Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, May 1, 1917:
In the course of our studies I have spoken of the events in the early development of Western civilization. My aim was to ascertain from these enquiries into the past what is of importance for the present, and with this object in view I propose to pursue the matter in further detail. Our present epoch, as we can see from a cursory glance, is an epoch when only thoughts derived from the Mystery teachings concerning human evolution can exercise effective influence. Now in order to grasp the full implication of this claim we must not only have a clear understanding of many things, but we must also look closely into the needs and shortcomings of contemporary thinking, feeling and willing. We shall then begin to feel that our present epoch has need of new impulses, new thoughts and ideas, and especially of those impulses and thoughts which spring from the depths of the spiritual life and which must become the subject of spiritual-scientific study.
At the present time there is much that fills us with sadness. We must not allow ourselves to be depressed by this mood of sadness, rather should it be something that can prepare us and teach us to work and strive in our present circumstances. I recently came across a publication which I felt would give me the greatest pleasure. The author is one of the few who are receptive to the ideas of Spiritual Science and the more is the pity that he was unable to introduce into his writings the fruits of anthroposophical endeavour. The book to which I am referring is The State as Organism, by Rudolf Kjellén (note 1), the Swedish political economist. After reading the book, I must confess that I was left with a feeling of disappointment because I realized that here was a person who, as I said, was receptive to the ideas of Spiritual Science, but whose thoughts were still far removed from the thoughts we stand in need of today, thoughts which must be clearly formulated and become concrete reality, especially today, so that they may enter into the evolution of our time. In his book Kjellén undertook to study the State and its organization, but at no time does one feel that he possessed the ideas or the intellectual grasp which could offer the slightest chance of solving his problem. It is a melancholy experience to be disillusioned time and again — but let us not be discouraged, let us rather brace ourselves to meet the challenge of our time.
Before I say a few words on these matters I should like to call your attention once again to those ancient Mysteries which, as you can well imagine from the statements I recently made about the iconoclasm of the (Christian) Church, are known to history today only in a mangled version. It is all the more necessary therefore for our present age that Spiritual Science should bring an understanding of these Mysteries. I mentioned in my last lecture the unprecedented fury with which Christianity in the first centuries destroyed the ancient works of art and how much that was of priceless value was swept away. One cannot take an impartial view of Christianity unless one is prepared to see this destructive side with complete objectivity. And bear in mind at the same time that the various books which deal with this subject present a particular point of view. Everyone today who has received a minimum of education has a picture of the spiritual development of Antiquity, of the spiritual evolution that preceded Christianity. But how different this picture would be if Archbishop Theophilus (note 2) of Alexandria had not burnt in the year 391 seven hundred thousand scrolls which contained vitally important records of Roman, Egyptian, Indian and Greek literature and their cultural life. Just imagine how different would be the picture of Antiquity if these seven hundred thousand scrolls had not been burnt. And from this you will realize how much reliance can be placed on the history of the past which has documentary support — or rather how little reliance!
Let us now follow up the train of thought which I touched on in my lecture yesterday. I pointed out that the forms of Christian worship were in many respects borrowed from the symbols and ceremonies of the ancient pagan Mystery cults, that the forms of these Mystery cults and symbols had been totally eradicated by Christianity in order to conceal their origin. Christianity had made a clean sweep of the pagan forms of worship so that people had no means of knowing what had existed prior to their time and would simply have to accept what the Church offered. Such is the fate of human evolution. We must be prepared to recognize without giving way to pessimism that the course of human evolution is not one of uninterrupted progress.
I also showed in the course of my lecture yesterday that the rites and rituals of the Roman Church owed much to the Eleusinian Mysteries which had been interrupted in their development because Julian had been unable to carry out his intentions; his plan had failed to materialize. But the rites and sacraments of later years owed still more to the Mithras Mysteries. But the spirit of the Mithras Mysteries, that which justified their existence, the source from which they derived their spiritual content, can no longer be investigated. The Church has been careful to remove all traces of it and to close the door to enquiry. Knowledge of this can only be recovered if we strive to come to an understanding of these things through Spiritual Science. Today I propose to touch upon only one aspect of the Mithras Mysteries (note 3). I could of course speak at greater length about the Mithras Mysteries if I had more time at my disposal, but in order to understand them we must first gradually become conversant with their details.
In order to grasp the true spirit of the Mithras Mysteries whose influence spread far into the West of Europe during the first post-Christian centuries, we must be aware that they were based upon a central core of belief (which was right for the world of Antiquity and perfectly justified up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha), that the community or the individual communities, for example, the folk-communities or other groups within the folk-communities consisted not only of the individual units or members, but that, if they were to have any reality, communities must be imbued with a community spirit which has a super-sensible origin. A community was determined not only by the counting of heads, but for the people of Antiquity it represented the external form, the incarnation, if I may use the word in this connection, of a genuinely existing communal spirit. The aim of those who were received into these Mysteries was to participate in this spirit, to share the thoughts of this group-soul; not to insulate themselves from the community by obstinately pursuing their own egoistic thoughts, feelings and volitional impulses, but to live in such a way that they were receptive to the thoughts of the group-soul. In the Mithras Mysteries in particular the priests maintained that this union with the group-soul cannot be achieved if one looks upon a larger community simply as an external manifestation, for thereby that which lies in the community spirit is in the main obscured. The dead, they claimed, are part of our immediate environment and the more we can commune with those who have long been dead the better we shall order our present life. Therefore the longer these souls had been discarnate, the more beneficial they found it to commune with these souls. And in order to be able to commune with the spirit of the ancestor of a tribe, folk-community or family they found it best to make contact with the ancestral soul. It was assumed that this soul develops further after passing through the gates of death and therefore has a deeper insight into the future destiny of the Earth than those who are living on this Earth in their present physical bodies. Thus the whole purpose of these Mysteries was to establish those dramatic representations which would put the neophyte into touch with the souls of those who had long passed through the gates of death.
