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Anthroposophy and the Social Question
GA 34

Everyone who looks with open eyes at the world around him today sees the so-called “Social Question” looming at every turn. No one who takes life seriously can avoid forming ideas of some kind about this question and all that is involved with it. And what could seem more obvious than that a mode of thinking, which makes the highest human ideals its particular concern, must arrive at some sort of relation towards social wants and claims. Now Anthroposophy aims at being such a mode of thinking for the present times; and therefore it is but natural, that people should enquire what its relation is towards the social question.

It might at first seem as though Anthroposophy had nothing particular to say in this connection. The most striking feature of Anthroposophy will be deemed, at first sight, to be the cultivation of the soul's inward life and the opening of the eyes to a spiritual world. This endeavor can be seen by any unprejudiced person from the most cursory acquaintance with the ideas promulgated by anthroposophic speakers and writers. It is harder, however, to see that these endeavors at the present moment have any practical significance: in particular, its connection with the social question is by no means self-evident. Many people will ask: “Of what use for bad social conditions can a teaching be which is taken up with Reincarnation, Karma, the Supersensible World, the Rise of Man, and so forth? Such a line of thought seems to soar altogether too far off into cloudland, away from any reality; whereas just now every single person urgently needs to keep all his wits about him, in order to grapple with the actual problems of which earth's realities give him enough.

Of the many and various opinions that Anthroposophy inevitably calls forth in the present day, two shall be mentioned here.

The first consists in regarding Anthroposophy as the outcome of an unbridled and disordered fancy. It is quite natural that people should take this view; and an earnest anthroposophist should be the last to find it strange. Every conversation that he overhears, everything that goes on around him, and in which people find amusement and pleasure, all may show him that he talks a language which, to many of them, is downright folly. But this understanding of his surroundings will need to go hand in hand with an absolute assurance that he himself is on the right road; otherwise he will hardly be able to hold his ground when he realizes how his views conflict with those of so many others, who count as thinkers and highly educated persons. If he does possess the due assurance, if he knows the truth and the force of his views, he says to himself:—”I know very well that today I may be regarded as a crackbrained visionary; and I clearly see why. But truth, even though it is ridiculed and mocked at, will have its effect; and its effect is not dependent upon people's opinion, but upon the solidity of its own foundations.”

The other opinion which Anthroposophy has to meet is this: that its ideas are all very beautiful and comforting, and may have their value for the inner life of the soul, but are worthless for the practical struggle of life. Even people who demand anthroposophic nourishment for the appeasing of their spiritual wants may be tempted, only too easily, to say to themselves: “It is all very well; but how about the social distress, the material misery? That is a problem on which all this idealistic world can throw no light.” Now this opinion is the very one which rests on a total failure to recognize the real facts of life, and, above all, on a misunderstanding as to the real fruits of the anthroposophic mode of thinking. The one question that people, as a rule, ask about Anthroposophy is:—What are its doctrines? How are its statements to be proved? And then, of course, they look for its fruits in the pleasurable sensations to be extracted from its doctrines.

Nothing, of course, could be more natural; one must certainly begin by having a feeling for the truth of statements that are presented to one. But the true fruits of Anthroposophy are not to be sought in such feeling. Its fruits are first really seen when anyone comes, with a heart and mind trained in Anthroposophy, to the practical problems of life. The question is, whether Anthroposophy will at all help him towards handling these problems with discernment and applying himself with understanding to find ways and means of solving them.

To be effective in life, a man must first understand life. Here lies the gist of the matter. So long as one asks no further than: What does Anthroposophy teach?—Its teachings may be deemed too exalted for practical life. But if one turns to consider the kind of discipline that the thoughts and feelings undergo from these teachings, this objection will cease. Strange as it may seem to a merely superficial view of the matter, it is nevertheless a fact: These anthroposophic ideas, that appear to hover so airily in the clouds, train the eye for a right conduct of everyday affairs. And because Anthroposophy begins by leading the spirit aloft into the clear regions above the sense-world, it thereby sharpens the understanding for social requirements. Paradoxical as this may seem, it is none the less true.

To give merely an illustration of what is meant: An uncommonly interesting book has recently appeared, A Working-man in America (Als Arbeiter in Amerika, pub. Sigismund, Berlin) The author is State-Councillor Kolb, who had the enterprise to spend several months as a common worker in America. In this way he acquired a discrimination of men and of life which was obviously neither to be obtained along the educational paths that led to councillorship, nor from the mass of experience which he was able to accumulate in such a position and in all the other posts that a man fills before he becomes a Councillor of State. He was thus for years in a position of considerable responsibility; and yet, not until he had left this, and lived—just a short while—in a foreign land, did he learn the knowledge of life that enabled him to write the following memorable sentence in his book: “How often, in old days, when I saw a sound, sturdy man begging, had I not asked, in righteous indignation: Why doesn't the lazy rascal work? I knew now, why. The fact is, it looks quite different in theory from what it does in practice; and at the study table one can deal quite comfortably with even the most unsavory chapters of political economy.”

To prevent any possible misunderstanding, let it be said at once, that no one can feel anything but the warmest appreciation for a man who could bring himself to leave a comfortable position in life, in order to go and do hard labor in a brewery and a bicycle factory. It is a deed worthy of all respect, and it must be duly emphasized, lest it should be imagined that any disparagement is intended of the man who did it. Nevertheless, for anyone who will face the facts, it is unmistakably evident that all this man's book-learning, all the schooling he had been through, had not given him the ability to read life.

