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Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life

A Lecture By
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, April 13th, 1919
GA 190

A part of Steiner's Lectures on Spiritual Essence and its Working, this is the fifth of a cycle of six lectures, Die geistigan Hintergrande der sozialen Frage, or Impulses of the Past and of the Future in Social Occurrences. From the volume: Past and Future Impulses in Social Happenings, published in German as Vergangenheits- und Zukunftsimpulse Im Sozialen Geschehen.

From a shorthand report, unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland, and in agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company. Translated by Dorothy Osmond. This lecture appeared in The Golden Blade, 1954.

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F

ROM the two preceding lectures you will have realised that in finding it necessary to speak at the present time of the threefold social order, anthroposophical spiritual science is not actuated by any subjective views or aims. The purpose of the lecture yesterday was to point to impulses deeply rooted in the life of the peoples of the civilised world — the world as it is in this Fifth Post-Atlantean Epoch. I tried to show how, from about the year 1200 A.D. onwards, there awakened in Middle Europe an impulse leading to the growth of what may be called the civic social order, but that this civic social life of the middle classes was infiltrated by the remains of a life of soul belonging to earlier centuries — by those decadent Nibelung traits which appeared particularly among the ruling strata in the mid-European countries.

I laid special stress upon the existence of a radical contrast in mid-European life from the thirteenth until the twentieth centuries, culminating in the terrible death-throes of social life that have come upon Middle Europe. This incisive contrast was between the inner, soul-life of the widespread middle-class, and that of the descendants of the old knighthood, of the feudal overlords, of those in whom vestiges of the old Nibelung characteristics still survived. These latter were the people who really created the political life of Middle Europe, whereas the bulk of the middle class remained non-political, a-political. If one desires to be a spiritual scientist from the practical point of view, serious study must be given to this difference of soul-life between the so-called educated bourgeoisie and all those who held any kind of ruling positions in Middle Europe at that time. I spoke of this in the lecture yesterday.

We will now consider in rather greater detail why it was that the really brilliant spiritual movement which lasted from the time of Walter von der Vogelweide until that of Goetheanism, and then abruptly collapsed, failed to gain any influence over social life or to produce any thoughts which could have been fruitful in that sphere. Even Goethe, with all his power to unfold great, all-embracing ideas in many domains of life, was really only able to give a few indications — concerning which one may venture to say that even he was not quite clear about them — as to what must come into being as a new social order in civilised humanity. Fundamentally speaking, the tendency towards the threefold membering of a healthy social organism was already present in human beings, subconsciously, by the end of the eighteenth century. The demands for freedom, equality and fraternity, which can have meaning only when the threefold social order becomes reality, testified to the existence of this subconscious longing. Why did it never really come to the surface?

This is connected with the whole inherent character of mid-European spiritual life. At the end of the lecture yesterday I spoke of a strange phenomenon. I said that Hermann Grimm — for whom I have always had such high regard and whose ideas were able to shed light upon so many aspects of art and general human interest of bygone times — succumbed to the extraordinary fallacy of admiring such an out-and-out phrasemonger as Wildenbruch! In the course of years I have often mentioned an incident which listeners may have thought trivial, but which can be deeply indicative for those who study life in its symptomatological aspect. Among the many conversations I had with Hermann Grimm while I was in personal contact with him, there was one in which I spoke from my own point of view about many things that need to be understood in the spiritual sense. In telling this story I have always stressed the fact that Hermann Grimm's only response to such mention of the spiritual was to make a warding-off gesture with his hand, indicating that this was a realm he was not willing to enter. A supremely true utterance, consisting of a gesture of the hand, was made at that moment. It was true inasmuch as Hermann Grimm, for all his penetration into many things connected with the so-called spiritual evolution of mankind, into art, into matters of universal human concern, had not the faintest inkling of what ‘spirit’ must signify for men of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch of culture. He simply did not know what spirit really is from the standpoint of a man of this epoch. In speaking of such matters one must keep bluntly to the truth: until it came to the spirit, there was truth in a man like Hermann Grimm. He made a parrying gesture because he had no notion of how to think about the spirit. Had he been one of the phrasemongers going about masked as prophets to-day endeavouring to better the lot of mankind, he would have believed that he too could speak about the spirit; he would have believed that by reiterating Spirit, spirit, spirit! something is expressed that has been nurtured in one's own soul.

