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The Social Question and Theosophy

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The Social Question and Theosophy

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Lectures Section

There are two translations of this work: “Anthroposophy and the Social Question” (Mercury Press, Spring Valley, N.Y.), and “Spiritual Science and the Social Question” in Reincarnation and Immortality (Rudolf Steiner Publications, Blauvelt, N.Y.). The Fundamental Social Law reads: “In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done, i.e., the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow workers, and the more his own requirements are satisfied, not out of his own work done, but out of work done by the others” (Mercury Press translation).

By Rudolf Steiner
Translation by John Root, Sr.
Unknown Bn/GA

There are two translations of this work: “Anthroposophy and the Social Question” (Mercury Press, Spring Valley, N.Y.), and “Spiritual Science and the Social Question” in Reincarnation and Immortality (Rudolf Steiner Publications, Blauvelt, N.Y.). The Fundamental Social Law reads: “In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done, i.e., the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow workers, and the more his own requirements are satisfied, not out of his own work done, but out of work done by the others” (Mercury Press translation).

This public lecture, given on October 26, 1905, was translated from German by John Root, Sr. The lecture stems from when Rudolf Steiner was leader of the German Section of the Theosophical Society. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

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[ Intro | Lecture | Notes ]

Thanks to an anonymous donation, this Lecture Series has been made available.

The Social Question and Theosophy

Rudolf Steiner

Introduction to English translation: This public lecture, given on October 26,1905, was translated from German by John Root, Sr. The lecture stems from when Rudolf Steiner was leader of the German Section of the Theosophical Society. The term Anthroposophy, though he used it already, did not replace Theosophy until 1913 when he left the Theosophical Society and founded the Anthroposophical Society. Anthroposophy can, however, be thought of retrospectively here, whenever Theosophy is used in the general sense. Numbered endnotes are from the German editor, and footnotes are from the editors of The Threefold Review.

German editor's note from Beiträge zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe, Bibl. No. 88, Dornach, Switzerland, 1985: “The wording is based on the original stenographic report of Franz Seilerand his transcription of it into clear text, which only followed fifty years later, in the spring of 1955. A review of the stenographic report was undertaken by Günther Frenz in 1984. Since the report showed a series of inconsistencies and gaps, this lecture was not included in the corresponding volume of the complete edition, Die Welträtsel und die Anthroposophie (Anthroposophy and the Riddle of the World), 1905/06, Bn/GA Bibl. No. 54, but was replaced with the lecture of the same name held in Hamburg, 2 March 1908.

A renewed proofing of the lecture of 1905 and a comparison of the content with the Hamburg lecture as well as with the essay ‘Anthroposophy and the Social Question’ (1905-06), which appeared in the periodical Lucifer Gnosis, revealed that the content and structure of the lecture differ in several ways from the other versions mentioned, and that a reading of it, despite a number of textual irregularities, represents a great enrichment — for example, the aspect of reincarnation and karma — especially for people who have connected themselves and come to terms more intensively with the Fundamental Social Law and the related thought of the separation of labor and income.”

*     *     *     *     *


HE social question, which is to occupy us today, did not, as will immediately become clear for everyone, arise out of a mere idea or out of the undoubted need of a few people, but is a question that confronts us with facts as strongly and clearly today as ever. One who looks around just a little in the surrounding world will know what a distinct language these facts speak. It could well be that someone who does not want to hear this language of the facts will find out in the not too distant future that he has closed his ears too long to what was necessarily going on. With regard to the social question, the human being of the present is standing within the battle that is at times still playing itself out under the surface of our social order. One who wants to say, more or less precisely, how the social battle has increased in extent and violence doesn't need to go any further into externals, he needs only to draw attention to the violent workers' movement on the occasion of the work stoppage at Crimmitschau, to the miners' strike on the occasion of the lockout of the electrical workers, and, in sum, to what is going on in Eastern Europe. [See Note 1] In all this we will have to discern the social question being lived out.

The reproach has often been addressed to Theosophy that it has a number of dreamers among its followers, that it seeks to work only in those areas to which one retreats from the great common questions of the time, where one wants to linger in leisurely contemplation of the human soul, and so they say: Theosophists are a few people who have nothing particular to do, who in an egoistical way want to retreat into the self and cultivate it in the manner of Theosophy. One easily makes the reproach to Theosophy that it wants to stand apart from the great battle of the day, from what touches humanity in the present time. The Theosophist should be setting this right again and again. He should ever and again point out that wherever there is something to investigate and think regarding warranted human affairs in the present, there the Theosophists must be, that he must have a clear heart and clear thinking, that he must not lose himself in some cloudy utopia, but rather must stand within the everyday, helping and caring.

