Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Awakening to Community: The end of the Kali Yuga in 1899 signalled the end of the rule of the principle of authoritarianism in social life


Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, March 2, 1923:

The meetings at Stuttgart came to a close two days ago, and you are probably thinking that I ought to give you a report on some of the things that happened there. We arrived at a certain definite conclusion, which seemed inevitable under the conditions that prevailed.

It will be essential to an understanding of what came about that I give you a sketch of how things developed. You know from comments I have been making these past several weeks that lengthy preparations preceded the Stuttgart meetings. The aim of these preparations, which proved extremely tiring to all concerned, was to try to create a situation in which the life-needs of the Anthroposophical Society could be met, thus ensuring the Society's continuance in the immediate future.

In everything that follows it should be kept in mind that what went on in Stuttgart did not have its origin in the sad events surrounding the Goetheanum fire, nor was it influenced by them. For I had already talked with a member of the Executive Committee early in December and discussed with him the necessity of doing something to consolidate the Society, and he was given the assignment of getting the whole Executive Committee and various others to take on the problem. So what occurred in Stuttgart was a direct consequence of the talk I had on December tenth with Herr Uehli to acquaint him with my observations on the current state of affairs in the Society.

The burning of the Goetheanum came as a most painful experience while we were in the midst of these developments. But even if we still had the Goetheanum standing here in its pristine form, these things would have happened exactly as they did. For what was it we faced? We were facing the fact that the Anthroposophical Society had taken on a form in the past two decades that had undergone considerable modification since 1919 as a consequence of including various enterprises among its concerns.

My words could easily be taken as deprecating these undertakings, but nothing of the sort is intended. I need only mention the name of the Waldorf School, which is one of the enterprises I was referring to, to convince you that my remark was made for quite a different purpose than to express some superficial judgment. It implied no reflection on the worth and significance of any of these enterprises or on anyone responsible for their guidance.

The transactions in Stuttgart were meant to — and indeed did — concern themselves solely with the Anthroposophical Society from the aspect of its whole configuration and how it should be shaped.

Now it is not an easy matter to describe this configuration as it really is, since it branches out in so many directions. But I believe that everyone of you has some idea of how the Society has developed up to the present, and can picture things for himself with the help of the comments I have been making here in the past several weeks to round out the picture.

One of the especially important developments that have taken place in the Society's life has been the incurring by leading individuals — or at least by a considerable number of them — of quite specific anthroposophical tasks for the Society that have grown out of the work. These tasks have been waiting for completion since 1919, but they were not carried out. When the problem this caused became only too plain, I had to speak to the Central Executive Committee in Stuttgart as I did on December tenth last.

One of the latest undertakings to grow out of the soil of the Anthroposophical Movement was the Movement for Religious Renewal, which has contributed heavily to the current crisis in the Society. That is one aspect of the facts that have developed in the Society's life.

The other aspect is that youth has approached the movement — youth full of deep inner enthusiasm for anthroposophy and everything it includes, and university youth has also come into the picture with quite different expectations, with a quite definite picture of what is to be found in the Society, with quite definite feelings. One might say that these academic young people approach the Society with strong heart impulses and a special sensitivity to the way the anthroposophists reacted to them, and that they took everything not so much from a rational angle as in a spirit of keen feeling-judgment.

Now what lay behind all this?

The fact is, my dear friends, that young people today are having soul experiences that are making their first appearance on the stage of human evolution. This fact is not to be summed up in abstract, superficial phrases about a generation gap. That gap has always existed in some sense, and been especially marked in strong personalities while they were young and preparing themselves for life at an educational institution. We need only recall certain characteristic examples. You can read in Goethe's Truth and Science how, when he was a student in Leipzig, he stayed away from lectures because he found them so terribly boring, and went instead to the pretzel bakeshop across the street to chat with companions while Professor Ludwig and others held forth in the lecture halls on learned doctrines.

But despite the ever-present generation gap, even these somewhat radical members of the younger generation eventually took over their inheritance from their elders. The geniuses among them did likewise. Goethe most certainly remained an incomparable genius to the day he died. But when it came to taking part in the life of his time, he became not simply Goethe the genius but the fat privy councillor with the double chin. That must also be recognized.

