. The phenomenon of urbanization was initially believed to give rise to capitalism and technological advancement. But it soon became clear that mere geographical proximity was unable to explain the vast changes taking place within developing societies, especially those within what is traditionally known as the West, namely, Europe and America.

Modernization Theory

The role of technology soon became the focus of sociological theories, resulting in the Modernization Theory. This theory, which has been one of the major perspectives of social development since th 1950's, has at its core the belief that industrial technology produces not only economic growth in developing societies, but also other structural and cultural changes. In general, all modernazation theories assume that institutional structures and individual activities become more highly specialized, differentiated, and integrated into social, political, and economic forms characteristic of advanced Western societies. (Armer and Katsillis, 1304). Modernization Theory has been the model within which such sociologists as Smesler, Parsons, Berger, and Lenski have operated. (Since the bulk of study done for the class for which this paper is being prepared was within the Modernization Theory perspective, the space given to its treatment here is minimal.)

Dependency Theory

During the 1960's, the influence which affluent nations had upon less developed nations became a prominent topic of research. Analysis of the underdevelopment of third world countries resulted in the Dependency Theory, which claimed that third world underdevelopment is a consequence of "assymetrical contacts with capitalistic nations". Hendricks outlines Dependency's thesis: "Once the first wave of modernization occurs, subsequent changes in less-developed countries take place neither inexorably nor in isolation. Rather, these changes are shaped by the nature of a society's contacts with countries, economies, and ideologies that previously experienced social change. Furthrmore, interaction between social orders is never a benign form of cultural diffusion. Interaction instead leads to internal reorganization designed to bolster the interests of the more powerful exchange partner without altering the worldwide distribution of affluence." (458) Dependency Theorists see underdeveloped countries as victims of an ethnocentric power structure which manipulates the development of the underdeveloped country to the advantage of the external power structure without passing on any of the significant benefits of such development onto the poorer society. Although this theory eventually became a neo-Marxist tool of political commentary and social activism, its major contribution to the field was its emphasis on the need for a development theory broad enough to encompass all the phenomena of modernization, from internal institutions to external diffusion. "[Dependency Theory's] analysis undermined the orthodox, liberal, economistic, optimistic and evolutionist theories known as the Modernization Paradigm, for a time a dominant form of Development Theory, and created the basis for the emergence of more profoundly analytical and less eurocentric concepts." (Welsh and Butorin, 303)

Global Systems Analysis

Neo-Marxist social analysis was soon found to be wanting regarding its anti-capitalistic bias and its inherent insistence upon a detrimental economical hierarchy. Development theories which began to consider more horizontal (rather than strictly hierarchical) diffusion of capital and ideologies from one nation-state to another within a larger global context came to be known as Global or World Systems. Global Systems are characterized by their understanding that diffusion among nations takes place on a much grander and more inclusive scale than previous development theories admitted. Whereas Dependency Theory focused primarily on the diffusion of capital, and Modernization Theory generally views modernization as the diffusion of Western concepts, the Global Systems diffusion includes intercultural exchange of such things as labor, management techniques, attitudes, social norms, youth culture, as well as those elements mentioned by other development theories. "The implicit Global Systems model is one of gradual convergence around a similar set of "modern" values and attitudes. The spread of modern social institutions help inculcate modern values and attitudes; the values and attitudes in turn reinforce the institutions. (Evans, 773)

Global Systems sees a possible classification of nations according to the degree in which each nation participates in a global diffusion of its resources. Those nations which engage in global diffusion of a high number of economic, social and political elements naturally find themselves at the top of the diffusion hierarchy. From such a position, nations are able to wield great influence upon the entirety of the global system. But since global diffusion is not unidirectional, all nations, regardless of their current position within the diffusion hierarchy possess the potential for advancement in development and influence.

Global Systems Analysis is ongoing in its development as a major development theory. On the current status of Global systems as a viable model, Evans concludes, "Overall, our understanding of the global system must still be considered a project "under construction" rather than a finished set of tools easily applied to specific problems. Some things are clear nonetheless. We know that trajectories of change in national societies cannot be analyzed without reference to the global system in which they are embedded any more than the analysis of change in individual communities can be attempted without awareness of the national society in which they are embedded. We also know that the character of relations between an individual state and the larger system is shaped, not just by the evolution of the global system, but also by political struggles at the local level. We know that diffusion of ideas and norms throughout the global system has a powerful influence on how social institutions are structured in individual nations, but we also know that this diffusion takes place within a system that has a very hierarchical structure. We know that nations located at the bottom of this structure are disadvantaged economically as well as politically, but we also know that mobility is possible. We know that the contemporary global system is an invention of the least half-dozen centuries; predicting how long it will endure is another question," (777).

