This is the 4th of 15 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach in October and November of 1919. This lecture is also known as: Social Impulses for the Healing of Modern Civilization. The title of this series of lectures is: Social Questions and their Spiritual Background.
10 October 1919, Dornach
I want during the next few evenings to talk to you about various things in connection with our present civilisation, which are necessary to right understanding and action in the world to-day. It is not very difficult — in view of the many facts that meet one almost at every turn — to perceive signs of decline within our civilisation, and that it contains within itself forces that make for its downfall. Recognising these forces of decline within our civilisation, we have then to seek out the quarters whence it may draw fresh sources of strength. If we survey our present civilisation, we shall see that there are present in it three main downward forces — three forces which gradually and inevitably must bring about its overthrow. All the distressing phenomena we have hitherto experienced in the course of man's evolution — all those we have still to go through, for in many respects we are only just at the beginning — these are only so many symptoms of a vast process that is going on in our age, and that, taken as a whole, presents a phenomenon of decline and fall.
If we look beyond our own immediate civilisation—beyond what has taken place in our own times merely, or during the last three or four centuries — if we take a wide survey of the whole course of man's evolution, we may observe that earlier ages had a groundwork for their civilisation, a groundwork for the habits and thoughts of everyday life, such as we to-day only believe ourselves to have. These old civilisations — especially the heathen civilisations — had something of a scientific character about them — a scientific character of a sort which made men realise, that what lived within their own souls was part of the life of the whole universe. Just think what a vivid conception the Greeks still possessed of worlds beyond the bounds of everyday existence, of a world of Gods and Spirits behind the world of sense. One has but to recall how living a part was played in everyday life by whatever could form any sort of link between the people of those elder civilisations and a spiritual world to which they were no strangers. In all their daily transactions, these men of old were conscious of forming part of a creation not exhausted within the limits of the everyday world, but where spiritual beings made their workings felt. The commonest everyday affairs were transacted under the guidance of spiritual forces. And thus, in the heathen civilisations especially, we find, when we look back on them, a dominant scientific character, which is best described by saying: In those days people had a Cosmogony — that is, they recognised themselves to be members of the whole universe. They knew that they were not merely beings who had gone astray and were wandering over the face of the green earth like lost sheep, but that they were part and parcel of the whole wide universe, and had their own function within this universe. The men of old possessed a Cosmogony.
Our civilisation possesses no instinct for the creation of a cosmogony in real life. Our mode of conception is not, in the strict sense of the term, a genuinely scientific one. We have tabulated isolated facts, and we have constructed a logical system of concepts; but we have no real science forming a practical link between us and the spiritual world. How paltry is the part played by the science of our day in common life, compared with what man of old felt pulsing through him from the forces of the spiritual world! In all his actions he had a cosmogony; he knew himself a member of the whole vast universe. When he looked up at the sun and the moon and the stars, they were not to him strange worlds; for he knew himself, in his own deepest nature, akin to the sun and moon and world of stars. Thus, the old civilisations possessed a cosmogony; but for our civilisation this cosmogony is lost. Without a cosmogony in life, men cannot be strong. That is one thing that is bringing about the downfall of our civilisation.
The second element leading to the downfall of our civilisation is that there is no true impulse for Freedom. Our civilisation lacks the power to ground life upon a broad basis of general freedom. Only very few people in our day arrive at any real conception of freedom. There are plenty who talk about it; but very few to-day arrive at any real conception of what freedom really is — and fewer still have any real impulse for it. And so it comes that our civilisation is gradually sinking into something where it can find neither strength or support — into Fatalism. Either we have religious fatalism, in which men yield themselves up to religious forces of some kind or another, make these religious forces their master, and ask nothing better than to be pulled about by strings, like puppets at a show. Or else we have the fatalism of natural science. And the effects of such scientific fatalism are seen in the way people have come to regard all events caused by natural or economic necessity, and as leaving no scope for free action on the part of man. And when men feel themselves fettered to the world of economics or the world of nature, that is, to all intents and purposes, fatalism. Or else, again, we have that fatalism which has come in with the more modern forms of religious faiths — a fatalism that deliberately precludes freedom. Just ask yourselves, how many hearts and souls there are to-day, who consciously yearn to yield themselves up, for Christ, or a spiritual power of some kind, to do what he pleases with them. Why it is even an accusation one frequently hears made against Anthroposophy, that it lays too little stress on men being redeemed by Christ, not by themselves. People prefer to be led; they prefer to be guided; they would really prefer fatalism to be true. How often lately, in these troublous years, has one not heard this kind of talk from one person or another: “Why does not God, why does not Christ, come to the help of this or that set of people? There must, after all, be a divine justice somewhere!” People would like this divine justice ... they would like to have it suspended aloft as a Fate. They do not want to get to that innate strength which comes from the impulse of Freedom and permeates the whole being. A civilisation that does not know how to foster the impulse of Freedom weakens men and dooms itself to downfall.
