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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Thoughts During the Time of War
GA 24

Part I

Unspeakable suffering, deep sorrow live in the souls of men of the present, side by side with the will to offer to this moment, incomparable in world history, the sacrifices of courage, of valor, of love, which it requires. The warrior is steeled by the awareness that he is fighting for a most precious good that the earth has to give to mankind. He faces death with the feeling that his dying is demanded by that Life which, as something higher than the single man, may lay claim even to his death. Fathers, mothers, and sons, wives, sisters, and daughters must, out of personal suffering, find themselves in the Idea that out of blood and death, the development of mankind will rise to aims for which the sacrifices were necessary, and which will justify them. The upward glance from individual experience to the life of mankind, from the transitory to that which lives in this transitory as the imperishable: this is demanded by the experiences of this time. The confidence rises up, from the sensation of what is happening, that what is experienced will be lifted up by the dawn of a new age of mankind, whose powers are to be ripened by this experience.

One would like to look with the understanding that seeks also to under stand men's aberrations, upon the flames of hatred that are kindling. Too strong, for many a one, is the impression he receives when he compares what is currently being experienced with what seemed to him already achieved for the pre sent by the development of mankind. Men who understood how to speak out about these achievements of mankind from a full inner participation, have found words to do so like those spoken by the fine German contemplator of art Herman Grimm, who died in the year 1901. He compares man's experience in earlier time with what the present brings to this experience. He says: “Sometimes it feels to me as if one were transposed into a new existence, and had taken along only the most needful spiritual hand-baggage. As if fully altered conditions of life were compelling one to fully new thought-work. For distances are no longer something that separates people. With the ease of child's play our thoughts circle the compass of the earth's surface, and fly from every single person to every other person, wherever he be. The discovery and exploitation of new forces of nature unites all peoples to incessant shared work. New experiences, under whose pressure our view of all things visible and invisible alters in uninterrupted change, force upon us new ways of observing, also for the history of the evolution of mankind.” Before the outbreak of this war, every European person had, in his individual way, such sensations in his soul. And now: what has been made, for the time of this war, of what stirred people to these sensations. Is it not as if mankind were to be shown how the world looks when much that is fruit of development ceases to take effect? And yet also: does the war by its horrors not show what the conflicts of peoples, fought out with the means brought by the newest developments, must lead to?

Confusing can be the sensations that arise out of the experiences. One would like to understand out of the presence of this confusion why it is that many people cannot comprehend that war itself brings war's horrors and suffering, and why they decry the opponent as a “barbarian” when a bitter necessity forces upon him the use of the means of battle created by the modern age.

Words of hate-filled condemnation of German essential being, now spoken by leading personalities among the peoples with which Germany currently lives at war: how do they sound to a soul that senses as true expression of German feeling what the already mentioned Herman Grimm, shortly before the entry of this century, characterized as a fundamental trait in the understanding of the life will of modern humanity. He wrote: “The solidarity of moral convictions of all men is today the church that connects us all. We seek more passionately than ever for a visible expression of this community. All really earnest strivings of the masses know only this one goal. Here the separation of nations already exists no longer. We feel that over against the ethical world view, no national difference prevails. We would all sacrifice ourselves for our Fatherland; but we are far from longing for, or bringing about, the moment when this could happen by war. The assurance that keeping peace is the most sacred wish of all of us is no lie. `Peace on earth and good will to men' permeates us. The inhabitants of our planet, taken all together as a unity, are filled with a delicate sensibility understandable to all ... people as a totality acknowledge themselves as subject to an invisible court of judgment, throning as if in the clouds, before which they regard not being allowed to stand vindicated as a calamity, and to whose judicial procedure they seek to adapt their internal disputes. With anxious striving they here seek their right. How are the French of today at pains to make out their intended war against Germany to be a moral requirement, whose acknowledgement they demand from the other peoples, indeed from the Germans them selves.” Herman Grimm's life work is grounded in such a way with all its roots in the German life of the spirit, that one can say: when he utters such a thought, it is as if he were permeated by the consciousness that he is speaking on the spiritual charge of his people. That he is using words with which he would be al lowed to have the certainty: if the German people as a whole could express it self, it would use such words to express its attitude as to how it conceives of its own willing within the entirety of mankind. Herman Grimm does not want to say that what is present of such an attitude in the present life of mankind could prevent wars. He does speak of having to have the thought that the French want a war against Germany. However, that this attitude will prove its power, even right through wars, that had to be Herman Grimm's conviction, when he brought to expression thoughts like those quoted. Opponents of the German people currently speak as if they held it to be proven that the only cause of this war lay merely in this: that the Germans lack the understanding for such an attitude. As if the result of this war would have to be that the Germans are forced to an understanding of such an attitude. As if among the Germans, authoritative minds had set themselves the task of obliterating this attitude in their people.