And this other reproach can also easily be made: that Theosophy is touted as a universal cure for all the evils and injuries of the present. That also is otherwise. To be sure, it is claimed that Theosophy, the Theosophical movement, has something to do with all that must prepare itself in the present for a salutary future, but not like a mastering, not as a universal cure do we extol Theosophy; rather we only want to show that with it something so comprehensive is given that without it today we cannot progress in the mosl essential things that we should be concerned about, and that all speculation and reforming must remain half- baked unless the human being approaches the matter with the Theosophical view. The doctrines of thinkers about grand encompassing cosmic connections, about the universal law of world destiny and world events occupy us, in the inner circles of our Theosophical movement, not merely so we can gaze at the starry vastness at leisure, but rather because we know that these laws we are studying and which are active in the great world-all are also active in the human heart, in the soul, and in fact give this soul the capacity really to see into the life of the immediate present. We are sort of like an engineer who absorbs himself for years in his technical studies, but not in order to engage in contemplations of the mysteries of the calculus and marvel at them; rather we seek the laws which we then apply to human life, as the engineer builds bridges and applies the laws to reality.

There is also something here that is universal and widespread and opens up a further horizon. Who would dare to present thinking as a universal remedy, even though this thinking is necessary for what can happen in the cosmos? Theosophy is no dead matter, no dead theory. No, it is something life-awakening. It is not a matter of the concepts, the ideas, that we take on. What is told here does not have the intention of dealing with the ideas as such, nor the intention of developing interesting notions about hidden facts, but rather, what is here passed before the human soul has a very special quality. Non-Theosophists may believe it or not, but one who has occupied himself with it knows that what I am about to say is correct in practice. One that has applied himself to how, in Theosophy, the world and life are considered will notice his life of the senses and of soul becoming something different from what they were before. He learns to think in another way and will observe human circumstances in a more unbiased way than previously.

We have a distant future in mind when we speak of awakening higher powers through inner development. But for the near future we also keep an eye on the life that we can bring about through Theosophical development: that is, the possibility of coming to a comprehensive, clear, and unbiased assessment of the human situations immediately surrounding us. Our culture, with all the scientific character which it has developed up to now, has come up with theories that are impotent regarding life. The Theosophical world-view will not produce such impotent theories. It will teach mankind thinking, awaken thinking forces in mankind that are not powerless regarding reality, but will empower us to take hold of human evolution itself, to take hold of the immediate conduct of life.

Let me bring in a little symptom that will further clarify what I mean to say. Recently a clear example in the political field was provided by a Prussian government councilor who went on leave to find work in America, to take part in and get to know conditions there. [See Note 2] A state councilman is normally called upon to be active in human evolution. Taken in a higher sense, it is his duty and obligation to let something live in his heart that corresponds to real conditions and not merely to theories. And if he has nothing that chimes with the conditions, then his theory is impotent. This man, who for years previously had been called upon to deal with the human element, got to know the human element himself. Of course what I am saying entails not the least reproach against the individual man. This deed is to the highest degree honorable and bold, and admirable. But what he has written is a symptom of what is urgent. It shows the discrepancy in his orientation toward the world and toward workers. Here are just a few words from his book As a Worker in America [4th edition, Berlin 1905, p.31] { Bracketed statements [ ] are insertions by the German editor.}: “How often, earlier on, when I saw a healthy man begging, did I ask, with moral indignation, why doesn't the lout go to work? Now I knew why. In theory things look different from practice; even the most unappetizing aspects of the national economy are easy enough to handle at your desk.”

There is no greater mark of poverty than when someone who is called upon to participate says that the theory which he had doesn't agree with the conditions. Here's the point at which one can take hold of the matter, just as logic enables people to think at all, and just as no one can become a mathematician without manipulating logic, just so no one can develop the power of practical thinking without Theosophy. Look at the national economy that is overwhelming our developmental [free] market. If you set about looking into things with healthy, comprehensive thinking, Theosophical thinking, you will find that things that are supposed to be guideposts, emanating perhaps from university professors or party leaders, are gray theory suitable for being dealt with at the desk, but are useless when one is facing reality. Such things reveal themselves, for instance, at congresses. One just has to look more closely. Congresses in general bear this character. If those who busy themselves would care to descend into practical life, they would soon find that they are capable of nothing. Merely gazing at life doesn't do it. Nor can someone who judges from the standpoint of today's customary culture pass judgment on the women's question or the social question, nor can someone judge who merely looks at things, for nothing is done by that either.

