Trump and the Caesarian Age: A Spenglerian Reading
Constantin von Hoffmeister examines the role of leaders like Donald Trump in the context of Oswald Spengler’s theories on Western decline, presenting their emergence as symbols of resistance and potential rejuvenation amidst cultural decay.
This is a chapter from Constantin von Hoffmeister’s Esoteric Trumpism (Arktos, 2024).
In history, as in nature, decay is the laboratory of life.
— Karl Marx
In his magnum opus The Decline of the West, the German historical philosopher Oswald Spengler argued that all that has been and will be going on is embraced in an immense historical world-picture. The waves of history, with their rhythms and cycles, bring about leaders who embody the spirit of their age. In the context of our contemporary civilization, one could argue that Trump, with his forceful persona and decisive actions, embodies what Spengler referred to as the “Age of the Caesars.” In the cultural winter of the West, wherein decline is the overarching theme, Trump emerges not merely as a political figure, but as a manifestation of the Faustian spirit seeking to rejuvenate the civilization it once propelled to great heights. He stands as a defiant titan, reminiscent of those great figures who, in past epochs, strode forth amidst decay to establish a new order. As modern Western culture spirals downwards, it is these types of leaders, these Caesar-like figures, who rise, attempting to stem the tide and carve out a last bastion of the culture’s former vitality.
For Spengler, “[e]ach culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay and never return.” Western civilization, like the high cultures before it, is not exempt from this cyclical pattern. As the Western Faustian culture approaches its winter, the need for strong-willed and determined leaders becomes evident. Trump, with his fierce determination to place America’s interests first and his powerful presence, can be seen as a figure emerging in response to this cultural course.
In our age, which Spengler referred to as the “civilization” phase, the decline of the great culture gives way to the rise of the money power. Spengler observed that money had won, and this triumph represented the summit and also the end of the development. The dominance of money and its related interests led to the widespread feeling of being lost in the mass of men, a sentiment strongly felt in the American heartlands. Trump, a financial magnate himself, utilized his wealth not in subservience to this money power, but, paradoxically, to challenge its overreach, promising to drain the Swamp of Washington. His wealth, rather than alienating him, served as a symbol of independence from the traditional moneyed interests.
The arrival of Trump signaled a change. Spengler writes that in the place of the rulers, there appear at the same time in all the new cultures (and probably in the old ones too) the powers of economic organization. Trump, having been a titan of industry and commerce, is both a product of this economic organization and a harbinger of change. His emphasis on economic revival, job creation, and an overhaul of trade agreements aims to wrest control from the global economic elites and return it to the hands of the American people.
Spengler argues that democracy is, in essence, identical with the political victory of money. It was against this backdrop of weakened democracy, overtaken by economic interests, that Trump emerged. His election challenged the established order, an order that many felt had gone astray. For many of his supporters, he embodies the hope of genuine democracy, as opposed to the democracy of money. In Spengler’s words: “The press today is an army with carefully organized arms and branches, with journalists as officers, and readers as soldiers.” Trump’s contentious relationship with the media, his bypassing of traditional press channels in favor of direct communication via social media, might be seen as a direct confrontation with this “army.”
Spengler’s view of the Western world’s decline was not necessarily one of despair but of transformation. The decline would give birth to new forms, and in those new forms, the spirit of the West would find its new expression. He stated, “There is no proletarian, not even a Communist movement, that has not operated in the interests of money, and for the time being permitted by money — and that without the idealists among its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.” Trump’s movement, which so frequently takes aim at globalism and the so-called “deep state,” can be seen as a reaction against this. His appeal to the American worker, the very proletariat Spengler speaks of, is a call for unity against divisive interests.
Furthermore, as Spengler delineates the notion of Caesarism, which involves the rise of personal power and the decline of democracy, one can understand the comparison made by some of Trump’s critics, who believe he represents a turn towards authoritarianism. However, an alternative perspective might suggest that Trump, in his strongman approach, is not aiming for mere domination, but a resurrection of a nation’s spirit, much in line with Spengler’s idea of a leader in the Age of Caesars who represents the genuine will of the people.
When the cultural manifestations residing within a people lack the inherent exuberance of the soulful, the brutal privilege of the strongest rises from the innermost depths of life. “Might is right” becomes the rule where culture has ceded ground to civilization — where the poets are mocked and beaten by the reactionaries. Where a Goethe is nowhere to be found, there — according to Spengler — men will arise, new Caesars, who execute the eternal law of life with the utmost ruthlessness, without ideals, committed only to the will to power — the will to absorb, Magneto-like, the rays of Vril emanating from the bowels of the Earth. Vril is the universal energy that flows through and encircles the globe just below its crust. It is charged by the aether — the fifth element beyond the terrestrial sphere, responsible for animating celestial phenomena — through an ethereal cable suspended in the collective unconscious and connected to the mass brain through ancient neural programming.
Trump’s ascent to the presidency and his tenure can be understood within the Spenglerian paradigm of the decline of the West and the rise of Caesarism. His leadership style, his confrontation with established powers, and his appeal to the common man all coincide with the themes that Spengler elucidated. As the West continues its arc, figures like Trump illuminate the path it treads. Spengler said, “Optimism is cowardice.” Trump’s realism, whether in addressing the challenges posed by China or the decay within American cities, offers not a naive optimism but a bracing confrontation with the world as it is, setting the stage for a potential rebirth.