The Problems of Our Time
12 September 1919, Berlin
My dear friends,
Speaking to you here for the first time in these rooms on an Anthroposophical subject, I feel I must express gratitude first of all-gratitude to those friends who, in my unavoidable absence, have devoted themselves to the arrangement of these rooms, which are to be used for our work and discussions. At the present time man's soul is of, necessity involved in great and far-reaching events of world and human development. So strong is their demand upon our will and energy if we would understand our place as man within world-history, that we cannot as in earlier, more peaceful times, attend with so great care to such outward things of beauty as the arrangement of a place devoted to ideal spiritual aims, so devoted that men can work towards them together, co-operating as in social life. Rightly seen, there is a certain connection between the recent great events throbbing through the world and such a dedication. The vital claims of the historical development of mankind demand that what men have hitherto sought in the form of beauty, artistic adornment for their personal life, should be transferred from that egoistic realm and centred more and more where separateness gives way to social co-operation. It would argue a very poor understanding of the future if we judged it by what appear today as aims. The social movements of the present do, of course, wear a “democratic” look, but we need only observe their transitory nature in the right light to make no mistake as to their character. Yet these social movements contain a hint of menace lest the beautiful, which runs through our earthly civilization as artistic quality, may not find in the future the same comprehension as in the past, when only the better-endowed classes could devote themselves to its culture.
A time of transition may result in some dimming of the appreciation of beauty, but it is essential, if a really social kind of living is to come into being, that whatever occurs in space and time should tend to encourage appreciation of the beautiful: otherwise mankind will sink into mere philistinism. So the simple beauty of these rooms, which our friends have tried to make appropriate to the serious things of life to be fostered here, may be taken as symbolical of the great events throbbing through our time. Out of such feelings I speak, as from you all, to thank our friends most heartily for the work which they have accomplished in this time of stress. It would, further, be wrong to assume that the future will so develop that personality and all that has its origin in the personal and individual will diminish in value by reason of what men call the “objective events.” That will not be the case. The three or four centuries ending with the nineteenth have made it seem justifiable, in the general evolution of mankind, to regard man as a “cog” in the world-machine. The task of the immediate future will be for man to work himself out of this world-mechanism.
We may say without hesitation that the great movement of the present day displays a thoroughly egoistic character. It is true, its aim is Socialism — but its basis is that of anti-social impulses and instincts. No mistake should be made. We see that the real reason in striving for Socialism is that men have become so anti-social in development and constitution of soul. If the social sense were more natural and obvious, fewer socialist “programmes” would be formed; they have been largely evoked by anti-social feeling and experience. In times like the present, filled with bewilderment, in which the basic cause, of social feeling is egoistic and anti-social, the moment comes when an immense impression is made by the sight of a noble, selfless devotion to an ideal, through genuine, unselfish human feeling. It was well if, in these serious times, we did not hold outward festival, but turned our thoughts to this — how valuable it is, amongst the vehement, egoistic strivings of our times, to find the opportunity to create, as has been done here, something for the furtherance of an ideal, spiritual task, even if it be on a small scale. So the highest festival we can hold is to consider subjects connected with the seriousness of the present time, drawing that seriousness into our souls, as well as fostering in our hearts thoughts deeply concerned with human evolution, thoughts of worth and value in the tasks to which these rooms are dedicated.
