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Spiritual Science as a Foundation for Social Forms

Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document

Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Spiritual Science as a Foundation for Social Forms

On-line since: 15th June, 2009


This volume contains seventeen of the more than 6000 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) during the early part of this century. As with many of his lectures Steiner assumes a certain familiarity with his basic writings an the part of his listeners, a familiarity which can be gained by reading one or more of his introductory works. Chief among these are four books: The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, An Outline of Occult Science, Theosophy, and Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. The readers unfamiliar with the above works might be well advised to consider first reading one or more of them before attempting this volume both as a way of increasing their appreciation and comprehension of this work and in fairness to Steiner who explains in detail how he came to his knowledge in these four volumes.

Some of the volumes of Steiner's lectures are known as cycles because they addressed a single theme and were delivered over a short period of time to the same audience. The seventeen lectures collected in this sequence do not, strictly speaking, constitute a cycle. They are strung together along a definite path stretching between the dates of August 6 to September 18, 1920; but two were delivered before a very different audience, in Berlin. Added to these lectures is an address to the General Assembly of the Berlin branch of the Anthroposophical Society.

To the careful student of Rudolf Steiner's work it may seem, however, as if these lectures indeed form a definite cycle. They transmit a powerful appeal to all those who are deeply concerned with the condition of the social fabric, irrespective of political partisanship; but who look to its cultural and philosophical basis as a means for social action and renewal.

The range of these lectures is enormous, and thereby symptomatic of Rudolf Steiner's contribution to the civilization of our time. We only need look at some of the themes of the lectures:

Spiritual science must be a knowledge of action.

The twelve senses of the human being in their relation to Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition.

The science of initiation and the impulse for freedom.

Viewpoints for the forming of a healthy social judgment.

The lectures turn to profound and deeply stirring observations concerning the inherent tasks and intentions of the peoples in the West and East, and describe the diverse influences upon them through various spiritual powers. To this stream a talk is added in honor of Hegel's 150th birthday, making us aware of the pervasive, albeit mostly unconscious, influence of this thinker upon the West, and by no means only in the form in which Communism claimed him.

The lectures which follow belong perhaps to the most exciting ones we can find in Rudolf Steiner's lectures an the fundamentals for a social renewal. Like a slow-growing plant they begin to open only gradually into full significance.

The initiative to make this volume available in English arose out of a circle of people, including this writer, who have long concerned themselves with social renewal. We are a group who have chosen to live and work with handicapped people all over the world in special communities, the Camphill communities.

The social forms developed by these Camphill communities are new types of villages or related forms of communal life. In these villages we have enabled exciting relationships, new ways and new values of labor to emerge and for these strivings this volume might become a constant source of strength and encouragement. Just as there exists a curative course [ Note 1 ] by Rudolf Steiner which provides insight and inspiration for educators of handicapped children, so these lectures can be regarded as a source of inspiration for the whole range of activities which unfold as social therapy. The practical labor arising therefrom thus could give the right background for applying the indications given in these lectures. The lectures would then provide truly new ways of understanding the impulses and efforts of community life. They would demonstrate what it means to become free from those often highly developed thoughts which have, nevertheless, led the actions of individuals, groups and nations into catastrophic situations for several hundred years. And they still continue to do so despite increasingly desperate calls for change! But do we truly want to change? Without insights of a spiritual nature we cannot and will not attempt to change. Neither can it be expected to be an easy task or to be done by the mere acceptance of some creed.

Rudolf Steiner says in the 10th lecture:

We come closer and closer to total decline precisely because our intellectuals will not venture to construe the tasks in this world by utilizing ideas other than those gained from waking life, from what lies between birth and death.

At the same time we must be aware of the slow, though fundamental process to which we can aspire when we take seriously what Rudolf Steiner has to say at the very beginning of the 12th lecture:

One becomes acquainted with the same things from everchanging viewpoints; thus, conviction increasingly gains in strength.

This growing conviction becomes firmer, the more flexible the standpoint, the deeper and the more truthful the shift from one to another perspective is, and it brings that certainty we can see in the planetary companions of the sun as they move in their regular orbits, in that galaxy to which they belong, to which we ourselves belong. Ultimately, this is the cosmos of love and truth.