Now if you were to ask this gentleman who wrote these words, What can lead to an improvement?, then you would find that he has only learned how it looks; but how things should be done, that is a different question altogether. It is also not a question that can be answered in an hour or a day. It can't be answered at all by theoretical debate. No Theosophist worthy of the name will say to you: I have this program for the social question, for the women's question, for the vivisection question, or about the care of animals and so forth, rather he will say: Put people who are Theosophists into the institutions dealing with all these questions, set such people in professorial chairs of national economy; then they will have the ability to develop the thinking which will lead to making the single branches of their activity into guideposts in the realm of public life. As long as this is not the case, people in this realm will be charlatans and will have to witness the world collapsing around them, and how this idle circumlocution in congresses shows itself in its uselessness.

I say this not out of fanaticism, rather from what in every Theosophist is a real Theosophical attitude, real Theosophical thinking. Theosophical thinking develops clarity about the various realms of life, a clear, objective view of the forces and powers working in the world. To look at the matter rightly, that is what Theosophical life enables you to do. Therefore Theosophy is not a panacea in the ordinary sense, rather it is the foundation of contemporary life.

After these introductory words let us give a few indications about what has given our social question, as it arises from the facts, its special stamp. Whoever wants to see what will happen must know the laws of becoming, may not have gray theories, must know the laws of the becoming of humanity. We cannot find these laws through some sort of abstract science. Theosophy does not proceed abstractly. It proceeds from clear contemplative thinking. And so let me indicate with at least a few words how the life of today has shaped itself, how this life today has come to be. One who looks more closely at life will realize that some self-knowledge also belongs in these realms in order to see clearly. First I will picture the outer facts, then I will say a few things concerning what it is actually all about.

Every one of us knows what the human being needs in order to live. We all have an idea of what food and clothing we need. A few figures will tell us how much the majority has of all these. All we need to do in this regard is to examine the tax structure. It has been told over and over, but we can bring it to mind again and again. In Prussia, someone who has an income of less than 900 marks pays no taxes. One can very easily check how many people in Prussia have an income of less than 800 or 900 marks. That's 21 million people. Ninety five percent of the total population have less than 3,000 marks income. Take England. Only those who have an income over 150 pounds are taxed. [...] You see, we have most ample figures that speak of how many people have what one must have as absolute necessity.

Look at statistics. They speak a distinct language. But what has that to do with our self-knowledge? A lot. For it is a matter of gaining the right standpoint for ourselves regarding these facts. And in this connection people let themselves miss out a great deal on what is right. What are people around us doing? What is the cause of their receiving this low income? It is what we give them for what they do for us. We are now making no distinction between workers and non-workers, between proletariat and non- proletariat. For if one makes this distinction, then the matter is already entirely false. And that is the mistake of all our national economic considerations, that one does not proceed from self-knowledge, but rather from theory.

[The following sentences of the transcript reveal a few discrepancies, so that the original wording cannot be reconstructed. By the gist of it, Rudolf Steiner most likely described how every person lives from the products that another has produced. Even for someone out of work, whose means of livelihood are insufficient, products are produced. Even the seamstress working for starvation wages wears clothes that have been produced in turn for a starvation wage. Compare the paragraphs written in the same year in the essay “Spiritual Science and the Social Question,” in Lucifer Gnosis.]

And if in our emotions and perceptions we are able to feel a certain pain over the fact that the clothes we have on have been produced for a starvation wage, then we are looking deep into the heart of the question. When in all this you think over what you wear in the way of clothing, what you put in your mouth for nourishment, where it comes from, only then will you grasp the social question in all its depth. Not through speculation, but rather through a living contemplation does one get an insight into what it is all about.

