Aspects of Human Evolution
24 July 1917, Berlin
Alongside the content of these lectures I am concerned to show that truth, in the spiritual sense, is a living reality. It is especially essential in our time that a feeling should develop for the fact that truth is something living. What has life is different from one time to another; at one stage it may be formless, at another it may have a definite structure. A young child is very different from an old person. What is alive is continually changing. The human being who is perhaps to unfold his activity sometime in the future cannot be spoken of now as someone existing, as far as the physical plane is concerned. These things are so obvious as to be trivial. However, they cease to be trivial when one has learned to cherish the feeling that truth is a living entity.
I spoke to you last time about a contemporary statesman, Lloyd George. 1 David Lloyd George, see note 3 and note 9 to Lecture VII. If someone in England in 1890, when Lloyd George was 27 years old, would have spoken about the whole significance of that age in our epoch, as we did last time, it would, in the spiritual-scientific sense, have been wrong. He could have spoken about it in relation to Lloyd George, though of course without the biographical details which had hardly begun to happen. But to do so would have been wrong.
People have the notion that truth can always be expressed at any time in the same way, but that is not the case, especially when one is dealing with certain higher truths. It is only now that the time is right for speaking about the relation that exists between the individual human being's age and the age of mankind as a whole. This kind of truth is also an active force. To speak about Lloyd George in 1890 when he was aged 27, giving an outline of his life—which could have been done within certain limits — would have been irresponsible. It could be compared with planting something in the wrong season. It is important not only that such truths do not reach the human soul as abstractions, but even more that they come at a time when they can be effective. This holds good not only in regard to historical facts, facts related to world evolution in the widest sense, but to truth in general in its effect upon the human soul. I gave some indication of this last time, but attention must continually be drawn to it because we are at present at a stage of transition in the conception of truth. Science of the spirit should create a certain condition of the comprehension of truth. The relationship which man has to truth must alter, must go through a certain development.
In the last lecture I drew attention to the fact that nowadays the human soul easily feels dissatisfied. Let us look at some of the reasons for this dissatisfaction of modern man. We know that the human soul needs concepts and ideas in life which can throw light on certain basic questions, such as the immortality of the soul, the meaning of world evolution, and so on. The human soul needs ideas with which it can live. If it cannot develop such ideas, or only unsatisfactory ones, then it remains dissatisfied and becomes ill in a certain sense. Many human souls today are in fact in a condition of sickness to a far greater extent than is admitted. The near future will see many more such souls than it is at present possible to imagine, unless people turn to the kind of knowledge that can fill the soul with spiritual content.
Nature itself does in many ways present an image of the loftiest and most secret spiritual reality; it is a question of understanding the image rightly and not interpreting it materialistically. The difficulty arises because people want ready-made formulas, sets of concepts with which they can live and be satisfied once and for all. When such are not discovered they may seek advice. However, it is clear that what is expected is a short description of some kind, a book perhaps, that in a short time can be assimilated and that gives the person something that satisfies him for the rest of his life. If one is able to experience even to some degree truth as a living reality, then such a demand is felt to be the equivalent of demanding a food that will sustain the bodily organism for the rest of life. He wants an advice that he can “eat” so that spiritually he never needs to eat again. That is an impossibility in either realm.
Spiritual science cannot hand people something which, once assimilated, is enough for the rest of life. I have often pointed out that there exists no short summary of a world view which can be kept at hand in one's pocket. In place of ready formulas, science of the spirit provides something with which the human soul must repeatedly unite itself, which must be repeatedly inwardly assimilated and digested. External truths such as those provided by natural science we can, if we have a good memory, take in and then possess them once and for all. That is not possible with spiritual-scientific truths, the reason being that the truths of natural science are lifeless concepts. The laws of nature are dead once they have been formulated into concepts, whereas spiritual-scientific truths are living concepts; if we condemn them to lifelessness because we accept them as if they were external truths, then they provide no nourishment; then they are stones the soul cannot digest.