These things have to be looked at in a completely unprejudiced way. Until the last third of the nineteenth century, the generation gap about which people talk superficially today was always there, but it was resolved in good philistine style, with youth gradually absorbing more and more philistine characteristics and entering, as it always had, into what its elders passed on to it.

Today, however, that is no longer possible. If one were to use terminology borrowed from Oriental wisdom, one would have to say that it became impossible when Kali Yuga ended, because from that time forward social life was no longer ruled by the principle of authoritarianism as it had been heretofore. Mankind's involvement in the consciousness soul phase of its development took ever more marked effect. This lived in the souls of people born in the 1890's and in the first few years of the twentieth century, perhaps not in a sharply defined form, but nevertheless in an extremely strong instinctive way. This inner life of theirs has to be really lovingly contemplated by older people if they want to understand it. That takes quite a bit of doing. For our culture, our civilization has assumed a form, especially in educational institutions, which makes the resolving of problems between youth and age that always used to take place no longer possible. Young people of the present feel this; it is their inner destiny. It shapes every aspect of their lives, and means that they approach life with a quite definite craving or demand. This predisposes present-day young people to become seekers, but seekers of a wholly different stripe than their elders.

This holds true of them in every area of life, and especially in the spiritual area. It is very strange how the older generation has been reacting to them for some time past. I have not neglected to call your attention to characteristic instances. Let me remind you of the lecture I gave on Gregor Mendel. Every now and then, scientists of the twentieth century have rather vehemently stated it as their opinion that Gregor Mendel, a Moravian, the solitary schoolmaster who later became an abbot, was a genius who had made remarkable contributions to the work of determining the laws of heredity. If we review Gregor Mendel's relationship to the educational institutions he attended, we cannot miss the fact that when he was old enough to take his examinations for the teaching profession he failed them by a wide margin. He was thereupon given time to prepare himself for a second try. Again he flunked. At that time — I am speaking of the 1850's — people were a lot more tolerant than they became later. So, in spite of his two failures to pass his teacher's examinations, Mendel was appointed to a secondary school position, and he became the man who accomplished something regarded as one of the greatest feats in the field of modern natural science.

Let us take another case closer at hand: that of Röntgen. Nowadays nobody doubts that Röntgen is one of the greatest men of modern times. But he was dismissed from secondary school as a hopeless case. He had the greatest trouble getting a position as a tutor because he couldn't finish school; he had been thrown out, and later just barely managed to get into a college, where he finally graduated. But even then he was unable to get a tutorial post in the field in which he sought it. In spite of this, he performed one of the most epoch-making feats in the fields of practical and theoretical science.

These examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. On every hand we find indications of the unbridgeable gap between what older times had to offer and what lives in youth in an indefinable way.

Putting the matter in rather radical terms, one can say that modern youth could not care less how many Egyptian kings' graves are opened; they are not much concerned with that. But they do care about finding far more original sources of serving human progress than the opening of ancient kings' graves offers. Youth feels that we have entered upon a phase of mankind's evolution in which much more elementary, more original sources will have to be drawn upon for its furthering.

Now we can certainly say that young people with this longing have done a great deal of searching during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Then they came to know of anthroposophy and felt at once that it led to the primal sources of their seeking, to the deepest origin of humanness. They then approached the Anthroposophical Society. And last Monday or Tuesday a representative of these young people said in Stuttgart that they had received a shock on approaching it, that the contrast between the Anthroposophical Society and anthroposophy had startled them. This is a very weighty fact, is it not? It cannot simply be dismissed. You have to consider what young people, especially those from the universities, have had to suffer.

Let us say, for example, that they wanted to take a doctorate in one of the freer branches of learning and teaching, such as the history of literature. How were things done in the last third of the nineteenth century? Where did most of them get the themes for their dissertations? For brevity's sake I will have to put it rather radically. The professor had undertaken to write a book about the Romantic school. So he assigned one student Novalis, another Friedrich Schlegel, a third August Wilhelm Schlegel, and a fourth Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann — if they were lucky. If they weren't, they were assigned dissertations on Hoffmann's punctuation or his use of parentheses. The professor then read through these dissertations and took the substance of his book from them. It had all become quite mechanical. The young person was just part of a mechanism, a learned mechanism, and if I may repeat myself, after the end of Kali Yuga everything that lived in an elemental way in the youthful soul rebelled against this sort of thing. I am citing just one of countless possible examples of the same phenomenon.

