The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
Lecture 7 of 8
Lecture 7 of 8
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, March 15, 1919:
If you follow present-day developments with full awareness, in all humanity you will find a trend little adapted to direct thinking towards what the purely perceptible facts at work in the world themselves demand. There exists a general aversion to thoughts that do not run in the old grooves. But never before, perhaps, would it have been so apt to ask how it comes about that people are quite unready to entertain thoughts new to them. We experience today a fundamental phenomenon running through the whole evolution of the times. I have often pointed out how this came to expression some years ago. One could quote quite a collection of speeches delivered in the spring and early summer of 1914 by European statesmen, and find much the same in all their utterances — in what, for example, the Secretary of State, Jagow, said when addressing the Reichstag. This was to the effect that by the efforts of the European Cabinets it had been possible to create a satisfactory relation between the great powers, and that peace in Europe had been secured for a long time to come. Again and again you might find this kind of speech, repeated with variations by these self-styled ‘practical’ men. Thus it was at that time. A few weeks later began the world-conflagration now merely entering on a different phase.
What else do we experience today in the aims and actions of men so largely the children of their times? I have recently attended a so-called League of Nations Conference at Berne. There people talked of many things. Fundamentally everything concerning recent previous events was of the same caliber as the speeches of the European statesmen in the spring and summer of 1914. These men talk on the old customary lines of thought as for years they have been accustomed to talk. In truth, during the last four-and-half years they have actually learnt nothing, nothing at all from the lessons speaking to them out of the depths of world-existence. This is a fact to which the Anthroposophist should give his most earnest attention; for this depressing indifference in face of facts is widespread throughout the greater part of the continent of Europe. Despite many variations there repeatedly appears, quite typically, what is produced out of powerful depths, which are, however, ruinous for these times. This appears from the direction of a certain current in world-outlook, which on account of indifference and lack of interest among Europeans has every prospect of making impression upon impression, conquest upon conquest. When I was quite a boy — a long time ago now — in my religious books the following could be read, which was intended to lead boys to knowledge of Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ was either a hypocrite, a lunatic, or what He Himself said — the Son of the living God. Since one dare not accept His being either a hypocrite or a lunatic, there remains only the other possibility, namely, that it is true that He was, as He said, the Son of the living God! What was there in print in my religious books decades ago, I heard again recently in an address given in Berne by a Graz Professor Ude, in connection with the so-called Berne League of Nations Conference. Once again one could hear the words Jesus was either a hypocrite, a lunatic, or as He Himself said the Son of the living God. “And as we dare not call Christ” — this was hurled at the audience — “a lunatic or a hypocrite. He can only have been what He said, the Son of the living God!” With Jesuitical fervour this was cast at the audience, and there were few indeed in the hall who today in face of such things would ask the only really significant question: Has not this been repeated over and over again before the faithful, and in spite of it has not destruction descended upon mankind? Is there no one with heart and sense today in whom the thought can arise of the senselessness in the midst of the great world catastrophe of crying aloud to the multitude things that have shown such strong proof of their fruitlessness: And I heard another talk, by the same professor, on the social question, which from beginning to end gave no hint of what should happen, what must happen. It was solely a kind of condemnation of many immoral practices that, in the present time, are certainly both prevalent and predominant. But here, too, one realised that nothing had been learnt from the sad experiences of these four-and-a-half years.
This is a better example than many because, among the numerous speeches given in Berne these of Professor Ude were by far the best. For behind them was at least a world-outlook, even though one which if preached today must have its dangers. The other speeches had their roots in a lack of power to rise to any kind of world-outlook or understanding of life. We must continually emphasise that men's thoughts today have become dull and summary. They are unable to penetrate into realities. They move among illusions and are entirely superficial. Men cannot see into what it is that these times demand from those who would speak about the necessary organisation of things.
