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The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
GA 189

Lecture VIII

16 March 1919, Dornach

Yesterday I set about to show how far from reality present-day thinking is, when in circles working on international questions it is already forgotten that the founding of a League of Nations was, in accordance with Wilson's ideas at the time, deemed possible only if peace were concluded without victory on either side. That you may see how exactly Wilson, on 22nd January, 1917, set out these conditions for the League, I should like today to read you the relevant passage from his speech. He said: “The chief thing in what has been said is that there must be peace without victory. It is not pleasant to have to say this. I may perhaps be allowed to state my own views about it and to emphasise that no other conception has entered my mind. I am trying merely to face the facts and to do this without shielding myself by hiding anything. A victory would mean that peace would be forced upon the vanquished, that the vanquished have to bow to the conditions of their conquerors. Such conditions could be accepted only with profound humility in circumstances of necessity and with insufferable sacrifice, and there would remain a smarting wound, a feeling of resentment, a bitter memory. A peace resting on such foundations could not be lasting, it would be like the house built on sand. The only lasting peace is a peace established between equals, a peace that in its whole essence rests on equality and the common benefit derived from a common act of good-will. The right attitude, the right mood of feeling, is as necessary between the different nations for enduring peace as for the just settlement of obstinate strife over questions of countries, races or peoples.” [ Note 1 ]

At that time this was held to be the condition for the founding of a League of Nations. And if we think clearly, it must be said that the moment this peace without victory is not forthcoming, all talk at present of founding a League ought to be abandoned, for it can no longer offer any prospect of success. But this has not happened. People do not think in accordance with reality, they think abstractly, letting their thoughts run on in the way they have begun, quite indifferent as to whether these thoughts have been based on suppositions likely to come true or not.

This is simply an outstanding example of the thinking that has brought the world so much misery. And unless we see that in place of this thinking estranged from reality there must be one that can penetrate reality, the situation will certainly not change in a way that is healing for mankind. This must be understood both in the great concerns of the world and also in the ordering of everyday life. For the measures affecting the daily life of individuals are closely connected with the most important affairs of mankind. The mention, therefore, must continually come before our souls: What then, today, could produce real change?

We know that what we call men's acceptance of Spiritual Science, is not merely a question of being convinced that there is a supersensible world. That is the what. But the important thing is that whoever in the true sense takes into his thinking what today can be told in the right way about the supersensible world, out of present spiritual revelation, should arrive at a certain how in his thinking. By this his thinking should gradually be transformed, in such a way that he really gets a sense for, an interest in, what truly and actually takes place in the world. It does not merely depend on what we acknowledge through Spiritual Science, but on how through it our thinking is transformed. The question therefore must touch us particularly closely why at present there is so strong an opposition to Spiritual Science.

Now yesterday I asked you to notice how everything that can be said about this opposition has to be related at the sane time to all that can arise under the influence of the threefold social organism. I said that once it has come about that the spiritual sphere has been placed on its own feet, so that it becomes independent of the economic sphere and of the life of the State, then in a comparatively short time Spiritual Science will become widespread. But one might go deeper into the question and ask: Why are people so little inclined to recognise necessity for the proper emancipation, of the life of the spirit and for its being placed on its own foundation? The reason is that this spiritual life has in recent times taken on a certain form that holds men back from directing their gaze to the supersensible world. One might say that the present sad experiences are in a certain way a kind of punishment for the necessary misunderstanding of spiritual life which has recently arisen. It must be realised that unless future human thought is led in a social direction, man will never get anywhere. We are taught this by facts against which it is foolish to contend. On the other hand it must be realised by penetrating deeply into things that any kind of socialism that is not at the same time spiritualised will prove the undoing rather than the salvation of mankind. The best groundwork for this penetration is a thorough understanding of the fact that socialistic thinking has proceeded out of modern thinking as a whole.

I have already given indications of this. Today we will gather up many of the things we have already heard. I have pointed out that there is something lurking in spirits like Fichte, when they direct their thoughts to the social sphere, that leads to an outlook quite similar to what is found today in Bolshevism. I tried to express this by saying that Johann Gottlieb Fichte would have actually been a genuine Bolshevist had he put his social theory into practice. He himself had so much spirituality that he could let his Bolshevist ideas appear in print (Der Geschlossene Handelsstaat) without becoming dangerous for mankind.

