Anthroposophy has Something to Add to Modern Sciences
VIII. Recent history in the light of spiritual scientific investigation
17 October 1918, Zurich
Today I will have to say a few things about more recent historical developments from the point of view of the spiritual science which we are considering in these lectures. It will be necessary to take as read some of the things I said in the earlier lectures. Essentially this will be the only precondition. Something else which I will not be able to repeat, time being limited, in so far as it applies today is that along the lines I tried to give in the first lecture, this science of the spirit can confirm that human beings, striving with their powers of soul, must come to recognize a supersensible world, and that a specific training of these powers of soul — I have characterized this at least in principle — will enable human beings to gain insight into the facts pertaining to this supersensible world.
It is now a matter of applying these fundamental truths of anthroposophically orientated spiritual science to one of the most significant fields in human life, the field of history. I will, of course, have to limit myself to what is of most immediate concern to us, the historical evolution of humanity in more recent times. People who do not look far into the development of human civilization take history to be a very old field of study. The truth is, however, that history really only came to life just before the second half of the 18th century, arising from beginnings that could not yet be called history. And in the sense in which we are accustomed to think of history, having learned this at school, namely that history serves to study the laws that govern the evolution of the human race in the course of time — in this sense history is really only a child of the 19th century.
The study of history arose from the interest that people have always shown in other people and their destinies, in so far as those other people and their destinies had a connection with one’s own life, being on the periphery of one’s personal life experience. We might say it is a straight line from the family records that people use to inform themselves on their own nation and native land, and [sic] ultimately the efforts made to gain insight into the laws that govern the evolution of humanity as a whole. It is significant that the study of history, which before was always within the above-mentioned narrow confines, thus came to be extended to the whole of humanity. It has only been in the recent times which we intend to consider here that a wholly general, human interest in the evolution of humanity as a whole arose from the more or less narrowly defined interest shown by people.
This alone will show anyone who is prepared to see that human beings showing pure interest in other human beings as such is essentially of recent origin. Now the situation is such that exactly because history arises from people’s interest in people, an obstacle arises when history is supposed to rise to a higher level where insight is gained into the laws that govern human evolution. For here history is very easily taken into an abyss that at some time or other has threatened every kind of scientific study. The natural-scientific approach has almost completely overcome this in more recent times, but it will often and quite unconsciously influence the way people look at history. We may call it the anthropomorphic view. It arises because something found in the human being himself is taken out into the world and the phenomena which present themselves in the world. The most obvious, happily overcome in natural science, is that a person finds that when he achieves something he has been following a purpose, an aim. People are therefore inclined to look at anything that happens in the natural world, and also at historical developments, by looking for purposive actions in the same sense as one finds them in the inner human being, that is, in oneself.
Natural science has grown great in the more recent sense exactly because efforts are made not to take an anthropomorphic view, though this is in many respects unconscious. Goethe was justified in saying that people do not know how anthropomorphic they are. 111Sprüche in Prosa. See note 10. In the case of history, however, there is the special temptation to see the things which we find in ourselves also in historical developments outside, for we are trying to consider something that is human. We overcome the obstacle — which existed to a greater or lesser degree for the most hardworking thinkers of recent times when they wanted to establish a kind of philosophy of history — basically only by going beyond the narrow limits set to human nature even as we consider the human being himself. Those limits are set because human beings act according to something that is immediately subjective, according to such aims as are possible in their inner life between birth and death.
If you overcome an inner nature that relies on the senses, with the life of the soul bound to it between birth and death, by rising higher and going beyond the senses, you can take the discoveries made in supersensible study of the human being out into historical evolution. For human beings go beyond themselves when they rise to their supersensible nature, and they can then no longer be anthropomorphic in the study of history, for they are no longer so in the way they look at their own essential nature. By just making efforts to overcome a particular obstacle to seeing the world clearly, we are thus taken beyond ourselves into the supersensible sphere.
If we are thus equipped to approach historical evolution with the powers that take us into the supersensible world, the facts of historical life appear in a completely new light, purely because one sees them in the light of the supersensible sphere. In this new light you ask yourself: What is the real situation? Have certain facts that have been recorded so that we find them in our usual history books truly had such a close connection with the human being as they are often said to have, with the view expressed that the human being, as he stands before us, is a product of historical development, a product of the past? However, if we ask these questions only in the light of supersensible insight, we soon discover, on turning our attention to historical events, how little people are able to say with the impulses of the lives in which they find themselves at the present time, for example: This or that is connected with this or that historical event in the past. Just as natural science, if pursued consistently, takes us beyond itself, so does the study of history take us to the point where we have to say: In a sense, the historical events are falling apart. We cannot just speak of cause and effect in the usual sense, considering the present as though it were due to the influence of the past, certainly where this contains whatever may be found in the world perceptible through the senses. We can only see history truly if we connect the human being with the supersensible and do not look in historical facts for anything they appear to be on the surface but for something that initially is only given as revelation — a supersensible process in world events, with human beings involved in it.
Then history becomes something other than a study of consecutive events. It becomes a symptomatology, as I’d like to call it. We then consider individual events not just the way they present in the life perceived through the senses but as symptoms that allow us to penetrate into a supersensible process behind them that goes beyond history itself. It will then also no longer be possible to seek absolute completeness in the usual way — anyone who has been working with historical material in some area or other will know that such completeness can never be achieved. Instead you will try to take the facts that can be discovered, regarding them as symptoms, and penetrate into the great spiritual scheme of things that lies behind them.
Taking this road you will soon find yourself compelled to abandon the old distinctions we know from our schooldays, where the study of recent history begins with all kinds of reflections on the journeys of discovery and the importance of discovering America, or on inventions and the like. Instead you feel compelled to say: Where can a point be found — if we start from the present time and go back in historical evolution — where a major change came in the course of human evolution, with new ways of life and new conditions for life?
