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The History and Actuality of Imperialism

Imperialism: Lecture 3

Lecture 3 of 3

Rudolf Steiner

Lecture Dornach, Switzerland – February 22, 1920

Unabridged translation by Frank Thomas Smith

When you consider what has been said here during the past two days you will see that what belongs to the essence of imperialism is that in an imperialistic community something that was felt to be part of a mission — not necessarily justified, but understandable — later continued on as an automatism, so to speak. In the history of human development things are retained — simply due to indolence — which were once justified or explicable, but no longer are.

If a community is obliged to defend itself for a period of time, then it is surely justified to create certain professions for that purpose: police and military professions. But when the danger against which defense was necessary no longer exists, the professions continue to exist. The people involved must remain. They want to continue to exercise their professions and therefore we have something which is no longer justified by the circumstances. Something develops which, although perhaps originating due to the necessity for defense, takes on an aggressive character. It is so with all empires, except the original imperialism of the first human societies, of which I spoke yesterday, in which the people's mentality considered the ruler to be a god and thus justified in expanding his domain as far as possible. This justification was no longer there in all the subsequent empires. Let us now consider once again from definite viewpoints what is apparent in the historical evolution of mankind. We find that in the oldest times the will of the individual who was seen as divine was the indisputable power factor. In public life there was in reality nothing to discuss in such empires; but this impossibility of discussion was grounded in the fact that a god in human form walked the earth as the ruler. That was, if I may say so, a secure foundation for public affairs.

Gradually all that which was based on divine will and was thus secure passed over to the second stage. In that stage the things which can be observed in physical life, be they persons, be they the persons' insignias, be they the deeds of the governing or ruling persons, it was all symbols, signs. Whereas during the first phase of imperialism here in the physical world the spirit was considered directly present, during the second stage everything physical was thought of as a reflection, as an image, as a symbol for what is not actually present in the physical world, but only illustrated by the persons and deeds in the physical world.

Such times, when the second stage appeared, was when it first occurred to people that a possibility for discussion of public affairs was possible. What we today call rights can hardly be considered as existing during the first stage. And the only political institution worth mentioning was the phenomenon of divine power exercised by physical people. In social affairs the only thing that mattered was the concrete will of a physical person. To try to judge whether this will was justified or not makes no sense. It was just there. It had to be obeyed. To discuss whether the god in human form should or should not do this or that made no sense. In fact it was not done during those times when the conditions I have described really existed. But if one only saw an image of the spiritual world in physical institutions, if one spoke of what Saint Augustine called the “City of God” — that is, the state which exists here on earth, but which is really an image of heavenly facts and personalities, then one can hold the opinion that what the person does who is a divine image is right, is a true image: someone else could object and say that it is not a true image. That's when the possibility of discussion originated. The person of today, because he is accustomed to criticize everything, to discuss everything, thinks that to criticize and discuss was always present in human history. That is not true. Discussing and criticizing are attributes of the second stage, which I have described for you. Thus began the possibility to judge on one's own, that is, to add a predicate to a