We should remind ourselves again and again, my dear friends, that during the last four centuries we Europeans, with the new blood of America, have produced a thinking only fit to understand what is lifeless. We have brought into being a thinking entirely dominated by mathematical technics. We have become incapable of directing our thought to what is living in nature, and comprehend only what is dead. What official science has to say about the living organism is only valid for the organism when dead, and is actually acquired from the corpse. So accustomed have people become to this thinking that it is also applied to the social organism. This simply means that mankind in general today is incapable of any creative thinking about the living social organism, at least they find it very difficult. But what thoughts do they find easy? They find easy such thoughts as have been drubbed into them for centuries through the method of catechism and as run in the ruts they have made; or those thoughts born of thinking that relates only to what is dead in the living organism. But today it is the living social organism we have to comprehend.
Let us start from a concrete example. Modern socialist thinking is directed against capitalism. Socialism demands the association of all private capital for means of production. There was already much talk about this socialisation in what I believe was called the National Assembly of Weimar. The way in which capitalism is now spoken of absolutely conforms with the dead thinking of recent centuries, which has greatly increased in the world-conception of purely materialistic natural science. What exactly have we in capitalism? We have something that fundamentally has become a terrible oppressor of the great mass of human beings, and we have the fact that there is very little to be said in answer to what is urged, and will continue to be urged from the side of the proletariat against the oppressive nature of capitalism in its relation to the spheres of the spiritual, of the economic, and of rights. But what conclusions are drawn by the socialist thinker from these undeniable facts? The conclusion that capitalism must be done away with! Capitalism is the oppressor, something dreadful, it has proven itself a scourge of modern mankind, so it must be destroyed. What should appear more comprehensible, more fruitful, for the usual agitator than this demand for the abolition of capitalism. But it has resulted in terrible deeds all over Europe. For those who do not confine themselves to these dead thoughts of the last four hundred years, but are able to turn to living thinking needed above all for our Spiritual Science — for those, this talk of the necessity for abolishing capitalism as an oppression and a scourge, is just as logical, based on just such factual as the following: We continually breathe in oxygen end breathe out dead carbonic acid; in us the oxygen is transformed into carbonic acid. Then why should we first inhale it? For it only produces a deadly poison in us, it becomes a deadly poison! There is no doubt that oxygen changes inside us to deadly poison, but for our life's sake we have to breathe it in; the life process in both human and animal bodies is unthinkable without the inhaling, of oxygen. And the social life is just as unthinkable without the continual building up of capital; without the constant building-up of the means of production which, strictly speaking, is nothing more nor less than capital. There is no social organism that would not show the interworking of individual human capacities. Were the demands of the social organism widely understood the worker would say: It is a question of having confidence in the director of the undertaking, for unless he takes the responsibility for it I cannot do my work. When there are directors of undertakings, however, the accumulation of capital necessarily follows. It is impossible to escape the accumulation. If socialistic thinkers, well-meaning up to a point, but mistaken, put the question: How is capitalism to be done away with? this is as significant as to ask: How is the social organism itself to be done away with? How, best is the social organism to be driven to its death?
It is quite clear for anyone who has insight into the matter that capital is accumulated even in the wisest social order, and equally clear that it is idle to ask: How can the amassing of capital be prevented; how can we arrange that no capital is accumulated? — But you see, people today find it too difficult to face up to these things; they prefer to avoid such thoughts. Where thinking is concerned they prefer everything to be easy. But this is not allowed by the times. It is always forgotten that everything living is in a state of becoming, that to comprehend the living time must be taken into account; what is living is one thing at one time and later something different. With a little thought it is not hard to become aware that to understand in its concrete nature anything living, we must take time into account. For the human organism in something alive. Think of your organism about half-past-one; you are all busy people who do not stay long over your meals; coming out after having eaten you have — at least it is to be hoped you have — satisfied your hunger, you are no longer hungry. You can describe your organism, taking it in its concrete condition at half-past-one, as a human organism that is a living being without hunger. But at half-past-twelve on entering the restaurant it was otherwise; then you were all hungry; then you would say: a human organism is something having hunger. The fact is that you are looking at the concrete, the living, at two different points of time, and that, at two different points of time, two entirely contrasting conditions are needed for the well-being of the organism, and something has to be brought about in the the organism that has the effect of causing its opposite to arise. It is the same in what is living in nature as it is in what is socially alive. In a living society capital can never be prevented from arising as a natural symptom of the work of individual human capacities; private property can never be prevented from becoming the means of production. When anyone devotes himself to the direction of some branch of production, and also shares equally in the resulting products with the manual workers working with him, the social organism would never be able to exist unless capital appeared as an attendant phenomenon. For the individual possesses this just as much as he possesses what he needs for his own use, what he produces so that he can exchange it for what he needs.