So little inclination exists today to penetrate into the real content of things that it is never noticed how in this book Fichte is a true Bolshevist.

Nevertheless it is in Hegel that modern thinking comes to expression with its particular characteristics. And Karl Marx isis again dependent upon Hegel though in a most remarkable way. Even if it leads us into the heights of abstraction I should like just to speak of what is characteristic in Hegel's mode of thinking. In the confusion of the last four-and-a-half years many inapt things have been said about Hegel. Why should we not for once be able to go objectively into the matter of his thinking?

Now let us consider how Hegel thought about the world, how he tried to direct his gaze to the revelations of the mysteries of the world. Hegel put what he had to say about his actual fundamental being of the world quite distinctly in various places—most distinctly of all in his Encyclopedia of Philosophical Knowledge. Let us observe in a quite ordinary way what sort of world-outlook we here find expressed. Hegel's world-outlook falls into three parts. The first part he called Logic. Logic for him, however, is not the art of subjective human thinking but the sum of all ideas active in the world itself. Hegel sees indeed in these ideas not only what flits ghostlike through human heads. That for him is only the perception of the idea. Ideas for Hegel are in a way forces working in the things themselves. And for the being of things Hegel goes no farther back than to the ideas, so that he wishes in his logic as it were the sum of all ideas contained in things. The ideas not appearing creatively in nature, the ideas that do not come to reflection in man and are not recognised by man, are ideas in themselves which are working in the world as ideas. I know quite well that perhaps you may not become much wiser from what I am saying; but people have long been maintaining that they do not gain much wisdom from Hegel, for they are unable to imagine the existence of a pure tissue of ideas. In this pure tissue of ideas, however, Hegel sees God before the creation of the world. For Hegel, God is a sum, or better, an organism, of ideas in the form in which these ideas existed before nature arose and before man was evolved on the foundation of nature. Thus Hegel tried to represent ideas in pure logic—that is, God before the creation of the world. God before the creation of the world is therefore pure logic.

Now we might say that it would be very profitable for man's life were someone to set forth all the ideas there were, irrespective of whether they are ideas of a living God or ideas only hovering in the air like a spider's web—but at that time there was no such thing as a web—that this would be of great advantage to the human soul. If, however, you take this pure Hegelian logic, you again find nothing but a web of ideas; and this is the reason it is so seldom done. A beginning is made with the most meagre concept, that of pure being. Then it rises to the non-being, then to existence, and so on. You come therefore to the sum of all ideas man has had about the world, about which he does not usually reflect. He finds it tedious to place before his soul all that follows from pure being up to the appropriate building-up of the organism, apart from any external world. You then get a sum of ideas but only of abstract ideas. And man's living feeling will naturally take up a certain attitude towards this sum or this organism of abstract ideas. How anyone might protest that this is a pantheistic prejudice of Hegel's, this belief that ideas as such are there. I take up the standpoint that before the creation of the world a God would have been there who might have had these ideas and created the world in accordance with them. Try, however, for once to imagine the reason and the soul-life of a God who would have nothing in Him but these Hegelian ideas, and would have reflected only about what lived between being and suitable organisation, who would have had in Himself only ideas of the most external abstractions. What would you say on being expected thus to picture the soul-life of a God? You would never be able to understand how a God could be so poor in His divine reasoning as to think only in such abstractions! Nevertheless for Hegel the sum of these abstract ideas is God Himself, not merely God is understanding but God Himself before the creation of the world. The essential thing is that Hegel in reality never gets beyond abstract ideas, but looks upon these abstractions as divine.