It isn't right when they say that today's misery, even if we could portray it in its direst colors, is greater than it was in former centuries. That is not the case. We would decisively be committing a falsification of objective reality. Just try to study conditions objectively in the city of Cologne today and 120 years ago, and you will see that much has gotten better. And even so we have the social question. We have it because human beings have gone through yet another evolution, and this is because in large measure they have come to thinking, to self-consciousness, and because their needs have greatly changed. And there, if we study the question thus, we are indeed of necessity directed toward the broad contexts that arise for us in world history if we are not, like the modern researcher, too shortsighted. In order to judge these things it is necessary to get to know the great laws of life. What has brought it about that social affairs have taken this shape? It is the manner and method which the human spirit has taken on. Look back to the time of the French Revolution. At that time they demanded something else. It was a question tending more toward the juridical that brought out the ideal of Liberty - Equality - Fraternity. The French revolutionary heroes in Western Europe called for Liberty. Those now battling in Eastern Europe call for bread. It is simply two sides of the same coin, two different demands of human beings who have learned to put such questions because their souls have undergone a transformation.

This transformation of the soul we have to study more closely. We must study and understand why the souls of the great masses of human beings today—and this will spread over the centuries—have come to these demands. At this point the Theosophical world conception comes in with practical application, underpinning our comprehension. Only someone who understands the case is qualified to judge it. The only one who is able to look into the soul is one who, in the great world framework, sees what is going on in this soul. And only one who understands something of the laws of the soul is able to effect something in souls and lead into the future.

A small side remark: The sciences of today, biology, Darwinism, Haeckelianism, [The worldview of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), German naturalist and philosopher.] have brought us great ideas. So also the idea that each living entity, in the first stages of its existence, even in its germinal state, recapitulates the forms of life that have previously been gone through out in nature. This brief recapitulation of the various stages occurs also in that being which includes them all, climbing higher on the ladder of evolution than all others: the human being. Assume that a spirit had consciousness at a time before there were any human beings, then he would have had to know not only what had already happened, but he would also—by contrast—have had to form a picture of future evolution. He would have had to form a picture for the future out of the animal condition of that time. Only the human being, who in his germinal configuration recapitulates the preceding conditions, can show us what to do. It is the doing that must pass beyond all knowing. No knowing occupies itself with anything but what was. But if we want to work into the future, we have to do things that haven't been there yet. The great laws that are to be realized in the future show us this. In a certain way everything that is to come about in the future has already been there in the past, namely through intuition. A spirit who had intervened at that time would have had to have had intuition in order to be able to find out about the hidden laws of existence that apply to the past and the future. That is why Theosophy cultivates intuition. That is what reaches out beyond the mere physical experience of the world. Theosophy looks for the laws that are to be cognized by intuition and which lead us into the future of the human race. [For a characterization of intuition as used by Steiner, see, for example, his essays from 1905, The Stages of Higher Knowledge.]

One of these great world laws that can be a guide for us is the law of reincarnation. First, it renders understandable for us how, in higher spiritual realms, what obtains as law is nothing else but what Darwin and Haeckel have intimated. It renders comprehensible why this or that was felt as a need in any given age. One who steeps himself in this knows the last time in which there was life thirsting for universal freedom, when human beings took up impulses for which they should be calling today. The ones who today call for liberty and equality—I say this with the same objective certainty with which the natural scientist has spoken about the physical—all those souls who today cry for liberty and equality have learned it at another stage of their existence, in an earlier incarnation. The greatest needs of the human being of today were embodied in the early time of Christianity, in the first Christian centuries. All human beings have taken up this press for equality, before which the human being of today stands in spiritual life. Christianity brought the message of equality before God. In times prior to that, there had been no such equality.

I do not say what I have just said in a derogatory way, I say it with the same sober objectivity with which I would speak of any scientific problem. If one considers the actual soul and everything which creates outward inequalities, the same soul that once took to itself as an impulse “they are equal before God and before mankind”—when one considers the actual soul—finds that everything that determines outward inequality has no meaning for contemporary life. When the grave closes over us we will all be and become equal. What the soul has taken up lives on in the soul and emerges in a different form. If we consider cultural progress from the perspective of the macrocosm we come to tremendous implications regarding education. I have already drawn attention to what this pedagogy on earth was like in pre-Christian times. Let us look back into Egyptian times. A large number of people there were occupied with work, the difficulty of which a man of today can no longer estimate. They labored willingly. And why? Because they knew that this life is one among many. Each one said to himself: The one who is in charge of my work is like the person I will be sometime. This life must be compensated in different incarnations, for it directs itself out of this knowledge.