But we can think just as little whether or not we should eat since we shall certainly become hungry again, as we can think about how the building-up of capital can be permanently prevented. We can think only how this capital is to be transformed at some future date, what must become of it. You cannot wish to prevent the accumulation of capital without undermining the whole social organism in its capacity for life; you can only want what is thus accumulated not to cause harm to the soundness of the social organism.
What is demanded in this way for the soundness of the social organism to be found only in the threefold ordering. For only in the threefold social organism, as in the human natural organism, can the different members work in their various directions. It is in the interest of the individual that a member should be there in the social organism in which individual human capacities come to expression; but it is in the general interest that these individual human capacities should not take on a form that sooner or later would injure the organism. In the course of the economic life capital will always be accumulated. If just left there it will simply pile up to an unlimited extent. Capital piled up through the capacities of human individuals cannot be left in the economic sphere, it must be transferred to the sphere of rights. For the moment man acquires more than he needs of what is produced by him alone or in association with his fellows, the moment capital is accumulated, what he possesses is no more a commodity than is human labour. Possession is a right. Possession is nothing more nor less than an exclusive right, a matter of using or disposing of a thing — be it land, house, or anything of the sort — with utter disregard of others. No other definition of possession is fruitful for understanding the social organism. The moment a man acquires a possession, it must come under the political State and be directed from within the Rights State. But the State may not itself acquire, for then it would itself become economist. It has only to pass over what is acquired to the spiritual organism where the individual capacities of men are dealt with. Now-a-days a process of this kind is carried out only with goods today considered of least value. What I have just been stating holds good for these; it does not hold good for what is of value. When today anything spiritual is produced, a fine poem for instance, an important work by writer or artist, the proceeds from it can be left to his heirs for thirty years after his death, then it passes ever as the free property of all men in common. Thirty years after his death an author's works can be reprinted without any restriction. This originates in the sound idea that man has society to thank for his own individual capacities. Just as a man cannot learn to speak on a desert island but only in the company of others, it is also only from society that he has his individual capacities — on the basis of his karma, certainly, but that has to be developed in society. The fruits of individual activity must return to society. For a time only the individual has command of it because this is better for the social organism. A man himself best knows what he has produced, so to begin with he can be its best administrator. The goods valued least by modern mankind, the spiritual goods, are thus socially estimated in a certain way by taking into account the current concepts.
Some apparently capitalistic members of my recent audience in Berne are supposed to have been very angry — so I was told — when I asked in a lecture why it should not be possible for a capitalist to be obliged by law to assign his capital, a certain number of years after his death, to the free control of a corporation of the spiritual organisation, the spiritual part of the social organism. One can surely think out different ways of establishing a concrete right. But, if it should be expected of people today to return to what was a matter of right in the old Hebraic times, namely, that after a definite time: goods should be apportioned anew, it would be regarded as something unheard of. But what is the consequence of men looking upon it in this way? The consequence is that in the last four-and-a-half years ten million people have been killed, eighteen million crippled, and we have the prospect of more happening in this way. Reflection above all is needed in these matters. It is really not without importance that there should be a desire for the concept of time to be brought to the understanding of the social organism The social organism is thought of as being timeless if it is said that already in a condition of arising something should be done with the incipient capital. But one has to allow capital to come into existence, end even let it for a time be controlled by those who have caused it to arise. We must, however, have the possibility of letting it actually pass over again to men in general through a sound organisation, a sound organism, that is to say, an organism functioning as one that is threefold.
