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The Art of Lecturing

Schmidt Number: S-4632

On-line since: 23rd April, 2010

LECTURE IV

Yesterday I tried to describe how the first part of a lecture on the threefold social order could be dealt with in the case of a certain audience; I called attention to the fact that it is above all necessary to call forth a feeling for the special character of the spiritual life that stands independently on its own. In the second part it will be a matter of making it even comprehensible to present-day humanity that there can be something like a democratic-political connection that has to strive for equality. For it is actually a fact — and you must take this into consideration when preparing for such a lecture — that modem man has no feeling at all for a state structure that is built upon rights as upon its very foundation. This part, the political part referring to the state, is especially difficult to deal with within Swiss conditions. It will have to be specially emphasized that lecturers, who want to represent the threefold social order within Swiss conditions, proceed from the thus given Swiss conditions, and that in the middle part concerning the political, public life, they take into consideration how one must speak out of the Swiss context. After all, generally it is like this: Because of the conditions of the recent development of humanity, public life as such, which was to express itself in the life of rights, has in the main disappeared. What expresses and lives in the configuration of the state, is really a chaotic union of the spiritual elements of human existence and the economic elements. One could say that in the modern states the spiritual elements and the economic elements have gradually become mixed together; whereas the actual political life has fallen away in between, has in fact vanished.

This is particularly noticeable within the conditions of Switzerland. We are dealing there everywhere with a seeming democratization of the spiritual life, impossible in its actual formulations, and a democratization of economic life and the fact that the public believes that this apparent democratic mixture of the spiritual and the economic life is a democracy. Since people have formed their concepts of democracy out of this mixture, since they therefore have an absolute illusory concept of democracy, it is so difficult to speak of true democracy particularly to the Swiss. Actually, the Swiss know least of all about real democracy.

In Switzerland, one thinks about how to democratize the schools. This is about the same as if one were supposed to think about and gain an idea out of real, true concepts on how to turn a boot into a good head covering. In a similar manner, the so-called democratic political concepts are treated. It serves no purpose to speak of these matters in a — let me say — pussy-footing manner in order to speak politely to a mainly Swiss audience; for then we could not understand each other. Politeness in such matters can never lead to an understanding. Well, just because of this it is so necessary to discuss the concept of rights and the equality of men in face of a people like the Swiss nation.

One has to accustom oneself to speak differently in each locality if one wants to be active as a lecturer. When, as was the case beginning in April 1919, one spoke about the threefold social order in Germany, one spoke under totally different conditions from those here in Switzerland, and also completely different conditions than those under which one can speak in England or in America about the threefold order. Especially in that spring, in April 1919, directly after the German revolution, everybody in Germany, the proletarian as well as the middle class — the first naturally in a more revolutionary, the second in a more resigned manner — were convinced of the fact that something new would have to come. One actually spoke into this feeling, this mood, that something new had to come. One spoke at that time to relatively prepared, receptive people; naturally, one could speak in Germany quite differently from the way one could speak there today. A whole world lies between today and that spring of 1919 in Germany as well. Today, one can at most hope to call forth some sort of idea by means of something resembling the threefold order of how the spiritual life as such can be structured independently — especially how it would have to be formulated under the conditions presently existing in Germany today, and how, under certain conditions, the inner-political life of rights within the state could be constituted. In Germany today, one naturally cannot speak of a formulation of the economic life completely in the sense of the threefold order, for the economic life in Germany is in fact something that is under rules of duress, under pressure and such as that. It is something that cannot move freely, that cannot conceive ideas concerning its own free mobility. This is quite obvious in the completely different form of life of, for example, the Futurum and the Kommende Tag. The Kommende Tag exists as if in a strait-jacket, and its task is to function under such conditions; the Futurum must work under Swiss conditions in the way it develops, — conditions of which we shall speak further directly. Therefore, a speech must be formulated in different ways depending on whether it is delivered in Switzerland, Germany, or even at different times. Again, one would have to speak completely differently in England or in America. What can be accomplished from here, in Europe, in regard to these two countries, can only be a sort of substitute. It is alright, for example, if “The Threefold Social Order” is translated, it is fine if the book is widely distributed, but, as I have said from the beginning, in the final analysis the really effective way would be if the ideas of this book were set down in a totally different style for America and England. For both Switzerland and Central Europe, it can be taken literally word for word, the way it was written down. But for England and America the ideas would indeed have to be rendered in a completely different form because in those countries one addresses people who basically have the opposite attitude of what existed, for instance, among Germans in April of 1919. In Germany, the opinion prevailed that something new would have to come and to begin with it would suffice if one knew what this consisted of. One didn't have the mental strength to comprehend it but one had the feeling that one ought to know what this sensible innovation might be. Naturally, in all of England and America nothing like this feeling exists anywhere. The only concern there is how to hold on to and save the old traditions. The only worry is how to properly secure the past because the old values are good, so one thinks, and one must by no means shake the traditional foundations!