That is the second thing. — Of the forces that are bringing about the decline of our civilisation, the first is the lack of a Cosmogony. And the second is the lack of a genuine impulse for Freedom.
And the third thing is, that our civilisation is incapable of evolving anything that can give fresh fire to religious feeling and purpose. Our civilisation, in truth, aims at nothing more than nursing the old religions and fanning their cold ashes. But to bring new religious impulses into life, for that our civilisation lacks the strength. And lacking this, it lacks also the strength for true altruistic action in life. That is why all the processes of our civilisation are so egoistic, because it has within itself no real, no strong, altruistic motive-power, There is nothing that can supply altruistic motive-power but a spiritual view of life. Only when a man comes to recognise himself as a member of the spiritual world does he cease to be so tremendously interested in himself that the whole world revolves round him. When he does, then indeed egoistic motives are replaced by those of Altruism. Our age, however, is little given to cultivating so great an interest in the spiritual world. The interest in the spiritual world must be much further developed before people really feel themselves members of it.
And so it was like impulses dropped from on high that the teaching of Reincarnation and Karma came amongst us and into our civilisation. But how were these impulses interpreted? At bottom it was in a very egoistic way that these ideas of Reincarnation and Karma were understood, even by those who took them up. For instance, they would say: — Oh, well! in some life or other everyone has deserved what he gets. Even otherwise quite intelligent people have been known to say that the ideas of reincarnation and karma of themselves sufficiently warranted the existence of human suffering. There is at bottom no justification for the social question — so say many otherwise intelligent people — for, if a man is poor, it is what he deserved in his previous incarnation, and he has to work off in this incarnation only what, he deserved in a previous one. Even the ideas of reincarnation and karma are unable to permeate our civilisation in any way save one and it gives no stimulus to the altruistic sense. It is not enough for us merely to introduce ideas such as those of reincarnation and karma — the question is, in what way we introduce them. If they become merely an incentive to egoism, then they do not raise our civilised life, they only serve to sink it lower. There is another way again in which reincarnation and karma become unethical — anti-ethical — ideas. Many people say: “I must be good, so that I may have a fortunate incarnation next time.” To act from such a motive, to be virtuous in order that one may have as pleasant a time as possible in the next incarnation — this is not simple egoism, but double egoism. Yet this double egoism is what many people did actually get out of the ideas of reincarnation and karma. Our civilisation possesses so little of any altruistic or religious impulse, that it is incapable of conceiving even such ideas as those of reincarnation and karma in the sense that would make them a stimulus to altruistic, not to egoistic actions and sentiments.
These are the three things which are acting within our civilisation as forces of decline and fall: — Lack of a cosmogony, lack of a sound foundation of freedom, lack of an altruistic sense. But without a cosmogony, do you see, there is no real science, or system of knowledge. Then there is no real knowledge — then all knowledge ultimately becomes a mere game, in which the worlds and the civilisations of man are toys. And this is what knowledge has in many respects become in our age, insofar as it is not merely a utilitarian incident of external culture, of external technical culture. Freedom has now become in many respects an empty phrase, because the force of our civilisation does not lay a broad foundation of freedom nor spreads abroad the impulse of freedom. Neither in the economic field have we the possibility of progressing further in the social direction, because our civilisation contains no altruistic motive force, but only egoistic anti-social motive forces, and one cannot socialise with anti-social forces. For socialising means creating a social framework such that each man lives and works for the rest. But just imagine in our present civilisation each man trying to live and work for the rest! Why, the whole order of society is so instituted, that each one can only live and work for himself. All our institutions are like that.