You cannot just ask why a social organism consisting in only one member should not be capable of doing all this. Today people still believe that it is possible, but when they believe it they must reckon badly with the human soul. Only think what it means — for the human soul must be reckoned with — when a near, or even distant, relation of a judge stands before him. As a relation he has his special feelings, but when he has to pronounce judgment it will not be in accordance with his feelings but obviously in accordance with the law. He will give his decision from this other source. Thought out in an all-embracing psychological way this gives you an idea of the necessity for men to judge from three directions, to control from three sources, whatever streams into the social organism. Our times demand that we should go into these things. For ours is the time of the epoch of consciousness, that wishes man to have concrete ideas as guiding impulses for his actions. Many people claim today that we should not keep to the intellect, and to abstract thinking (which is all the thinking they know) but that we should judge out of feeling and, since thinking is only for scientific matters, should hold above all to belief in principles that concern life between man and man.
This is all very doubtful because in our time men are inclined to the most abstract thinking and hold fast to the most straight-forward concepts. And when they have grasped these they cling to them with tremendous tenacity. This abstract thinking has for its organ chiefly the human head, is bound up at least with the physical organ. Formerly, in the time of atavistic clairvoyance, there entered into this thinking from the rest of the human organism a thinking directed to the spiritual. This time is past. Henceforward man must rise consciously to Imagination and grasp the spiritual life consciously. For without this penetration into spiritual life today man's thoughts remain empty.
Now why is this? You know from our recent discussions that what belongs to every human head today is brought over from the rest of the organism of the previous incarnation, excluding the head. I have often dwelt upon this with you. Naturally this does not mean the physical substance but the formative forces of the head,which even in the roundness of its form, resembles the cosmos, these forces after death merge into the cosmos. What remains over for our life as forces between death and a new birth, what in the next life will become the head, is the rest of the body of the previous incarnation. To this is appended the rest of the organism which, fertilised by the father, then comes from the body of the mother. On passing through death we lose what belongs to the head as forces, and transform the forces of the rest of the body into the head of our next incarnation. The great mass of mankind of the present day was in its former incarnation so placed on earth that in the way they thought, in a truly Christian sense, they despised this earthly vale of tears. This scorn is a feeling that is connected not with the head but with the remaining organism. When these human beings re-incarnate today, what appeared in their former incarnation as an exalted Christian feeling, being now reincarnated and developed into the head organism, is transformed into its opposite and becomes a longing for the material, a yearning after material life. Present-day man has reached a turning point in evolution of which we must say that very little from the previous incarnation has come into the head. And just because of this something fresh must enter man, something that as a revelation from the present is manifested anew from the spiritual world. It is no longer possible today simply to hold to the Gospels; it is necessary to listen to what man is now being told about the spiritual. The Catholic Church is sharing in this dead thinking that cannot grip the living organism. Here in Berne the preachers of the Catholic Church too never tire in their professions of faith in the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But of what use is it to believe in the Christ, the Son of the living God, if one grasps Him only with dead thinking, that is, if He becomes a dead ideal in one's own thoughts? Our need today is not to call on the Christ, the Son of the living God, but to call on Christ, the living Son of God, which means to call on the Christ who is living now in the new revelations He is sending to mankind.
Spiritual Science wishes to make what as new revelation is striving directly towards the earth out of the spiritual worlds, into the impulse behind all thoughts. Through this men would receive thoughts capable of diving deep down into reality. These thoughts, it is true, would in many respects be the opposite of those holding sway in men today. Present-day men would like to hold to the most audacious thoughts, as far as possible from reality. And when they have such thoughts they cling to then tenaciously without noticing what the realities are that alter the circumstances with regard to thoughts. I will quote you a striking example of this.
Just as in the Spring and early Summer of 1914 statesmen talked of world peace, so now in Berne the various so-called ‘internationally’ thinking people talk of the coming League of Nations. You know that this idea came from the head of Woodrow Wilson. In his speech of January, 1917, Wilson made public this idea of a League of Nations. He set it up as a model of what men must strive for if he is not again in the future to suffer the terrible catastrophe into which we have today been driven. He described the striving for such a league as an absolute necessity. At the same time he said — and this is important — that the realisation of this League of Nations would depend upon a certain assumption without which there could be no talk of founding a league of the sort. This necessary assumption would be that the war should end without victory on either side for a League of Nations could never be founded in a world where there was definite conquest on the one side, definite defeat on the other.
