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Brotherhood and the Fight for Survival

Lecture by
Rudolf Steiner

Berlin, November 23nd, 1905
GA 54

From the Translators:

“We were studying and living with the principles and ideas of the threefold social order at the time, and this lecture, coming as early as it does, is a remarkable foretaste of all that came so much more strongly later. However, even at this early date Steiner is not mincing his words. On the contrary ... there are statements in this lecture that became beacons for our continued community development work for decades.”

This lecture is also know as, Brotherhood and the Struggle for Existence. It appears in the German volume Die Weltraetsel und die Anthroposophie (Vol. 54 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961), published in agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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BROTHERHOOD AND THE FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL

Rudolf Steiner
Berlin, November 23, 1905

Translated by
Manfred Maier and Nicholas Stanton

Privately Printed For Study Purposes Only

It is our task today to speak about two soul contents, one of which is a wonderful and inner ideal called Brotherhood [Although “brotherhood” is a reasonable translation of the German, it is not totally satisfactory. There is no suitable gender-neutral form, “sisterhood” doesn't even appear in the standard Microsoft spelling dictionary and using it requires the combination “brother/sisterhood” or “brotherhood/sisterhood” neither of which reads easily. I have therefore elected to translate, “bruderschaft” as “mutual help,” which works well throughout this lecture.] or Mutual Help, the other, which we meet especially in daily life, is the survival of the fittest — Mutual Help and the Fight for Survival. Those of you who concern themselves even a little with our Spiritual Scientific Movement know that our first aim is to form the core of a mutual help which is founded on an all embracing love for people, without regard for race, sex, creed, or profession. Thus the Anthroposophical Society [This lecture was actually given under the auspices of the Theosophical Society. We have changed this to the Anthroposophical Society since Rudolf Steiner's work continued in that organization unchanged in content and intent.] itself puts this principle of an all-embracing mutual help as the spearhead of its movement, as the most important of its ideals. With this it has shown that it is one of those cultural streams, which above all are necessary today, in which this extensive ethical striving for mutual help is seen closely connected with what altogether is the aim of man's evolution.

Those of us who are consciously striving in Spiritual Science are convinced that the deepest recognition of the Spiritual World, if it is truly and totally taking hold of a person, must lead to mutual help, that the most noble fruit of deep inner knowing is just this mutual help. This Spiritual Scientific World View seems to go against what people have found recently. In certain circles it is repeatedly pointed out how progress is brought about by competition and strife, that our strength develops through working against resistance, that our will and intellectual initiatives are strengthened because our power is put against an opponent. The worldview of Friedrich Nietzsche, which arose out of a spiritual basis, states among other things advocating contention, the following; “I love the critic. I love the strongly critical more than the gentle critic.” This we can find in various forms especially with Nietzsche. It can be found again in established economic views that in the fight of all against all in free enterprise there is a strong force for progress. How often has it been said that we progress best if we push ourselves forward for our own good. The word “individualism” has become a slogan in the area of the outer material life; however, it is really in the field of the inner spiritual life that it has true validity.

If people develop as much as they can in the economic field they will be most useful for their fellows because if they become economically powerful they benefit everyone. This is the creed of many national economists and sociologists. From a different side we hear repeated in different ways that we shall not just fit into a mold, that we must develop all our powers, that without limit we must live ourselves out, that we shall unfold what lies within, and thus we can be most useful to our fellows. There are many among us who cannot do enough to support this principle. The Spiritual Scientific Worldview does not ignore the necessity of the Fight for Survival, particularly in our time, but we are also clear that while this Fight for Survival makes such a strong impression, the deepest significance of the principle of mutual help must be brought to people's general awareness.

Is it really true what many believe, that people grow strong by working against a resistance? Is it really above all else their aggressive activities, which make them big and strong?

I showed you in the lecture, which I was able to give about the idea of peace, the following; the principle of the Fight for Survival is emphasized in our life nowadays because science has made it into a universal natural world principle. Especially in the west it is believed since some time that those beings in the world are best adapted who are able to fight their enemies, to subdue them and to succeed in the Fight for Survival.