Then he goes on to his second point—nature. Here too, I might give you certain opinions as a kind of definition of the way Hegel progresses from the idea, that is, God before the creation, to nature. Probably, however, you would not gain much here either, were you to keep to your ordinary way of thinking. According to Hegel, logic contains the idea in itself; nature contains the idea in its external form. What therefore you contemplate as nature is also idea, actually nothing but what is contained in logic, in the form, however, of being outside itself or having a different being. Then Hegel examines nature in its pure mechanism to the point where it displays its biological, plant, animal relations. He tries everywhere, as far as nature is an open book to man, to point to ideas in her, in the light, in warmth, and in other forces, that of gravity and so forth. Hegel makes up for the significance lost through his abstractions, by his own powers of perception and imagination. But this perception and imagination of Hegel's sometimes endanger the understanding of what he actually wanted. I once tried to vindicate Hegel to a university professor, a philosopher with whom I was an friendly terms. I defend Hegel, you know, because I count it fruitful to defend everything positive rather than always to swear by one's own opinion, roundly criticizing everything else. Anything at all good I always defend. That is the positivism of Spiritual Science. But that time, in the defence of Hegel, I went to work the wrong way. The friend in question said: “O leave me in peace about Hegel. One can't take a man seriously who has nothing to say about the comets except that they are an eruption in the sky!”—Naturally such a statement, that the comets are some sort of rash in the heavens rather like measles, must be taken in its whole context.

Now after Hegel has given a sort of catalogue of all the concepts and ideas incorporated in nature, he goes on to his third point, the spirit. In the spirit he sees the idea in its own being, that is, not only as it was before the creation of the world, not only in itself, but as it is apart from all else. The idea lives in the human soul, then objectively outside, and then for itself apart, for man. Since man is the idea because all is idea, this is the idea for itself alone. Hegel again tries to follow up the idea as it is present first in the souls of single human individuals, then—if I skip over something—in the State. In human souls the idea is inwardly active; in the State it is again objectified, living in laws and administration. In all this the idea lives, having become objective. It then goes on developing objectively in world-history, State, world-history. Thus in world-history everything is registered as ideas which brings about the further evolution of mankind on the physical plane. Nothing living as ideas in souls, in the State, in world-history, goes beyond the physical plane, nor does it make man aware of there being a spiritual world. For the spiritual world is for Hegel only the sum total of the ideas living in everything, first in the being in itself before the creation of the world., then apart in nature, and in the separateness of the human soul, in the State and in world-history.

After this the idea is developed to its greatest height, in the last moment of its development comes, as it were, to itself, in art, religion and philosophy.

I Logic: Idea in itself
II Nature: Idea in its external being
III Spirit: Idea in its separateness


When the three, art, religion, and philosophy, arise in the life of man they stand above the State and world-history; nevertheless they are simply the embodiment of pure logic, the embodiment of abstract ideas. Those ideas existing before the creation of the world are represented in art in a physical image; in religion through a conception in accordance with feeling; and in philosophy the idea in its pure form appears finally in the human spirit. Man comes to fulfillment in philosophy, looks back on everything else that mankind and nature have produced in the way of ideas. He now feels himself filled with the God who is indeed the idea that looks back on the whole of its previous becoming. God sees Himself in men. Actually in man the idea is contemplating itself. Abstraction contemplates abstraction.

Nothing more ingenious can be imagined than these thoughts about human abstraction, if one bears in mind that this ingenuity is in the sphere of abstraction. And one can conceive nothing more inwardly daring than what holds good in the following—Ideas are what is highest, there is no God beyond ideas, ideas are God, and you, O soul of man, you are also an idea, only in you the idea is brought to its separateness, it contemplates itself.

Thus you see that we swim in ideas, we are ourselves ideas, everything is idea—the world in its extremest form of abstraction! It is of very great importance that just at the turn of the eighteenth century, and on into the nineteenth, there should have arisen a spirit who had the courage to say: It is only one who grasps the abstract idea who grasps reality; there is no higher reality than the abstract idea.

In the whole of Hegel's philosophy, from beginning to and, there is no path that leads into the supersensible world. For Hegel there is no such path; and if amen dies, because he is actually idea, in the sense of Hegelian philosophy he goes into the universal stream of world ideas. It is only about this stream of world ideas that anything can be said. There is no single concept that deals with the supersensible—this is just what is so great-minded about the Hegelian philosophy. Everything that meets us in Hegel's philosophy—in icy abstraction, it is true—is itself supersensible, even though abstractly supersensible. This proves itself entirely unsuited. to take up anything supersensible; it shows itself to be fitted only to enter into what is physical. The physical is spiritualised by the superphysical but only in a truly abstract form. At the same time everything supersensible is rejected because the sum of ideas given from beginning to end is related only to the physical world. Thus, I might say, the supersensible character of Hegel's ideas does not become very apparent, for this superphysical is not related to what is superphysical but only to what is physical.