Just try and realize all that is involved in such an admission! One may learn everything which, in these days, qualifies one to hold posts of considerable influence; and yet, with it all, one may be quite remote and aloof from that life where one's sphere of action lies. Is it not much the same, as though a man were to go through a course of training in bridge construction, and then, when called upon actually to build a bridge, had no notion how to set about it? And yet, no!—it is not quite the same. Anyone who is not properly trained for bridge building will soon be enlightened as to his deficiencies when he comes to actual practice. He will soon show himself to be a bungler and find his services generally declined. But when a man is not properly trained for his work in social life, his deficiencies are not so readily demonstrated. A badly built bridge breaks down; and then even the most prejudiced can see that he who built it was a bungler. But the bungling that goes on in social work is not so directly apparent. It only shows itself in the suffering of one's fellow-men. And the connection between this suffering and bungling is not one that people recognize as readily as the connection between the breakdown of a bridge and the incompetent bridge builder.

“But what has all this to do with Anthroposophy?” someone will say. “Do the friends of Anthroposophy imagine that what they can teach would have helped Councillor Kolb to a better understanding of life? Of what use would it have been to him, supposing he had known about reincarnation and karma and any number of supersensible worlds? Surely nobody will maintain that ideas about planetary systems and higher worlds could have saved the State-Councillor from having one day to confess to himself, that at the study table one can deal quite comfortably with even the most unsavory chapters of political economy?” The friend of Anthroposophy might indeed answer—as Lessing did on a certain occasion: I am that “Nobody”, for I do maintain it! Not meaning of course, that the doctrine of reincarnation, or the knowledge of karma will be enough to equip a man for social activity, that would, of course, be a very naive notion. Naturally, the thing is not to be done simply by taking the people, who are destined for Councillors of State, and, instead of sending them to Schmoller, or Wagner, or Brentano at the University, setting them to study Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. But the point is this: Suppose a theory of economics, produced by someone well versed in Anthroposophy—will it be of the kind with which one can deal quite comfortably at the study table, but which breaks down in the face of practical life? That is just what it will not be. For when do theories break down in the face of real life? When they are produced by the kind of thinking that is not educated to real life. Now the principles of Anthroposophy are as much the actual laws of life as the principles of electricity are the actual laws for the manufacture of electrical apparatus. Anyone who wishes to set up a factory of electrical apparatus must first master the true principles of electricity: and whoever intends to take an effective part in life must first make himself acquainted with the laws of life. And remote as the doctrines of Anthroposophy appear to be from life, they are no less near to it in actual truth. Aloof and unpractical to superficial observation, for a genuine understanding they are the key to real life.

It is not merely an inquisitive desire of new things which leads people to withdraw into an “anthroposophic circle” in order to obtain all sorts of “interesting” revelations about worlds beyond; but because there they learn to school their thought and feeling and will on the “eternal laws of life”, and to go forth into the thick of life with a clear, keen eye for the understanding of it. The teachings of Anthroposophy are a detour of arriving at a full-lived thinking, discerning, feeling.

The anthroposophic movement will first come into its right channel when this is fully recognized. Right doing is the outcome of right thinking; and wrong doing is the outcome of thinking wrongly—or of not thinking at all. Anyone who has any faith at all in the possibility of doing good in social matters must admit that the doing of it is a question of human faculties. To have worked patiently and persistently through the anthroposophical conceptions means enhanced faculties for effective social work. It is here not so much a question of the thoughts that Anthroposophy gives a man, as of what it enables him to do with his thinking.

It must be confessed that, within anthroposophic circles themselves, there has hitherto been no very marked sign of any effort in this particular direction. It is therefore equally undeniable that, on this very account, strangers to Anthroposophy have as yet every reason for questioning the above statements. But it must not be forgotten that the anthroposophic movement in its present form is only at the beginning of its career as an effective force. Its further progress will consist in its making its way into every field of practical life. And then, in the Social Question, for instance, it will be found that, in place of theories “with which one can deal quite comfortably at the study table,” we shall have others which facilitate the insight required for a sound, unbiased judgment of life's affairs, and direct a man's will into lines of action that shall be for the health and happiness of his fellow-men.

Plenty of people will say at once: Councillor Kolb's case itself is a proof that there is no need to call in Anthroposophy; all that is wanted is that anyone who is preparing for a particular profession should not acquire the theory of it solely by sitting at home and studying, but should be brought into contact with actual life, so that he may approach his work practically, as well as theoretically. Kolb, after all—they will say—merely required a brief glimpse into real life, and then, even what he had already learnt was quite enough for him to come to other opinions than those he had before. No, it is not enough, for the fault lies deeper down.

A person may have learnt to see that, with a faulty training, he can only build bridges that will tumble down, and yet still be very far from having acquired the faculty of building bridges that do not tumble down. For this he must first have preliminary education of a kind that has the seeds of life in it. Most certainly a man needs only a glimpse into social conditions, and, let his theory as to the fundamental laws of life be ever so defective, he will cease to say: “Why doesn't the lazy rascal work?” He learns to see that the conditions themselves are the answer. But is that enough to teach him how to shape conditions so that men may prosper? All the well-meaning people, who have concocted schemes for the betterment of man's lot, were undoubtedly not of the same way of thinking as Councillor Kolb before he took his trip to America. They were certainly already convinced, without such an expedition, that every case of distress cannot simply be dismissed with the phrase: “Why doesn't the lazy rascal work?” But does this mean that all their many proposals for social reform would bear fruit? Assuredly not; if only for the reason that so many of them are contradictory. And therefore one may fairly say that even Councillor Kolb's more positive schemes of reform, after his conversion, would possibly not have any very marked results.

