Lecture 1 of 3.
Rudolf Steiner, Zurich, Switzerland, February 4, 1919:
Just now, when I am giving public lectures on the social question here in Zürich, it is perhaps appropriate that in our study-group we should occupy ourselves with the inner aspect of the social problem, so exceptionally important at the present time.
We know that in every human being whom we encounter in the outer world, who stands before our bodily faculties of perception, we must recognize beneath the surface the real inner man. We first become aware of this inner man when we appreciate that fundamentally he is connected with everything relevant to human life and knowledge that weaves and surges through the world.
Just think, my dear friends, how different, with regard particularly to the human being, our anthroposophical conception of the world is from the ordinary conception! Remember my attempt to give an outline of the anthroposophical view; recall all you have read in my Occult Science, and you will realize the following: the evolution of the Earth is not only bound up with man, but is conceived as having emerged from the earlier incarnations, so to speak, of our Earth planet. Our present Earth evolution emerged from the Old Moon evolution, this from the Old Sun, the Old Sun from Old Saturn. Then consider everything which had to be brought together to carry this planetary evolution forward to the Earth stage, and you will say: throughout the whole cosmic process man is never absent. He is involved in all of it. All the forces and happenings of the cosmos are focused on man — that is how we must conceive it.
In a conversation between Capesius and the Initiate, in one of my Mystery Plays, I have specially tried to show what an impression it must make on anyone if he realizes that all the generations of the gods, all the power of the universe, are summoned to the task of placing man in the center of their creative activity.
I have pointed out, in connection particularly with this entirely valid conception, how essential it is to emphasize the need for human modesty — how essential it is to say again and again: “Yes, if we could consciously experience our whole being in its relation to the cosmos, and bring our whole being truly to expression, it would be revealed as a microcosmos! But in fact, how much can we know or experience or bring to expression of all that we are as man, in the highest sense?” Whenever we bring clearly before us what we are, we waver always between pride and modesty. We must certainly not give way to pride, but neither must we surrender to modesty. It would be a surrender if, after taking account of our place in the world from a cosmic standpoint, we were to fail to reckon our human task in the highest possible terms. We can never think highly enough of what we ought to be. We can never take seriously enough the deep sense of cosmic responsibility which must overcome man if he holds in view the relationship of the whole universe to his human existence.
In the light of Spiritual Science this should certainly remain no mere idea, no mere fact of knowledge: it should become an experience — an experience of holy awe in the face of what man ought to be and yet only in the rarest cases can be. Whenever, too, we encounter another person, we should be impelled by this experience to feel: “Standing there, you bring a great deal to expression in this present incarnation. But you journey from life to life, from incarnation to incarnation: the succession of your lives bears the imprint of eternity.” And in many other directions also we can widen and deepen this experience. From this experience we are led through Spiritual Science to a true appraisal of human worth, to an appreciation of human dignity in the context of the world. This experience can permeate the soul through and through; it can, if it inspires the entire inner life, bring us into the right mood for regulating our relationships with other human beings.
All this, which I have just explained, we can regard as a primary gift of modern Spiritual Science: we learn to appraise rightly all that is human in the world. That is one point.
Something else will arise in us out of a deeply felt and not merely theoretical Spiritual Science. It is this. If we take into account all the happenings of the world, all the elemental life in earth, water, and air — if we take account also of all that shines down to us from the stars and breathes from the wind, all that speaks to us from the several kingdoms of Nature — if we contemplate all this in the light of Spiritual Science, then we find it connected through and through with man! Everything will have value for us because we are able to bring it into connection with the human. Supersensible perception makes us feel, in very truth, that man is related to everything in the universe. Christian Morgenstern, the poet, has crystallized in beautiful verses (which I have often spoken of to our friends in connection with a certain chapter in St. John's Gospel) the experience which comes over us when we allow the ranking of the kingdoms of Nature to work on our minds. Then we can say: “The plant gazes on the lifeless realm of the minerals. Certainly it must feel itself to stand higher in the order of Nature than the mere lifeless minerals.” But then the plant, gazing on the mineral which prepares the ground for it, will be impelled also to say: “I certainly stand higher than you in the ranks of beings, but it is to you, since I grow out of you, that I am indebted for my existence. In thankfulness I bow before the ground which lies beneath me.” And so, again, must we conceive the experience of the animals in relation to the plants, and again in the human realm, where man in the course of his evolution is raised to a higher level. He must gaze down with awe and reverence at that which in a certain sense stands beneath him — not merely formulating all this intellectually, but so that the weaving pulse of life in all things becomes for him a real cosmic soul-experience. [Christian Morgenstern: We Found a Path. The Washing of the Feet.] This is how a genuine Spiritual Science should lead us on. Thus it enables us to establish a living relationship between humanity and all other existences.