Linked with this is the law of karma. What I have experienced in one life is either deserved or will be compensated for in later times. If it had merely gone on like that, however, then the human being would have overlooked the kingdom of the earth. This one life would not have been important to him. In that regard Christianity took measures for education in order to have this life between birth and death be of importance to him. It is merely illusory when Christianity deviates from that, for it has pointed strongly to the beyond; it has even made eternal punishment and eternal bliss a function of one life. Whoever believes that the one life is of primary importance learns to take this life seriously. It pivots around the truths that are suitable for the human being, and it is suitable for the human being to be raised in the idea of this one earth life. Such were the two tasks: education for the importance of earthly life between birth and death, and, on the other hand, that outside this earthly life everyone is equal before God. This earthly life hasbeen bearable only by being so considered that all are equal before God. Whoever looks at it that way will observe, in the development of mankind since the rise of Christianity, a descent into the physical world. More and more the human being feels committed to physical existence. Through this he transferred the importance of the rule of the equality before God more and more to equality in material existence itself.

That picture should not be misunderstood. The soul that 1800 years ago was accustomed to claiming equality for the beyond now brings the impulse for equality with it, but in connection with what is important today: “equality before Mammon.” Please do not see a criticism or anything pejorative in this, rather the objective confirmation of a cosmic law of the developing soul. One must study the course of time this way. Then one will understand that only one thing will again bring about in this soul a change in direction, an ascent, namely if we get the soul who is calling for equality back into the beyond. Toward the beyond we looked up, from the here-and-now we looked out. Today, due to this impulse, the soul is turned back upon itself. Today it seeks the same thing in the here-and-now. If it is to find an ascent again, it must find the spirit in the present, the inwardness, in the soul element itself. That is what the Theosophical world movement is striving for: to prepare the soul for the third stage, [The German “drei Stadien” translates to “three stages.” We suggest this represents a stenographic error and take the liberty of correcting it for the sake of clarity.] because it is filled with God, filled with divine wisdom, and will thereby again know how to place itself in the world, so that it will again find the harmony between itself and the surrounding world.

Such thoughts have value in giving direction. We can't bring this about from one day to the next. But we also cannot consider only our individual deeds. Every deed must stand under some influence. Then it becomes practical, then it is something, then it is no gray theory, rather immediate life, because we are looking into the workings of the soul.

Our national economists and our social theorists today so often say: the human being is only the product of outer circumstances. The human being has come to this because he has lived in these or those outer conditions. Thus speaks, for example, in earnest, social democracy, saying that the human being becomes what the environment makes of him, that because he has become a proletarian worker, due to the entire development of industry, he has also become one in his soul, the way he has evolved through just these conditions. The human being is a product of circumstances. We can often hear that. Let us study the conditions themselves, let us consider what is round about us, what we are most dependent on. Are we dependent merely on nature? No! We notice what we are dependent on only when we stand starving in front of the bakery and have nothing in our pockets to buy anything with.

All these conditions are made and put into effect in turn by human beings. The spirit that is evolving through history has brought these conditions about. People have thought up, out of concern for their own welfare, sometimes only shortly before, what obtains today; they simply insert it. Thus the one who thinks people are dependent on circumstances is reasoning in a circle, because the circumstances were brought about by people. If we picture this to ourselves we must say: it isn't a matter of the circumstances, rather we have to look at how the circumstances have come to be. It is idle to insist on saying: the human being is dependent on his circumstances. In fifty years the human being will also be dependent on the conditions that surround him. You can concede to every social democrat [Social Democracy is “a political theory advocating the use of democratic means to achieve a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism.” American Heritage Dictionary, 1992. Social Democrat (with capitals) refers to a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany, which was founded in the late 19th century.] that the human being is dependent on circumstances, but on those that we cause today, that emanate from our disposition, from our soul. We create the social conditions! And what will live then will be the crystallized perceptions and feelings that we put out into the world today.

This shows us what it is all about: that one must learn the laws under which the world is evolving. It cannot be a matter of science, rather it can only be an intuition of what we must contribute as law. This comes directly out of a perception that seems most fantastic to most people, but which is much clearer and more objective than much of the fantastic fantasy of our scientists. One that can tell what lives in the soul and then crystallizes outwardly, can also, out of the wisdom, out of the divine in the soul, tell what an individual can spread out into the world and what is proper for humanity.

