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The New Spirituality and the Christ Experience of the Twentieth Century

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

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The New Spirituality and the Christ Experience of the Twentieth Century

Schmidt Number: S-4270

On-line since: 15th June, 2020

2nd Lecture

The New Spirituality and the Christ Expereience of the Twentieth Century
Lecture 1

22 October, 1920

The fifteenth century ushered in an era for the civilized humanity of the Northern Hemisphere, in which the human individuality began to develop more and more in full I-consciousness. The forces which elaborate this I-consciousness will grow increasingly stronger and all the phenomena of life — of life in the broadest sense — will take place in the sign of this development of the individuality. This, however, means that what comes from the spiritual world and plays into our physical world will take such a course that, in humanity as a whole, the individual element of the human being will take on greater importance. For it is not simply a matter of individual human beings thinking in an egotistical way, 'we are individuals': it is rather a matter of the whole development of humanity taking such a course that the individual human element can work into it.

Every age, every epoch, that we can trace in the course of human evolution developed some particular quality, just as now it is that of individuality. These characteristics are impressed into human evolution through the particular action of spiritual powers working into the physical life of humanity on earth. But precisely because of the separateness that we see in the individual human being today when the individuality is developing — when I-consciousness is developing fully, when the consciousness-soul is, as it were, giving itself contour, becoming integrated in itself — the special characteristics of this epoch are not directed from the spiritual world as they were in earlier epochs, and very exceptional things are making their appearance within humanity's evolution. And the human being who, through the development of his individuality is being increasingly educated for freedom, must also take up a conscious stand more and more to what results from this. Above all it is essential that a social life take shape, but a social life which, from our point of view, must have deep inner foundations. This must take shape despite the fact that the strong egoistical forces of the consciousness-soul, which are opposed to a social life, are emerging ever more strongly from the depths of existence. On the one side we have the strong egoistical forces of the consciousness-soul and, on the other, the all-the-greater necessity of founding a social life consciously. And we must take a conscious stand towards everything that can foster this social living together. We have shown in the past, [1] and from the most varied points of view, how differently the human beings of the West, the European Centre, and of the East are placed in the whole course of human evolution. We have pointed to different things that are peculiar to the human beings of the East, Central Europe and the West. And we want now to turn to a phenomenon that can already show us externally how these differentes within humanity express themselves in the civilized world.

We know that, under the influence of our modern scientific way of thinking about social life, a certain view of life has been developed. This comes to expression particularly strongly in the broad masses of the proletariat which has come into being in our technological age, our intellectual age. I have presented all this, insofar as it touches the social question, in the first part of my Towards Social Renewal (Kernpunkt der sociale Frage). Today I want only to indicate the diversity of views among the broad masses of humanity concerning the social question. We have, clearly differentiated, the social views of, let us say, the proletariat, which then, however, colour other strata of the population. We have, distinct from that of other peoples, the conception of life held in die West, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries. In these countries, under the influence of the modern technology and industry, there has also developed among the broad masses that materialistic concept of life which has often been characterized here. This arose side by side with materialism or was directly produced through the materialism of other classes. This socialist conception of life, however, developed in such a way that it stands entirely under the aegis of economic strife, for it is permeated by economic concepts, thoughts and struggles that are little penetrated by the struggle for a philosophy of life (Lebensanschauungskämpfen). This is the characteristic stamp of what is going on in the socialist world of the Anglo-Saxon West. And because the actual character of modern public life as a whole has hitherto been the economic life, it was from the economic conditions of the Anglo-Saxon proletariat that the impulses of socialism arose.

The impulses coming to expression in the Great Strike movement are significant precisely as a characteristic of what is taking shape in this respect in the West. Even if it seems that the discrepancies which are there could be settled, it only seems so, for such settlements would not be real; very significant effects will issue from the deeper forces playing in these conflicts. And although, by virtue of the whole make-up of the West, no genuine philosophies or concepts of life (Lebensauffassung), develop from these impulses, we can nevertheless dearly perceive how the views of life which do develop, and which have developed in recent times, have taken their incentive from the impulses present there [in the West].

