The Tension Between East and West
Part II: Anthroposophy and Sociology
1. Individual and Society
7 June 1922, Vienna
The lectures that follow will be based directly on the observations I have made already. I do not mean by this that we can say anything of consequence about present-day social life just by thinking out social reforms from first principles, in an abstract and Utopian manner; but rather that the spiritual philosophy expounded here could, if transformed into impulses of the whole man, into a human attitude of mind, provide a framework within which we could understand social life and shape social forces. The succeeding lectures will have to demonstrate that a philosophy of this kind, orientated towards the spiritual, does not remain at the abstract and Utopian level, but instead is peculiarly well equipped to deal with immediate concrete reality. Today, however, I want to establish a link between the lectures I have given already and those I have still to give.
Anyone who has taken in the full significance of my lectures so far will agree that what has been expounded has not implied a conception of life for the hermitage, for contemplative existence in a quiet cell. The conception of life proposed has its social side too — it is one that leads not only into spiritual worlds as such, but also into the world of spirit and soul that surrounds us directly in our fellow-men. It is, of course, easier to speak of social questions today if you are identified with a particular political party. Then, you have a platform, you have ready-made ideas, and can say: This is our age! These are its needs! But we here certainly cannot start from any of these ready-made political programmes. In the first place, I am fully convinced that — to speak somewhat sweepingly — there is actually no party that is entirely mistaken in what it asserts. The only thing is that the parties usually fail to recognize the limits beyond which their assertions cannot hold. On the other hand, I do not believe that any party is completely right; in a sense, it must always be mistaken as well. The only thing is that, given the particular way men look at the world, we can understand this mistakenness well enough. A tree, too, can only be photographed adequately from several sides. All the claims normally made by political parties seem like photographs of life from different sides. Yet people treat these various standpoints exactly as if someone were to look at a photograph of a tree, taken from the right, and say: “This picture is completely wrong,” knowing only the view from the left. Thus, all the objections from a certain standpoint to the views put forward here are familiar to me, and if I had to expound them all, it would not, given the philosophy of life I am advocating, prove a very difficult task.
I must say this in advance, in order to show that it is only by approaching social life and social problems from the most varied directions, as is attempted in the lectures that follow, that we can form a life-like picture of them.
There is much talk nowadays of social needs. Looking back over the history of humanity with an open mind, however, we observe that this has been true for only a relatively short period of man's development. There have, of course, always been social needs and social endeavours. That they should be formulated, almost as an abstract theory, however, is a feature of very recent times alone. And when we try to discover why it is that almost everyone these days is talking about social needs, we realize that there has been no period perhaps with such strong anti-social impulses as ours.
When the urgent necessity of life presses and misery knocks at our door, we do meet the challenge to produce positive social impulses. But when people speak of social needs, they really mean something different; they mean man's feeling that he is not simply a separate being, but that he must move among other men, and work among and with other men, and that he exists for his own satisfaction and the good of others. In this respect, the men of earlier epochs were actually much closer to one another, paradoxical as it may sound, than we are today. And this was only natural, because we nowadays live in a historical epoch which, as the preceding lectures have already indicated, has summoned particular powers from the depths of man's nature, especially within the civilized world. These powers are specially adapted to the purposes I have described, but are less well suited to arousing in man the social instincts and social impulses that were present, if in a form no longer appropriate to the present time, in earlier epochs.
Looking back over man's development, we see that, in the course of three or four centuries, there has emerged from within the human soul a capacity, a soul-power, which we can regard as intellectual — the power of reason, of a more or less rational view of the world. This view has been splendidly successful in the field of natural philosophy. It can carry men a tremendously long way towards developing their intercourse, their traffic with external nature. But the problem arises whether this power, which represents the glory and triumph, so to speak, of very recent times, is also suited, as it stands, to facilitate the intercourse of man with man. Only a clear view of this problem can, ultimately, throw light for us on the social needs of recent times. These needs, as they are ordinarily formulated, can only express a superficial outlook, symptomatic of something lying much deeper in man. This is what stands out above all for a spiritually scientific approach.