The question then arises: — How are we going to surmount these signs of our civilisation's decline and fall? To gloss over such signs of decline in our civilisation, my dear friends, is quite impossible. There is nothing for it, but to recognise the facts as they have just been stated, to regard them dispassionately and without reservations, and to harbour no illusions. One must say to oneself: There they are, these forces of decline and fall, and one must not imagine that one can in any way turn them in another direction, or anything of that sort. No, they are very powerful forces of decline, and it is necessary to give them their proper name, and to speak of them as we are doing now. This being so, what we must do, is to turn to where forces can be found for the re-ascent, and that is not to be done by theorising. People in the present day may invent the most beautiful theories, may have the most lofty principles — but with theories alone one can do nothing. To do anything in life, it must be by means of the forces that are actually present in the world. If our civilisation were through and through as I have been describing it — I mean, if it were like that through and through — then there would be nothing for it but to say to ourselves: “We must just let our civilisation go to pieces, and ourselves along with it.” For to attempt in any way to redress the signs of the times by mere theories or conceptions would be an utter absurdity.
One can but ask: Does not the root of the matter perhaps lie really deeper? It does lie deeper. People to-day are too much bent upon the “Absolute.” When they ask: “What is true?” — they mean, “What is true absolutely?” — not what is true of a particular age. When they ask, “What is good?” — they are asking, “What is good absolutely?” — They are not asking, “What is good for Europe? What is good for Asia? What is good for the twentieth century? What is good for the twenty-fifth century?” They are asking about absolute Goodness and Truth. They are not asking about what actually exists in the concrete evolution of mankind. But we must put the question to ourselves in a different way, for we must look at the actuality of things, and from the point of view of actuality, questions must be differently put — very often so put, that the answers seem paradoxical compared with what one is inclined to assume from a surface view of things.
We must ask ourselves: — Is there no possibility of arriving once more at a mode of conception which is cosmogonical, which takes on the universe as a whole? Is there no possibility of arriving at an impulse of freedom which shall be an actual influence in social life? Is there no possibility for an impulse which shall be religious and at the same time an impulse of brotherhood, and therefore the real basis for an economic social order? And if we put these questions rightly, then we get real answers. For the point we have here to remember is this. The various types of people on the earth to-day are not all adapted to the whole all-comprehensive universal truth; the various types of men are only adapted to particular fields of the true Activity. And we must ask ourselves: — Where in the life of earth to-day may there perhaps exist the possibility for a cosmogony to evolve? Where does the possibility exist for a sweeping impulse of freedom to evolve? And where does the impulse exist for a communal life among men that is religious and also, in a social sense, brotherly?
We will take the last question first, and if we contemplate the state of affairs on our earth impartially, we shall come to the conclusion, that the temperament, the mode of thought for an actual brotherly impulse upon our earth is to be sought amongst the Asiatic peoples, the peoples of Asia — especially in the civilisations of Japan and India. Despite the fact that these civilisations have already fallen into decadence, and despite the fact that external, superficial appearances are against it, we find there enshrined in men's hearts those impulses of generous love towards all living things which alone can supply the foundations for religious altruism in the first place, and, in the second, for an actual, altruistic, industrial form of civilisation.
But here we are met by a peculiar fact. The Asiatics have, it is true, the temperament for altruism, but they have not got the kind of human existence which would enable them to carry their altruism into practice. They have merely got the temperament, but they have no possibility, no gift for creating social conditions in which altruism could begin to be externally realised. For thousands of years, the Asiatics have managed to nurse the instincts of altruism in human nature. And yet, they brought things to a state in which China and India were devastated by monster famines That is the peculiar thing about the Asiatic civilisation, that the temperament is there, and that this temperament is inwardly perfectly sincere, but that there exists no gift for realising this temperament in outer life. That is just the peculiar thing about Asiatic civilisation, that it contains a tremendously strong instinct for altruism in men's inner nature, and no possibility, for the moment, of realising it externally. On the contrary, if Asia were left to herself alone, this very fact, that she has this capacity for laying the inward basis of altruism without any gift for realising it outwardly, would turn her into an appalling desert of civilisation.