People who like to take the easy way in looking at the world often tend to say that one thing simply arises from another that went before, and that there are no significant changes or turning points. They will even quote the soothing words: Nature does not take leaps. 112 Nature non facit saltus. First in Fournier, Varietés historiques et litteraires, 1613, IX, 247, then in Leibniz, Nouveaux essais sur I’entendement humain, 1756, preface and IV ch. 16, and in Linnaeus, Philosophia botanica, 1751, No. 77. But just look at the natural world and the leaps that are made! A plant will first develop green leaves and later transform them into petals of different colours — a leap. And such leaps exist everywhere in the natural world, refuting common prejudice that people find comfortable.
Even a superficial look will in fact show that in the European world, the 15th century brought a major change in all ways of life. A change came in the characteristic state of soul humanity had had until then, and in the way humanity made this inner state of soul into external historical actions. With regard to symptomatology, we can point to something of a landmark at an earlier time, an important turning point in the historical life of more recent humanity. This was when the French forced the Pope to move his residence from Rome to Avignon in 1303. 113 At the request of Philipp IV, Pope Boniface VIII was taken prisoner at Anagni on 7 September 1303. He died soon after. The French pope Clement V did not go to Italy but resided in Avignon from 1309. The Papal Court had its seat there from 1309 until 1377. Almost at the same time the order of the Templars, a very special community that had a strange relationship to the Church, was destroyed by the French government, its properties being confiscated. 114 The Order of the Templars, established in 1119 for the protection of the Sacred Tomb in Jerusalem and the pilgrims who visited it, was accused of heresy by French Kind Philip IV who wanted them suppressed and their property appropriated. The Papacy, then wholly under the French influence in Avignon, acceded to this. Following inquisition and torture, the Order was suppressed in 1312. The remaining Templars who had been arrested in 1307 were burned.
Those events were turning points in more recent historical evolution because they showed that people were going against something that for centuries had been characteristic of the whole civilized world. This characteristic was reflected in the strange hostilities between central European imperialism and the Popes, as well as the mutually supportive alliances that resulted from them. All those hostilities were in the light of a quite specific fact. The peoples throughout the civilized world of that time were not divided into groups such as national and other groups the way they came to be in later times, for beyond any such division reigned something that people had in common; we can only say that a universal idea reigned in the human race, influencing people’s actions, and on the one side this came from the Roman papacy, which felt itself to be something that brought people together. Medieval imperialism was equally universal, except that it was often fighting that universal community.
The element that came with the turning point of which I spoke goes against this way of holding people together. The kind of cohesion which existed through the Middle Ages, with people feeling themselves to be part of a great whole, was for centuries based on certain unconscious impulses that dwelt in human beings. The leaders knew them and used them in bringing people together. They addressed a particular sum total of unconscious powers of soul in bringing people together from the above-mentioned points of view in the civilized world of that time. The event at Avignon created breaches, perceptible breaches in that cohesion. We can sense that a new element thus had to come into the constitution, into the state of soul, of occidental humanity.
We also see that the forces at work in the European West had for a long time been affected by an event that had come from the East like a force of nature. I only need to mention everything that started with the Mongolian hordes, and the migrations from East to West, from Asia to Europe, that followed. Both were turning points, and at the dawn of the 15th century they gave Europe and its people the structure of community life. Despite all attempts to preserve the past, this structure was different from the earlier one, when it depended on unconscious impulses. Humanity found it increasingly necessary to be consciously aware also in areas where they were previously given cohesion on the basis of unconscious impulses.
Something highly significant happened with these changes in the West of Europe, especially in areas where people had until then be used, more or less so but significantly, to find cohesion through that universal idea, universal impulse, which I have been characterizing. We see something completely new arise in those areas. The national element came to take over from the old, more spiritual element of the Catholic Church in providing cohesion. We see England and France become a new kind of nation-states, setting a pattern, as it were.
Let us try and consider the way in which the new element was taken particularly into those areas of Western Europe. Initially the two countries were united until the movement arose in the 15th century which we may also call a turning point, in 1428, when in a certain direction a dividing wall came between England and France. This came to expression in the events that happened around Joan of Arc. 115In the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, Orleans was under siege by the English in 1428. It was relieved in April 1429 by a small army led by Joan of Arc. The seed was then sown for the mutual independence of France and England; before that there had been a degree of connection between them. This is a tremendously significant phenomenon. For we shall see many things grow from this differentiation, which only came at that time, in the 15th century, things that will again prove symptomatic in the further evolution of history.
Another change came when a kind of national feeling, at the time preparing the way for an independent feeling of being Italian, developed in Italy from the very element which had led to the papacy being so powerful in that country, overshadowing all such national and similar groupings. Letting the eye roam across Europe we also see ourselves — I can only refer to these things briefly here — coming closer to the time when a major struggle arose between central and more or less eastern parts of Europe, the Germanic and Slavonic cultures. We see how the power of the Hapsburgs arose from the struggles in those regions, with the Slavs attacking, and Slav and Germanic cultures mingling. We also see highly individual structures, which before that had not emerged in such a way from the universal impulses, now with individual views and individual purpose. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, city states flourished throughout the occidental civilization of that time.
Again, once national aspirations had become differentiated and France and England were separate, we see long periods of civil war in England leading to the parliamentary system, as the world was to know it, being the goal of a social structure that arose from mutual understanding among individual people.
These, then, are not all, but some of the symptoms from more recent history. I merely have to add that as the groups formed from those impulses everywhere in Europe, there slowly arose in the East, still only in its early beginnings, from struggles that had to lead to its emergence, what later was to be the Russian structure. A strange structure. Seen from Europe it evolved in such a way that to our feeling it will always be a riddle. The most important impulses living within that structure were not really sentiently perceived but welded together, I would say, from something that had survived through all kinds of migrations — passing through Byzantium, arising from a certain metamorphosis of Roman Catholic life; something had come together that arose from what had sprouted forth as the blood of the Slavonic and Norman cultures. In ways that are familiar enough to you, it took in much of the Asiatic inner attitude of soul, a state of soul — I am now referring to the best parts of it — that through millennia had turned away from anything immediately coming through the senses and towards great mystic approaches, hoping to penetrate into a supersensible world with which the sensual life of human beings is connected.