Looking at our own time critically, yet not captiously, we should be dishonest if we shut our eyes to the many forces of decline prevalent in all spheres of life. If with due earnestness we consider the present day, we cannot forget how frequently what is present in, consciousness and finds expression in the spoken word stands far apart from truth and reality. Indeed, any feeling for the gulf yawning between words and the truth is lost in many of our contemporaries and in place of the elementary flow of truth out of the human soul we have the catchword, the “slogan!” What is the characteristic of a “catchword?” The lack of connection of the word used with the inner fount of truth. We need only look at the expressions of universal untruth which have been prevalent in the world during the last four, five, or six years, to be convinced that the estrangement of the world from genuine reality has led to the “empty phrase” and, if uncountered, it will become more dominant. Nor is there anything, outside of this growth of “the phrase,” which has flourished so much in the present age, as indulgence in face of untruth, as a definite bias towards falsity. Nowadays we can find plenty of people forbearing enough to make excuses for the “catch-saying” with its absence of truth. These “tolerant” talkers always ask: “How did the person mean this? Had he not the best intentions? Did he not think he was actuated by the best of motives?” And how little there is of the conscientious regard for truth which lays the duty on a speaker to test the ground of his assertion before he makes it! The time must, come when it will not be enough to say of a man “he meant well” when he has given expression to an untruth. Rather when men will feel the deepest responsibility for testing truth, when even in good faith to have said something which does not correspond with facts will not excuse it, when a man will realize that subjective belief in the truth of what he says matters nothing to the objective knowledge of the world. It does matter whether his speech corresponds to facts or not, is true, or is not, in the objective sense. The very seriousness of our times demands that we should learn what phrases and catchwords really are.
Nowadays many people feel, although not altogether consciously, that we may hold any view if it is agreeable to us, a belief easily to be studied in the attitude they adopt towards current events. We have passed through a serious period, but men only judge of it as is agreeable to them, not according to its importance for the general development of humanity. We have seen some of our contemporaries, in the centre of the stage during the happenings of the last four or five years, thrust forwards into the first place in dealing with them. These men — their destiny has overtaken them — but how little are we inclined to acquire an objective judgment of what has really happened, or to ask by what method of selection, in these critical times, our leading men have been raised to their dominant position to the detriment of mankind! Nothing is so essential today as to work our own way through all subjective opinions and reach some sort of objectivity with regard to these things. An idea is prevalent that it is easy to speak the truth. Far from it: truth has many enemies and to speak it brings swift retribution on a man, since it is taken amiss in all sorts of ways.
During the last few months I have often been told that what I have put forward on the subject of the social question is so hard to understand as to be incomprehensible, and I have had to assert over and over again that to grasp this social impulse requires a different frame of mind from that which has predominated in mid-Europe for a long time, coming to a climax within the last four or five years. In these recent years people managed to grasp a good deal which I honestly could not grasp. All sorts of statements, elegantly set forth, have been made and people have taken them in. They could not have done that if they had possessed, a straightforward sense of truth — yet, they did it “to order,” everything “commanded by headquarters” was received. today the essential things are not to be so acquired, out of “obedience,” but through man's own freedom of soul. Men must first regain that quality: the last four or five years have made that plain. In face of the delusions men have grown accustomed to during these last years, it is no pleasant duty to speak the truth now, for truth is so serious a matter and people resent it so deeply.
In time to come our age will be envisaged in a quite peculiar way. Men's present duties differ from those of the immediate past. Therefore, we ought to get some idea how future ages will look at today's events.
Men must learn to turn their eyes, their spiritual gaze, to the great and revolutionary impulses occurring in the earthly path of development. One such change took place in the middle of the fifteenth century A.D. According to Anthroposophical Spiritual Science, it is the beginning of the fifth postAtlantean epoch, which we know bears an entirely different character from the earlier Graeco-Latin one, which began in the eighth century B.C. The “fable convenue” usually called “history” gives no information regarding the vast difference in the qualities of the human soul in, for instance, the tenth century, and the centuries following the fifteenth. New soul-qualities and attitudes arose in humanity and we can really only understand what has entered its evolution if we turn our spiritual vision to the forces active within it and see, for instance, their effects in the revolution which occurred in the middle of the fifteenth century. Some time has passed since then, and we are now approaching the crisis due to what swept over civilized mankind at that point and has developed up to the present time — this critical moment, when man's full consciousness must be brought to bear upon it.