In view of what the science of the spirit is today and what it really ought to be, it is worth remarking that in the cultural life of the 19th century there were trends struggling towards it. But much has happened in the last decade to cause what was then achieved to be swept away and forgotten. Today I would like, by way of introduction, to point to something that was much misunderstood in the second half of the 19th century. It was usually referred to as “Eduard von Hartmann's kind of pessimism.” 2 Eduard von Hartmann, 1842–1906, German philosopher. Philosophie des Unbewußten, 12th edition, Leipzig, 1923. However, the fact is that his pessimism is not meant the way it was usually interpreted. People set out from the fixed notion that pessimism means a view that considers the world to be less than perfect, having many unsatisfactory aspects, being in fact quite bad. That view can never do justice to Hartmann's pessimism, but it was usually assessed in the light of this general view. Today it is still difficult to clarify this issue which deals with something basic and deeply rooted in the human soul.
Today every child is taught at school about the impenetrability of bodies. When the teacher asks, “What is impenetrability?” the children have learned to answer, “Impenetrability is the property by virtue of which two bodies cannot occupy a place at the same time,” which is true of physical bodies, but today no one imagines that it is a sentence which one day will have to be unlearned or rather be interpreted differently. Here I shall only indicate what the issue is about. The day will come when the sentence will no longer run, Impenetrability is the property by virtue of which two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time; rather, it will be said, Entities whose property is such that when they occupy a space from which other entities of the same kind are excluded are physical bodies. Thus the basic definition will be different. The day will come when the approach will no longer be dogmatic, but based on reality. Much is said nowadays about old dogmas being superseded. The future will prove that there never was an age more steeped in dogmas than our own. Our sciences are stuffed with dogmatism, even more so are public opinions, not to mention political views.
If we take a positive view of pessimism — for the moment that of Eduard von Hartmann — we shall discover what follows. He says, Many people strive for happiness; they want instant inner contentment which they call happiness. But that can never be the foundation, in a higher sense, for an existence worthy of man. Striving merely for one's personal satisfaction can only lead to isolation; it is bound to lead to a greater or lesser degree of egoism. Man's task cannot consist in striving merely for his own satisfaction; rather, must it be to place his living being into one process of the world, to work with and for the development of the world. However, complete satisfaction with external life or harmony within himself would prevent him from fulfilling that task. Only when we are not satisfied with conditions do we strive to further the upbuilding processes in the world. Thus Eduard von Hartmann's pessimism is in the realm of feeling. It is his view that without this pessimism which makes us dissatisfied, we would lack the incentive to cooperate in the work of furthering evolution. Thus Eduard von Hartmann, expressing himself philosophically, states that he stands for both empirical and teleological evolutionism. It is clear that we are here dealing with a pessimism that is very different from the usual dogmatic view of pessimism. With his concept of pessimism, which I won't pursue further at this time, Eduard von Hartmann is in a certain sense on the path that spiritual science must follow.
This spiritual science, however, shows us much more; it shows us what a fully satisfying mental image would really be for our soul life. It would be for our soul life exactly what external food would be for us if we ate it but then had no way to digest it, and instead carried it around with us undigested. It could not really be called nourishment. It is actually so that someone who takes a book of Trine or Johannes Muller and wanted to be satisfied with it, would be attempting the same as someone who wanted to eat food which could then only be carried around undigested in the body. 3 Ralph Waldo Trine, see note 1 to Lecture VI. Johannes Muller, 1864–1919, Protestant theologian.
If it were not simply carried, it would be digested, but then it disappears; it loses its essential identity. This never happens with a fully satisfying mental image. A fully satisfying mental image remains with us forever, if I may express it so, lying in the stomach of our soul. And the more we believe we receive at a given moment from such a mental image, the more we hope to voluptuously satisfy our soul with it, the more we will see that once we have lived with it awhile it cannot satisfy us anymore. Instead it develops in us so that it bores us, becomes annoying to us, and the like.
These things have another side which is connected with what some people regard as contradictions in spiritual science; namely, the fact that new viewpoints are continually sought from which to develop our concepts. We could, as it were, speak forever from different points of view. These do not contradict one another; rather, they prove that spiritual truths have a capacity for continuous transformation, which is an indication of their living quality. Science of the spirit cannot be molded in rigid concepts. Single facts can certainly be presented in a straightforward manner, but the content of what is to satisfy us as a world view must be presented in thoughts that are full of life and can be understood from ever new aspects. Whoever takes in the thoughts of some aspect of spiritual science and lets them dwell in his soul will find that they speak to him. If at another time the same thoughts pass through his soul, they will speak to him again but quite differently. When he is happy, they will speak differently from when he is sad and troubled, but insofar as he receives them in their living quality they will always speak to him.