Now a third point. Spiritual Science does not talk endlessly, in a pantheistic way, about “spirit” underlying everything. No, Spiritual Science does not only talk about spiritual reality; its aim is to let the reality of the spirit flow directly into all it says. It strives to speak in such a way that everyone for whom Spiritual Science is a living experience knows that, whenever his thinking touches the spirit, the spirit itself lives and weaves in his thought. Whoever is breathed upon by the impulse of Spiritual Science — if I may put it so — will not merely think about the spirit: he will allow the spirit itself to speak through his thoughts. The immediate presence of the spirit, the active power of the spirit — these are what Spiritual Science leads us to seek.
And now take the feelings which Spiritual Science calls to life in the depth of the human soul and compare them with the social demand of which I spoke yesterday — the social demand which in a certain sense lives in the proletarian consciousness of the present time. Consider: all that lives today in the consciousness of the workers, as the foundation of their knowledge, is an ideology, nothing but a web of abstract thoughts! Yes, this is said to be the essential characteristic of spiritual experience, that it is merely an ideology: economic happenings are the only reality. From these happenings, as they run their course, the conflicts of human life derive; everything that man thinks and learns and creates artistically arises from them like a smoke, a mist. Everything that he regards as custom, morality, law, and so on — all merely an ideological shadow-show! And now compare this shadow-show with the spiritual life which penetrates the soul from the impulse of Spiritual Science. The aim of our Anthroposophical Spiritual Science is to carry spirit out as living reality into the world through the soul of man. This living spirit is banished from that contemporary outlook which originated with the middle class, and which the workers, to their misfortune, have taken over. Banished ... and that which ought to live in men's consciousness, the “spirit in me” — that exists now merely as ideology.
Consider, again: how much can be understood about humanity, in this earthly life, through the ordinary senses! Why, in order to gain a comprehensive view of humanity we have to bring in not only the evolution of the Earth, but the Moon, Sun, and Saturn evolutions! How lacking from the modern outlook is that fine feeling for human dignity which enables us, once we have acquired it from Spiritual Science, to establish a right relationship when as human beings we encounter other human beings! Can you suppose for a moment that in the chaos of social life today will be found that right relationship between man and man which is essential to any real solution of the social problem? How can such a right relationship possibly emerge unless it rests on that evaluation of mankind in cosmic terms which springs only from spiritual knowledge and spiritual experience?
A third point. No true relation to the realm of law and human rights can be found today through the abstract conceptions loved by economists and political theorists. The only way is to seek for direct personal contact with the facts and events of the surrounding world. This third point recalls what I have already indicated: through Spiritual Science, taken into the soul-life, we must experience our relationship to all the beings that stand above and below us in the hierarchical order of the divine and natural worlds.
Now consider this contrast. On the one hand, take that which fills the consciousness of the proletariat — think how far removed it is from any experience of the living reality of the spirit in man, how it has reduced everything spiritual to an ideology! Think how far removed a truly spirit-permeated valuation of man is from the way of thinking which the proletarian of today applies to man and embodies in his general outlook! Think, finally, how far removed the almost universal standards of judgment today — the reckoning of everything in economic terms — are from that appreciation of extra-human phenomena to which we come when we learn to experience all that may be drawn from Spiritual Science as to the relationship of men to these other realms of existence.
Consider a further contrast. Think what mankind has come to as a result of the intensive invasion of human souls by the materialism of the past century. On the other hand, think of the hopes that can be kindled by the knowledge that true Spiritual Science is now able to find its way into the hearts of men. Put these two facts side by side and ask yourselves whether a true apprehension of the social problem will not depend on the grasping by human souls of all that Spiritual Science has to give.
If you experience rightly these two prospects, the hopeless and the hopeful, then, my dear friends, anthroposophical activity will become for you what indeed it should be today for all men: a necessity of life — a necessity which should penetrate all other preoccupations.
You may say to yourselves: Nothing seems clearer to me in the whole context of man's recent development than that the social problem has come to a head; but nothing, also, seems clearer than that men stand tragically at a loss in face of this social problem. For in this epoch, when the social problem thrusts itself so forcibly onto the scene, men are going through one of their hardest ordeals — the ordeal of having to find their way to the spirit through their own inner strength. Today we can look for no revelations unless we seek them freely; for since the middle of the fifteenth century we have been living in the age of the Consciousness Soul — the age in which everything is destined to be brought into the light of consciousness. Let us not be led to complain vainly: “A fearful catastrophe has fallen on mankind ... why have the gods thrust mankind into such an appalling disaster! Why did the gods not lead men clear of it, for it is surely piteous that men should have been brought to such a pass?” Let us not forget that we are living in the age when the free spiritual activity of man is due to reach expression — when the gods, in accordance with their primary purpose, may not reveal themselves unless the human being, by free resolve, opens the innermost sanctuary of his soul to receive them.