I am certainly aware that the above can be countered with the statement that there are so many progressive movements in the Western hemisphere. Still, all these progressive movements, regardless of whether their inner content is new, are reactionary and conservative insofar as their management is concerned. The feeling that things cannot continue the way they have gone 'til now, has to be called into being over there in the West in the first place.

This can certainly be noticed by individual examples. Let us take a terrible, horrible, I could say the worst problem that could have arisen from a purely human standpoint, the question of starvation in Russia. Although the views are ever so chaotic within Germany, even though for reasons of agitation one acts contrary to what would be sensible, and although, out of humane reasons, homage is paid to pity in a matter-of-fact manner, — and naturally, we are not saying anything against pity holding sway, — within Germany, at least in some circles, one is finally more or less reaching the conclusion that it is nonsense for the whole course of humanity's evolution to do something for the starvation of Russia in the form of subsidies, by gifts, as it were, from the West. People are getting the idea that this is quite certainly demanded even from a humane standpoint, but that what is done in this direction is so self-evident that nobody should say that it has anything to do with the tasks posed today by the starvation conditions in Russia. In the West, only a few theorists — but then only on the basis of something theoretical — might arrive at such views. It is therefore natural that one must first call forth a feeling in the West for the fact that the world needs a new form, a reformation.

Switzerland's position during the dreadful catastrophe of recent times (the First World War) was such that it only participated in a theoretical way, namely by means of journalistic theory in the events, also by means of what influenced the cultural and economic conditions from outside. The Swiss population therefore has no actual feeling at all, neither of the fact that something new should come into being, nor that the old ought to remain. If today, depending on one or the other party consideration, a Swiss speaks about something new having to come into being, or something old having to remain, one has the feeling: He only tells one what he has heard, heard on the one hand from Central Europe, on the other from England and the West. He only speaks of what has reached his ears, not of what he has actually experienced. This is why it appears so like the Swiss, when those individuals, who don't like to engage themselves to the right or to the left — and leading Swiss are very often like this today, — that such people say: Well, when this happens, it happens in this way, and when the other takes place, it occurs that way! If something new comes into being, matters take their course thusly, if the old remains, matters run that way! — One figures out, as it were, what one must put on one or the other side of the scale.

It is like this: When one tries to make somebody in Switzerland take an interest in something that is bitterly needed for the world today, one can become quite desperate, for it doesn't really move him at all, for it bounces right back because in reality his heart is not in it. It is too distasteful to him for him to become interested, and he has too little experience concerning these matters for them to become in some way appealing to his sympathy. He wants to have his peace. On the other hand, he wants to be a Swiss. This signifies: If all sorts of progressive reports that include “freedom” and “democracy” resound across the border, and since one has through many centuries called oneself democratic, one cannot turn around and say that one doesn't want democracy! In short, one really has the feeling that people in Switzerland have an exceedingly well-built canal between the right and the left ear, so that everything that goes in one side goes out on the other without having reached common sense and the heart.

One will have to at least take hold at those points where it can be shown that a political system like that of Switzerland is really something quite special. It is indeed something quite special. For, first of all, Switzerland is something like a gravity-point of the world — which was already noticeable during the war, if one wanted to take notice of it. Particularly its non-alliance in regard to the various world conditions could be utilized by Switzerland to achieve free, independent judgment and actions in regard to its surroundings. The world is literally waiting for the Swiss to note in their heads what they note in their pockets. In their pockets they notice that the franc has not been affected by the rise and fall and corruption of currency. The Swiss realize that the whole world revolves around the Swiss franc. That this is also the case in a spiritual regard is something the Swiss don't notice at all. Just as they know how to value the unchanging franc, which, as it were, has become the regulator of currency the world over, the Swiss should learn to understand their independent position, brought about by world conditions, whereby Switzerland could indeed be a kind of lever for world conditions. It is therefore necessary that one makes this comprehensible to them.

