The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
Lecture 4 of 8
Lecture 4 of 8
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, March 1, 1919:
In what we have here been considering I have shown how in the course of man's evolution something very different may be going on in the unconscious depths of his soul from what appears more on the surface. A man may think he is striving for this or that, whereas in reality in his innermost soul there hold sway impulses directed to quite different aims. This truth is particularly significant in our time. We see today a whole class of men setting their wills in a certain direction. But just here we may have the experience how in this age of the development of consciousness something different is coming to expression on the surface of the soul from what is living in its depths, where impulses not present in consciousness today are striving for expression, for realisation.
The consciousness of the proletariat is today filled with three things. First, the materialistic interpretation of history; secondly, the view that up to now, in reality, class struggles have been at the basis of what has gone on in the world, what is now happening being thought to be a reflection of these class struggles. The third thing is the theory of surplus value, that is, the theory that surplus value arises through the unpaid labour of the worker, which makes a profit that is than taken by the employer from the worker without the latter receiving compensation.
What makes the impulses arise in the consciousness of the proletariat, from which are drawn the forces active in the modern social movement, is derived from the combination of these three factors. This, however, refers only to what lies in the consciousness of the proletariat. In the depths of the souls of all present-day mankind, in the deeper layers of the souls of the proletariat too, three other things are living, of which the world as yet knows very little. The world does not make such effort towards self-knowledge, and therefore knows nothing of what, in the depths of the soul, is actually striving for historical realisation.
These three other things are, first, a penetration of the spiritual life, a penetration fitted for the present age, what may be called Spiritual Science. The second is freedom in the life of thought, freedom of thought. The third is socialism in its right and true sense. Without knowing it the proletariat are striving for these three things. Their instincts follow the other three things that I referred to as being active on the surface of their soul-life, in their actual consciousness.
In this very difference between the proletariat's conscious efforts and their unconscious impulses we see particularly clearly what a complete contrast they make. Take the materialistic interpretation of history. This is due to the modern materialism which has arisen during the last four centuries. This materialism first made itself felt among the leading classes of men in the field of natural science, and later took its hold on all science. It then turned to the material interpretation of history among the members of the modern proletariat, who in reality have simply taken over as heritage the kind of conceptions concerning science holding good for the bourgeoisie. This material conception of history is due to all spiritual life being, as it were, merely the smoke arising from the proceedings in the economic life, from all that is working in the sphere of man's economic life. In the historical course of man's life there is actually only what is going on in the different spheres concerned with the creation of goods — production, trade, consumption; and according to how men have carried on their economy at different times, has depended on their religious belief, what kind of art they have cultivated, what attitude they have taken to rights and morality. The spiritual life is, finally, an ideology, that is, it has no independent reality, being a reflection of the eternal economic struggle. Certainly all the ideas required by men, what they feel aesthetically, on what they bring to expression through their moral will can work back again on the economic struggle. But ultimately all spiritual life is a mirrored image of the external economic life. This is what is called the materialistic interpretation of history. If human life be a mere reflection of purely external, material, economic forces, if it be true that the world is only a world of the senses and that men's thoughts reflect only what is of the senses, if men live entirely in such ideas, wanting to see as reality only what the sense world reveals, then this is a turning away from all true life of the spirit, and signifies man's refusal to recognise an independent spirit resting on itself.
Thus in modern times efforts are directed towards marshalling more and more proofs to justify the assertion that no such thing exists as an independent spirit living in the supersensible, that there is no such thing as spirit at all. This plays upon the surface of men's life of soul, and has constituted. the essential content of modern consciousness since mankind entered the age of the consciousness soul. But in the very depths of their life of soul men today are striving for the spirit; they have, one might say, a most deep and inward need of the spirit. This may be confirmed if we look at the evolution of human history.
We have often looked back on the special kind of spirituality in the first post-Atlantian period of culture, the Indian, and described its character from the most varied standpoints. What we have learnt about it enables those who can look on the things without prejudice to say that the life of spirit, as it existed in the old Indian culture-epoch — to be discovered only by means of Spiritual Science — rests upon unconscious intuition. Mark well, unconscious, for it was then a matter of an atavistic life of spirit.