An Historical Model of Development

The quest for understanding the structure and implications of current economic, social and political phenomena is not limited to the field of sociology. As was seen in the previous descriptions of the movement within sociological theories from localized to national to global perspectives on development, social development in some form seems to be a phenomenon shared by all societies to some extent. This portion of the paper will examine the historian Oswald Spengler who proposed that the current observable phenomena within contemporary society is best understood in light of an historical examination of the major societies within known history, since social development is not unique to the "modern" world.

Of course, terminology must be (and has been) employed to discern epochal distinctions, and for this reason, it is not contended that the ancient nation-state Athens underwent a process of "modernity", although it undoubtedly underwent a series of developmental changes which may or may not be comparable to the degree America, for example, has undergone during its 219 year existence as a nation. In the same way, we cannot expect to find the same dilemmas facing societies of distant eras. To use Athens again, it would not be approprite (nor profitable) to look for psychological fragmentation resulting from increasing industrial technology. But at the same time, it would be expedient to consider the relative impact upon the Athenian's individual psychology from such major "scientific" developments as Euclidian geometry and Democritus' atomic theory.

The historian, Oswald Spengler, which this paper will subsequently examine holds the belief that contemporary Western society is undergoing changes which are parallel to changes which have been observed in nearly every other major "society" (i.e., "nation-state", "civilization", "culture") within known history. The unique contribution which such an historical approach can bring to development theories is its confidence in a certain degree of predictive ability regarding the fate of modern development based on analysis of preceding societies' development and decline. Such a contribution, if indeed accurate, is of great value and interest to any student of contemporary sociology. It is with the intent to understand and consider Spengelr's theory and predictions that this paper proceeds.

Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) lived the entirety of his life in his homeland, Germany. He lived an unusually quiet and modest life in Munich as a private scholar, remaining unmarried and living off an inheritance. In 1918, only a few months after the end of World War I, he published his first book entitled Form and Actuality. This was presented as the first volume of The Decline of the West , an innovative and controversial comparative analysis of world-history. The second volume, Perspectives of World-History was published four years later. Due to the nature of the work and the social context of Germany at that time, Spengler's Decline soon became a bestseller.

Spengler rejected the traditional classification of world history into ancient, medieval and modern times, replacing it with the idea that societies were seperated in time and space and went through similar cycles of rise, maturity and decline. This perspective of societies was not unique to Spengler, and had been developed to differing degrees by other authors. What was unique to Spengler's approach was his use of biological or "morphological" analogies in which he likened the development and decline of socieies to that of biological entities.

This morphological analogy carried with it some significant implications, the greatest of which was what many saw to be as a determinism which anticipated an inevitable decline in every society. The length of time required for the entire process of birth, maturity and decline to elapse is unknown and unique to every society. And yet, Spengler was convinced that, in time, each society, regardless of how strong and affluent it has or might become, will inevitably experience an ultimate decline. This "determinism" eventually caused severe criticism to be levelled against Spengler's approach, though from it he would not back down.

Spengler presents a comparison of the major cultures of world history. Due to the vast scope of such an undertaking, it is natural to expect that some cultures receive less attention than others, and this is certainly the case in The Decline. Spengler's lack of experience and knowledge of China, India, ancient Mexico and Peru resulted in their being only lightly outlined in his work. To the cultures he was more involved with, Spengler employed an new classification consiting of the Apollinian (Greco-Roman), the Magian (Judaism, Byzantium, and Islam), and the Faustian (Western).

To these, Spengler employed a method which he entitled "universal symbolism" to discover the primarily "plastic" or architectural "symbols" which enabled distinctions to be made between one culture and the another. Spengler was operating on what has come to be a relatively common assumption that esthetic style furnished "the most sensitive indicator" of the fundamental differences among civilizations. (Decline, xiv) Therefore, the free-standing temple and nude statue symbollically epitomizes the Apollinian culture, and the "vaulted cavern" or dome characterizes Magian culture. Faustian culture's growth is revealed in the archtectural spectrum ranging from the soaring vaults and spires of the romanesque or gothic cathredral to those of late baroque style (110).

The basic underlying theme of The Decline is the parallel which Spengler draws between the decline of the Apollinian era and the decline of Spengler's own era, the Faustian, a decline which he believed apparent in the many ominous changes taking place. Spengler compared the late-Faustian eclecticism, fragmented thought, and money-centered political power with similar developments he found in the late stages of the Roman empire. The rise of "world-cities" (Chap. XIII) in which greater and greater numbers of people huddle in search of sustenance, entertainment and leadership, reducing its citizenry to a uniform mob. Spengler anticipated the rise of new "Caesars" who promised the hungry mobs progress and meaning (378f.). And like the Roman caesars, these new caesars would introduce unending wars in their pursuit of personal power.

