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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Cosmic Memory
GA 11


Rudolf Steiner: The Man and His Work

Rudolf Steiner is one of those figures who appear at critical moments in human history, and whose contribution places them in the vanguard of the progress of mankind.

Born in Austria in 1861, educated at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, where he specialized in the study of mathematics and science, Steiner received recognition as a scholar when he was invited to edit the well-known Kurschner edition of the natural scientific writings of Goethe. Already in 1886 at the age of twenty-five, he had shown his comprehensive grasp of the deeper implications of Goethe's way of thinking by writing his Grundlinien einer Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung (Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's Conception of the World). Four years later he was called to join the group of eminent scholars in residence at Weimar, where he worked with them at the Goethe-Schiller Archives for some years. A further result of these activities was the writing of his Goethes Weltanschauung (Goethe's Conception of the World) which, together with his introductions and commentary on Goethe's scientific writings, established Steiner as one of the outstanding exponents of Goethe's methodology.

In these years Steiner came into the circle of those around the aged Nietzsche. Out of the profound impression which this experience made upon him, he wrote his Friedrich Nietzsche, Ein Kampfer gegen seine Zeit (Friedrich Nietzsche, a Fighter Against his Time), published in 1895. This work evaluates the achievements of the great philosopher against the background of his tragic life-experience on the one hand, and the spirit of the nineteenth century on the other.

In 1891 Steiner received his Ph.D. at the University of Rostock. His thesis dealt with the scientific teaching of Fichte, and is further evidence of Steiner's ability to evaluate the work of men whose influence has gone far to shape the thinking of the modern world. In somewhat enlarged form, this thesis appeared under the title, Wahrheit und Wissenschaft (Truth and Science), as the preface to Steiner's chief philosophical work, Die Philosophie der Freiheit, 1894. Later he suggested The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity as the title of the English translation of this book.

At about this time Steiner began his work as a lecturer. This activity was eventually to occupy the major portion of his time and was to take him on repeated lecture tours throughout Western Europe. These journeys extended from Norway, Sweden and Finland in the north to Italy and Sicily in the South, and included several visits to the British Isles. From about the turn of the century to his death in 1925, Steiner gave well over 6,000 lectures before audiences of most diverse backgrounds and from every walk of life.

First in Vienna, later in Weimar and Berlin, Steiner wrote for various periodicals and for the daily press. For nearly twenty years, observations on current affairs, reviews of books and plays, along with comment on scientific and philosophical developments flowed from his pen. Finally, upon completion of his work at Weimar, Steiner moved to Berlin in 1897 to assume the editorship of Das Magazin fur Litteratur, a well-known literary periodical which had been founded by Joseph Lehmann in 1832, the year of Goethe's death.

Steiner's written works, which eventually included over fifty titles, together with his extensive lecturing activity brought him into contact with increasing numbers of people in many countries. The sheer physical and mental vigor required to carry on a life of such broad, constant activity would alone be sufficient to mark him as one of the most creatively productive men of our time.

The philosophical outlook of Rudolf Steiner embraces such fundamental questions as the being of man, the nature and purpose of freedom, the meaning of evolution, the relation of man to nature, the life after death and before birth. On these and similar subjects, Steiner had unexpectedly new, inspiring and thought-provoking things to say. Through a study of his writings one can come to a clear, reasonable, comprehensive understanding of the human being and his place in the universe.

It is noteworthy that in all his years of work, Steiner made no appeal to emotionalism or sectarianism in his readers or hearers. His scrupulous regard and deep respect for the freedom of every man shines through everything he produced. The slightest compulsion or persuasion he considered an affront to the dignity and ability of the human being. Therefore, he confined himself to objective statements in his writing and speaking, leaving his readers and hearers entirely free to reject or accept his words.

Rudolf Steiner repeatedly emphasized that it is not educational background alone, but the healthy, sound, judgment and good will of each individual that enables the latter to comprehend what he has to say. While men and women eminent in cultural, social, political and scientific life have been and are among those who have studied and have found value in Steiner's work, experience has shown repeatedly that his ideas can be grasped by the simplest people. His ability to reach, without exception, all who come to meet his ideas with the willingness to understand, is another example of the well-known hallmark of genius.