We may say then, that of these three things : the impulse for Cosmogony, the impulse for Freedom, the impulse for Altruism, Asia possesses more especially the inner temperament for the third. It is, however, but one third of what is necessary to bring our civilisation into the ascendant that Asia possesses — the inward temperament for altruism.
Now Europe. It is necessary for Europe to solve the social question — but she has not the temperament to solve the social question. To solve the social question, she would need to have the Asiatic temperament. The social necessities of Europe are such as to supply all the conditions requisite for a solution of the social question; but the Europeans would first need to become permeated through and through with the way of thought that is natural to the Asiatic — only the Asiatic has no gift for actually perceiving social needs as they exist externally. Often indeed, he even acquiesces in them. In Europe, there is every external incentive to do something about the social question, but the temperament is lacking. On the other hand there is in Europe, in the very strongest degree, the talent, the ability which would provide the soil for freedom — for the impulse of freedom. The strong point of European talents — specifically European talents — lies in developing in the very highest degree the inner sentiment, the inner feeling for freedom. In effect, the gift for getting to a real idea of freedom is specifically European. But among these Europeans there are none who act freely, who could make freedom a reality. Of freedom as an idea the Europeans can form the loftiest conception. But just as the Asiatic would be able to set about doing something if he possessed the clear thought of the Europeans without their other failings, if he could only get the clear-cut European idea of freedom, so, the European may evolve the most beautiful conception of freedom, but there is no possibility, politically, of realising this idea of freedom through the direct agency of the European peoples. For, of the three essentials to civilisation: — the impulse for Altruism, the impulse for Freedom, the impulse for Cosmogony — the European possesses only one third — the impulse for Freedom. The other two he has not got. So the European also has only got one third of what is necessary in order really to bring forth a new age. It is very important that people should at least recognise these things as being the secrets of our civilisation. In Europe, we can at least say that we have all the conditions of thought and feeling requisite for knowing what freedom is, but without something more, there is no possibility for us to carry out this freedom. I can assure you that in Germany, for instance, the most beautiful things were written by various individuals about freedom, at the time when all Germany was groaning under the tyranny of Ludendorff and company. Most beautiful things were written about freedom at that time. In Europe, a talent undoubtedly exists for conceiving the impulse of freedom. That is one third, so far, towards the actual upraising of our civilisation — but not the whole.
Leaving Europe and going Westwards — and I take Great Britain and America together in this connection—passing then to the Anglo-American world, we find again here one third of the impulses — just one out of the three impulses, that are necessary to the upraising of our civilisation, and that is, the impulse towards a Cosmogony. Anyone acquainted with the spiritual life of the Anglo-American world knows, that formalistic and materialistic as Anglo-American spiritual life is in the first instance — and though indeed it even tries to get to what is spiritual in a materialistic fashion — yet it has in it the makings of a cosmogony. Although this cosmogony is to-day being sought along altogether erroneous paths, yet it lies in the Anglo-American nature to seek for it. Again a third: the search for a cosmogony. The possibility of bringing this cosmogony into connection with free, altruistic man does not exist. There is the talent for treating this cosmogony as an ornamental appendage, for working it out and giving it shape; but no talent for incorporating the human being in this cosmogony as a member of it. Even the Spiritualist Movement, in its early beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century (of which it still preserves some traces) — had, one may say, something of a cosmogony about it, although it led into the wilderness. What they were trying to get at, were the forces that lay behind the sense-forces, only they took a materialistic road, and used materialistic methods, to find them. But they were not endeavouring through these means to arrive at a science of the formalist kind that you get, for instance, among the Europeans. They were trying to become acquainted with the real, super-sensible forces. Only, as I said, they took a wrong road. So, here again, we have one third of what will have to be there before our civilisation can re-ascend.
We cannot to-day arrive at the secrets of our civilisation, my dear friends, unless we can distinguish how these three impulses needed for its rise are distributed among the different members of our earth's surface — unless we know that the tendency towards Cosmogony is an endowment of the Anglo-American world, that the tendency towards Freedom lies in the European world; whilst the tendency towards Altruism and towards that temperament which, properly realised, leads to social feeling is, strictly speaking, peculiar to Asiatic culture. America, Europe, Asia, each have one third of what must be attained for any true regeneration, any real reconstruction of our civilisation.