Those who were admitted to these Mysteries had to undergo a first stage of initiation which was usually characterized by a term borrowed from the bird-species; they were called “Ravens”. A “Raven” was a first-degree initiate. Through the particular Mystery rites, through the potent use of symbols and especially through dramatic performances he became aware not only of the sensible world around him or of what one learns through contact with one's fellow-men, but also of the thoughts of the dead. He acquired a certain capacity which enabled him to recall memories of the dead and the ability to develop it further. The “Raven” was under the solemn obligation to be conscious in the moment, to be alert and responsive to the world around, to be aware of the needs of his fellow-men and to familiarize himself with the phenomena of nature. He who spends his life in day-dreaming, who has no feeling for the indwelling spirit of man and nature was considered to be unsuitable material for reception into the Mysteries. For only the ability to see life around him clearly and in its true perspective fitted him for the task which he had to fulfil in the Mysteries. His task was to participate as far as possible in the changing circumstances of the world in order to widen the range of his experience, to share in the joys and sorrows of contemporary events. He who was unresponsive or indifferent to contemporary events was an unsuitable candidate for initiation. For the first task of the aspirant was to “reproduce”, to re-enact in the Mysteries the experiences gained through participation in the life of the world. In this way these experiences served as a channel of communication with the dead with whom the Initiates sought to make contact. Now you might ask: Would not a high Initiate have been more suitable for this purpose? By no means, for the first-degree Initiates were eminently suited to act as intermediaries because they still possessed all the feelings, shared all the sympathies and antipathies which fitted them for life in the external world, whilst the higher Initiates had more or less purged themselves of those emotions. Therefore these first-degree Initiates were specially suited to experience contemporary life in terms of the ordinary man and to incorporate it into the Mysteries. It was therefore the special task of the “Ravens” to mediate between the external world and those long dead. This tradition has survived in legend. As I have often stated legends as a rule have deep implications. The Kyffhäuser legend tells how Friedrich Barbarossa who had long been dead is instructed by Ravens, or how Charles the Great in the “Salzburg Untersberg” is surrounded by Ravens that brought him news of the outside world. These are echoes of the ancient pagan Mysteries and especially of the Mithras Mysteries.
When the aspirant was ready for the second degree of initiation he became an adept or “occultist” as we should say today. He was then able not only to incorporate into the Mysteries his experience of the sensible world, but also to receive clairvoyantly the communications from the dead, the impulses which the super-sensible world (this world of concrete reality which the dead inhabit) had to impart to the external world. And only when he was fully integrated into the spiritual life which originates in the super-sensible and is related to the external, sensible world was he considered to be adequately prepared for the third degree, and he was now given the opportunity to give practical expression to the impulses he had received in the Mysteries. He was now singled out to become a “warrior”, one who mediates to the sensible world that which must be revealed from the super-sensible world.
But was it not a gross injustice, you may ask, to withhold vital information from the people and to initiate only a select few? You will only understand the reason for this if you accept what I stated at the outset, namely, that the people were dependent upon a group-soul and were content for these select few to act on behalf of the whole community. They did not look upon themselves as separate individuals but as members of a group. It was only possible therefore to pursue this policy of selection at a time when the existence of a group-soul, when the selfless identification with the group was a living reality.
And when, as a “warrior” the initiate had championed for a time the cause of the super-sensible, he was considered fitted to establish smaller groups within the framework of the larger group, smaller communities within larger groups as the need arose. If, in those ancient times, anyone had taken into his head to found an association on his own initiative, he would have been ignored. Nothing would have come of it. In order to establish a union or association the initiate must become a “lion”, as it was termed in the Mithras Mysteries, for that was the fourth degree of initiation. He must first have reinforced his spiritual life through association with those impulses which existed not only amongst the living, but which united the living with the dead. From the fourth degree the initiate rose to a higher degree of initiation which permitted him through certain measures to take over the leadership of an already existing group, a folk-community in which the dead also participated. The eighth, ninth and tenth centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha are totally different from those of today. It would never have occurred to anyone to claim the right to choose arbitrarily the leader of their community; such a leader had to be an initiate of the fifth degree. Then, at the next higher degree, the initiate attained to those insights which the Sun Mystery (of which he had recently received intimations) implanted in the human soul. Finally he attained the seventh degree of initiation. I do not propose to enter into the details of these later degrees of initiation, for I simply wished to characterize the progressive development of the initiate who owed to his contact with the spiritual world his capacity to take an active part in community life.