Spiritual-scientific concepts do not just provide an image of something; they establish a living connection between the human soul and the whole endless spiritual aspect of the world. Because the spiritual aspect is endless it can never be exhausted. Science for spirit will in every single case bring about a connection between the soul and the spiritual world, provided we retain an open receptivity for what comes to meet us from the world. We must above all become accustomed to the fact that certain concepts which today seem basic and beyond dispute may in the future have no relevance at all. Take the example of the countless philosophies; a problem that emerges in them all concerns “being” or “existence.” Existence as such is always debated and already the form in which the problem is presented creates great difficulty for the mobile human soul to deal with. Especially through these lectures it is my hope to kindle in you a feeling for the fact that whatever we look upon as “existing,” whatever entity we ascribe the state of “being” to, is directly related to the process of coming into being. The truth is that neither what Parmenides said about immutable existence nor what Heraclitus said about the coming into being is correct. 4 Parmenides, approx. 450 B.C., Greek philosopher. Heraclitus, 540–470 B.C., Greek philosopher. In the world things exist and things become, but only what is in the process of becoming is alive; what is already in existence is always dead. What is in existence is the corpse of what was becoming. You will find more about this in my Occult Science. 5 Occult Science, see note 7 to Lecture IV. In nature all around us we find “existence,” and spiritual science confirms that this existence has arisen because once it was in a process of becoming. The “becoming” left behind its corpse. What is in the state of existence is dead; what is becoming is alive.
This has special significance for man's inner life. We do not attain a satisfying view of things through concepts that are finished and complete, because they belong to what exists, not to what is becoming. A satisfying view can only be derived from what is in the process of becoming; it must act on the soul so that as we absorb it, it becomes unconscious, but in uniting with the soul stirs in us again questions concerning the becoming. This is also an aspect of the science of the spirit which causes difficulty for many because they prefer what is finished and complete. While the science of the spirit points to what will truly nourish the human soul, the inclination is towards the very opposite.
What people want today is to attain as quickly as possible a complete and finished view of the world. Much of what comes to expression as inner disturbances and dissatisfaction will be alleviated only when, instead of demanding finished truths, our interest awakens for participation in the coming-into-being of truth. Certainly truths must be clearly defined, but what is expressed in finished concepts always refers to something that belongs to the past. However, the truths deposited, as it were, by the past we can absorb; by so doing they live in us, and we can in this way participate in truth.
All this is going through a process of transformation in our time, which shows itself in the extreme polarity between Western and Eastern Europe. We in Central Europe are placed in the middle of this polarity. The Western pole has already reached hypertrophy, over-ripeness. The Eastern pole is only just coming into being; it has hardly reached the embryonic stage. It is very important that we be clear about the fact that what shows itself as strange and chaotic conditions in Eastern Europe is very little understood in Central Europe and not at all in Western Europe. How many discussions are not going on about the nature of the Russian people, about what is happening in Eastern Europe! Recently I read about an opinion, put forward by a gentleman who no doubt thinks himself very clever, that the Russian people are going through a stage resembling the one Central and Western Europe went through in the Middle Ages. At that time there was, he said, in Central and Western Europe more faith, more of a kind of dreamy, mystical attitude, just as there is now in Eastern Europe. Thus Eastern Europe must be passing through its Middle Ages whereas in the rest of Europe reason and intellect, and with it the natural sciences have meanwhile progressed. The Eastern Europeans will have to catch up with all of this development.
None of this has any bearing on reality. The truth is rather that the Russian is by nature mystically inclined, but this mystical inclination is at the same time intellectual. What meets us here is intellectual mysticism, or mystical intellectualism; that is, an intellect that expresses itself mystically. And that is something which never existed in the rest of Europe. It is something quite new, new in the same sense as a child is new when compared to an old man, perhaps his grandfather, whom he will come to resemble. It is so important that modern man wakes up and recognizes these things instead of passing them by in a state of sleep. To understand the polarity of Western and Eastern Europe is in particular for Central Europe a pressing necessity. Unless attempts are made to understand it, the chaos that exists at present will not be overcome.