Among those who of recent years have been talking a great deal about the spirit, without a notion of its real nature, are the theosophists — the majority of them at any rate. For it can truly be said that of all the vapid nonsense that has been uttered of late, the theosophical brand has been the most regrettable and also in a certain respect the most harmful in its effects. But a statement like the one I have made about Hermann Grimm — not thinking of him as a personality but as a typical representative of the times — raises the question: how comes it that such a true representative of Middle European life has no inkling of how to think about the spiritual, about the spirit? It is just this that makes Hermann Grimm the typical representative of Middle European civilisation. For when we envisage this brilliant culture of the townsfolk, which has its start about the year 1200 and lasts right on into the period of Goetheanism, we shall certainly perceive as its essential characteristic — but without valuing it less highly on this account — that it is impregnated in the best sense with soul but empty of anything that can be called spirit. That is the fact we have to grasp, with a due sense of the tragedy of it: this brilliant culture was devoid of spirit. What is meant here, of course, is spirit as one learns to apprehend it through anthroposophical spiritual science.

Again and again I return to Hermann Grimm as a representative personality, for the thinking of thousands and thousands of scholarly men in Middle Europe was similar to his. Hermann Grimm wrote an excellent book about Goethe, containing the substance of lectures he gave at the University of Berlin in the seventies of the last century. Taking it all in all, what Hermann Grimm said about Goethe is really the best that has been said at this level of scholarship. From the vantage-point of a rich life of soul, Hermann Grimm derived his gift not only for portraying individual men but for accurately discerning and assessing their most characteristic traits. He was brilliant in hitting upon words for such characterisations. Take a simple example. In the nature of things, Hermann Grimm was one of those who misunderstood the character of the wild Nibelung people. He was an ardent admirer of Frederick the Great and pictured him as a Germanic hero. Now Macaulay, the English historian and man of letters, wrote about Frederick the Great, naturally from the English point of view. In an essay on Macaulay, Hermann Grimm set out to show that in reality only a German possessed of sound insight is capable of understanding and presenting a true picture of Frederick the Great. Hermann Grimm describes Macaulay's picture of Frederick the Great in the very apt words: Macaulay makes of Frederick the Great a distorted figure of an English Lord, with snuff in his nose.

To hit upon such a characterisation indicates real ability to shape ideas and mental images in such a way that they have plasticity, mobility. Many similar examples could be found of Hermann Grimm's flair for apt characterisation. And other kindred minds, belonging to the whole period of Middle European culture of which I spoke yesterday, were endowed with the same gift. But if, with all the good-will born of a true appreciation of Hermann Grimm, we study his monograph on Goethe — what is our experience then? We feel: this is an extraordinarily good, a really splendid piece of writing — only it is not Goethe! In reality it gives only a shadow-picture of Goethe, as if out of a three-dimensional figure one were to make a two-dimensional shadow-picture, thrown on the screen. Goethe seems to wander through the chapters like a ghost from the year 1749 to the year 1832. What is described is a spectral Goethe — not what Goethe was, what he thought, what he desired.

Goethe himself did not succeed in lifting to the level of spiritual consciousness all that was alive within his soul. Indeed, the great ‘Goethe problem’ to-day is precisely this: to raise into consciousness in a truly spiritual way what was spiritually alive in Goethe. He himself was not capable of this, for culture in his day could give expression only to a rich life of the soul, not of the spirit. Therefore Hermann Grimm, too, firmly rooted as he was in the Goethean tradition, could depict only a shadow, a spectre, when he wanted to speak of Goethe's spirit. It is thoroughly characteristic that the best modern exposition of Goethe and Goetheanism should produce nothing but a spectre of Goethe.

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Why is it that through the whole development of this brilliant phase of culture there is no real grasp of the spirit, no experience of it or feeling for it? Men such as Troxler, and Schelling too at times, pointed gropingly to the spirit. But speaking quite objectively, it must be said that this culture was empty of spirit. And because of this, men were also ignorant of the needs, the conditions, that are essential for the life of the spirit. Here too there is something which may well up as a feeling of tragedy from contemplation of this stream of culture: men were unable to perceive, to divine, the conditions necessary for the life of the spirit, above all in the social sphere; For the reason why the social life of Middle Europe has developed through the centuries to the condition in which it finds itself to-day is that it had no real experience of the spirit, nor felt the need to meet the fundamental requirement of the spiritual life by emancipating it, making it independent of and separate from the political sphere. Because men had no understanding of the spirit, they allowed it to be merged with the political life of the State, where it could unfold only in shackles. I am speaking here only of Middle Europe; in other regions of the modern civilised world it was the same, although the causes were different.