In fact, Karl Marx, [2] who was born in Central Europe and was nurtured in the Central European stream of thought, had to go to England in order to absorb the practical impulses (Lebensimpulse) which had developed there. He, however, transformed them into a theory, into a conception of life. And Marxism as a theory of life has found little external expression in the West. Where it has come to external expression, however, is in Central Europe. In the aims of the social democracy there, it has taken on fully the nature of a philosophy. What in the West are economic impulses leading to economic conflict, were diverted and fixed into legal-political concepts which lived then in Central Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth century as Marxist ideology and took hold of the broad masses of the population. It also found its way into the areas stretching towards the East, to those parts of Europe which begin to take on the character of the East. But here again it expressed itself in another form. Economic in the West; political in the Centre; and in the East it assumes a distinctly religious character. A distortion exists, which occurred with the inundation of the East through Peter the Great [3] — ,and now Lenin [4] and Trotsky. [5] This arises because the Bolshevism making itself felt there is in fact a foreign import. If it were not for that distinction it would be far more evident that, even now, Bolshevism has a strong religious element which, however, is completely materialistic. It works through earlier religious impulses and will continue to do so. And it is precisely in this that its terrible aspect will show itself throughout all Asia, because it works with all the fervour of a religious impulse. The social impulse in the West is economic, in Central Europe is political, and works with a religious fervour eastwards from Russia over into Asia. Over and against these impulses which move through the development of humanity there is a great deal that is utterly unimportant. And anyone who does not see, in the most intense sense, something of symptomatic importance in such things as the present [1920] strike of the British miners simply has no understanding at all of the foment of deeper forces in the whole of our present development.

All this, however, which can be described externally in this way, has deeper causes — causes which lie ultimately in the spiritual world. The more recent life of humanity can only be understood if one understands this differentiation — a differentiation into the Western economic element, the Central European political-legal one, and the religious element — the spiritual element in the East which takes on a religious character but is actually the momentum of a decadent spirituality that still finds expression in the East. This shows itself so strongly that one must say: It is natural for the West — and this is carried out thoroughly by it — to have everything of an economic nature; purely economic aspirations can have no success in the Centre because all economic aims there assume a political character. The great outer failure in Eastern Europe has come about because, through the tradition of Peter the Great, what arises out of a spiritual-religious impulse, i.e. Pan-slavism or Slavophilism, has taken on a political character. Behind this political character, which has produced all the dreadful things that have developed in the European East and has set its characteristic stamp on all the aspirations of the East since Peter the Great, there is, fundamentally, always the spiritual tendency of Byzantium, that is spiritual Byzantine religiosity, and so on. The individual phenomena of history become comprehensible only if they can be seen in this light. One can say: To a certain extent, everything that is still in Europe — also towards the West, even into France — can be reckoned as belonging to the European Centre, for what is characteristic of the West is actually Anglo-Saxon. And, in its basic instincts, this 'Anglo-Saxondom' moves completely with the impulses that have arisen naturally within human development in the last three or four centuries. It was thus precisely in the West that these impulses could best bring about the development of all that was then forced upon the social life through the modern scientific way of thinking and all its achievements. This way of thinking and its achievements, together with the inherent nature of Anglo-Saxondom, was the foundation for the world dominion of the Anglo-Saxon. The brilliant rise of commerce, trade and industry which has come out of modern science, everything which led to the great colonizations, has arisen, in fact, through the confluence of the natural-scientific mode of thought and the character of Anglo-Saxondom. And this was sensed deep down in the instincts of die West.