It is rather difficult to become altogether clear about the contrast between Eastern and Western Europe, basically because what comes to the fore in the West is in a sense too mature, whereas what appears in the East has, as I said, hardly reached the embryonic stage. Yet we must try to understand. We have in Western and also in Central Europe what might be called a specific kind of superstition which does not exist in Eastern Europe, or when it appears there, it is an adoption from the West. This superstition, so prevalent in Western and Central Europe is, to put it bluntly, concerned with the printed word, with everything to be found in books. This may sound somewhat grotesque but it does illustrate what encompasses a whole complex of cultural attitudes. In the West we cling to what can be pinned down and put into print. We place the greatest store on what we can objectify by detaching it from the human being. To do so is regarded so highly that our libraries grow into gigantic monstrosities, immensely appreciated more particularly by those working on some branch of science. However, there is another reason why libraries are so appreciated: they keep in storage thoughts which have become divorced from their human source. A sum of such thoughts we call liberalism; when a group of people profess them it is called a liberal party. A liberal party is what results when, over a number of human beings a liberal theory is spread, like a spider's web, i.e., what can be preserved in books. The same applies to many other things. The superstitious belief in theories leads to the attitude that, for things to be dealt with efficiently they must first be pinned down in this way.
In the West there has emerged in quick succession a whole number of theories such as liberalism, conservatism and others, and also wider, more universal theories, preserved in books, such as Proudhon's and Bellamy's utopias. 6 Pierre Joseph Proudhon, 1809–1865, French socialist and anarchist. Edward Bellamy, 1850–1898, U.S. author. These things become more numerous the further West we go. Central Europe has produced comparatively few such utopias, strictly speaking, none. Some may have appeared in Central Europe because these things get transferred, but they are all products of the Anglo-Saxon and Latin races. A feature of Western superstition — adopted to some extent in Central Europe — is that what originates in man, i.e., his thoughts, must first be externalized, must be detached from him, before being of use. This procedure has led to evil practices in certain movements usually of a mystical nature. Such practices are facilitated by the fact that great value is placed on producing something, not directly from contemporary life, but from what can be derived from ancient writings and old traditions, in short, from what has become divorced from man. Many people are not interested when told about the spiritual worlds related to today. But if told that what they are hearing stems from ancient Rosicrucian wisdom they are pleased, and even more pleased if told about ancient temples, or better Oriental mystic temples, and it is emphasized how old everything is, how long it has all been deposited, how truly fixed it has become.
This tendency continues to develop to extremes in the Western world. It is a tendency that is intimately connected with a certain despotic power that is being wielded over human beings by the spirituality that has become detached from them. The spiritual element that has become independent exerts its power, in the last resort, over man's elemental forces. The human being himself is then excluded; in one way or another, what he has separated off takes control. Furthermore what has in this way been thrust into the world seeks materialization; it does not just seek to be understood in a materialistic sense, but actually to materialize. The Western world has already gone a long way in this respect. The phenomena are there, but no attempts are made to understand the inner laws that govern them; however, they exist and the day is not far off when man will regret that he did not seek knowledge of them.
A former commoner known today as Lord Northcliffe is a British newspaper magnate, and he is on his way to becoming one in America. 7 Viscount Alfred Charles William Northcliffe (actually Harmsworth), 1865–1922, English newspaper publisher. He started by pondering the question of whether it would be possible to make society — that is, the ideas and views people generally share — independent of human beings as such. In other words, he wondered how one could get what has detached itself from man to gain dominance over him. He began by formulating a theory saying: Every province has its own newspaper; it carries articles written by local individuals; consequently the papers differ from one province to another. How splendid if one could gradually pour into all the provincial presses a uniform model newspaper. One could establish a central office which collected all the best articles on chemistry, written by famous chemists, all the best written on physics by eminent physicists, all the best on biology by famous biologists, and so on. This material could be distributed to the various local papers which would then all carry the same articles. Even where of necessity something had to be different, it could be arranged from the central office. Of course, due to different languages, absolutely everything could not be the same, but everything could be centralized.