Again, when we look with an unprejudiced eye at the way in which social configurations and groupings arose in earlier epochs and indeed, fundamentally, still arise today — right down to cartels and trusts — we must conclude: the dominant forces in them are ultimately not intellectualized ones, not those of a rational attitude to life, but are instincts, unconscious feelings. And if we were to create social configurations by means of the intellectualized power that reveals itself so splendidly in natural philosophy, they would probably have only very slight viability. For, after all, it is not without significance that this power of the intellect has shown itself to be particularly important in the observation of inanimate nature, and that a man who desires only natural philosophy and does not wish to move upward to an outlook on things in accord with spirit, finds himself faced by an insoluble riddle when he has to move over from the inanimate to the animate. It is not surprising that what is of great importance, precisely because of its inner structure, for the inanimate, the dead, is not as powerful and fruitful in relation to something that is not only alive, but must also develop into human social configurations informed by spirit.
We can say, therefore: In certain subconscious regions of the soul, the forces that have been formative in social configurations are still present. On the other hand, man owes two of his strongest and socially most effective impulses to the characteristics of the present epoch. And for these he has to find the proper place in social life as a whole.
One of the most important social questions of today became apparent to me thirty years ago, when I was trying to look at the problem of man's freedom within his social life. The experience of freedom is really just as old as intellectual life. Only when intellectual life raises man to the apprehension of pure thought, by which he then comprehends natural phenomena, does he become conscious of his freedom. To all mental activity, earlier ages added something that resulted simply from organic processes and had its roots instinctively in the unconscious regions of will or else unconsciously in the life of feeling. To perceive something as clearly as is possible when thinking rises to distinctly apprehended and mathematically formulated laws; to comprehend something so clearly that we are present in it with our entire substance: this has only been possible to man since he raised himself to the pure thinking that inspired Copernicus, Galileo and their successors to modern scientific research. The experience of freedom is thus explicitly connected with something that leads away from the instinctive forces that previously formed society.
If we are approaching the problem of freedom with complete seriousness, however, we are cast for a moment, by this discovery, into a kind of emptiness, which we experience with all the terror that emptiness, or rather nothingness, does inspire in men. What we discover is that, in earlier epochs, when mankind was more naive about the life of the soul and had not attained to the consciousness that prevails in modern times, there could exist attitudes that were more imaginal and did not inhabit pure, abstract thought. But we need such imaginal attitudes if we are to take our place within the complicated social life of man. The things that enable us to find our place in the world can never be determined by abstract thought.
Now, in the last few days I have shown how the development of spiritual science takes us from abstract, dead thought once again to vital thought, by which in fact we can penetrate not only into inorganic, lifeless nature, but also into the forms of living nature and into the heart of spiritual worlds. By understanding this most modern development, man thus re-approaches, with his consciousness, what in earlier epochs existed in an instinctive way. I know that many people today still shrink back when they are told: that which operated instinctively in earlier epochs, fertilizing the imagination from the unconscious, can be raised into consciousness by a development of the soul such as I have described. Immediately, people suspect that behind this demand there lurks a kind of philistinism and pedantry that would translate naïveté into self-consciousness. People will continue to shrink back from this path into consciousness so long as they do not realize that the naive experience that was originally instinctive to man is to be restored, despite the consciousness of vital thought. But this vital thought then also introduces us to the shifting concepts that play their part in social life.
Let me refer to just one example of this today, by way of introduction. People at present talk a very great deal about capitalism and the function of capital in the social order. There are countless definitions of capitalism, often politically coloured. Yet this absence of unanimity obscures another point. We must clearly understand that the function even of something that forms as much a part of the social structure as capitalism cannot be comprehended in sharply delineated concepts. Instead, we require those vital concepts that the nai've, instinctive life of the soul once had and the conscious life of the soul can again acquire today. People need only look, for example, at what capital meant in Central Europe, in Germany, where a particular social development began later than it did in England, and what it means in England itself. In England, simply because of the existence of earlier stages in the country's economic life, when this development did set in commercial capital was available to create something which, in Germany, had to be effected by raising capital in other ways. If we look at the rôle of capital in Central Europe and then in England, we very soon find that our concepts, intended as they are to comprehend social life even in its individual configurations, cannot be sharply delineated. We need, instead, concepts that take hold of immediate reality at a particular point, yet remain elastic, so that they can move on from this point to other configurations of the social structure. And since we live in an age that is specifically educated to intellectualism — which subsists only in sharply delineated concepts — it is necessary for us, if we are to reach an understanding of social needs, to find our way out of intellectualism into the world of vital thought. This in turn can transform itself into social impulses such as arose from instincts in the earlier stages of human development.