It is almost similar to the way one had to speak at one time about Austria. People who knew something about such matters in Austria have often pondered the question why this Austria, which only had centrifugal tendencies, remained in existence, why it didn't split apart. In the 1880's and in the '90's, I never said anything else but: What occurs in Austria itself has to begin with no significance for the cohesiveness or the splitting apart (of the state structure), what happens around it, does. Because the others — Germany, Russia, Italy, Turkey, and those interested in Turkey, France and Switzerland itself — because these political systems that surround Austria on all sides do not let Austria split apart, and instead hold it centrally together for the reason that each (country) begrudged the other a part of it! Each took pains that the other would not acquire anything: by these means Austria held together. It was held together from outside. One could clearly see this if one had an eye for such things. Only when this mutual watch of the surrounding powers was obscured in the World War by the smoke of the cannons, only then did Austria naturally split apart. Basically, this picture says it all.

Well, it is similar in the case of Switzerland, yet it is different. All around, there are all sorts of diverse interests, but these interests left out one small spot where they do not confront each other. And today, where there is the life of the world economy, of the cultural life, matters are such that this small spot is maintained by virtue of being something quite special. What does it represent? It is something that is held together within its borders by purely political conditions. You can see this from the history of Switzerland. Swiss history is seemingly completely political, just as Swiss thinking is seemingly completely democratic. It is the same, however, in politics in Switzerland as I explained it earlier concerning democracy. It is a form of politics that is no politics; on a small spot of the world it governs the cultural and the economic life, but in reality is not politically active. Compare what is politics in Switzerland and what it is elsewhere! Occasionally, one or the other matter must be done in a political sense, because one must enter into correspondence with other countries. But genuine Swiss politics — you would have to turn things upside-down, if you wanted to discover real Swiss politics. That doesn't really exist. But this makes it evident that here a national configuration was created in which the cultural and the economic life are governed in a political sense, but in which there actually does not exist a true feeling, a true experience of the existence of rights.

Therefore, it is a matter of especially emphasizing here that rights are something that cannot be defined, as red or blue cannot be defined, and that rights need to be experienced in their self-evident quality, something that must be experienced when a person, who has become of age, becomes conscious of himself as a human being. Therefore, it would be a matter of trying to work out this human relationship of feelings and sensations in the life of rights, in the political life for Swiss conditions, to show that equality must dwell in the individual person if there is to be a life of rights. For it is Switzerland that is actually called upon — and I would like to say that the angels of the whole world look upon Switzerland to watch whether the right things take place here, to create a system of rights by letting go, freeing the cultural and the economic life; for Switzerland is, if I may put it this way, quite virginal in regard to the political life.

Roman jurisprudence, which moved in a quite different way into France and Germany and the other European countries, was really stopped by the Swiss mountains for the hearts of men. It only moved into external elements, not into the feelings of men. Therefore, this is virginal soil for rights, soil on which everything can be created. If only people will come to the realization what infinite good luck it signifies to be able to live here between the mountains, to be able to have a will of their own, independent of the whole world that revolves around this tiny country! Just because of world conditions, the elements of rights can be brought out here, worked purely out of the human being.

Now I have indicated to you how one must take into consideration the particular locality, the specific area for the preparations of such a lecture, how one must be completely sure within oneself about what the essence of the Swiss character is. Naturally, I can only outline it now; but anybody who wants to lecture in Switzerland should really try hard to fully understand what specific form the Swiss character consists of.

Now it is true, you might say: We are, after all, Swiss — just as the English could say we are English — and you want to tell us how a Swiss is to become acquainted with the Swiss character, and what all an Englishman might not have of such feelings, and so on. — Certainly, one can say that. But those who today belong to the educated class, nowhere have a truly experienced education, an education that has emerged out of the directness of experience. This is the reason why, especially in reference to rights, this direct experience must be specifically pointed out.

