So persistent is the influence of these Roman legal concepts that, when there is any talk of karma, one actually finds that the majority of people today who accept this doctrine, picture it working, as though Justice were sitting over there beyond, meting out rewards and punishments according to our earthly notions — reward for good and punishment for evil deeds — exactly the Roman conception of Law. All the saints and supernatural beings exist after the fashion of these Roman legal concepts which have crept into the supernatural world.
Who today, for instance, understands the grand idea of the Greek “Fate”? We cannot say that the concepts of Roman jurisprudence help us much today toward understanding the figure of Oedipus. Indeed, owing to the influence of Roman legal concepts, men seem to have altogether lost the capacity for comprehending tragic grandeur. These Roman legal concepts have crept into our modern civilization; they live in every part of it; they have become in their very essence a fictitious reality, something imaginary. It is absolutely necessary for us clearly to see that in our whole way of conceiving things we have lost touch with reality, and that what we need is to impregnate our conceptions afresh with reality. It is because men's concepts are, at root, hollow, that our civilization still remains unconscious of the need for the common cooperation of men all over the round Earth. We are never really willing to go to the root of what is taking place under our eyes; we are always more or less anxious to keep on the surface of things. Just to give you another example of this: you know how in the various parliaments throughout the world in former days — say, in the first half of the 18th century, or a little later — party tendencies took shape in two definite directions — the one Conservative, the other Liberal — and for a long time they enjoyed considerable respect. The various other parties that have sprung up since were later accessions to these two main original groups. There was the party with conservative tendencies, and the party with liberal tendencies. But it is so very necessary that one should nowadays get beyond the words to the real thing behind; there are many matters about which one must ask not what people who stand for a certain thing say about it, but what is going on subconsciously within the people themselves. If you do so, you will find that the people who attach themselves to one or other of the parties of a conservative tone are people who in some way are chiefly connected with agrarian interests, with the care of land and cultivation of the soil, that is to say, with the primal element of human civilization. In some way or other this will be the case. Of course, on the surface, there may be all sorts of other circumstances entering in as well. I do not say that every Conservative is necessarily directly connected with agriculture! Of course, there is here, as everywhere else, a fringe of people who adhere to the catchwords of a cause. It is the main feature that one has to consider; and the main feature is, that that part of the population which has an interest in preserving certain forms of social structure and in keeping things from moving too fast, is agrarian.
On the other hand, the more industrial element, drawn from labor that has been detached from the soil, is liberal, progressive. So that these two party tendencies have their source in something that lies deeper; and one must, in every case, try to lift such things out of the mere phrases into which they have fallen — to get through the words to the real thing behind them. But, ultimately, it all tells the same tale: that the form of civilization in which we have been living is one whose strength lies in words. We must push forward to a civilization formed upon real things, to a civilization of real things. We must cease to be imposed upon by phrases, by programs, by verbal ideals, and must get to the clear perception of realities. Above all, we must get to a clear perception of realities of a kind that lie deeper than forms of civilization in city or country, agricultural or industrial. And much deeper than these are those impulses which today are at work in the various members of the body human distributed over the globe — of which the American is making toward cosmogony, the European toward freedom, and the Asiatic toward altruism — toward a truly social life, in other words.
At present this of course comes out, has and does come out, in a curious way. Anglo-American civilization is conquering the world. But, in conquering the world, it will need to absorb what the conquered parts of the world have to give — the impulse to freedom, the impulse to altruism; for in itself it has only the impulse to cosmogony. Indeed, Anglo-American civilization owes its success to a cosmogonic impulse. It owes it to the circumstance that people are able to think in world-thoughts.
To realize the full meaning of this it is, I need hardly say, necessary to get right away from phrases, and pierce to the realities. For anyone who is tied to phrases would naturally think: Well, but who of late has stood out as the representatives of freedom, if not the Anglo-American world? Why, yes, of course — in words. But what matters about a thing is not how it is represented in words, but what it is in reality. We have had over and over again, as you know, occasion to refer to the language of “Wilsonism.” Phraseology of the Wilson type has been gaining ground in Western countries for a long time past. In October 1918 it even laid hold for a time of Central Europe. And over and over again as the years went on, one had to point out the futility of all that Woodrow Wilson's name stood for, how utterly hollow and abstract it all was, for which Woodrow Wilson's name stood. Now, of course, even in America people are apparently beginning to see through Wilsonism, and how hollow and abstract it all is. Among us, there was no question of any national feeling of hostility toward Wilson — there was no question of any antagonism proceeding from Europe. It was an antagonism arising from the whole conception of our civilization and its forces. It was a question of showing Wilsonism for what it is: the type of all that is abstract, all that is most unreal, in human thought. It is the Wilson type of thought which has had such one-sided results, because it has absorbed the American impulses, without really possessing the impulse of freedom — for talking about freedom is by no means a proof that the impulse of freedom itself is really there — and because it had not the impulse for really practical altruism.
The life of Central Europe, with all that it was, lies in the dust. What lived in Central Europe is, to a great extent, sunk in a fearful sleep. At the present moment, the Germans are, one might say, forced to think of freedom not as they talked of it in all manner of fine phrases at the time when they were groaning under the yoke of Ludendorff — when constraint of itself engendered an understanding of the idea of freedom. Now they think of it with crippled powers of soul and body, in total inability to summon up the energy for real intense thought. We have in Germany all sorts of attempts at democratic forms — but no democracy. We have a republic — but no republicans! And this is in every way a symptom that has especially manifested itself in Central Europe, but is characteristic of the European world in general.
And Eastern Europe? For years and years the proletariat of the whole world have been boasting of all that Marxianism was going to do. Lenin and Trotsky were in a position to put Marxianism into practice — and it is turning into the wholesale plunder of civilization which is identical with the ruin of civilization. And these things are only just beginning. Yet, for all that, there does exist in Europe the capacity for founding freedom, ideally, spiritually. Only, Europe must supplement this in an actual practical sense, through the cooperation of the other peoples on the Earth.
All this is the reason why today there is so much talk about things that are peculiar to the civilization that is dying, but which people talk about as though they stood for something that could be effective as an ideal. For years we have had it proclaimed that: Every nation must have the possibility of ... well, I don't quite know of what — living its own life in its own way — or something of that sort. Now, I ask you: For the man of today, if he is frank and honest about it, what is “Nation?” Practically just a form of words, certainly nothing real. If one talks about the Spirit of a Nation, in the sense in which we speak of it in Anthroposophy, then one can talk about a Nation, for then there is a reality at the back of it — but not when it merely signifies an abstraction. And it is an abstraction that people have in mind today when they talk of the “freedom of nationalities” and so forth. For they certainly do not believe in the reality of any sort of National Being. And herein lies the profound inward falsity to which men today do homage. They do not believe in the reality of the National Being, yet they talk of the “Freedom of the Nation.” As if to the materialistic man of our day the “Nation” meant anything at all! What is the German Nation? Just ninety million of persons, who can be added together and summed up, A+A+A. That is not a National Being — a self-contained entity — for men to believe in. It is just the same with the other Nations. Yet people talk about these things, and believe that they are talking about realities — and all the while they are lying to themselves in the depths of their souls.
But it is with realities we are dealing when we say: —