The practical-minded expert will either smile or get angry at this. What role shall such lofty sentiments play in a world of brutality, deceit and despair? In the midst of such conditions (where the practitioners of old vices and their political and power-seeking responses continue to be at work, Rudolf Steiner spoke the following, describing neither a wish nor an ethical utopia, but describing rather his sober insight into a law, that is akin to a law of nature.

This will be the healthy social relationship in the future. You can see it already today. Labor will be a free activity out of the insight into the necessity that labor has to take place. Men labor because they look at the human being and recognize that he needs labor. What was labor in the ancient world? It was a tribute; it was done because it had to be done. And what is labor today? It rests upon self-satisfaction, and that kind of enforcement which is exerted upon us by egoism. Because we are where we are, we want to be paid for our labor. We work for our own sakes, for our own wages. In the future we will labor for the sake of our fellow human beings, because they need what we can work for. This will be the reason for our work. We will clothe our fellow human beings, we will make our work available to them for what they are in need of — as a completely free activity. Wages have to be completely separated from this. A tribute was labor in the past — an offering it will be in the future. Labor has nothing to do with self-satisfaction, nothing to do with payment. If I allow my work to be dictated by the needs of my brothers with a view to what mankind really needs, then I will find myself in a free relationship to it, and my work becomes an offering for mankind. Then I shall work with all my strength, for I love mankind and put my strength at its disposal. [ Note 2 ]

Who cannot imagine the unbelieving, if not contemptuous, faces raised upon hearing this — the cynicism and impatience? For all those who at times play at intellectual games with Rudolf Steiner's indications, another paragraph of the same lecture shall be quoted. Rudolf Steiner continues:

This must become possible and will only be possible when life's requirements are separated from work. And this will indeed happen in the future — no one will be the owner of the products of his own labor. Mankind must be educated for free labor, one for all and all for one. Each one will have to act accordingly. Today, if you would found a small community in which each one throws into a communal account what he earns and each one works as best he can, then his very life's existence — his needs — will be brought about out of the communal consumption. This will cause a greater freedom than the ordering of wages according to production. When that happens we shall turn in the right direction. Today, this could flow into law, into each regulation; of course, not in absolute terms, but approximately. One could today build up factories in this way. But it will require healthy, clear and sober thinking in the sense of anthroposophy.[ Note 2 ]

A deeper understanding of all this can be obtained from the present volume of lectures.

If Rudolf Steiner's printed work needs a preface or an introduction at all, it is to emphasize that it cannot be read like other books. It belongs to the type and quality of his thoughts that they have the characteristics of living things: the inherent power of growth and potential for change which lies in the unfolding of all living things. We are not accustomed to such activity with thoughts, with thinking as a force akin to doing. Yet such is the nature of Rudolf Steiner's thoughts. They appeal to an otherwise dormant participation in us and offer an invitation to social activity. No doubt, this is an unusual demand. Conceivably it can cause offense. But the request is emphasized here and with good cause.

In our time, no one can be free from grave concerns for the future, which is reaching with its tentacles right into the present. Much good will and increasing desperation is spent on finding “solutions,” on seeking, on organizing, on imploring to try different ways; ways of amelioration, of appeasement, of change with a truly human face — with few results. It would not be, then, a wasted effort to enter into the reading of these lectures with more than that intellectual scanning to which we have become accustomed, but instead to hear, almost from the first words, the intonation of a selfless voice, selfless even in search for knowledge. This voice speaks with the tone of hope and of insight and with the aspirations of all of us. Its familiarity should, in the encounter with its message, lead us securely — and far more deeply than we usually listen — to those places of the will in us which alone can bring about change and evolutionary responsibility.

Carlo Pietzner
Michaelmas 1985



1. Curative Education, Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1984

2. These two quotations come from a public lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin an October 26, 1905. This lecture was published only recently for the first time in Beitrage zur Rudolf Steiner Gesamtausgabe, St. John's Time 1985, #88.

Last Modified: 03-Sep-2020
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