And then, in the inmost soul, a reaction can set in. Then a man can experience how in his study of nature the spirit remains dumb, silent, uncommunicative. Then the soul rebels, gathers its forces and strives to bring the spirit to birth from its own inmost being! This can happen only in an epoch when scientific thinking impinges on a culture which has no innate disposition towards spirituality. For if men are not inwardly dead, if they are inwardly alive, the impulse of the spirit begins of itself to stir within them. We must recognise that since the middle of the 15th century the spirit has to be brought to birth through encountering what is dead if it is to penetrate into man's life of soul. The only persons who can gain satisfaction from inwardly experiencing the spiritualised soul-life of the Greeks are those who, with their classical scholarship, live in that afterglow of Greek culture which enables the soul-quality of the spirit to pulsate through a man's own soul. But men who are impelled to live earnestly with natural science and to discern what is deathly, corpse-like in it — they will make it possible for the spirit itself to come alive in their souls.

If a man is to have real and immediate experience of the spirit in this modern age, he must not only have smelt the fumes of prussic acid or ammonia in laboratories, or have studied specimens extracted from corpses in the dissecting room, but out of the whole trend and direction of natural scientific thinking he must have known the odour of death in order that through this experience he may be led to the light of the spirit! This is an impulse which must take effect in our times; it is also one of the testings which men of the modern age must undergo. Natural science exists far more for the purpose of educating man than for communicating truths about nature. Only a naive mind could believe that any natural law discovered by learned scientists enshrines an essential, inner truth. Indeed it does not! The purpose of natural science, devoid of spirit as it is, is the education of men. This is one of the paradoxes implicit in the historic evolution of humanity.

And so it was only in the very recent past, in the era after Goetheanism, that the spirit glimmered forth; for it was then, for the first time, that the essentially corpse-like quality in the findings of natural science came to the fore; then and not until then could the spirit ray forth — for those, of course, who were willing to receive its light. Until the time of Goethe, men protected themselves against the sorry effects of a spiritual life shackled in State-imposed restrictions by cultivating a form of spiritual life fundamentally alien to them, namely the spiritual life of ancient Greece; this was outside the purview of the modern State for the very reason that it had nothing to do with modern times. A makeshift separation of the spiritual life from the political sphere was provided by the adoption of an alien form of culture. This Greek culture was a cover for the spiritual emptiness of Middle European life and of modern Europe in general.

On the other hand, the need to separate the economic sphere from the Rights-sphere, from the political life of the State proper, was not perceived. And why not? When all is said and done, nobody can detach himself from the economic field. To speak trivially, the stomach sees to that! In the economic sphere it is impossible for men to live unconcernedly through such cataclysms as are allowed to occur, all unnoticed, in the political and spiritual spheres. Economic activity was going on all the time, and it developed in a perfectly straightforward way. The transformation of the old impenetrable forests into meadows and cornfields, with all the ensuing economic consequences, went steadily ahead. But into economic life, too, there came an alien intrusion, one that had actually found a footing in the souls of men in Middle Europe earlier than that of Greece, namely the Latin-Roman influence. Everything pertaining to the State, to the Rights-life, to political life, derives from this Latin-Roman influence. And here again is something that will have to be stressed by history in the future but has been overlooked by the conventional, tendentious historiography of the immediate past, with its bias towards materialism — the strangely incongruous fact that certain economic ideas and procedures are a direct development from social relationships described, for example, by Tacitus, as prevailing in the Germanic world during the first centuries after the founding of Christianity.

But that is not all. These trends in economic thinking did not go forward unhampered. The Roman view of rights, Roman political thinking, seeped into the economic usages and methods originally prevailing in Europe, infiltrated them through and through and caused a sharp cleavage between the economic sphere and the political sphere. Thus the economic sphere and the political sphere, the former coloured by the old Germanic way of life and the latter by the Latin-Roman influence, remained separate on the surface but without any organic distinction consistent with the threefold membering of the body social: the distinction was merely superficial, a mask. Two heterogeneous strata were intermingled; it was felt that they did not belong together, in spite of external unification. Inwardly, however, people were content, because in their souls they experienced the two spheres as separate and distinct.