The ideas of Rudolf Steiner address themselves to the humanity in men and women of every race and of every religious and philosophical point of view, and included them. However, it should be observed that for Steiner the decisive event in world development and the meaning of the historical process is centered in the life and activity of the Christ. Thus, his point of view is essentially Christian, but not in a limited or doctrinal sense. The ideas expressed in his Das Christentum als mystische Tatsache und die Mysterien des Altertums (Christianity as Mystical Fact and the Mysteries of Antiquity), 1902, and in other works, especially his cycles of lectures on the Gospels (1908-1912), have brought to many a totally new relationship to Christianity, sufficiently broad to include men of every religious background in full tolerance, yet more deeply grounded in basic reality than are many of the creeds current today.

From his student days, Steiner had been occupied with the education of children. Through his own experience as tutor in Vienna and later as instructor in a school for working men and women in Berlin, he had ample opportunity to gain first-hand experience in dealing with the needs and interests of young people. In his Berlin teaching work he saw how closely related are the problems of education and of social life. Some of the fundamental starting-points for an educational praxis suited to the needs of children and young people today, Steiner set forth in a small work titled Die Erziehung des Kindes vom Gesichtspunkte der Geisteswssenshaft (The Education of the Child in the Light of the Science of the Spirit), published in 1907.

Just forty years ago, in response to an invitation arising from the need of the time and from some of the ideas expressed in the essay mentioned above, Rudolf Steiner inaugurated a system of education of children and young people based upon factors inherent in the nature of the growing child, the learning process, and the requirements of modern life. He himself outlined the curriculum, selected the faculty, and, despite constant demands for his assistance in many other directions, he carefully supervised the initial years of activity of the first Rudolf Steiner Schools in Germany, Switzerland and England. The story of the successful development of the educational movement over the past forty years cannot be told here. However, from the opening of the first Rudolf Steiner School, the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany, to the present time, the success of Rudolf Steiner Education sometimes referred to as Waldorf Education) has proven the correctness of Steiner's concept of the way in which to prepare the child for his eventual adult role in his contribution to modern society, existence in seventeen countries of the world, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, and South America.

In 1913, at Dornach near Basel, Switzerland, Rudolf Steiner laid the foundation of the Goetheanum, a unique building erected in consonance with his design and under his personal supervision. Intended as the building in which Steiner's four dramas would be performed, the Goetheanum also became the center of the Anthroposophical Society which had been founded by students of Rudolf Steiner in 1912. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1922, and subsequently was replaced prepared by Rudolf Steiner.

Today the Goetheanum is the world headquarters of General Anthroposophical Society, which was founded at Dornach at Christmas, 1923, with Rudolf Steiner as President. Audiences of many thousands come there each year to attend performances of Steiner's dramas, of Goethe's Faust (Parts I and II in their entirety), and of plays by other authors, presented on the Goetheanum stage, one of the finest in Europe. Eurythmy performances, musical events, conferences and lectures on many subjects, as well as courses of study in various fields attract people to the Goetheanum from many countries of the world, including the United States.

Among activities springing from the work of Rudolf Steiner are Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening, which aims at improved nutrition resulting from methods of agriculture outlined by him; the art of Eurythmy, created and described by him as “visible speech and visible song”; the work of the Clinical and Therapeutical Institute at Arlesheim, Switzerland, with related institutions in other countries, where for the past thirty years the indications given by Rudolf Steiner in the fields of Medicine and Pharmacology have been applied; the Homes for Children in need of special care, which exist in many countries for the treatment of mentally retarded children along lines developed under Steiner's direction; the further development of Steiner's indications of new directions of work in such fields as Mathematics, Physics, Painting, Sculpture, Music Therapy, Drama, Speech Formation, Astronomy, Economics, Psychology, and so on. Indeed, one cannot but wonder at the breadth, the scope of the benefits which have resulted from the work of this one man!