If we then pass on to the ancient Persian life of spirit and seek its sources, we find them flowing from an unconscious inspiration. The Egypto-Chaldean life of spirit is still prevalent in so-called historic Egyptian times, and if we study history without prejudice we shall be able to see that in the old Egyptian and Chaldaea knowledge we have to do with what is in the soul as unconscious though living imagination.
There then followed the Graeco-Latin life of spirit. In this the ancient imaginations remained, permeated, however, with concepts, ideas. The essential thing expressed by Greek life was that, in human evolution, the Greeks were the first to possess this element that, as an impulse of the soul, was previously non-existent. The Greeks already had ideas, concepts, as I have shown more fully in my Riddles of Philosophy. But through all their ideas and concepts there were weaving the figurative, the imaginative. This is unnoticed today, particularly when it is a question of that unaccountable Greece of which our schools and universities speak. When the Greeks uttered the word ‘idea’ for example, they had in mind nothing so abstract as the concept called up by our word. With than the word conjured up a kind of vision, which was nevertheless to be grasped clearly in the form of concept. It was something perceptible; idea was at the same time vision. In Greek one would never have been able to speak of ideology, though the word comes from the Greek. In any case a Greek would not have spoken so that the same feelings would have been aroused that are aroused today by the word ‘ideology’. For to the Greek ideas were full of being, something permeated by pictures.
Now it is characteristic of our fifth post-Atlantian epoch that imaginations have vanished from the consciousness soul, and it is the concept above all that remains.
Our modern life of spirit, with so little power of picturing things that only abstractions remain, is particularly prized by the cultured for its very dryness and dullness. These times live, so to speak, on abstractions and would reduce everything to some kind of abstract concept. It is just in what is called middle class practical life that, in the most extensive sense, this abstract concept holds sway. It is, however, already making itself felt that in the depths of men's souls slumbering, unconscious impulses are striving after renewed imagination. (This is true of the present and will continue to be so in the near future.) Thus, of the fifth epoch we may say: Concepts striving for imaginations.
1. Old Indian Culture-epoch: Unconscious intuitions as the source of the life of spirit.
2. Old Persian Culture-epoch: Unconscious inspirations as the source of the life of spirit.
3. Egypto-Chaldean Culture-epoch: Unconscious imaginations as the source of the life of spirit.
4. Graeco-Latin Culture-epoch: Unconscious imaginations with concepts.
5. Modern Culture-epoch: Concepts striving for imaginations.
Our Spiritual Science goes to meet this striving for imaginations. The overwhelmingly greater part of mankind knows as yet nothing of what goes on in the soul, and thus see all life of the spirit in mere ideas and concepts before which men feel themselves helpless. For concepts as such have in themselves no content. Till now it has been the destiny among leading circles to develop a certain predilection for purely abstract thinking. This love of abstract thinking, however, has produced something else. This thinking in pure concepts is helpless! It produces an endeavour to rely upon the reality that cannot be relied on because it is only suited to the senses, namely, external physical reality. This belief in external physical reality has, in truth, arisen from the ineffectiveness of the concepts of modern mankind.
The ineffectiveness, the helplessness, of the conceptual life is expressed in every sphere of the spiritual life. In science the great desire is to experiment, so as to discover something not otherwise given to the world of the senses. Pondering on the world of the senses with ideas alone we do not got beyond it, for concepts themselves contain no reality. In art we are getting ever more accustomed to the copying of a model and keeping to the external object alone. Up to now, in art, it has been the destiny of the leading circles of mankind to be absorbed more and more in the mere study of external sense reality. The capacity to create out of the spirit and to represent the spiritual by artistic means is being increasingly lost naturalism alone is striven for, imitation of what nature, as such, represents in the external world, because from the abstract life of the spirit nothing wells up which in itself van be given independent form.