One need only study mediaeval and modern history in the right way and it will be clear that this mediaeval history is really the story of perpetual rebellion, self-defence, on the part of the economic relationships surviving from olden times against the political State, against the Roman order of life. Imaginative study of these things shows unmistakably how Roman influences in the form of jurisprudence penetrate into men via the heads of the administrators. A great deal of the Roman element had even found its way into the wild Nibelung men in their period of decline. “Graf” is connected with “grapho” — writing. One can picture how the peasants, thinking in terms of husbandry, rise up in rebellion against this Roman juridical order, with fists clenched in their pockets, or with flails. Naturally, this is not always so outwardly perceptible. But when one observes history truly, these factors are present in the whole moral trend and impulse of those times. And so — I am merely characterising, not criticising, for everything that happened has also brought blessings and was necessary for the historic evolution of Middle Europe — all that developed from the seeds planted in mid-European civilisation was permeated through and through by the juristic-political influences of the Roman world and the humanism of Greece, by the Greek way of conceiving spirit in the guise of soul.

On the other hand, directly economic life acquired its modern, international character, the old order was doomed. A man might have had a very good classical education and be an ignoramus in respect of modern natural science, but then he was inwardly on a retrograde path. A man of classical education could not keep abreast of his times unless he penetrated to some extent into what modern natural scientific education had to offer. And again, if a man were schooled in natural science, if he acquired some knowledge of modern natural science and of what had come out of the old Roman juristic system in the period of which I have spoken, he could not help suffering from an infantile disease, from ‘culture scarlet fever’, ‘culture measles’, in a manner of speaking. In the old Imperium Romanum a juristic culture was fitting and appropriate. Then this same juristic principle, the res publica (i.e, the conception of it), was transplanted from ancient Rome into the sphere of Middle European culture, together with the element of Nibelung barbarism on the other side. One really gets ‘culture scarlet fever’, ‘culture measles’, if one does not merely think of jurisprudence in the abstract, but, with sound natural scientific concepts, delves into the stuff that figures as modern jurisprudence in literature and in science.

We can see that this state of things had reached a certain climax when we find a really gifted man such as Rudolf von Ihering at an utter loss to know how to deal with the pitiable notions of jurisprudence current in the modern age. The book written by Ihering on the aim of justice (Der Zweck im Recht) was a grotesque production, for here was a man who had made a little headway in natural scientific thinking endeavouring to apply the concepts he had acquired to jurisprudence — the result being a monstrosity of human thinking. To study modern literature on law is a veritable martyrdom for sound thinking; one feels all the time as though so many worms were crawling through the brain. This is the actual experience — I am simply describing it pictorially.

*        *        *

We must be courageous enough to face these things fairly and squarely, and then it will be clear that we have arrived at the point of time when not only certain established usages and institutions, but men's very habits of thought, must be metamorphosed, re-cast; when men must begin to think about many things in a different way. Only then will the social institutions in the external world be able, under the influence of human thinking and feeling, to take the form that is called for by these ominous and alarming facts.

A fundamental change in the mental approach to certain matters of the highest importance is essential. But because between 1200 and the days of Goetheanism, modern humanity, especially in Middle Europe, absorbed all unwittingly thoughts that wriggled through the brain like worms, there crept over thinking the lazy passivity that is characteristic of the modern age. It comes to expression in the absence of will from the life of thought. Men allow their thoughts to take possession of them; they yield to these thoughts; they prefer to have them in the form of instinct. But in this manner no headway can be made towards the spirit. The spirit can be reached only by genuinely putting the will into thinking, so that thinking becomes an act like any other, like hewing wood. Do modern men feel that thinking tires them? They do not, because thinking for them is not activity at all. But the fact that anyone who thinks with thoughts, not with words, will get just the same fatigue as he gets from hewing wood, and actually in a shorter time, so that he simply has to stop — that is quite outside their experience. Nevertheless, this is what will have to be experienced, for otherwise modern mankind as a community will be incapable of achieving the transition from the sense-world into the super-sensible world of which I spoke in the two preceding lectures. Only by entering thus into the super-sensible world, with understanding for what is seen and apprehended in the spirit, will human souls find harmony again.