I should particularly like to draw your attention to how the tendency of modern thinking is expressed. in its fundamental rejection of the supersensible; not, however, in superficial materialism but in the highest force of spiritual thinking. Hegel is therefore no materialist; he is an objective idealist. His objective idealism upholds the view that the objective idea is itself God, the founder of the world, the founder of everything.

Whoever thinks out a spiritual impulse of this kind, experiences in his thinking a certain inner satisfaction, which makes him overlook what is lacking. But what is lacking is felt all the more strongly by anyone who is not the original conceiver of the system but only reflects upon it. I have indicated this in my book Vom Menschenrätsel (The Riddle of Man).

Now imagine that a man—not like Hegel—spins thoughts in this way, with an inner supersensible impulse, but that this thinking is taken up by a different head having a sense only for the material—as was the case with Karl Marx. Then this idealistic philosophy of Hegel's becomes the motive for rejecting everything supersensible, and with it everything idealistic. And so it happened with Karl Marx. Karl Marx adopted the form of Hegel of thought. But he did not consider the idea in the reality; he considered the reality as it goes on shinning itself out as mere external material reality. He continued Hegel's impulse and materialised it. Thus the basic nerve of modern socialistic thought has its roots in the very pinnacle of modern idealistic thought. This personal contact that at the same time had to do with the history of the world, this contact of the most abstract thinker with the most material of all thinkers, was an inner necessity but also the tragedy of the nineteenth century; it has been in a certain way the change over of the spiritual life into its opposite.

Hegel continues in abstract concepts. Being is changed into non-being, cannot reconcile itself with non-being and therefore merges into becoming. Thus the concept progresses through thesis, antithesis, synthesis, to a certain inner triad, dealt with by Hegel in a grandiose way in the field of pure idea. Karl Marx carries over this inner triad, sought by Hegel for logic, nature and spirit in the inner flexibility of ideas, into outer material reality. He says, for example: Out of the modern economic and capitalistic form of human community, under private ownership, there has developed, as there developed with Hegel nothingness, non-being out of being, the formation of trusts, the capitalistic socialisation of the economy of private capital. With the increased amassing of industrial plant by the trusts, the private ownership of capital changes into its opposite. There arise associations that are the reverse of individual economy. This is a changing over into the opposite, the antithesis. Then comes synthesis. Once again the whole is changed as nothingness is changed into becoming; and the merging of private economy into the economy of trusts changes into something still greater—the trust economy ands in the communal ownership of the means of production. This purely external economic reality progresses in the triad. Here Karl Marx has been thinking exactly after Hegel's model, only Hegel in his thinking moved in an element of ideas while Marx lived in a weaving and living of external economic reality. So, side-by-side we find the extremes, one might say like being and non-being.

Now you can argue as long as you like about idealism and realism, spiritualism and materialism, but nothing comes of it, you get nowhere. What sustains man can be found only by thinking in the sense of the modern trinity, with man in the centre, the luciferic extreme on the one side, on the other the ahrimanic extreme. Ahrimanic materialism, luciferic spiritualism, as the two extremes, man keeping the balance. If you wish for the truth you can neither be idealist nor realist; you must be one just as much as the other. You must seek the spirit with such intensity that you find spirit even in the material; you must penetrate what is material so that through the material you find the spirit. That is the task of the modern age; no longer to wrangle about spiritualism and materialism but to find the balance between the two. For the two extremes of the luciferic in Hegel and the ahrimanic in Marx are outlived. They were there, they were manifested. Now there must be found what will bring agreement, and this can be done just by Spiritual Science. Here, it is true, we have to rise as did Hegel to the heights of pure thought, but this pure thought must be used for breaking through to the supersensible. We do not have to find logic, that is, an organism of ideas, which can be related only to the world of the senses; but at the point where logic has been found we must pierce through what belongs to the senses and reach the supersensible. Hegel was unable to succeed in thus breaking through, and because of this men was thrown back.

In a certain way it depends upon the heights and purity reached by modern thinking that socialism should have appeared without any reference to what is to any degree spiritual. And the present—day difficulty in adding spiritual thinking to socialistic thinking is bound up with the very ground of mankind's inner path of development. The whole connection must be seen into, however, for us to gain the strength to find the way out of the situation. The pursuit of science as it is now carried on in our universities has certainly not led to this.