If you consider the development of art in recent times, you will find this everywhere confirmed — this continual striving after more naturalism, after a representation of what externally is seen and perceived. This has finally reached its peak in what is called Impressionism. Before Impressionism artistic endeavour was directed to the reproduction of some external object. Then came those who carried this to its logical conclusion end said: When I have before me a human being or a wood, and I paint this men or this wood, I am not giving my impression, for while I am standing before the wood the sun illumines it in a particular way, but after a few moments the light effect may be suite different. In my desire to be naturalistic what am I to perpetuate? I cannot hold to what the external world shows me for that changes each moment. I try to paint a man who is smiling, but the next instant his expression may be grim! Am I to turn the grim face into the smiling one? What am I to paint? If I wish to paint the external object in its temporary state I shall have to use force on the object. Objects of nature do not allow of this, but with the human object as model force has to be used for the pose and expression to be held as long as possible. But then, when one tries to imitate nature, the model takes on an expression as if he had catalepsy. So that is no good. — For this reason they became Impressionists; they waited to catch and hold the fleeting impression. Then, however, it is no longer possible to be altogether naturalistic, but all means must be used, not to irritate nature, but to reproduce how it appears and reveals itself to anyone in a certain moment. The trouble is that in an effort to be naturalistic one becomes impressionist, and then, alas, as impressionist it is impossible to remain naturalistic: So the whole thing is changed round. Some no longer aimed at giving the impression, at fixing the outward impression, and tried to express what, however primitive, arose within themselves — they tried to hold fast what happens within. These became Expressionists.
In the moral sphere, even in the life of rights, the same course can be shown; everywhere there arises this striving after the abstract life of spirit preferred by men. We have only to look at modern human evolution correctly, and we shall find everywhere this urge towards abstraction. And what effect has this had on the modern proletariat? Since they have been tied to machines, caught up in the present soulless capitalism, their whole destiny has become bound up in the economic life. The same trend of ideas that brought members of the middle-class circles to naturalism in art has now brought the proletariat to the theories expressed in the materialistic interpretation of history. The proletariat everywhere has drawn upon the logical consequences of bourgeois culture — consequences before which the bourgeoisie now stand aghast.
Now, within these bourgeois circles what has been the attitude towards religion? In earlier times there was at least a dim atavistic conception of the Christ-Mystery; there was a feeling that abstract spiritual life offered no possibility of conceiving how the Christ had lived in Jesus. Thus men's ideas became limited to what, in the early days of Christianity, had happened in the world of the senses; they became limited to what merely concerned Jesus. The Christ was looked upon more and more as mere man, whereas the Christ belonging to the supersensible world vanished ever further from the field of human vision. The abstract life of the soul, finding no way to the Christ, contented itself with Jesus. What did the proletariat make of this? They asked themselves: Why do we need any specially religious outlook regarding Jesus? The bourgeoisie have already made of Him the simple man of Nazareth. If Jesus is this simple man of Nazareth, He will naturally be just like us. We are dependent on the economic life and why should Jesus not have been so too? Have we still any justification in ascribing to Him a special mission, or in calling Him the founder of a new human age if He is just the simple man of Nazareth who, for His part, drew His teachings from the economic processes into which He Himself was placed? We must study the economic processes at the time of the founding of Christianity, and the way in which a simple worker deserted his work to spread ideas around concerning the contemporary economic ordering in Palestine. From that we shall see why Jesus made the statements like he did. This Jesus-theory is the final result of modern protestant theology, which no longer has any power over modern men, the modern proletariat. —
