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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Education as a Social Problem
GA 296

V. The Metamorphoses of Human Intelligence: Present Trends and Dangers

16 August 1919, Dornach

In the observations we are making here we have to enter more and more into the history of the age and see how cosmic forces work into the evolution of the present time and form the foundations of our human life. You have seen from our discussions yesterday that it becomes increasingly necessary to transform the rigid, abstract concepts one is accustomed to at present into flowing, mobile, living concepts if mankind is to progress. A special light is thrown upon all the facts in question by that soul force we call intelligence. The man of the present is particularly proud of his intelligence. He considers the gradual acquisition of intelligence a special mark of distinction.

If man today looks back into earlier epochs when people had pictorial thoughts, he considers their constitution of spirit and soul in that time childlike. He believes that only through his intelligence and his science can one acquire a correct knowledge of what people in earlier periods of evolution tried to comprehend through myths and legends. He looks back to those childlike stages of evolution and is very proud of having come so far, especially in the development of intelligence. Now let us consider the special characteristics of human intelligence, that soul force in which modern man takes such pride. If we speak today of intelligence we refer to a soul force of which we have a definite concept and cannot imagine it to be different. People of former epochs, however, also had intelligence, but of a different sort. If we wish to become fully acquainted with the significance of so-called intelligence for modern man, we must ask: What was the nature of former intelligence, and how did it gradually change into the intelligence of our time?

Today we shall not go back further than the third post Atlantean period, the Egypto-Chaldean, followed by the Greco-Latin, which in turn was followed by our own. We shall consider the peculiarity of the intelligence of these ancient peoples and then pass over to the special kind of intelligence that we of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch possess. You see from this that I assume it is not correct to think intelligence is intelligence, that only one kind is possible; that whoever has our intelligence is intelligent, and whoever does not have it is un-intelligent. This is not correct. Intelligence passes through metamorphoses and transforms itself. In the Egypto-Chaldean period it was different from today. This can best be described by saying, those people felt and comprehended instinctively, through their intelligence, their relationship to the entire cosmos. The Egyptians and Chaldeans thought very little, or not at all, about what modern man thinks by means of his intelligence. When they brought their intelligence into play their connection with the cosmos lived in it. They knew their relationship to this or that zodiacal constellation; they knew what kind of influence moon, sun, and planets had upon man's soul and bodily constitutions. They knew the influence of the course of the seasons upon him. All this they grasped through their intelligence. They acquired an entirely inward picture of their relationship with the cosmos.

This intelligence had become transformed by the time the Egypto-Chaldean period came to an end in the eighth century B.C. The connection with the cosmos was no longer the vital experience it had been prior to this time. It lived like an echo, a kind of memory in human souls. In its place there entered into the Greek intelligence man's reflecting on himself as an earth dweller, how he is related to the cosmos. But the Greek had a certain feeling in using his intelligence. He understood everything of the earthly world that is subject to death. He knew that if he wanted to comprehend the supersensible he had to turn to that power of perception which still existed atavistically in the pre-Christian era. Through reflection, through intelligence, he learned to know the laws which underlie all that dies on earth. Said the pupils of Plato: “If I want to understand the living I must see; by merely thinking I only grasp what is dead.”

In the Greek mystery schools something quite definite in this connection was explained. It was about like this: Everything is spiritual; spiritual processes and laws also underlie what seems to be material. There are spiritual laws that concern you in so far as you have a body. When you pass through the portal of death your body is delivered to the material powers and substances of the earth. But these powers and substances are only apparently material. They too are spiritual, but they are permeated by that spiritual force which appears to you as death. If with your intelligence you grasp any kind of laws, you see that these are the laws of death. They are the laws that are active in graves, in corpses. If you want to know the nature of the spiritual powers in which you live here on earth, or in the body-free state between death and a new birth — thus spoke the mystery teacher to his pupils — then you must be convinced of that which you see. If you are not so convinced, concepts and ideas developed only through your intelligence will merely grasp the spirit in matter, in your physical body.

Whereas the Egypto-Chaldean felt and perceived in his intelligence his relationship to the entire cosmos, the Greek perceived through his intelligence what governs the tomb. We, too, only perceive through our intelligence what governs the tomb; however, we are not conscious of it. So, we go to the dissecting laboratories, investigate the corpse, and consider the laws of the corpse that we grasp through our intelligence to be the laws of man. Yet, they are only the laws of the grave.

But again, since the middle of the fifteenth century, a gradual transformation of intelligence is taking place. Although it is still very much like that of the Greeks it is undergoing a transformation, and we are in the beginning of it. In the coming centuries and millennia this intelligence will become something very, very different. Even today it shows a tendency toward what will come in future, a tendency merely to grasp what is error, untruth, deception; a tendency to ponder only what is evil.

