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Human Evolution

Max Otte

was Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Karl-Franzens-University Graz
is on long-term leave as Professor of General and International Business at Worms University of Applied Sciences

​Oswald Spengler described himself as „Dichter-Denker“ („poet thinker“), a term that does indeed resonate. He counted Goethe and Nietzsche as his two biggest influences: „From Goethe, I have the method, from Nietzsche the questions.“ However, in addition to a thorough schooling in the classics, Spengler had a substantive knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences.

As poetic as his work might seem, it is informed by a solid grounding in natural sciences. Indeed, in Spenglers writings there are many instances of what would later become evolutionary epistemology or sociobiology. The language might be poetic, the thoughts are often innovative and scientific. On the occasion of the publication of Konrad Lorenz evolutionary epistemology „Die Rückseite des Spiegels“, DER SPIEGEL 46/1973 wrote: „Spengler, the philosopher (Geisteswissenschaftler), argued biologically stringent. Lorenz, the biologist, finished the first volume of his with nothing less than an attempt at emancipation from biology, an emancipation from death.“

Spengler would very much agree with Edward O. Wilson, Franz Wuketits or Eckart Voland that humans are a species bound by certain biological mechanisms and that those mechanisms determine much, though by no means all of our behavior. A keen eye for some of these mechanisms is present in many of Spenglers writings beginnig with the Decline of the West (Untergang des Abendlandes), Prussiandom and Socialism (Preußentum und Sozialismus) as well as the much later Man an Technics (Der Mensch und die Technik) and the fragments pertaining to early history (Frühzeit der Weltgeschichte).

After withdrawing from active politics, Spengler devoted most of the last twelve years of his life to early and pre-history, a „world history from the beginning“, the process of human evolution and fundamental metaphysical questions. Once again, he was in the forefront, but was not able to complete his work. „Sapiens“ by Yuval Noah Harari would have most likely found Oswald Spenglers approval (with the almost certain exception of the last 500 years of the West, which portray capitalism as the only – and superior – social form. „The Evolution of Stories“ by Brian Boyd, „The Storytelling Animal“ by Jonathan Gottschall emphasize the central role of storytelling for humans as tools of identity formation and experimentation about the future. Spengler wrote that „toughts belong to a certain time, not a thinker“ and that „history must be rhymed (composed)“.

Recently, Olaf Joeris, pre-historian and archeologist for the early paleolithic of the Roman German Central Museum, untertook a review of human evolution and the evolution of social behavior with reference to Oswald Spenglers works, but based on todays state of knowledge. In quite a few instances, Spengler erred, for example in estimating the time frame of human evolution, whereSpengler envisioned a much shorter period that we now know it took. But in many other instances, Spengler was once again visionary and far ahed of his time, such as the „thinking of the hand“ or the evolution of law.

In fact, where Charles Darwin is mentioned, a second name should appear whenever predecessors of modern sociobiology are discussed in the case of human societies: Oswald Spengler.

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