If we take these and perhaps also many other symptoms of more recent historical development and truly consider them from the point of view of the issues considered earlier, a characteristic emerges clearly from these symptoms. We come to perceive it if we ask ourselves: How does the element that comes to expression in these symptoms inwardly differ from anything which in earlier centuries and millennia showed itself in a similar way in a historical evolution of humanity that was more at an unconscious level? We need to consider these things without any sympathy or antipathy, in a wholly objective way. It is only then that we will discover the characteristic element in the phenomena we are considering.
It is strange, when we ask ourselves: What do all these symptoms — for instance those I have given as examples today — have in common if we compare them with earlier impulses that came into historical evolution? I won’t speak of the fruitful way, for example, in which Christianity came into the world in a positive way, creating something new for the soul. I won’t speak of this, but only of the kind of impulses that were, for example, often given in ancient Greek life, when a new impulse would simply be given as though produced from inmost human nature. This would then come into its own in a completely new configuration of reality; or the way it was given, let us say, to Roman civilization in the days of Augustus. None of the impulses that come now are of that kind. The most evident impulse we see, for example, is the national one, based not on national cohesion — as one often sees it identified today and considered to be a state cohesion — but on the national element in so far as it bases on natural principles deep down in human nature. We see it as an impulse that people take up without having produced it inside. A person is French or English on account of his nature. And when in establishing the historical configuration he refers to his nationality he is not referring to something produced in his mind and spirit, but something he has simply accepted from outside.
If we compare the national principle as it has come up in history with those earlier impulses, we discover that all the impulses which we have seen coming to humanity in Greek and in Roman Latin times were infinitely much closer to the productive side in human nature. What came there was retained and preserved. When one takes up something new in more recent history, this is something one is not producing oneself, something which comes to the human being from outside.
Having attempted to gain our orientation more from the outer progress of more recent European history, we’ll now attempt to penetrate to the inner aspects. Within the soul’s inner state, we see a very similar onrush in the inner state of soul against the universal impulse that had counted on the unconscious, an impulse given through the ages. We see the onrush of Huss in the 15th century, Wiclif even before him, and then Luther and later Calvin. We see something human beings want to give, to put into history much more than anything that went before, when it was thought of in more universal ways; this is something individual, welling up from human nature itself. Strangely, however, we also see how in discussion, everything is always related to what went before. What is new is that the human being was referred to his own nature. Decide for yourself what the nature of the eucharist is. Decide for yourself on your attitude to your priest, do not let it be forced on you through a universal impulse coming from outside.
Yet when we consider the subject of the discussion, the dogma of the eucharist that had earlier been produced into [sic] humanity, had existed for centuries in history, or in human life altogether. Nothing new was being produced from the soul and given over to historical life, but the old was produced and preserved, everything that was there without human beings contributing anything. All that happened then was that the human being entered into a new relationship to it.
In following this inner process in European development we see infinitely much of the old torn apart, changed, metamorphosed in the onrush against the universal impulse that had reigned before. We can see it exactly from the way knighthood scattered and vanished. The whole of its inner state of soul — you only have to study the crusades — was connected with the universal impulse. Again we can refer to a turning point that will provide the orientation for everything else that happened. This was the battle of Murton in 1476, towards the end of the 15th century, fought against knighthood connected with the universal impulse. We may see it as representative of a struggle that happened in many places. 116The attack by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was successfully beaten off by the Swiss at Grandson and Murten. Charles was killed in the decisive battle of Nancy in 1477.
We also find a change in the ecclesiastical authority in connection with all this. This ecclesiastical authority had assumed a strange form, and you can find this characterized in any work on history. During this time and because of the onrush, a need was felt for inner regeneration and improvement. The onrush against it really made the Church itself change many things internally. Yet we see everywhere how the element that had raised the Church up in the course of human evolution, having spread it in form of a universal impulse, was to be given a new relationship to each individual human being. We see this happening all over Europe. We see how the English Church made itself independent. We see how in central Europe growing independence joined forces with political powers. We see how everywhere the individual and personal rose against the universal, in other words how something that the human mind was to make its own raged against an earlier inner human nature that had been more unconscious or subconscious, and we see what followed from this in historical terms.
Counter forces did, of course, also arise, like the counter reformation against the reformation. But if we study the symptomatology, the struggles this caused immediately show something of the greatest importance with regard to more recent history. We see the Thirty Years’ War arise from everything that happened in connection with the symptoms I have characterized. Studying the Thirty Years’ War, 117 1618-1648, power struggle between kings of France and Habsburg rulers of Holy Roman Empire and Spain, with added overtones of conflict between Calvinism and post-Tridentine Catholicism. Other powers that became involved included German principalities, Sweden, Denmark and Transylvania. [Tr.] we discover something strange. It arose from opposition arising among the confessions in Europe. It began with all the impulses connected with religious struggles, and it ended as a purely political phenomenon. It turned into something completely different as it progressed. If we now ask ourselves how its evolution looks to us with regard to the confessions which then existed in Europe, we find that in 1648 people were exactly where they had been in 1618. The whole 30 years really changed nothing of any significance as regards the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and so on. All this remained as before. However, in the course of that war quite different powers intervened, and this gave the European national structures a completely different configuration.
If you study the Thirty Years’ War in this way you will be truly convinced that we cannot see history as something that follows as an effect connected with what went before and call the latter the cause. Nothing that came form the Thirty Years’ War was genuinely connected as effect with anything we can call cause in the true sense. Studying the evolution we see how events happening on the outside can only be a symptom for something that happens deeper down. This is particularly evident in the case of the Thirty Years’ War. But what did happen? It was the western countries and above all France which advanced as a result of the events that came in the course of that war, and not its causes. The consequences of the Thirty Years’ War later led to the whole regal glory of France. We see how the royal power of France shone out over Europe in the time that followed.
Then again, something arose in the womb of what was evolving there, taking the old national impulse forward in a most eminent sense. This new element went far beyond anything merely national; it broke the national idea apart, as it were. Individual, personal nature arose, later to come into its own in the French Revolution. The human individual, standing by himself, wanted to emancipate from the compulsion of a community that had not arisen from some productive impulse but been taken up into the human state of soul from nature, from the world surrounding humanity. Again, in looking at the symptomatology, we see how Napoleon then arose, quite inorganically we might say, without any evident motivation. He was the executor, as it were, of the French Revolution’s will and testament. At the same time we also see a strange, a great and tremendous turning point arise. This significant turning point in more recent history came on 21 October 1805, when the battle of Trafalgar prevented Napoleon from extending his tentacles across to England. Something which earlier had only been potential, the separation between England and the Continent, was then made complete.