This is the assumption Wilson made for the setting up of a League of Nations. What has arisen is the exact reverse of this assumption. Nevertheless men will establish the League of Nations in the way that, in January, 1917, Wilson spoke of it as a hypothesis. This means he was very far from reality in his thinking, that he clung to a thinking that offers no possibility of going with these thoughts deeply into reality, comprehending reality, of coming to terms with reality through thought. But that is just what is most needed. for the present time. People do not in the least realise that they dare not hold to their old way of thinking but that it is absolutely essential with thought to look deep into reality.
Now at Berne, as an example of a well-meaning man, we might point to the pacifist, Schücking. There was a discussion about the League of Nations and its organisation. It was curious to listen to the words that the aim would have to be a super-State and a super-Parliament resembling the parliaments of the individual States. For example, Schücking said: The objection will be made that the various States remain individualities and will not submit to the control of a single centralised super-State. The answer to that is what is being done in the national Assembly in Weimar. In that Assembly small local principalities are also individuals, nevertheless there exists a sense of the collective whole. — Here we have, close at hand, an obvious thought for those who love abstractions; for what could be more illuminating than to see that what can be done in miniature with a number of principalities, by joining them into a National Assembly, is now sought to be realised on a large scale with this super-State? But who ever thinks realistically, concretely, whoever makes straight for reality in his thinking, will ask why it was possible in Weimar? It was possible only because a German revolution took place! Otherwise there would have been no talk of doing away with the small States.
Today it is very difficult to make people see that a completely new thinking is necessary, a thinking in sympathy with reality, and that setting things right in present conditions depends upon how much inclination men have for this kind of thinking. A thinking, however, that wishes to know nothing of the spiritual world cannot dive into reality for in all reality there lives the spiritual world. And when we know nothing of the spiritual world we are unable to grasp reality, either today or in the future. Therefore, for the healing of the world today the chief condition is that man should turn to the knowledge of spiritual science. This must form the foundation, this can form the foundation, this can easily form the foundation. Do not keep repeating the superficial chatter that it is difficult to apply Spiritual Science to reality because people are not ready to receive it. Abolish State control over universities, schools, all schools, and. in ten years, in place of the present science which harms and kills the human soul, Spiritual Science, at least in its rudiments, will have arisen! Then what today can grow out of the emancipated third part of the sound social organism, out of the spiritual organisation, will have a different appearance from what is supervised by the State. For this State wishes to develop only its own spirituality, which means that it tolerates only a State theology, or would train its own jurists so that State jurists alone are recognised. Not to speak of medicine! How stupid, how ridiculous it is that medical practice should vary from one State to another, that the same knowledge should not be supposed to heal human beings on both sides of a frontier!
I have often emphasised that to socialistic thinking all spiritual life is mere ideology. What is the deeper reason of this being so for the masses of the proletariat? The reason is that all knowledge is supposed to be controlled by an external political State, and that it is only the shadow of the political State. It is indeed an ideology! If the spiritual life is not to be mere ideology, it must continually out of its own forces, be proving its reality, that means being established on its own foundation. The spiritual life must continually be showing its reality and may not depend upon outward support. Only this kind of independent spiritual life, which sees itself established solely on human ability and has entire control over itself, only a spiritual life of this kind will let its tributaries flow into capitalism with healing effect. For the control of capitalism too is brought about simply by human ability. Make the sources healthy, and spiritual life where it joins with capitalism in guiding economic life, will also be healthy. Thus things hang together and we must become conscious of the connection. The thinking of the present abstractionists must be avoided, the thinking estranged from reality which meets us at every step. It created the conditions that caused our present conditions; but this is not yet understood.
Today men ask how the super-State must be created, and they think of the former State. What was done by that should be done also by the super-State. — But is it not more to the point to ask what the State should leave undone? When the States have landed us in a European catastrophe is it not more apt to askr what it should not do? It should have done with its meddling in spiritual life and its acting as economist; and it should limit itself to the political sphere! It can no longer be asked how a League of Nations should be established, by taking as model what the States have done or should do; it is better and more suitable to the times to ask what the States should give up doing.
People are still little inclined to look deeply into these things. But upon their doing so the destiny of man today will depend.