With this we arrive at a consideration of how human beings have gradually come into the mutual, social relationships in modern civilization in the area, where rights should really develop. Rights should develop from man to man. Anything else, all parliamentary debates, are basically only a surrogate for what should take its course from one man to the next in a truly correct realm of rights.

If one now ponders the area of rights, one has the opportunity — but now in a more realistic manner — to go into what the concepts of the proletariat consist of and the feelings of the bourgeois. But now, one can lead what the proletariat has developed in its concepts in a more realistic way into the feelings of the bourgeois. I say: concepts of the proletariat, feelings of the bourgeois. The explanation for it you can find in my Towards Social Renewal. [Also known as, Basic Issues of the Social Question – e.Librarian]

Out of the four concepts, which I developed here yesterday, the proletariat has certainly evolved the feeling of class consciousness; it must appropriate what is in the possession of the bourgeois, namely the state. To what extent the state is a true state of rights or not is something that did not become clear naturally to the proletariat either. But what has developed as a state of rights is something that Switzerland has least of all been touched by; therefore it could comprehend a true state of rights most readily without any prejudices. What has developed as a real state of rights, actually lives only between the expressions of the main soul life of people almost the world over today, but not in Switzerland! Everywhere else in the world, the element that is the political state of rights lives an underground-existence, so to speak, whereas the element that is really experienced between person and person is based on something quite different, namely on something that is through and through a middle-class element. What man actually seeks in public life, what he carries into the whole of public life, whereby an obscuration of the actual life of rights takes place for him — that is something that one can only grasp if one focuses a bit on the concrete relationships.

You see, the cultural, the spiritual life has gradually been absorbed by the life of the state (the government). The cultural life, however, when one confronts it as an element standing on its own ground, is a very stern element, an element in regard to which one must constantly preserve one's freedom, which therefore cannot be organized in any other way except in freedom. Just let one generation unfold its spiritual life more freely and then organize it any way it wants to: it will be purest slavery for the following generation. Not only according to theory, but according to life, the spiritual, cultural life must really be free. The human beings who stand within it must experience this freedom. The cultural life turns into a great tyranny if it spreads out anywhere on earth, for without being organized it cannot spread, and when organization occurs, the organization itself becomes a tyrant. Therefore, there must be a constant battle in freedom, in living freedom, against the tyranny to which the cultural life is inclined.

Now, in the course of the nineteenth century, the cultural life has been absorbed by the life of the state. This means: If one divests the life of the state of the toga in which it is still very much clothed in memory of the ancient Roman age, — although judges are even beginning to discard the robe, but all in all one can still say that the life of the state still wears the toga, — if one disregards this toga, looks instead at what is underneath, one sees everywhere the constrained spiritual life that is present in the state and the social life of the state. It is the restrained spiritual life! It is constrained but ignorant of the fact that it is constrained; therefore it does not strive for freedom, although it does constantly fight against its constraint. Much has emerged in recent times out of this fighting against the constraint of spiritual life. Our whole public cultural life really stands under the influence of this constraint of cultural life, and we cannot attain to healthy social conditions if we do not acquire a feeling for awareness of this constraint. One must have a feeling for how this constraint of the spiritual life meets one in everyday life.

One day, I was invited by a number of ladies in Berlin, who had heard lectures of mine in an institute, to give a lecture in the private apartment of one of these ladies. The whole arrangement was really for the purpose of the ladies' working against a certain relatively harmless attitude of their husbands. You see, the ladies arrived around twelve o'clock noon in the institute where I gave my lectures. When such a day recurred — I think it was once a week — the husbands said, “There you go again into your crazy institute today; then the soup will be bad again, or something else won't be in its usual order!” — So the ladies wanted me to give a lecture on Goethe's Faust — this was selected as the subject — the husbands were also invited. Now I gave the lecture on Goethe's Faust before the ladies and gentlemen. The men were a bit perplexed afterwards and said, “Why yes, but Goethe's Faust is a science; Goethe's Faust is not art. Art, well that's Blumenthal!” [Note 1] — I am quoting word for word — “and there one doesn't have to make such an effort. After working so hard in our professional life, who wants to exert an effort in our leisure time!” You see, what has become a substitute for enthusiasm for freedom in cultural life confronts us in the social life as a mere desire to be lightly entertained.