If in the future you want to have such circumstances around you, if you want to have it set up that way, as an institution which will satisfy people, about which people will be able to say: “That's it—we want to live under these conditions,” then you must first pour humanity into these conditions, so that humanity will stream out of them again. The deepest humanity, the deepest soul-inwardness must first stream out of our own hearts into the world. Then the world will be an image of the soul, and in this soul there will be an image of the world. This will be able to satisfy people again. Therefore the human being cannot expect anything from all those quackeries in the social area that are perpetrated by looking at outer circumstances. These outer circumstances are made by human beings; they are nothing else but human souls which have streamed outwards. The first things that have to be worked over, what we have to take up first as the social question, are the souls of today, which produce the environment of tomorrow. You can see how better conditions stream into the environment if only you would study it. Again and again I have had to hear from social politicians: Make the conditions better and human beings will become better. Just let these people study what individual sects, developing themselves cut off from world evolution pursue as soul culture, just let them study what the latter contribute to the shaping of outer conditions. If human beings realize that the improvement of conditions depends on themselves, if they acquire Theosophical knowledge, and if they cognize the first fundamental principle to establish the kernel of a universal brotherhood [Refers to the first fundamental principle of the Theosophical Society: “To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.”] and develop it in themselves as a social feeling for the surrounding world, then the actual social is possible, and one is prepared for what will happen in the near future.

Our entire national economy today lives under false premises. Therefore our theories are mostly false because they proceed from assumptions entirely different from those that arise out of the human being and from humanity. One starts with production, or one believes one can achieve something with the development of compensation. All thinking moves in this direction. To be sure, an improvement will not occur immediately with a change in thinking. But it will occur when the direction is changed. Moreover, our proletariat has no inkling about what is here in question. What it demands is more pay and shorter hours. Take a look at the worker in any particular sector, say the electric sector, which has been unionized in order, through this collective, to get better pay and working conditions. What does he want with these better working conditions? He wants a different relation regarding compensation to take place between him and his employer. That's all he wants. The conditions of production don't change. All that happens is that the worker gets higher wages [...]. That's all that happens. If s just a shift in capital.

But that doesn't really change anything much at all, because if one gets more pay today, food will be more expensive tomorrow. It is not at all possible to bring about any kind of improvement for the future in this way. This ongoing endeavor is based on false thinking. There it's a matter of production and consumption. Here a great comprehensive worldwide law about work applies. One has to know this. Certain people who are used to thinking in today's national-economic terms will say perhaps that I am placing a foggy brain in front of them. One who has worked his way through to Theosophy has, as a rule, gone through today's thinking. Theosophy should be active in us as a life impulse. But as every thought will draw into us and stimulate every action in us, just so this also should stimulate us. We needn't think that we can realize it right away. Also, the government councilor who doesn't live in gray theories can look at life entirely differently. He doesn't need to travel to America in order to get the idea that someone who doesn't have any work has to be a lazy lout. In the course of time work has greatly changed its form.

Take a look at ancient Greece. What was work in those days? The worker stood in an entirely different relation to his master. At that time work was slavery. The worker could be compelled by force to work. What he received from his master was his living. But his master took the proceeds of the work; it had nothing whatever to do with the particular relation of the worker to his master. He had to work; moreover, he was maintained under precarious conditions; he was not compensated for the things he did. There we have labor under duress, without pay.

[A] commodity is the result of something other than directly compensated work. Thus its value also has nothing to do with what is to be paid in wages. Look at today's situation. Today we have jobs for which the worker is partly compensated—partly. What they bring in flows as profit into the pockets of the entrepreneur. Thus work is partly compensated. What, thereby, has the worker himself become? He invests his labor power into this work. In Greece, when one was confronting a unit of work, it was a product of slavery. Today's commodity involves something entirely different. Today the luxury that I receive is crystallized labor for which the worker is compensated. If we ponder this we will find that a half freedom has taken over from the old slavery. A contractual relation has taken its place. In that way labor has become a commodity in the figure of the laborer. So we have labor that is half compelled and half voluntary. And the course of evolution is in the direction of completely voluntary work. This path no one will change or reject. Just as the Greek laborer did his work under the compulsion of his master and a present laborer works under the compulsion of wages, just so in the future only freedom will obtain. Labor and compensation will in future be completely separated.