Not physically, but where thinking is concerned, Hegel has squeezed out man as a lemon is squeezed till it is dry; and this squeezed out lemon of a man is then only another idea. You sit there in your chairs; in the sense of Hegel's philosophy you are pure ideas; there are not bodies sitting there, not souls, but ideas, for each of you bears en idea within him. And this was already there an abstract idea before the creation of the world. Then each one of you in yourself is body, nature—the idea outside itself is sitting there on those chairs. Then again within you is the idea in its separateness. You yourself grasp this idea that id you. Think what a shadow you are: Only think how squeezed out you are while you sit there as the idea in itself, outside itself, and apart from itself—but always just idea!

Now in the sense of Karl Marx you are quite different from ideas. Just because he has passed through Hegel's method of idealism you are for him an animal that has become two-legged, as you appear outwardly in the order of nature. The other extreme!

In face of what exists in man's evolution must we not make an attempt to give him back his manhood again even in our outward view of him? This means not taking man's nature to be merely universal idea nor animal-men, but really individual man in his own envelope, man who stands at the highest point in nature, who has within him a soul-being and is the goal of a spiritual world. The conception of man must be brought back to this real man. I have tried to do this in my The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. That is the actual historical statement of the problem which I had before me when I was constrained to write The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. The most highly developed animal enveloping man cannot be free, neither can there be freedom for the shadowy man—the idea in itself, outside itself, the idea in its separate being, for that is built up by the necessity of logic. Neither of these is free. Only the real man is free, the man who is the balance between the idea that breaks through to the actual spirit, and external materiel reality.

Therefore in the The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity an attempt was even made to base moral life not upon any kind of abstract principle, but upon inner moral experience, which at the time I called moral imagination, that is, upon what, expressed figuratively, individual man draws from the well of intuition. Kant set up the categorical imperative that runs: Act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be a guiding line for all men: Put on a coat that will fit every man.—The maxim of the philosophy of freedom runs: Let your action be such that it flows to you in a precise concrete moment, in an individual concrete moment, out of your highest human forces, out of the spirit.

Through moral philosophy in this roundabout way we arrive at spirituality. And for modern mankind it might be a way of coming to an understanding of the spiritual world, were men first to see into something that, after all, is not hard to grasp, namely, that what is moral has no support if it is not conceived as part of the supersensible and spiritual. From beginning to end Hegel's logic is a sum of abstract ideas. But ultimately what harm is there in my looking upon the whole of nature, upon every visible thing, as simply a scheme of ideas? It becomes harmful, however, when what spurs us on as an impulse to the moral, does not come from the spiritual world. For if it does not come from the spiritual world it has no true reality and is more noise and smoke issuing from animal-man. When animal-man dies nothing is left. In Hegel's philosophy there is no single concept related to anything that would still be there for man when he has gone through the gate of death, or that could have been there before he came through the gate of birth. Hegel's philosophy is great, but great as a point of transition for the nineteenth century. To recognise Hegel in his greatness leads us to carry him further, to make a passage through what stands in our way when we come to pure thought, to pure logic, to the idea in the abstract—a passage through to the supersensible world. Being still a follower of Hegel, can only be represented as the personal enjoyment of a few twisted minds who, at the beginning of the twentieth century set out to prove their great spirituality by going as far as it was permissible to go in the first decade of the nineteenth century. For we have to learn not only to wish to live abstractly as men, but to live wholly with the times, to live in the evolution of the time. We come to what is really living by refusing, to be absolute, otherwise we cannot cooperate in the sense of human evolution. The important thing is that we should work together for human evolution.