In the country-side, where one could still observe this well, I once saw how these old traveling actors, who always had a clown among them, sometimes presented really fine acts. I watched how the clown, who had been doing his clownish acts for some time and had entertained the people with them, threw off the clown's costume, because he now wanted to act out something that was serious to him, — and there he stood in black trousers and black tails. This image always turns itself around in my mind: First I see the man in his formal black attire, afterwards I see the man in his clown's costume. To me it's like black trousers and tails when, somewhere in a window-display, I see a book by Einstein about the theory of relativity; and I see a clown, when, next to it, I have before me a book by Moszkowski on the theory of relativity. For, indeed, there is much that's maya in outer life. But one couldn't imagine that the whole pedantry of thinkers could inwardly appear other than in black trousers and well-cut tails, I mean in the theory of relativity. And again: It is bothersome to adjust to such stern processes of thinking, such consistent sequences of thoughts, which are really cut like a well-fitting formal suit; that must confront people in a different manner as well. So, Alexander Moszkowski, especially gifted feuilletonistically as a philosopher-clown, gets busy and writes a voluminous book. From it, all the people learn in the form of light literature in the clown's costume, what was born in coat and tails! You see, one cannot do other than translate things into something that requires no effort and where no great enthusiasm need be engendered.

It is namely this overall mood that must be opposed in people's feelings, if one wants to speak about concepts of rights, for there, the human being with all his inner worth confronts the other person as an equal. What does not allow the concepts of rights to arise, is — to put it this way — the Alexander-Moszkowski-element. One must seek for the concrete facts in any given situation.

Naturally, I am not saying that if one needs to speak of concepts of human rights, one has to talk about tails and clowns' costumes. But I would like to show how one has to possess an elasticity of concepts in all matters, how one has to point out both sides of a question, and how one's own mind needs to be disposed in order to gain the necessary fluency to lecture to people.

There is another reason why a modem lecturer must be aware of such things as these. Most of the time, he is compelled to speak in the evening, when he wants to present something important concerning the future, for example. This means that he has to make use of the time when people prefer to attend either the theater or a concert. Therefore, the lecturer must realize that he is speaking to an audience that, according to the mood of the hour, would be better off in the concert hall, the theater, or another place of entertainment. So the audience is really in the wrong place if it finds itself in a lecture hall listening to a speaker who discourses from the platform on some important topic. As a speaker, one must be aware of what one is doing, down to the last detail.

What does one in fact accomplish when forced to address such an audience? Quite literally, one ruins the listener's digestion! A serious speech has the peculiar effect of negatively reacting on the stomach juices, on pepsin. A serious lecturer causes stomach acidity. And only if the speaker is in the proper frame of mind to permeate his address at least inwardly with the necessary humor, can the digestive juices function harmoniously after all. One has to present a speech with a certain inner lightness, modulation, and with an amount of enthusiasm, then one aids the processes of digestion. This way, the adverse effects on people's stomachs, caused by the time of day when one is normally forced to lecture, are neutralized. One is not promoting social ideas but instead medical specialists if one speaks pedantically, with heavy, expressive emphasis. The style must be light and matter-of-fact, or else one does not further the ideas of the threefold social order but the medical specialist's practice! There are no statistics available about the number of people who end up at the doctor's office after they have listened to pedantic speeches, but if there were, one would be astonished at the percentage of people among patients of gastro-intestinal specialists who are eager listeners of lectures nowadays.

I must draw attention to these facts because the time is near when one must be familiar with the actual constitution of the human being. We must know how seriousness or humor affect the stomach and the digestive juices; how, for example, wine acts like a cynic who does not take the human organism seriously but plays with it, as it were. If the human organization were to be viewed with human concepts rather than with the confused, indecisive concepts of today's science, one would certainly realize how every word and word-relationship causes an organic, almost chemical, reaction in the human being.

Knowing such things makes lecturing easier too. The barrier that otherwise stands between speaker and audience ceases to exists if one becomes aware of the damage that a pedantic speech causes the stomach. One frequently has occasion to observe that; though that is less the case in a lecture-class at a university, there, the students protect themselves by not paying attention!