This is just the mistake which our age makes in such matters. Everyone thinks himself qualified to understand life, even though he has never troubled to become acquainted with its fundamental laws, nor ever trained his thinking powers to recognize what the true forces of life are. And Anthroposophy is indeed a training for the sound judgment of life, because it goes to the bottom of life. It is of no use whatever simply to see that the conditions bring a man into unfavorable circumstances in life, under which he goes to grief. One must learn to know the forces by which favorable conditions are created. That is what our experts in political economy are unable to do—and for much the same reason as a man cannot do sums if he does not know the multiplication tables. You may set columns of figures before him—as many as you please; but staring at them will not help him. Put a man, who has no thinking grasp of the fundamental forces of social life, before the actual realities; he may give the most telling description of everything that he sees; but the windings of the social forces, as they twist their coil for human weal or human woe, will yet remain insoluble to him.

In this age we need an interpretation of life which leads us on to life's true sources. And Anthroposophy can be such an interpretation of life. If everyone, before making up his mind as to the particular social reform that “the world wants”, would first go through a training in the life-lessons of Anthroposophy, we should get further. That anthroposophists today only “talk” and do not “act”, is a meaningless objection; for of course people cannot act, so long as the paths of action are closed to them. A man may be an expert in the knowledge of the soul, and ever so well acquainted with all that a father should do for the upbringing of his children; yet he is powerless to act, unless the father gives him the charge of their education. There is nothing to be done in this respect, save wait in patience, until the talking of the anthroposophists has opened the minds of those who have the power to act. And that will come.

This first objection no more holds water than the other one: That these anthroposophical notions have not yet been put to the test, and may very likely prove, when brought into the open, to be every whit as barren a theory as the political economy of State-Councillor Kolb. But this again is no argument. Indeed it can only be urged by someone who is wholly unacquainted with the very nature and essence of anthroposophic truths. Whoever is acquainted with them well knows that they rest on quite a different footing from the kind of thing that one “tests”.

The fact is that the laws of human welfare are inscribed with as much certitude in the very first fundaments of men's souls as the multiplication table. One must only go down deep enough to the basis of the human soul to find them. No doubt what is thus inscribed in the soul can be demonstrated objectively; just as it can objectively be demonstrated that twice two is four by arranging 4 peas in two sets. But would anyone maintain that the truth “Twice two is four” must first be “tested” on the peas? The two things are in every way comparable. He who questions an anthroposophic truth is someone who has not yet recognized it; just as only a person can question that twice two is four, who has not yet recognized it. Widely as they differ, inasmuch as the one is very simple, and the other very complicated, yet in other respects there is an analogy between them.

It is true that one must first study Anthroposophy itself before one can clearly perceive this. And therefore for those who are unacquainted with Anthroposophy, no “proof” of the fact can be adduced. One can only say: First become acquainted with Anthroposophy, and then all this too will be clear to you.

The great mission of Anthroposophy in our age will first become evident when Anthroposophy works like a leaven in every part of life. Until the road of actual life can be trodden in the fullest sense of the word, those into whose minds Anthroposophy has entered are but at the beginning of their work. So long, too, they must be prepared to have it cast in their teeth that their doctrines are the foes of real life. Yes, these doctrines are the foes of real life, just as the railway was the foe of a kind of life which regarded the stage-coach as life's only reality, and could see no further. They are its foes in the same way as the future is the foe of the past.

The next essay will go more into special points in the relation of Anthroposophy to the Social Question.


There are two conflicting views in respect to the Social Question. The one regards the causes of the good and bad in social life as lying rather in men themselves; the other as lying mainly in the conditions under which men live. People who represent the first of these opinions will, in all their efforts for human progress, aim chiefly at raising men's spiritual and physical fitness, together with their moral susceptibilities; whereas those who incline more to the second view will direct their attention first and foremost to raising the standard of living; they say to themselves that if once people have the means of living decently, the level of their general fitness and moral sense will rise of itself. It will hardly be denied that this latter view is held in many circles to be the mark of a very old-fashioned turn of mind. A person, we are told, whose life from early morning till late at night is one bitter struggle with dire necessity, has no possibility of properly developing his spiritual and moral powers. First give him his daily bread before you talk to him of spiritual things.

In this first declaration there is apt to be a sting of reproach, especially when it is leveled at a movement such as the anthroposophical one. Nor are they the worst people of our times, from whom such reproaches come. They are inclined to say: “Your out-and-out occultist is very loathe to leave the planes of Devachan and Kama, and come down to common earth. He would rather know half-a-dozen Sanskrit words than condescend to learn what ‘ground-rent' is.” These very words may be read in European Civilization and the Revival of Modern Occultism, an interesting book by G. L. Dankmar, which has recently appeared.

It is not far-fetched to couch the reproach in the following form: People will point out, that in our modern age there are not infrequently families of eight persons, all huddled together in a single garret, lacking both light and air and obliged to send their children to school in such a weak and half-starved condition that they can scarcely keep body and soul together. Should not those then—they ask—who have at heart the progress and improvement of the masses, concentrate their whole endeavors on abolishing such a state of things? Instead of pondering over the principles of higher spiritual worlds, they should turn their minds to the question: What can be done to relieve the existing social distress? “Let Anthroposophy come down out of its frosty insularity amongst human beings, amongst the common people. Let it place at the forefront of its program, the ethical claim of universal brotherhood, and act accordingly, regardless of consequences. Let it turn what Christ says about loving our neighbor into a social fact and Anthroposophy will become for all time a precious and indestructible human asset.” This is pretty much what the book goes on to say.