That will constitute the health of social conditions in the future. You can see it already today. Work will be a voluntary performance out of the recognition of necessity, out of the realization that it must be done. People perform it because they look at the person and see that he needs work done for him. What was labor in antiquity? It was tribute, it was performed because it had to be performed. And what is the labor of the present time? It is based on self-interest, on the compulsion that egoism exerts on us. Because we want to exist, we want labor to be paid for. We work for our own sake, for the sake of our pay. In the future we will work for our fellow human beings, because they need what we can provide. That's what we will work for. We will clothe our fellow men, we will give them what they need—in completely free activity. From this, compensation must be completely separated. Labor in the past was tribute, in the future it will be sacrifice. It has nothing to do with self-interest, nothing to do with compensation. If I base my labor on consumer demand, with regard to what humanity needs, I stand in a free relation to labor, and my work is a sacrifice for humanity. Then I will work with all my powers, because I love humanity and want to place my capacities at its disposal.

That has to be possible, and is possible only when one's living is separated from one's labor. And that is going to happen in the future. No one will be the owner of the products of labor. People must be educated for voluntary work, one for all and all for one. Everyone has to act accordingly. If you were to found a small community today in which everyone throws all one's income into a common bank account and everyone works at whatever he can do, then one's living is not dependent on what work one can do, but rather this living is effected out of the common consumption. This brings about a greater freedom than the coordination of pay with production does. If that happens, we will gain a direction which corresponds with needs. Already today this can flow into every law, every decree. Of course, not absolutely, but approximately. Already today one can organize factories in the right way. But that demands healthy, clear, sober thinking in the sense of Theosophy. If such things penetrate into human souls, then something will be able to live again in these human souls. And the way the one determines the other, just so this life of the human soul will also determine that the outer arrangements will be a mirror picture of it, so that our labor will be a sacrificial offering—and no longer self-interest—so that what controls the relations with the outer world is not compensation, but rather what is in us. What we have in our power to do, we offer to humanity. If we can't do much, then we can't offer much; if we have a lot, then we offer a lot.

We must know that every activity is a cause of endless effects and that we may allow nothing that is in our soul to go unused. We will be making every offering out of our soul if we completely renounce any pay that can accrue to us from external conditions. Not for our own sake, not for the sake of our welfare, but rather for the sake of necessity. We want to firm up the soul through the law of its own inner being, so that it learns to place its powers at the disposal of the whole from points of view other than the law of wages and self-interest. There have been thinkers who in some connection have already thought thus. In the first half of the 19th century there have been thinkers who have brought this feature of a grand soul-based contemplation of cosmic law. Is this feature not a sanctification of labor? Isn'tit so that we can lay it on the altar of humanity?

Thus labor becomes anything but a burden. It becomes something into which we place what is most sacred for us, our compassion for humanity, and then we can say: Labor is sacred because it is a sacrifice for mankind.

Now there have been people who in the first half of the nineteenth century spoke of “sacred industry.” Saint Simon was one of those who had an inkling of the great ideas of the future. [See Note 3] Whoever studies his writings will, if one deepens them in the theosophical sense, gain endlessly much for our time. Saint Simon spoke in a rudimentary way, but of a type of living together, as in an association. He has projected associations into which the single individuals deposited tribute, and thus existence became independent. He had great ideas about the development of humanity, and discovered several things. He said: The human races correspond to a planned development, and souls make their appearance one after the other and work their way upwards. That's the way to regard the development of humanity, for then one comes to the correct view. He also speaks of a planetary spirit that changes itself into other planets on which humanity will live. In short, here is a national economist whose works you can read and who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century. You read his work like a Theosophical book.

Today the palingenesis [continued rebirth, metempsychosis] of soul existence can be proved. Whoever acknowledges Haeckel will also have to acknowledge reincarnation if one carries Haeckel's ideas further. Fourier [See Note 4] also thought in this way. You can find in him a primitive Theosophy. Thus for one who looks at things the way they are, Theosophy's first major principle for our social life — to establish the kernel of a universal brotherhood — is the only thing that can propagate healthy conditions in the environment. This view of the Theosophists is not impractical, rather it is more practical than the view of all those social theorists (you'll have to admit this if you apply these theories to life), and only someone like that will say, with good old Kolb: Studying theories of national economy is no burden. Only if Theosophy comes to be heard in debates on the social question can a healthy way of looking at it, a healthy thinking come into it. So it is necessary for someone who wants to see and hear in this area to come to terms with Theosophy.