The mystery pupils and especially the initiates had known for some time that human intelligence approaches its development toward evil, and that it becomes more and more impossible to recognize the good through mere intelligence. Mankind finds itself today within this transition. We may say, it is still barely possible, if men exert their intelligence and do not bear especially wild instincts in themselves, to look toward the light of what is good. But human intelligence will more and more develop the inclination to plan evil, to bring error into knowledge, and insert evil into man's moral life.

This is one of the reasons initiates called themselves men of anxiety. Indeed, if one observes the evolution of mankind from this aspect as I have just done, it causes anxiety, precisely because of the way intelligence is developing. It is not for nothing that it fills modern man with pride and haughtiness. This is the pre-taste of intelligence becoming evil in the fifth post-Atlantean age, which is beginning now. If man were not to develop anything else but intelligence he would become an evil being on earth. If we want to think of a wholesome future for mankind, we must not count on the one-sided development of intelligence. In Egypt and Chaldea, it was good; later it entered into a relationship with the forces of death; and it will enter into a relationship with the forces of error, deception, and evil.

This is something about which mankind should have no illusions. In an unbiased fashion humanity should reckon with the fact that it has to protect itself against this one-sided development of intelligence. It is not in vain that precisely through the anthroposophically oriented science of the spirit another element will be added by taking in what can be gained through a renewed perception of the spiritual world. This cannot be grasped by intelligence, but only if we take into ourselves what the science of initiation brings down from the spiritual world through vision.

But something quite objective is necessary here. At this point we confront a deep secret of Christian-esoteric development. If the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place in the course of earth evolution human beings could not avoid gradually becoming evil through their intelligence; inevitably they would fall prey to error. You know that with the Mystery of Golgotha there flowed into mankind's evolution not merely a doctrine, a theory, a world view, a religion, but a real fact. In the man Jesus of Nazareth there lived the extraterrestrial being, the Christ. Through the fact that the Christ dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth, when Jesus died the Christ-being passed over into earthly evolution. He is within it. We must only be conscious that this is an objective fact which has nothing to do with what we know or feel subjectively. We must know it for the sake of knowledge; we must take it up into our ethical culture for the sake of our morality. The Christ-being has flowed into mankind's evolution. He is within it since the resurrection. He dwells especially in our soul forces. Take this fact in its full depth!

Look at the difference between men who lived before the Mystery of Golgotha and those who lived after it. Certainly they are the same people, because souls pass through repeated earth lives. But we must differentiate between those who lived before this Mystery and those who lived after it. A general concept of God is not the Christ concept. We can arrive at a general concept of God if we observe nature in her phenomena, if we observe physical man, externally. The Christ-being is of such a nature that we can only come near it if, in the course of earthly life, we uncover something in ourselves. We can find the general concept of God by simply saying: We have come into existence out of the forces of the world. The Christ concept we must find in ourselves by advancing beyond the phenomena in nature. If, living in the world, we do not find the concept of God, this is a kind of sickness. A healthy human being is never really atheistic. If he is, he must be bodily or psychically sick in some way, and the illness expresses itself in atheism.

To be unable to recognize the Christ is not an illness but a misfortune, the neglecting of an opportunity offered by life. By reflecting upon our having been born out of nature and its forces, and pursuing this thought with a healthy soul, we may arrive at a concept of God. By experiencing in the course of our life something like a re-birth we may arrive at a concept of Christ. Birth leads to God; re-birth to Christ. This re-birth, through which Christ as a Being may be found in man, could not be attained prior to the Mystery of Golgotha. This is the difference upon which I wish you to focus your attention. Prior to the Mystery of Golgotha man could not yet experience this re-birth, could not yet recognize that Christ lives in him, because the Christ being had not yet flowed into mankind. After the Mystery of Golgotha man can recognize Him. He can find the spark of Christ in himself if he exerts himself in the way he lives.

In this re-birth, this finding of the Christ-spark in oneself, in being able to say sincerely and honestly to oneself, “Not I but the Christ in me,” lies the possibility of preventing the intellect from falling prey to deception and evil. And this, in the esoteric Christian sense, is the higher concept of redemption. We must develop our intelligence, for we must not become un-intelligent; but in striving to develop it we are faced with the temptation to fall into error and evil. We can escape this temptation only if we acquire a feeling for what the Mystery of Golgotha has brought into mankind's evolution.

It is already so, that man in his consciousness of Christ, in his union with Christ, can find the possibility of escaping evil and error. The man of Egypt and Chaldea did not need re-birth in Christ because he still felt his relationship with the cosmos through his natural intelligence. The Greek faced the seriousness of death when he surrendered to his intelligence. Now mankind lives at the beginning of an age in which intelligence would become evil if human souls would not let themselves be permeated by the Christ-power. This is a very serious matter. It shows how certain things that proclaim themselves in our time have to be taken; how we have to be aware that in our age men acquire the aptitude for evil precisely because they approach a higher development of their intelligence. It would of course be entirely wrong to believe that we should suppress intelligence. It must not be suppressed. But for the person with insight a certain courage will be needed in future in surrendering to intelligence, because it tempts one to evil and error; and because, in the permeation of intelligence with the Christ-principle, we must find the possibility of transforming intelligence. It would become completely Ahrimanic if the Christ-principle were not to permeate human souls.