These are the fundamental ideas which must inspire the thought and feeling to-day of anyone who is in earnest and sincere about working for a reconstruction of our civilisation. One cannot to-day shut oneself up in one's study, and ponder over which is the best programme for the coming times. What we must do is to go out into the world, and search out the impulses already existing there.
As I said, if we look at our civilisation and at all that is hurrying it to its fall, we cannot throw off the impression that it is impossible to save it. And it cannot be saved, unless people come to see, that one element is to be found among one people, a second among another, a third among a third — unless people all over the earth come together and set to work on broad lines to give practical recognition to what neither, singly, can of himself achieve, in the absolute sense, but that must be achieved by the one who is marked out, so to speak, by destiny for that particular work. If the American to-day, besides a cosmogony, wants also to evolve freedom and socialism, he cannot do it. If the European, besides founding the impulse for freedom, wants to supply cosmogony and altruism, he cannot do it. No more can the Asiatic realise anything save his long-ingrained altruism. Let this altruism be once taken over by the other groups of the earth's inhabitants, and saturated with that for which each has a special talent — then and then only, we shall really make progress.
We must once for all admit to ourselves that our civilisation has grown feeble, and must again find strength. I have expressed this in a somewhat abstract way, and to make it more concrete I will put it as follows. The old pre-Christian civilisations of the East produced, as you know, great cities. We can look back over a wide spread range of civilisations in the East, every one of which produced great cities. But these great cities had, as well, a certain character about them. All the civilisations of the East had this power to create, along with the life of great cities, a conception, that, after all, man's life is a void, a nothing, unless he penetrates beyond the merely physical into the superphysical. And so great cities, such as Babylon, Nineveh, and the rest, were able to develop real forces of progress, because men were not led to regard what the cities themselves brought forth as being itself the actual reality, but rather, what is behind it all. It was in Rome that people came to make the civilisation of cities a gauge of what was to be regarded as real. The Greek cities are inconceivable without the country round them. If history, as we have it, were not so much conventional fiction — a “fable convenue” and would only revive past times in their true aspect, it would show us how the Greek cities were rooted in the whole countryside. In Rome this was no longer the case. Indeed, the whole history of Rome consists in the conversion of an imaginary world into a real world, the conversion of a world that is unreal into one which is real. It was in Rome that the “Citizen” first appears — a ghostly figure beside the living being Man. For man is a human being; and if he is a citizen besides, that is a fiction. His citizenship is something that is entered in the Church Register, or the Town Register, or something of the kind. That besides being a human individual endowed with particular faculties, he is also the owner of assessed property, duly entered in the Land Register — that is a fiction alongside the reality. This is thoroughly Roman. But Rome achieved a great deal more than this. Rome managed to take all that results from the separation of the town from the country — the real, actual country — and to give it a fictitious reality. Rome, for instance, took the old religious concepts, and introduced into them the Roman legal concepts. If we go back to the old religious concepts with an open mind, we do not find anything corresponding to Roman legal concepts contained in them. Roman jurisprudence simply invaded religious ethics. All through religious ethics — thanks to what Rome has made of them—there is at bottom a conception of the super-sensible world as being a place where judges sit and pass judgment on human actions — just as they do on the benches of our Law Courts that are modelled on the Roman pattern.
So persistent is the influence of these Roman legal concepts, that, when there is any talk of Karma, one actually finds that the majority of people to-day who accept this doctrine, picture it working as though Justice were sitting over there beyond, meting out rewards and punishments according to our earthly notions — reward for good and punishment for evil deeds — exactly the Roman conception of Law. All the saints and supernatural beings exist after the fashion of these Roman legal concepts which have crept into the supernatural world.