Huxley the natural scientist says, if we look at life in nature it looks like a gladiator's “free for all,” the strongest is the victor, and the weaker ones must perish. If one would believe the natural scientists one would have to assume that all beings that are now living in the world would be able to overcome their predecessors. There is even a school of sociology, which has attempted to make out of this principle of the Fight for Survival a teaching of the evolution of mankind. In a book called “From Darwin to Nietzsche” by Alexander Tille he tried to show that the happiness of mankind in the future depends on recklessly inscribing this “Fight for Survival” onto the flag of the evolution, that one has to take care that the weaker ones perish, and that the strong and powerful multiply. In the Fight for Survival the weak ones have to perish, so he says we need a social order which subdues the weak ones because they are a burden, injurious.

Now I must ask you; who is stronger? The one who has an ideal spiritual power but a weak body or the one who has less spiritual power but a robust body? As you can see one cannot generalize. It is difficult to decide who should survive in the Fight for Survival. If one were to be practical, one would have to solve this question first. Now let us ask ourselves what human life really shows us; has the principle of mutual help or the Fight for Survival brought about greater changes, or have both contributed to the evolution of mankind?

With a few words I want to indicate once more what I have said in my lecture about the idea of peace. Even natural science of today does not really teach anymore what was taught a decade ago. I told you about the basic lecture of the Russian researcher Kefler (1880) in which he showed that the kind of animals are best adapted and progressive that help each other in mutual relationships, and not those who excel in aggressive behavior. I do not want to say with this that in the world of the animals there is no fighting and war, they are certainly there, that is not the question. It is rather: What enhances evolution more, war or mutual help? Also the following question was raised; do those kinds survive in which the individuals constantly fight with each other or those where they help each other? It was shown in this research that it is not the fighting but the mutual help, which was the real stimulus to progress. I mentioned the book by Kropotkin called “Mutual Help in Animal and Man.” Among the ideas, which today are being put forward with regard to these questions, we find a number of relevant concepts.

What has mutual help in man's evolution achieved? We only have to look at our own ancestors in this region where we now are. One could easily imagine that hunting and fighting were the main forces for forming out the character of these human beings, but if you look deeper into history you will find that this is not true. Just those among the Germanic tribes flourished best who developed the principle of mutual help to a high level. We specially find this principle of mutual help influencing more than anything the way material possessions were ordered in the time before and after the tribal migrations. To a large extent there was a common ownership of the land. The Communities of Villages where the people lived had common land ownership with the exception of a few things belonging directly to the household, the tools, and maybe a garden, all else was common possession. From time to time all the land was redistributed and newly divided among the people. It could be seen that those tribes became powerful which were able to bring the application of mutual help to an extraordinarily high level in relation to material goods.

If we proceed a few hundred years further we find that this principle appears again in a most fruitful manner. Mutual help, as it lived in the old communities of villages, in the old ways of life in which people found their freedom in brotherly, sisterly common life, shows particularly in the following example: If someone died all their personal possessions were burned because nobody wanted to own what had belonged to them during life. After one broke with this principle through various circumstances, single individuals managed to gain large tracts of land and the people within these fiefdoms were forced into servitude. Through this the principle of mutual help appeared in a different form. Those who felt suppressed by the Feudal Lord wanted to free themselves from this oppression and we see in the Middle Ages a powerful movement for freedom sweeping through all of Europe. This movement stood under the sign of a universal mutual help out of which a common culture blossomed, the so-called culture of the cities, the middle of the Middle Ages. Those human beings who could not stand the bonded servitude on the fiefdoms, escaped from the Feudal Lords to seek freedom in the growing cities. People came from Scotland, France, Russia, from all sides and brought about the free cities. Through this the principle of mutual help developed, and in the way it worked it greatly enhanced the development of the culture. Those who had common professions and trades began to form sort of trade unions which were later called Guilds, Brother/Sisterhoods which one joined through a vow or conscious commitment. These guilds were more than just unions of craftsmen or traders. They developed out of practical life to a high moral level. Mutual support, mutual help was cultivated to a high degree in those organizations.