One can actually point to a significant moment of modern historical development, to the year 1651, when the ingenious Cromwell with his Navigation Act [6] brought about that configuration in English navigation and in all English trade which was the foundation for everything in the West which later arose. One can also point to how, for outwardly inexplicable reasons, French merchant shipping suffered its greatest decline just as Napoleon's star was in the ascendant. What takes place in the West takes place out of the forces lying in the actual direction of humanity's development. It takes place out of a completely economic way of thinking, out of the impulses of economic ideas. This is why everything which comes from Central Europe and is conceived not out of economic points of view, but out of political-legal-militaristic ones must succumb to them. We have a crude example of how, based an a political-military standpoint, Napoleon, with his 'Continental System', [7] tried to counteract from the European continent everything that had resulted from Cromwell's Navigation Act. This Navigation Act was conceived and created entirely out of economic instincts. Napoleon's 'Continental System' at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a political conception. But a political conception is something that projects from earlier times into the modern age — it is antiquated, is actually an anachronism. This is why this political conception could be no match for the modern conception from which the Navigation Act arose. On the other hand, in the West where thinking follows the lines of economics in the sense of the new age, political affairs, even if they take an unfavourable course, do not fundamentally.

Consider the fact that from Europe France colonized North America. She lost these colonies to England. The colonies freed themselves again. The first, the French colonization in the eighteenth century, was a political act and bore no fruit. The English colonization in North America was entirely out of economic impulses. The political element could be destroyed — North America freed itself and the political connection no longer existed. But the economic connections remained intact.

Thus are things linked in human evolution. And we can safely say that history also shows that when two do the same thing it is in fact not the same. When Cromwell, at the right time and out of economic impulses, created his Navigation Act — which, for the other powers, was extraordinarily tyrannical and even, one could say, brutal — this arose nevertheless from an economic thinking. When, in modern times, Tirpitz [8] created the German navy and merchant fleet it was conceived politically, purely politically and without any economic impulse — in fact, against all economic instincts. Today it has been wiped off the face of the earth because it was planned and conceived contrary to the course of human evolution. And thus it could be shown, with regard to all individual phenomena, how this, let us say historical threefoldness, really does exist; in the East, but in a decadent form today, something which points back to ancient times of Eastern evolution and has a spiritual character; in the Centre something which today is also antiquated and always, to a greater or lesser extent, takes an the form of the political-legal-militaristic; in the West the State is really only a decoration, the political has no real significance — what preponderates here is economic thinking. Whereas Germany has gone to pieces because the State has absorbed the economy, because industry and commerce have submerged and bowed down under the power of the State, we see in the West how the State is sucked up by the economic life and everything is flooded by the economic life. This, viewed externally, is the differentiation covering the modern civilized world.

But what one can view in this way externally is, after all, basically brought to the visible surface only from the underlying depths of the spiritual world. Everything in the spiritual development of modern times is designed towards setting up the individuality — the individuality in the West in a Western way, in an economic way; the individuality of the Centre in the already antiquated political-militaristic way; the individuality of the East in an antiquated way, in accordance with the ancient spirituality that is now completely decadent. This has to be borne by the spiritual world, and it is borne by the fact that both in the West and the East — we shall consider only these two regions for the time being — a peculiar and deeply significant phenomenon is appearing. And it is this: very many people — at least relatively many — are being born who do not follow the regular course of reincarnation.