But now, in the subconscious depths of their souls, modem men are once more striving for freedom of thought, for inward initiative in thought. On the conscious surface of their soul-life it appears that the opposite is to be the aim, and this opposite is the object of their striving. Hence the deep protesting opposition in the subconscious which comes to expression in the present terrible struggle. The leading bourgeois circles want to be free of any authority; but they are up to the neck in every kind of belief in authority. They have a blind belief in authority above all where the sphere of the State is concerned — now regarded by them as the highest authority. For whose judgment stands higher for the modern middle-class than that of the ‘expert’? The expert is consulted in everything, even in matters of external life. Whoever enters life having left the University with a degree, must know everything. Be he a theologian, he is consulted about God's intentions towards man; if a lawyer he is asked what rights a man has in life; if a doctor of medicine, he is asked for a universal cure, and if any kind of philosopher at all, he is questioned about every possible thing in the world. Modern philosophers always smile when their glance falls on the book of a venerable philosopher of pre-Kantian days — Christian Wolf. This book is called Rational Thoughts on God, the World, the Soul of Man, and all other things; people smile at such a book. But modern leading classes most firmly believe in the spiritual laboratories the State has set up for its citizens, where the whole content of human intelligence is brewed. The concern of these circles is not to give everyone a consciousness of his own, but to create a uniform consciousness, and to manage that in the widest sense it should be a State-consciousness. Modern consciousness is much more a consciousness of the State than is commonly believed. People think of the State as their God who Gives them all they need. They no longer have to bother themselves about things, for the State sees to it that there should be provision for all reasonable departments of life. The proletariat have been excluded from the life of the State except in a few spheres allowed them by its democratic form. With their labour-power that engages the whole man, the proletariat were yoked to the economic life. For this reason it now drew upon itself, for its own life alone, the final consequence. The modern middle-class citizen has a State-consciousness, and though he may not always admit it he is quite willing to boast about this State-consciousness. It is really not necessary to have “Reserve-Lieutenant” and “Professor” printed on your card, just to make a parade of your State-consciousness. It can be done in a quite different way. But the proletariat had no interest in the State. They were harnessed to the economic life, and their feelings were again, though in accordance with their own lives, the final consequence of middle-class feelings. The proletarian consciousness became class-consciousness, and thus we see that since they had nothing to do with the State their class-consciousness was built on internationalism. The middle-class were able to have leanings towards the State only because this modern State looked after them, and the middle-class wish to be looked after. The State, however, did not look after the proletarian, and he felt himself as part of the world only in so far as he belonged to his class. The arising of the proletarian class has been brought about in the same way throughout all States. Hence came the formation of an international proletariat, feeling consciously opposed to the bourgeoisie and all that tended, with the same force of consciousness, towards the State and the agents of the State. Thus, within recent times there has arisen an extraordinarily powerful form of class-consciousness among the proletariat. I do not know how many of you have been to proletarian meetings. But how do they always close They close by copying as a proletarian consequence what has come from so many bourgeois organisations and interests! For example, with what did bourgeois meetings in middle Europe begin and and? With “Hail to the Emperor:” And every proletarian meeting has ended with “Long live the international revolutionary social democracy!” We have only to reflect on what enormous suggestive power lies in these words heard by the proletariat week after week, and how these words induce a uniform consciousness throughout the masses so that all freedom of thought has naturally been driven out. All this has taken firm hold of the soul. Formerly there were meetings, that have now become less frequent, called by the bourgeoisie, to which social democrats also were invited. The Chairman on closing would say: “I shall first beg the social democrats to leave, and then ask the audience to rise and give a salute to the Emperor.” There were also proletarian meetings at the discussions of which the bourgeoisie were allowed to contribute. And at the end the Chairman would ask middle-class members to retire, so that the “Long live the international revolutionary social democracy” could be proposed. Thus was welded what passed through the soul as a uniform class-consciousness — the opposite of what was in the depths of their souls, the opposite of the longing for individual freedom of thought, for an individual form of consciousness! — That is the second thing.
And the third thing pressing for realisation in the depths of the modern soul is Socialism, which can be briefly described as the effort of the modern soul, in the time of the consciousness soul, to be able to feel itself an individual within the social organism. This is how man wants the social organism to be founded; he wants to feel himself member of this social organism. This means that he wishes a consciousness to permeate him that gives him the feeling: What I do is done so that I know in what way the social organism has a part in me and how I have a share in the social organism. Man lives within the social organism. But nowadays, as I have said, the feeling for the social organism is present only in the subconscious.