We can now let things that are generally known pass quickly before the inner eye. We find that parliamentary life going in the direction of liberalism evolved further in an independent England. We see a more tumultuous evolution in France during the 19th century. Then, however, we see emerge in a new form, symptomatic and shining out over what is really happening at the foundations of European history, how the European west and centre needed to come to grips in the 1850s with something that was like a dark riddle in the European east, with the Russian configuration that had arisen. This was like a question posed with regard to European development. We then see certain ideas gaining strength in the 19th century, other ideas going against them, and how ideas of the one kind or the other became impulses in historical development. We see how everything was building up in the 19th century towards the storm which then broke in 1848. 118 Revolution broke out in many European countries in 1848 — France, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Germany and other areas. In England this was reflected in a final outburst of Chartist agitation [Tr.]. And we see evolve from all this the social movement that was later to be so comprehensive and today has a profound influence on human evolution. We see how one especially noteworthy event came among everything that evolved in the 19th century, something the people of Europe were able to observe quite profoundly. Out of the glory that had arisen with France becoming a national state, a kind of demand or claim arose and continued to spread.
Let us not put values on things here. We do not follow them with sympathy or antipathy, but quite objectively. We see how out of the relationship between developments in west and east something arose that was considered an insoluble problem — insoluble for Europe at least for the time being — by people who had the necessary insight at the time, irrespective of the attitude they took to it, to whether it should happen or not. We can even completely leave aside the question as to whether Alsace was occupied by the French originally or later by the Germans, but the Alsatian question, as it is known today, evolved out of European life.
If you study history, and especially things said by people with insight at the time in question, you will know that even then they foresaw conflicts arising from this, conflicts that were really insoluble in either direction because they had to do with all the difficult questions concerning the European east. Those questions arose because the European west — the Crimean War 119 Britain and France fought Russia in 1854-6, originally because the Russians had successfully fought the Turks in the Black Sea region. European peace was under threat. was symptomatic of this — was forced to come to grips with the European east, which was behind all the phenomena like an enigma. We should really consider and feel it to be extraordinarily significant, especially in these days, that something which appears insoluble is given in the way in which central Europe must face up to western Europe because of a question which under specific historical conditions may be asked to be solved in one way or another, a question that has arisen from the national impulse emerging in France but cannot be solved in national terms.
I could give you many more symptoms apparent in recent history, but I only want to mention just one thing which enters deeply into the whole of human evolution in recent times. Although the connections cannot always be clearly seen, I want to refer to the emergence of the more recent scientific way of thinking. I have characterized its significance from other points of view in my earlier lectures here. The scientific way of thinking is evolving. What does it do? It makes the human being stand on his own. It is exactly this thinking which separates the individual out from the community. It is in many respects also the driving impulse in all the other things I have mentioned. This modern scientific way of thinking has something in it which strangely does betray the significance which it has in more recent history.
Two kinds of problems arise. Let me show you the one by referring to a fact. This is that in 1830 a friend found Goethe in a state of sheer excitement. Asked what was the matter, Goethe said: The news coming from France are overwhelming; the world is in flames; something new is beginning to emerge. Soret, the friend to whom Goethe said these words, did of course think he was speaking of the 1830 revolutions. ‘No,’ said Goethe, ‘I am not talking about that but about the revolution which is taking place between the two scientists Cuvier and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire.’ 120 The talk between Goethe and Frédéric Jean Soret took place on 2 August 1830. Conflict between Etienne Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire and Georges Cuvier had started in February that year at the Paris Academy. Goethe had above all studied Saint-Hilaire’s writings, publishing a review entitled ‘Principes de Philosophic zoologique’ in 1830/32. In Goethe’s scientific writings. See note 10. Cuvier held the view that all life forms in the natural world exist side by side and each had to be taken on its own. Saint- Hilaire was looking for a common type in the organic forms, he set the whole of organic life in motion, so that one could only get an overview in this state of flux if one looked at nature itself in an immediately productive spirit, experiencing the spirit to be as much in flux as nature itself. Goethe sensed something in Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire that ultimately, when taken from seed to fruit, will be the supersensible concepts of natural phenomena which I characterized here the day before yesterday.
Initially, however, the world was overshadowed by everything that came with the other way of looking at nature, where the human being is taken out of any living, immediate relationship to the phenomena of nature. This approach, which has not been taken hold of by the impulse of which Goethe spoke, gives insight into the part of nature that is nonliving, into the dying element, where nature dissolves, and this is connected with the element that is mortal in us, as I characterized it the day before yesterday.
The study of nature from which Goethe turned away is such that it can only work with the gradual process of decay in nature. Efforts are then made to rise to something that cannot be shown by these means but only by supersensible vision, and those are the symptoms of ascent, of growth, of being born and thriving. But, though this does again sound paradoxical, this approach to nature, which really focuses on whatever is dead within living nature, cast its deep shadows on the whole of modern social life. Essentially it created a new universal impulse for humanity in more recent times, but this is a universal impulse against which the human being himself as an individual must rebel all the time, for it takes him out of nature, so that he must look for the real whole over and over again. The knowledge gained puts him outside. He needs to look for the real whole again in something other than the area in which he seeks such knowledge. The result is dualism in the way the human being relates to his environment and hence also in life. This natural science flows into modern industrial life which supports the whole of modern civilization; its influence is highly significant.
With the impulses we considered earlier, for instance the national impulse, we saw that old tradition was preserved and no new productive element introduced into life. With the riddle of the European east we see how a nation remarkably stimulated to be productive in the spirit ties itself up so that it truly cannot be productive, although it has the potential to be highly productive, truly tying itself up in the most extreme bonds of the old Byzantine Church community. Old things are thus preserved. We see how with the views from natural science that are poured out over modern humanity something universal is created, something universal which also does not consider anything the human being produces out of himself, but exactly the knowledge that is gained in cutting things off from himself, knowledge concerning decay in natural phenomena. This can also only be brought into civilization in the sphere of industry, with the natural element killed off.
