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The Epistemological Task of Youth

Youth in an Age of Light

A lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Breslau, June 9, 1924
GA 217a

A lecture, hitherto untranslated given at Breslau on June 9, 1924. Published in The Golden Blade, 1976. It is the ninth of thirteen lectures in the volume The Epistemological Task of Youth. In the collected edition of Rudolf Steiner's works, the volume containing the German texts is entitled, Die Erkenntnis-Aufgabe der Jugend, (Vol. 217a in the Bibliographic Survey, 1961). The translator is unknown.

Copyright © 1976
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YOUTH IN AN AGE OF LIGHT

RUDOLF STEINER

A lecture given at Breslau, 9 June, 1924

Published in the Golden Blade 1976

YOU can be sure of this: anyone who is free from prejudice takes the youth movement of today very seriously indeed. If you look around, not among your contemporaries, but among the older people of today, it may seem to you that the youth movement is not taken seriously, but it is quite certainly taken seriously by those who attempt real spiritual development.

Several years have passed since a small group of young people entered the Anthroposophical Society: they did not want simply to participate as hearers of what the Society gives, but brought to it those thoughts and feelings which young people today regard as characteristic of their age. This small group, which met in Stuttgart a few years ago, put before the anthroposophical movement the question: “How can you give us a place in this movement?” I believe that from my side this question was really understood at that time. It is not always easy to understand the question which a genuinely seeking human being puts to his time; and young people now have a number of questions, entirely justified, which cannot be expressed quite clearly.

At the time when the youth movement and the anthroposophical movement first came into contact, it really seemed to me as if they were being led together by a kind of destiny, a kind of Karma. I must still look on it in this way; the youth movement and the anthroposophical movement have by an inner destiny to take each other into account. When I call up all that I have experienced through many decades in the endeavour to bring about a community among human beings who wish to seek for the spirit, and relate this to what has developed as a youth movement since about the turn of the century, I have to say that what was felt by a very small number forty years ago, and was then hardly noticed, because so few were concerned, is felt today within a youth movement which is becoming more and more widespread. In your words of greeting it was well expressed — how difficult it really is becoming for a young human being to live.

Although at other times there has always been a kind of youth movement, it was different from what it is today. If one talks to older people about the youth movement, they often say, “Oh well, young people always felt different from the elderly, always wanted something different. That wears off, balances itself out. The youth movement of today need not be regarded differently from the opposition brought by the younger generation against older generations at all times in the past.”

From many sides I have heard this answer to the burning question of the youth movement of today. Nevertheless this answer is entirely wrong; and herein lies an immense difficulty. Always in the past there was something among younger people, however radical they appeared, which could be called a certain recognition for the institutions and methods of life founded by older people. The young could regard it as an ideal to grow into the things passed down from older times, step by step. It is no longer so today. It is not just a question of involvement in academic life, but of the fact that the young human being, if he intends to go on living, has to grow into the institutions brought about by the older people, and here the young feel themselves strangers; they are met by what they have to regard as a kind of death. They see the whole way in which older people behave within these institutions as something masked. The young feel their own inner human character as alive, and around they see nothing but masked faces. This is something that can bring the young to despair — that they do not find human beings among older people, but for the most part only masks. It is really so that men come to meet one like imprints, forms stamped in wax, representing classes, callings, or even ideals — but they do not meet one as full, living human beings.

Though it may sound rather abstract, it is a very real fact in human feeling that we are standing at a turning-point of time, as mankind has not stood through all history or indeed through most of pre-history. I do not like speaking about times of transition; there is always a transition from what went before to what is coming; all that matters is the specific change that is going on. But it is a fact that mankind stands today at a turning-point as never before, in historic or in prehistoric times. Significant things are going on in the depths of the human soul, not so much in consciousness as in the depths — and these are really processes of the spiritual world, not limited to the physical world.