Raphael was great. The Sistine Madonna is a very important artistic creation. Actually it could be estimated justifiably only by someone who, if a painter produced a Sistine Madonna today, would consider it a bad picture. For it is a question of not taking anything as absolute, but of understanding how to place oneself into the great association of all mankind. And the necessity lies before us today of not simply taking up an absolute attitude in the world, as might be done formerly, but of feeling ourselves consciously in the epoch into which we are placed in a certain incarnation. Strange as it may sound, a right estimation of the Sistine Madonna could be made only by someone who was able to condemn the picture out of the modern attitude of mind, had it been painted today. For nothing has an absolute value; things derive their value from the place where they stand in the world. Up to now people have been able to make do without this insight; but from now on it is essential. It is not so particularly profound. In his epoch the discoverer of the Pythagorean theorem was a great man. Today should anyone invent or discover this theorem it would be interesting but nothing more. It would also be interesting were anyone to paint the Sistine Madonna today. It is however not the time for this; it in not what must happen at the point of evolution in which we now stand.

You see what a new form thinking must take, what a socialising of thought there must be to experience jointly with other men is the important thing for today. To most people this will seem distinctly strange. Today however we find ourselves compelled to make a fundamental change in our thinking, to come to really new thoughts. We are no longer able to live with the old thoughts. If men go on spinning these old thoughts, the world will simply tumble about their ears. The salvation of mankind depends on men being able to free themselves from the old thinking and really wish for new thinking. Spiritual Science is a new thinking. The very reason it is so shunned is that fundamentally it is at variance with the old habits of thought. It is only those men who perceive the necessity for a new thinking who will be able to have a true feeling for Spiritual Science generally, and also for its revelations concerning individual spheres of the life of soul, for example, concerning the social question.

Something else is making the present age unhealthy, namely that men have come to think differently in their subconscious, but out of historic obstinacy they suppress this different thinking sitting in their subconscious, and for this they will have to suffer the consequences. Present historical evolution is in many respects the punishment for man's obstinacy in suppressing what lies in his subconscious and clinging in an artificial way to what for centuries he has maintained. We should not take those thinkers who are illogical and love the easy way, we should take the logical thinker of the epoch that is past and gone and learn from him where we have gone astray. It is not the thinker who makes concessions who is characteristic of this period that is past, but the thinker who clings fast to the standpoint of what is old. When, many years ago in the Austrian Upper Chamber, all the lovers of abstraction and the advanced Liberals were speaking of progress and liberalism, and of how religion was to be transformed to suit modern demands—when they used the cliches of all those who take up the cudgels, from Gladstone down to the valiant parliamentarians of the continent—the following rejoinder was made by Cardinal Rauscher, a Churchman keeping fast to the old, with nothing modern about him. He said: The Catholic Church knows no progress; what was once true is true for all time; nothing opposing it in the way of innovation that claims validity, has any right to it!—This was no modern spirit but a finished product of bygone times. And the same is true of Pobedonosceff (Russian Jurist and Statesmen) the only man who in an intelligent way partaking of genius has condemned the whole modern culture of the west, because in his opinion it really led to nothing. It was only possible to uphold the old order to which the bourgeoisie of today have become accustomed if people were willing to believe the world to be formed as Cardinal Rauscher, and Pobedonosceff himself, would have it. Had the world not been fed on the twaddle of Nicolas II but with the stark Principles of Pobedonosceff, it goes without saying that the present war would not have taken place. But on the other hand there is this to be said: One could no have built on Pobedonosceff's ideas, because the reality went in another direction. And now it is a question of following the reality, not by making concessions, not by behaving in the way most spirits have behaved during the second half of the nineteenth century or in the first two decades of the twentieth, but by resolving to think something as different from the earlier thought as the devastation of the world war, in its other negative side, is different from what went before. From this terrible calamity, of which it is constantly said that there has never been anything like it in the course of history, we should learn to grasp thoughts of which we can say that there has never been anything like these in the course of history.

Thus you see it is incumbent upon man to make a great resolution. What out of instinct will unconsciously bring this resolution to fruition makes itself felt as socialism. The world will never get out of chaos till a sufficient number of men combine material socialism with the socialism that is ideal and spiritual. This is the existing condition of things. Salvation cannot come to historical social evolution so long as man fails to reach the point of being able to see the immediate reality beneath his nose. This should become the inner practice, as it were, of the soul which can originate from the impulses of Spiritual Science. I should like to try to point you continually to this inner practice of the soul. The more strongly you feel the importance for our time of what I have been trying to put forward in these considerations, the more freely will you move in the spiritual stream which receives its life from the Spiritual Science of Anthroposophy.


1. Not Wilson's original English. Translated from the German.