Today when a painter points a picture he is right in saying: This picture must be paid for; I have put my art into it. — What is his art? It is something only made possible for him by the community, by the social organism. His artistic ability, it is true, depends upon his karma, his earlier earth lives; but people today do not believe that, and by not believing it deceive themselves. If however we ignore the share of ability brought down by our individuality from higher regions through birth, then we are entirely dependent upon the social organism. But modern man pays no conscious heed to this, so instead of a social feeling in his consciousness there has arisen during the last four centuries, above all, on increasingly egoistic, anti-social trend of thought. This anti-social thought expresses itself particularly by everyone thinking first of himself and trying to get as much as possible out of the social organism. The feeling that one should return to the social organism what one has received, is harboured indeed by very few. In leading bourgeois circles there has gradually arisen in regard to the spiritual life the greatest imaginable egoism, egoism that looks upon sheer spiritual enjoyment, sheer intellectual enjoyment, as something man is specially justified in procuring for himself. We have, however, no claim to spiritual enjoyment prepared for us by the social organism if we are not in the position to return to the social organism an appropriate equivalent.
Now the proletariat, not being able to share in the spiritual part of the social organism, and being yoked to the economic life and to soulless capitalism, are again driven to the final consequence of middle-class egoism shown in the theory of surplus value. The worker recognises that it is he who actually produces what comes from machines at the factories, and wants to have the proceeds. He does not wish a part to be withdrawn and to go elsewhere. Seeing nothing but the capitalist who places him at the machine, he naturally thinks that all the surplus value goes to the capitalists and that he must above all turn against them. Considered objectively, there is of course something else, quite different hidden in this so-called surplus value. For what is surplus value? It is everything produced by manual labour for which this labour receives no compensation. Suppose there were no surplus value, that everything went to the worker for his immediate needs. Then it would go without saying that there would be no spiritual culture, no further culture at all! There would be only the economic life, only what can be brought into existence through manual labour. It cannot be a question therefore of the surplus value going to the manual worker, but only of its application in a way that can bring surplus value and manual work into agreement. This will happen only when conditions are created in which the manual worker can have some understanding of where the surplus value goes.
Here one touches on the point where most of the offences of the modern middle-class order have been committed. Machines and factories have been set up, trade has been carried on, capital put into circulation, the worker placed at the machine and thus harnessed to the capitalistic economic order. There he is meant to work. But no one has had the idea that the worker has need of anything beyond his labour power. It is not his labour power alone but also his leisure, the force he has left when his work is done, that must be used in a healthy social order. Only those capitalists are justified who have as great an interest in the Proletariat's labour power that is left over, as they have in the economic application of their forces. Those capitalists alone have justification who take care that the worker, at the end of a definite period of work, can have access to what is good from a universal human point of view spiritually and otherwise educationally.
For this, he must first have the fruits of education. In Middle-class society these fruits of education have been developed, therefore it has been possible for all kinds of popular cultural institutions to be set up. What people's kitchens of the spiritual life! What has not been founded in this sphere! But what feelings must have been awakened by all this in the proletariat? The feeling indeed that the middle-class is giving him something they are cooking there among themselves. Naturally he distrusts it and thinks: Aha, they would make me middle-class too by feeding me with the milk of the pious way of thinking in these people's kitchens! — These welfare movements of the bourgeoisie are largely responsible for the facts arising today in such a shocking way on the horizon of social life. What is appearing flows from much deeper sources than is generally thought. I want the surplus value. That is the egoistic principle that appears as the final consequence of the egoism of the middle-class who also wanted the surplus value. Once again the proletariat takes on the final consequence. And instead of the real, true socialism, slumbering in the depths of the soul, there appears on the surface of the life of the soul, in the consciousness, the theory of surplus value which is eminently anti-social. For everyone who takes surplus value to his heart is doing so for the satisfaction of his own egoism.
Thus today we have an anti-social socialism, just as we have a striving for a content of consciousness that is nothing of the sort. It is simply the result of the economic connection of one class of human beings expressing itself in the class-consciousness of the proletariat. Thus today we have a spiritual endeavour that denies the spirit and has found its logical conclusion in the materialistic interpretation of history.
