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In the English translation of Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West that I'm reading, they use the word ant-industry. I tried to google it and also used online dictionaries but found no answer to the meaning of this word. I'm guessing it is some kind of composite but something like anti industry doesn't really make sense to me in the context. The full sentence is

All genuine historical work is philosophy, unless it is mere ant-industry.

More context can be found on google books.

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Ants (the insects) are notoriously busy, but aren't very good at abstract thought. –  Peter Shor Jan 15 '13 at 14:10
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Philosophers interpret the world and the meaning of everything. Ants go out into the field, acquire food, bring it back to the nest, and don't think about it: they just eat it to survive. They're hardwired to forage for food. Historians can be like ants if all they do is acquire facts, string them together into a mere chronology, and don't attempt to interpret the meaning of all the events they've foraged in the field. –  user21497 Jan 15 '13 at 14:15
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@Bill: add in the point that it's a nonce-word (coined for the occasion) and that would be a good answer. –  TimLymington Jan 15 '13 at 18:15
    
The idea of worker ants as largely mindless automatons is also in popular culture: cf. The Once and Future King, a novel by T.H. White, and Antz, one of Woody Allen's lesser movies. –  Andrew Lazarus Jan 15 '13 at 21:22
    
I don't think ant-work/ant-industry have any meaningful level of currency (OP's citation is the only relevant instance I could find in a brief search of Google Books). So this question is Too Localised. –  FumbleFingers Jan 15 '13 at 21:39

2 Answers 2

All genuine historical work is philosophy, unless it is mere ant-industry.

In the quoted sentence, ant-industry is a figurative reference to the work of ants. That point seems clear, but the meaning beyond that point is murky. I give two different interpretations of the sentence in the following paragraphs.

With the antecedent of it taken as genuine historical work, the sentence says that genuine historical work (which presumably is good work) sorts out into two classes: philosophy, and “mere ant-industry”. The latter work, being good, perhaps is careful and scholarly collection and organization of facts, followed by presentation of those facts in dispassionate but lucid prose.

With unless read as a botched substitute for the word else, the sentence says that genuine historical work is backed by philosophical insight or bias, and says that just collecting and organizing facts without some slant or interpretation or overarching concept in mind is busy-work, like that done by mindless ants.

Edit: This edit adds four notes.

Note 1. As FumbleFingers remarks, ant-industry is not in common use, and as TimLymington suggests, it may have been coined for the occasion. In short, ant-industry is not an idiomatic phrase and has no widely-known clear-cut meaning.

Note 2. I haven't looked at the German-language original and it could be the case that the unless/else issue is a translation problem.

Note 3. I think Spengler intended to denigrate historical work that is not based on a philosophy, but if interpreted strictly the quoted sentence doesn't quite work, because of using unless instead of else. It often escapes strict reading, as shown in the following three examples.

Nicholas Gier in Wittgenstein and Phenomenology treats ant-industry as something lowly. Gier quotes the sentence and then writes, “... it is my hope that [this study] succeeds in being more than just ‘ant-industry.’”

In Essays in European History (Ed. J K Burton, C W White) Enno Kraehe quotes the sentence and then seems to imply that ant-industry is equivalent to “establishment historiography”, an abhorrent substance.

In a paean to Spengler's The Decline of the West, Emery Neff in The Poetry of History says, of the sentence, “Curt sentences stress leading contentions.”

Note 4. In its original context, as seen via google books or via archive.org electronic editions, the sentence seems to me still less clear. The sentence after it reads, “But the operations of the systematic philosopher are subject to constant and serious error through his assuming the permanence of his results.” Perhaps Spengler meant that neither philosophy nor ant-industry is enough?

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This is a good answer, unless you really think 'else' would have been a better replacement. –  TimLymington Jan 16 '13 at 16:11
    
@TimLymington, I added several notes –  jwpat7 Jan 16 '13 at 17:46
    
@TimLymington, in this case X is “All genuine historical work is philosophy” and Y is “All genuine historical work is ant-industry”. Yes, perfectly normal both grammatically and logically, but is it what Spengler meant? (Re else vs or else, either form sounds ok to me; the sentence would be more explicit with or else, which might be a good thing.) –  jwpat7 Jan 16 '13 at 18:25
    
(Last comment, I promise). All coding is well-paid, unless it is for Google does not mean All coding is well-paid unless all coding is for Google. I took Spngler to mean the former; the latter interpretation is possible, but unnatural. –  TimLymington Jan 16 '13 at 18:50

You could possibly take ant-industry to mean ant-work: i.e that all genuine historical work is philosophy where not a product of generic, existing ideas, but rather a considered and original effort. Possibly a statement to a differ works of individuality and progressive thought to those that followed the status quo of their time and offered nothing new.

Ant work referring to something done en masse collectively if that wasn't clear.

Utter speculation obviously.

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I downvoted because the answer is a series of fragments rather than sentences. Also, you may have garbled what you meant in the phrase with “where not” and the phrase with “to a differ works”. –  jwpat7 Jan 15 '13 at 16:38
    
@jwpat7 Fair enough really. Would you care to throw your hat into the ring and offer an answer? –  Larry B Jan 15 '13 at 20:41
    
Ok, have done so. I thought of rewriting your answer in sentences in my answer, but don't have a clue what you mean in that “Possibly a statement to a differ works...” clause, so started fresh. Anyway, feel free to fix up your answer so I can remove my downvote. –  jwpat7 Jan 15 '13 at 23:48

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