Those people mean well who make such an objection to Anthroposophy. Indeed, we may admit that they are right, as against many of those who devote themselves to anthroposophical studies. There are undoubtedly, amongst these latter, many persons who only have their own spiritual needs at heart, who only want to know something about “the higher life”, about the fate of the soul after death, and so forth. Neither, most certainly, are people wrong in saying that at the present day it seems more needful to exercise oneself in acts of common welfare, in the virtues of neighborly love and human usefulness, rather than to sit aloof, nursing in one's soul the latent seeds of some higher faculty. Those with whom this is the foremost object may well be deemed persons of a subtilized selfishness, who let the well-being of their own soul rank before the common human virtues.

Again another remark, often to be heard, is that a spiritual movement like the anthroposophical one can, after all, only have an interest for people who are “well-off” and have “spare time” for such things; but that, when people have to keep their hands busy from morning till night for a miserable pittance, what is the use of trying to feed them up with fine talk about the common unity of man, the higher life, and the like.

There has been a good deal of sinning in this respect undoubtedly, and by zealous disciples of Anthroposophy too. And yet it is none the less true that the anthroposophic life, lived with true understanding, cannot but lead men to the virtues of self-sacrificing work for the common interest. At any rate there is nothing in Anthroposophy to hinder anyone from being every whit as good a human being as others who have no knowledge of Anthroposophy, or will have none.

But, as regards the Social Question, none of this touches the point. To arrive at the root of the matter requires very much more than the opponents of the anthroposophic movement are willing to admit. It shall be conceded to them forthwith that much can be done by means of the measures proposed on various sides for the betterment of men's social conditions. One party aims at one thing; another, at another. In all such party claims there is a great deal that any clear thinker soon discovers to be mere brain-spinning; but there is much too, undoubtedly, which, at core, is excellent.

Robert Owen (1775–1858), incontestably one of the noblest of social reformers, over and over again insists that a man is determined by the surroundings in which he grows up; that the formation of a man's character is not due to himself, but to the conditions of his life being such as he can thrive in. There can be no question of disputing the glaring truth that is contained in such maxims; still less, any desire to shrug it away contemptuously, as being more or less self-evident. On the contrary, let it be admitted at once that many things may become much better, if people will be guided in public life by the recognition of these truths. Neither will Anthroposophy, therefore, withhold anyone from taking part in such practical schemes for human progress as may aim, in the light of such truths, at bettering the lot of the depressed, poverty-stricken classes of mankind.

But—Anthroposophy must go deeper. For a thorough, radical progress can never possibly be affected by any such means as these. Anyone who disputes this has never become clear in his own mind whence those conditions of life originate, in which men find themselves placed. For, in truth, so far as a man's life is dependent on such conditions, these conditions themselves have been created by men. Who else, then, made the institutions under which one man is poor, and another rich? Other men, surely. And it really does not affect the question that these other men for the most part lived before those who are now flourishing, or not flourishing, under the conditions. The suffering which Nature, of herself alone, inflicts upon Man are, for the social state of affairs, only of indirect consideration. These natural sufferings are just what must be mitigated, if not totally removed, by human action. And if this does not happen, if what is needed in this respect is not done, then the fault lies after all with the human institutions. If we study these things to the bottom, we find that all evils which can correctly speaking be called social evils, originate also in human deeds. In this respect certainly, not the individual, but mankind as a whole, is most assuredly the “Forger of its own Fate.”

Undeniable as this is, it is no less true that, taken on a large scale, no considerable section of mankind, no one caste or class, has deliberately, with evil intentions, brought about the suffering of any other section. All the assertions that are made of this kind are based simply on lack of discernment. And although this too is really a self-obvious truth, yet it is a truth that requires stating. For although such things are obvious enough to the understanding, yet in the practice of life people are apt to take a different attitude. Every exploiter of his fellow men would naturally much prefer it, if the victims of his exploitations did not have to suffer; and it would go a long way, if people not merely took this as mentally obvious, but also adjusted their feelings accordingly.

“Well, but when you have said this, what does it all lead to?”—so many a social reformer will no doubt protest. “Do you expect the exploited to look on the exploiter with feelings of unmixed benevolence? Isn't it only too understandable that he should detest him, and that his detestation should lead him to adopt a party attitude? And what is more”—they will urge—“it would truly be but a poor remedy to prescribe the oppressed brotherly-love for his oppressor, taking for text perhaps the maxim of the great Buddha: ‘Hate is not overcome by Hate, but by Love alone.”

And yet, for all that, we touch here upon something, the recognition of which can alone lead to any real “social thinking.” And this is where the anthroposophic attitude of mind comes in. For the anthroposophic attitude of mind cannot rest content with a surface understanding; it must go to the depths. And so it cannot stop at demonstrating that such and such conditions produce social misery; but must go further, and know what it is that created these conditions, and still continues to create them, which, after all, is the only knowledge that can bear any fruit. And in the face of these deeper problems most of the social theories prove indeed very “barren theories,” not to say mere shibboleths.

So long as one's thinking only skims the surface of things, one ascribes a quite fictitious power to circumstances, indeed to externals generally. For these circumstances are simply the outer expression of an inner life. Just as a person only understands the human body when he knows that it is the outer expression of the soul, so he alone can form a right judgment of the external institutions of life who sees that they are nothing but the creations of human souls, who embody in these institutions their sentiments, their habits of mind, their thoughts. The conditions under which we live are made by our fellow-men; and we shall never ourselves make better ones, unless we set out from other thoughts, other habits of mind and other sentiments than those of the former makers.

