Spengler: The Historical Phenomenon of Puritanism

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President Camacho

From Decline of the West , Vol II, pgs 300-303:

Intellectual creativeness of the Late period begins, not with, but after, the Reformation. Its most typical creation is free science. Even for Luther learning was still essentially the "handmaid of theology," and Calvin had the freethinking doctor Servet burnt. The thought of the Springtimes Faustian like Egyptian, Vedic, and Orphic had felt its vocation to be the justification of faith by criticism. If criticism did not succeed, the critical method must be wrong. Knowledge was faith justified, not faith controverted.​

Now, however, the critical powers of the city intellect have become so great that it is no longer content to affirm, but must test. The stock of believed probables, and especially that part of it which was received by the understanding and not the heart, was the first obvious target for dissecting activities. This distinguishes the Springtime Scholasticism from the actuality-philosophy of the Baroque as it distinguishes Neoplatonist from Islamic, Vedic from Brahmanic, Orphic from Pre-Socratic, thought. The (shall we say) profane Causality of human life, the world-around, the process and meaning of cognition, become a problem. The Egyptian philosophy of the Middle Kingdom measured up the value of life in this sense; and akin to it, in all probability, was the late pre-Confucian philosophy of China from 800 to 500 B.C. Only the book ascribed to Kwan-tse (d. 645) remains to give us some dim idea of this philosophy, but the indications, slight though they be, are that epistemological and biological problems occupied the centre of the one genuine philosophy of China, now utterly lost.​

...And, imperceptibly also, as the scanning of nature became sharper and sharper in the school of experiment and technique, and the Gothic myth became more and more shadowy, the concepts of monkish working hypotheses developed, from Galileo onwards, into the critically illuminated numina of modern science, the collisions and the fields, gravitation, the velocity of light, and the "electricity" which in our electrodynamic world-picture has absorbed into itself the other forms of energy and thereby attained to a sort of physical monotheism. They are the concepts that are set up behind the formulas, to endow them with a mythic visibility for the inner eye. The numbers themselves are technical elements, levers and screws, overhearings of the world's secrets.​

...Puritanism manifests itself in the army of Cromwell and his Independents, iron, Bible-firm, psalm-singing as they rode into battle; in the ranks of the Pythagoreans, who in the bitter earnest of their gospel of duty wrecked gay Sybaris and branded it for ever as the city without morals; in the armies of the early Caliphs, which subdued not only states, but souls. Milton's Paradise Lost, many surahs of the Koran, the little that we know of Pythagorean teachings all come to the same thing. They are enthusiasms of a sober spirit, cold intensities, dry mysticism, pedantic ecstasy. And yet, even so, a wild piety flickers up once more in them. All the transcendent inwardness that the City can produce after attaining to unconditional mastery over the soul of the Land is here concentrated, with a sort of terror lest it should prove unreal and evanescent, and is correspondingly impatient, pitiless, and unforgiving. Puritanism not in the West only, but in all Cultures lacks the smile that had illumined the religion of the Spring-- every Spring-- the moments of profound joy in life, the humour of life. Nothing of the quiet blissfulness that in the Magian Springtime flashes up so often in the stories of Jesus's childhood, or in Gregory Nazianzen, is to be found in the Koran, nothing in the palpable blitheness of St. Francis's songs in Milton. Deadly earnest broods over the Jansenist mind of Port Royal, over the meetings of the black-clothed Roundheads, by whom Shakespeare's "Merry England"-- Sybaris over again -- was annihilated in a few years.​

...Parshva, who about 600 B.C. founded the sect of the "Unfettered" on the Ganges, taught, like the other Puritans of his time, that salvation came, not from sacrifices and rights, but only from knowledge of the identity of Atman and Brahman. In all Puritan poetry the place of the old Gothic visions is taken by an unbridled, yet withal jejune, spirit of allegory. In the waking-consciousness of these ascetics the concept is the only real power. Pascal's wrestlings were about concepts and not, like Meister Eckart's, about shapes. Witches were burnt because they were proved, and not because they were seen in the air o' nights; the Protestant jurists employed the witches' hammer of the Dominicans because it was built on concepts. The Madonnas of the early Gothic had appeared to their suppliants, but those of Bernini no man ever saw. They exist because they are proved and there came to be a positive enthusiasm for existence of this sort. Milton, Cromwell's great secretary of state, clothed concepts with shapes, and Bunyan brings a whole mythology of concepts into ethical-allegorical activity. From that it is but a step to Kant, in whose conceptual ethics the Devil assumes his final shape as the Radically Evil.​

...Pythagoras was not a philosopher. According to all statements of the Pre-Socratics, he was a saint, prophet and founder of a fanatically religious society that forced its truths upon the people around it by every political and military means. The destruction of Sybaris by Croton-- an event which, we may be sure, has survived in historical memory only because it was the climax of a wild religious war-- was an explosion of the same hate that saw in Charles I and his gay Cavaliers not merely doctrinal error, but also worldly disposition as something that must be destroyed root and branch. A myth purified and conceptually fortified, combined with rigorous ethical precepts, imbued the Pythagoreans with the conviction that they would attain salvation before all other men.​