Many things, which no one attends to much today, were guided by the principle of mutual support. For instance, the members of such a Guild helped out if somebody fell ill. Day by day two members were called to be at the bedside of the sick one. He or she got food. Even beyond his or her death this brotherliness and sisterliness continued. After somebody died it was considered an honor by other members of the Guild to provide in the proper manner for the burial of the deceased one and it was part of this honor to care for the well being of the widow/widower and her or his children. You can see out of what I have said what understanding of morality in common life was created. This morality was developed on the basis of a moral awareness of which modern people can hardly get a true picture. Don't believe that I want to criticize modern circumstances; they are necessary in the same way as it was necessary that the circumstances in the Middle Ages developed in their way. We must understand that there were different phases of development leading to the present.

In those free cities during the Middle Ages one spoke about a just price and a just trade. What was meant by that? I can tell you on hand of a concrete example. If out of the surrounding holdings produce was brought into the city, it was rigidly forbidden that those goods be sold in the first days in any different manner than in the accustomed small units, not wholesale. Nobody was allowed to buy large amounts and nobody could become a wholesaler. It never would have occurred to them that price would be regulated by supply and demand; rather one was able to regulate both. The trade groups in the cities or the guilds established, according to what was necessary to produce the goods, the price for these goods. Nobody was allowed to go above or below a set price. If we look even in the work relationships we see how a thorough understanding of people's needs was available. If we look at the wages of that time, in consideration of the most different circumstances we have to say, “The way a worker was paid can in no way be compared to the earning of wages nowadays.” These circumstances are often most wrongly interpreted by scientists.

Those Brother/Sisterhoods were evolved according to practical points of view. Because of that they continued in a practical manner, they appeared in the cities because it was only natural that those who had the same trade in a city would come together in mutual help, so the guilds grew from city to city.

People were, at that time, not united under police rulings but under practical points of view. Anyone who takes the trouble to study the circumstances, which were commonly visible in the cities of Europe, will soon find out that we deal here with a certain faith in the deepening of this mutual help principle. It shows specially if we look at the fruit which developed. You can now look at the highest peak of this development at the extensive products of art, at the cathedrals and churches, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They could not have come about without such a deepening of the mutual help principle. From a cultural/historical point of view, we can comprehend Dante's Divine Comedy, an immense work, only if we understand the establishment of the mutual help principle at that time. If you look further at what developed in these cities under the influence of this principle, you will find, for instance, the art of printing, engraving, papermaking, watch making, and all the later inventions, prepared under the free principle of mutual help. What we are used to call the burger or freeman of the city developed out of the establishment of this principle help in the Middle Ages. Much, which came about because of scientific and artistic deepening, would not have been possible without this development. If one wanted to build a cathedral, let's say the cathedral of Cologne, or any other, we see that at first a building guild was formed in which cooperation came about agreed upon by the members. One can, if one has an intuitive eye for it, see this principle of mutual help even in the architecture. You can see it in each of the cities of the Middle Age and you find it everywhere whether you go to the North of Scotland, to Venice or to the Russian or Polish cities.

We have to emphasize that this principle of mutual help developed under the influence of a materialistic culture. In everything that appeared as the highest fruits of this culture we see, the material, the physical. It was a necessary development and for this to happen rightly the mutual help principle was necessary at that time. Out of an abstraction this mutual help principle came about and because of this intellectual thinking our life is split. Today one doesn't know anymore, one doesn't understand how the Fight for Survival and the mutual help principle can function together in a relationship. On one hand spiritual life has become more and more abstract; morality and justice, ideas about the state, and different social relationships, are understood through more and more abstract principles, and the Fight for Survival is more and more separated from everything that people regard as ideal.