Now here we have these two factors side by side: the Anthroposophical Society, in the form it had assumed during its two decades — a form I need not describe, as everyone can picture it for himself from his own standpoint — and the young students. But what the Society was encountering in these young people was simply the keenest and most radical fringe of an omnipresent element. This fact stood out only too plainly at the Stuttgart meetings.

On the one hand, the leaders of the old society were committed to what had gradually taken on fixed forms. One was perhaps a Waldorf teacher, another an office manager at “Der Kommende Tag.” We have to give all due weight to the fact that all these people were overwhelmed with work. Everybody in the Society who had any free time had been drawn into these enterprises. Rightly or wrongly, this caused a certain bureaucratic spirit to spring up in the Society.

Among these undertakings was the “Union for the Threefold Membering of the Social Organism.” Right from the moment of its founding in 1919, it had a director, and after I had worked awhile with this Union I was compelled to say that I could not go on, that I would have to withdraw. As I said in Stuttgart recently, I had to strike out and simply declare that I could not go on.

Then another director, an excellent man, took things over. I was unable to get to Stuttgart for several weeks, but when I eventually arrived, I was anxious to find out what had been happening. There were a number of matters awaiting disposition, so a meeting was held and I was informed about what had transpired. I was told, “Well, we've been setting up a card file. We have small cards on the lower right-hand section of which we clip the smaller newspaper items, and then we file them in cabinets. Then there are larger cards made of heavier paper to which we attach longer magazine articles, and there are other cards of still another size for filing letters that come in.” This went on and on. Hours were spent describing the way the card file was set up, the sacrifice and devotion with which people had been working on it for many weeks, what it contained, how everything had been so neatly stowed away in it. Now I had a mental picture of this card file with all the various sizes of cards in it, and the marvellous record there of everything that had been going on in the Society and what our opponents had been up to. It was all beautifully recorded! There must have been a simply huge pile of these cards stacked up in layers. But the people sitting there vanished as though they were ghosts; only the card file was real. Everything had been recorded!

I said, “Well, my dear friends, do you have heads as well as a card file? I am not in the least interested in your files, only in what you have in your heads.”

I am sure you will understand that I am not criticizing, just reporting, for the people who had arranged the files were groaning under the tremendous burden of their work. But on the other hand, just imagine youth coming there with their hearts on fire with enthusiasm for ideals that encompassed the whole future, only to be told the story of the card files. I am not saying that it was superfluous to have files or that they were of no value; I am saying that they were excellent and vitally necessary. But that is not the way things should be going. Hearts were needed to go out to hearts.

Now this created all sorts of impossible situations. These and many other problems finally reached a point where a reorganization of the Society had to be considered. There had to be a chance for the Society to provide human beings with opportunities to work in it, to live out their special individual capacities, to find and breathe an atmosphere in which they could go on developing. These were absolutely fundamental problems that the Society was facing. A complete revision of all the conditions surrounding its life was indicated, and that it has a tremendous life-potential is shown in the fact that youth has now approached it full of teeming inner life. But the contrasts grew and grew.

Of course, there were some individuals in the older group who had never taken any interest in the card files (if I may use the files as symptomatic of the whole approach in question). Some of these others may have been very old indeed, but still not have wanted to bother with things like the files, which had gradually become a necessity. There were definitely such members who had joined the Society as early as 1902 or 1903, who, though they may have been very different from the young people in many other respects too, had also never concerned themselves with what I will term the history of the Society.

So we faced extraordinarily difficult problems at the preliminary meetings. An incalculable weight of worry burdened one's soul.

But we don't need to talk about those sessions now. The Delegates' Conference, a summons to which was the outcome of the preparatory meetings, was held in Stuttgart last Sunday. The first order of business was to hear what the provisional steering committee, which was made up for various reasons of members of the erstwhile Central Executive and called the Committee of Nine, had to say about the past and present and future of the Anthroposophical Society. Then the German and Austrian members were to be given a hearing in the persons of their delegates.