Now you know that the group-soul nature has gradually declined in accordance with the necessary law of human evolution. It was at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha that man first developed ego consciousness. This had been prepared for centuries, but the crisis, the critical moment in this development had been reached at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. One could no longer assume that the individual had the power to carry the whole community with him, to transfer his feelings and impulses to the entire community in a spirit of altruism.
It would be foolish to imagine that the course of history could have been other than it has been. But sometimes a thought such as the following may prove fruitful: what would have happened if, at the time when the message of Christianity first made its impact on human evolution, the pagan traditions had not been eradicated root and branch, but if historically a certain knowledge (which would be transparent even to those who relied on documents) had been transmitted to posterity? But Christianity was opposed to such a possibility. We will discuss later the reason for this attitude; today I wish simply to register the fact that Christianity was opposed to the transmission of this knowledge. Thus Christianity was confronted by a totally different kind of humanity which was not so much attached to the group-souls as that of former times, a humanity in which the approach to the individual had to be totally different from that of ancient times when the individual was virtually ignored and when men looked to the group-soul for guidance and acted out of the group-soul. Through the fact that Christianity suppressed all documentary evidence of the early centuries the people were kept in ignorance; Christianity in fact consciously fostered ignorance of the epoch when it had first developed. This Christianity borrowed those aspects of the pagan teaching which served its purpose and incorporated them in its traditions and dogmas and especially in its cults or religious ceremonies and then effaced all traces of the origin of these cults. The ancient cults have a deep symbolic meaning, but Christianity gave them a different interpretation. The performance of cult acts or ceremonies was still a familiar sight, but the source of the primeval wisdom from which they derived was concealed from the people.
Take for example the bishop's mitre of the eighth century. This mitre was embroidered with swastikas which were arranged in different patterns. The swastika which was originally the Crux Gammata dates back to the earliest Mysteries, to the ancient times when man was able to observe the activity of the “lotus flowers” in the human ctheric and astral organism, how that which was active in the lotus flower was one of the chief manifestations of the etheric and astral forces. The bishop wore the swastika as a symbol of his authority, but its significance was lost and it had become a dead symbol. All traces of its origin had been eradicated. What history tells us of the origin of such symbols is only dry bones. Only through Spiritual Science can we rediscover the living spiritual element in these things.
Now I said earlier that people were consciously kept in ignorance, but the time has now come to dispel this ignorance. And over the years I think that I have said enough and in a variety of ways to show that it is essential at the present time to be alive and alert to these questions. For our epoch is an epoch in which the necessary period of darkness has run its course and when the light of spiritual life must dawn again. It is devoutly to be wished that as many as possible should feel in their hearts that this spiritual light is a necessity for our time and that the failures and endless sufferings of our time are connected with all these questions. We shall realize that superficial judgements are inadequate when we come to speak of the causes of our present situation. So long as we speak only from a superficial standpoint we shall be unable to develop thoughts or impulses which are sufficiently potent to dispel the ignorance which is the source of our attendant ills. It is indeed remarkable how mankind today — but this need not depress us, rather should it encourage us to observe and understand our present condition — is unwilling to face up to the situation because, for the most part, man is as yet unable to perceive what is really necessary for our evolution. It is heartbreaking to see what Nietzsche felt about the prevailing darkness and confusion of our age, a man who suffered deeply from, and was driven to the point of madness by the chaos and confusion of the second half of the nineteenth century. We shall not come to terms with a personality such as Friedrich Nietzsche if we look upon him as someone whom one blindly follows, as so many have done. For he answered these blind followers in the original prelude to the “Gay Science”.
I am sufficient unto myself
I owe allegiance to none,
And I laugh at every master
Who cannot laugh at himself.
That is also the underlying mood of the whole of “Thus spake Zarathustra”. But this did not prevent Nietzsche from being surrounded by many who were merely hangers-on. They, in any case, have nothing positive to contribute to our present situation. But the other extremists — and between these two groups can be found every shade of opinion — are equally of no help, for they say that although Nietzsche had many creative ideas, he ultimately lost his reason and so can be safely ignored. Friedrich Nietzsche is a strange phenomenon; one need not be his willing slave, yet the fact remains that even in his period of mental sickness he was acutely sensitive to the darkness and chaos of the age.
Indeed the account of the distress which Nietzsche suffered in his time provides us with a good yardstick with which to measure the difficulties of our own time. I propose to read two passages from Nietzsche's posthumous writings: “The Will to Power; the Transvaluation of all Values” (note 4) which was written at a time when his mind was unhinged, passages which could have been written today with a wholly different intent than Nietzsche's and could have been written to expose the deeper underlying cause of our present situation. Nietzsche wrote:
“What I am about to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what is foreshadowed and from which there is no escape — the triumph of nihilism. This history can be written now, for necessity is already at work here. This future is already presaged by a hundred different omens; this destiny announces its presence everywhere; for the music of tomorrow all ears are pricked. The whole of European culture is slowly moving towards catastrophe in an agony of suspense which increases from decade to decade — restless, violent, precipitate like a river in spate hastening to its ocean bed, and which refuses to reflect and even dreads reflection.”
Judge then of your own reactions in the light of these words from the pen of a man of rare sensitivity at the end of the eighties of the nineteenth century and compare these words with another passage which I will now read to you and which vividly portrays the deep distress he felt and which everyone can experience himself.