The year 1200 is the time of Walter von der Vogelweide, the time when the spiritual life of Middle Europe is astir with powerful imaginations of which conventional history has little to say. Then it flows on through the centuries, but from the 15th and 16th centuries onwards takes into itself the germs of decline with the founding of the Universities of Prague, Ingolstadt, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Restock, Wurzburg and the rest. The founding of these Universities throughout Middle Europe occurred almost without exception in a single century. The kind of life and thinking emanating from the Universities started the trend towards abstraction — towards what was subsequently to be idolised and venerated as the pure, natural scientific thinking which to-day invades the customary ways of thought with such devastating results.

Fundamentally speaking, this gave a definite stamp to the whole mentality of the educated middle class. Naturally, many individuals were not deeply influenced, but all the same the effect was universal. Of salient importance during this period was the increasing receptiveness of people to a form of soul-life entirely foreign to them. Side by side with what was developed through those who were the bearers of this middle-class culture, which reached its culmination in Goethe, Herder and Schiller, alien elements and impulses were at work.

I am speaking here of something profoundly characteristic. In their souls, the bearers of this culture were seeking for the spirit without a notion of what the spirit is. And where did they seek it? In the realm of Greek culture! They learnt Greek in their intermediate schools, and what was instilled into them by way of spiritual substance was Greek in tenor and content. To speak truly of the spirit as conceived in Middle Europe from the thirteenth right on into the twentieth century, one would have to say: spirit, as conveyed by the inculcation of Greek culture. No spiritual life belonging intrinsically and innately to the people came into being. Greek culture did not really belong to the epoch beginning in the middle of the 15th century, which we call the epoch of the evolution of selfconsciousness. And so the bourgeoisie in Middle Europe were imbued with an outworn form of Greek culture, and this was the source of all that they were capable of feeling and experiencing in regard to the spirit.

But what the Greek experienced of the spirit was merely its expression in the life of soul (Seelenseite das Geistes). What gave profundity to the culture of ancient Greece was that the Greek rose to perception of the highest manifestation of soul-life. That was what he called ‘spirit’. True, the spirit shines down from the heights, pulsing through the realm of soul; but when the gaze is directed upwards, it finds, to begin with, only the expression of the spirit in the realm of soul.

Man's task in the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, however, is to lift himself into the very essence of the spirit — an attainment still beyond his reach in the days of Greece. This is of far greater significance than is usually supposed, for it sheds light upon the whole way in which medieval, neo-medieval culture apprehended the spirit.

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What, then, was required in order to reach a concept, an inward experience, of the spirit appropriate for the modern age? It is precisely by studying a representative figure like Hermann Grimm that we can discover this. It is something of which a man such as Hermann Grimm, steeped in classical lore, had not the faintest inkling — namely, the strivings of natural science and the scientific mode of thinking. This thinking is devoid of spirit; precisely where it is great it contains no trace of spirit, not an iota of spirituality. All the concepts of natural science, all its notions of laws of nature, are devoid of spirit, are mere shadow-pictures of spirit; while men are investigating the laws of nature, no trace of the spirit is present in their consciousness.

Two ways are open here. Either a man can give himself up to natural science, contenting himself — as often happens to-day — with what natural science has to offer; then he will certainly equip his mind with a number of scientific laws and ideas concerning nature — but he loses the spirit. Along this path it is possible to become a truly great investigator, but at the cost of losing all spirituality. That is the one way. The other is to be inwardly aware of the tragic element arising from the lack of spirituality in natural science, precisely where science appears in all its greatness. Man immerses his soul in the scientific lore of nature, in the abstract, unspiritual laws of chemistry, physics, biology, which, having been discovered at the dissecting table, indicate by this very fact that from the living they yield only the dead. The soul delves into what natural science has to impart concerning the laws of human evolution. When a man allows all this to stream into him, when he endeavours not to pride himself on his knowledge, but asks: ‘What does this really give to the human soul?’ — then he experiences something true; then spirit is not absent. Herein, too, lies the tragic problem of Nietzsche, whose life of soul was torn asunder by the realisation that modern scientific learning is devoid of spirituality.