We hear it said that at the turning-point from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the so-called Dark Age came to an end, and a new Age of Light has begun. Anyone who can look into the spiritual world knows quite certainly that this is so. The fact that not much light has yet appeared does not disprove it; men are accustomed to the old darkness, and — just as a ball which has been thrown goes on rolling — this too rolls on, through inertia. Our civilisation today goes rolling on through inertia, and when we look at the effects of this in the world around us, we feel it all has something in common. To describe these dead things in a living way is not easy, but for everything nowadays — one might say — documentary proof is required. Nothing is held to be justified in the eyes of our modern civilisation unless documentary evidence for it can be produced. For every scientific fact, for every assertion, and even for every human being, there must be documentary evidence. Before he can enter any profession or calling, he must have a certificate. In scientific life everything has to be proved. Anything not proved does not count, cannot even be understood.

I could say a lot about this certification, this having to be proved. It appears sometimes in grotesque forms. I will tell you of a little event connected with this. When I was young, though not very young, I edited a periodical, and was involved in a lawsuit over a small matter. There was not much in it: I went myself, and won my case in the first court. The plaintiff was not satisfied, so he appealed. I went again, and the opposing counsel said to me: “We do not need you at all, only your solicitor, where is he?” I said I had not brought one, I thought it was my own affair. That was no good. I had to use my ingenuity to get the case adjourned; and I was told that next time my presence would be useless; I had to send a solicitor. For in an appeal case it was not the custom for someone to represent himself.

I went away very much amused. And I forgot the whole thing until the day before the case was to continue. I went into the town and thought: I cannot let myself be told again tomorrow that I am unnecessary. As I went along the street I saw a solicitor's brass plate and went in. I did not know him, or anything about him. He said: “Who recommended me to you?” I said: “Nobody.” I had thought somebody else would not do it any better, and took the first I saw. He said: “Write out on a piece of paper what I should say tomorrow.” I wrote it for him and stayed away, according to custom. A few days later he wrote that I had won the case.

I could tell you a hundred things like this out of my own life. It is everywhere regarded as irrelevant to have an actual human being present; the important thing is that accepted procedures should be followed. Young people feel this. They do not want documentary proof for everything, but something different. Instead of proofs, they would put experience. Older people do not understand this word, “experience.” It is not in their dictionaries and can appear quite horrible to them; to speak of spiritual experience is horrible for many people. This is what we find at the transition from a dark age to an age of light; it signifies a radical turning-point.

It is quite natural that this transition should present itself in two streams, so to speak. The anthroposophical movement and the youth movement have by destiny a certain connection. The anthroposophical movement unites people of every class, occupation and age, who felt at the turning-point from the 19th to the 20th century that man has to place himself into the whole cosmos in a quite different way. For him it is no longer simply a question of something being confirmed by evidence or proved — he must be able to experience it. Hence it appeared to me quite in accordance with Karma that the two movements were led together. And so a kind of youth movement developed within the anthroposophical movement. And finally, when the anthroposophical movement was refounded at Christmas at the Goetheanum, this soon led to the institution of a youth section, which was to take care of the concerns that arise in the feelings of young people in a most sincere and genuine way.

An immensely encouraging beginning was made by our anthroposophical youth movement in the first months of this year. There are reasons for a certain stagnation at present; they lie in the difficulties of the youth movement. These difficulties arise because it is so hard to give something form out of the existing chaos, in particular the present spiritual chaos. To give something form is much more difficult than ever before. The strangest things happen to one today. Those who know me will know that I am not at all inclined to boast. But when I heard Rector Bartsch speak yesterday in such a warm and friendly way, saying that when I come to the anthroposophical society here I am welcomed like a father, I had to say, yes, there is something in it. So I am addressed as a father — and fathers are old; they can no longer be quite young. In Dornach, when we began the youth section, I suggested that the young people should speak out clearly and frankly. A number of young people spoke well and honestly. Then I spoke. Afterwards, when it was all over, somebody who knows me well said, after he had listened to everything: “All the same, you are the youngest among the young people.” This can happen today; in one place one is addressed as an old father, in another as the youngest among the young. Ideas no longer have to be quite fixed. But if you climb up and down the steps of the ladder, sometimes as the little old father, sometimes as the youngest of all, you have a good opportunity to catch a glimpse of what is living in people's feelings.

