5 June 1917, Berlin
In the last lecture we began to consider aspects of mankind's post-Atlantean evolution which can provide a key to our present problems. Current events do indeed present a riddle to those who attempt to understand them merely by means of the materialistic concepts and ideas of our age. That we are in need of new ideas must be obvious from the many things we have considered. Concepts that sufficed in the past are no longer sufficient to understand present-day life which has become so much more complex. I have for years repeatedly emphasized in various lectures something which I believe to be of utmost importance for the present time.
I have repeatedly said in various places the following: If we survey the field and scope of thoughts and ideas, by means of which attempts are made to understand the world and attain a glimpse behind the scenes of external physical reality, we shall find that the most valuable of those ideas originated in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. The fifth post-Atlantean epoch which began in 1413 has not produced any ideas that are fundamentally new. Certainly it has produced, in admirable fashion, an enormous amount of new facts and combinations of facts. However, they are understood in the light of the old ideas. Let us take an example: What Darwin and his successors have brought together, in order to demonstrate organic relationships, has been introduced into the concept of evolution; but the concept of evolution is in itself not new; it stems from the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. When concepts and ideas are taken seriously and their true nature and reality is understood, then it will be seen that this way of dealing with issues permeates all spheres of knowledge.
Only when Goethe brought the ideas from the past into movement can it be said that a step forward was made. He saw in the concept as such the possibility of transformation, of metamorphosis and thus introduced something quite new which as yet is not properly appreciated. Concepts of blossom, of fruit and so on he saw as transformations of the basic concept “leaf.” 1Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832; Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, edited by Rudolf Steiner (Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach, Switzerland) 1982. Original edition by Joseph Kiirschner, 1883–1897. To recognize a living mobility in concepts and mental pictures is something new. It enables one to transform concepts within oneself so that they follow the manifold metamorphoses taking place in the phenomena of nature. I have for many years pointed out that this is Goethe's most important discovery, a discovery whose further development is to be found only in spiritual science. Spiritual science alone brings man new concepts enabling him to penetrate true reality.
It is of special importance that the concept of history should be widened. In our recent considerations we have in fact worked with a much extended concept of history. This enabled us more particularly to recognize how the constitution and whole disposition of man's soul has changed. Just a few centuries ago man's soul was fundamentally different from what, in conformity with human evolution, it is now. I drew attention to the fact that during the first, the ancient Indian epoch, man continued his bodily development right up to the ages between 56 and 48. I tried to illustrate this by saying that whereas today in the child and youth the development of the spirit-soul being takes its course parallel to the development of the physical body, in that ancient cultural epoch this continued right into the fifties of a person's life. Today man no longer notices when his body passes beyond the 30th year. All he is aware of inwardly is that in childhood his muscles become stronger and the nerve functions change. It is during this time when changes take place in muscles, nerves and blood that he notices the soul-spiritual element following a parallel development to that of the physical organism. Then comes the time when the soul and spirit cease to be dependent on the organism. However, in the ancient Indian epoch, the dependence persisted, and this is something we must consider in more detail.
Man was at that time, just as he is now, more or less consciously aware of becoming physically stronger during childhood, aware also that at the same time his life of will, of feeling and also his mental life became different. In other words, he was aware during childhood and youth of his soul's dependence on the growing, thriving, flourishing life of the organism. Then came the time when he reached the middle of life which occurs in his thirties; the 35th year must be regarded as the middle of life. Today man is not aware of going through the middle of life the way he is aware, for example, of going through puberty from 12 to 16. But in that ancient time man was aware of this; he sensed to a certain extent, that before he reached his thirties life had welled up within him, had grown ever stronger till it reached a climax and now had begun to recede. He sensed that growth had stopped, that the formation of nerves had come to an end and that from now on he would remain as he was. Those who were particularly sensitive even felt their life forces become sluggish and recede; they felt ossification taking place and that they were becoming mineralized.
When man at that time reached his forties he felt that a decisive decline began, that the organic life was withdrawing. But he also experienced something which can be experienced no longer, namely his soul's dependence on the declining life of the body. Thus, in that ancient time man experienced going through three stages of development whereas now he experiences at most going through one.