As you know, insight into the super-sensible world does not depend upon clairvoyance; all that is required is to apprehend by the exercise of healthy human reason what clairvoyance can discover. It is not essential for the whole of mankind to become clairvoyant; but what is essential, and moreover within the reach of every human being, is to develop insight into the spiritual world through the healthy human intelligence. Only thus can harmony enter into souls of the modern age: for the loss of this harmony is due to the conditions of evolution in our time. The development of Europe, with her American affinities on the one hand and the Asiatic frontier on the other, has reached a parting of the ways. Spiritual Beings of higher worlds are bringing to a decisive issue the overwhelming difference between former ages and modern times as regards the living side-by-side of diverse populations on the earth.

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How were the peoples of remote antiquity distributed and arranged over the globe? Up to a certain point of time, not long before the Mystery of Golgotha, the configuration of peoples on earth was determined from above downwards, inasmuch as the souls simply descended from the spiritual world into the physical bodies dwelling in some particular territory. Owing to physiological, geographical, climatic conditions in early times, certain kinds of human bodies were to be found in Greece, and similarly on the peninsula of Italy. The souls came from above, were predestined entirely from above, and took very deep root in man's whole constitution, in his outer, bodily physiognomy.

Then came the great migrations of the peoples. Men wandered over the earth in different streams. Races and peoples began to intermix, thus enhancing the importance of the element of heredity in earthly life. A population inhabiting a particular region of the earth moved to another; for example the Angles and Saxons who were living in certain districts of the Continent migrated to the British Isles. That is one such migration. But in respect of physical heredity, the descendants of the Angles and Saxons are dependent upon what had developed previously on the Continent; this was a determining factor in their bodily appearance, their practices, and so forth. Thus there came into the evolutionary process a factor working in and conditioned by the horizontal. Whereas the distribution of human beings over the earth had formerly depended entirely upon the way in which the souls incarnated as they came down from above, the wanderings and movements of men over the earth now also began to have an effect.

At the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, however, a new cosmic historic impulse came into operation. For a period of time a certain sympathy existed between the souls descending from the spiritual world and the bodies on the earth below. Speaking concretely: souls who were sympathetically attracted by the bodily form and constitution of the descendants of the Angles and Saxons, now living in the British Isles, incarnated in those regions. In the 15th century this sympathy began to wane, and since then the souls have no longer been guided by racial characteristics, but once again by geographical conditions, the kind of climate, and so forth, on the earth below, and also by whether a certain region of the earth is flat or mountainous. Since the 15th century, souls have been less and less concerned with racial traits; once again they are guided more by the existing geographical conditions. Hence a kind of chasm is spreading through the whole of mankind to-day between the elements of heredity and race and the soul-element coming from the spiritual world. And if men of our time were able to lift more of their subconsciousness into consciousness, very few of them would — to use a trivial expression — feel comfortable in their skins. The majority would say: I came down to the earth in order to live on flat ground, among green things or upon verdant soil, in this or that kind of climate, and whether I have Roman or Germanic features is of no particular importance to me.

It certainly seems paradoxical when these things, which are of paramount importance for human life, are concretely described. Men who preach sound principles, saying that one should abjure materialism and turn towards the spirit — they too talk just like the pantheists, of spirit, spirit, spirit. People are not shocked by this to-day; but when anyone speaks concretely about the spirit they simply cannot take it. That is how things are. And harmony must again be sought between, shall I say, geographical predestination and the racial element that is spread over the earth. The leanings towards internationalism in our time are due to the fact that souls no longer concern themselves with the element of race.

A figure of speech I once used is relevant here. I compared what is happening now to a ‘vertical’ migration of peoples, whereas in earlier times what took place was a ‘horizontal’ migration. This comparison is no mere analogy, but is founded upon facts of the spiritual life.

To all this must be added that, precisely through the spiritual evolution of modern times, man is becoming more and more spiritual in the sphere of his subconsciousness, and the materialistic trend in his upper consciousness is more and more sharply at variance with the impulses that are astir in his subconsciousness. In order to understand this, we must consider once more the threefold membering of the human being.

