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The Social Future

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The Social Future

On-line since: 30th November, 2004

Introduction to the Revised Edition

IN 1935, under the title, The Social Future, six lectures delivered by Rudolf Steiner at Zurich, Switzerland, in October, 1919, were published in English translation. This series summarized and supplemented the thoughts which Rudolf Steiner had earlier presented in his book, The Cardinal Points of the Social Problem in View of the Necessities of Life in the Present and the Future, [Die Kernpunkte der Sozialen Frage in den Lebensnotwendigkeiten der Gegenwart and Zukunft.] published in English translation under the title, The Threefold Commonwealth. [Published by Allen, Unwin Co., London, 1921; now by Anthroposophic Press, New York.]

After the first edition of The Social Future had been out of print for a long time, the Anthroposophic Press decided to publish a second, newly revised, edition, enlarged with an introduction and some clarifying appendices.

In view of the present confused mental state of the world, it can certainly be viewed as a commendable undertaking to do everything possible by publishing new and out-of-print English translations of Rudolf Steiner's writings, in order to keep open the avenues to the life work of this man who is recognized as the greatest spirit of the age by those who know his untiring battle to save western civilization.

At a time, however, when overwhelming events and inner decay of the soul nature so weaken the human will that it continually loses the power to permeate this nature with unsullied ideas, the holding open of these avenues of approach, as far as possible through publication of essential literature, signifies something more: it means the bringing forward of the proof that Europe, in spite of her catastrophic development during recent decades, has still today something decisive to say and give to the world.

Not Europe's corpse, which is much more the tragic result of soul-suicide than of continuous bombing; what is meant here is Europe's living spirit. This living and indestructible spirit has received in the life work of the Austrian thinker, Rudolf Steiner, its universal human form of expression, far removed from nationalism and dogmatism, alien to life. In this life work, and through its effectual working out over decades in human groups — still small but increasingly active — the spiritual and cultural substance of Europe is saved and lives on as seed of the future.

In consequence of this we now stand, in the midst of turbulent outer events in the political and economic fields, before a spiritual fact which America cannot bypass if she does not wish to perish in the miasmas which arise from the European corpse, and which poison the atmosphere of the entire civilized world. Those who cannot see the present unsolved economic and political problems as primarily problems of pure humanity, not yet recognized in their full import, will not notice this danger. But a glance at current literature and the daily press suffices to show that the growing threat to what remains of cultural relationships is perceived by a majority of responsible citizens. Do these thoughtful people, however, have the vital ideas which can serve as a foundation for a new way of life in the cultural, political, and economic spheres, and which will permit control of the threatening danger? The life work of Rudolf Steiner leads the way to the source of such ideas.

The republication of this book can be considered as a meritorious undertaking in yet a third respect: it requires courage. By, courage is meant here that special courage springing from an unshakable trust in truth, and the recognition of the duty to reveal it, although under most unfavorable outer circumstances. Whoever would undertake to make Rudolf Steiner's ideas for a social rebirth accessible to wider circles must courageously take upon himself, first, the stigma of Utopian, cast upon him by so-called “practical people”; secondly, the danger that comes from arousing the enmity of egotistical interests; and, thirdly, the danger coming from exposure to the destructive wills of the enemies of freedom. These are the hindrances which would prevent recognition of the ideas received into the will to freedom as impulses for the solution of the social problem, but which instead seek to realize dogmatic programs by means of power. Those who promote these hindrances are, in fact, the enemies of true democracy, although they seek to conceal their wolfish nature under a democratic sheepskin.

For a deeper understanding of this book still another observation may be useful: Rudolf Steiner never pursued the accomplishment of his task by the use of political or economic means. He limited himself entirely to the renewal of cultural life as the spiritual source of a social transformation of politics and economics. But he was at the same time an untiring observer of political events, economic relations, and conscious and unconscious emotions and will impulses which were brought to expression in the political and economic spheres. With very special intensity he undertook research into the thought habits of our times which in their interplay had become a fateful automatism. Rudolf Steiner saw as his highest task the freeing of the modern human being's consciousness from the customary modes of thought affecting him out of the subconscious, and its guidance into the free creative understanding of the spirit. But he had to clothe his communications in the forms of scientific thought which is, for our age, authoritative and justified.

In this book we experience how successfully Rudolf Steiner mastered this task. Yet the reader should not overlook the fact that both the spoken word of these lectures and the written word of Rudolf Steiner's books on the social rebirth were subject to still another, entirely different form element: the perception of the particular world situation between 1914 and 1919. As far as its nature is concerned, this situation, right up to the present, has not changed in the least. The degree of destructive might, however, has changed. The second world catastrophe should not be considered apart from the first. They merely represent the various stages of one grandiose destructive process. Therefore, only those readers of this book will know how to value its content in the right way who arouse an inner activity in themselves. They must so forcefully develop the thoughts presented here that their power of illumination is not lost in face of the eminence of modern facts grown to gigantic proportions. In regard to the writings and lectures of Rudolf Steiner on the renewal of the social life, it will be fitting to quote what he especially emphasized in the year of his death (1925) in the Preface to his chief work on cosmological subjects [Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science, an Outline, Anthroposophic Press, New York.]:

“I have quite consciously endeavored not to offer a ‘popular’ exposition, but one which makes it necessary for the reader to study the content with strict effort of thought. I have thus impressed upon my books a character which enables the reader to find himself, even as he reads, at the beginning of spiritual training.”

In our case, this spiritual training must include the effort to employ these social ideas upon the changed world situation of 1945.

Coincident with the first edition of the already mentioned fundamental work in 1919, The Threefold Commonwealth, Rudolf Steiner published his Appeal to the German People and the Cultural World. He began with the words:

“Resting on secure foundations with the assurance of enduring for untold ages — that is what the German people believed of their empire founded half a century ago. Today they can only behold its ruins. Deep searching of the soul must follow from such an experience.”

The answer of destiny to the neglect of this searching of the soul and the admission of the powers of soul-destruction is for the German people the repeated demolition of their political and economic organism. Who would doubt that these words in the present world situation, if rewritten, would sound somewhat as follows:

“Resting on secure foundations with the assurance of enduring for untold ages — that is what the progressive, intelligent man of the nineteenth century believed of the edifice of man, built up in the course of historical evolution. Today the man of the twentieth century can only look at the ruins of this edifice. There must be a deep searching of the soul after such an experience.”

If the republication of these lectures makes a contribution of positive ideas to such searching of the soul which can be fruitful for the social future, this book will have fulfilled its task.

It should be said that these remarks and the appendices at the end of the book are limited to the smallest possible compass. Their object is merely an attempt to protect the spoken word from misunderstanding and misinterpretation since these lectures were taken down by shorthand with its unavoidable shortcomings. Any overdoing of this attempt at “clarifying” would do violence to them and overlook the reverence due such a spiritual original performance.

Bernard Behrens.
August, 1945.




Last Modified: 16-Aug-2019
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