Does the birth dearth signal the end of our civilisation?

Jun 11, 2021 by

The visionary German historian Oswald Spengler might have foreseen our woes.

Way back when, I harboured delusions of being a teacher. Didn’t happen – but I read a lot and am preternaturally curious. I’m especially curious about why people are having fewer and fewer children. What changed in modern times that has caused a half-century birth dearth?

Many reasons are cited: loss of religious faith, collapse of traditional morality, urbanization, birth control, economics (can’t afford children), and that we are crowding each other out. These are all contributing factors. But what gave rise to them?

A century ago, a German polymath may – or may not – have figured it out. He was Oswald Spengler, an early 20th century intellectual giant, to put it mildly. His ideas are worth considering.

In a nutshell, Spengler thought that cultures were organic, and had stages — childhood, youth, manhood and old age. One of his more uncanny predictions was that around the turn of the millennium, Western Civilization would enter a severe crisis that would lead to the rise of Caesarism lasting for an extended period before a final collapse. The man was not an optimist. In fact, one of Spengler’s better-known quotes is “Optimism is cowardice.”

Spengler’s magnum opus, The Decline of the West, is a tome like no other. The first volume was published in 1918. Volume II came along in 1922. In chapter IV of volume II, in a section entitled “The Soul of the City,” Spengler expounds about culture growing into civilization. In his view, a culture hardens into a civilization, bringing a transformation of spirit and new outlook on life. Part and parcel of this was the rise of major cities that developed “higher culture,” intellectualism and a cosmopolitan ethos completely estranged from the peasantry out of which they arose:

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