When considering such things it is well to take particular instances. On face of it, someone may very likely appear to be an oppressor because he is able to keep a smart establishment, travel first class on the railway, and so forth. And the oppressed will be he who is obliged to wear a shabby coat and travel third. But without being a “hidebound individualist”, or a “retrograde Tory”, or anything of the sort, simple plain thinking may lead one to see this fact, namely: That no one is oppressed or exploited through my wearing one sort of coat or another; but simply from the fact of my paying the workman who makes the coat too low a wage in return. The poor workman who buys his cheap coat at a low price is, in this respect, in exactly the same position towards his fellow-men as the rich man, who has his better coat made for him. Whether I be poor or rich, I am equally an exploiter when I purchase things which are underpaid. As a matter of fact no one in these days has the right to call anyone else an oppressor; for he has only to look at himself. If he scrupulously examines his own case, he will not be long in discovering the oppressor there too. Is the work that goes to the well-to-do class the only badly-paid work I do? Why, the very man sitting next to me, and complaining with me of oppression, procures the labor of my hands on precisely the same terms as the well-to-do whom we are both attacking. Think this thoroughly out, and one finds other landmarks for one's social thinking than those in customary use.

More especially, when this line of reflection is pursued, it becomes evident that “rich” and “exploiter” are two notions that must be kept entirely distinct. Whether one is rich or poor today depends on one's own energies, or the energies of one's ancestors, or on something at any rate quite different. That one is an exploiter of other people's labor-power has nothing whatever to do with these things; or not directly at least. It has, however, very closely to do with something else: namely, it has to do with the fact that our institutions, or the conditions of our environment, are built up on personal self-interest. One must keep a very clear mind here; otherwise one will have quite a false idea of what is being actually stated. If today I purchase a coat, it seems, under existing conditions, perfectly natural that I should purchase it as cheaply as possible; that is: I have myself only in view of the transaction. And herewith is indicated the point of view from which the whole of our life is carried on.

The reply will promptly be forthcoming: “How about all the social movements? Is not the removal of this particular evil the very object for which all the parties and leaders of social reform are striving? Are they not exerting themselves for the ‘protection’ of Labor? Are not the working-class and their representatives demanding higher scales of wages and a reduction of working hours?” As was said already: from the standpoint of the present time, not the least objection is here being urged against such demands and measures. Neither, of course, is any plea hereby put forward for any one of the existing parties and programs. In particular, from the point of view with which we are here concerned no question comes in of siding with any party—whether “for” or “against”. Anything of the sort is of itself foreign to the anthroposophic way of viewing these matters.

One may introduce any number of ameliorations for the better protection of one particular class of labor, and thereby do much no doubt to raise the standard of living amongst this or that group of human beings. But the nature of the exploitation is not thereby in its essence changed nor bettered. For it depends on the fact that one man, from the aspect of self-interest, obtains for himself the labor-products of another. Whether I have too much or too little, that which I have I use to gratify my own self-interest; and thereby the other man is of necessity exploited. And though, whilst continuing to maintain this aspect, I protect his labor, yet nothing is thereby changed, save in appearances. If I pay more for his work, then he will have to pay the more for mine; unless the one's being better off is to make the other worse off.

To give another instance, by way of illustration: If I purchase a factory in order to make as much as possible for myself out of it, then I shall take care to get the necessary labor as cheaply as possible. Everything that is done will be done from the view of my personal self-interest. If, on the other hand, I purchase the factory with the view of making the best possible provision for two hundred human beings, then everything I do will take a different coloring. Practically, in the present day, there will probably be no such very great difference between the second case and the first; but that is solely because one single selfless person is powerless to accomplish very much inside a whole community built up on self-interest. Matters would stand very differently if non-self-interested labor were the general rule.

Some “practical” person will no doubt opine that mere good intentions will not go far towards enabling anyone to improve the wage-earning possibilities of his workers. Good will, after all, will not increase the returns on his manufactured articles, and, without that, it is not possible to make better terms for his workmen. Now here is just the important point: namely, to see that this argument is altogether erroneous. All interests, and therewith all the conditions of life, become different when a thing is procured not with an eye to oneself, but with an eye to the other people. What must any person look to, who is powerless to serve anything but his own private welfare? To making as much as he can for himself, when all is said and done. How others are obliged to labor, in order to satisfy his private needs, is a matter which he cannot take into consideration. And thus he is compelled to expend his powers in the fight for existence. If I start an undertaking which is to bring in as much as possible for myself, I do not enquire as to how the labor-power is set in motion that does my work. But if I myself do not come into question at all, and the only point of view is: How does my labor serve the others?—then the whole thing is changed. Nothing then compels me to undertake anything which may be of detriment to someone else. Then I place my powers not at the service of myself, but at the service of the other people. And, as a consequence, men's powers and abilities take quite a different form of expression.

How this alters the conditions of life in actual practice shall be left to the next chapter.


Robert Owen, already mentioned in this essay, who lived from 1771 to 1858, may in a sense be designated a genius of practical social activity. He possessed two qualities which may well justify this designation: a circumstantial eye for institutions of social utility, and a noble love of mankind. One has only to look at what he was able to accomplish by means of these two faculties, in order to esteem them at their due value.

He started, in New Lanark, model industries, in which he managed to employ the workers in such a way that they not only enjoyed a decent human existence in material respects, but also lived their lives under conditions that satisfied the moral sense. Those who were collected together in this place were in part people who had come down in the world and taken to drink. Amongst such as these Owen introduced better elements, whose example had a good influence on the others. The results thus obtained were beneficial in the highest degree. This achievement of Owen's makes it impossible to class him with the usual type of more of less fantastic “world-regenerator,”—Utopians, as they are termed. For it is characteristic of Owen that he kept within the lines of what was practicable and confined himself to schemes that could be put into actual execution, and which the most hard-headed person, averse to everything fanciful, might reasonably expect to do something towards abolishing human misery within a small and limited field. Nor was there anything unpractical in cherishing the belief that this small field might perhaps serve as a model, and in course of time give the incentive towards a healthy evolution of man's human lot in the social direction.