You will find that this man has come a long way towards his aim. He is today the unseen power over a great part of the British, French and American press. Certain newspapers in Britain, France and America carry nothing that has not been issued from the same central office. Those newspapers which are still independent have to fight for survival, faced with competition from all that flows through his channels. His real aim is to get rid of everything that is not issued from one and the same source. In view of Western man's blind belief in what has become detached from him and which now comes to meet him in this way, you will realize what possibilities this opens up for exerting tyrannical power over individual human beings.
People in Eastern Europe have a natural inclination to restore to the individual his full human dignity and independence. Their inclination is towards overcoming what has become entombed in the printed word and replacing it by man himself. What is striven for in the East as an ideal is to read less, to be less influenced by what has become inert and fixed and rather to let influence come from what is directly connected with individual human beings. Man is once more to listen to his fellow man and to know that it makes a difference whether speech comes directly from the human being or whether it has become detached from him and made a detour via printers' ink or the like.
Meanwhile in the West a dreadful use is made in many spheres of what has become detached from man, especially in the realm of art where it has led to methods of reproduction that are most efficient in extinguishing the sense for the artistic. The ability to recognize the unique aspect in a work of art has to a great extent been lost. This applies especially to objects in everyday use. When objections are made to this modern malady, they are not met with much understanding. You may have noticed that some of the ladies present are wearing rings or other ornaments, every item different, because value is placed on individual design, and on the fact that a connection exists in the ideal sphere between the object and the person who made it. At a time when everything is mass produced, that is, has become detached from man, has been objectified, there is not much understanding for such things. The intention behind much that is developed in our time really springs from this tendency, although it may be thought that things are done from preference. On the other hand, what is preparing in the East is based on what is individual, on enhancing man's intrinsic value, though as yet this tendency is only in the earliest embryonic beginnings.
Marxism (I could just as well choose a number of other examples) originated in the West. But what is Marxism? It is a theory which presents in conceptual form a social structure within which all human beings are supposed to live together in harmony. To the spiritual outlook gradually preparing in the East it will seem an absurdity that a theory of this kind, supposed to have universal validity, could ever have been spun out. It will be recognized that it is impossible to decide in an arbitrary manner how people are to live. That is something which each individual must determine for himself, just as people's lives within a community must be worked out between the people themselves. What is preparing in the East is creative individualism — I hesitate to use yet another stereotyped phrase, but no other possibility exists than to make use of certain concepts.
It is so very important that these things are understood. They indicate the forces which at present are shaping the world, and we are placed in their midst. Unless these things are taken into account sufficiently, it is not possible to arrive at an adequate view of world events. For example, without such insight it is not possible to recognize what is behind the fact that Lord Northcliffe bought up not only British, American and French newspapers, but a Russian one as well. A newspaper called Nowoje Wremja is completely under his control. This enables him to throw a net across to the East, instigated no doubt by human beings who have a certain insight into what will result from gathering into the same net what constitutes the past and what constitutes the future. Something of far deeper significance than is imagined lies behind this East-West union into which we in Central Europe are wedged. These things are worked at far more thoroughly and systematically than people are aware of. Similar things are taking place in other spheres. The idea of implanting the dying forces of the West into the germinating forces of the East is dreadful. Some are aware of what is taking place, but who today can rightly judge the meaning of the fact that at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries there suddenly appeared in the British press a whole series of fictitious names, names such as Ignotus, Argus, Spectator and so on? Who recognizes from a comprehensive viewpoint that an issue of Nowoje Wremja purchased in Russia is written in London by representatives under various pseudonyms, thus ensuring a complete interchange between what is overripe in the West and what is still embryonic and germinating in the East? These are things that go on behind the scenes of our everyday lives, things that have a direct connection with laws governing the evolution of mankind and the earth.
At the beginning of the 20th century the spirit of Eastern Europe was joined to the spirit of Western Europe. Systematic work was done to create a general public opinion. Work on this started in the editor's office and spread to parliament before entering more subterranean channels. Anyone who believes I am imagining things in maintaining this should read and really take in the content of letters published at the beginning of the 20th century by Mrs. Novikoff, the wife of the Russian envoy in Vienna. 8 Olga Novikoff: The M.P. for Russia, Reminiscenses and Correspondence of Mme. Olga Novikoff, edited by W.T. Stead, Vol. I 1841–78, Vol. II 1878–1908, London, 1909, Andrew Melrose. These letters were written by Mrs. Novikoff to Mrs. Campbell-Bannerman, with whom she became acquainted in England. In reading these letters you will find that I am not imagining things and you will find much that explains what seems inexplicable, especially to people in Central Europe.