Well, things proceeded as planned. But since I want to give you just a brief sketch of what led to the final decision, I will refrain from describing what amounted to a veritable hailstorm of motions. Scarcely was one taken care of and the business of the meeting resumed than two or three more fairly flew up to the chairman's table. It can only be described as a hailstorm, and there seemed to be no end to the discussion about them. But I will skip over all this and stress instead that absolutely excellent talks were given, penetrating, deeply anthroposophical talks. Albert Steffen spoke wonderful, heartfelt, profound words. Mr. Werbeck gave a masterly description of the categories of our opponents and of their relationship to the Anthroposophical Movement and to the rest of civilization. Dr. Büchenbacher gave a vivid account of the way people who entered the Society from about 1917 on responded to what they encountered in it. As to the fact that not everything said was first-rate and as to some lesser contributions in between, it is probably better to maintain a courteous silence. But excellent, magnificent contributions were interspersed among what I will refer to as “others.” In spite of this, Sunday and Monday and Tuesday passed, and by Tuesday evening a point was reached where one could see clearly that if the next day, the final one, were to be anything like the preceding ones, the delegates would leave as they had come. For almost nothing of what lived in the many individuals assembed in the hall had really come out, even though much anthroposophical substance had been contributed in excellent speeches. This was an assemblage of human beings and the speeches all dealt with realities, but there was no living reality in the meetings, just abstraction; they were a classic example of life lived in the abstract. By Tuesday evening real chaos reigned. Everybody was talking past everybody else.

Now I had no choice but to decide to make a proposal of my own directly after the Tuesday lecture that had been scheduled for me — a proposal based on what lived in the people represented there — and almost the entire membership of the German and Austrian Societies was present. But one had to get at what was real there and pull it together. I was to speak on Tuesday about community building, a theme called for by much that had been said. So I made a proposal. I said that we could see how everyone was talking past the others and that nothing that was being said was bringing the underlying realities of the situation to the surface. Leaving other aspects aside for the moment, one could distinguish two types of feeling, two differing viewpoints, two sets of opinions. One type is represented by the old Anthroposophical Society and the committee speaking for it; the other is made up of individuals who, to put it as exactly as possible, have no real interest in the stand taken by the committee representing the Society. They are individuals completely without interest in what the committee had to say, though they are fine anthroposophists: One can scarcely imagine anything finer than the contributions made by the young people at the Stuttgart conference; they reflected an energetic, wonderful spirit. The soul of youth made a noble impression as it urgently stormed the gates of anthroposophy. But here too there was no interest in what the Society was as a society, or in what it stood for.

A phenomenon like this has to be taken as a reality. We have to learn to see it as a fact; there is no use acting like blind men and closing our eyes to it. So I had no choice but to say that since we were confronted there with these two types, any abstract talk about reaching agreement was simply false. The old society cannot be other than it is, nor can the second group. The Society as a whole will therefore have the best chance of continuance if each faction goes its own way, with the old aristocracy — no, let me rather call them the members of the older society, laden down with history — forming one group, and the stormily progressive old and young forming another.

There is in existence an ancient draft of a constitution for the Anthroposophical Society. I can recommend its study to both parties! Each of them can carry out its provisions quite literally, but the outcome will be entirely different in the two cases. That is the way things are in real life, no matter how they may look in theory.

So I made the proposal that the old Anthroposophical Society continue with its Committee of Nine. I characterized things in the following way. I said that the old society included the prominent Stuttgart members who carry on their separate undertakings in exemplary fashion and do a tremendous lot of work; in fact, one of their outstanding characteristics, demonstrated during the four days of the conference, was the weariness they brought with them from their previous labors. I said that when I come to Stuttgart and find something needing to be done, I have only to press a button; that is the way it has been in recent years. These leading personalities in Stuttgart are extremely insightful. They grasp everything immediately without one's having to say very much. There would never be time enough to discuss everything at length. Theirs is a lightning grasp; one need only touch on a matter to have it absolutely clear to them. But for the most part they do nothing about it. Then there is the other party, full of anthroposophical soulfulness, whole-heartedly immersed in anthroposophy. I can also say something to the leaders of this group. They understand nothing of what I am saying, but they do it that very instant. That is a tremendous difference. The first group understands immediately, but does nothing. The second category understands nothing; they only give promise of eventually understanding everything; they are full of energy and feeling, but they do the things at once. They do everything without understanding it.