“My friends, we had a hard time in our youth; we even suffered from youth as if it were a serious disease. This is owing to the age in which we are born — an age of great internal decay and disintegration which, with all its weakness and even with the best of its strength is opposed to the spirit of youth. Disintegration, that is to say a sense of insecurity, is peculiar to our age; nothing stands on solid ground or on sound faith or belief. People live for the morrow, because the day after tomorrow is uncertain. Our path is slippery and dangerous and the ice that still bears us has become precariously thin: we all feel the mild and ominous breath of the thaw-wind. Within a short space of time the path we are treading will never be able to know the footsteps of man again.”
It is clear that these sentiments were born of a profound insight into the realities of the time. He who would understand the age in which we live and especially the task that faces the individual, he who can look beyond the moment and the day will himself feel what is expressed in those passages and will perhaps say: Nietzsche's mental derangement prevented him from adopting a critical attitude to the ideas which arose in him. None the less these ideas stemmed from an acute sensitivity to the immediate realities of the present age. Perhaps we shall one day draw a comparison between Nietzsche's response to his age and the customary pronouncements of “experts” which do not even touch the fringe of the causes which lie at the root of our present difficult times. We shall then change our attitude and see the necessity for Spiritual Science today. People are unwilling to listen to the teachings of Spiritual Science; but in saying this I have no wish to imply reproach. Far be it from me to attach blame to anyone. The people to whom I am referring are for the most part those for whom I feel great respect and who, in my opinion, would be the first to take to Spiritual Science. I simply wish to point out how difficult it is for the individual to be receptive to Spiritual Science if he is impervious to spiritual appeal, if he succumbs entirely to the Zeitgeist, to the superficial trends of the time. One must be fully aware of this.
At this juncture I can now revert to Kjellen's book, The State as Organism. It is a curious book because the author strives with every fibre of his being to clarify the question: What is the State in reality? — and because he does not believe in the capacity of man's ideas and concepts to understand this question. It is true that the book contains many fine things which have been praised by contemporary critics, but the author has not the slightest idea of the deeper layers of understanding and knowledge which are necessary in order to rescue mankind from its present predicament. I have only time to refer to the central theme of his book. Kjellen raises the question: What is the relation of the individual to the State? And in attempting to answer this question he immediately came up against a difficulty. He wished to depict the State as a reality, as an integrated whole, in other words, as an organism primarily. Many have already described the State as an organism and are then always faced with the question: an organism consists of cells, what then are the cells of the State? Clearly the individual members of the State! — And on the whole Kjellen also shared this view: the State is an organism as the human or animal organism is an organism, and just as the human organism consists of individual cells, so too the State consists of individual cells, of human beings who are the cells of the State.
One can hardly imagine a more misguided or misleading analogy. If we follow up the analogy we shall never arrive at a clear understanding of man. Why is this? The cells of the human organism are juxtaposed, and this juxtaposition has a special significance. The whole structure of the human organism depends upon this juxtaposition. In the organism of the State the individual units or members are not contiguous like the individual cells in the human or animal organism. That is out of the question. In the totality of the State the human personality is something wholly different from the cells in the organism. And even if at a pinch we compare the State with an organism we must realize that we and the whole of political science are sorely mistaken if we overlook the fact that the individual is not a cell; only the productive element in man can sustain the State, whilst the organism is an aggregate of cells and it is they which determine its functioning. Therefore the present State in which the group-soul is no longer the same as in ancient times can only progress through the endeavour or initiative of the single individual. This cannot be compared with the function of the cells. As a rule it is immaterial what we choose to compare, but if we make a comparison between two objects they must be related objects. As a rule it is accepted that analogies are valid to some extent, but they should not be so far fetched as Kjellén's analogy. There is no objection to his comparing the State with an organism; one could equally well compare it with a machine (there is no harm in that) or even with a penknife — doubtless points of similarity can be found here too — but, if the comparison is carried through, it must be consistent. But people are not sufficiently familiar with the principles of logic to be aware of this.
Now Kjellén is perfectly entitled to compare the State with an organism if he so wishes. But if he wishes to make this comparison he must look for the right cells. But they cannot be found because the State has no cells! If we think about the matter concretely the analogy breaks down. I simply wish to point out that one can only carry this analogy through if one thinks in an abstract way like Kjellen. The moment one thinks realistically, one demurs, because the idea has no roots in reality. We find that the State has no cells. On the other hand we discover that the individual States can perhaps be compared to cells and that the sum total of States on Earth can be compared to an organism. A fruitful idea then occurs to us. But first we must answer the question: what kind of organism? Where can one find something comparable in the kingdom of nature where the cells fit into each other in the same way as the individual “State cells” fit into the entire organism of the Earth? Pursuing this idea we find that we can only compare the entire Earth organism with a plant organism, not with an animal organism and still less with a human organism. Whilst natural science is only concerned with the inorganic, with the mineral kingdom, political science must be founded on a higher order of ideas, on the ideas of the plant kingdom. We must look to neither the animal nor the human kingdom and we must free ourselves from mineralized thinking, dead thought forms to which the scientists are so firmly attached. They cannot rise to the higher order of ideas embodied in the plant kingdom, but apply laws of the mineral kingdom to the State and call it political science.