Rather than bewail the impending developments which he saw all around him, Spengler became infamous for his determinism, calling upon the people to live out the age into which they were born by abandoning the illusion and nostalgia of gentler times gone by, and hardening themselves for the battles which were approaching. Rather than lament, people of the Faustian era should prepare themselves for the advent of the caesar who would guide their course.

Such a message sounds quite irrelevant to the contemporary man on the street. But to the men of his day, the citizens of Germany in the 1930's, Spengler was not far off, for his audience lived to see the rise of a young Adolph Hitler to the office of chancellor of Germany. It might also be a temptation for the contemporary reader to wonder if Spengler was merely a Nazi propogandist deriving his development theory of world history from mere party rhetoric. But this was certainly not the case. First, his work was published 15 years before the Nazi's first came to power (in 1933). Second, after the emegence of the Nazi party and ideology, Spengler made plain his disagreement with the manner in which the party proceeding. Spengler denied the existence of a "master race", and opposed anti-semitism, viewing the Jews as remnants of the earlier Magian era. And yet, despite the distance between Spengler and Hitler, both ideologically and chronologically, it cannot be denied that the accuracy of his perceptions "had in simple fact prepared his countrymen's minds for the despotism and terror to come," (preface, x). But the accuracy of Spengler's analysis does not stop with the decimation of Germany, the heart of Spengler's Faustian culture. Many of his perceptions have proven to transcend such national boundaries.

Man and Technics

The minor work Man and Technics which was published in 1931, has continued to gain the attention of modern audiences with its obvious relevance to contemporary situations. In the last chapter of Man and Technics entitled, "Rise and End of the Machine Culture", Spengler outlines what he believes to be the undeniable signs of the drawing close of Faustian (Western) culture. The root problem which Spengler identifies is the Faustian pragmatism whose ultimate goal is to subject all of Nature to the role of servitude. Pragmatism, rationalism and technology have become the tools whereby Faustian man has rid himself of God, and has reduced Nature to mere material from which he seeks to build his own world. Spengler writes, "Technics is [to the Faustian] eternal and imortal like God the Father, it delivers mankind like God the Son, and it illumines us like God the Holy Spirit. And its worshipper is the progress-philistine of the modern age which runs from Lamettrie to Lenin." (Man, 86)

The Faustian inventor is caught up in the euphoria of discovery, discarding consideration of the future or even the present. "All great discoveries and inventions spring from the delight of strong men in victory. They are expressions of personality and not of the utilitarian thinking of the masses, who are merely spectators of the event, but must take its consequences whatever they may be." (87) Spengler sees in the Faustian the tragedy that, "the lord of the World is becoming the slave of the Machine, which is forcing him, forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not, to follow its course. The victor, crashed, is dragged to death by the team," (90-91).

The subjection of Nature and God to pragmatism and the thrill of discovery has led to the escalating escape of the consequences of technological development from mankind's ability to exercise control over his inventions. "The mechanization of the world has entered on a phase of highly dangerous over-tension." (93) Environmental crises such as the depletion of forests and fossil fuels, or the extinguishing of animal and plant species in man's search for natural resources and land use must inevitably arise. "All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. The Civilization itself has become a machine that does, or tries to do, everything in mechanical fashion." (94)

Just as society and Nature become increasingly permeated with technology, Faustian man finds himself involved with machinery to a greater and greater degree. Often this involvement requires the man's subjection to forms of technology which are beyond his ability to control or command. Even children's toys have become little machines. Faustian society has allowed itself to depend upon technology as a means of capital, entertainment, leisure, education, and leadership. But Spengler sees an ominous change taking place: "All this is changing in the last decades, in all the countries where large-scale industry is of old standing. The Faustian thought begins to be sick of machines. A weariness is spreading, a sort of pacifism of the battle with Nature. Men are returning to forms of life simpler and nearer to Nature; they are spending their time in sport instead of technical experiments. The great cities are becoming hateful to them, and they would fain get away from the pressure of soulless facts and the clear cold atmosphere of technical organization. And it is precisely the strong and creative talents that are turning away from practical problems and sciences and toward pure speculation. Occultism and Spiritualism, Hindu philosophies, metaphysical inquisitiveness under Christian or pagan colouring, all of which were despised in the Darwinian period, are coming up again. It is the spirit of Rome in the age of Augustus... The flight of the born leader from the Machine is beginning." (97)