Initially by not being productive in the old sense, humanity has been gaining the full conscious awareness which began to develop in the 15th century. Earlier, they maintained their connection with nature and the world at a subconscious level rather than in full conscious awareness. In addition to preservation of old things we see a process of educating the human race in more recent times which is given out of something new but nevertheless is along the lines of the old. The principles developed for industry' only seem to arise from productive ideas. For those productive ideas do not arise as independent green plants in the human soul — the supersensible, if it is to be sought, must arise as an independent plant in the human soul — -but from calm contemplation of objective natural phenomena.
We see how an event that has had a significant influence on more recent developments is particularly connected with this modern industry, for it is now becoming apparent that modern industry develops progressively in our times and that colonization also gains significance; for colonial and colonizing life is closely bound up with the element that enters into industry through natural science.
Let us now take a general view of what all these symptoms are more or less telling us. We see that anything which has come up as something new since the 15th century has not come from productive human nature. Looking at these things we find it necessary to take a wider view of historical evolution and to acknowledge — supersensible insight makes us acknowledge this — that there is not only ascent in this human life, not only what in abstract terms is usually called progress, but that ascending, sprouting and shooting life goes hand in hand with a descending life. Life is bound up with a principle that is all the time leading to death.
When we consider an individual human life, birth, growth and development are presented separately from dying and decay. But it only seems like that. When we consider life in the outside world, developments that have come particularly in more recent history show that dying, descending and ascending development are immediately next to one another and influence one another. We see that descending evolution, which is the evolution that takes historical death into itself, had great significance actually for the beginning of this more recent period in history which began in the 15th century, doing so initially for several centuries and right into our own time. The life of decay, of death, has greater significance than ascending, sprouting and shooting life. We see how the mind of modern man as it evolves is connected with the element in him which is mortal, and how he is able to sense that the element which drives him towards death is also the element that helps him to advance in knowledge. Whilst sprouting, shooting life lulls him as if in dreams, we can see that the spiritual soul is evolving from the more unconscious state of soul which humanity developed from the 8th century BC until the 15th century AD, and that it has influenced the history of more recent times. We see that there is need, for a first education towards developing this spiritual soul, that symptoms of decay, of dying life take effect particularly also in human civilization. We cannot understand more recent historical life unless we are able to develop the thought — in spite of all admiration, in spit of all the good will and recognition that has to be given for the great, tremendous achievement of modern industry, of modern national impulses — that descending life moving towards the death of historical evolution must be present in it all, and that an ascending, sprouting and shooting life must be born into this descending life.
This has caused people of more recent times who have insight to develop something we might call a pessimistic view of civilization. Thus Schopenhauer 121See note 33. looked at more recent historical developments. In spite of all the achievements they seemed rather trivial to him. The only thing Schopenhauer appreciated was anything that could be achieved in the minds of single individuals. Pessimists are themselves mere symptoms in recent historical development, but they have a feeling that the greatest and most significant element in that development which we are used to seeing as a characteristic of more recent historical evolution has been the death impulse entering into it.
What has been the consequence? Something we may call tragedy coming into the historical life of more recent times. Promotion of the impulses that we may consider to have been partly traditional and partly coming from natural scientific views is a matter of course. All this is such that we have to say to ourselves: We must encourage it, we must take it up, it is a necessity of our more recent history; human beings absolutely must make it part of developments in world history, but it must of necessity also lead to its own decline and death in everything that arises, that is achieved in this field. The tragedy is that something has to be encouraged and considered an achievement of which one knows that in creating it one is creating something that must at the same time also decay. We actually start the decay as we create it.
Anyone who thinks that the events arising in more recent historical development from the impulses I mentioned can stand on their own, is like someone who thinks a woman can give birth without conception, without the one principle being connected with the other. The element arising from those impulses presents as something one-sided that needs something to come from another side if it is to survive. Within itself there is only the power to die. Let us take everything that has come with modern industry and social relationships in more recent times, be they commercial or other kinds of connections. Let us take all this — on its own, seen in accord with its own impulse, it is infertile and always leads to its own death, I would say in rhythms. We have to realize that we need to look at it in such a way that we say: For the sake of something else, this dying element has to enter into our modern world as an achievement.
What is this something else? Well, we have seen that the strange thing I hinted at shows itself as we follow more recent history with its sequence of what we consider to be different symptoms. On the one hand we see the spiritual soul come into flower from the 15th century onwards, and this happens exactly because of the unproductive principle. On the other hand we have seen this spiritual soul grow great in that initially the stimulus for the productive element was withdrawn from its environs, so that it took its guidance from the principle that was all the time leading to a dying process in civilization. This has made the human being independent. The outside world does not stimulate something in us that has productive life but all the time something that bears the seed of the dying process in the insights gained. The human being grows up in his individual and conscious natural development in a way where the outside world does not raise him for life, nor to something that will take him higher, but is all the time preventing anything intended to take him higher. As a result, the human being stands by himself.
Looking at the situation purely in the light of supersensible insight, we see that this inner life of the human being, with the movement towards the spiritual soul from the 15th century onwards, also has something that corresponds to it on the outside. This could not emerge in the early centuries but shows itself immediately if without bias we consider the human heart and mind in the present time when it has once again gained an inclination towards a supersensible life. Many are, of course, still unconscious of this, but this inclination towards a supersensible life now exists for very many people. Someone working with the science of the spirit with an anthroposophical orientation knows that the principle of dying which developed in the outer material civilization of recent times was only of a passing nature and that we arc at a great turning point in time which will bring a new revelation of the supersensible to human beings from outside, this time not through nature but stimulated in the way I have shown when I spoke on anthroposophically orientated spiritual science.
We see it approaching everywhere, this new revelation of the supersensible. It will now be gained in a different way from earlier times when human beings were connected with nature unconsciously, through their instincts, finding in nature itself the principles that also held true for the soul and which they could also introduce into social and historical life. A productive, supersensible life will develop that goes beyond anything which this study of nature and the old impulses in more recent historical developments are able to give. It will be revealed from the world of the spirit. And if we look particularly at the terrible catastrophe that has arisen in our time — what is it, seen in the genuine light of truth, but something in which elements that are dying crowd together?