We have reached a time when man must awake to the consciousness that, as man, he has his position within the Earth's history, and that outside of him are the three natural kingdoms, the animal, plant and mineral. (We shall speak later of how this awakening is to be achieved.) To speak of this fact expresses only a half-truth from the standpoint of our modern consciousness, the consciousness, that is, of the fifth post Atlantean epoch. Before that epoch people could still speak of the three kingdoms as outside of themselves, because their view of the kingdoms of nature was essentially different. In earlier times people understood them as being spiritually controlled. Modern man has lost that; he must regain the consciousness in which he looks at the three kingdoms, knowing that, as he is related downwards to them, so he is related upwards to the three kingdoms of the Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai. The half-truth becomes a whole truth when so completed, when we can look up to the realm of these three spiritual kingdoms. Our physical body has a relation to the three natural kingdoms, our soul-spiritual to what lives in the three Hierarchies; and while we change on the one side our relation to the three kingdoms of nature, so also, we alter our relation to the three kingdoms of Hierarchies which stand above us. I want to draw your attention today to this important fact in human evolution, for by holding fast to this thought we can best celebrate the inauguration of this Branch.
If we look back to earlier epochs, which culminated in the middle of the fifteenth century, we must say, if we still keep in view the higher Hierarchies: the Beings belonging to the Angels, Archangels and Archai have always occupied themselves with man in so far as he goes through his existence between death and a new birth, but have also been occupied and concerned with him in so far as he goes through his existence here upon earth. In our age, however, this preoccupation with mankind has in a certain sense come to a conclusion. Among the many activities belonging to the beings of these three Hierarchies is this: to work together upon the pattern, or picture, which underlies the physical organization of earthly man. We enter physical existence, at birth and grow therein: the pattern or image of humanity is stamped upon us.
In the primal times of human evolution this picture was quite different and it has passed through many changes. We need only call to mind what appears when we look back into the Atlantean period or even into the Egyptian: men were different even in their outer structure. The pattern of humanity has altered and it was the task of these three Hierarchies to work at it, giving it first the form it had in Lemurian times, then the form for the Atlantean, and lastly that of the post Atlantean age. The Beings of these higher Hierarchies gradually came to the point where, through transformation of older forms, they brought forth the model which today underlies the form of man.
Then is to be observed the peculiar fact, shown by true spiritual observation that, with the actual working out of this human model, the Beings of these three Hierarchies have essentially finished their task in our age. This picture of mankind, in so far as it underlies the physical organization of man, is really completed. Let this significant fact work on you — the Beings of the Hierarchy of Angeloi, Archangeloi and Archai have worked for thousands and thousands of years at the accomplishment of a picture as the basis on which man's physical organization has been achieved; and we live in the age in which these Beings of the higher Hierarchies say: we have laboured at the human picture, but we have finished; we have set man as physical man into this earthly world, and this part of our task is now completed.
If we survey this fact in spiritual vision, we shall feel with terrifying force that in these times the interest of the Beings of these three higher Hierarchies has not only waned — it has vanished as far as the production of the physical picture of man is concerned. Looking back into the Graeco-Latin age, we find that they had a lively interest in the bringingforth of the picture of humanity on Earth. today they really have no further interest in it. They feel that they have finished their task and their interest from that point of view has disappeared. Men might see this as a very important fact, piercing deeply' into human nature, if they would only take time and trouble to observe even the outer facts of human evolution. In earlier times, as we can see from what has been handed down to us so that we are able to judge of it, certain thoughts rose up in people instinctively. Those in whom this happened we call “geniuses.” today at best we “believe” that such thoughts arise in some men. There is little “genius” on Earth now, for the forces of genius no longer arise from the bodily organization because the Beings of the three higher Hierarchies no longer work on it. They have lost their interest in the bodily formation of man.
It is because modern man is complete, with reference to the formation of his body, that he is in a certain respect so arrogant. There will be no further perfecting of the physical earthly form as man passes through the remainder of our Earth-evolution; the body itself can contribute nothing more to its own perfection. What had arisen in earlier times as instinctive originality and genius in man's soul had come from the body; at the same time, because it was the work of divine beings, it had an organizing power on the body. Homer's poems, for instance, possessed an organizing force which formed the Greek body. That which arose, with such concrete force, possessed at the same time a body-building power. What we moderns proudly exhibit as our “laws of nature” are in the main abstractions and have no formative force at all. We construct abstract thoughts, unable to govern social life, and abstract “laws of nature,” because the Beings of the higher Hierarchies no longer work upon us and we have no organizing thoughts arising within us. The being of our soul has become abstract, dwelling in us in such a way that, through the body itself, it is forsaken by the activity of the beings of the three higher Hierarchies.