You see, this is why it is so difficult to speak about such a problem as reincarnation, because one cannot speak about it in the abstract sense that is so popular nowadays. For it is a problem pointing indeed to something that is a significant reality in the evolution of humanity, but it can have exceptions. And we see how both in the East and the West — we shall have to speak of the Centre in later lectures — people are born whom we cannot regard in such a way that we can say: There lives in this person, in the completely usual way, an individuality that was there in an earlier life, and then again in a subsequent earlier life, and which will be there in a later life and again in a still later life. Such reincarnations form the regular course of human evolution, but there are exceptions. What confronts us as a human being in human form does not always have to be as it outwardly appears. The outer appearance can, in fact, be just appearance. It is possible for us to confront human beings in human form who only appear to be human beings of the kind that are subject to repeated lives on earth. In reality these are human bodies with a physical, etheric and astral body — but there are other beings incarnated here, beings who use these people in order to work through them. There are in fact a large number of people, for example in the West, who are not simply reincarnated human beings but are the bearers of beings who have taken an extremely premature path of development and who should only appear in the form of humanity at a later stage of their evolution. Now these beings do not make use of the whole human organism but use chiefly the metabolic system of these Western human beings. Of the three members of the human nature they use the metabolic system and do so in such a way that, through these human beings, they work into the physical world. For one who can observe life with a certain accuracy, people of this kind even show outwardly that this is how it is with them. Thus, for example, a large number of those individuals who belong to Anglo-Saxon secret societies and who have great influence — we have spoken on a number of occasions in past years of the roll of these secret societies [9] — are actually the bearers of premature existences of this kind which, through the metabolic system of certain people, work into the world and seek out a field of action through human bodies and do not live in normal regular incarnations. The leading personalities of certain sects are of this nature, and the overwhelming majority of a very widespread sect that has a great following in the West is made up of individuals of this kind. In this way a completely different spirituality is working into present-day human beings and it will be an essential task to be able to take up a stand towards life from this point of view.

One should not think in an abstract way that everywhere and without exception human beings are subject to repeated lives on earth. This would mean that we do not attribute to external semblance the quality of semblance. To face the truth means even in cases like these, to seek truth; to seek reality where outer appearance is so deceptive that beings other than human beings are incorporated in human form, in a part of the human being, namely in the metabolic system. But they also work in the trunk, in the rhythmic system and in the sensory-nervous system. There are in fact three kinds of beings of this nature who incarnate in this way through the metabolic system of different people of the West.

The first kind of beings are beings that have a particular attraction to what, in a sense, are the elemental forces of the earth; that have an inclination towards, a feeling for the elemental forces of the earth and are thus able to sense how, in any particular place, colonization could be carried out in accordance with the conditions of the climate and any other conditions of the earth, or how a trading connection can be established there, and so on.

The second kind of spirits of this nature are those that set themselves the task within their sphere of action of suppressing consciousness of self, of preventing full consciousness of the consciousness-soul from emerging, and thus produce in other people around them, amongst whom something like this spreads like an epidemic, a certain desire not to call themselves to account concerning the real motives behind their actions. One could say that such an utterly untrue report, or such an utterly untrue document, as the one by the Oxford professors that has been published in the last few days [10] — such an utterly, even absurdly, untruthful document — must be accounted to the pupilship of this untruthful element which does not wish to look into the real impulses, but glosses over them; uses beautiful words, and all the while there is beneath it nothing, basically, but untruthful impulses. I am not suggesting here that these Oxford professors — who are probably perfectly upright men in themselves (I do not impute strong Ahrimanic impulses to them) — are themselves bearers of such premature beings; but the pupilship to such beings lies within them. These [second kind of] beings, therefore, incarnate through the rhythmic system of certain people in the West.

The third kind of beings that work in the West are those which make it their task to cause the individual abilities in the human being to be forgotten — those abilities which we bring with us from the spiritual worlds when, through conception and birth, we come into physical existence — and to turn human beings more or less into a stereotyped replica of their nation. This is what this third kind of being gives itself as its special task: to prevent the human being from coming to individual spirituality.