We must look deeply into these things otherwise we shall not understood the present times. H0w little, in this direction, have the middle-class circles been inclined to cultivate insight into these connections, how little are they still prone to become conscious of them though the facts have spoken so clearly and with such urgency. In no other way will it be possible to bring about a striving among the proletariat that is truly social, in place of the present anti-social striving, than by trying to establish the economic life on a healthy, independent basis as a member of the social organism, which without State interference will have its own laws and its own governing body. In other words, we must make every effort to prevent the State being its own economist in any sphere. Then could be developed real socialism in the economic life, for which there is a deep yearning in the human soul. And there must also be an endeavour to separate from the economic life that of the actual political State, which for its part has no claim either to the economic life nor to the spiritual, cultural, educational life, and so on. If the life of the State makes no demands in either direction, but simply embodies the life of rights, than it bring to expression what here in the physical world is the basis of the relation between man and man — the relation that makes all men equal in the sight of the law. It is only when the life of the State is thus that true freedom of thought can be developed.
As third member of the sound social organism the life of spirit must be formed on its own basis, which can be drawn from the reality of the spirit and must press onward to true Spiritual Science. What in the depths of their souls men are striving for today is indeed the healthy social order, which must, however, be threefold.
Thus can things be regarded, as they have been considered by us today, and Spiritual Science should be taken also in this sense both deeply and earnestly, not as something that is listened to like a Sunday sermon, for that is middle-class.
It is middle-class that in its economic life only a small circle should, at a pinch, be cared for — at least, think they are caring for themselves. It is middle-class in the life of the State to let the State do the caring, and when, to pay a little attention to the life of the spirit, people visit a person, or take up theosophy or anything of the kind. It is really respectably bourgeois: And the Theosophical Movement today has indeed established a life of the spirit very characteristic of middle-class life. One can think of nothing more bourgeois in character than this modern Theosophical Movement. It has grown up as a sectarian spiritual movement right out of the needs of this class. Hence came the struggle when we tried to work out from the Theosophical Movement something that should be permeated by modern human consciousness, and established as a movement for mankind. But from this sectarian bourgeois element, that found an anchorage in the superficiality of human souls, there was always opposition. We must get beyond this; anthroposophical striving must be understood as something demanded by the times, giving us wide instead of narrow interests, and not merely leading us into little groups for the reading of lecture cycles. It is good to reed lecture cycles; I beg you not to jump to the conclusion that no one in future should read them. We should, however, not stop there. What is read must be put into practice by seeking above all to find the relation with modern consciousness. Let us therefore thoroughly read the cycles, and we shall soon see that what is in them actually passes over into our life forces! Then it is the best social nourishment today for striving souls. For everything is thought out there, as indeed it is ultimately in our building, especially in what is there striven for artistically. It is thought out in the sense of modern times, and in these times it can be thought out in no other way. I do not know if you have considered how this building tries to be, even in social respects, a most modern product, and how in this modern sense it aids man in his striving. Just imagine a building the inside of which, or the greater part of which, had no purpose — if it just stood there! It ought to stand in a connection with the whole of the rest of the world order, to have any sense at all. Overhead in the cupola even by day it would be pitch dark, dark as night, were electric light not to come in from outside! This building points to all that is going on outside, so thoroughly is it born of all that is most modern. It must therefore develop in connection not with what is on the surface of the soul but with the inner spiritual aspirations of the time.
Thus, you might reflect upon much that is connected with this building. It is indeed a representative of the most modern spiritual life, and is only to be rightly understood if we grasp the idea of it being a kind of comet, a comet with a tail. The tail consists in there living in the human soul what is really raying forth in feeling from Anthroposophy. But it might easily happen that many people would take up the attitude towards this building that some Catholics, and indeed leading Catholics, have taken towards modern astronomy. In modern astronomy comets are looked upon as ordinary bodies in the firmament, whereas in olden days they were thought to be rods of correction wielded by some materially conceived spirit from a heavenly window. When the time came that leaders of Catholicism could no longer deny that comets should be ranked with other heavenly bodies, they invented en expedient. Some of them who were clever said: The comet consists of a core and a tail; we cannot deny that the core is a heavenly body like the rest, but the tail is not so; the tail has the origin formerly ascribed to it! — So it may also happen that people come to think: We approve of the building, but we will have nothing to do with all the odd experiences issuing from it like a comet's tail! —
But the building, like the comet, belongs to its tail, and it will be necessary that everything in relation to it should be felt in its true connection.