The philosophy I am here advancing is specifically intended not to be something theoretical. It is often accused of dogmatism; accused, when it has to pronounce on social life, of looking for Utopias (which are also dogmatic). The charge is without foundation. The point of this philosophy is not at all what people mean by any particular concept; it is a definite attitude to life as a whole, physical, mental and spiritual — an attitude directed towards apprehending this life in its individual concrete forms in accordance with reality.
Thereby, however, a certain perspective on extremely important social needs of our age is opened up:
When we contemplate human life itself by means of a spiritual outlook such as I have been developing, we find that, like the historical development of humanity in general, the life of an individual human being is subject to certain changes. The resulting phases, which are apparent even to a casual observer, reveal their true nature only when we can see into their spiritual ramifications. It then appears, for example, that neither the infant in its first years of life, nor the child of primary school age, nor even the adolescent below the age of twenty, lives fully within the intellectualized mode of thought that has emerged in the course of man's development. In the last analysis, we only comprehend intellectualism with an inner sympathy in the more mature period of our twenties, when we begin to experience it as a kind of mental bone-system. Until then, we actually feel, if only instinctively, as if our life still had to solidify within us along lines which eventually result in this mental bone-system. Yet our entire social life, which understandably is shaped by adults, is permeated by the influence of intellectualism, in spite of the fact that intellectualism itself cannot be socially creative. It floods into areas where the instincts have become uncertain. We thus have in our present-day social pattern an inorganic combination of the instincts, grown uncertain, with an intellectualism that seeks to enter social life but does not really fit into it.
The end-result of this is that we form ideas of what is going on in social life which are quite unlike the forces that are really present. Nowadays, we speak in rather inexact terms, for the most part, about what governs society. We, mankind that is, have educated ourselves, in these three or four centuries, to cast everything into intellectualized moulds. As adults we can do this, but not while we are children or while we are young people.
Youth develops powers other than intellectual ones. The infant develops first the powers which make it, I would say, a single sense-organ, similar to what I have called a “spirit-organ,” but at a more material level. Its whole being is engaged in perceiving its environment, and it transposes what it perceives into its own movements. It is an imitator. This imitation, which pervades the life of the child's psyche, is quite certainly nothing intellectualized. Next, the child enters an age — say from second dentition to puberty — in which it is called upon no longer to imitate, but to absorb the opinions and convictions proffered by the adults round about.
Please do not think that the man who wrote The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is saying what he has to say now out of any reactionary instinct. What I have to say is in accord with a law of man's development. From second dentition to puberty, the young person evolves from within his being the need to listen to some person of natural authority and to what he or she offers him. Anyone who can look at life impartially will agree how fortunate it was for his inner harmony of soul throughout life if, at this age, he was able to look up to this or that person of authority with a proper respect. He did not now imitate this person; the relation was such that he felt: through this human individual is revealed to me what I myself ought to be and want to be; I listen to what he or she says and absorb the opinion into my soul.
The genuine psychologist will even discover something further. People continue to insist that, at this primary school age, a child should only take in what it already understands. In this way, only this one stage in the child's development is catered for. Not only this, but endless trivialities are piled up in an effort to present the child solely with what, it is believed, he “already understands.” The child certainly understands more than many people believe: not through intellectuality, however, but through its whole being. There is another point, too. We may reach the age of thirty, forty, fifty or sixty, and then something shoots up from the depths of our soul which is a reminiscence from our eighth year, let us say. We took it from authority; we absorbed it with respect. At the time, we did not understand it in an intellectual sense; but we came to feel at home in what we thus absorbed with our whole being. It was then drawn down into the depths of the soul. Decades later it reappears. We have become more mature. Only now do we understand it and bring it to life. It is enormously important to us in later years to be able to revive in this way what we have carried with us since childhood. This is something quite different from living among mere memories, untransformed.