How were the three stages experienced? Let us look quite carefully at the dependence on the thriving, flourishing life forces during the body's growth; let us establish initially that an individual felt himself to be thoroughly healthy— something very few people do today — so that he strongly experienced that the healthy, flourishing, thriving life welling up within him was carried by the spirit. After all, what grows is not the merely physical substances taken in as nourishment; it is the spiritual forces underlying the body that cause growth and development. One can look at one's origin as a human being and say: My body came into being through hereditary substances; the spirit united itself with the body and caused its growth and development. In that ancient time man's spirit-soul being felt itself within the body; its healthy dependence upon the body was felt to be brought about by God, and indeed by God the Father. Man at that time said to himself something like this: I am placed into the world with forces of growth, of thriving, and provided one pays attention and has a feeling for what takes place in the body, then the soul can sense in the growing and thriving the effect of the Father God. Man felt related to nature, that human beings grow and thrive just as plants and animals do. He felt related to natural existence and felt the Father God within himself. Thus you see that something which today can take place only under exceptional circumstances was in that ancient time experienced simply as part of life. Then began the period in the life of the individual when he passed through the middle of life and therefore through the culmination, the climax of the growing, thriving life forces, and then the time of decline began.
As we have seen, the growing, thriving life of the healthy body, upon which the spirit-soul being of man knew itself dependent, called forth the feeling “ex deo nascimur,” “from God I am born.” Man felt he originated from God, who also caused his further growth and development. When he passed beyond the middle of life, he could still detect during ordinary waking consciousness the thriving life forces. This was partly because he still remembered his spirit-soul being's earlier dependence on the bodily nature and because he could observe growth and thriving of a similar kind in external nature. However, during lowered states of consciousness, such as dream or sleep and also during the state of atavistic clairvoyance, the astral body and I withdrew from the declining life forces which remained connected with the physical body. It is during sleep that the declining life forces are particularly important to man. In that ancient time those who reached the age when their life forces were declining perceived them particularly in such states of lowered consciousness. And when the physical body began to withdraw and become sclerotic, the soul began to live within the spirit of the whole cosmic environment. Thus in that ancient epoch, when man had passed the climax of the thriving life forces and the body's decline had set in, he perceived in waking consciousness the spiritual in all natural existence; in states of dream, of sleep, or of atavistic clairvoyance he perceived the spirit that pervades the whole cosmos.
Try to imagine these experiences: Man felt his awareness of the spirit-permeated, God-ensouled nature alternate with awareness of the spirit of the cosmos; one kind he experienced as ascending, the other as descending. Thus he was directly aware of the union of the spirit of the cosmos with the spirit of nature and was conscious that the spirit of nature is on earth and the spirit of the cosmos in the earth's environment. He knew that they are related, that they weave into one another and that during his life man passes from one to the other. When his life forces began to decline after having reached their climax, he experienced becoming permeated with the spirit of the cosmos, later known as the Christ.
At that time, during their forties and beyond, people experienced their spirit-soul being's dependence on their declining life forces, especially during dream, sleep and other states of semi-consciousness. If they lived beyond their forties, they became aware of the spirit itself, the spirit which is not linked to matter, but lives as spirit. From their forties onwards they perceived the Holy Spirit. Thus when we look back to that ancient time we find that people in the course of their life perceived directly the Father-God, the Christ-God—who had not yet descended to earthly existence — and the Holy Spirit. Such direct human experiences are the basis for the ancient religious traditions, to be found everywhere, of a divine Trinity.
We see in this how one truth complements another, which is something that must be recognized more and more as a feature of science of the spirit. If it were recognized, we would not hear remarks, such as those made recently to a member of our movement, to the effect that what is said in our lectures is all very beautiful but lacks all foundation. Such a statement is just about as clever, or should I say stupid, as it would be had someone said, when Copernicus established that the earth circles the sun and consequently cannot be fixed on a base; Oh, but the earth lacks all foundation—planets and stars must be sitting on something! Just as planets and stars are self-supporting physically, so it should be recognized that the science of the spirit is an edifice whose individual aspects are mutually self-supporting.