From all this, one can readily understand how much depends on the mood in lecturing. It is much more important to prepare the whole mood-atmosphere and have it in hand than to get the speech ready word for word. A person who has prepared himself for the correct mood need not concern himself with the verbal details to a point where, at a given moment, the latter would cause the listeners discomforts.

Several different aspects go into the makeup of a correctly trained speaker. I want to mention this at this particular point because a discussion of justice, of rights, demands much that has to be characterized in this direction. I want to bring this out now before I shall talk tomorrow about the relationship of speaking and the economic elements.

An anthroposophist once brought the well-known philosopher, Max Dessoir (1867–1947), along to an evening-lecture I was giving at the Architektenhaus in Berlin. This one-time friend of Max Dessoir's said afterwards, “Oh, that Dessoir didn't go along with the lecture after all! I asked him how he had liked it and he replied that he was a public speaker himself, therefore, being one himself, he could not listen properly and form a judgment about what another lecturer was saying.” Well, I did not have to form a judgment about Dessoir following this statement, I had other opportunities for that. Indeed, I wouldn't have done so based on this utterance because I couldn't be sure whether it was really the truth or whether Dessoir, as usual, had lied here too. But assuming it was the truth, what would it have proven? It would have been proof that a person holding such an opinion could never be a proper speaker. A person can never become a good speaker if he enjoys speaking, likes to hear himself talk, and attaches special importance to his own talks. A good speaker always has to experience a certain reluctance when he has to speak. He must clearly feel this reluctance. Above all, he should much prefer listening to another speaker, even the worst one, to speaking himself.

I know very well what I imply with this statement and I realize how difficult it is for some of you to believe me in this, but it is so. Of course, I concede that there are better things to do in life than to listen to poor speakers. But one's own speaking must by no means be included among the better things! Instead, one has to feel a certain urge to hear others, even enjoy listening to others. It is not love for his own speeches but listening to others that makes a person into a good speaker. A certain fluency is acquired by speaking but this has to happen instinctively. What makes one a speaker is basically listening, the development of an ear for the specific peculiarities of the other orators, even if they are poor ones. Therefore, I tell anybody who asks me how to best prepare to become a good speaker, to listen to and to read the speeches of others! Only by doing this one acquires a strong feeling of distaste for one's own speaking. And this distaste is the very thing that enables one to speak realistically. This is extremely important. And if people are as yet not successful in viewing their own speeches with antipathy, it is good if they at least retain their stage-fright. To stand up and lecture without stage-fright and with sympathy for one's own speech is something that ought not to be done because, under any circumstances, the results thus achieved would be negative. It contributes to rigidity, petrification and lack of communication in speech and belongs to the elements that ruin the sermon!

I would indeed not be speaking in the spirit of the aims of this speech-course if I would enumerate on rules of speech to you taken from some old book on rhetoric or copied from dusty rhetorical speeches. Instead, from my own living experience I want you to take to heart what one should always have in one's mind when one wants to influence one's fellow-men by lecturing.

Things change quite a bit if one is forced into a debate. In a sense, a certain rights-relationship between person and person comes up in a discussion. But in the debate through which one can learn most beautifully about human rights, the projection of general concepts of rights into the relationship existing between two people in a discussion hardly plays a role today. Yet here it is indeed important not to be in love with one's own way of thinking and feeling. Instead, in a debate one should feel antipathy for one's own reaction and replies. Because then, by suppressing one's own opinion, annoyance or excitement, one can instead project oneself into the other person's mind. Thus, even if one has to take exception to something in a debate, this attitude has positive results. Of course one cannot simply reiterate what the partner has stated but one can take the substance of an effective rebuttal from understanding him in the first place.