This, too, then, can result from a vital art of education — one that seeks to give the child of this age, not sharply delineated concepts but vital ones. The former, it is true, have their uses in life. To the child, however, their effect is as if we seized his hand and clamped it so that it could not grow, had to remain small, and could not take on different shapes. We must move forward to an education which transmits vital concepts that will live on with the child as his limbs do, and are accordingly not sharply delineated but have an inner growth. Only then shall we give the child not only the right joy in life, but also the right strength in life. When the child experiences the sort of thing I have just indicated quite naively in his soul, his understanding and comprehension is not intellectualized. He is taking something from a respected authority, something that will instil in him vital powers.
Next, there follows an age when, essentially, all we can do is to approach the world with our concepts (which do not immediately take on sharp contours) all informed by the capacity for love. With this, we penetrate into things so as to emerge, sometimes, with quite illusory but all the more potent ideals, which fire our love.
Only when we have passed through all these can we move, without damage to our humanity as a whole, into the intellectual phase. Yet the material that in many cases the old generation nowadays presents to the young is really something appropriate only to a later age. It is no accident, therefore, that young people often fail to understand us as teachers: it springs from their very nature.
Older epochs developed in social life forces by which the old could be understood by the young in a quite different manner from today. Hence the social gulf that has opened between age and youth. It can be understood by those who comprehend our age as we must if we trace the development over the last three or four centuries. Not only through spiritual profundity, but through the animation of our spiritual life, we must restore the adult's capacity to reach complete understanding with youth.
But bridging the gulf between generations is only one side, only a very small area in fact, of present-day social needs. It can be brought about only by an extension of man's whole inner experience. Only those who strengthen the present intellectualized life of the soul by vital thought and spiritual vision, or at least accept the results of such thought and vision — for they too vitalize the whole soul — will regain the ability to look fully into the child's life. They will thus be able to draw out of the child's life itself the powers by which we can reach an understanding with him. But in indicating the gulf that has opened between age and youth in our time, we also indicate the whole series of gulfs separating man and man, man and woman, and class and class in our time. For just as merely intellectualized life separates us from the child, so too it ultimately separates us from other men. Only through vital thinking, which re-approaches certain instinctive conceptions of the cosmos, can we establish our position in the social order as firmly as the man of instinct did, to make social organisms possible for the first time. We find, too, that only through what we achieve with an empty consciousness — when we are inspired from the spiritual world with what spiritual entities reveal — can we really understand other people and see across the gulfs of class and sex.
This is the second stage in living together in society. The first is that of discovering imaginatively our own position. The second is that of finding a bridge across to someone else, someone who lives in a different social constellation. Nowadays, this is made very difficult for mankind; for when we take up a position in social life in line with our feelings, our judgment is not ultimately based on reality. In the last analysis, it is precisely when we think that our judgments are most in accord with reality that they are furthest away from it. You can see this by observing how even outstanding personalities today, who take up a position in life and would like to manipulate life, are fundamentally incapable of matching up to reality.
Let me give an example — not in order to say anything for or against the person concerned, but simply to characterize the phenomenon. A particularly striking personality among those socially active in recent times was Rosa Luxemburg. In personal acquaintance, you found a woman completely endowed with social graces: measured in movement and mode of speech, restrained in each individual gesture and phrase. A certain gentleness, even, certainly nothing tempestuous, was in her personality. Yet when you heard her speak from the platform, her way of speaking was ... well, I will quote an actual example. She would say, for instance: Yes, there were times when man believed he originated from some spiritual world or other, which had placed him within social life. Today — she said — we know that man once clambered about in the trees like an ape in an extremely indecent fashion, without any clothes on, and that from this ape-man there developed those who today occupy the most varied positions in society. And this was delivered in a manner that was fired, I would say, with a certain religious impulse. Not, indeed, with the fire of immediate personal impact, but in a manner that large proletarian masses can best understand: with a certain measured dryness, so that it could be received too with a certain dryness of feeling and yet call forth, for all its dryness, a certain enthusiasm. This because people felt: at bottom, then, all men are equal and all social distinctions are swept away! But none of this was spoken from an involvement in social life itself. It emerged from theory, though one that believed itself to be true to life. It created a reality that is ultimately no reality, no fruitful reality that is.