A full evaluation of what Rudolf Steiner accomplished for the good of mankind in so many directions can come about only when one comprehends the ideas which motivated him. He expressed these in his writings, of which the present volume is one. Taken together, these written works comprise the body of knowledge to which Steiner gave the name, the science of the spirit, or Anthroposophy. On page 249 of this book he writes of the benefits of this science of the spirit:

“When correctly understood, the truths of the science of the spirit will give man a true foundation for his life, will let him recognize his value, his dignity, and his essence, and will give him the highest zest for living. For these truths enlighten him about his connection with the world around him; they show him his highest goals, his true destiny. And they do this in a way which corresponds to the demands of the present, so that he need not remain caught in the contradiction between belief and knowledge.”

Many of the thoughts expressed in this book may at first appear startling, even fantastic in their implications. Yet when the prospect of space travel, as well as modern developments in technology, psychology, medicine and philosophy challenge our entire understanding of life and the nature of the living, strangeness as such should be no valid reason for the serious reader to turn away from a book of this kind. For example, while the word “occult” or “supersensible” may have undesirable connotations for many, current developments are fast bringing re-examination of knowledge previously shunned by conventional research. The challenge of the atomic age has made serious re-evaluation of all knowledge imperative, and it is recognized that no single area of that knowledge can be left out of consideration.

Steiner himself anticipated the reader's initial difficulties with this book, as he indicates on page 112: “The reader is requested to bear with much that is dark and difficult to comprehend, and to struggle toward an understanding, just as the writer has struggled toward a generally understandable manner of presentation. Many a difficulty in reading will be rewarded when one looks upon the deep mysteries, the important human enigmas which are indicated.”

On the other hand, a further problem arises as a result of Steiner's conviction regarding the purpose for which a book dealing with the science of the spirit is designed. This involves the form of the book as against its content. Steiner stressed repeatedly that a book on the science of the spirit does not exist only for the purpose of conveying information to the reader. With painstaking effort, he elaborated his books in such a manner that while the reader receives certain information from the pages, he also experiences a kind of awakening of spiritual life within himself. Steiner describes this awakening as “ experiencing with inner shocks, tensions and resolutions.” In his autobiography he speaks of his striving to bring about such an awakening in the readers of his books: “I know that with every page my inner battle has been to reach the utmost possible in this direction. In the matter of style, I do not so describe that my subjective feelings can be detected in the sentences. In writing I subdue to a dry mathematical style what has come out of warm and profound feeling. But only such a style can be an awakener, for the reader must cause warmth and feeling to awaken in himself. He cannot simply allow these to flow into him from the one setting forth the truth, while he remains passively composed.” (The Course of My Life, p. 330)

In the present translation, therefore, careful effort has been made to preserve as much as possible such external form details as sentence and paragraph arrangement, italics, and even some of the more characteristic punctuation of the original, regardless of currently accepted English usage.

The essays contained in this book occupy a significant place in the life-work of Rudolf Steiner. They are his first written expression of a cosmology resulting from that spiritual perception which he described as “a fully conscious standing-within the spiritual world.” In his autobiography he refers to the early years of the present century as the time when, “Out of the experience of the spiritual world in general developed specific details of knowledge.” (Op. cit. pp. 326, 328.) Steiner has stated that from his early childhood he knew the reality of the spiritual world because he could experience this spiritual world directly. However, only after nearly forty years was it possible for him to transmit to others concrete, detailed information regarding this spiritual world.

As they appear in the present essays, these “specific details” touch upon processes and events of extraordinary sweep and magnitude. They include essential elements of man's prehistory and early history, and shed light upon the evolutionary development of our earth. Published now for the first time in America, just a century after Darwin's Origin of the Species began its transformation of Man's view of himself and of his environment, these essays clarify and complement the pioneer work of the great English scientist.

Rudolf Steiner shows that the insoluble link between man and cosmos is the fundamental basis of evolution. As man has participated in the development of the world we know today, so his achievements are directly connected with the ultimate destiny of the universe. In his hands rests the freedom to shape the future course of creation. Knowledge of his exalted origins and of the path he followed in forfeiting divine direction for the attainment of his present self-dependent freedom, are indispensable if man is to evolve a future worthy of a responsible human being.

This book appears now because of its particular significance at a moment when imperative and grave decisions are being made in the interests of the future of mankind.

Paul Marshall Allen
Englewood, New Jersey
June 1959