Much will die within this catastrophic life. Anything that has the principle of dying within it in the way I have characterized will die more quickly. No reason for pessimism, even if there is reason for pain with all the things that can come to us from watching and being involved in this catastrophe. There is no reason to be pessimistic about civilization if we consider life in the light of anthroposophically orientated spiritual science. For it is apparent now in one point in recent historical evolution around the globe that the dying process which otherwise is distributed across material life comes powerfully together. This gives more recent events their tragic note. At the same time it shows us that everything that comes into the world in the way I have characterized earlier must be fruitless and needs to be made fruitful with what we receive out of the supersensible.
Anyone who considers the principle which makes the development of the spiritual soul complete and the new revelations from the supersensible with an open mind will raise his head, however much it may be bowed down in pain over the things that are happening now, and say to himself: It is the first flush of dawn for something that must come and will trigger the impulse in humanity to turn towards the supersensible. All the suffering and pain over the present collapse would be in vain, and so would be all the feelings, the justifiable pain felt by those who see this collapse, if these feelings could not take us forward to the realization that as with everything in nature that is destined to die, so with this dying, too, something new is arising. However, the new development will only be possible if humanity has the will to take up the principle that will make things fruitful, a principle revealed to us from the supersensible world.
The spiritual soul has evolved. Nature must now no longer give us unconsciously the things we introduce into the world of social and historical development. Humanity of our time must now also consciously receive, willingly receive, the new kind of supersensible revelation that comes to the spiritual soul if this spiritual soul wills it. It is exactly when we consider the tragedy of modern life without prejudice that the redeeming impulse reveals itself on the other side. It reveals itself in that we feel the need to acknowledge the revelation of a new supersensible element which now also has to be there for the spiritual soul.
We thus see through the symptoms and perceive what humanity is going to be and what is to be revealed to humanity out of the universe. In Graeco-Latin times, which began in the 8th century before the Christian era and came to an end in the 15th century, the inner life was still bound up with outward physical life. This led to the great achievements of Greek and Roman times that were passed on to the Middle Ages. In the 15th century evolution took a great leap as the powers of conscious awareness began to evolve what we may call the spiritual soul. We are now in this stage of evolution. We see that for a true science of history human beings must take up the principles that are revealed behind the symptoms. We must have the courage to admit, however, that death is all around us as much as life, and that death is necessary so that new life may come. It has also been necessary for death to be overwhelming for a time, so that human beings might all the more develop the powers of the spiritual soul. When no more is given to us from outside, we feel the need to look inside for the spirit, the supersensible principle.
Some may of course object and say: Well, where are those people, how many of them are there? Not many have developed their powers of soul so that they are able to point to the supersensible world. We certainly have to admit that there are only few of them today. Their numbers will grow apace; but it is not a matter of how many find their way to the supersensible sphere which is needed to make the sensual fruitful. What matters is that one does not have to take the road to supersensible insight oneself, for, quite apart from how and for what you estimate the individual who provides the fruits of the supersensible, once they have been uttered, once they have been cast into human culture, they can be understood with the understanding that is perfectly common in the age of the spiritual soul. People can largely understand everything brought to them from the sphere of the supersensible, unless they create obstacles for themselves with prejudices which they then find insurmountable.
There is, however, one thing which is needed. Just consider that with the view of history I have outlined one finds it necessary to admit to oneself, in insight, as it were, and in full awareness, that what has to be done — what is a necessity of the age and will be a necessity more and more — is at the same time something that is all the time also dying. It does take some courage to acknowledge that one has to be active so that that active principle may perish and be the soil for the Father principle of the spiritual, supersensible sphere. It does need such courage for all supersensible insight. Fear of supersensible insight prevents many people from entering into it. There is one field at least where in more recent times we face the immediate necessity to develop such courage if we want to be at all considered for human development. This is the field of history. Those who know something of supersensible insight always speak of crossing the threshold, and of a guardian of the threshold. 122 See also Rudolf Steiner’s Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (GA 10); tr. G. Metaxa; Bristol: Rudolf Steiner Press 1993; chapter on the guardian of the threshold. They speak of crossing the threshold because one has to abandon many things that seemed to be absolutely solid ground before one crossed the threshold in finding one’s way into the supersensible world. Unconsciously people feel it is a relief not to have to cross the threshold. Yet something that had to be done at a particular time for historical development is becoming more and more of a necessity. And this is again part of the inner progress of historical development from the 15th century onwards. It is becoming more and more of a necessity to say to oneself: You are actively involved in the creation of processes of dying, processes of decay. You need to devote yourself to these processes of decay, and this will bring your inner power to life; it is exactly because of this that you will be able to come close to the supersensible. You must abandon what you used to consider a foundation in mind and spirit before, cross the threshold to the supersensible world, losing the ground under your feet, as it were. And in its place you must find within you the firm focal point where you can maintain yourself even in the face of what in sensual terms has no ground.
The human being needs to find a new focus for the whole of his inner life. Historical necessity will make us look for this focus more and more in future. The fact that we thus gain insight will not change things. We are, as it were, facing the process of dying — in the sense I mean here. The fact that we admit it is a dying process will not change it. But it is exactly by this that one must feel driven to try and fructify the living principle that is the counter force. For the situation is like this: Inscribed above the search for supersensible insights there has always been the great, tremendous demand: ‘Know yourself. 123Words of Solon or Chilon on the Apollo Temple at Delphi. And it is still the demand made on human beings who are seekers. Seeking to gain this insight today people can only do so by rising to worlds that can take them beyond finite existence. Above all, impelled by the necessities of human evolution, they will have to admit to themselves with regard to historical life in more recent times, that the spiritual soul is a goad that has been implanted with regard to more recent history, to know themselves more and more. In coming to know themselves, they are facing the necessity of going beyond themselves. In going beyond themselves, perceiving his supersensible nature within their sensual nature, they also come to the supersensible that is active in history, with external facts merely symbols for it. We will only have a history that is fruitful for life if we look for the supersensible behind the symptoms, just as we do behind the phenomena of nature.