Owen himself must have thought so; he ventured a step further along the same road. In 1824, he set to work to create a sort of little model State in the Indiana district of North America. He obtained possession of a piece of territory with the intention of founding there a human community based upon freedom and equality. Every provision was made for rendering exploitation and enserfment impossible. The man who embarks on such an enterprise must bring to it the finest social virtues; the longing to make his fellow-men happy, and faith in the goodness of human nature. He must believe that the love of work will of itself grow up with man's nature, once the benefits of his work seem to be secured by the needful institutions. In Owen this faith was so firmly seated that the experience must have been disastrous indeed that could shake it.

And ... the experiences were, in fact, disastrous. After prolonged and heroic efforts, Owen was brought at last to the confession that:—Until one has effected a change in the general moral standard, all attempts to realize such colonies are bound to meet with failure; and that it is more worthwhile to try and influence mankind by the way of theory, rather than of practice. To such an opinion was this social reformer driven by the fact that there proved to be no lack of “work-shys,” who desired nothing better than to shoulder their work onto their neighbors; which inevitably led to disputes and quarrels and, finally, to the bankruptcy of the colony.

There is much to be learnt from this experience of Owen's by all who are really willing to learn. It may lead the way from all artificially devised schemes for the benefit of mankind to really fruitful social work that reckons with matter of fact.

These experiences were enough to cure Owen radically of the belief that human misery is solely caused by the “bad institutions” under which men live, and that the goodness of human nature would manifest itself without more ado, once these institutions were reformed. He was forced to the conviction that any good institution is only so far maintainable as the human beings concerned are disposed by their own inner nature to its maintenance and are themselves warmly attached to it.

One's first idea might be that what is necessary is to give some preparatory theoretical instruction to the people for whom such institutions are being established; by demonstrating, perhaps, the appropriateness and utility of the measures proposed. To an unprejudiced mind this might seem a fairly obvious conclusion to be drawn from Owen's admission. Yet, for the really practical lesson to be learnt from it, one must go deeper into the matter. One must pass on beyond that mere faith in the goodness of human nature, by which Owen was misled, to a real knowledge of man. People may learn to perceive ever so clearly that certain institutions are practical and would be of benefit to mankind; but the clearest possible perception of this will not suffice in the long run to carry them through to the goal proposed. This kind of perception, clear as it may be, cannot supply a man with the inner impulses that will make him work, when the instincts that are based in egoism assert themselves upon the other side. This egoism is there, once for all, as a part of human nature; and consequently it begins to stir within the feeling of every human being, when he is called upon to live and work together with others in the social community. Thus, as a kind of inevitable sequence, most people practically will consider that form of social institution the best which best allows each individual to gratify his own wants. So that the social question quite naturally under the influence of these egoistic feelings comes to assume the form: What particular social institutions must be devised, in order that each person may secure the proceeds of his labor for himself? Few people, especially in our age of materialistic thinking, start from any other assumption. How often may one not hear it stated, as a truth beyond question, that it would be a thing against all nature to try and constitute a society on principles of good-will and human kindliness. People are much more ready to go on the principle that a human community will, as a whole, be most prosperous, when it also allows the individual to reap and garner the full—or the largest possible—proceeds of his own labor.

Exactly the contrary, however, is taught by Anthroposophy, which is founded on a more profound knowledge of man and the world. Anthroposophy, in fact, shows that all human suffering is purely a consequence of egoism, and that in every human community, at some time or other, suffering, poverty, and want must of necessity arise, if this community is founded in any way upon egoism. Fully to recognize this, however, requires knowledge of considerably greater depth than much that sails about under the flag of “Social Science”. For this so-called Social Science only takes account of the exterior surface of human life, not of the deeper-seated forces that move it. Indeed, with the majority of people of the present day it is hard to arouse so much as even a feeling that there can be a question of any such deeper-seated forces at all; and anyone who talks to them of anything of the sort is looked upon as a dreamer and a “crank”. Nor can there here be any attempt made to elaborate a scheme of society based upon deeper, underlying forces. To do so adequately would need a whole book. All that can be done is to indicate the true laws of human co-operation and to show what, therefore, will be the reasonable points for consideration in social matters for one who is acquainted with these laws. A full comprehension of the subject is only possible for someone who works his way through to a world-conception based upon Anthroposophy. And this whole magazine is an endeavor to convey such a world-conception; one cannot expect to learn it from a single essay on the Social Question. All that one such essay can attempt to do is to throw a searchlight on this question from the anthroposophic standpoint. Briefly as the subject must be dealt with, there will, at any rate, always be some people whose feeling will lead them to recognize the truth of what it is impossible to discuss in all its fullness here.

There is, then, a fundamental social law which Anthroposophy teaches us and which is as follows:

In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done; i.e. the more of these proceeds he makes over to his fellow workers, and the more his own requirements are satisfied not out of his own work done, but out of work done by the others.

Every institution in a community of human beings that is contrary to this law will inevitably engender in some part of it, after a while, suffering and want. It is a fundamental law which holds good for all social life with the same absoluteness and necessity as any law of nature within a particular field of natural causation. It must not be supposed, however, that it is sufficient to acknowledge this law as one for general moral conduct, or to try and interpret it into the sentiment that everyone should work for the good of his fellow-men. No—this law only finds its living, fitting expression in actual reality, when a community of human beings succeeds in creating institutions of such a kind that no one can ever claim the results of his own labor for himself, but that they all, to the last fraction, go wholly to the benefit of the community. And he, again, must himself be supported in return by the labors of his fellow-men. The important point is, therefore, that working for one's fellow-men, and the object of obtaining so much income, must be kept apart, as two separate things.