At that time, in the middle of the Middle Ages, there was a harmony between what people felt as their ideals and what they really did and if it was ever shown that one can be an idealist and a pragmatist at the same time it was during the Middle Ages. Even the relation of the Roman Law to life was a harmonious one, but if you look at it today you will find how our practice of law, our jurisprudence, is floating above the moral life. Many say, “We know what is good and right, but it is not practical.” It comes about that thoughts concerning the highest principle are separated from life. Only in the sixteenth century we see spiritual life developing under the principle of the intellect. In the Middle Ages a member of a guild, sitting with a jury of twelve to judge some offense which another member of the guild had committed, was a brother or sister of the one who had to be tried, life bound with life. Everyone understood the other's work and everyone tried to understand how he or she could have left the “straight and narrow.” One, so to speak, looked into one's brother or sister and one wanted to look into him or her.

Nowadays our jurisprudence is such that the judge and the prosecutor are only interested in the books of law; both see only a case in front of them to which they must apply the law. Just imagine how this separates morality from the practice of law. This condition progressed even more in the last century. In the Middle Ages expert knowledge and trust developed under the principle of mutual help and became the means of real progress. Today “expert knowledge and trust” are more and more ignored. The judgment of the expert is today almost completely bypassed in favor of the abstract interpretation of the law. The majority opinion is what counts today, not expertise. The rule of the opinion of the majority had to come, but as little as one can vote in mathematics to obtain a true result — three times three is always nine — so it is in the realm of jurisprudence. However, it is impossible to work according to the principle of the expert without the principle of mutual help, and brotherly and sisterly love.

The Fight for Survival has its place in life because humanity is composed of individual beings. Because all must go their separate ways in life, they are dependent on this Fight for Survival. In a certain relationship the saying of Ruckert is relevant. “As the rose beautifies herself, she beautifies the garden.” If we don't attempt to develop all our faculties we will have little success in helping our brothers and sisters. However, to develop our faculties requires a certain egoism, because initiative is connected to egoism. Those who understand how to be not only followers, who understand that they are not just subject to their environment, who are able to go down into their inner selves where the sources are, the fountains of their powers, they will develop to powerful and able people, and they will have the possibility to serve others much more than those who are constantly given to all possible influences in their surroundings. It is possible that this attitude, so necessary for people, could lead to a one-sidedness. It will only bear its proper fruits if it is paired with the principle of brotherly and sisterly love.

I have taken the free city guilds of the Middle Ages as an example in order to show you that the practical life became strong under the principle of mutual personal individual help. Where did they get their strength? — because they lived with their fellows in a spirit of mutual help. It is right to make oneself as strong as possible, but the question is can we really become strong without love? He who really develops to a true soul recognition must answer this question with a decisive, “No!”

We see throughout nature models for the cooperation of singular beings within a totality. Take the human body; it consists of millions and trillions of self-sufficient, living beings, or cells. If you take a part of this human body and look at it under the microscope you will find that it is composed of independent beings. How do they function together? How does selflessness come about in forming the totality? None of our cells takes its separation in an egoistic manner.

The wonderful tool of thought, the brain, also consists of millions of fine cells, but each one acts in its place in a harmonious way. What causes the cooperation of these small cells? — that a higher being expresses itself through those tiny living beings. It is the human soul that causes this effect, but this soul could never act here on earth if these millions of small beings would not have given up their selfhood to serve a large common being which we call the soul. The soul sees with the cells of the eye, thinks with the cells of the brain, lives in the cells of the blood; here we see what community signifies. Union — community — means that a higher being presses itself through the unified members. It is a universal principle of life; five people, who are together, who think and feel harmoniously together in common, are more than one plus one plus one plus one plus one. They are the sum of five as little as our body is the sum of our five senses. The living together, the in-each-other-living of human beings, means something similar as the living in each other of the cells of the human body. A new higher being is among these five — even among two or three; “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there I am among them.” It is not the one or the other or the third, but something entirely new that comes into appearance through the unification, but it only comes about if the individual lives in the other one — if the single one obtains his powers not only from himself but also out of the others. It can only happen if each of us lives selflessly in the others.