We now come to the ancient Persian epoch during which, as described, man's natural development continued only in his forties, that is, to the ages between 48 and 42. You will realize that this meant the direct vision of the spirit in its purity faded, though there was still an awareness of it. Those who lived beyond the ages between 48 and 42 could still be aware of the Holy Spirit.
Then came the Chaldean-Egyptian epoch. Mankind's general age dropped to that between 42 and 35. Vision of the spirit in its purity clouded over. Towards the end of this epoch it was really only those initiated in the mysteries who could know about the pure spirit. In the mysteries everywhere one could, of course, learn through direct vision about the secret of the Trinity. But as far as ordinary life was concerned understanding of the spirit receded. However, in this third post-Atlantean epoch man was still strongly conscious that in the cosmos, in the heavens, an ascending and descending spirit lives. Consciousness of the cosmic Christ was general. Man was still strongly conscious of his connection with the world of the Gods.
As we come to the fourth post-Atlantean epoch all this changes. During this epoch mankind's age corresponded to that of individual man between 35 and 28. At the beginning of this epoch, which began in 747 B.C. and ended in A.D. 1413, it was still the case that when a person reached the same age as that of mankind, 35, he still had imaginative knowledge of the Christ Spirit. However, at the end of the first third of that epoch, when a third of Hellenism had run its course and modern chronology began, mankind's age was about 33. Man's dependence upon the flourishing, up-thrusting life forces no longer lasted beyond the point of their culmination though the dependence was still experienced much more strongly than was the case later in the fifth epoch. Man was still conscious of the Father God, but consciousness of the cosmic Christ gradually faded. Then came the event which replaced what was lost from consciousness. Just as mankind's age dropped to that of 33, the cosmic Christ descended to the earth and entered the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ force spread over the earth and, from another direction, bestowed upon man what formerly he had possessed as an immediate human experience through his spirit-soul being's dependence upon his physical-bodily nature. This is the immense significance of the Mystery of Golgotha. It explains the significance of what is understood by “the promise of the Holy Spirit.” A time had begun in which the Holy Spirit must be attained from within, independent of man's bodily development, through the impulse initiated by Christ. The connection man formerly had with the spiritual world came about purely through the way his soul and bodily natures were interrelated; this now changed. What had filled man's consciousness thanks merely to normal evolution gradually vanished.
Then came the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Mankind's age dropped to 28 and will drop to 21 during this epoch. As I have mentioned we live at the time when mankind's general age is about 27. Therefore (and this must be continually emphasized) it is now necessary that within the soul, forces are initiated which do not arise because bodily forces shoot into the soul. Now spiritual impulses, engendered independently, must be established in the soul, impulses which further the soul in its independence from the body. A healthy person leading a healthy life can sense the dependence on the Father God up to about his 30th year; that is, as long as the forces of growth are still thriving in his body, even if only those of his muscles. As you will realize, it is essential that, as the fifth epoch progresses, there should develop a healthy sense also for the divine spiritual element that withdraws from the forces of growth. A sense and feeling for this was still vivid in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch right up to the 15th century. In that epoch mankind's general age corresponded to the middle of life spanning the ages between 35 and 28. Already mankind's age is one year less; because of this, the bodily constitution of man makes him inclined toward materialism and atheism. The spread of atheism is due to man's bodily organism. It will spread ever more unless a spiritual counterbalance is created by impulses that originate purely within the soul, developed in complete independence of the body. Man becomes an atheist when he ceases to participate in the forces of growth and thriving, and therefore no longer experiences himself as a healthy, complete human being. That is why I have said that one can only be an atheist when one does not, in a healthy way, sense one's spirit-soul being's connection with the growing and developing bodily nature. Spiritual science recognizes atheism as an illness that will increasingly take hold of man in the course of his normal evolution. This is because man will more and more lack the support provided by the bodily nature which enables him to grasp reality in general.
To deny or fail to recognize Christ must be regarded as a misfortune, a tragic destiny, for Christ — from the external world — comes to meet man full of grace. To fail to recognize the spirit must be regarded as soul blindness. To be an atheist is an illness; what is meant is, of course, illness in the widest sense. It is necessary to make these distinctions.