Who to-day, for instance, understands the grand idea of the Greek “Fate”? We cannot say that the concepts of Roman jurisprudence help us much to-day towards the understanding of the figure of Œdipus. Indeed, owing to the influence of Roman legal concepts, men seem to have altogether lost the capacity for comprehending tragic grandeur. These Roman legal concepts have crept into our modern civilisation; they live in every part of it; they have become in their very essence a fictitious reality, something imaginary. It is absolutely necessary for us clearly to see, that in our whole way of conceiving things we have lost touch with reality, and that what we need is to impregnate our conceptions afresh with reality. It is because men's concepts are, at root, hollow, that our civilisation still remains unconscious of the need for the common co-operation of men all over the round earth. We are never really willing to go to the root of what is taking place under our eyes ; we are always more or less anxious to keep on the surface of things. Just to give you another example of this. — You know, how in the various parliaments throughout the world in former days, say, in the first half of the 18th century, or a little later, party tendencies took shape in two definite directions — the one Conservative, the other Liberal, and for a long time they enjoyed considerable respect. The various other parties that have sprung up since were later accessions to these two main original groups. There was the party with conservative tendencies and the party with liberal tendencies: But it is so very necessary that one should nowadays get beyond the words to the real thing behind ; there are many matters about which one must ask, not what people who stand for a certain thing say about it, but what is going on subconsciously within the people themselves. If you do so, you will find that the people who attach themselves to one or other of the parties of a conservative tone, are people who in some way are chiefly connected with agrarian interests, with the care of land and cultivation of the soil, that is to say, with the primal element of human civilisation. In some way or other this will be the case. Of course, on the surface, there may be all sorts of other circumstances entering in as well. I do not say that every Conservative is necessarily directly connected with agriculture! Of course, there is here, as everywhere else, a fringe of people who adhere to the catchwords of a cause. It is the main feature that one has to consider; and the main feature is, that that part of the population which has an interest in preserving certain forms of social structure and in keeping things from moving too fast, is agrarian.
On the other hand, the more industrial element, drawn from labour that has been detached from the soil, is liberal, progressive. So that these two party tendencies have their source in something that lies deeper; and one must, in every case, try to lift such things out of the mere phrases into which they have fallen — to get through the words to the real thing behind them. But, ultimately, it all tells the same tale — that the form of civilisation in which we have been living, is one whose strength lies in words. We must push forward to a civilisation formed upon real things, to a civilisation of real things. We must cease to be imposed upon by phrases, by programmes, by verbal ideals, and must get to the clear perception of realities. Above all, we must get to a clear perception of realities of a kind that lie deeper than forms of civilisation in city or country, agricultural or industrial. And much deeper than these are those impulses which to-day are at work in the various members of the body human distributed over the globe — of which the American is making towards Cosmogony, the European towards Freedom, and the Asiatic towards Altruism — towards a truly social life, in other words.
At present, this of course comes out, has and does come out, in a curious way. Anglo-American civilisation is conquering the world. But, in conquering the world, it will need to absorb what the conquered parts of the world have to give — the impulse to Freedom, the impulse to Altruism; for in itself it has only the impulse to Cosmogony. Indeed, Anglo-American civilisation owes its success to a cosmogonic impulse. It owes it to the circumstance, that people are able to think in world-thoughts.
To realise the full meaning of this, it is, I need hardly say, necessary to get right away from phrases, and pierce to the realities. For anyone who is tied to phrases, would naturally think : Well, but who of late has stood out as the representatives of freedom, if not the Anglo-American world? Why, of course, in words, yes, to any extent. But what matters about a thing is, not how it is represented in words, but what it is in reality. We have had over and over again, as you know, occasion to refer to the language of “Wilsonism.” Phraseology of the Wilson type has been gaining ground in Western countries for a long time past. In October, 1918, it even laid hold for a time of Central Europe. And over and over again as the years went on, one had to point out the futility of all that Woodrow Wilson's name stood for, how utterly hollow and abstract it all was, for which Woodrow Wilson's name stood. Now, of course, even in America, people are apparently beginning to see through Wilsonism, and how hollow and abstract it all is. Among us, there was no question of any national feeling of hostility towards Wilson — there was no question of any antagonism proceeding from Europe. It was an antagonism arising from the whole conception of our civilisation and its forces. It was a question of showing Wilsonism for what it is — the type of all that is abstract, all that is most unreal in human thought. It is the Wilson type of thought which has had such one-sided results, because it has absorbed the American impulses, without really possessing the impulse of freedom — for talking about freedom is by no means a proof that the impulse of freedom itself is really there — and because it had not the impulse for really practical Altruism.