The self-styled “practical people” will, of course—the Anthroposophist is under no illusion about it!—have nothing but a smile for such “outrageous idealism”. And yet this law is more really practical than any that ever was devised or enacted by the practicians. For, as a matter of actual life, that every human community that exists, or ever has existed anywhere, possesses two sorts of institutions, of which the one is in accordance with this law, and the other contrary to it. It is bound to be so everywhere, whether men will, or no. Every community, indeed, would fall to pieces at once, if the work of the individual did not pass over into the whole body. But human egoism again has from of old run counter to this law, and sought to extract as much as possible for the individual out of his own work. And what has come about in this way, as a consequence of egoism, this it is, and nothing else, that from old has brought want and poverty and suffering in its train; which is as good as saying that a part of human institutions will always and inevitably prove to be unpractical which owes its existence to “practicians” who calculated either on the basis of their own egoism, or the egoism of others.

Now obviously with a law of this kind, all is not said and done when one has merely recognized its existence. The real, practical part begins with the question: How is one to translate this law into actual fact? Obviously, what it says amounts to this: Man's welfare is the greater, in proportion as egoism is the less. Which means, that for its practical translation into reality one must have people who can find the way out of their egoism. Practically, however, this is quite impossible, if the individual's share of weal and woe is measured according to his labor. He who labors for himself cannot help but gradually fall a victim to egoism. Only one who labors solely and entirely for the rest can, little by little, grow to be a worker without egoism.

But there is one thing needed to begin with. If any man works for another, he must find in this other man the reason for his work; and if any man works for the community, he must perceive and feel the meaning and value of this community, and what it is as a living, organic whole. He can only do this when the community is something other and quite different from a more or less indefinite totality of individual men. It must be informed by an actual spirit in which each single person has his part. It must be such that each single one says: The communal body is as it should be, and I will that it be thus. The whole communal body must have a spiritual mission, and each individual member of it must have the will to contribute towards the fulfilling of this mission. All the vague progressive ideas, the abstract ideals, of which people talk so much, cannot present such a mission. If there be nothing but these as a guiding principle, then one individual here, or one group there, will be working without any clear comprehension of what use there is in their work, except its being to the advantage of their families, or of those particular interests to which they happen to be attached. In every single member, down to the least, this Spirit of the Community must be alive and active.

Wherever, in any age, anything good has thriven, it has only been where in some manner this life of a communal spirit was realized. The individual citizen of a Greek city in ancient days, even the citizen too of a “Free City” in medieval times, had at least a dim sense of some such communal spirit. The fact is not affected because, in Ancient Greece for instance, the appropriate institutions were only made possible by keeping a host of slaves, who did the manual labor for the “free citizens”, and were not induced to do so by the communal spirit, but compelled to it by their masters. This is an instance from which only one thing may be learnt: namely, that man's life is subject to evolution. And at the present day mankind has reached a stage when such a solution of the associative problem as found acceptance in Ancient Greece has become impossible. Even by the noblest Greeks, slavery was not regarded as an injustice, but as a human necessity; and so even the great Plato could hold up as an ideal a state in which the communal spirit finds its realization by the majority, the working people, being compelled to labor at the dictation of the few wise ones. But the problem of the present day is how to introduce people into conditions under which each will, of his own inner, private impulse, do the work of the community.

No one, therefore, need try to discover a solution of the social question that shall hold good for all time, but simply to find the right form for his social thoughts and actions, in view of the immediate needs of the times in which he is now living. Indeed, there is today no theoretic scheme which could be devised or carried into effect by any one person, which in itself could solve the social question. For this he would need to possess the power to force a number of people into the conditions which he had created. Most undoubtedly, had Owen possessed the power of the will to compel all the people of his colony to do their share of the labor, then the thing would have worked. But we have to do with the present day; and in the present day any such compulsion is out of the question. Some possibility must be found of inducing each person, of his own free will, to do that which he is called upon to do according to the measure of his particular powers and abilities, But, for this very reason, there can be no possible question of ever trying to work upon people theoretically, in the sense suggested by Owen's admission, by merely indoctrinating them with a view as to how social conditions might best be arranged. A bald economic theory can never act as a force to counteract the powers of egoism. For a while, such an economic theory may sweep the masses along with a kind of impetus that, to all outward appearance, resembles the enthusiasm of an ideal. But in the long run it helps nobody. Anyone who inoculates such a theory into a mass of human beings, without giving them some real spiritual substance along with it, is sinning against the real meaning of human evolution.

There is only one thing which can be of any use; and that is a spiritual world-conception, which, of its own self, through that which it has to offer, can make a living home in the thoughts, in the feelings, in the will—in a man's whole soul, in short. That faith which Owen had in the goodness of human nature is only true in part; in part, it is one of the worst of illusions. It is true to the extent that in every man there slumbers a “higher self”, which can be awakened. But the bonds of its sleep can only be dispelled by a world-conception of the character described. One may induce men into conditions such as Owen devised, and the community will prosper in the highest and fairest sense. But if one brings men together, without their having a world-conception of this kind, then all that is good in such institutions will, sooner or later, inevitably turn to bad. With people who have no world-conception centered in the spirit it is inevitable that just those institutions which promote men's material well-being will have the effect of also enhancing egoism, and therewith, little by little, will engender want, poverty and suffering. For it may truly be said in the simplest and most literal sense of the words: The individual man you may help by simply supplying him with bread; a community you can only supply with bread by assisting it to a world-conception. Nor indeed would it be of any use to try and supply each individual member of the community with bread; since, after a while, things would still take such a form that many would again be breadless.