From what has been explained you can see that if one truly wants to understand the evolution of the human race, a completely new concept of evolution is needed. The Darwinian idea of evolution is dreadfully abstract; once its crudeness has been recognized it will be realized that along that path no progress is possible. Evolution follows, as we have seen, an ascending as well as a descending line. The view of today's superficial materialism is that evolution starts from a certain form of life which then progresses to ever higher stages, thus believing that there is a continuous trend towards ever greater perfection.
During post-Atlantean epochs man's evolution goes in the direction of his soul and spirit becoming ever more independent of the body. During the earlier epochs there burst into his soul and spirit, from his bodily nature, comprehension of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The first to fade was comprehension of the Holy Spirit, next that of the Son, and we are now at the stage when, in ordinary life, comprehension of the Father is fading. This fading comprehension of the Father has its origin in man's life of feeling, for as I said, man is at present more or less conscious of his soul-spirit's connection with the bodily nature. This is related to something else. Bear in mind that in general man's spirit-soul being receives less and less from the bodily nature, with the consequence that, if man wants to approach the spirit, he must do so along paths where there is no support from the bodily organism. This accounts for the fact, clearly perceptible to those able to observe such things, that man produces ever fewer concepts and ideas. The concepts and ideas at man's disposal in ancient times bubbled forth, so to speak, from his bodily nature, for all matter contains spirit and this the body simply handed over of itself. But now the body provides man with fewer and fewer concepts and mental pictures. So, expressing it somewhat drastically, he must now rack his brain more and more or, if he is too easy-going, not rack it. Either way he no longer finds concepts welling up within him; he must turn to spiritual knowledge if he wants to acquire them. Spiritual science provides mobile concepts which, in contrast to the rigid, lifeless concepts understood by means of the physical body, must be understood by means of the ether body. Thus, in the course of normal evolution, man becomes ever poorer in concepts. The way he is naturally organized prevents him, if he refuses the path of spiritual knowledge, from delving into true reality.
This explains the present situation. It makes comprehensible what must be described, without levelling any criticism, as the cause for man becoming ever more obtuse without spiritual knowledge. These are things that must be faced in deep earnestness. The brain will gradually become more and more mineralized, it will become a blunt insensible instrument with which ideas capable of delving into reality can no longer be formulated. Only people who make no effort and feel no inclination to understand what is actually taking place in the world can pass these things by. Yet it is of utmost urgency that one should try to understand.
Provided one is not asleep, one cannot be unaware of the many curious things that occur. However, most people are asleep for they are aware only of what takes place on the surface, not of the effective impulses beneath. If one pays attention to what goes on there is much that seems inexplicable, for without spiritual insight one is helpless in face of these riddles. An event that illustrates this quite aptly took place recently in Austria. A certain Robert Scheu, a man of great idealism, has tried for decades to bring about what he visualized as a movement of a cultural-political nature. 2Robert Scheu, 1873–1964, Kulturpolitik, Vienna, 1901. He is concerned about the kind of issues often discussed in our circles. In his endeavour to discover new approaches to political issues, he gathered around him a group of intellectuals. His aim was that together they should discover policies that would ensure greater spiritual influence in people's lives.
This start to the project would have been commendable if by bringing intellectuals together, spiritual influences in people's destinies could be ensured. But what induced Robert Scheu to start this venture in the 1890s? The impulse arose within him from an indefinite feeling that things could not go on as they were; he felt some essential ingredient was missing in life which must be discovered. Needless to say he has not found what mankind so sorely needs. Like so many others who vaguely feel something is missing, he looks upon spiritual science as fantastic superstition. Such people consider themselves far too clever to be concerned with matters of this kind. However, Robert Scheu does feel very strongly that something is lacking. He says the following: “My fundamental conviction, which I herewith repeat, is: As far as cognition, as far as mental activity is concerned, our time is far ahead of the times.” 3Ibid.