So, while the first kind of beings had an affinity with the elemental nature of the ground of the earth, of the climate and so on, the second kind has a particular tendency to breed a certain superficial, untruthful element, and the third type of being the tendency to root out individual abilities and to turn people more or less into a stereotype, a copy of their nation, their race. This last class of beings incarnates in the West through the head system, through the sensory-nervous system. Thus we have here, observed from different angles, the characteristic of the Western world. We have characterized it, if I may put it so, by getting to know a fairly large number of people who are scattered in secret societies, in sects and the like, but whose humanity is constituted in the fact that it is not simply a matter of repeated incarnations, but the incarnation, in a way, of beings who in their development are prematurely here an the earth and who, therefore, attract particular followers or radiate like an epidemic their own exceptional qualities onto other human beings. These three different types of beings do indeed work through human beings and we understand human character only if we know what I have just related — if we know that what lives in public life cannot be simply explained superficially but has to be explained in terms of the intrusion of spiritual forces of this kind.

The appearance in Western human beings of these three kinds of forces, of beings at this particular stage of development, is encouraged by the fact that it is given to the West to develop a specifically economic way of thinking. The economic life is, as it were, the ground and soil from which something like this can spring up. And what then, in total, is the task these beings have set themselves?

They have set themselves the task of keeping life as a whole restricted to the mere life of economics. They seek gradually to root out everything else — everything of the spiritual life which even where it is most active, has shrunk into the abstractness of Puritanism — to root out spiritual life, to chip away the political life and to absorb everything into the life of economics. In the West the people who come into the world in this way are the real enemies and opponents of the threefold impulse. The beings of the first type prevent die emergence of an economic life that stands as an independent entity alongside the political-legal and spiritual facets of the social organism. The beings of the second type, who make superficiality, phrase-mongering and untruthfulness their task, seek to prevent the establishing, alongside the economic life, of an independent democratic life of the State. And the third kind of being those that suppress the individual abilities of the human being and do not want the human being to be anything other than a kind of stereotype of his race, his nation — work against the emancipation and independence of the spiritual life.

Thus in the West there are such forces which work in this way against the impulse of the threefold social organism. And anyone who, in a deeper sense, wishes to work for the spread of this threefold impulse must be aware that he has also to take into account spiritual factors like these that are present in human evolution. Indeed the powers on which one must call when one wants to bring something new into the development of humanity are faced not only with the things that any hard-headed philistine notices but also with things that are only laid open to a spiritual knowledge. What use is it when people of today regard this as superstition and do not want to hear that such spiritual beings intrude through human beings? They are nevertheless there, these spiritual beings! And anyone who does not merely want to go through life with a sleeping soul, but with a fully awake soul, can observe the influences of these beings everywhere. If only, from the presence of the effects, people would allow themselves to be convinced a little of the existence of the causes!

This is the characteristic we find when looking towards the West. The West takes on this form because it lives completely in the most fundamental expression of the present epoch — in economic concepts, economic thinking.

The East had once a grand and lofty life of spirit. All spirituality — with the exception of what is striven for in Anthroposophy and is trying to give itself new form — all spirituality of the civilized world is, in actual fact, a legacy of the East. But the real glory of this religious-spiritual life was present in the East only in ancient times. And today the Eastern human being, even in Russia, finds himself in a strange disharmony because on the one hand he still lives in the ancient spiritual element of his heritage and, on the other, there is also working in him that which comes out of the present epoch of human development; namely the training towards becoming an individuality. This brings about a situation such that, in the East, there is a strong decadence in humanity; that, in a sense, the human being cannot become a full human being; that hard on the heels of this Eastern human being, as far west as Russia, is the spiritual heritage of ancient times. And this has the effect that when today the consciousness of this Eastern human being is lowered, when he is in a condition of sleep or dreaming, or in some kind of mediumistic trance state which is so very frequent in the East, he is then, indeed, not entirely impregnated by another being as in the West, but this being works into his soul nature; these beings, as it were, appear to him. Whereas in the West it is premature beings of three kinds that are at work (which I have ennumerated), in the East it is retarded beings, beings that have remained behind from an earlier evolutionary stage of perfection and who now appear to human beings of the East in a mediumistic state, in dreams, or simply during sleep, so that the human being in a waking state then bears within him the inspirations of such beings; is inspired during the day by the after-effects of beings of this kind who come over him during the night.

