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Nature and Our Ideals
GA 30

Nature and our Ideals

In your philosophical poem “Nature” — so rich in thoughts — you have given expression to the basic mood asserting itself in modern man. This mood arises when he permits himself to be influenced by certain ideas about nature and spirit extant in our time and if he has a depth of feeling sufficient to make him recognize the discord between those ideas and the ideals of his heart and mind. Indeed those times are gone when a thoughtless, shallow optimism, relying on the belief that we are children of god, distracted man from perceiving the discord of nature and spirit. Those times are gone when it was possible to be so superficial as to lightheartedly look away from the thousands of wounds from which the world is bleeding. Our ideals are no longer superficial enough to be satisfied by a reality so often shallow and empty.

Yet, I cannot believe that it is impossible to find a means of elevating oneself above the deep pessimism that stems from such a recognition. Such an elevation becomes possible when I look into the world of our inner being, when I approach the essence of our world of ideals: a world complete and perfect in itself, which cannot gain, cannot lose anything through the ephemeral nature of outer things. Are not our ideals, — if they are truly living entities (individualities) — beings existing in themselves, independent of the favors and disfavors of nature? May the lovely rose be defoliated by the merciless thrusts of the wind, — it has fulfilled its mission, for it has brought joy to a hundred human eyes. May it please murderous nature tomorrow to destroy the entire starry heavens: through millennia men have looked up to it with reverence, and this suffices! No! Not the transient existence, but the inner essence makes them perfect. The ideals of our spirit comprise a self-sufficient world that must live out its own life and cannot gain anything through the cooperation of a beneficent nature.

What a pitiful creature man would be if he were not able to gain satisfaction within his own world of ideals, but instead, would first need the cooperation of nature? What would become of divine freedom if nature, keeping us in a harness, guiding us, were to tend us and care for us like little children? No! She must deny everything, so that if good fortune comes to us it would be the product of our own free self. May nature destroy every day what we are building, so that every day we may look forward joyfully to creating anew — we don't want to owe anything to nature, but everything to ourselves.

This freedom — one might say — is but a mere dream! While we deem ourselves free, we are heeding the iron necessity of nature. The most exalted thoughts are nothing other than the result of nature acting blindly within us.

Oh, we should finally admit, that a being that knows itself (or: knowing itself) cannot be unfree. By investigating the eternal laws of nature we are separating out of it the substance which lies at the foundation of its manifestations. We see the fabric of laws ruling over the objects of nature, and that brings about necessity. In our cognition we possess the power to detach the lawfulness out of the objects of nature. Should we be will-less slaves of these laws nevertheless? The objects of nature are unfree because they cannot recognize these laws; they are governed by them without knowing of them. Who should force them on us, since we penetrate them with our reasoning? A being that knows cannot be unfree. Such a being first transforms what is law into ideals, and then accepts them as self-given laws.

We should finally admit that the god — imagined by effete humanity to dwell in the clouds — lives in our hearts, in our spirit. He fully divested himself of his being and poured it out completely over mankind. He did not want to retain anything of his own will because he wanted mankind to be a race that rules itself in full freedom. He emanated into the world. Man's will is his will, man's goals, his goals. By implanting into mankind an (entire being-ness) he gave up an existence of his own. A “god in history” does not exist. He ceased to be for the sake of the freedom of mankind, for the divine-ness of the world. We have taken into ourselves the highest potency of existence, therefore no external power, only our own creations can give us satisfactions. All lamenting about an existence that does not satisfy us, about this hard world, must vanish in the presence of the thought, that no power in the world could satisfy us if we ourselves did not bestow upon it the magic power through which it can gladden and elevate us. If a god from outside our world were to bring us the joys of heaven and we had to take them as he prepared them, without our participation, we would have to refuse, because they would be the joys devoid of freedom.

We have no right to expect satisfaction from powers outside of us. Faith promised us reconciliation with the evils of this world, brought about by a god from outside this world. Such faith is in the process of fading away, a time will come when it will not exist anymore. But that time will come when mankind will not have to hope anymore for a redemption from outside, because mankind will recognize that it must bring about its own bliss, just as it afflicted deep wounds upon itself.

Mankind is the guide of its own destiny. Even the achievements of modern natural science cannot convince us otherwise. These achievements were acquired through conceptions of the outer side of things, while cognizance of our own world of ideals is attained through penetration of the inner depth of the matter.

Since you, admired poetess, have been applying such vigorous pressure to the sphere of philosophy you might not be disinclined to hear what it has to say in response; and with this

I am very respectfully yours,
Rudolf Steiner