In order to arrive at this fruitful conception mentioned above our whole thinking must be rooted in Spiritual Science. We shall then be able to satisfy ourselves that the whole being of man by virtue of his individuality is far superior to the State, he penetrates into the spiritual world where the State cannot enter. If therefore you compare the State with an organism and the individual member of the State with the cells, then, if you think realistically, you will arrive at the idea of an organism consisting of individual cells, but the cells would everywhere extend beyond the epidermis. You would have an organism with its cells which extends beyond the epidermis; the cells would develop independently of the organism and would be self-contained. You would therefore have to picture the organism as if “living bristles” which felt themselves to be individuals were everywhere projecting beyond the epidermis. Living thinking thus brings us into touch with reality, and shows us the impossible difficulties that must face us if we wish to grasp any idea that is to be fruitful. It is not surprising therefore that ideas which are not impregnated with Spiritual Science have not the capacity to sustain us in coping with our present situation. For how can one reduce to order the chaos in the world if one has no idea of its cause? No matter how many Wilsonian manifestos are issued by all kinds of international organizations or associations and the like, so long as they have no roots in reality, they are so much empty talk. Hence the many proposals which are put forward today are a sheer waste of time.
Here is an example which demonstrates how imperative it is that our present age should be permeated with the impulses of Spiritual Science. It is the tragedy of our time that it is powerless to develop ideas which could reconcile and control the organic life of the State. Hence everything is in a state of chaos. But it must now be clear to you where the deeper causes of this chaos are to be sought. And it is not surprising therefore that books such as Kjellen's The State as Organism conclude in the most remarkable manner. We are now living in an age when everybody is wondering what is to be done so that men may once again live in harmony, when with every week they are increasingly determined to live in enmity and to slaughter each other. How are they to be brought together again? But the science which deals with the question of how men are once again to develop social relationships within the State concludes in Kjellen's case with these words: “This must be the conclusion of our enquiry into the State as organism. We have seen that for compelling reasons the State of today had made little progress in this direction and has not yet become fully aware that this is its function. None the less we believe in a higher form of State which recognizes a more clearly defined rational purpose and which will make determined efforts to achieve this goal.”
That is the concluding passage in his book; but we do not know, we have no idea what will come of it. Such are the findings of a painstaking and conscientious thinking that is so caught up in the stream of contemporary thought that it overlooks the essentials. One must face these problems squarely; for the impulse, the desire to gain insight into these problems only arises when we face them squarely, when we know what are the driving forces in our present age.
Even without looking far beneath the surface we perceive today an urge towards a kind of “socialization”, I do not mean towards socialism, but towards “socialization” of the Earth organism. But socialization — because it must be conscious, and not proceed from the unconscious as in the last two thousand years — socialization, reorientation or reorganization, is only possible if we understand the nature of man, if we learn to know once again the being of man — for that was the object of the ancient Mysteries. Socialization applies to the physical plane. But it is impossible to establish a social order if one ignores the fact that on the physical plane are to be found not only physical men, but men endowed with soul and spirit. Nothing can be achieved if we think of man only in physical terms. You may socialize, you may order social life in accordance with contemporary ideas, and within twenty years everything will be in chaos again if you ignore the fact that man is not only the physical being known to natural science, but a being endowed with soul and spirit. For soul and spirit are active agents and exercise a powerful influence. We may ignore their existence in our ideas and representations, but we cannot abolish them. If the soul is to inhabit a physical body which participates in a social order appropriate to our time it must have freedom of thought and opinion. Socialization cannot be realized without freedom of thought. And socialization and freedom of thought cannot be realized unless the spirit is rooted in the spiritual world itself.
Freedom of thought as an attitude of mind or way of thinking, pneumatology, spiritual maturity and spiritual science — as scientific foundation of all ordinances and directives — these are inseparably linked. We can only discover through spiritual science how these things are related to man and how they can he realized practically in the social order. Freedom of thought, that is, an attitude to one's neighbour that fully recognizes his right to freedom of thought, cannot be realized unless we accept the principle of reincarnation, for otherwise we look upon man as an abstraction. We shall never see him in the right light unless we look upon him as the result of repeated lives on Earth. The whole question of reincarnation must be examined in connection with the question of freedom of thought and opinion. The life of man will be impossible in the future unless the inner life of the individual can be rooted in the life of the spirit. I am not suggesting that he must become clairvoyant, though this will certainly occur in individual cases, but I maintain that he must be firmly rooted in the life of the spirit. I have often explained that this is perfectly possible without becoming clairvoyant. If we look around a little we shall find where the major hindrances lie and in what direction we must look for the source of these obstacles. It is not that people are unwilling to search for the truth — and as I have said, I do not wish to reprove or to criticize — but they erect psychic barriers and are the victims of their many inhibitions.
Often an isolated instance is so instructive that we are able to gain a real understanding of many contemporary phenomena from these symptoms. There is one symptom peculiar to our own time which is most remarkable. It is curious how people who are normally so brave and courageous today, are terrified when they hear that the claims of spiritual knowledge are to be recognized. They are bewildered. I have often told you that I noticed that many who had attended one or two lectures were not seen again for some time. Meeting them in the street I asked why they had never turned up again. “I dare not”, came the reply. “I am afraid you might convince me.” They find such a possibility dangerous and disturbing and are not prepared to expose themselves to the risk. I could cite many other examples of a similar kind from my own experience, but I prefer to give examples from the wider field of public life.