The standpoint of most people in social life today is like that of Rosa Luxemburg: they speak about society without the power in their words that comes from life itself, from experience of the social aspect of man. To speak of society is possible if, with the old instinctive power of looking at social forms, we can find our own place in life and also a bridge to men in other walks of life, other classes, or other generations, and to individual human personalities. This was achieved in earlier epochs out of extraordinarily deep-rooted human instincts.
These powers of cognition become conscious as man develops into the spiritual organism or “sense-organ” he becomes as a human whole, in the way I have described. As a result, he can live by choice, free of the body, in the spiritual world.
For sympathy with the other person is always an unconscious or conscious extra-physical experience of his being. It is dead theory to think that we look at someone, see that he has an ear shaped so, a nose, a face shaped so, and, knowing that we too have such a nose and a forehead shaped thus and so on, and that we have a self, assume unconsciously that the other person also has a self. This is not what we do. Anyone whose mind can take in what happens knows that we have an immediate perception of the life of the other person. This immediate perception, we might say, is simply the act of seeing, raised to the spiritual level.
Certain theories in present-day philosophy have even discovered this fact. Spiritual science shows that, by bringing the power that operates unconsciously and instinctively up into consciousness, man can project himself into the other human being: only thus can he really place himself within the context of social life. With the intellectualism attained at the educational level in human development to which we have been raised — or rather, with what can grow out of that intellectualism — we can point to this self-spiritualizing development of the human soul; and when this is possible, social perspectives too can be gained. Certainly, it is only by apprehending the spiritual in this way that we can gain the strength to cast aside old fears and achieve an immediate experience of the impulse of freedom in man.
Now the soul can only really apprehend this impulse of freedom out of a full human life. That this is so, I should like to illustrate once more with an educational example.
What, precisely, is the basis of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, which was created from a view of life in accord with the spirit? It seeks to act as a social organism in the life of today in a way that present-day forces themselves require. Its aim is therefore certainly not to inculcate a philosophy in any way. It would be an entirely false conception of the principle of the School to think that it sought to impart to the children any particular philosophy of life. A conception of the world and of life that is held to be in accord with the spirit exists in fact for the staff. And what, in this conception, is not theory but life may also come out in the skill and tact of the teacher, and in everything that he does, in all the work of instruction and education.
The isolated statements that are often made about the teaching methods at the Waldorf School really miss the point. They may well lead someone or other to say: Of course, there are other methods of instruction and education with the same aim. In terms of abstract principles, it is true fundamentally to say that what can be stated about the methods of the Waldorf School is also found elsewhere. What is important in the Waldorf School is the immediate life that flows from a conception of the world which creates life and not merely concepts.
What does this achieve? Well, it is difficult to describe life in sharply outlined concepts. I shall therefore explain what I mean in this way: quite certainly, there are on the staff of the Waldorf School some teachers who are not unusually gifted; we can say this without hurting anyone's feelings. But even if the widest range of physical, mental and spiritual talents were represented in the teacher, we should still have to say: among the children he has before him, there may be some who will at some stage in life develop talents that go far beyond those the teacher himself possesses.
We must therefore create educational methods by which we can handle the children at each age not only in such a way that they acquire the talents we have ourselves, but also that they develop any latent talents we do not have at all. Even if no geniuses ourselves, we must place no obstacle in the way of the child's development towards genius. It is all very well to go on declaiming that the child's individuality must be developed, and that “education is a drawing out and not a putting in.” You can say this, and as an idea it all sounds wonderful, and you think of it as something fruitful in life. But what people often mean by it is simply that they will develop in the child what they think is capable of becoming something individual, but not anything that goes beyond the individuality of the teacher himself.