Thus human communities are mystery places where higher spiritual beings descend to act through the individual human beings just as the soul expresses itself in the members of the body. In our materialistic age one does not easily believe this, but in the Spiritual Scientific World View, it is not only an image but in the highest sense, reality. Because of this spiritual scientists are not speaking of abstract things if they talk about folk-spirit or folk-soul or family-spirit or about the spirit of some community. One cannot see the spirits who live in communities but they are there. They are there because of the sisterly, brotherly love of the personalities working in these communities. As the body has a soul, so a guild or community also has a soul, and I repeat, it is not spoken allegorically but must be taken as a full reality.

Those who work together in mutual help are magicians because they pull in higher beings. One does not call upon the machinations of spiritism if one works together in a community in sisterly, brotherly love. Higher beings manifest themselves there. If we give up ourselves to mutual help, through this giving up to the community a powerful strengthening of our organs takes place. If we then speak or act as a member of such a community there speaks or acts in us not the singular soul only but the spirit of the community. This is the secret of progress for the future of mankind: To work out of communities. In the same way as an epoch is followed by the next one and each one has its particular task so also the Middle Ages relate to our time and ours to the future one. The work of the Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods of Middle Ages laid the foundations for the practical arts. A materialistic way of life followed only after their fruits had appeared. The basis of their consciousness was the sisterliness and brotherliness that was more or less gone after the abstract social-state principle and the abstract spiritual life took the place of the real in-each-other feelings.

It is the task of the future to found again Brother/Sisterhoods out of the spirit, out of the highest ideals of the soul. Life has so far brought about the most manifold unions; it has also brought about a terrible Fight for Survival, which nowadays reaches its peak. The Spiritual Scientific World View wants to lead towards the highest treasures of mankind in the sense of the mutual help principle, and you will see that the Spiritual Scientific World Movement will extend this mutual help principle everywhere to replace the Fight for Survival. We must learn to lead community life. We shall not believe that the one or the other is able to accomplish anything by him or herself.

Everyone would of course like to know how one combines the Fight for Survival with sisterly and brotherly love — that's simple: We have to learn to replace the fighting with positive work, to replace fighting and war by the search for ideals. One understands nowadays little of what that implies. One does not know what fight one talks about because one speaks in today's life about nothing else but fighting. We have the class struggles, the fight for peace, the fight for women's rights, the fight for land and so on everywhere, regardless in what direction we look, we see fighting.

The Spiritual Scientific World View strives to put in place of this fight, positive work. Those who have lived into this worldview know that fighting has never achieved any real results in any area of life. Try to introduce into life what in your experience and recognition is shown to be the right thing and make it effective without fighting against your opponent. It can of course only be an ideal but such an ideal must be present, introduced into life as Spiritual Scientific basic statement. Human beings who unite with other human beings and who use their powers for the benefit of all are those who will produce the basis for a proper evolution into the future. The Anthroposophical Society wants to be a forerunner of this and, because of this, it is not a society based on propaganda but a sisterly and brotherly society. In this society we are effective through the work of every member. One has only to understand it rightly — we have the most effect if we do not want to push our own opinion but if we work out of what we see in the eyes of our sisters and brothers, if we search in the thoughts and feelings of our fellows, and make ourselves their servant. We work best in such a circle if we are able in practical life to disregard our own opinion. If we understand that our best forces spring out of community and that community is not just understood as an abstract principle but primary at every turn of the road, at every moment of life in a Anthroposophical manner. Only then we will be able to proceed, however, we must not be impatient with this.

What does Spiritual Science show us? She shows us a higher reality, and it is this consciousness of a higher reality, which brings us ahead in putting into effect the mutual help principle.

Today, some people call Anthroposophists, impractical idealists, but before long one will see that they will be the most practical ones, because they are able to deal with the forces of life. Nobody will doubt that one would injure a person if one throws a stone at their head, but that it is much worse to send towards a man a feeling of hate, that this hurts the soul of a man much more than a stone hurts the body, this does not enter the mind. It entirely depends in what attitude we confront a fellow man, and our power to work fruitfully into the future also depends exactly on that. If we try to live community in this way we foster the principle of mutual help practically. To be tolerant means in the sense of Spiritual Science something quite different from what one understands usually about it. It means also to respect the freedom of thought in others. To push others away from their place is an insult, but if one does the same thing in thought nobody would say this is an injustice. We talk a lot about “regard for the other's opinion,” but are not really willing to apply this principle ourselves.