An example that best illustrates this point is the following exchange that took place in the German Parliament between the delegate Rickert and Chancellor Bismarck. Rickert gave a speech in which he accused Bismarck of changing the direction of his political leanings. He pointed out that Bismarck had gone along with the Liberals for a time and then had changed to the Conservatists. He summed it all up with the metaphor that Bismarck's politics amounted to turning his sails to the wind. One can imagine what an effect such a statement had in a place where everybody is ready to talk! Bismarck, however, rose and with a certain air of superiority, to begin with, presented what he had to say in reply to Rickert's remarks. And then, projecting himself into the other like he always did in similar cases, he said, “Rickert has accused me of turning my sails to the wind. But politics is somewhat like navigating a ship on sea. I would like to know how one can hold a steady course if one does not adjust to the wind. A real pilot, like a successful politician, must certainly adjust to the wind in steering his course — unless, possibly, he wants to make wind himself!”

One sees that this metaphor is put to use, turned in such a direction that the verbal arrow hits back at the archer. In a debate it is a matter of picking up the points made by the opponent and quite seriously using them to counter him. Thus, one undoes him with his own arguments. As a rule it doesn't help much if one simply sets one's own reasons against those of the opponent.

In a debate one should be able to evoke the following mood: The moment the debate begins one should be in a position to turn off everything one knew up to now, push it down into one's subconscious mind, and retain only what the speaker, whom one has to reply to, has said. Then can one properly exercise one's talent of setting straight what the other speaker said. Setting matters straight is what's important! In a discussion it is important to take up directly what the other has said, not to oppose him with something one knew some time ago. If one does that, as happens in most debates, the end-result will indeed be inconclusive and fruitless. One has to realize that in a discussion one can never successfully argue the opponent down. One can only demonstrate that he either contradicts himself or reality. One can only go into what he has set forth. If this attitude is developed as the basic rule for debates it will be of great significance for them. If a person only wants to bring out in a debate what he has known previously, then it will certainly he of no significance that he does so after the opponent has stated his case.

I once experienced a most instructive illustration of the above. During my last trip to Holland, I was invited to give a lecture before the Philosophical Society of the University of Amsterdam. Of course, the chairman there had a different opinion from mine already, no doubt about that! And if he participated in the debate he would differ from my viewpoints greatly. But it was equally clear that whatever he would have to say would have no effect on my lecture, and that my views would have no special influence on what he would say based on what he had known beforehand. Therefore, I thought that he was quite clever, he brought out what he had to say not afterwards, during the debate, but before my lecture. What he did add later to what he had said at the start might just as well have been said at the beginning too, it wouldn't have changed matters one bit.

One shouldn't have any illusions concerning such things. It is most important that an orator be very, very strongly attuned to human relationships. But, if matters are to have results, one cannot afford having illusions about human relations. And as a foundation for the following lectures, let me say that, above all, one should have no illusions about the effectiveness of speeches.

I always find it extremely humorous when well-meaning people say all the time that words don't matter, deeds do! I've heard it proclaimed at the most unsuitable times, during discussions and from the rostrums, that it isn't words but actions that count!

Everything that happens in the world in regard to actions depends on words! One who can see through things knows that nothing takes place that hasn't been prepared in advance by somebody through words.

But one will understand that this preparation is a subtle, delicate process. If it is true that theoretical, pedantic speaking affects the digestion, one can imagine how indigestion in turn affects actions, and how public actions are the results of such poor speeches. And if, on the other hand, speakers try to be humorists and only act funny, this results in an overproduction of digestive juices that act like vinegar. And vinegar is a terrible hypochondriac. But the general public is constantly entertained by what flows through public life as continuous fun-making. The jokes of yesterday are not yet digested when the fun of today makes its appearance. And so, the digestive juices turn into something like vinegar. Oh, man is already being entertained again today and maybe he is quite cheerful about it. But the way he places himself into public life is influenced by the hypochondria of this vinegar-like substance at work in him.

One must know how the dimension of speaking fits into the world of actions. The most untrue expression concerning speaking, born of a false sentimentality that is in itself wrong, is,

“The words you've bandied are sufficient;
  'Tis deeds that I prefer to see ...”
         (From Faust, Prelude on Stage)

Certainly, this can be said in a dramatic play, and rightly so in its place. But when it is taken out of context and made into a general dictum, it might be true but it certainly will not be good. And we should learn to speak not only beautifully or correctly but effectively as well, so that good will come of it. Otherwise, we lead people into the abyss and can certainly never speak to them about anything that has lasting value for the future.

 

Notes:

Note 1. Oskar Blumenthal, 1852–1917; author of light comedy.




Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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