If we are really to understand the significance of the deep changes occurring in our time, we need concepts that are different from those carried over from the past. We must recognize that we have an inherent inclination and ability to formulate such concepts. We must not sleep through the significant events that are taking place. We could cite hundreds upon hundreds of such events. Take for example what took place at Oxford in the summer of 1911. There was a large gathering at which were present, in their official attire, a splendid procession of all the dignitaries and professors of the University of Oxford. They had gathered because Lord Haldane was to deliver a speech. 9 Viscount Richard Burdon Haldane, 1856–1928, English statesman, Education and Empire, 1902; The Pathway to Reality, 1903–04. You must bear in mind that this is the Secretary of State for War giving a speech. And his subject? He discussed in strictly scientific terms how greatly the German spirit had contributed to the furtherance of mankind's evolution. He stressed that it had demonstrated that civilization is furthered not through brute force but rather through moral and ethical influences. The whole speech was a eulogy in praise of the intrinsic value of German culture.
Once war had broken out, Lord Haldane fully agreed with and even emphasized the view that the German spirit came to expression mainly in militarism that created hell for the rest of the world. Yet that same Lord Haldane had in his youth, while in Göttingen, sat in reverence at the feet of the philosopher Lotze who had written some fine books on Education and the State and one entitled A Path to Truth. 10Rudolf Hermann Lotze, 1817–1881, physician and philosopher. Metaphysics, Vol. 1, 1841–79, Vol. 2, Leipzig, 1879. That same Lord Haldane had in beautiful words spoken about the difference between Hegel and Goethe. He pointed out that while Hegel said that we would be able to hear nature express the highest secrets if we only had the sense, Goethe made a still loftier saying the foundation for his whole world view, namely, that if nature could actually express everything man needs to hear, then she would have had the ability to speak. A deep meaning is contained in these words. They imply nothing less than that Goethe professed true spiritualism, for if nature contained all there is in the world, then she would reveal it to us; the fact that she does not proves that there is more; there is something beyond nature, namely the spirit. All this Haldane had been able to express because of his experience of German cultural life. Yet like hundreds of other instances, we see him suddenly change.
These phenomena are not of a kind that can be brushed aside with trivial remarks like: Once peace has been signed all these things will even out. — Many people do believe that, but what is needed is a fundamentally different approach. The basis for this approach we do not even have to acquire; in a sense, we possess it already, and if we have the will, we can act accordingly. We in Central Europe have by nature the ability, if we would only exert it, to look with understanding towards both the East and the West. What we must do is overcome the habit of approaching things especially spiritual science theoretically. We must enter into it with all our heart, with all the inner forces at our disposal.
Allow me for a moment to turn to something of a personal nature; after all, we know one another and these things concern us all. As you know, I have written about Nietzsche, and from my book you will have seen that I value and admire him greatly. 11Rudolf Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom (Rudolf Steiner Publications, Blauvelt, NY, 1985). Lately, when lecturing in various places, I have expressed my respect and admiration for the Swabian aesthetician Friedrich Theodor Vischer. 12Friedrich Theodor Vischer, 1807–1887, German poet and philosopher. I also mentioned the fact that he was among the; first to whom I turned after I had for thirty years been concerned with laying the foundation for what I now call the science of the spirit. He was the first to approach me in saying: Your conception of time is a most fruitful foundation on which to build up a science of the spirit.” As I said, I respect Nietzsche, and I tried to do him justice in my book, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom. I also respect Vischer. But how do the two regard each other? You will find that Nietzsche wrote an interesting passage on Vischer. He also coined the much used expression “bourgeois philistine” which is what he called David Friedrich Strauss, the author of Life of Jesus and The Old and the New Faith. 13David Friedrich Straul3, 1808–1874, German theologian. Vischer was a great admirer of David Friedrich Strauss, a remark I add merely by way of explanation. Concerning Vischer, Nietzsche had the following to say:
... Lately the assessment of an idiot concerning historical facts has been circulating in German newspapers to the joy of the pale aesthetic Swabian Vischer. This assessment, to which every German will agree, is the so-called “truth,” that “Renaissance and Reformation — aesthetic rebirth and moral rebirth — must be taken together to form a whole.” Such a sentence tests my patience too far. I feel it to be my personal duty, once and for all, to tell the Germans what they all have on their conscience: four centuries of crimes against culture; that is what they have on their conscience. 14Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900, Ecce Homo, “The Case of Wagner: A Musician Problem,” in several editions in English.