This flight of the creative leaders of society from the increasingly rampant techno-lifestyle will result in a leaderless mass of workers who remain within the techical system. The lack of creative leaders causes society to decrease its rate of expansion, while the number of workers continues to grow at its normal pace. The result is that the worker is necessarily devalued in relation to the existing machinery, since the economy's existence now depends completely upon technology. Without the consent of the working masses, machinery has replaced the skills of and need for the common man. Spengler writes, "The work of the hands, the individual is now entirely without significance. Only numbers matter. In the consciousness of this unalterable state of things, aggravated, poisoned, and financially exploited by egoistic orators and journalists, men are so forlorn that it is mere human nature to revolt against the role for which the machine (not, as they imagine, its possessors) earmarks most of them. There is beginning, in numberless forms, from sabotage, by way of strike, to suicide, the mutiny of the Hands against their destiny, against the machine, against the organized life, against anything and everything... This mutiny, world-wide, threatens to put an end to the possibility of technical economic work. The leaders may take to flight, but the led, become superfluous, are lost. Their numbers are their death." (98-99)

Greater than all these internal symptoms of the collapse has been what Spengler calls the treason to technics. The economic, political, military and financial superiority which Western Europe and North America enjoyed in the second half of the nineteenth century was due to an unrivaled monopoly of great industries and natural resoures. These "white" nations held sole possession of the materials, methods and trained intellectuals required for the implementation of new technologies. This condition initially created in the white worker a strong will to achieve financially what was previously impossible for him. And achieve he did, soon becoming accustomed to a lifestyle and wage which were unrivaled throughout the world. The worker's entire livelihood became dependent upon such high wages resulting in an economy which likewise necessitate a high level of wages. This entire system was founded on the need for a continuance of the monopoly which initially gave rise to the situation.

"And then," Spengler writes, "at the close of the last century, the blind will-to-power began to make its decisive mistakes. Instead of keeping strictly to itself the technical knowledge that constituted their greatest asset, the "white" peoples complacently offered it to all the world, in every Hochschule, verbally and on paper, and the astonished homage of Indians and Japanese delighted them. The famous "dissemination of industry" set in, motivated by the ideas of getting bigger profits by bringing production into the marketing areas. And so, in place of the export of finished products exclusively, they began an export of secrets, processes, methods, engineers, and organizers... Within thirty years the Japanese became technicians of the first rank, and in their war against Russia they revealed a technical superiority from which their teachers were able to learn many lessons. Today more or less everywhere, in the Far East, India, South America, South Africa, industrial regions are in being, or coming into being, which, owing to their low scales of wages, will face us with a deadly competition." (101)

"Possibly, with their combination of "native" cunning and the over-ripe intelligence of their ancient civilizations, they have surpassed [us]... The innumerable hands of the coloured races, at least as clever and far less exigent, will shatter the economic organization of the whites at its foundations. The accustomed luxury of the white workman, in comparison with the coolie, will be his doom. The labour of the white is itself coming to be unwanted... This is the real and final basis of the unemployment that prevails in white countries. It is no mere crisis, but the beginning of a catastrophe." (102)

According to Spengler, the technical society which the Faustian culture has established upon a monopoly of material and intellect will not stand the test of global distribution of the same. And this has been born out, in part, by the fact that contemporary society is in the midst of debates regarding the danger to our economy from the virtually unbeatable competition which foreign markets produce through means of a vast, low paid, yet highly motivated work force. Popular opinion undoubtedly blames our economy's current failure to obtain a greater portion of the global economy for present levels of inflation and unemployment. And the problem facing every new presidential administration is the question of how to make the common worker an asset through the production of globally liquid products while at the same time maintaining his globally superior lifestyle.

In closing, rather than presenting personal opinions on the implications of and remedies for the contemporary crises, Spengler's own advice will be presented. Spengler's may indeed not be the best, nor the most sought after conlusions. His stand has caused his name to become synonomous with pessimistic determinism, and indeed, that is its appearance. But let the reader bear in mind with what brilliant accuracy Spengler's foresaw the unbelievable darkness which followed the rise of a "caesar"-like chancellor in Germany in the late 1930's. Will Spengler prove right again? We may certainly hope and pray not. In any event, however, let us not say that all he presents us with is "outdated" speculation.

"The history of this technics is fast drawing to its inevitable close. It will be eaten up from within, like the grand forms of any and every Culture. When, and in what fashion, we know not. Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles: better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, every people, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. Time does not suffer itself to be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or wise renunciation. Only dreamers believe that there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.

"We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man." (103-104)


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