With regard to the most important aspects of human evolution, and with regard particularly to Christianity, we stand at a turning point. Certainly many people who are active in social affairs have indicated a willingness to accept Christianity — but only as much of Christianity as serves to remind us of our own social ideals. But this most important of all impulses, which alone gives earthly existence its true meaning and purpose, cannot be dealt with in that way. We must be clear about this: all that has been generally understood about Christianity, so far, is only a beginning. It amounts to little more than an acknowledgment of the fact that the Christ was once present in the man Jesus and passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. All that Christianity has been able to teach men in nearly 2,000 years is the simple fact that the Christ descended to Earth and established a connection with the Earth. Human understanding was not ripe for more. Only now, in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, is humanity becoming ripe to understand not merely the fact that the Christ passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, but the real significance of this event. Mankind will be able to understand the content of the Mystery of Golgotha only out of the spiritual foundations which can be built in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch.
In this study group I have often remarked how extraordinarily banal it is to say “We live in a time of transition.” All times are times of transition! The point is not to call this or that period a time of transition; the point is to see what is involved in a particular change or transition. That is the essential thing: to perceive what is changing!
I have also remarked here, from many points of view, on the particular changes which human consciousness and human soul development, in the broadest sense, are undergoing in our time. Today I should like to draw attention once more to a particular aspect of man's earthly evolution.
I said just now: Through Spiritual Science we seek not merely to entertain thoughts about the Spiritual, but to let the living reality of the spirit reveal itself in our thinking. Similarly, we can recall the words of Christ Jesus: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The right way to grasp Spiritual Science is not to believe that the entire substance of Christianity is contained once for all in the Gospels, but to recognize that the Christ is in truth present at all times, even unto the end of the world. And present not as a dead force, calling merely for belief, but as a living power which increasingly reveals itself. And in our epoch what is this revelation? The content of modern anthroposophical Spiritual Science. Spiritual Science is concerned not merely to talk about the Christ, but to utter what the Christ wishes to say to men in our time, through the medium of human thoughts.
So we can say: In those ancient times, when the life of men was still largely instinctive, when in their souls something of the old, atavistic clairvoyance survived, then the Spiritual found utterance in the human soul. It was active still in human thoughts and in the human will. Truly, the gods dwelt in men. Today, however, they dwell in human beings after a different fashion. One might put it in the following way. In ancient times the gods had a certain task with regard to the Earth's evolution: they had set its fulfillment before themselves as a goal. They accomplished their purpose by inspiring men with their own powers, and breathing imaginations into the human soul. But — strange as it may seem — these primal aims for the Earth's development are now fulfilled. They were fulfilled, fundamentally, by the end of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Since then the spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies (whom in our sense we may call the gods) stand in a different relationship to human souls.
Once, the gods came in search of men in order to realize their purpose for the Earth with men's help. Today it is men who must seek out the gods; by their own inner activity they must raise themselves to the gods. The human being must reach such a relationship to the gods as to achieve his aims, his consciously conceived aims, with the help of divine powers. That is the right thing in the epoch of the Consciousness Soul. In earlier times the aims of men were unconscious, instinctive, just because the conscious purpose of the gods was working in them. Human aims must now become ever more conscious: then they will be infused with powers capable of raising them into the sphere of the gods, so that human aims may be inspired with divine energies.
My dear friends, give thorough thought to these words. Much lies in them. They point to the necessity which from our time onward should draw forth an elemental striving from the depths of human nature. We can cultivate this in various realms of the soul. Above all we must seek to deepen social life by bringing Spiritual Science to bear on human relationships. Because in earlier times the gods were directly concerned with the evolution of mankind, and sought through men to realize their aims — for this very reason men were much more closely related to one another than they are today. It had to be so. Today human beings are in a certain sense driven apart, and they have to seek quite a different relationship to one another. But first they have to learn about this. From a purely external point of view you can see everywhere that one human being knows very little about another. Spiritual Science is only beginning to show how human nature and human worth stand in their cosmic setting. In daily life one man knows little about another; he does not penetrate into the depths of his fellow man's soul. That is the general rule. Through a deepening of social life a new understanding of man must be found, and must permeate human development.
Instead of having eyes only for the man of flesh, apprehending him in a naturalistic way, devoid of the spirit, we must reach the stage of a spirit-filled social organism, wherein the activity of the gods in other men can be recognized.