Thus it is possible to have respect for both personalities and their philosophical approaches; but one calls the other an idiot. That does not in the least alter my regard and respect for them both. I do not feel obliged to swear by the one or the other when I acknowledge what they have to say. Nor do I feel obliged to make whatever view each has of the other my own. I accept that that is his view, just as I accept that the gentleman sitting across the room will have a different view of the pile of books in front of me than I have. Judging things from one aspect only is a common tendency, which some develop to a remarkable degree. That is something that has to be reckoned with. There is the example of what Hölderlin puts into the mouth of Hyperion in his “Hyperion in Greece”; it is so interesting because, as those will be aware of who know Hölderlin, he identifies with Hyperion. The views expressed by Hyperion are his own. The Germans he describes as follows:
They always were barbarians right from ancient times, and became more so through diligence, learning, and even religion. Completely devoid of pious feelings, lacking every grace, subject to every excess and shabbiness insulting to a fine soul, dull and without harmony like the fragments of a discarded vase — these, my Bellarmin, were my comforters. — These are hard words and yet I say them because they are true: I cannot think of any people more torn apart than the Germans. You will find artisans, thinkers, priests, masters and servants, young folk and mature ones; all these you will find, but no human beings ... 15Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin, 1770–1843, Hyperion, oder der Eremit in Griechenland, 2 parts, Stuttgart, 1797–99, in Sämtliche Werke, Insel Verlag, Leipzig o.J., p. 580.
One can imagine authors of the entente wanting to copy such a passage. But there is another important aspect: the same Hölderlin who had these convictions also called Germany “the heart of Europe.” In other words, he was capable of having both views. We must be able ever more to recognize that not only is it possible, but it is also a deeply rooted disposition in man. If one clings to the abstract opinion that it is contradictory to hold different views about the same thing, one is clinging to one-sidedness. The views and outlooks that led to the greatness of Western Europe are no longer capable of understanding what is beginning to evolve in Eastern Europe. The day will come when to the people of Eastern Europe it will seem incomprehensible that one should not be able to have two completely opposite views of something. Many-sidedness is what' is developing in the East, and it will seem obvious that to understand things one must view and describe them from all sides.
All this is connected with what I began with today, the necessity to attain a new relationship to truth. An essential aspect of this is the recognition that our life of thinking, that is, our life in mental pictures and concepts, is already a life in the spirit. In order to recognize that thinking is a spiritual activity it is necessary to overcome the materialistic and quite unscientific attitude which says, When I think, I use my brain, so thinking must issue from the brain. — That is just about as clever as someone saying, Along this road there are footprints; where can they have come from? There must be forces beneath the ground that have caused them. I must study these footprints so that I can build up a theory as to the nature of the forces that push and pull from beneath the ground and form the footprints in the soft soil. That is comparable to seeking in the formations and processes of the brain the forces that create thinking. Just as the footprints, though found in the soil, originated from people walking over it, so are the formations of the brain — just as biology and physiology describe them — the imprint of thinking which is spiritual.
Naturally the brain must be there, just as the ground must be there if people are to walk over it. Like the ground, the brain offers resistance as long as we live between birth and death. What lives in us as spirit must be reflected from something during our existence between birth and death. The reflecting apparatus is the brain. But this reflecting is an active process, as if in a mirror in which light was not thrown back from a smooth surface, but one which contoured itself so that one could recognize from the resulting shape what had been reflected. One must understand that thinking as such is spiritual, that we already stand within the spiritual world when we think. We become fully conscious of this only when thinking frees itself, when thinking, as it were, is able to catch hold of itself. Such a refined thinking can follow a course that enables it to take hold of the more hidden connections between events in life. It is able to seek out the more delicate links beneath the surface. I spoke of these things in the two previous lectures.