So there will have to be two quite differently constituted groups in the Society if it is to stay united. One group should never be allowed to get in the way of the other's functioning. There is the one group — what name shall I give it, since we have to have one? It's just a question of terminology, of course. Let's call it the conservative, the traditional party, the neatly-filed members (not to limit the term to just a set of cards), the party that occupies the curule seats. People in this party have titles: president, vice president, and so on, and administer the Society. They sit there and have a routine procedure for everything. I see a man in the audience looking at me significantly who, while I was still in Stuttgart, was in a position to inform me what such procedures sometimes lead to. For example, a credit slip for a sum like 21 marks was sent out, and it cost 150 marks to send it. That is what it costs these days to send mail to foreign countries: 150 marks. If one wants to write somebody that a credit of 21 marks has been entered on the books to his account, it costs 150 marks to do it properly. That is the way things go in an orderly ABC set-up. So there we have the party of routines, the old Anthroposophical Society. One can belong to it and be a good member. Then there is the free union of individuals who care not a whit for all that sort of thing, who simply want a loose association based on a purely human element. These two streams should now be acknowledged.

I started by giving just a thumbnail sketch of this, a mere indication. That same evening a speech was made, maintaining that it would be the worst thing that could possibly happen, for it would split the Society in two, and so on. But that was the reality of the situation! If a move were to be made that fitted the facts rather than the way people thought — for what they think is seldom as significant as what they are — it had to be the one suggested, for that would fit the realities involved. As I said, a speech was instantly made about it, warning of the terrible consequences that would ensue if anything of the sort were to prove necessary, and so on.

Even in an external, purely spatial sense, the outcome was chaos. The hall was crammed with people huddled in groups, leaving no loopholes to squeeze through between them, and they all stopped me to ask what this or that had meant. The inner chaos of the situation had become outer chaos by eleven o'clock that Tuesday evening when I tried to leave the assembly hall.

I arrived, rather weary, at the place where I was staying. At midnight someone came to fetch me. I wasn't quite on the point of going to sleep. Someone came and said that a meeting was underway down in the Landhausstrasse. I was stopped again on my way to the floor where the meeting was in progress, and drawn into a side-meeting, so that it was nearly one o'clock in the morning by the time I arrived where I was supposed to be. But it was at once apparent that my proposal had been understood after all, quite correctly understood. Now the details could be profitably discussed. It had become clear that something could really be done on the basis proposed.

Certain doubts were expressed, as was perfectly natural. It was said, for example, that there were members who sympathized with the young people and wanted to go along with their aims, but who nevertheless belonged historically to the old society and even held positions in it, which they wanted to keep so they could go on working there.

I said that this could easily be solved. The only problem in the case of individuals who join both sections is to arrange that they pay only one membership fee. Surely some technical means of doing this can be worked out. There should be no question of anyone being excluded from one of the sections because he is a member of the other. In all such matters, we should simply see to it that the realities of a situation have a chance to be recognized.

I went on to say that the various institutions can also accommodate both directions. I can easily conceive the possibility of a Waldorf teacher leaning toward the looser association and becoming part of it while a colleague feels drawn to and joins the more tightly organized group. They will, of course, still work together at the Waldorf School in a perfectly harmonious spirit.

Yesterday some people were wondering how life in this or that branch of the Society would be affected. I asked why adherents of the two groups should not be able to sit beside each other at branch meetings. But the inner realities must always be given a chance to live themselves out. When a thing is conceived in a realistic spirit, there is always a way of working it out, and this makes for unity.

It took only until 2:15 a.m. for the young people to become clear on essentials. There were, however, some white-haired young ones among them who could look back over a span of quite a few decades. It became clear, as Tuesday night changed into Wednesday morning, that the proposal would work.