The “Word” today has almost no meaning, one hears it and one has heard nothing. One has to learn to listen with one's soul, to get hold of the most intimate things with our soul. What later manifests itself in physical life is always present in the spirit first. So we must suppress our opinion and really listen completely to the other, not only listen to the word but even to the feeling. Even then, if in us a feeling will stir that it is wrong what the other one says, it is much more powerful to be able to listen as long as the other one talks than to jump into their speech. This listening creates a completely different understanding — you feel as if the soul of the other starts to warm you through, to shine through you, if you confront “her” in this manner with absolute tolerance.

We shall not only grant the freedom of person but complete freedom. We shall even treasure the freedom of the other's opinion. This stands only as an example for many things. If one cuts off someone's speech one does something similar to kicking the other from the point of view of the spiritual world. If one brings oneself as far as to understand that it is much more destructive to cut somebody off than to give them a kick, only then one comes as far as to understand mutual help or community right into one's soul. Then it becomes a reality. The greatness of the spiritual scientific movement is that it brings to us a new conviction of spiritual forces which stream from man to man, the higher mutual help principle. You can imagine for yourself how far man is away from such a spiritual mutual help principle. Everyone can attempt as time permits to send thoughts of love and friendship to their loved ones. We usually think such a thing insignificant. If you recognize that a thought has a power in the same way as an electrical wave, which goes from one apparatus to a receiver, then you will also understand better the mutual help principle. Then slowly a common consciousness becomes available, it becomes practical.

From this we can see how the Spiritual Scientific Worldview understands the Fight for Survival, and mutual help at work. We know exactly that many who find themselves on this or that place in life would just go under if they wouldn't howl with the wolves, if they wouldn't pursue this Fight for Survival as ruthlessly as the others. For the one who thinks materialistically there is almost no escape from this Fight for Survival. We should, of course, do our duty on the place where karma puts us, but we do the right thing if we are clear that we could achieve much more if we would forego to look for quick success. Maybe you stand in pain in regard to the one you hurt in the Fight for Survival but, overcome yourself, develop a loving attitude and let your thoughts stream from soul to soul. If you are a materialist you might think you didn't achieve anything, but after what I have told you, you should recognize that this must later on have its effect. Because nothing is lost that happens in the spirit.

In this way we are able with fearful soul, with pain in our hearts, to take up the Fight for Survival and transform it through our working together. In this way, to work in this Fight for Survival means, in a practical sense to change it. We are not able to do it from today to tomorrow, that's beyond all doubt. But if we work in this way upon our own soul in love, we become more useful to ourselves, and then to a greater extent to mankind. If we are stuck in self-centered isolation, our talents are uprooted like a plant pulled out of the ground. As little as an eye is still an eye if it is torn out of one's head so little is a human soul a human soul if it is separated from community. You will see that we educate our talents best if we live in sisterly and brotherly community, that we live most intensely if we are rooted in the totality. Of course we have to wait till that which forms roots in the totality ripens to fruit in quiet inwardness.

We may not lose ourselves into the outside world nor into ourselves, because it is true in the highest spiritual sense what the poet said that one has to be quiet in oneself if one's faculties are to appear, but those faculties are rooted in the world. We are only able to strengthen them and to improve ourselves if we live in community, because it is true in the sense of genuine mutual help that working in a sisterly and brotherly way makes us strongest in the Fight for Survival and we will find most of our powers in the stillness of our hearts if we develop our total personality, our total individuality in community with our human sisters and brothers. It is true that a talent is formed in quietude. It is also true that, in the stream of the world, character is formed and with it the whole of one's being and the totality of humanity.



 



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