Spengler's Future

John J. Reilly

Millennium Publications 1993
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996 http://dannyreviews.com/
With the aid of a simple BASIC program (christened "Dr. Spengler's Temporal Analogizer") and some theory taken from Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, Reilly sets off to explore the cycles of world history. Spengler's Future is a parallel history of five civilizations — Rome (300BC-500AD), Egypt (1800-1000BC), Islam (1200-1900AD), China (500BC-300AD), and the West (1800-2600AD).

Spengler's Future is certainly not a serious attempt to predict the future, but it is hard to know how seriously we are expected to take the "purely heuristic" historical parallels. It suffers the usual problems of such schemes — the too easy selection and interpretation of facts to fit any pattern and the resulting vulnerability to any kind of neutral model. Reilly's approach is also resolutely acausal, operating at the level of organic civilizations and the intentions of states. To give you the flavour, here he is writing of the "Early Empire":

A universal polity cannot be established in a day. For some generations into the imperial period, the empire has still to determine just what its constitutional arrangements will be, how large it can become, just what form of the civilization's traditional culture is to be promoted and which suppressed. This first fifth or so of the empire's history is full of incident, indeed some of the most colorful things that ever occur in any civilization's lifetime. It is, on the whole, a fundamentally prosperous period. The economy is still vigorously expanding, many technical ideas from the modern era have yet to be fully exploited, population growth is slowing but continuing.

As he acknowledges in the introduction, this exposes him to all the criticisms levelled at Spengler or Toynbee. The only defence offered is an appeal to a change in the philosophy of physics, particularly with the advent of chaos theory. This is itself debatable, but trying to justify historical theories by appeal to physics is dubious in any event.

But criticising Spengler's Future as history is like criticising Aesop's Fables on the grounds that animals can't speak: it is better read as a morality story, a historical fable, as it were. As such it is really more about the present than either the past or the future, and despite its detachment it is revealing of Reilly's own values. Reilly never descends into earnestness, however, and leavens his commentary with humour: my strong antipathy to moralising history was only occasionally aroused. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, where Reilly (too briefly) summarises the historiographical background. He writes there that "Dr. Spengler's Temporal Analogizer should be kept out of the hands of gullible undergraduates, German revanchists and recovering Logical Positivists." In this context I'm not sure I don't prefer logical positivism.

November 1996

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%T Spengler's Future
%A Reilly, John J.
%I Millennium Publications
%D 1993
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0963960601
%P 198pp