I said that the youth section was stagnating. This will pass. It has happened, because it is, to begin with, extremely difficult for a young mind to think its way into something which it feels quite clearly. Our civilisation, in losing the spirit, has lost the human being! If I now speak more from the background of existence, I see that young people who have come down recently from the spiritual world into physical existence have come with demands on life quite different from the demands brought by those who came down earlier. Why is this so? You do not need to believe me. But for me this is knowledge, not merely belief. Before one comes down to physical earthly existence one passes through much in the spiritual world which is fuller of meaning and mightier as an experience than anything passed through on earth. Earthly life should not be undervalued. Without earthly life, freedom could never be developed. But the life between death and rebirth is on a grander scale. The souls who came down are the souls which are in you, my dear friends. These souls were able to behold an immensely significant spiritual movement taking its course behind physical existence in regions above the earth — the movement which I call within our anthroposophical society the Michael movement.

This is so. Whether the materialistic man of today' is prepared to believe it or not, it is so! The leading power for our present time, who could be named in a different way, but whom I call the Michael power, is trying to achieve, within the spiritual leadership of the earth and of mankind, a transformation of all soul-life upon the earth. Men who became so very clever during the 19th century have no inkling of the fact that the attitude of soul which developed during the 19th century as the most enlightened attitude has been given up by the spiritual world. An end to it has been ordained, and a Michael community of beings, who never walk upon earth, but lead humanity, seeks to bring about among men a new attitude of soul. The death of the old civilisation has come.

When the Threefold Commonwealth movement, which failed through the death of the old civilisation, was going on, I often said: “We have today no threefold membering in public life according to the spirit, according to law and so on, and according to economic life — but we have a threefold membering in terms of phrases, conventions and routines. Instead of spiritual life, there are phrases; and routine dominates economic life, instead of goodwill towards men, love for men, which should be ruling there.”

This condition of soul, in which people are stuck fast, should be replaced by another, which arises from man himself and is experienced in man himself. That is the endeavour of spiritual beings who have taken over the leadership of our age and can be recognised in the signs of the times. The souls which have descended to the earth in your bodies saw this Michael movement and came down under this impression. And here they grew up in the midst of a humanity which really excludes man, which makes man into a mask. The youth movement is thus a wonderful memory of experience before birth, of most significant impressions gathered during this pre-earthly life. And if someone has these indefinite unconscious memories of pre-earthly life, of the endeavour to achieve a transformation of man's mood of soul — he will find nothing of it here on earth. That is what is going on today in the feelings of young people.

The anthroposophical movement springs from the revelation of the Michael movement; and has the purpose of bringing the intentions of the Michael movement into the midst of human life. The anthroposophical movement seeks to look up from the earth to the Michael movement. Young people bring with them a memory of pre-earthly existence. So the youth movement and the anthroposophical movement are brought together by destiny. And everything that has happened through the interplay between these two movements appeared to me to come about in a quite inward way, not through earthly circumstances, but through spiritual circumstances, inasmuch as these are connected with man. Thus I regard this youth movement as something which can awaken unlimited hopes for the future of all that can be felt rightly as anthroposophical.

Of course we encounter things which are bound to arise from the fact that the anthroposophical movement and the youth movement are both at their beginnings. We have seen the Free Anthroposophical Society founded side by side with the Anthroposophical Society in Germany. This Free Anthroposophical Society had — again inevitably — a governing committee that was chosen or elected. I think this committee had seven members — somebody says there were nine — very well, nine; there were nine, but one after the other was politely discharged from office, until three were left. All very comprehensible. The Free Anthroposophical Society had the essential intention of understanding the experience of youth. Now a discussion on this subject developed. One after another the committee members had their capacity to experience youth in the right way disputed. Three remained, and of course they discussed with one another whether all of them had the experience of youth. Something quite remarkable arose, pointing to a link of destiny between the youth movement and the anthroposophical movement. It seems ridiculous, but is very serious. For when one investigates the great questions of destiny, one finds very significant things, and the greatness of destiny is often indicated in symptoms. When we had founded the Anthroposophical Society, we also had committee members who quarrelled terribly, and it was evident to me that eventually very few would remain, after they had politely dismissed the others. But to prevent it from ending there, the left side of a person would start quarrelling with the right side over which side really had the experience of youth. That sounds like irony, but is not. For it indicates that what can be called the experience of youth today lies deep within the soul, and the significant thing is that this experience cannot necessarily be expressed in clear words. In the age of cleverness so many clear words have been spoken! What matters is that we should reach experiences. And then this inability to find clear forms of expression should be recognised as unavoidable. The right to continue in a state of vagueness is in fact claimed. But something else is needed: a refusal to separate from one another because an impression of unclarity is given, and a willingness to come together and talk.