When the man of the present age, whose attention is directed only to the material and the physical, thinks of this threefold membering, he says to himself: I perceive through my senses: they are indeed distributed over the whole body but are really centralised in the head; acts of perception, therefore, belong to the life of the nerves and senses — and there he stops. Further observation will, of course, enable him to describe how the human being breathes, and how the life passes over from the breath into the movement of the heart and the pulsation of the blood. But that is about as far as a he gets to-day. Metabolism is studied [in] all detail, but not as one of the three members of threefold man: actually it is taken to be the whole man. One need not, of course, go to the lengths of the scientific thinker who said: man is what he eats (Der Mensch ist, was er isst) — but, broadly speaking, science is pretty strongly convinced that it is so. In Middle Europe at the present time it looks as if he will soon be what he does not eat!

This threefold membering of the human being, which will ultimately find expression in a threefold social order because its factual reality is becoming more and more evident, manifests in different forms over the earth. Truly, man is not simply the being he appears outwardly to be, enclosed within his skin. It was in accordance with a deep feeling and perception when in my Mystery Play, “The Portal of Initiation”, in connection with the characters of Capesius and Strader, I drew attention to the fact that whatever is done by men on earth has its echo in cosmic happenings out yonder in the universe. With every thought we harbour, with every movement of the hand, with everything we say, whether we are walking or standing, whatever we do — something happens in the cosmos.

The faculties for perceiving and experiencing these things are lacking in man to-day. He does not know — nor can it be expected of him and it is paradoxical to speak as I am speaking now — he does not know how what is happening here on the earth would appear if seen, for example, from the Moon. If he could look from the Moon he would see that the life of the nerves and senses is altogether different from what can be known of it in physical existence. The nerves-and-senses life, everything that transpires while you see, hear, smell, taste, is light in the cosmos, the radiation of light into the cosmos. From your seeing, from your feeling, from your hearing, the earth shines out into the cosmos.

Different again is the effect produced by what is rhythmic in the human being: breathing, heart movement, blood pulsation. This activity manifests in the universe in great and powerful rhythms which can be heard by the appropriate organs of hearing. And the process of metabolism in man radiates out into cosmic space as life streaming from the earth. You cannot perceive, hear, see, smell or feel without shining out into the cosmos. Whenever your blood circulates, you resound into universal space, and whenever metabolism takes place within you, this is seen from out yonder as the life of the whole earth.

But there are great differences in respect of all this — for example, between Asia and Europe. Seen from outside, the thinking peculiar to the Asiatics would appear — even now, when a great proportion of them have lost all spirituality — as bright, shining light raying out into the spiritual space of the universe. But the further we go towards the West, the dimmer and darker does this radiance become. On the other hand, more and more life surges out into cosmic space the further we go towards the West. Only from this vista can there arise in the human soul what may be called perception of the cosmic aspect of the earth — with the human beings belonging to it.

*        *        *

Such conceptions will be needed if mankind is to go forward to a propitious and not an ominous future. The idiocy that is gradually being bred in human beings who are made to learn from the sketchy maps of modern geography: Here is the Danube, here the Rhine, here Reuss, here Aare, here Bern, Basle, Zürich, and so forth — all this external delineation which merely adds material details to the globe — this kind of education will be the ruin of humanity. It is necessary as a foundation and not to be scoffed at; but nevertheless it will lead gradually to man's downfall. The globe of the future will have to indicate: here the earth shines because spirituality is contained in the heads of men: there the earth radiates out more life into cosmic space because of the characteristics of the human beings inhabiting this particular territory.

Something I once said here is connected with this. (One must always illumine one fact by another). I told you that Europeans who settle in America develop hands resembling those of the Red Indians; they begin to resemble the Indian type. This is because the souls coming down into human bodies to-day are directed more by geographical conditions, as they were in the olden days. In our own time, the souls are directed, not by racial considerations, not by what develops out of the blood, but by geographical conditions, as in the past. But it will be necessary to get at the roots of what is going on in humanity. This can be done only when men accustom themselves to concepts of greater flexibility, capable of penetrating matters of this kind. These concepts, however, can be developed only on the foundation of spiritual science. And such a foundation is available when the spirit can be brought to birth in the human soul. For this, man needs a free spiritual life, emancipated from the political life of the State.

I have now given you one or two indications of what is astir in humanity, and of the need to strive for a new ordering of social life. Social demands cannot nowadays be advanced in terms of the trivial concepts commonly employed. Men must have insight into the nature of present-day humanity; they must make good what they have neglected in the study of modern mankind.

Translated by Dorothy Osmond




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