In the Waldorf School, everything is directed towards education in freedom. Man's inmost spiritual element remains essentially undisturbed by the Waldorf School. It is not disturbed, any more than a plant placed in the ground and allowed to develop freely in the light and air has all kinds of stakes applied to it, training it into a set shape. A child's spiritual individuality is something completely sacred, and those with a genuine experience of human nature know that it will follow, of its own accord, the influences exerted on it by everything round about. The teacher thus has to set aside what can hinder this tenderly protected individuality in its development. The hindrances, which can result from the physical, the mental and even the spiritual sphere, can be discerned by a genuine knowledge of man, if it is developed on the pedagogic and psychological sides. And when we do evolve such a knowledge, we develop a fine sense for any impediment to the free development of individuality. There is no need for violent interference. Any alien shaping of the personality should be avoided. When we see that there is an impediment we must set aside, we set it aside. The individual will know how to develop through his own power, and his talents may then go far beyond what the teacher possesses.
Here is true respect for human freedom! This freedom is what enables man to find within him the impulses that lead and drive him in life. In earlier periods, as he instinctively grew into his social environment, man absorbed from it something that then operated within him as moral and religious impulses. This process has been paralysed, I would say, by intellectualism. What can consciously produce the social impulses that were once instinctively attained, has still to be developed.
Two things thus confront modern man. On the one hand, he must now seek his ethical and religious impulses in his own personality, finding them only among his soul's innermost powers. On the other hand, in the course of the last three or four centuries intellectualism has come of age, so much so that it is now regarded as the sole authority. Yet it can afford no such direct spiritual experience, but only observe the life of nature and classify it.
We are thus confronted by what we as humanity can achieve — magnificent as it is — within natural processes. And here humanity as a whole is productive. We can see this productive aspect emerging in the last three or four centuries in the splendid instances of co-operation between natural observation and technology. Anyone who can follow what man achieves by understanding nature can also see how he has advanced technologically. You need only look at a straightforward example — how Helmholtz, let us say, a genius in some respects, invented his ophthalmoscope.
To appreciate this, you must take into account the fact that his predecessors — as if impelled by scientific progress — were already close to the discovery, and he had only to take the final step. We might say: scientific thinking as such enters into man and leads him onward. Subsequently, he is productive in the field of technology. For what he extracts from nature serves him as an inspiration. Right down to the most recent discoveries, we can follow how, in anyone who becomes a natural scientist, what he absorbs impels his spirit from one technical advance to another, so that the inspiration of nature still goes on. There's inspiration for you!
Modern man lacks such inspiration, however, when he comes to the ethical, the volitional, the religious — in short, to everything that starts from the soul yet leads at last to social forms and life. What we need here is a force that will operate in the spiritual sphere as purely natural inspiration does in our external technology. In the latter, we have gone an incredibly long way. What we have achieved there, we, the men of modern times, must pay for in the sense that our purely spiritual life has languished for a while, sustaining itself on old traditions, in the religious as well as the moral and social sphere. Today, however, we need to be able, out of the human personality, to arrive in the full experience of freedom at immediate moral impulses. Because we are faced with this social necessity, I was able, in my The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, to show that there must be such a thing as moral intuition. And, as I indicated then, the real moral impulses that man can find to give him ethical and moral strength, which operate more individually now in modern life, can only derive from a spiritual world. We are thus forced to rise to spiritual intuitions precisely because in our contemplation of the outside world we do not attain anything spiritually productive.
Anyone who can consciously experience the technical age from within is especially inclined to say, on the other hand: faced by the need to stick close to the ground in technology so as to survey its inanimate substance, we cannot, from what technology gives us, gain moral impulses as earlier men could. They beheld the spiritual in storm and wind and stream and star and experienced it as natural forces. We cannot do this, because our knowledge of nature has had all this refined away from it. We can only gain our moral world, therefore, by intuiting it in a directly spiritual and individual manner.