The important thing now is to seek afresh, from ourselves outwards, the connection with the activity of these Beings. Hitherto they have approached us; they have worked on us. Now we must work for ourselves on the soul-spiritual that is in us. The result of that work, what we unveil out of the spiritual world through spiritual investigation, will become something in our human soul which will restore the interest of the Beings of the three higher Hierarchies. They will be in the thoughts and feelings belonging to us, which we acquire out of the spiritual world. In this way we shall once again link our own being to that of the higher Hierarchies.
So important is what is happening in our time that we must describe it as “a change in the attitude of the divine world to the human world.” Till now divine Beings have worked at the perfecting of the physical picture of humanity; man must now begin to work from his own soul-content, in order to find the way back to the higher Hierarchies. The difficulty of our time is that men are so proud of their external picture of a body, which has now reached its completion, and develop thoughts independently of the picture, thoughts having no connection with the spiritual world. Our real task, thus made so much the more difficult, is to seek this connection from out of ourselves, through devotion to spiritual knowledge, sensitiveness to it, and a will obedient to it. We can only acquire a right attitude to our times if we have felt and experienced this great revolution, which, of course, lasts through centuries. Outer observations will not help, us to this attitude; today we must have the possibility of achieving it by an inner work on our own being. We have entered the period of the Consciousness Soul, and have passed out of that of the Intellectual Soul — which was the Graeco-Latin age. The Consciousness Soul must develop more and more in such a way that the Beings of the higher Hierarchies no longer work into man, for that would darken man's consciousness — but that he may consciously raise himself to them. Man's full clear day-consciousness is established when he works his way upward to the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. Spiritual Science is the beginning of such work, for it has not sprung from any arbitrary choice or caprice, but from the recognition of this revolution in our time.
But man must consciously develop many other things as well. He has always had to live according to karma, the great law of destiny; but he has not always possessed a knowledge of it. How amazing it was when, in Lessing's Education of the Human Race, the consciousness of repeated Earth-lives sprang forth from the new spiritual evolution! We are at the beginning of a time of change in man's relationship to his fellows — that is changed, even as is his relationship to the Beings of the three higher Hierarchies. The way in which human life was nurtured in the past does indeed extend into our own, time; but we would fail in our, duty to the present if we did not emphasize that new relations between human beings must now enter. It was of no moment in earlier times, when the duty was not yet laid upon man to develop consciousness embracing previous Earth-lives, that he should have, in contact with his fellows, no realization that they stood before him as souls which had lived in the spiritual world before birth, and before that in another Earth-life. Now it is of moment — the time is beginning when we may not leave this out of consideration. I will show this in a concrete case.
Among the things we have tried to set up as a part of the life of human society, is a school based on a real new spirit of humanity, the Waldorf School, in the first instance connected with the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory. The opening ceremony took place last Sunday, 7th September 1919, preceded by a course for teachers which I ventured to hold. The important thing was to establish a pedagogy, an art of teaching and education which would take into account the fact that in a child a soul is growing, which has been through other earth-lives. Hitherto the teacher, however advanced in educational ideas, has felt no more than that he was dealing with the soul of a child, whose capacities it was his duty to develop, but he could only, more or less, take note of what could be perceived through the bodily nature. That will not be enough for the teacher of the future. He will need a fine feeling for what is developing in the growing child as a result of earlier earth-lives, and this comprehension will be the great achievement in the education of the future. A social attitude must be created, built up upon a spiritual relation to other men in the consciousness that when a fellow-man stands before us, we have to deal with a soul which has been through a previous incarnation. To hold the theory, of repeated earth-lives, based on intellectual philosophy, is not enough. The theory must become so practical that it forms the foundation of something like a real art of teaching and education. That is what first gives theory a living quality. It is natural that there is as yet very little willingness to receive such things and that the spiritual attitude of men who do realize the need of the times should be looked at askance. Further, it is necessary not merely to converse in terms of some sort of spiritual view of the world, but to establish institutions concretely and in the full light of knowledge, not only to profess some formula but to carry this knowledge right into the lives of men. Then that attitude will make itself evident as the foundation for a new pedagogy; the old times and the new meet in that phrase.