The look we have taken at history has shown that more recent developments impose trials on human beings, the trial where they must consider descending as well as ascending life, involution as well as evolution. With supersensible insight into history people will find this gaining of insight to be a great trial for the soul for they must cross the threshold and find a new focus in the inner life of the soul, so that in having gone through the trial they will have the strength to go through the other trials that life will present more and more out of historical events as they move towards the future. We may say, however, that human beings only grow strong and robust and truly fit for life by going through trials. Fear of insight should not prevent people from entering into the trials. Instead, courage to gain insight should make them prepared to accept these trials. They will develop those trials on the road to insight into powers that will also guide them to be active human beings who are involved in evolution and fruitful in the course of history.
Questions and answers
Following the lecture given in Zurich on 17 October 1918
The suggestion has been made that 1 should briefly say something about one particular phenomenon in more recent history that is particularly relevant to human life, and that is the evolution of speech and language. This could, of course, be another whole lecture if I were to treat the subject exhaustively. I would, however, like to take up the suggestion, apart from anything else because I would indeed like to draw your attention to the fact that anthroposophically orientated spiritual science in the sense of which I have been speaking truly is such that it does not owe its existence to a sudden idea that came like a shot, nor is it made up of sudden flashes of insight. No, if you study the literature you’ll find that this anthroposophically orientated spiritual science gathers what it has to say from the whole breadth of observation, the whole range of phenomena in the world.
Of course, when one has to cover vast areas in an hour — and I am sorry that it always takes longer than this anyhow — the impression inevitably arises that one is moving in abstract regions; on the other hand the intention is not to convince anyone, but merely to encourage them to take this further, for then people will see that this science of the spirit is based on careful, conscientious and methodical investigation, serious research, more so than in any other kind of scientific endeavour.
It is interesting to consider the principles which I have been characterizing in general terms today in a single phenomenon such as the development of human speech and language. When we say anything today, we do not usually consider the fact that talking is actually at every moment forcing us to be inaccurate. Fritz Mauthner has written three volumes as well as a dictionary of philosophy to show that everything we produce in philosophy and science is based on language and that the language is imprecise. Because of this, he says, we can really never have a body of true knowledge. 124 Mauthner, F. Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache, 3 Bde, Stuttgart 1901-1903. Wörterbuch der Philosophy, see note 27.
Well, when it comes to the science of the spirit this is, of course, a foolish thing to say, even in three volumes. It is, however, significant to consider the partial phenomenon that lies behind this. Going back in the development of language we find — unlike the superficial anthropological linguistics where the means are inadequate — that the further back we go, human beings were progressively more closely connected with anything their speech expressed, inwardly so, and again instinctively and unconsciously. Human beings are gradually also separating from the things that lie in their own inherent nature, just as they are from the outside world of nature.
Thus they also cease to be so closely connected with their speech. Speech thus becomes something external. A marked dualism arises between the thoughts that live in us — and some do not even have them any more, because they remain in the sphere of language — and the words that are spoken. If we do not give ourselves to illusion at the point in human evolution where we are today, in the age of the spiritual soul, we need to take a real look at the way language has already separated from the human being. It is really only proper names relating to a single individual that are truly appropriate to that individual. As soon as we use general terms, be they adjectives, nouns, or whatever, they are imprecise about what they are meant to tell us. They are abstract, they are like generalities. We will only understand the relationship between language and human life rightly if we take it really as gesture; if we know: just as I point to something in a direct, living way when I point to it with my finger, so I also point in a kind of gesture at the entity to which the sounds of speech refer when I produce sounds, using my larynx. To take speech as gesture, this is what matters. In earlier times, people had a vague feeling, I would say it was instinctive and lay in the subconscious, as to how their inner life was connected with sound in a kind of gesture. They did not confuse their experiences in inner life with the things brought to expression in speech.
We ourselves have tried to develop endeavours in this direction in a field of spiritual science, using the element of gesture to make speech visible. This is in the art we call eurythmy. Efforts are made to get the whole human being moving, and express in gesture — in the movements of the limbs, movements of the human form in space, the movements in groups and relationships between individuals — what is otherwise expressed in gesture, though not perceived as gesture, through the human larynx and its neighbouring organs. We call this art of movement, something new which has to come to humanity, eurythmy. We had intended to follow this lecture here in Zurich with a eurythmy performance. This had to be put off for another time, for we were given permission to give these lectures, in what is now a difficult time, 125An influenza epidemic had led to a partial ban on gatherings. but not to give a eurythmy performance. The intention was to show how the whole human being becomes a larynx, as it were. In becoming aware of what speech is, we come to something that is particularly important, fundamentally important, for life in the present and future.
Nothing happens more frequently in human life today but that someone makes a statement of some kind, as I am doing with regard to the science of the spirit, for instance, and then someone else will come along and say: ‘I have read this before,’ showing you something which at least in parts has exactly the same wording. I could give you striking examples of this, but will give just one which I found illustrated the situation perfectly.
One thing I truly endeavour to do is to apply all the things that demand consideration in spiritual science to life and thus enter into the true impulses in life. For a long time I have thus been reflecting on the whole way of thinking, the whole attitude of thought, shown by Woodrow Wilson. 126See note 88. I found it interesting to study especially his essays on historical method, the study of history and American historical life. He plays such a major role in present-day life that one has to get to know him — this is what someone would say who does not want to sleep through current events but observe them with his senses wide awake. I have come to admire the magnificent way, truly apt in an American way, in which Woodrow Wilson presents the evolution of the American nation, this advance from the American east to the American west, with American life emerging in a quite specific way, that came only once people had advanced from east to west. Woodrow Wilson characteristically speaks of everything that went before as mere appendage to European life. This uprooting and overcoming of nature, overcoming the native population of the American west, this specific way of making history, which shows some similarity to what has happened in human life generally yet also differs in quite specific ways — this is magnificently presented. It is therefore also interesting to see how Woodrow Wilson develops his method of history.