A curious expression — what does he mean? He says nothing about the fact that thoughts have become blunted; he is only aware that today's intellectuals are clever in the sense that they can produce abstract ideas like clockwork, and are so sure of their judgments because of the transparency of their abstract ideas. That is why he says that “as far as cognition, as mental activity is concerned, our time is far ahead of the times.” In other words, people are very capable of producing thoughts, but these thoughts are of the kind I have described, quite unrelated to reality. Thus one could also say: Our time is far behind the times. Scheu goes on to say: “As knowers we have become decadent, our thoughts are too rarefied.” That is certainly true of modern man. We need only look at our literature or observe everyday life. Just think of all the intricate thoughts people spin out, but thoughts that are quite incapable of penetrating reality. Hence Scheu is right when he says: “As knowers we have become decadent, our thoughts are too rarefied, too translucent; we are still dominated by the Middle Ages. The reason is that the furnace in which thoughts ought to be recast does not function.”
Scheu expresses himself with feeling in a strange way, but what he says is based on a true sense for what is lacking in our time. Indeed the “furnace” does not function in which thoughts, lost in nebulous abstraction, could become so inwardly strengthened, that they become able to unite with reality. He recognizes that thoughts have become abstract to the point of decadence and that a great number of people have poured our abstract ideas concerning socialism, social-democracy and liberalism with marvelous logic, especially in marxism. Combinations of such abstractions are also possible such as national liberalism, social liberalism and so on. We also have abstract ideas about conservatism. On the basis of all these abstractions — abstract because the furnace is missing that could transform them — one builds up parliamentary systems, representative systems and the network of ideas on which are based liberalism, social liberalism, social democracy, conservatism, nationalism and so on.
Robert Scheu has done what from his point of view is not a bad thing; he has attempted with the means at his disposal to replace the abstractions with reality. Instead of the abstract ideas he wants inquiries set up, maintaining that those who are knowledgeable about an issue should be the ones to judge what should be done about it. After all, whether one is a liberal or conservative is of no great moment when it is a question of organizing the sale of oil or arranging art galleries. What matters in such instances is insight into oil distribution or knowledge about art. Robert Scheu did in fact arrange inquiries into various issues and saw to it that people who made the inquiries spoke about them. A very ingenious start.
He attempts to decide where what he calls the “furnace” is, or ought to be, located. He asks, “Should it be the parliament, the congress? Or should one look for it in the administration? And do the parties uphold the system of representation?” He further points out that “the system contains programs of fundamentally conflicting interests; the parties do not grasp the real issues of life to which they have a purely deductive approach. They are only interested in what constitutes means for enhancing the power of the party.”
Here is someone who for once realizes that the rarefaction, the abstractness of thought — one could also call it dullness, obtuseness, for the thoughts have no contact with reality — have a direct effect on life. He links this problem with the problems of development in social conditions, whether under the system of representation or any other form of government. He is fully aware that no, solution is possible by treating the problems in the old manner. He ponders the possibility of discovering from life itself what could bring order into the structure of-social life; he has in fact done much in this direction. What is interesting is that he now looks back at his efforts and asks himself, “What did I actually attempt to achieve?” What he tried to do was to penetrate to the reality of the issues. However, he expresses this in today's abstract terminology by saying, “I replaced deduction with induction.” These kinds of expressions one meets with everywhere. But Robert Scheu is not altogether satisfied with the result of this endeavour; that is why at the end of the article in which he presents the whole story he says, “I have come to the conclusion that my inductive approach to cultural and political life needs to be completed by a deductive approach. I realize the problem is like a tunnel that must be excavated from both ends if a breakthrough is to be achieved. The mental work necessary must be a joint effort of all Europeans of good will.”
So you see that Robert Scheu comes to recognize that the problem must be approached from two sides. What he does not recognize is the source from which concepts and ideas, allied with reality, must be drawn. He comes to a standstill and does not really believe in his so-called inductive approach via all kinds of inquiries. In any case, to make inquiries is to approach reality from one side only. The approach to the other, the spiritual side, would be the search for the spiritual aspect by means of spiritual knowledge.
Everyday practical life demands spiritual science. This is not suggesting anything out of the way or difficult; rather, it is a thought that essentially belongs to this very moment in mankind's evolution. Just imagine how fruitful spiritual science could be if people would overcome the prejudices which blind them to its reality. Without spiritual knowledge one only arrives at absurdities which deteriorate into all kinds of ridiculous situations. This becomes very obvious when one lives within the mobile concepts of spiritual science. Robert Scheu, for example, wants inquiries set up into the various branches of social life; he wants people who are knowledgeable to speak on the issues. One such issue he wants altered through an inquiry is the system of registration of domicile; just imagine what that would mean at the present time.
However, he does represent a striking example of the fact that people are beginning to feel that something is lacking, but cannot make the decision to turn to what is necessary. Yet I have always tried from the beginning to prevent spiritual science from becoming abstruse and sectarian. I have tried to let it flow into life in response to human requirements. Whenever my advice was sought I tried to give it in accordance with each person's individual need. It must be said, though, that the present materialistic way of life creates huge difficulties in applying such advice. It is understandable that a manufacturer would find it strange if told that science of the spirit could help him run his business better. Yet one could hope that it would work at some point.
A man came to me some years ago who said he wanted his scientific work to be enhanced by spiritual science. We spoke about his scientific work. He was wonderfully erudite; he had really mastered Babylonian and Egyptian archeology to a remarkable degree. I tried to work out with him where the threads could be attached to today's knowledge which would allow spiritual science to flow into his endeavors, so that at least a part of his science could be fructified by spiritual science. He had what modern science can say about the subject; from us he found what spiritual science can reveal about it. He had both — but he could not bring forth the will to penetrate and illumine the one with the other.
If one does not develop this will, one will never understand what is actually intended with spiritual science. One will rather be inclined to make the science of the spirit into merely one more doubtful mysticism so beloved by those who belittle earthly life. There are those who have the view that this life is worth nothing; one must rise to a higher life. One must rise from this world of the senses into a reverie — then a higher life will arise. Why bring up one's children properly here when one can rather think about one's prior incarnations? That brings one into the higher regions and so forth. That is not what is at stake here. What is essential is that, in the area where one stands, one can make science of the spirit fruitful. It can be made fruitful everywhere. Life demands it.
One would wish to have something more than words today to make that comprehensible. Who feels today what lies in words? Who really feels into words? Feeling with words — that is something that humanity has almost lost, at least in that portion of humanity to which we belong. Let me use an example. [ *This portion of Steiner's lecture used characteristics of German words unique within that language for those examples. An analogous substitution of the word “pretty” for “ziemlich” has been used in the following rendering for the English reader. The analogy is not direct, since “pretty” and “ziemlich” have diverging semantic roles and heritages; it is nevertheless imperfectly useful in grasping the speaker's train of thought. ] When someone says, “You did your job pretty well” (ziemlich gut), who feels much more today at these words than “You almost did your job well” (fast gut)? “Pretty” (ziemlich) is “almost” (fast). We say one instead of the other. Place your hand on your heart and say you don't feel “almost” when someone says “pretty” (ziemlich) in that way! But “pretty” (ziemlich) is a word which has referred to activities and products which were done properly or decently (geziemend). Who feels anymore the “proper” (geziemend) in the “pretty” (ziemlich) in this case?
Or, who feels in the word “Zweifel” (doubt) the fact that it carries the “Zwei” (two), that one stands before something which divides into two? Who feels indeed the “zw, z-w”? **Pronounced as one would pronounce the letters “ts-v” in English. This sound has not carried over into English, although a similar combination of letters, today unpronounced, remains in the word “two” (German dialect “zwo” = “zwei” = “two”). But wherever the “zw” appears, you have the same sensation as in doubting (Zweifel), which divides the things in two. “Zwischen” (between) — there you have the same! “Zweck” (goal), “Zweifel” (doubt), “zwar” (indeed) — try to feel it! Feeling can lie in all speech relations. But our words have today become an exceedingly worthless currency. Therefore one would really like to have something other than language to give a penetrating impression of what is necessary for today and what spiritual science could give. The way speech is used today deadens thinking even more than is happening anyway as an effect of natural evolution. The result is a chaos of obtuse thoughts written and printed everywhere.
One could sweat blood, as almost happened to me this morning when I picked up a book by Dr. Johann Plenge, professor of political science at the University of Munster in Westphalia. 4Dr. Johann Plenge, 1874–1963, 1789 and 1914. Die symbolischen Jahre in der Geschichte des politischen Geistes, Berlin 1916. This man claims to have unraveled a great contradiction which developed between the ideas of 1789 and 1914. He regards himself as an extremely important fellow, but let that pass. On page 61 of his book one comes across an astonishing sentence. I shall now be somewhat pedantic, but the pedantry refers to something subtle, and those who can feel it, will do so. The sentence on page 61 slugged me — excuse the expression. It says: “Imagine you were a future historian who one day hears about the world catastrophe of 1914.” What is one to make of a sentence like that? He imagines a future historian who suddenly hears about the world war of 1914. So during his whole youth he has never heard of it, but only does so quite by chance when he is a writer of history! One really can no longer be living within living images to be able to produce something like that. He tried to characterize the nature and significance of ideas. He points to ideas that run through mankind's history, saying that ideas can emerge and again withdraw. In this way he attempts to discover the essence of ideas. He tries to show how ideas unconsciously emerge in primitive races and gradually become more conscious. During his attempts he comes up with the following: “A civilized nation in the making lives according to the example of an imagined ennobled humanity. The position of Homer in antiquity is the best example of such a formation of an idea-complex.”
So, the position of Homer in antiquity is an example of the formation of ideas! One might just as well say that the role of a court advisor is an example of how an idea-complex is formed. It is impossible to think along with something like that if one wants to connect living images with one's concepts. When one is used to doing so from youth, sentences containing such affectations in words are experienced like a slap in the face. They remind me vividly of a professor who began a course of lectures by raising 25 questions. He is a professor of literature who has become very famous indeed. I shall not name him, for you would not believe me. Having put his 25 questions he said: “Gentlemen, I have placed before you a forest of question marks!” — So one had to imagine a wood composed of rows of question marks. Ask yourselves what sort of thinking it is when thoughts remain unrelated to reality, when a person does not live in his thoughts, and they result in nothing but verbiage.
This is a situation that is not uncommon; one comes across the strangest assertions. Plenge, for example, says, “Like the astronomer, so the true historian is able to forecast events.” And then the good fellow proceeds to show how things developed in the period leading up to the catastrophe of the present war. Since he regards himself as a truly great historian, he should be well able to forecast such a catastrophe, but though he has written several books on external affairs, he has not done so. This troubles him; he therefore explains how he has done it after all. And how has he done it? He says, “Well, I have shown that because of the way things were developing one had to strive for peace with all one's strength and power; then I have shown that, as things were, only the war could come.” No one can deny that to be an accurate prophecy! It is comparable to my having two coats and saying, Provided I will not wear this one tomorrow, I shall be wearing the other one. And he continues in the same vein, for when he speaks about how he faltered between forecasting peace or war he says — or rather he quotes himself (quotations are a peculiar feature throughout the book), “To make such a forecast one must let one's fantasy play with the idea of war.” What a sentiment! To suggest that one should indulge in fantasy of war in the years leading up to the present catastrophe reveals an attitude of incredible irresponsibility.
As I said, quotations are a peculiar feature of this book by Plenge. The book is associated throughout with an article that appeared in a daily newspaper. The article is quite inoffensive, written by an unknown journalist who rebels against Plenge's “discovery” of the way ideas had changed by 1914. What makes the composition of Plenge's book peculiar is that on the first page one finds the newspaper article reproduced, or as much of it as Plenge found suitable for his purpose. He speaks about the article, quoting it again on page 21. So the article has now been read twice. He then continues and quotes part of it for a third time. Towards the end of the book, having quoted the article three times, he does so once again, So you have a book with a newspaper article quoted four times.
I chose such concrete examples in order to make clear how things really are and to show also what is necessary. I want to demonstrate that science of the spirit is what is needed, what must intervene in present affairs. The things I have spoken about may seem like trifles; nonetheless they are closely connected with the great issues with which we started our considerations. This I ask you to bear in mind during these lectures.