The recognition of these principles, it is true, means the loss of many an illusion for various people, whose ambition it is to be popular benefactors. It makes working for the welfare of society no light matter—one too, of which the results, under circumstances, may only be composed of a collection of quite tiny part-results. Most of what is given out today by whole parties as panaceas for social life loses its value and is seen to be a mere bubble and hollow phrase, lacking in due knowledge of human life. No parliament, no democracy, no big popular agitation, none of all these things can have any sense for a person who looks at all deeper, if they violate the law stated above; whereas everything of the kind may work for good, if it works on the lines of this law. It is a mischievous delusion to believe that some particular persons, sent up to some parliament as delegates from the people, can do anything for the good of mankind, unless their whole line of activity is in conformity with this, the fundamental social law.

Wherever this law finds outward expression, wherever anyone is at work along its lines—so far as is possible for him in that position in which he is placed within the human community—there good results will be attained, though it be but in the one single instance and in ever so small a measure. And it is only a number of individual results, attained in this way, that together combine to healthy collective progress throughout the whole body of society.

There exist, certainly, particular cases where bigger communities of men are in possession of some special faculty, by aid of which a bigger result could be attained all at once in this direction. Even today there exist definite communities, in whose special dispositions something of the kind is already preparing. These people will make it possible for mankind, by their assistance, to make a leap forward, to accomplish as it were a jump in social evolution. Anthroposophy is well acquainted with such communities, but does not find itself called upon to discuss these things in public. There are means, too, by which large masses of mankind can be prepared for a leap of this kind, which may possibly even be made at no very distant time. What, however, can be done by everyone is to work on the lines of this law within his own sphere of action. There is no position in the world that man can occupy where this is not possible, be it to all appearance ever so obscure, nor yet so influential.

But the principal and most important thing is, undoubtedly, that every individual should seek the way to a world-conception directed towards real knowledge of the Spirit. In Anthroposophy we have a spiritual movement which can grow and become for all men a world-conception of this kind, provided it continues to develop further in the form proper to its own teachings and to its own inherent possibilities. Anthroposophy may be the means of each man's learning to see that it is not a mere chance that he happens to be born in a particular place at a particular time, but that he has been put of necessity by the law of spiritual causation—by Karma—just in the place where he is; he learns to recognize that it is his own fitting and well-founded fate which has placed him amidst that human community in which he finds himself. His own powers and capacities too will become apparent to him, as not allotted by blind hazard, but as having their good meaning in the law of cause and effect.

And he learns to perceive all this in such a way that the perception does not remain a mere matter of cold reason, but gradually comes to fill his whole soul with inner life.

The outcome of such understanding will be no shadowy idealism but a mighty pulse of new life throughout all a man's powers. And this way of acting will be looked on by him as being as much a matter of course as, in another respect, eating and drinking is. Further, he will learn to see the meaning in the human community to which he belongs. He will comprehend his own community's relation to other human communities, and how it stands towards them; and thus the several spirits of all these communities will piece themselves together to a purposeful spiritual design, a picture of the single, united mission of the whole human race. And from the human race his mind will travel on to an understanding of the whole earth and its existence. Only a person who refuses to contemplate any such view of the world can harbor a doubt that it will have the effects here described.

At the present day, it is true, most people have but little inclination to enter upon such things. But the time will not fail to come, when the anthroposophic way of thinking will spread in ever- widening circles. And in measure as it does so, men will take the right practical steps to effect social progress. There can be no reason for doubting this on the presumption that no world-conception yet has ever brought about the happiness of mankind. By the laws of mankind's evolution it was not possible for that to take place at an earlier time, which, from now on, will gradually become possible. Not until now could a world-conception with the prospect of this kind of practical result be communicated to all and every man. All the previous world-conceptions until now were accessible to particular groups of human beings only. Nevertheless, everything that has taken place for good as yet in the human race has come from its world-conception. Universal welfare is only attainable through a world-conception that shall lay hold upon the souls of all men and fire the inner life within them. And this the anthroposophic form of conception will always have the power to do, wherever it is really true to its own inherent possibilities.

To recognize the justice of this, it will of course not do to look simply at the form which such conceptions have so far assumed. One must recognize that Anthroposophy has still to expand and grow to the full height of its cultural mission. So far, Anthroposophy cannot show the face that it will one day wear, and this for many reasons. One of the reasons is, that it must first find a foothold. Consequently, it must address itself to a particular group of human beings; and this group can naturally be no other than the one which, from the peculiar character of its evolution is longing for a new solution of the world's problems, and which, from the previous training of the persons united in it, is able to bring active interest and understanding to such a solution. It is obvious that, for the time being, Anthroposophy must couch the message it has to deliver in such a language as shall be suited to this particular group of people. Later on, as circumstances afford opportunity, Anthroposophy will again find suitable terms, in which to speak to other circles also. Nobody, whose mind is not rootedly attached to hard and fast dogmas, can suppose that the form in which the anthroposophic message is delivered today is a permanent or by any means the only possible one. Just because, with Anthroposophy, there can be no question of its remaining mere theory, or merely gratifying intellectual curiosity, it is necessary for it to work in this way, slowly. For amongst the aims and objects of Anthroposophy are these same practical steps in the progress of mankind. But if it is to help on the progress of mankind, Anthroposophy must first create the practical conditions for its work; and there is no way to bring about these conditions except by winning over the individual human beings, one by one. The world moves forward, only when men WILL that it shall. But, in order for them to will it, what is needed in each individual case is inner soul-work; and this can only be performed step by step. Were it not so, then Anthroposophy too would do nothing in the social field but air brain-spun theories, and perform no practical work.