You see how much of what I have just characterized is already coming to light, which is perceptible to a person with insight. As you think about it, just notice how many cruelties permeate our culture, cruelties with which the cruelties of barbarian times cannot be compared. If you consider this you will hardly doubt that the dawn of the decline in intelligence is proclaiming itself. One should not look superficially at the so-called cultural phenomena of our age. Nor should one doubt that modern men have to arouse themselves to a real comprehension of the Christ-impulse if evolution is to go forward in a healthy way. Two evidences of this can be definitely seen today: People who are very intelligent and have a decided inclination toward evil; and many others who subconsciously suppress but do not fight this inclination toward evil, merely letting their intelligence sleep. Drowsiness of the soul; or, with wakeful souls, a strong inclination toward evil and error — this may be observed at present.

Now remember what I said to you here one evening before my last journey, how different children are who were born within the last five to eight years, from those born some decades earlier. They have a trace of melancholy in their faces which is clearly discernible. This comes from the fact that souls today do not gladly descend into this world so filled with materialism. One might say that the souls have a certain fear and reluctance to enter the world in which intelligence is inclined toward evil and is in a declining development.

This also is something future educators and teachers must take into their consciousness. Children today are different from those of some decades ago. Even superficial observation shows this clearly. One has to educate and teach them differently from previous times. One must teach out of awareness that one has to bring about a salvation in the case of every individual child; that one has to steer him toward finding the Christ-impulse in the course of his life, toward finding a re-birth within himself.

Such things must not live in the teacher as mere theory; they can be introduced into one's teaching only if one is strongly taken hold of by them in one's own soul. It must be demanded of teachers especially that their souls be strongly gripped by the anxiety that arises in confronting the temptation the intellect offers. The pride that man takes today in his intellect might indeed take its revenge if it were not checked by his being consciously able to say, strongly and energetically, “The best in me as a human being of this and following incarnations is what I find in myself as the Christ-impulse.”

We must, however, be clear that this Christ-impulse must not be the dogmatism of some religious body. Since the middle of the fifteenth century religious communities, instead of bringing the Christ-impulse close to mankind, have contributed to its alienation. The religious bodies pretend this or that, but in doing so they do not bring the Christ-impulse near to man. It is necessary for a person to feel that everything in relation to the Mystery of Golgotha which can reveal itself to his inmost being is connected with what has come into the earth through that Mystery. If we experience the true meaning of the earth as inherent in that Mystery, then we must bring ourselves to say: The evolution of the earth would be meaningless if man were to fall prey through his intelligence to evil and error. Thus, if we feel wherein the real meaning of earth evolution actually lies, we also feel that this evolution would be senseless without the Mystery of Golgotha.

We must permeate ourselves through and through with this conviction if, today and in future, we wish to do something toward man's education and instruction. We require these comprehensive points of view. But you know how far people are today from such views. Therefore, nothing is more necessary than to point again and again not only to the importance of spiritual scientific teaching, but to the seriousness that must take hold of our souls through our learning to know through spiritual science the pertinent facts in the evolution of mankind. For not only our knowledge but our whole life is to receive an impulse through spiritual science. Without our feeling this seriousness we are not true scientists of the spirit.

I beg you to pay close attention to this particular revelation out of spiritual science: That human intelligence, left to itself, travels on the path toward the Ahrimanic; that it can become active for the good only through taking in the true Christ-impulse. I believe that whoever takes the full seriousness of this truth into himself will also carry the same seriousness into the relationship he forms to the various world concepts and movements of the present time. Here there is much to be done.

People who have recently come from the East of Europe tell with great horror of a fact that indeed does not testify to an advance on the path toward civilization. I refer to the coming into existence of the so-called “gun-women.” This is a special class of people, women of the East-European population, who are being used in the present revolutionary movements. In certain regions of the East young women are chosen and equipped with guns left over from the war, and their task is to shoot those people who are opposing the government in power. These female gunmen are dressed up in stolen finery and take their pleasure in carrying guns and shooting people. They consider it to be in tune with modern attitudes to brag about the fine feeling they have gradually acquired for the way the blood of young people spurts out, and how the blood of older people looks. In truth, we have arrived at a quite special configuration of our modern civilization! For the institution of gun-women is a development of the present age.

We have to point to such phenomena. They make us see the counterpart of the seriousness of our age. Of course, we need not know of these abominable excesses in our so-called progressive culture in order really to feel this seriousness which calls upon us for devoted attention to it at the present time. Such seriousness arises in us out of knowing the evolution of mankind itself. One could wish that the sleep which has taken hold of modern man may pass over into an awakening. The most worthy awakening can only consist in being gripped by the earnestness of the task given to humanity, and by seeing the danger of the intellect being one-sidedly left to itself and moving in an Ahrimanic direction. This should be the force permeating us with such earnestness.