One now hears some names of German personalities spoken in a hate-filled manner. Not only by journalists, also by spiritual leaders of the peoples living at war with Germany. Indeed, such voices also come from countries with which Germany has no war. Among these German personalities is for example the historian of the German people, Heinrich von Treitschke. The Germans who form thoughts about the scientific significance and the essence of the personality of Treitschke pronounce the most divergent value judgments concerning him. From what points of view these judgments are passed, whether they are justified or unjustified, does not matter at this moment; concerning the voices of the opponents of the German essential being, quite another point of view is defining. These opponents want to see in Treitschke a personality who has affected the present German generation in such a way that the German people currently holds itself to be in all directions the most gifted of peoples, which therefore wants to force the others to subordinate themselves to its leadership, and sets the attainment of power above all justice. Were Treitschke still alive, and heard the judgments of the opponents of the German essential being concerning his person, he could remember words he wrote down in 1861, as the expression of his deepest sensibility, in the treatise on Freeness. He there spoke his mind about such people as set a limit right away to their respect and tolerance for alien opinions, when in such opinions something confronts them that does not please them. In such people — Treitschke opines — the thought conceals itself in a veil of passion, and he says: as long as such a manner of replacing judgment with the cliché born of passion is still alive, “there is yet alive in us, even if in a milder form, the fanatical spirit of those zealots of old who used to mention alien opinions only in order to prove that their authors had earned themselves rightful claims to the Lake of Hell.” A man who as Frenchman among Frenchmen, as Italian among Italians, had worked the way Treitschke did as German among Germans: he would not appear to the Germans as a seducer of the French or Italians. Treitschke was an historian and politician, who out of a strong, decided feeling sense, gave all his judgments an imprint that had the effect of sharpness. Those judgments too had such an imprint which he pronounced, out of love for his people, about the Germans. But all these judgments were carried by the feeling: not only his soul was speaking thus, but the course of German history. At the close of the Foreword of Part Five of his German History in the Nineteenth Century stand the words: “as surely as man only understands what he loves, just as surely can only a strong heart that senses the fortunes of the Father land like suffering and happiness of its own experience, give inner truth to the historical narrative. In this might of heart and mind, and not merely in the perfected form, lies the greatness of the historians of antiquity.” Some judgments that Treitschke uttered about what the German people has experienced at the hands of other peoples sound like harsh condemnation of these other peoples. How statements of Treitschke's that go in this direction are to be understood, only he recognizes who also looks at the harshness of the judgments with which Treitschke often passes verdict upon what he finds reprehensible within his own people. Treitschke had the deepest love for his people, which was noble fire in his heart; but he believed it does no harm when one passes verdict most brusquely where one most loves. It would be thinkable that enemies of the German people could turn up who assembled from Treitschke's works a collection of pronouncements, then took away from these pronouncements the color of love they have with Treitschke, and daubed them with their color of hatred: they could thereby prepare word weapons against the German people. These word weapons would not be worse, either, than those with which they shoot at a distorted image of Treitschke in order to wound the German people. Herman Grimm, who knew how to appreciate Treitschke, and was well acquainted with him and his personal manner, spoke some time after his death the words: “Few have been so loved, but also so hated, as he.” Treitschke was grouped by Grimm with the German historians Curtius and Ranke to a trinity of German teachers, about which he expressed himself thus: “They were friendly and confiding in their intercourse. They sought to further their listeners. They acknowledged merit where they met it. They did not seek to suppress their opponents. They had no party and no fellow partisans. They spoke their minds. In their bearing lay something exemplary. They saw in science the highest flowering of the German spirit. They stood up for its dignity.” There is a thorough discussion of Treitschke's German History by Herman Grimm. Whoever reads it must come to the recognition that Herman Grimm counted Treitschke among those who, regarding the relation the German people wants to have to other peoples, thought no differently from himself.