Wednesday was devoted to discussing these plans. And Wednesday evening witnessed their adoption — I will give you just the résumé, and then add a few supplementary comments to this report.

So there we now have the old Anthroposophical Society with its Committee of Nine as described, and the other looser, freer Anthroposophical Society whose chief striving it is to get anthroposophy out into the world and to work for a deepening of man's inner life.

Tomorrow and the following day I will review the most important aspects of the two lectures I delivered in Stuttgart. They are intimately bound up with the life in the Anthroposophical Society, for the first lecture was on the subject of community building and the second on the reasons why societies based on brotherliness are so given to quarreling.

A provisional committee was formed for the loose association. It was made up of Herr Leinhas, Herr Lehrs, Dr. Röschl, Herr Maikowski, Dr. Büchenbacher, Herr Rath, Herr von Grone, Rector Bartsch from Breslau, and Herr Schröder. You notice that not all of them are extremely young; their number includes dignified patriarchs. So the radicalism of youth will not be the only standpoint represented, but it will certainly be able to make itself felt.

That is the way things came out. Now they need only be rightly managed. The loose association undertook specifically to form smaller, closer communities — to work for anthroposophy exoterically on a big scale, and to work esoterically on a small scale forming communities held together not so much by any set system of external organization as by inner, karmic ties.

These, then, were the two groupings we came out with. I will have something more to say about them tomorrow and the next day. It was a very necessary development! Anything that is alive refuses to let itself be preserved in old, preconceived forms; arrangements must change with and adapt themselves to the living.

You remember my saying as I left for Stuttgart that the Society's whole problem was really one of tailoring. Anthroposophy has grown, and its suit, the Anthroposophical Society — for the Society has gradually become that — has grown too small. The sleeves scarcely reach to the elbows, the trousers to the knees. Well, I won't labor the analogy. The suit looked grotesque, and this was apparent to any wholehearted person who has recently joined the Society.

Now we shall have to see whether this effort to make a new, more fitting garment rather than take the old one apart — for it would certainly get torn — will succeed. It definitely has the inner capacity to do so. We shall have to see whether people develop the strength essential to this way of working. Real life presents very different possibilities from those of theory, and that holds true in this case also. We will have to create something that can really stand the test of life.

Now there we have Herr von Grone, who is a member of both committees, the committee of the free and the committee of the more tightly organized; he will serve on both. Things will work out best if we let everybody function in his own way, either as a patriarch or as a young enthusiast, and if someone wants to be both at once, why should he not be a two-headed creature? It is absolutely vital that people's energies develop freely.

Certain things won't work, of course. I was told about one such situation, where the chairman of a group once had the startling experience of yielding the floor to someone who launched out on a flaming address only to have another person talk at the same time. The chairman said, “Friends, this is impossible!” “Why that?” was the answer. “We're trying to live a philosophy of freedom here! Why should one's freedom be limited by allowing only one person to speak? Why can't several talk at the same time?” You will agree that some things won't work, but fortunately they're not always specifically called for.

I, for my part, am thoroughly convinced that things will work again for awhile. Not for always, though; nothing can be set up for eternity. As time passes we will again find ourselves confronted with the necessity of devising new garments for the anthroposophical organism. But every human being shares that destiny; one can't keep on wearing the same old clothes. An organization is actually never anything more than a garment for some living element. Why, then, should one make a special case of social organisms and try to tailor them for eternity? Everything living has to undergo change, and only what changes is alive. In the case of something as particularly teeming with life as the Anthroposophical Movement we must therefore shape a life-adapted organization. Of course we can't attempt reorganization every single day, but we will certainly find it necessary to do so every other year or so. Otherwise the chairs occupied by the leading members will really become curule seats, and when some people make a specialty of resting on the curule seats, those not occupying them begin to itch. We must find a way to make sitters on curule seats itchy too. In other words, we're going to have to start jostling these chairs a little. But if we find the right way of arranging things, everything will go beautifully.

My dear friends, my intention was to give you a report. I certainly did not feel it to be a joking matter. But things of real life are sometimes just exactly those most suited to a slightly humoristic treatment.

Source: March 2, 1923

Awakening to Community, lecture 8.

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