And here again there are three types of beings working in the East who likewise have a great influence. Whereas in the West one has to draw attention to individual human beings through whom these beings incarnate, in the East one must point to a kind of hierarchy that can appear to the most varied people. Again it is three types of beings; not, however, beings that incarnate through people but beings that appear to people and also inspire them during sleep at night.

The first type of these beings prevents the human being from taking full possession of his physical body, hinders him from finding a connection with the economic element, with the public conditions of the present-day in general. These are the beings who seek in the East to hold back the economic life as it is needed in the threefold social order.

The second type of beings are those that produce over-individualization — a kind of, if I may put it so paradoxically, unegoistic egoism. This is all the more subtle in the way it is so frequently found in people, particularly of the East, who fancifully attribute to themselves all possible selflessness — a selflessness which, however, is in fact a particularly subtle form of self-seeking, a particulary subtle egoism. They want to be absolutely good, they want to be as good as it is ever possible to be. This, too, is an egoistic sentiment. This is something that can be called, paradoxically, an unegoistic egoism, an egoism arising from an imagined selflessness.

The third type of being that appears, in the way described, to human beings of the East are those beings that hold back the spiritual life from the earth; that spread, as it were, a dull mystical atmosphere over human beings, as can be found so frequently today, particularly in the East. And again, these three types of spiritual beings, which work down from the spiritual world and do not incarnate into human beings, are the enemies of the threefold social organism. In this way the threefold impulse is hemmed in from the spiritual side in the East and from the human side, as described, in the West. Thus we see here the spiritual foundations underlying the differen-tiation.

We still have to add to this what is hostile to the threefolding in the European Centre so that, from a spiritual point of view, we gradually gain an idea of how one must equip oneself in order that the opposing powers — whether from the spiritual world, as in the East, or from human beings, as in the West, or from the Centre of Europe, in a way which I shall relate tomorrow — can be met by the threefold idea with an impulse that is of the greatest conceivable importance for humanity's evolution. And in order to know how one must act with regard to these things one must be equipped with an armour of thoughts.


1. See Die soziale Grundforderung unserer Zeit — In geänderter Zeitlage, twelve lectures, Dornach and Bern 1918, (GA 186). Return

2. Karl Marx (1818–1883), founder of scientific capitalism. Return

3. Peter the Great (1672–1725), Tsar of Russia. Return

4. Lenin, actually Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870–1924). Return

5. Trotsky, actually Leib Bronstein (1879–1940). Return

6. Cromwell's Magna Charta Maritima strengthened the position of the English fleet by decreeing that foreign goods could be imported only on English ships or ships of the country of origin. This measure struck a blow primarily at the Dutch hegemony in international carrying trade. Return

7. Napoleon's decree from Berlin on 21 November 1806 imposed the strictest blockade of the British Isles by closing the entire Continent to trade and commerce with England. Return

8. Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930), German Admiral of the the Fleet and statesman, creator of the German naval fleet. Return

9. See, et al., the lectures from 20 to 22 January 1917, Das Geheimnis des Lebens nach dem Tode in Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen. Das Karma der Unwahrhaftigkeit, Zweiter Teil, twelve lectures, Dornach 1917, (GA 174); Individuelle Geistwesen und ihr Wirken in der Seek des Menschen, nine lectures in different cities, 1917, (GA 178); and Die okkulte Bewegung im neunzehnten Jahrhundert and ihre Beziehung zur Welikultur, thirteen lectures, Dornach 1915, (GA 254). Returnp>

10. In October 1920, professors and doctors of Oxford University sent an appeal to the professors of art and science in Germany and Austria, in order, as it says there, '...to remove the bitter enmity that has arisen under the influence of patriotism...' and to find a reconciliation through the 'brotherly feelings of study' — article entitled Die Völkeruersühnung (The Reconciliation of Peoples) in the Basel Nationalzeitung of 20 October 1920. Return

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