Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Draughts of pure thought from the fountain-head of some abstruse philosopher"

Although I have been hitherto mainly a historian of crime, violence, criminal justice and policing, I'm in the midst of a reorientation of sorts toward something that I'm still working out a concise description for but involves a mixture of cultural, intellectual and religious history focused on the period of the 1920s to the 1940s.

An element of continuity in all this is my interest in media history, particularly the history of the inter-war press.

Anyway, I'm pleased to announce that one of my first publications as part of this new direction will soon be seeing the light of day: a study of the reception of Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West in the inter-war British press.

It will be part of a forthcoming collection of essays edited by a couple of my colleagues that will consider Spengler's reception in various countries. 

A pre-press version of my essay, '"German foolishness" and the "Prophet of doom": Oswald Spengler and the Inter-war British Press' is now available on

A brief passage, from a section on Spengler and 'Germanness':

Although Spengler's work was highly controversial in his homeland, British commentators tended to depict it representing something typically German. On this basis, in a radio broadcast titled »Spengler–A Philosopher of World History« (reprinted in the Listener in 1929), popular philosopher C.E.M. Joad sought to explain national differences related to Spengler's reception: »The Germans have an appetite for ideas which rivals, if it does not exceed, the English appetite for emotions«*. Referring to then-popular authors of romance novels and histories, he observed: »While the Englishman is enjoying a feast of passion at the luscious boards of Miss Dell or Miss Hull, the German refreshes himself with draughts of pure thought from the fountain-head of some abstruse philosopher«**. Spengler's sentences, he continued, »seem to be the necessary accompaniments of German philosophy in the grand manner: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, all wrote them and worse; they sound the authentic German note«. [166-67]
Note: If I've been successful in achieving the aim I set out with, you don't even have to know a lot about Spengler to enjoy the article.

Though that might be a big if.

I will, in any case, provide another update when the collection is released.


* Listener, 27 February 1929, p. 250.
** »Spengler, the most abstruse German now writing, is also the most popular. He belongs, it is clear, to the grand tradition of German philosophy«. Ibid. Ethel M. Dell was a romance novelist and Eleanor Hull wrote Irish history. See also: »[F]or whereas the success of the Anglo-Saxon best-seller depends upon a facile acceptance of emotions, the Teutonic best-seller demands of the reader an equally facile acceptance of ideas«. New Statesman, 3 July 1926, p. 332.

No comments: