Reincarnation and Immortality
II. The Historical Evolution of Humanity
25 April 1918, Stuttgart
Das Wesen Der Anthroposophie. (The Nature of Anthroposophy. Lecture given at Elberfeld, Germany, January 24, 1922)
Goethe's observation of human beings and of humanity led him to the following short but comprehensive and significant conclusion that “the most valuable thing about history is the enthusiasm it stimulates.”
We may well be surprised at such a view of historical knowledge, for Goethe was, after all, a person who had deep insight into human life, and yet what he seems to be saying is that it is not the knowledge we acquire about the course of human history that is important, but rather the feelings and enthusiasm that history stimulates. However, the more we feel impelled to go into what is called historical knowledge, the more Goethe's judgment seems to be confirmed. We only need remember that when the catastrophic events began in which the whole of humanity is now embroiled, a number of people — and there were quite a few of them — believed from their reading of history and especially their picture of economic and other material causes in world history, that the war could last four or six months at the most. We have to admit that this conclusion was really not at all stupid. Nor, judging by the historical standards that humanity is accustomed to apply to its own historical evolution, was it in any way shortsighted. And yet, despite this — was this conclusion really founded on what was actually happening?
Let us take as another example what happened to a not insignificant person. It is true that it took place a long time ago, but it can still be mentioned. It concerns a professor of history at a university. This person gave a brilliant inaugural lecture in which he said that a study of the historical evolution of humanity suggested that the European countries would in future form a more or less united family in which there could be all sorts of differences but in which it would become impossible for the various peoples, the members of this great family, to cut each other to pieces. This judgment, the reality of which can hardly be doubted, was made on the basis of historical observation by Friedrich Schiller when he took up his professorship at the University of Jena in 1789. One has the impression that Schiller believed he could arrive at conclusions in his study of history that in a sense rise to a kind of prophecy. Immediately after Schiller had come to this conclusion there followed the events of the French Revolution and all that it brought with it. And if we take everything that has happened up to the present day we find that what even this gifted man had learned from his study of history has been completely disproved by the facts in the most terrible way. We could add hundreds and hundreds of similar examples.
This makes it imperative to take a closer look at what we normally call history and to see how far it really enables us to form judgments about what is going on around us. In such times as ours this is particularly important. History should teach us to recognize what each day brings — and today each day brings a very great deal. Catastrophic events breaking over the whole earth demand judgment from us. We must know what to think of the American West and how it can evolve in the future, and of the Asiatic East. How can we do this if history is regarded in the way we have just touched upon?
Let us take one or two examples by way of introduction to see how a view of history is attained from all the various things that happen in human life. I would like to characterize different aspects of this, starting from the various assumptions that lie close at hand.
At the beginning of our present century, when the events we are now witnessing were being prepared, it happened by what we normally call chance that two men made an historical, all embracing judgment about their country. It is most interesting to study the particular way in which these two looked at history. Although they lived not so far from each other, their two nations are quite different in character. The one is the German historian, Karl Lamprecht, who in 1904 at the invitation of Columbia University in America gave his American listeners his comprehensive judgment about the history of the German nation. The other is Wilson, who at about the same time gave a lecture in which he presented his comprehensive judgment about the American nation. It is interesting to compare these two, and it would be even more valuable to take a third, but the time is too short. — For instance, I can only recommend you to compare what I am saying today with a wonderful statement of Rabindranath Tagore about the spirit of Jesus. If the time allowed us to compare all three we would have a wonderful picture of literary, historical study.
I shall begin with the rather odd views that Karl Lamprecht, the German historian, came to about his own German nation. He has got beyond the merely factual kind of historical observation pursued by Ranke and others, for he sets out to study the inner course of human evolution. He seeks the motivating forces and directs his view to the example of his own nation. I can only give a brief picture of the views that Karl Lamprecht came to, and which he then presented in these lectures at Columbia University. He said that German history can be divided into clearly differentiated epochs according to the inner character of human deeds, of the constitution of the human soul, of the way in which human beings work.
We can go back to a period which came to an end in about the third century A.D. and we find that everything that happened in the German nation at that time arose out of a kind of activity of the imagination which felt itself stimulated to think in symbols and images. Even revered figures and personalities are often presented to the people in images and revered in images. Then there comes a time which is sharply differentiated from this. Whereas in the earlier period it is clear that the imaginative conception of life, which, according to Lamprecht's view, lies at the root of history, leads to the fact that social conditions are organized in a military structure, we see that from the 4th or 5th century to the 11th century it is superseded by a quite different way of thinking and quite different inner motives. In place of the merely comradely sort of life we find a kind of life that is more like a society. And in place of a living in images that always sees images for the things that happen, we have now, thinks Lamprecht, the concept of type. The single, eminent personality is regarded as a type of the times and revered, portrayed and characterized as such from all sides, even in the primitive art that has come down to us.
Then follows a relatively short period, from the 12th to the middle of the 15th century. Lamprecht characterizes this as arising out of all the impulses that were at work when power based on land and obedience evolved out of the old estates and the conditions on them, or being concerned with the way in which the constitution of the soul came to expression in art, with the way men were respected, with the way they acted, and finally with the way knighthood and town life evolved. Lamprecht characterizes it as the time of the conventional conception of life, for at that time life was based on conventions, agreements and a generally fixed way of doing things. For Lamprecht there is then an important break in the historical evolution of the German people which happens at around the middle of the 15th century. He believes that the individual personality that begins to break through for the first time, for the conventional relationships between human beings which are governed by considerations going beyond the merely individual, are no longer uppermost. The individual then enters decisively into historical evolution. Lamprecht shows quite justifiably how something very important begins at this time. Until then, human beings had lived an existence primarily based on deeds, on actions, founded on impulses of the will which arose out of the deepest recesses of the soul, whereas from the middle of the 15th century onward it is the intellect, the understanding, that belongs to the individual personality, that becomes the decisive factor. This lasts until the middle of the 18th century.
What then follows we should call a higher stage of individualism. Lamprecht differentiates it from the earlier period by saying that the age of subjectivism then begins in which a higher kind of understanding becomes particularly significant for human evolution. Lamprecht describes various aspects of this evolution from this viewpoint quite well. He shows, for instance, how the more rudimentary impulses of earlier centuries which prevailed in the relations of the various peoples to each other, turn into a kind of diplomacy based solely on the understanding and intellect. He gives many such examples from many aspects of life. We are still in this age of subjectivism.
From this brief description I have given you can see how an historian tries to explain what happens in history in terms of the nature and evolution of the human being himself. As we shall see in a moment, what Lamprecht put forward is intimately connected with the German way of looking at things. We can see that it is an attempt to use every possible means that are available for reaching a reality which has soul-spirit factors, for penetrating into the real nature of history. But if we then investigate how Lamprecht applies the ideas outlined in his lectures to his detailed description of history, we cannot help feeling bitter disappointment. This is because Lamprecht's views of history never convince us that the efforts he makes in observing certain inner powers of the human soul lead to any sort of convincing result. It is a struggle for a new view of history, but nowhere would we stop and say: Now we can, for instance, really see the inner reasons why the German people have evolved to what they are today. And this question constantly comes to mind when we study Lamprecht's view of history.
Let me compare it with Wilson's view of his own American people. It is something very remarkable, and in order not to be misunderstood I would point out that I am anything but an admirer of Woodrow Wilson. The actual fact of the matter will become clear in further lectures. For the moment I would only mention that my attitude toward Wilson has not arisen during the last six years, for already before the war I expressed my rejection of his approach in a lecture cycle given in Helsingfors in 1913 at a time when many in this country rejected the views expressed in his book, “Only Literature,” which was translated into German, and in his dissertations on freedom — as there were also many in Germany who were deceived and thought he was a great man for reasons which I will not go into now. It is neither chauvinism, that has grown to such proportions today, nor anything other than an entirely objective study of Wilson's approach that leads me to say what I have to say about him.
I have been particularly interested by this parallel phenomenon of Wilson speaking in his lectures about the American people. It is particularly important from one viewpoint because Wilson, when it comes to discovering the virtual factor in viewing a limited phenomenon of historical evolution and in what is needed in order to have some understanding of it, really hits the nail on the head. In this lecture Wilson says that those who live in the east, the New Englanders, do not look at the American people in the right way. And he also describes the quite wrong attitude taken by those living in the south. For he derives the nature of the American and his historical evolution from the events that took place in the 19th century in the center between the west and the east of the North American states when all sorts of people mixed with each other. — Out of their way of life there then arose what Wilson calls the American nation.
It is interesting to see how he succeeds in showing that American history really only begins when those who lived in the east looked toward the west and began to colonize it. Dutch, German, English, French and so on, all came together and formed something that did not come into being through the work of politicians but through those who tilled the land and tended the forests. And then he describes how the three most important political questions of America find their solution under the influence of these conditions. I cannot go into details but would like all the same to state what I think is the important point: the most important questions were those of the attitude of the state toward property, of tariffs and of slavery. All these arose under the influence of these conditions. As far as these conditions are concerned his view of history hits the nail on the head. And there are also further lectures in addition to this one where he speaks about history in general, where he gives his opinion as to how history ought to be studied. And something quite remarkable can happen to anyone viewing things as a whole.
I must say that I find Woodrow Wilson as a thinker and scientist an extraordinarily unsympathetic personality. On the other hand, in another person who has perhaps been too little recognized. I find an extraordinarily sympathetic personality, and this is Hermann Grimm, who applied his historical approach primarily to art, in which, however, his historical ideas are to be found. I have it from him personally because he himself described it to me on many occasions. It lived in him in a wonderfully comprehensive way. On one hand I read in “Only Literature” some of the things that Wilson laid down. On the other, I read what Hermann Grimm said about how history should be studied and how he looked at the evolution of humanity in the light of history. And one comes to the remarkable conclusion that in reading Wilson and Grimm a sentence of Grimm could often be transposed word for word into Wilson's work, and vice-versa. Sometimes there are quite short paragraphs that, from a superficial viewpoint could belong quite well to either of them. Only try to acquire the necessary knowledge, which is quite easy to do in this subject, and you will see the truth of what I say.
How are we to understand this? There is, after all, an enormous difference between these two people and the way they look at history. — There is nothing better than such an example for showing what has to be learned at the present time: that the literal content of a matter is not the whole matter! This is something our age has got to learn, but finds so difficult to learn. For however much our age imagines it lives in reality, it really loves the abstract and theoretical. When they find a few sentences the same with two different authors people are inclined to say that it is the same! The content, the purely literal content, is sometimes quite remote from the actual reality, and however odd this may sound it is proved by this example. For what are we dealing with here? Only the science of spirit can enlighten us, and only the science of spirit can detect the difference between the American historical approach of Woodrow Wilson and that of Karl Lamprecht. The abstract minds of the present time are completely taken in by what Woodrow Wilson says. Now it is not so, but before the war they were taken in. For they do not see the real point. Wilson says many excellent things. But compare them with what Hermann Grimm says, with what Karl Lamprecht says, who perhaps even make great mistakes. What Grimm and Lamprecht say, even when it sounds the same as what Wilson says, is achieved in wrestling with the matter in their souls; it always has the mark of having been permeated by the personality.
For one who is able to see through such things, Wilson's words betray the fact that the personality is possessed by its views. Of course one would have to see the details of the content of his words in the spirit in which it lives in him. Nevertheless, we can see that these things rise up from the unconscious depths of the soul and are not worked over personally by the soul, but simply push through from below. This personality is possessed by what lives below the consciousness.
I certainly do not pass this judgment lightly for I am quite aware that it has far reaching consequences. But I am also aware that it has been arrived at objectively. This is the great difference — on the one hand a personal struggle with truth, on the other a statement of something by which one is merely possessed, where one is more or less an outward medium for something rather indefinite. In this respect Wilson provides a brilliant characterization of his people, one that could hardly be bettered. I must say that some of the statements he makes about the Americans hit home. He says that it is because the American nation has come into being on the basis of work on the land and in the forests that the people have evolved what characterizes them today — the mobility of the eyes, the tendency suddenly to take up bold and adventurous ideas and the tendency to think up plans that can be realized anywhere without much feeling for one's home.
Mobility of the eyes, tendency toward bold, adventurous ideas — these are characteristic of a situation where there is no direct personal struggle, no conscious struggle with the things that are going on, but of a situation where something unconscious plays a part, where the human being is really only more or less a mediator for what is at work. Wilson could offer no greater proof of what he described as American than the history he himself wrote.
I only wanted to show by way of introduction how our view of history is dependent upon the sort of people we are, and how even today historical observation is still largely dependent upon this. I wanted to show how a study of the writing of history itself should enlighten us as to the real nature of the situation.
Now, for example, what is Karl Lamprecht's intention, for he is certainly not possessed by his ideas but, struggles personally for his ideas of history? He wants to introduce a science of soul into history. He wants to understand the historical evolution of humanity on the basis of soul impulses. He is seeking a science of soul applicable to his own times. What does he find? He looks for it in the so called psychologists, in those who investigate the soul. In these psychologists he honestly tried to find something their souls experience within themselves, something that he could then apply to his historical studies. But precisely this made him unsure, and resulted in the fact that there is nothing in his way of looking at history that can offer any convincing satisfaction. Why is this? Because what nowadays is officially pursued as psychology hardly penetrates into the true self, into the real inner soul being of man.
Now the inner soul life of man comes to expression in a quite different way when one is confronted by another person and has to act with him in this situation. And it is on this basis that the historical evolution of humanity proceeds. What proceeds there cannot be viewed in the way that historical research of the present time views it. What has modern historical research grown accustomed to? What has Karl Lamprecht found in the psychologists that can help historical research? He found what has evolved on the pattern of scientific method. And in the 19th century historical research was drawn more and more into a sphere where history is regarded in the same way as nature. The same method of acquiring knowledge, the same kind of knowledge, the same kind of judgment that are used to observe and understand the phenomena of nature were applied to the historical evolution of humanity. Karl Lamprecht sees something significant in applying to his method of looking at history what had led to sure results in natural science.
In this respect too, one can say out of an historical instinct, Hermann Grimm made an excellent observation when he gave his opinion of the famous historian Gibbon. Gibbon, who wrote a history of the decline of the Roman Empire, is an historian who really carries out in exemplary fashion the kind of method suited to studying nature, only he has applied it to history. What really happened here? Hermann Grimm observed quite correctly. Gibbon was a very shrewd, scientific observer of history, but he described all the forces, which he did excellently for the first Christian centuries, all the forces which tend toward decay, which led to the fall of the Roman Empire, which brought to an end the evolution which had been in progress for a long time. Grimm rightly reproaches Gibbon with the fact that something quite different was also happening in the centuries when the Roman Empire was declining, something positive, for the forces connected to the birth of Christianity were entering into historical evolution. These are the forces of progressive evolution, the forces which existed positively alongside the negative forces of decay. They are simply missing from Gibbon's history.
Herman Grimm came to this important observation out of his historical instinct. He did not know the basis for it, for it is only with the science of spirit that we can get to the bottom of such things — the science of spirit whose method works with forces that otherwise slumber in the soul and which will be developed thus enabling the human being really to see into the spiritual. This science of spirit discovers that we cannot grasp the progressive forces of historical evolution bearing the future if we use only the form of knowledge that happens to be excellent for natural science.
What happens when we apply to historical evolution the method that is right for natural science? We find the forces of decay. We find the part of life that becomes dead in historical evolution, in the social life of humanity. If we apply only what our understanding, our ordinary consciousness can grasp, then we find ourselves restricted to studying the impulses of decay. The impulses of growth, of forward evolution, that carry historical evolution in a positive sense, elude this kind of observation. They also elude this kind of observation when we are confronted by real life and wish to take hold of it.
It is shocking that one must say such things, but the present time must learn to grasp things as they really are. Taking care to observe what happens and not to sleepwalk through reality, we should try to get together a parliament or something similar where only people intellectually educated according to the scientific pattern have to vote on what should happen both in social life and in life as a whole; we should create a parliament of people who have fashioned their intellect according to scientific method and let no one else in except those who are fully educated in these things, and you can be quite sure that these people will come to decisions which will very quickly lead the community into decline in every possible sphere. For their way of thinking can be applied only to the forces of decline and decay. It can observe only the declining forces in human evolution. The forces of growth are such that they cannot be comprehended by the powers of our ordinary consciousness. And here I must come back to something that I indicated here several months ago in a lecture about how the unconscious comes to be revealed.
Looked at superficially, this human soul life, in fact human life as a whole, proceeds in alternating states of waking and sleeping. Because we are naturally all very industrious, we are awake two thirds of our lives and are asleep one third. These conditions alternate. But this is not absolutely correct, for what we call sleeping and dreaming also extends to a large extent into our waking life. Our waking life is completely awake only in part. Beneath the surface of our waking life is something that sleeps, even when we are awake. A very significant man, Friedrich Theodor Vischer, had a kind of instinctive feeling for this when he pointed out how closely our feeling life and our passions are related to our dream life. Those who are really able to investigate and observe such things discover that what we experience as our feelings are conscious in us in a quite different way from our perceptions and mental images. For, in fact, we are only really awake in the latter. Our feelings shine through out of the unconscious spheres of the soul just as dreams do. We are not more strongly conscious of our feelings than we are of our dreams; we do not know them as they really are, but only observe their reflection in the sphere of consciousness. We raise our feelings into the waking condition by having them before our minds. We dream the whole day by allowing our souls to be permeated by feelings, and we are asleep inasmuch as we have will impulses and go through the world with such impulses, the motive you know as coming from your will impulses. You know what it is that as perception stimulates the will. How what you want comes about, how your mental images lead to movement in your limbs and hands, — all this proceeds in a sleeping state. We sleep and dream beneath the surface of our normal consciousness.
Having learned to look at the human being in this way, if we then learn to see history as it really is, we become aware of all those actions and impulses at work in the historical evolution of humanity, which are not forces of decay. They come to be recognized as something which the whole of humanity in living together dreams and sleeps. However odd and paradoxical it may sound this will become a most important truth once more, without which there can be no satisfaction in historical research — that the forces carrying humanity forward in its historical evolution do not belong to the normal forces, we use in natural science, for these impulses in history in no way proceed from our ordinary waking consciousness, but proceed from our dreaming and sleeping. This is not a comparison or picture but something real in the deepest sense.
This is why in earlier times, when people were still connected with the life of the spirit in their soul life, even if only unconsciously, they sought their information about social life and historical evolution from a different source than what we call history today. They sought their knowledge in myths, sagas, pictures. And they knew more about the impulses to be found in their own people than can be discovered today purely by means of the understanding that is confined to our ordinary consciousness, and that has provided such magnificent results in science. That is where it belongs.
Now Karl Lamprecht quite rightly observed that a new age began in the middle of the 15th century. But he was not able to make use of this fact. He said that the individual human being then began to be significant, to become intellectual. History really only begins in this age. At first it is studied according to the pattern of science. Of course, we cannot return to the old ways, but the impulses which lie at the root of historical evolution are subconscious.
When a person is possessed by something in the subconscious working in his soul, then something bursts through from the subconscious, as with Wilson, resulting in a brilliant and appropriate observation. But this makes it all the more difficult for someone who is called to be an individuality, an individual soul, to struggle for the truth. It is therefore necessary, especially in this intellectual age, in order to understand social, historical and moral life that something else emerge that can see into the part of the human being that cannot be grasped by our ordinary consciousness, that can see into the part where our ordinary consciousness no longer operates, where we dream and sleep away our normal life.
I have previously described this as imaginative knowledge, inspired knowledge and intuitive knowledge. — This is what looks into the spiritual world, and what can look below the threshold of our consciousness, where the real, true spirit works. The real nature of history, that humanity normally only dreams and sleeps through, can only be called forth if history is studied with the help of imagination and inspiration. In other words, because the real course of history is something that proceeds in the subconscious and does not reveal itself to our ordinary consciousness, it is imperative to apply what I have called the spiritual scientific method, — imagination, inspiration and intuition — to history, to the social, moral and legal life of humanity if we wish to come to know them as they are fundamentally. These facets of reality which first appear before the soul in pictures, in imaginations, must be called forth from the depths of historical evolution. These imaginations must then inspire. Then we shall come upon what is really at work in historical evolution. Attempts in the past such as those of Karl Lamprecht can occasionally come about through instinct, but it can only become truly spiritually enlightened knowledge when history is deepened by the science of spirit.
Now I do not wish to omit contrasting what today is called history with a few historical findings of the science of spirit. I would like to take as my starting point the fact that Karl Lamprecht instinctively divined something I have already mentioned — that a new age arose out of the old around the middle of the 15th century.
If we look with the eye of the seer — if we look with our perceptive consciousness into history, we do in fact find that there is an important turning point that begins roughly about the beginning of the 15th century. Everything that Karl Lamprecht says about subjectivism and the type is of lesser importance than this. Something begins at the turn of the 15th century that is not sufficiently recognized, that brings about a significant and tremendous change in the whole of human life, and which comes to expression most typically in the life of Central Europe. If we go back to the time before this age we find that the configuration, the structure of the human being and his actions are characterized by the fact that his understanding still operates in an instinctive way. In the science of spirit we therefore distinguish the more instinctive rational soul, where cleverness itself is still instinctive. This is superseded around the middle of the 15th century, and not according to the comfortable notion that nature makes no leaps, but is superseded by decided a leap, by a quite different configuration of the human soul. What in the science of spirit we call the consciousness soul which grasps everything through the consciousness, now becomes typical for humanity. And we can grasp what has happened since that time when we recognize that a whole age can be understood only by taking into consideration how this instinctive understanding, this rational soul, began to operate in more or less the same way in the 7th or 8th century B.C., how this understanding molded Greek history, Roman history, Roman law, Roman politics. Thus everything can be grasped only in the light of this instinctive kind of understanding. And we can comprehend what begins to happen around the middle of the 15th century, what is suddenly different in what takes place, only if we know that at that time the consciousness soul began to work.
The consciousness soul has a quite different relationship to reality, for it does not work instinctively from within, but makes the human being think and consider, drawing conclusions and proceeding purely intellectually. It is in this age that we live today. And what we have to study, and what can be observed in every detail, is what this consciousness soul brings to the very foundations of the soul. For the soul life comes to expression quite differently in such people as the Italian or Spanish who still have much that belongs to an older heritage, from such people as the British who have been particularly attracted to the material aspects of life by their geographical situation in evolving the consciousness soul. It is different again in Eastern Europe where there is no natural tendency for the consciousness soul to evolve, where today the evolution of the consciousness soul is slept through. And it is only in the age that will follow this present age of the consciousness soul that those who today are the Russian people will be ready to evolve their particular kind of soul which at the moment cannot be observed at all with the ordinary senses in the people who live in the east of Europe. Today it is imperative to acquire a deeper understanding for what is happening all over the earth. And also a deeper understanding is needed for what is taking place in the individual human being, inasmuch as he belongs to the great dream of history that can be understood only when we can call forth something from the dreaming human soul that cannot be approached with our normal observation: that from the 7th, 8th century until the 14th, 15th century instinctive willing and understanding evolved, and that a great change then comes about, under whose influence we now stand. This is one example.
I will cite another example. At a place such as this, where I have spoken for so many years, I will not shrink from describing the findings of the science of spirit quite concretely for the simple reason that we would not make any progress with the science of spirit if we did not gradually proceed to a description of concrete events.
Normally history draws only upon ordinary observation and ordinary documents for its study of earlier epochs. As I have said previously, the spiritual scientific method is based upon a particular development of powers slumbering in the human soul. It was explained how the soul is led to perceive spheres of life that never manifest themselves in the soul in normal life. Then was shown how the soul can free itself from the body, how it can then pursue knowledge independently of the body. Then the soul begins to utilize forces which, it is true, are present in normal life, but which remain in a slumbering state in the subconscious, the unconscious. Man's real life cannot be grasped by our ordinary powers of knowledge.
Let us take an ordinary phenomenon, but one which leads us deeply into the mysteries of human life, even of ordinary, everyday life. Let us take the fact that we can learn something by heart. In this way we can study how the human memory behaves. Now people usually believe that we master a mental image of what we take in, that we then have it in our consciousness and after a time it rises up again out of consciousness. This superstition is taught by countless psychologists. This is supposed to be science, this superstition that the ideas that we take in wander down into some indefinite sphere, wander about in the unconscious part of the soul, and that when need them they rise up again and appear as memory images. Such a view can only come about because no one has learned how to observe the real life of the soul. In fact, what happens is quite different. At the time we take in a mental image there is in our consciousness only the fact of this taking in. Parallel with this activity is another of quite a different nature that remains unconscious, that slips into the human organization and is responsible for something happening that is quite different from the formation of the mental image. This activity that takes place parallel with the formation of the image is unconscious. The memory is developed unconsciously. Now we have taken in new images. The parallel activity has functioned.
You can get a rough idea of what it is like — the time is too short to provide further proof — by remembering what it is like yourselves. Think of all the various other things you have had to do when learning a poem by heart or when trying to remember things for exams when you really have to cram, — think of all the things you have to do apart from taking in the image in order that the thing sticks! With our consciousness we try to support what happens unconsciously. There is really a parallel activity, and when people strike their foreheads when cramming themselves with what they have to remember, it is all a support for this unconscious activity. The mental image that we take in does not remain; it is temporary. What exists down below and is shaped and prepared there is something that we can perceive inwardly just as we can perceive things outwardly — the mental image is formed anew, it is something different from the original one.
Every time we use our memory the mental image has to be formed anew according to the inner copy. This is the true state of affairs. But the activity on which the memory rests, remains unconscious. Supposing it is drawn up into the consciousness so that we work in it and do consciously what otherwise takes place subconsciously in the parallel activity of forming images, — what have we then? It is the same power that is used when we apply imaginative knowledge. It forms the organism. We penetrate below the thresh-hold of consciousness, we penetrate to a sphere that we constantly exercise in life, but which remains unconscious. And we can always penetrate even deeper. The money then expands. We then acquire the possibility — and here I have to make a rather big leap because I have still to describe further findings — of following historical evolution from a purely spiritual viewpoint and of acquiring insight into the meaning and into the forces existing over the whole earth that carry the evolution of humanity. A number of laws are then revealed that go far beyond that ordinary observation can provide, but which for the first time raise what the human being sleeps and dreams through in his normal historical evolution, into consciousness.
The science of spirit, working with imagination, inspiration and intuition, can reach further back through the expansion of our memory into the memory of humanity so that we are really able to perceive what humanity has experienced. This can come about through the continuation of our own memory. It is true that it is much more difficult to do this than any other kind of scientific work — because we are ourselves deeply involved in it. Then we are able to reach back into earlier epochs of human evolution than the one I have just mentioned, which began in the 7th, 8th century B.C. and continued until the 15th century. We reach back into earlier times than this, into the time which followed what geology calls the ice age and by many geologists is called the flood. We must think of this as having taken place earlier than is normally believed — we go back thousands of years. What we come to then is not an ape-like humanity — this is a scientific superstition — but to a humanity whose soul constitution is quite different to today's. Allow me for once to risk describing in public a finding of the science of spirit. One must approach the science of the spirit without bias if one is not to regard its findings as merely fantastic. We reach back into an ancient epoch of earth evolution, about which we may say the following:
If we look at a human being and observe how he evolves, we see that what has to do with his bodily development takes place in the first years of childhood and in the later years of childhood up to puberty. And if we look still further we note that what develops in our souls goes hand in hand with our bodily development, right into the twenties. But then it stops. Our soul development no longer participates in this bodily development as it does with a child at the change of teeth, in growing and at puberty. The body and the soul then go their own separate ways. This is typical of our development from between the 25th and 30th years until old age — our souls no longer participate in what is developing in the body.
This was quite different in the first age that I will now describe, and which reaches back thousands of years. At that time the soul remained connected with the development taking place in the body until old age. The soul participated in this development right into the fifties and in the decline of the body in a way that today only happens in our childhood years. Because of this, the human being was able to experience something that he can no longer experience. As a matter of course we no longer experience in our souls the decline of our bodily organism. We are already withdrawn from our bodies. What happens in the soul comes to expression in our cultural life, where the soul is no longer dependent upon the bodily organism. At that time in Asia and India the soul-spirit life remained dependent on the life of the physical body until the fifties. This was quite a different kind of experience.
Then came the next epoch of historical evolution, when the dependence did not last so long, for at that time the soul's participation in the life of the body lasted until the forties. Then there was a further epoch when this participation lasted until the middle of the thirties. Here something quite special happened, which was still experienced by the old Egyptians and Chaldeans. And this was, that because the human being begins to decline in the life of the body after the age of 35, they were still able to experience this decline in their souls. Then this age came to an end, which was followed by the age I have already mentioned: the age of Greece and Rome, the effects of which lasted into the 15th century. In their soul life at that time people still remained more or less participants in the life of the body at least into their thirties. No one believes this today because no one really studies with inner personal interest what has come into being through the evolution of humanity. Since the 14th, 15th centuries the age has begun when the human being participates with his bodily life in the spirit-soul life until the end of the twenties. We no longer experience what the decline of human life is. In Greek and Latin times the beginning of the thirties was experienced within the instinctive understanding. At the present time this participation of the bodily life is concluded at the end of the twenties.
You can see that this is a remarkable law of history! As far as soul experience is concerned the age is progressively reduced, its final experience of the body is connected with an ever younger age. This is one of the most comprehensive and important laws of human evolution. Whereas the individual human being always grows older, humanity — if you now carry what I have just said to its logical conclusion — in its experience of the body, becomes younger. This means that it does not experience growing old as a reflex feeling in the soul; it only experiences its effect. But what the soul actually experienced in earlier times was quite different. It had something which enabled a person to look directly into the spiritual world by means of his instinctive knowledge. This must now be achieved again by humanity, only consciously. We have to learn to look into a sphere that cannot be perceived because today humanity can only experience what the body produces up to the age of 27.
I realize it is probably a bit much to speak about this growing younger of humanity, about the non-participation of the soul-spirit in the life of the body. But it does form the beginning of a true knowledge of history. For this true knowledge of history will be concerned with what is otherwise slept through, and we shall be able to understand properly what happens in history when we are able to appreciate such great, all-embracing laws.
I may be permitted to mention a personal experience. Those who have often heard me speak know that I mention personal experiences only if there is a particular reason to do so. It was because I directed my spiritual investigation to such matters that I came to know about what I have just told you — the growing younger of humanity and the influence on humanity due to the fact that the soul-spirit nature only experiences the life of the body in our younger years. That is how I found out about it. And I am quite convinced that anyone else applying the method of the science of spirit will find a law of history, though not of the kind that I characterized at the beginning of the lecture. And so I asked: How old was humanity then in the Greek age in its participation in the life of the body? At that time it continued until the beginning of the thirties. This was a tremendous change. For it is at this age that the human being enters upon a declining development. And in earlier times when he noticed this decline of the body he was granted a special form of spirituality. We study this spirituality when we study ancient wisdom and learning.
I have said that thinking is connected with a declining development. When the soul shared to a very large extent in the declining development of the body, it evolved a particular wisdom. This wisdom became lost in the age which began in the 7th century B.C. and ended in the 15th century. This age — inasmuch as we are interested in it and are still in it — represents the middle of evolution. If a new impulse had not arisen at that time there would have been the threat of a total break in our spiritual connection to the universe. The impulse came. When studying this growing younger of humanity I certainly did not think about such an impulse. That came later, and it belongs to one of the most shattering findings of the science of spirit.
I could see that the general course of human evolution had brought humanity to a crisis where its connection with the spiritual was threatened. What happened in this crisis? — I first came upon it after having found out about its origin. This is important, and I must single it out as a personal experience. I was shown the significance of the Mystery of Golgotha that occurred just in this age: the new impulse that gave humanity a fresh impetus. The Mystery of Golgotha thus finds its place in the historical evolution of humanity in a wonderful way.
Only for special reasons would I ever break what is expressed in the law that one should not use the name of God in vain. The science of spirit certainly leads to the great religious impulses, but I regard it as a duty to allow religious impulses to be cultivated by those who are called to do so. However, I know that what is achieved by the science of spirit also deepens the religious impulses of the human soul. It is precisely the thoughts presented by the science of spirit that can provide a really Christian view of life. But you cannot get people to accept this. They would only reproach us if they found that we have constantly to speak about the great religious content of evolution in a way that does not please them. They also reproach us if we do not do this because we leave it to them, knowing full well that by occupying ourselves with the science of spirit the religious life will certainly be deepened. For they say that the science of spirit, of course, does not talk about Christianity. These are the misunderstandings which are readily thrust into the battle against the science of spirit. We are reproached for whatever we say. If we do not speak about something because we feel that others are called to do this, we are then misunderstood and told that the science of spirit has no Christianity, or whatever it may be.
As I have said, the fact that this event concerning the whole cosmic connections of the universe happens at one particular moment in the evolution of humanity, belongs to the most shattering things that we can experience, especially since in my case — if you will allow me this personal remark — it was an experience quite unsought for.
I only wanted to indicate to you the beginning of a view of world evolution as seen by the science of spirit.
The forces that seek to penetrate more deeply into history have been divined instinctively, especially in our central European evolution. We only have to ask: How does the individual soul participate in this historical evolution? I have mentioned previously how in looking at thinking on the one hand and at the will on the other, we bring to expression in the overdevelopment of the sexual organism something that leads our spiritual-scientific observation to the eternal in the soul, to that which exists in the spiritual world before birth or conception, and which enters through the gate of death. This also leads to something else. The part of us that unites with our physical organism and that comes down from the spiritual world when we are conceived, when we are born, is intimately related — I have already said this today — to the part of us that operates throughout the whole course of our lives and makes us into complete and living human beings, intimately related to what works out of our souls as memory. If we now grasp not only the fact that the thinking can be conceived as inspiration, but also grasp the element that unites with our bodily organism, that flows out of inspiration and accompanies our memory and our growth, then we find that we not only emerge from a spirit-soul existence before beginning this bodily life, and which is united to what we evolve in life, but that within the part of us that goes through death is contained the desire to enter a human life again after the soul has been through a purely spiritual life, and that within this part of us is to be found not only what inspires us, but forms us, which not only comes from a spirit-soul existence before birth, but comes from previous incarnations upon earth.
Imagination, inspiration and intuition provide us with a true idea of previous lives on earth and a justified prospect of future lives on earth. I can only touch upon this for there is insufficient time for a more detailed description. But when we look at individual human life as it proceeds through repeated existences upon earth, we find something in historical evolution that can be grasped concretely. The human being naturally takes part in the various epochs I have described. He lives through the various cultures of the earth and he bears himself as soul from one epoch to the next, taking with him what he has evolved.
In the present epoch, when the consciousness soul is evolved, the human being unconsciously brings with him what he possesses from the previous epoch in which he once lived, and in which the instinctive soul worked instinctively in the understanding, and he now works upon this. Now we can fully grasp what this dream of history consists of, how human souls that live in each epoch work together and return again and again. This idea arose instinctively in the cultural life of Central Europe. But it has never been developed. The science of spirit is called upon to do this.
The pedants or “very clever people” — and I mention this in inverted commas — say: Of course, Lessing managed some wonderful things, but then he grew old and wrote his Education of the Human Race. If one has the necessary mean attitude, it is easy to be so very clever, much easier than being able to penetrate the mysteries of human life as did Lessing. Lessing achieved something immense. He indicated, if only in somewhat amateur fashion, how inner forces guide the evolution of man and of humanity. He says: There was once a time when human beings were educated in a quite particular way. Then there was a time when people were educated differently. Now is the time when self-education begins. — He had a feeling for the successive epochs, just as Karl Lamprecht had. Lessing had a feeling for even more in that he pointed out that the forces of one epoch are taken over into the following epochs by the human souls constantly reincarnating.
Of course it is easy to object to this by saying that human souls do not remember their previous lives. This is the same as saying that a four year old child cannot do arithmetic, therefore the human being cannot do arithmetic. Memory of earlier lives has first to be gained through the kind of knowledge I have referred to previously. Without this knowledge it is not possible to penetrate the sphere that is dreamed as history. This is something that humanity must grasp, for it is intimately connected with the present evolution of humanity.
Tremendous questions are presented to our souls today. One question is: What is the constitution of the human soul like in the east, in our center and in the west? We possess a science of history which, as we saw at the beginning, has gone quite astray. We need a science of history that can penetrate to those deeper forces of the human soul which bring what otherwise only dreams and sleeps, into our consciousness. When imagination and inspiration reach down into our experience of history that otherwise sleeps, we shall realize what it is that works between man and man in our social existence. Then quite different social laws will come into being from the ones of the past few centuries. What then emerges will be quite equal to the demands of life, the demands of reality. People experience history today in an odd way, and in conclusion I would like to give a few examples of this.
A certain J. H. Lambert was born in a South German city in the 18th century. In the 19th century, roughly in the middle of the forties, a monument was erected to him in that city. On the monument is a celestial globe as a sign that this man penetrated the laws of the heavens, as these things were done in the 18th century. Not much is known about this. He penetrated further than is possible with the Kant-Laplace theory. In the 1840's his native city erected a monument to him. A hundred years earlier his father, after several people had pointed out to him that his fourteen year old son was very talented and should be supported, applied for support. The worthy city gave 40 franks, but on condition that the son take himself off and did not return. A hundred years later — such is the course of history — a monument was erected.
Such things happen again and again. You may remember at the beginning of the war, particularly here in this city, I often had occasion to refer to a most significant thinker who once lived here, Karl Christian Planck. I referred to him at that time and had also spoken of him much earlier in my books. Now we see that people begin to take note of him, but not in the way that I meant. If Planck were alive today in conditions that are quite changed, he would express what he said, even in the 1880's, quite differently. Humanity can make use only of what is ardently experienced of reality, and not of what comes from looking back. Because people believe we need a new impetus, they think that a highly gifted and thoughtful person would say the same things today as he said in the 1880's. We honor the memory of such people if we continue to work in their spirit, and if we ask: How would they speak today if they were to speak out of the great spirit out of which they spoke then?
Today the times demand that we grasp what underlies the evolution of humanity, particularly concerning history. Then we shall not hear judgments like those I quoted at the beginning of the lecture. Nor will vague prophecies be uttered. But history will be described in such a way that we confront reality with feeling, which otherwise is only dissipated in dreams; that we confront reality with deeper forces, that we are equal to the demands made upon us. And the demands of the present time are tremendous.
We must know what is stirring in humanity from east to west, what is coming out in the events of today. We must be equal to this reality that is hammering so dreadfully upon our doors. We must take up the laws of history that are not contained in the laws today, laws that penetrate deeper than the purely intellectual, than the kind of understanding that has produced such great results in science, but which cannot grasp the social, political, historical and moral life of man. Goethe felt this. He not only expressed his impressions of the historical knowledge of his time, but he also expressed something that should come to be. What made an impression upon him was the best thing about history is not its abstract laws but the impulses that penetrate into our feelings and our enthusiasm.
By means of imagination, inspiration and intuition it will be possible to unveil what men sleep through. This will sink down into our feelings and enthusiasm. When reality draws toward us and we can approach reality, inwardly permeated by these impulses, we shall not utter prophetic or vaguely mystical statements, but in future our study of history will result in the fashioning of spiritual laws, not such as it has already, but laws which penetrate the human soul to the point of arousing enthusiasm which is equal to and can tackle the situation as it really is.
Not only is what Goethe said at that time true — what can be said today is also true. For today the following holds good: History must generate enthusiasm for the true, real and complete understanding of reality, for it is the best that can be offered to the life of the soul.
The most valuable aspect of history in the future will be the enthusiasm that it generates in the human soul.