Above all I would like to express to you, my young friends who are sitting here today, the wish that all of you, whatever you may feel and think, may hold together with an iron will, truly hold together. This is what we need most of all, if we want to achieve something in approaching the great questions of today. We cannot always be asking whether someone else has a rather different opinion from one's own. It is really a question of finding one another, even in the greatest differences of feeling. This will perhaps be the finest achievement, that those who are young understand how to keep together in spite of differences in feeling. It is a fact that what young people miss most of all today is the finding of other human beings. Wherever they go, they find, not human beings, for the human beings have died, but masks, everywhere masks! This has had a natural consequence: a search by human beings for one another. And that is very moving; for all the various “scout” movements, the Wandervogel movements and so on, are all a search for the human being. Young people want to join with others; they are looking in others for the human being. This is quite comprehensible. Because the human being was no longer there spiritually, each one said to himself: “But I feel, all the same, that the human being must be there.” And they looked for the human being, looked for him in community. But we should not forget that this has something immensely tragic about it.

Many young people have experienced this tragedy. They joined together and believed they were finding the human being. But nothing of what they were seeking came to fill their community; and they became even lonelier than before. These two phases of the youth movement are evident: the phase of community, the phase of great loneliness. How many young people there are today who go in loneliness through the world, conscious that nowhere have they been understood.

Now the truth is that one cannot find the human being in another person unless one knows how to look for him in a spiritual way — for man is in fact a spiritual being, and if one approached a man only externally, he cannot be found, even if he is there. It is indeed lamentable today, how people pass each other by. Certainly, earlier times can be rightly criticised. Much was barbaric then. But there was something: a man could find the human being in another man. He cannot do this now. Grown men all pass each other by. No one knows the other. He cannot even live with the other, because no one listens to the other. Everyone shouts in the other's ear his own opinion, and says: “That is my opinion, that is my point of view ”. You have merely points of view, nothing more. For what is asserted from one point of view or another makes no difference. These things murmur among young people, perceived by the heart, not by the mind.

You can be sure it must be right to feel a connection of destiny between the youth movement and the anthroposophical movement. Young people did not come to Anthroposophy just because they wanted to try out this as well, after they had tried out many other things — they came to it from destiny. And this gives me the certainty that we shall be able to work together. We shall find our way to one another, and, however things turn out, they must above all develop in such a way that those human qualities in the widest sense which live among young people are taken into account. Otherwise, if real spirit does not spring forth from youth, something utterly different will come about. For youthful life is certainly there, and one will be able to feel it; but this condition of youth, if it is not filled with spirit, ceases early in the twenties. We cannot preserve youth physiologically. We have to grow old, but we must be able to carry something from youth into old age. We must understand the condition of youth in such a way that we can rightly grow old with it. Unless spirit touches the soul, the deepest soul, the years between twenty and thirty cannot be lived through without coming into grey misery of soul. And this is my greatest anxiety. How can we work together in such a way that our young people will be able to cross the abyss between the twenties and the thirties without losing their vital spirit, without falling into grey misery of soul? I have known human beings who in their mid-twenties fell into this grey misery of soul. For, to speak fundamentally, that which lives in the depths of young souls after the end of the Kali Yuga is a cry for the spirit.




Last Modified: 12-Apr-2018
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