For the Theosophists two things are clear, not out of fanaticism, but rather out of a knowledge that comes from looking at life: it is possible to stick with gray theory and relegate the matter to people who will later have to admit that at the desk it looks different from what it turns out to be in life out there. Then one will have to wait a long time, and what must come will come anyway. In the end, living theory will have to intervene in life—one can hear it already today—already today one can argue about what Theosophy has to say about the social question. Then one can't hear just one lecture, rather one has to deal with Theosophy in its entirety. From it one will derive the gift, the ability, in a healthy way to view life from top to bottom in its most secret and intimate forces, then healing and blessing can soon come into our social order.

Let us achieve in ourselves, as much as we can, what should happen. The reshaping of labor, working not for pay, is a sacrifice. Then we will have done our duty, then we will have regarded life in a healthy way. Or else we will keep looking at the world with gray theories, alien to life. Then it could turn out that future humanity could say: Questions were raised. When these questions were there to be raised, when recovery in a good way was possible, that was just when they did not want to study them. Goethe once said: “Revolutions are entirely impossible if the rulers do their duty.” He knew who was to blame for revolution. [See Note 5] Let us try to consider what the history of the future can say about our present. You have seen what time has wrought, until the earth was drenched with blood, and how the time has raised the most burning questions in an even more frightful way.


  1. Crimmitschau strikes: Among the numerous work stoppages in the first years of the 20th century, the strike of the textile workers of Crimmitschau, from 7 August 1903 to 17 January 1904, stands out especially because the management reacted to the strike of 600 textile workers in five factories with an unprecedented mass lockout: they locked out the entire work force. Subsequently, in Crimmitschau, with a population of 23,000, around 8,000 textile workers and 1500 who worked at home stood in conflict with a management that was obviously intensifying its measures against the workers. For details on this strike see F. Deppe et al., Geschichte der deutschen Gewerkschaftsbewegung (History of the German Trade Union Movement), Cologne, 1978, p.77f.

    Miners' strike: A further high point in the strike movement was the miners' strike in the Ruhr from December 1904 to 9 February 1905, at the center of which stood the demands for am eight-hour day, higher pay, better worker protection, and recognition of the workers organizations. For this also see the portrayal of F. Deppe et al. op cit. p. 78f. what's going on in Eastern Europe: On 22 August 1905, “bloody Sunday,” in Petersburg, peaceful demonstrators were shot down by the military. The strike wave now turned into revolutionary unrest that soon spread over all of Russia. In the fall of 1905 the socialistically organized workers called for a general strike and, with the participation of Bolsheviks, Menscheviks, social revolutionaries and independents, formed the first Soviet (Council).

  2. a Prussian government councillor, Alfred Kolb: Rudolf Steiner also deals with him in the essay “Spiritual Science and the Social Question” in Lucifer Gnosis, GA Bibl. No. 134, and in the Hamburg lecture of the same name of 2 March 1908 in Die Welträtsel und die Anthroposophie (Anthroposophy and the Riddle of the World), Bn/GA Bibl. No. 54.

  3. Saint Simon (Claude Henri de Rouvroy), 1760-1825: social reformer. Lettres d'un habitant de Geneve a ses contemporains (1803) (Letters of an Inhabitant of Geneva to his Contemporaries), Réorganisations de la societi europtenne (1814) (The Reorganization of European Society); Le nouveau christianisme (1825) (The New Christianity). Also see A. Voigt, Die sozialen Utopien, Leipzig, 1906 (Social Utopias). This book is also to be found in Rudolf Steiner's private library (Archives of the Rudolf Steiner Estate Administration) and contains numerous underlinings by him concerning Saint Simon. See p,107ff.

  4. Fourier, François Marie Charles, 1772–1837; Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (1808) (Theory of Four Movements and General Destinies), Lenouveau monde industrielet sociétair (1829) (The New Industrial and Societal World). See A. Voigt op.cit. p. 95ff.

  5. Goethe once said: Literally it says: “I was also completely convinced that any great revolution is never the fault of the people, rather of the government. Revolutions are altogether impossible as long as governments are continually just and continually vigilant, so that they anticipate them with timely reforms and don't hold back until what is necessary is compelled from the bottom up” (Eckermann, 4 January 1824).

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