But we shall not attain to this unless we do something about it. One thing we can do is to strive to deepen our own life of soul. There are many paths to that. I will mention only one, a meditative path. From various points of view, and with various aims, we can cast a backward glance over our own lives. We can ask ourselves: How has this life of mine unfolded since childhood? But we can do this also in a special way. Instead of bringing before our gaze what we ourselves have enjoyed or experienced, we can turn out attention to the persons who have figured in our lives as parents, brothers and sisters, friends, teachers, and so on, and we can summon before our soul the inner nature of each of these persons, in place of our own. After a time we shall find ourselves reflecting how little we really owe to ourselves, and how much to all that has flowed into us from others. If we honestly build up this kind of self-scrutiny into an inner picture, we shall arrive at quite a new relationship to the outer world. From such a backward survey we retain certain feelings and impressions. And these are like fertile seeds planted in us — seeds for the growth of a true knowledge of man. Whoever undertakes again and again this inward contemplation, so that he recognizes the contribution which other persons, perhaps long dead or far distant, have made to his own life, then when he meets another man, and establishes a personal relationship with him, an imagination of the other man's true being will rise before him.
This is something which must emerge as an inward and truly heartfelt social demand, bound up with this present time and necessary to the future development of mankind. So must Spiritual Science reveal its practical power to kindle and enrich human life.
This subject has a further aspect. In earlier times all self-knowledge, all introspection, was a much simpler affair, for a deeply inward social impulse is now emerging — and not only because of the enhanced awareness of some people concerning property or poverty. This impulse shows itself, for example, in the following way. Nowadays we pay very little attention to the fact that throughout life a constant process of ripening goes on. Inwardly honest men, such as Goethe, feel this. Even in his latest years Goethe was still eager to learn. His inward growth continued; he felt he had not finished with the task of becoming a man. And in looking back on his youth and prime he saw in all that had come to him then a preparation for the experiences brought by old age. Nowadays people very seldom think in that way — least of all when taking account of man as a social being. Everyone, as soon as he is twenty, wants to belong to some corporate body and — in the favorite phrase — to exercise his democratic judgment! It never occurs to anyone that there are things in life worth waiting for, because increasing ripeness comes with the years. Men today have no idea of that!
That is one thing we must learn, my dear friends: that all stages of life — and not only the first two or three decades of youth — bring gifts to man.
And there is something else we must learn. We are not concerned only with ourselves, but with people at other stages of life; and particularly with children, as they are born and grow up. A consequence of human evolution is that much which used to unfold of itself in the soul now has to be attained by extraordinary exertion — by a striving for supersensible knowledge, or at least for a real knowledge of life. It is the same with the child as with people in general: a great deal in his own being remains hidden from him. And this applies not only to the experiences that will come in later life. A great deal that was formerly revealed through atavistic clairvoyance now remains hidden from a person who pays attention only to himself, who seeks for knowledge only within himself. It remains hidden from the cradle to the grave. This is also a consequence of the state of consciousness belonging to our age. We can strive for clear insight, yet much remains hidden — and precisely in the realm where we need to see clearly. This is a special characteristic of our time: we enter the world as children, bearing some quality which is important for the world, for the social life of humanity, for the understanding of history. But we cannot reach a knowledge of this, not in childhood, or in maturity, or in old age, if we remain shut up in ourselves. Knowledge of it, however, can be reached in a different way. We can reach it if we look at the child with finely tuned spiritual perception, and realize that in the child is revealed something which the child does not and cannot ever know, but which can be understood by the soul of another person who in old age gazes on the child. It is something revealed through the child — not to the child himself and not to the man or woman whom the child becomes — but to the other person who from a later age looks with real love on his youngest contemporaries.
I draw special attention to this, my dear friends, so that from this characteristic of our age you may see how a social impulse, in the broadest sense, weaves and surges through our time. Is there not something profoundly social in this necessity: the necessity which ordains that life becomes fruitful only when age seeks its highest goal through fellowship with youth — the fellowship not merely of this or that man with another, but of the old with the very young?
This social fellowship is called for by the innermost spirit and sense of our time. And in this way Spiritual Science, by speaking to people who are already prepared to some extent through acquaintance with its other branches, can lead to a deeper grasp of the social problem. As persons marked out by knowledge of Spiritual Science, you have before you all a great social task if you take the force of feeling which social questions stir in you and make it a means of working for mankind today. Carry your enthusiasm into the social and socialistic discussions of the present time, kindle and deepen in yourselves the social feeling and understanding which should prevail between man and man — then you will be discharging a truly anthroposophical task in the social realm.
We will speak further of this next week, when we shall again have a group lecture in between the two public lectures.