I looked at the descriptions he gave of his own method of history and found something quite peculiar. Sentences come from this man, who is wholly and entirely American, that seemed to me to almost word for word in agreement with sentences written by a completely different person, someone who truly arose from an entirely different approach to life and way of thinking. Statements Woodrow Wilson made in his essay on the methodology for history that bore such excellent fruit for him, could be transposed word for word into essays by Herman Grimm, who is entirely within the Goethean development of our time, and out of this development presents as a truly Central European mind. We might say that you need only take sentences from Herman Grimm’s essays and transpose them, or include sentences by Woodrow Wilson in Herman Grimm’s essays, and you would not see any great difference in the wording.
What we learn from such things — to put it in ordinary words, though I want to say something highly significant in this way — is that when two people say the same thing, even using the same words, it is not the same. We have to learn from this that it is necessary to enter not only into the wording, which comes from speech, but the into whole person. This will reveal the specific differences between Herman Grimm and Woodrow Wilson. You will find that with Herman Grimm, every single sentence is worked out with the spiritual soul wholly present. The progression one finds in Herman Grimm’s spirited essay where he writes about historical method and the contemplation of history is truly such that one sees him progress from sentence to sentence through an inner struggle in his soul, so that nothing remains unconscious and everything is brought to conscious awareness. All the time one sees this inner progression in the soul. 127It has not been possible to establish exactly which essay this was. See notes 44 and 46, however.
Looking across at what we see in the case of Woodrow Wilson, we see how the statements arise from subconscious depths of the soul, as though out of the human being as such rather than inner activity. I don’t mean anything bad by this, but I would like to say, if I may be paradoxical about it, that with Herman Grimm I always feel that in the region of wholly conscious inner life, all the life of the soul proceeds as statement follows statement; with Woodrow Wilson I feel he is as if possessed by something that lies within himself and lets his own truths shine up in his own inner life. As I said, I do not mean anything sympathetic or antipathetic by this, merely something I want to characterize. It is given to him from the depths of his own soul. So we find, and it is truly evident, that even if the wording is the same, two people are saying the same thing yet it is not the same. We only discover what lies behind it if we learn to go not by the wording but by what arises from the whole way the person presents himself in life.
You see, modern humanity must learn to overcome the general habit of judging anything that is presented only on its content. We will have to learn that the content is not really what matters. When I speak about the science of the spirit, I do not focus on the way I formulate my sentences, on the content, but what matters is that something which has truly been projected from the supersensible world flows into what I say. Considering the How more important than the What, so that one can sense, or feel, that these things are said out of the supersensible world. This is what matters.
This is how we must altogether learn in a way in the present time in contrast to ordinary life. A paper, or a journal, may say the nicest things — people can say the most beautiful things today, for ‘beautiful ideas’ and ‘nice things’ are commonplace today — but it is not the words which matter but the inner attitude from which they arise, so that we look through the statements and the words to symptoms, to the human being. We need to penetrate language and wording as if they were a veil and thus come closer to the human being himself again. We are made aware of this in more recent developments in language, for here the human being’s inmost nature, his spiritual soul, has become separate from speech and language. Out of ourselves, therefore, the necessity arises to consider not just the words, but see through them to the human soul, doing so in every possible direction and way.
It will, however, be necessary to overcome something else if one wants to go on in this direction. People are still used to abstract notions today, to going by the immediate content in what I might call an uninspired, middle-class way. When someone speaks of an ideal, however beautifully formulated, we need to be aware that this is something that is a hundred a penny today, for the ideas have been given form. You can put all kinds of ideas to people and nations today, and they will be formed. It will depend on where they come from, where they truly arise in the inmost soul, in the soul region. Life will be tremendously enriched if we are in a position to see it like this.
Perhaps I may also be permitted to say something personal. You see I am often presented with people’s poetical productions. All kinds of people produce them nowadays. Among them are some that are perfect in form, beautifully expressing something or other, and others that seem awkwardly phrased, bumpy or indeed primitive, having problems with the language. Someone taking a point of view that is not yet modern will of course delight in the beauty of the language, especially if the forms are perfect. He will not — not yet today — feel that Emanuel Geibel 128 Geibel, Emanuel (1815–1884), German poet and dramatist. was right in saying that his verses would have a public for as long as there were young girls. They are beautiful, polished, and will have a public even among those who believe Wildenbnich 129Wildenbruch, Ernst von (1845–1909), German writer and dramatist, wrote patriotic poems during the Hohenzollem empire. or similar people to be poets — and there are many of these as well.
Today, however, a different view is taken. This is also the case with other arts, but I am here talking about language. There are poets today whose verses make us stumble; you may have problems with the awkward words, but there is a new impulse in them. This is something we must feel! We must be able to see through the veil of the language and see the inner superficiality reflected in polished verse. For polished poems, beautiful poems, much more beautiful than Goethe’s poems, are a hundred a penny today; there it is the language itself which is producing the poetry. But a new inner life springing directly from the source of all life — this is something one must look for. It sometimes comes to expression exactly by having to battle with the language, so that we might say it has only got as far as being a stammer. Such ‘stammers’ may, however, be preferable for us to something that is perfect in itself but only reflects superficiality of soul. There was an occasion where I was given some verses. We needed verses, because we had to make a translation from another language. Very beautiful verses. I grew angry about them and wrote bad verse myself. I am aware that as poetry they are much poorer in quality. I knew, however, that in that case it was a necessity to express what needed to be expressed in a language that may perhaps seem rough and bumpy if one was drawing on the source spring of life that had to be sought in that case. I certainly do not overestimate what I undertook to do; but I also do not overestimate the polished verse I was given at the time.
The human being seeking through speech and language in the age of the spiritual soul — this is something which becomes life practice when we truly consider the life of language. Today I have therefore also tried to speak in a way where I did not deal with spiritual science in every sentence, always wanting to prove the supersensible, and instead tried to put this into the How of looking at history. And I think this is also the important thing, that one does not only call someone a true spiritual scientist whose every fifth word is ‘spirit’ and ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual world’, believing in the suggestive effect of this, but someone who shows in the way he looks at the world, even in completely outer terms, by the way in which he presents things, that the inner guide, who takes us from thought to thought, from view to view, from impulse to impulse — that this guide is the spirit. If it is the spirit we need not keep on chirping the word all the time.
Here you can see how one can substantiate in speech and language something which I might also present in an extensive lecture.