Whoever from an enemy country reviles a German personality such as lived in Treitschke, and brands him a seducer of the younger generation, lacks a judgment about how a German who sensed “the fortunes of the Fatherland like suffering and happiness of his own experience” had to speak to Germans who, for an understanding of their own history, have to look at experiences in the past that Herman Grimm (in his book on Michelangelo, 16th printing) characterizes with the words: “For thirty years Germany, which was unable to tip the scales as a nation of its own, was the battlefield for the peoples bordering around us, and after the foreigners who had thus waged war upon each other on our ground had finally made peace, the old indefinite situation returned.” In Herman Grimm's Goethe book, there is about these experiences, with the same reference: “the Thirty Years' War, this terrible disease brought in to us from without and nourished artificially,” made “all the young shoots of our forward development wilt and die off.” What a short time had just elapsed since the German people had freed itself from the effect of the suffering that Europe had brought it through the Thirty Years' War, when in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century the other destiny experience came to pass, which coincided with a flourishing of German spiritual life. Were they the words of a man in whose heart the sufferings of his people resonated “like suffering of his own experience,” or were they words of a seducer of the people, with which Treitschke spoke of the spirits whose working coincided with Germany's destiny experience of the beginning of the Nineteenth Century? He speaks about these spirits thus: “They guarded our people's very Own, the sacred fire of Idealism, and we have them pre-eminently to thank that there was still a Germany even when the German Empire had vanished, that in the midst of affliction and bondage the Germans were still permitted to believe in themselves, in the imperishability of German essential being. From the educational molding through and through of the free personality is sued our political freedom, issued the independence of the German state.” Do the opponents of German essential being demand that Treitschke should have said: history teaches that the Germans “are permitted to believe in the imperishability of German essential being” because for all the past and the future they can keep themselves convinced that French, English, Italians, Russians have never fought and will never fight for anything else than for “right and freedom” of peoples? Should the other Germans who are presently called Germany's seducers give the Germans the advice: build not on what in hard wars has gotten you “right and freedom;” you will have “right and freedom” because with those who surround you, the sense for “right and freedom of peoples” shines resplendent in bright light? Only, you must not believe that you are allowed to think of your “right as a people” other than in the sense of what you are deemed entitled to by the peoples who encircle you. You must only never call anything else your “freedom as a people” but what these peoples will show you by their behavior that you “as a people are free to do?”

Where the sensations are rooted which those who belong to “Europe's Middle” have in the present war, the author of this brief writing would like to state. The facts he wants to discuss are, in their general basic features, certainly known to every reader. It does not lie in the author's intention to speak in this direction about what is not yet known. He would only like to point toward certain connections in which what has long been known stands.

If opponents of the German people should perhaps read this brief writing, they will quite comprehensibly say: so speaks a German, who can naturally bring no understanding toward the opinion of other peoples. Whoever judges in this way does not comprehend that the paths the author of this contemplation seeks in order to discuss the coming about of this war are quite independent of how much of the essential being of a non-German people he understands or does not understand. He wants to speak in such a way that if the reasons he puts forward for what is claimed are any good, his thoughts can be right, even if he, with respect to an understanding of the special quality and the value of non German peoples, as far as they may be closed to a German, were the pure fool. When, for example, he refers to what a Frenchman says about the intentions of the French for war, and on that basis forms a judgment about the coming about of the war, then this judgment could be right, even if a Frenchman were to believe he had to deny in him any understanding of French special quality. When he forms judgments about the English political ideal, it does not come into question how the Englishman for himself thinks or senses, but what the actions are like in which this political ideal lives itself out, and what the German in particular experiences through these actions. For himself, to be sure, the author is convinced that in this brief writing there will lie no occasion to judge what understanding he brings toward this or that non-German folk quality.

The author of the brief writing believes that what he allows himself to pronounce as a German about the feeling of “Middle Europe,” he may say, for he spent the first three decades of his life in Austria, where he lived as an Austrian German by descent, nationality, and upbringing; and for the other — almost just as long — time of this life, he has been permitted to be active in Germany.

Perhaps someone who knows the one or the other of the author's writings will seek of one who stands at the vantage point of the science of the spirit, as it is meant in these writings, “higher points of view” in the following discussions than he finds. Especially those will be unsatisfied who expect to find here some thing about how the present war events can be judged “on the basis of the eternal, highest truths of all being and life.” To such “disappointed ones,” who will perhaps turn up precisely among the friends of the author, he would like to say that the “highest eternal truths” are of course valid everywhere, thus also for the present events, but that this contemplation was not undertaken in the intention of showing how one can bear witness to these “higher truths” with respect to these events as well, but in another intention, the intention of speaking of these events themselves. [The author hopes to be able to give other things about the present time and the peoples of Europe soon in a second brief writing. The thoughts written down here are concentrated from lectures the author held in several places in recent months.]