I have taken the trouble to find out a great deal about what is demanded in education on various sides. To give but one example: the question is often raised whether education should be more “formal” (classical) or “technical.” Should teaching be directed to fitting a pupil for this or that calling, so that he may be suited to serve the State or conduct other business; or should it aim at calling forth in him the common being of man and “developing what is universal in a humanistic sense?” All the arguments on the question are: simply words, words, because fundamentally what is said and what is the inwardly grasped truth have no correspondence at all. Is a man, then, anything but what he grows into? How is it, for instance, that men who follow certain callings in public life are fitted for them? It is due to the work of bygone generations; the public life of today is only the result of what they brought into being. How about the earlier teachers — did they educate “technically” not “formally?” Certainly not the latter. But it is all one and the same thing! Men dispute over things that are not really different. What is really important is this: that in the children of today we have the tendencies which will grow in the next generation and the one after that — which means that education is prophetic. “Technical” or “humanist” education are mere words. What matters is that we should educate prophetically, foreseeing the task of the next generation. That does concern the world, urgently.
“So difficult to understand,” people comment on all this! They must take the trouble to understand it, however, otherwise they will more and more fall out of the general evolution of the time — a momentous alternative, indeed! We must become conscious, in the most serious meaning of the word, of two necessities — first, the discovery of our connection with the activity of the Beings of the higher Hierarchies, and second, the establishment of a new relationship of man to man in the educational sphere. No longer must we contemplate mankind as simply the personalities standing before us, but as souls which have come over from earlier earth-conditions. We must keep that fact in our consciousness, but it is important to find a concrete relationship to the Spirit. Certainly what we know of karma, of repeated earth-lives and the constitution of man is a theoretic view of the world and mere theory will not carry us very far. Only when this theoretic view becomes “Life” is it what man needs for the immediate future — truths concerning the relation of man to the higher Hierarchies and about karma. A third thing may be added.
From my description in Knowledge of Higher Worlds you know that man, when he wishes to look into the spiritual world, must in some way pass through the experience, we call “the crossing of the Threshold.” It is described there by drawing attention to three forces of soul (or mind) in man, thinking, feeling and willing, and showing how the three, which in physical life work chaotically into each other, become ordered and self-dependent. This is the result of passing over the Threshold. In many ways the life-course of human evolution corresponds to that of the individual man, but not completely. This, the crossing of the Threshold, which a man must experience consciously if he wants to reach vision in the spiritual worlds, will be experienced unconsciously by the whole of humanity in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch. They have no choice, they go through it unconsciously — humanity, not the individual, but humanity in, general, and the individual together with the totality of human beings. What does that imply?
What now acts in man unitedly in thinking, feeling and willing, in the future will take on a separable character, and will assert itself in various fields. Man is just at the stage of passing unconsciously through a very significant gateway, easily perceived by the forces of seership. When a man goes through, this “crossing of the Threshold,” the spheres of thinking, feeling and willing fall apart. This imposes on us the obligation to shape the forms of external existence so that this revolution in our inner life may be carried through the external life as well. Since thought, feeling, and will, are to be more independent in the life of man, we must provide a basis on which that independence can be built up healthily. What has hitherto interacted chaotically in public life must be divided into three separate fields, those of economic life, political or juridical life, and the cultural or spiritual life. This demand for the “Threefold Order” is connected with the secret of man's development in this age.