A short time ago I spoke here of Hermann Bahr (note 5) who recently gave a lecture here in Berlin entitled “The Ideas of 1914”. I pointed out how he attempted — you need only read his last novel Himmelfahrt — not only to move a little in the direction of Spiritual Science, but he even tried in his later years to arrive at an inner understanding of Goethe, that is, to follow the path which I would recommend to those who wish to provide themselves with a sound background for their introduction to Spiritual Science. There are very many today who would like to speak of the spirit once again, who would welcome any and every opportunity to revive knowledge of the spirit. I do not wish to lecture or criticize, least of all a person such as Hermann Bahr for whom I feel great affection. Even if it is far from our intention to sermonize, we none the less have the strange feeling that an outlook such as that of Hermann Bahr has contributed to the corruption of thought and has infected human thinking with original sin.
Now in his Berlin lecture Hermann Bahr expressed many fine and admirable sentiments; but many astonishing things come to light. He began by saying that this war had taught us something completely new. It had taught us to integrate the individual once again into the community in the right way, to sacrifice our individualism, our ego centricity for the benefit of the whole. This war has taught us, he said, to make a clean sweep of the past with its antiquated ideas and to fill our inner life with something completely new. And he proceeded to describe the inestimable benefits this war has brought us. I have no wish to criticize, quite the reverse. But after a lengthy disquisition on how the war has transformed us all, how we shall be completely` changed through the war, it is strange to come upon the concluding passage: “Man always cherishes hope of a better future, but himself remains incorrigible. Even the war will leave us much as we are.” As I said before, I have no wish to criticize, but I cannot help being touched by these high hopes. These people are motivated by the best of intentions; they wish to find once again the path to the spiritual. And Bahr therefore emphasized that we had relied too much upon the individual; we had practised the cult of individualism far too long. We must learn once again to surrender to the whole. Those who belong to a nation have learned to merge with the nation, to sacrifice their separativeness. And nations too, he believes, are only totalities of individual characteristics, parts of a greater whole which will later emerge. Thus Bahr sometimes betrays, and especially in this lecture, the paths he none the less follows in order to arrive at the spirit. Sometimes he gives only vague indications, but these indications are most revealing. Ring out the old, the past is dead, is his motto. The Aufklärung wished to found everything on a basis of reason; but all to no purpose, everything has ended in chaos. We must find something that brings us in touch with Reality and saves us from chaos. And in this context Bahr once again makes astonishing revelations:
“Perhaps nations and individuals would then have learned what is most difficult for them to learn — to grant to others the right to individuality that each individual claims for himself, for, in the final analysis, the individuality of others is the precondition of one's own. If we were all alike there would be no distinguishing features. And they would have learned that just as each individual with his distinctive gifts in his own particular field is necessary to the nation, in order through his self-fulfilment to sustain the nation and thus at the same time to be self-sufficient and also to serve the nation, so too the universality of mankind, the common membership of all mankind that reaches to the Divine grows out of nations and transcends nations.”
That is a hint, if not a broad hint, at least it is a clear hint. People are striving to find the way to God, but are unwilling to follow the path that is appropriate to our time. They are looking therefore for a different path which already exists, but it never occurs to them that this traditional path was indeed effective up to 1914 and now, in order to obviate its consequences, they want to return to it again!
The symptoms manifested here are, I think, deserving of quiet examination, for these are the views not of a single individual, but of a vast number of people who feel and think in this way. A book by Max Scheler (note 6) recently appeared with the title Der Genius des Krieges and der deutsche Krieg. It is a good book and I can safely recommend it. Bahr too thinks highly of it. He is a man of taste and well informed and has every reason to commend it. But he also wishes to publicize the book and proposes to write a highly favourable review, a puff to boost Scheler. He wonders how best to proceed. To scandalize the public is not the right approach; some other way must be found to attract their attention. What was he to do? Now Hermann Bahr is a very sincere and honest man and leaves no doubt as to what he would do in such a case. In his article on Scheler he begins by saying: Scheler has written many articles to show how we could escape from our present predicament. Scheler caught the public eye. But, says Bahr, people today do not approve of being told whom to read; it goes against the grain. And so Hermann Bahr characterizes Scheler in the following way: “People were curious about him and yet rather suspicious of him; we Germans want to know above all where we stand in relation to an author. We do not like indefinition.”
Let us have therefore a clear picture. This is not achieved by reading books and accepting their arguments; something more is needed. Bahr now gives a further hint: “Even the Catholics preferred to reserve judgement (on Scheler) lest they should be disappointed. His idiom displeased them. For every mental climate creates in the course of time its own native idiom which gives a particular flavour and meaning to words of common usage. In this way one recognizes who `belongs’, with the result that ultimately one pays less attention to what is said than to how it is said.”
Hermann Bahr decided to announce Scheler with a flourish of trumpets. Now, like Bahr himself, Scheler hints at those remarkable catholicizing endeavours — always tentatively at first, he never commits himself immediately. Now according to Bahr, Scheler does not speak like a genuine Catholic. But Catholics want to know where they stand in relation to Scheler, and especially Bahr himself since he intends to puff Scheler in the Catholic periodical “Hochland”. After all, people must know that Scheler can be safely recommended to Catholics. They do not like to be left in the dark, they want to know the truth.