The life of Central Europe, with all that it was, lies in the dust. What lived in Central Europe is, to a great extent, sunk in a fearful sleep. At the present moment, the Germans are, one might say, forced to think of freedom, not as they talked of it in all manner of fine phrases at the time when they were groaning under the yoke of Ludendorff — when constraint of itself engendered an understanding of the idea of freedom. Now they think of it with crippled powers of soul and body, in total inability to summon up the energy for real intense thought. We have in Germany all sorts of attempts at democratic forms — but no democracy. We have a republic — but no republicans! And this is in every way a symptom that has especially manifested itself in Central Europe, but is characteristic of the European world in general.
And Eastern Europe? For years and years the proletariat of the whole world have been boasting of all that Marxianism was going to do. Lenin and Trotsky were in a position to put Marxianism into practice — and it is turning into the wholesale plunder of civilisation which is identical with the ruin of civilisation. And these things are only just beginning. Yet, for all that, there does exist in Europe the capacity for founding freedom, ideally, spiritually. Only, Europe must supplement this in an actual practical sense, through the cooperation of the other peoples on the earth.
In Asia, we can see the old Asiatic spirit lighting up again in recent years. Those people who are spiritual leaders in Asia (take for example the one to whom I have already alluded, Rabindranath Tagore) — the leading spirits of Asia show by their very way of speaking, that the altruistic spirit is anything but dead. But there is still less possibility, now, than there was even in old days of achieving a civilisation through this one third only of the impulses that go to the making of a civilisation.
All this is the reason why, to-day, there is so much talk about things that are peculiar to the civilisation that is dying, but which people talk about as though they stood for something that could be effective as an ideal. For years, we have had it proclaimed that: Every nation must have the possibility of ... well, I don't quite know of what — living its own life in its own way — or something of that sort. Now, I ask you: For the man of to-day, if he is frank and honest about it, what is “Nation?” Practically just a form of words, certainly nothing real. If one talks about the Spirit of a Nation, in the sense in which we speak of it in Anthroposophy, then one can talk about a Nation, for then there is a reality at the back of it — but not when it merely signifies an abstraction. And it is an abstraction that people have in mind to-day, when they talk of the “freedom of nationalities,” and so forth. For they certainly do not believe in the reality of any sort of National Being. And herein lies the profound inward falsity to which men to-day do homage. They do not believe in the reality of the National Being, yet they talk of the “Freedom of the Nation.” As if to the materialistic man of our day, the “Nation” meant anything at all! What is the German Nation? Just ninety million of persons, who can be added together and summed up, A+A+A. That is not a National Being — a self-contained entity — for men to believe in. It is just the same with the other Nations. Yet people talk about these things, and believe that they are talking about realities — and all the while they are lying to themselves in the depths of their souls.
But it is with Realities we are dealing when we say: —
The Anglo-American Being — a striving towards Cosmogony;
The European Being — a striving towards Freedom;
The Asiatic Being — a striving towards Altruism.
And when we then try to comprehend these three divided forces in a consciousness that embraces the universe as a whole; when, from out of this consciousness of the universal whole, we say to ourselves that the old civilisation is bursting through its partitions, it is doomed — then to try to save it in its present form would be to work against one's age, not with it. We need a new civilisation upon the ruins of the old. The ruins of the old civilisation will gradually crumble; and that man alone understands the present times who has will and courage for one that shall be really new. But the New must be grounded, neither in a sense of country as among the Greeks and Romans, nor in a sense of the earth, as with men of modern times. It must proceed from a sense of the World — the world-consciousness of future man, that world-consciousness which once more turns its eyes away from the earth here, and looks up to the Cosmos.
