I have thought about this a lot. It is one of those words that the English have borrowed from the German, but which in its usual dictionary explanation does not express all that the word implies. Some words are just like that, aren’t they?
The dictionary definition of the term is; “the spirit of the time and general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time”. Well yes, but the thing is when you go into the background of the word from a German perspective, it has many layers to it. This is perhaps why we don’t have a good feel of its translation or its common English usage. The word in German carries the idea of being in a fog, so the ‘spirit of the age’ is not recognised by you or me, because we are so influenced, affected, controlled by, engulfed by, our eyes covered by the fog of the spirit of the age that we do not know there is such a spirit nor can we see any alternative. From a German perspective you can only assess zeitgeist in retrospect; looking back or, better translated, the ghost of the past age. Then we can see what it was and know where they went wrong or how they could have done better. Hind sight is a wonderful thing.
YES OR NO?
Our sound bite age is impatient with answers that take more than two minutes. We want it simple and we want it quick and we want it to be correct and all encompassing. Our culture may be in that ‘want’ position, but it’s unrealistic, unhelpful, untruthful, unfulfilling and just does not work.
I am reminded of the story of the old farmer, with a horse and cart riding through the country lanes with his dog by his side and a load of hay on the back. A sports car came around a bed far too fast and crashed into the old farmer causing considerable damage an loss. Eventually the farmer and the driver had their day in court and of course the farmer was trying to get compensation for his loss; on the other side the defence for the insurance company were trying to settle for as little as possible.