And this is the crux of the matter. People will know where they stand if they are told that it is perfectly safe for Catholics to read Scheler! The fact that he is exceptionally clever and witty is of no consequence; Catholics have no objection to that. Bahr, however, proposes to hold up Scheler as an outstanding personality in order to boost his importance, but at the same time he does not wish to offend people. First of all he bewails the fact that mankind has become empty and vapid, that man has lost all connection with the spirit; but he must find his way back to the spirit once again. I quote a few passages from Hermann Bahr on Scheler which touch upon this subject:
“Reason broke away from the Church and arrogantly assumed that of itself it could understand, determine, order, command, shape and direct life.”
Hermann Bahr lacks the courage to say: reason must now seek contact with the spiritual world. He therefore says: reason must look to the Church once again.
“Reason bloke away from the Church and arrogantly assumed that of itself it could understand, determine, order, command, shape and direct life. It (reason) had scarcely begun to take the first steps in this direction than it took fright and lost confidence in itself. This self-awareness of reason, the consciousness of its boundaries, of the limitations of its own power when bereft of the divine afflatus, began with Kant. He recognized that reason of itself cannot achieve that which by its very nature it is constrained to will; it cannot achieve the goal it has set itself. He called a halt to reason at the very moment where it promised to be fruitful. Kant set boundaries to reason, but his disciples extended these boundaries and each went his own way. Ultimately godless reason had no other choice but to abdicate. It realized finally that it can know nothing. It searched for truth so long until it discovered that either truth was non-existent or that there was no truth to which man could attain.”
Enough has now been said in defence of the modern outlook and all those fine sentiments about the “boundaries of knowledge.”
“Since that time we have lived without truth, believing there is no truth. We continued to live however as if truth must none the less exist. In fact, in order to live we had to live by denying our reason. And so we preferred to abandon reason completely. We committed intellectual suicide. Soon man was regarded simply as a bundle of impulses. He was proud of his dehumanisation. And the consequence was 1914.”
And so Hermann Bahr praises Scheler because of his Catholicizing bent. Then he proceeds to give a somewhat distorted picture of Goethe, for he had been at pains for some time to depict him as a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic. And then goes on to say:
“The modern scientist denied his spiritual birthright. Science abandoned presuppositions. Reason no longer derived from the divine the ‘impulse’ which is imperative for its effectiveness. What other path was open to it? None, save the appeal to the instincts. The man without established values was suspended over an abyss. And the result was — 1914.”
“If we are to build afresh it must be from totally new foundations. If we are to bring about a spiritual renewal we must make a complete break with the past. It would be presumptuous to aim at the immediate spiritual rehabilitation of Europe. We must first rehabilitate man and restore his lost innocence; he must become aware once again that he is a member of the spiritual world. Freedom, individuality, dignity, morality, science and art have vanished from the world since faith, hope and love are no more. And only faith, hope and love can restore them. We have no other choice, either the end of the world or — omnia instaurare in Christo” (to renew all things in Christ).
But this “omnia instaurare in Christo” does not imply a search for the spirit, a move towards the investigation or exploration of the spirit, but the inclusion of the nations in the Catholic fold. How is it, Bahr asks, that men are able to think for themselves and yet are able to remain good Catholics? We must look to those who are suited to the present age. And Scheler fits the bill for he is not such a fool as to speak for example of an evolution into the spiritual world, or to specify a particular spiritual teaching. He is not such a fool as to commit himself openly, as is the case with those who speak of the spirit and then suggest: the rest will he added unto you if you enter the Church, i.e. the Catholic Church — for that is implied both by Bahr and Schelerwhich in their opinion is sufficiently all-embracing. In this way conflicting opinions can be reconciled under the umbrella of the Church. None the less people today want to think for themselves and Scheler adapts himself to their thoughts. Indeed, Bahr believes that Scheler in this respect is a master of giving people what they want:
“Scheler attracts attention because he does not gesticulate or raise his voice. Involuntarily people ask who can it be who appears to be so sure of his influence that he does not feel it necessary to raise his voice. It is a favourite device of seasoned orators to open on a quiet note and thus command the silent attention of the audience; the orator must also have the power to hold them spellbound. Scheler can do this in masterly fashion. He so captivates his listener that the listener is unaware whither he is being led and suddenly finds himself at a destination that was wholly unforeseen. Starting from unexpected propositions which the listener innocently accepts, Scheler forces him imperceptibly to conclusions which he would have actively resisted had he been in any way forewarned. In this respect Scheler's art of persuasion is unrivalled. He is a born educator; I know of no one who can lead us so easily but firmly to the truth.”
Indeed it is a special art to be able to take people by surprise in this way. First one makes statements that are unexceptionable; then the argument proceeds slowly and leads to a conclusion at which the audience would have demurred had they been aware of it from the start. How does one account for this, Bahr asks, and what must be done in order to act with the right intentions? In this review of Scheler Bahr gives his honest and candid opinion:
“The question now is whether the average German can grasp the magnitude of the moment and all that it portends. He is animated by the best of intentions, but still fondly imagines that belief is no longer possible for modern man since it has been scientifically refuted. He does not suspect that this `science or dogma of unbelief’ has itself long been refuted scientifically. He knows nothing of the quiet preparatory work in this direction of the outstanding German philosophers of our time — Lotze, Franz Brentano, Dilthey, Eucken, and Husserl.” (note 7).