Only, we must arrive at a view of this Cosmos, which shall carry us in practice beyond the schools of Copernicus and Galileo. My dear friends, the Europeans have known how to express the earth's environment in terms of mathematics, but they have not known, how, from the earth's environment to extract a real science. For the times in which he lived, Giordano Bruno was a remarkable figure, a great personality; but to-day we need to realise, that, where he could only perceive a mathematical order, there a spiritual order reigns — reality reigns. The American does not really believe in this purely mathematical world, in the purely mathematical Cosmos. His particular civilisation leads him to reach out to a knowledge of the super-sensible forces beyond, even though he is, as yet, on the wrong road. In Europe there was no sort of knowledge that men did not pursue. And yet, when Goethe, in his own way, really put the question : “What is scientific knowledge?” — there was no getting any further, for Europe had not the power to take what can be learnt from the study, say, of Man, and widen it into a cosmogony, a science of the universe, Goethe discovered metamorphosis, the metamorphosis of plants, the metamorphosis of animals, the metamorphosis of man. The head, in respect of its system of bones, is a vertebral column and spinal marrow transformed. So far, so good; but you need to follow it up and develop it, until you realise that this head is the transformed man of the previous incarnation, and that the trunk and limbs are the man in the initial stage of the coming incarnation. Real science must be cosmic — otherwise it is not science. It must be cosmic, must be a cosmogony — otherwise it cannot give inward human impulses which will carry man on through life. The man of modern times cannot live instinctively; he must live consciously. He needs a cosmogony; and he needs a freedom that is real. He needs more than vague talk about freedom; more than the mere verbiage of freedom. He needs that freedom should actually grow into his immediate life and surroundings. This is only possible along roads that lead to ethical individualism.
There is a characteristic incident in connection with this. At the 'time when my book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity appeared, Eduard von Hartmann was one of the first to receive a copy, and he wrote to me: “The book ought not to be called The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity but ‘A Study in Phenomena connected with the Theory of Cognition, and an Ethical Individualism.’ ” For a title of course that would have been rather long-winded; but it would not have been bad to have called it “Ethical Individualism,” for ethical individualism is nothing but the personal realisation of freedom. The best people were totally unable to perceive how the actual impulses of the age were calling for the thing that is discussed in that book.
Turning now to Asia. Indeed, my dear friends, Asia and Europe must learn to understand each other. But if things go on as they have in the past, then they will never understand each other, especially as it is necessary that Asia and America should understand each other as well. The Asiatics look at America, and see that what they have there is really nothing more than the machinery of external life, of the State, of politics, etc. The Asiatic has no taste for all this machinery; his understanding is all for the things that arise from the inmost impulses of the human soul. The Europeans have, it is true, dabbled in this same Asiatic spirit, the spiritual life of Asia; but it must be confessed that they have not, so far, given proof of any very profound understanding of it. Nor have they been in perfect agreement and the kind of disagreement that arose, plainly showed that they had not much understanding of how to introduce into European culture a realisation of the actuating impulses of Asiatic culture. Just think of Madame Blavatsky. She wanted to introduce into the civilisation of Europe every kind of thing from the civilisation of India, of Thibet. Much of it was very dubious that she tried to introduce. Max Müller tried another way of bringing Asiatic culture into Europe. One finds a good deal of Blavatsky that is not in Max Müller; and there is a good deal in Max Müller that is not in Blavatsky. But from the criticism Max Müller passed on Blavatsky it is plain how little insight there was into the subject. In Max Müller's opinion it was not the real substance of the Indian spirit that Blavatsky had brought over to England, but a spurious imitation and he expressed his opinion in a simile, by saying that if people met a pig that was grunting, they would not be astonished; if they met a pig talking like a man, they then would be astonished! In the way Max Müller used the simile, he can only have meant, that he, with his Asiatic culture, was the pig that grunted and that Blavatsky was as if a pig should start talking like a man. To me, there certainly seems nothing remarkably interesting about a pig grunting but one would begin to feel rather interested if a pig suddenly started running about and talking like a man! Hence the simile of itself shows that the analogy they found was a very thin one and lies chiefly in the words. But people do not notice this nowadays and if one does make bold to point out the absurd side of the matter, then people think that one ought not to treat “recognised authorities” like Max Müller in that kind of way.
The time has come when one must speak out honestly and straightforwardly. And if one is to be honest and straightforward, one must speak out quite plainly about the occult facts of civilisation in the present day, among them that the Anglo-American world has the gift for Cosmogony, that Europe has the gift for Freedom, Asia the gift for Altruism, for religion, for a social-economic order.
These three temperaments must be fused together for a complete humanity. We must become men of all the worlds, and act from that standpoint, as inhabitants of the universe. Then and then only can that come about which the age really demands.