For this, however, we require a vital spiritual force within us. And this force can follow, I believe, if we are steeped in the implications of the philosophy of life I have put forward here. As a philosophy, it certainly does not wish to lay down the law in ideas and concepts. It seeks rather to present ideas and concepts only in order that they may become as vital within us, on the spiritual plane, as our life's blood itself, so that man's activity, not only his thinking, is stimulated. A philosophy of life in accord with spirit thus reveals itself as a social as well as a cognitive impulse.
In consequence, we may perhaps be justified in saying: present-day social needs, as they are often formulated in public life today, appear, to those who can dispassionately perceive the true nature of our times, to be symptomatic. They are symptomatic of the loss of the old instinctive certainties of social life and of the necessity to establish, consciously, a spiritual life that will give the same impulses as did the earlier instinctive one. Because we can believe that such a stimulation of man's innermost vital powers really corresponds to the social needs of today, we would wish, in this age of severe social tribulation, to speak of the age and its social needs in this sense.
Sometimes, today, people feel that the immediate distress of the day, the misery of the moment is so great that, fundamentally, we ought to devote ourselves exclusively to it, and look for wider horizons only when some relief has been afforded close at hand. Of all the objections put to me since, at the instigation of a circle of friends, I have been trying to speak about social life once more and to take an interest in various things connected with it, I have felt most strongly the force of the countless letters sent to me, especially two years or so ago, saying: “What is the point of all these social ideas? Here in Central Europe the most urgent thing is bread.” This objection was made over and over again. We can understand it. But in another sense we must also understand that the earth is incapable of withholding its fruitfulness at any period, if only men can find a social organization that will enable the earth's gifts to flow into society and there be distributed.
It is thus, I think, right to believe that to devote oneself to the immediate situation is a loving and noble task — in which no one is impeded by reflections such as I have set forth here. Yet, equally, it must be said: for the moment, what can be done in this way may be good; yet on the other hand, men must gain an understanding of society as soon as possible, in order to prevent the factors that bring men into such distress and misery from recreating themselves.
That we cannot get by in the social sphere with the old Utopian and intellectualized formulations should have become apparent to people when many of those who, only a short while before, were speaking with incredible confidence of what social life should be were then called upon to do something. Never was there a greater perplexity in a society than among those who reputedly knew with absolute certainty how social configurations should be organized, if only the old regime could be cleared away as rapidly as possible.
Experiment in this direction has indeed created, in Eastern Europe, the most terrible forces of destruction. And for men today to believe that, without fundamental social thought and feeling and experience, simply by continuing the old formulations, they can arrive at anything but destructive forces, is an illusion. The spectre of Eastern Europe gazes threateningly across to the West. Its gaze, however, should not leave us inactive, but should be a challenge to us to seek at every moment for vital social forces and a vital formulation of social needs, now that the abstract and Utopian ones have revealed their unfruitfulness.
How this can be achieved will be shown more fully in the lectures that follow. I have tried today simply to provide an introduction showing that, behind explicitly formulated social ideas, there lies something more profound, something that is linked with a transformation of the whole life of the soul.
In very recent times, this is beginning to be understood even among a wide circle of the working class. Anyone who looks about him knows that social needs, and in particular our reactions to them, are in the midst of a profound transformation. The unfruitfulness of the old slogans is already more or less recognized. And already it is being emphasized in many quarters that we must move to a spiritual sphere, and that moral and religious impulses must once again pervade social life. We have not yet, however, evolved the life we really need.
Our age thinks itself extremely practical and realistic, and does not know how theoretical it is in fact — especially in determining social needs. Our task today, we may perhaps observe in conclusion, cannot really be to set up completely new social or other ideals. We are not short of abstract expressions of ideals. What we need is something different: experience of the spiritual, not merely excogitation of the ideal. What we need is spirit, not in concepts merely, but with such vitality that it goes with us like a human companion in all our doings.
In apprehending the spirit as something vital in this way, we shall also be able to rise to something socially effective. On this point, we may say: today, we need not merely a formulation of ideals and social needs. We need something that will give us strength to follow the ideals, and give us inner life to make these ideals incandescent; something that impels our will to wholehearted enthusiasm, fruitful to the world, for ideals and for the life of the spirit.