I now beg you to give special attention to the following:
“The ordinary person still hears in the last faint echo of the Münchausen posthorn, the latest aberration which, unbeknown to him, has already been refuted. Amidst this confusion a calm clear voice will soon be heard which gives no suspicion of the sentimental day dreaming, romanticism or mysticism which fills the ordinary person with unholy dread. And precisely because Scheler pleads the cause of a recovery of faith straightforwardly and unemotionally and in the customary jargon of the ’cultivated man of our time’, he is the man we need today.”
So now we know! Now we know why Bahr approves of Scheler. He (Scheler) cannot be accused of being a visionary or a mystic, for the average German is mortally afraid of them. And woe betide anyone who does not respect this fear, for if he were take it into his head to banish this fear or recognize the need to struggle against it, it would need more than a little courage to venture on such an undertaking.
Because I have great respect and affection for Hermann Bahr I would like to show that he is typical of those who find great difficulty in accepting a spiritual teaching of which our time stands in need. But there is promise of hope only if we overcome that terrible fear, if we have the courage to acknowledge that Spiritual Science is not an idle fancy, that the greatest clarity of thought is called for if we wish to make the right approach to Spiritual Science, for there is little evidence of clear thinking in the few examples which I have quoted to you today from Hermann Bahr and other contemporary writers. Spiritual courage is called for if we wish to develop ideas that are strong and effective. We need not go all the way with Nietzsche, nor need we wholly share the view he expresses in a passage which none the less may attract our attention; but when this sensitive spirit, stimulated perhaps by his illness, expresses his boldest and most courageous opinions we must nevertheless go along with him. The fear of being misunderstood must not deter us. It would he the greatest calamity that could befall us today if we were to be afraid of being misunderstood. We must sometimes perhaps pass judgements like the following judgement of Nietzsche, even though it may not be sound in every detail; that is not important. In his treatise “On the History of Christianity” he wrote:
“Christianity as a historical reality must not be confused with that one root which its name recalls: the other roots from which it has sprung are by far the more important. It is an unprecedented abuse of language to associate such manifestations of decay and such monstrosities as the ‘Christian Church’, ‘Christian belief’ and ‘Christian life’ with that Holy Name. What did Christ deny? — Everything which today is called Christian!”
Although this is perhaps an extreme view, Nietzsche nevertheless touched upon something which has a certain truth; but he expressed it somewhat radically. It is true to the extent that one could say: What would Christ most vigorously condemn if He were to appear in our midst today? Most probably what the majority of people call “Christian” today, and much else besides, which I will discuss in our lecture on Tuesday next.
NOTES BY TRANSLATORNote 1. Rudolf Kjellen (1864–1922), Swedish historian, professor at Upsala. Belonged to the school of “geopolitics”, the doctrine of the interaction of geographical and political factors in the constitution and development of States.Note 2. Theophilus. Patriarch of Alexandria 385–412. He condemned Origen at the Synod of Alexandria 408. “He deprived the pagans of Alexandria of a temple ... and apparently destroyed other temples. A riot ensued and a number of Christians were slain. With Theophilus at their head the Christians retaliated by destroying the celebrated temple of Serapis on the ruins of which the patriarch erected a church.” (Quotation from the Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, 1913.)Note 3. Mithras Initiation. According to R. J. Vermaseren, in Mithras, the Secret God (Chatto & Windus, 1963) he who had acquired sufficient knowledge “could gain successively the title of Raven (Corax), Bride (Nymphus), Soldier (Miles), Lion (Leo), Persian (Perses), Courier of the Sun (Heliodromus) and Father (Pater)”. This book is a classic in the study of Mithraism. There are figures in the text and illustrations.Note 4. Nietzsche. “The Will to Power and the Transvaluation of all Values.” According to P. Tillich “will” here means “the universal dynamics of all life processes and ‘power’ the affirmation of one's own individual existence. It is the power of the best.” The transvaluation of all values implies that since “God is dead”, i.e. that traditional and ethical values no longer stem from belief in a transcendent authority, man himself must re-create them. The “Übermensch” must be developed. He is the “superior” man physically, mentally and spiritually, the man of self-discipline who has learned to command and obey, to accept responsibility, whose watchword is duty and honour. It is an aristocratic ideal. According to Nietzsche his antitype is mass man, the “herd man” who has succumbed to ideologies that promise happiness and well-being. He is timid, bored, conformist, opposed to tradition and culture. This “slave morality” is utilitarian and keeps only its own advantage in view and prepares the ochlocracy, the “nihilism” towards which we are moving (p. 13 in the English text).Note 5. Hermann Bahr (1863–1934). Austrian dramatist, novelist and essayist. In his later years he returned to the Church and represented the Catholic school of thought, cf. his novel Himmelfahrt.Note 6. Max Scheler (1874–1928). Professor of Philosophy at Cologne, 1920–21. His writings have a strong theistic flavour and he was a subtle advocate of Catholicism.Note 7. Lotze (1817–81), Dilthey (1833–1911), R. Eucken (1846–1929), Husserl (1859–1938) were philosophers of idealism. They were opposed to the mechanistic scientific philosophy of the age and pleaded the cause of ethical idealism.
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