Do not imagine that what is to become effective as the Threefold Social Order is a capricious, invention. It is born from the most intimate knowledge of human evolution, of what must come to pass if the aim of this evolution is not to be belied. The difficulty of finding an aim of a spiritual kind, of even admitting such aims, is one of the reasons for our having been involved in the terrible worldcatastrophe of the last few years. From this chaos we must work our way out; the course of human evolution itself dictates that. For this reason, I think that the necessity for the Threefold Order will only be thoroughly recognized by those who start from an anthroposophical attitude, from knowledge of what is actually happening in human evolution. As yet there is no disposition to recognize such facts. Men like to attend to the problem immediately before them, to avoid involving themselves in aims of the deeper questions of existence.
This, it is which weighs so heavily on the heart of a man who can see into these secrets — humanity is little disposed to heed what is most necessary for it. Yet it is impossible to wish to remain stationary in the forms of ideas already expressed. We may say that all pessimism is wrong; but it does not, therefore, follow that all optimism must be right. But it is right to appeal to the will. It is not a question of whether a thing happens this way or that, but that we use our forces of will in that direction where lies the true course of human evolution. Over and over again we must impress upon ourselves that; the old era is done with and that to reach a proper relation to the present we must close our account with the past. The new era will not allow us to reckon with it otherwise than spiritually. We dare not deceive ourselves into thinking it possible to carry over into the new what has been dear to us in the old; we must begin by turning to active new thoughts in outer life. Two paths stretch before mankind. One leads through the “mechanization” of the spirit; very mechanical has the spirit become, especially as abstract “Laws of Nature,” which man has also carried over as laws governing social life. Mechanization of the spirit and “vegetization” of the soul. The plant-world sleeps; the human soul, too, tends to sleep. The most important events of the last years have literally been “slept through.” And the same thing is true of the important occurrences of today.
In Central Europe men have accepted the falsehoods told them from day to day about leading personalities in the world, and the same thing is being carried on now without their noticing it. They study the rate of exchange and find that the mark has fallen to 2.15 centimes, but I have not yet met anyone who sees the connection of the fall in the mark with other obvious events. Three syllables — I can only hint at them — would give the reason for the fall in the mark; but men's souls prefer to sleep, to sleep so soundly that in mid-Europe great disappointment has come over what we looked forward to with joyful anticipation. We were to have “double intelligence” in particular elections, because women were to take part in them. Then we had the “National Assembly”; but the intelligence, as compared with the old Reichstag, was not double. We have seen the old parties continuing in existence at a time when they should have vanished, root and branch — and men have no inkling of what has happened, for their souls are asleep. Mechanization of the spirit, and souls as much awake as a cabbage [Vegetarisierung der Seelen]!
Look eastward. There we, see the active beginning of the “animalization” of bodies. The world of spirit is becoming mechanized in the American mechanical atmosphere, bodies are becoming animalized in the Bolshevism of the East. Criticism out of the emotions, comments on this and that; but what true life is, men will not grasp.
So humanity has its choice today — to go along the path which leads to mechanization of the spirit, plant-like sleep of the soul, and animalization of the body. Or to seek, on the other hand, to discover the way to the re-awakening of the spirit through the impulses corresponding to the age of the consciousness soul; to find the re-awakening of the spirit in the connection between the human soul and the activity of the higher Hierarchies, in the recognition of the fact that the soul comes forth from earlier earth-conditions, in the threefold ordering of social life. These things are all intimately bound up with each other. Those who are united in the movement we know as Anthroposophical Spiritual Science should feel themselves as a centre from which may radiate the force for this new social edifice. Much that comes from other sides for the reorganization of social life may be useful, but it must be worked on, for only spiritual impulses can bring genuine social transformation. The best understanding of these conditions should be expected from circles belonging to this Movement.
I have put before you some of the important things which may give you an idea of the necessities of our present age. I speak in these new rooms with the wish that in our work here we may always retain the consciousness of these truths, so important for human evolution. The more we carry such a consciousness into our anthroposophic work, the deeper is its consecration. And these rooms will be best consecrated through our feelings and perceptions, drawn forth from such deep sources of reality and truth.