What thinking is in its spiritual nature one becomes aware of only when it has freed itself from matter. Only then does one attain to a thinking that is truly creative. The natural world can be grasped by a thinking that passively assimilates what the natural phenomena of themselves reveal. If one is to find ideas that can be effective in society, ideas that are, so to speak, to govern people's affairs, they must arise out of a thinking that has become independent. We lack to a high degree the ability to rise above dependence on external phenomena, to rise to a thinking that formulates thoughts independently, within its own essence. That is why our political life is so sterile, so unfruitful; only thinking that has freed itself from matter can deal effectively with social problems. If one wishes, it could be called the next necessary step to be taken in mysticism. But what is meant is not a vague mystical something so often pursued nowadays. What matters is not the awareness of oneself within a divine essence or some such lovely phrase. The God within is an experience common to all creatures. To be in connection with the unity of the world, with the divine element within, one need only to utter words like mysticism or theosophy. A June bug has that kind of connection too, though in its own special way. What matters is that we begin to experience thinking as something active and alive, expressing itself in concrete concepts. Such concepts are able to take hold of and deal effectively with social problems.
At the beginning of today's considerations I spoke about the importance for man not only to regard his relation to truth in the light of the science of the spirit, but also to recognize that the relation itself must become different. It must become an active union with reality; this will have immense significance, not only for the understanding of world events, of history and social problems now and in the future, but also for the individual. What needs to be done now, is to continue certain important spiritual streams and endeavors which have been forgotten. There were good reasons — we still have to speak of them — that in the second half of the 19th century much was forgotten or abandoned. When a new edition of my book The Riddles of Man is published, I shall indicate many phenomena which belong to these forgotten aspects of spiritual life. 16Rudolf Steiner, Vom Menschenrätsel, see note 4 to Lecture VI. Many endeavors, now forgotten, existed in the first half of the 19th century to which spiritual science has a direct link. Had they endured — which is of course purely hypothetical, for things could only develop the way they did — but if they had, man would not have been so helpless in face of the present tragic events.
I have mentioned before the remarkable fact that, for egoistical purposes, the strength of the various nations in Europe was carefully monitored in the West, especially in Britain. It was through this that the storm clouds gathered from whose effects we are still suffering. In past lectures I have explained many things which brought about the present catastrophe. You will realize from much of what I have said lately that it is by no means enough to reckon only with the events usually talked about. It is necessary to dig much deeper and to take account of the much greater significance of what happens beneath the surface of external events. It is this which pours over mankind like some dreadful deluge. Many of these things can as yet not be called by their true name, because human beings are not ready to accept them. But if evolution is to be understood, if light is to be thrown on the hidden secrets directly connected with present events, then they must be touched upon. Understanding of these things is possible only if the science of the spirit is taken ever more seriously.
The aim of the science of the spirit is to unite with all that is best in the forces and impulses of the Occident; above all it wants to further evolution. It can achieve its aims only if it ceases to be confused with all the foolish nonsense that appears nowadays in the guise of some spiritual or mystic impulse. Things have come to such straits that in future the difference must be made abundantly clear between everything spiritual science stands for, everything our anthroposophically-orientated spiritual science aims to be, and all the many movements that wish to identify with it.
In conclusion I ask you to look for a moment at the Orient; certainly it did have in the past a high degree of insight into repeated earth lives. This insight was attained through a special training of man's own being. From a certain point of view it must be said that no description of the individual soul's connection with the cosmos surpasses that of the Bhagavad Gita. But we, in our time have different tasks. In his Education of Mankind, Lessing inaugurated one of these tasks. 17 There the concept of repeated earth lives reappears in the Occident. But how did the idea come to Lessing? He knew of course that it had been a teaching among primitive peoples. But the idea came to him while contemplating the consecutive epochs in mankind's evolution, and noticing how one epoch develops out of the preceding one. He considered that the reason no break in evolution occurred between the epochs could only be because human souls themselves carried the forces and capabilities they had attained over from epoch A to epoch B, to epoch C, etc. Just think, if our souls were present back in darkest antiquity and continued to incarnate again and again, that would mean that we ourselves have carried over from antiquity right up into our time what runs like a thread through the whole of history and evolution. Then human beings themselves would have created the various epochs. History gains sense and meaning when it is recognized that the human souls themselves carry over impulses from one epoch to the next. Through such a comprehensive historical survey the idea of repeated earth lives came to Lessing, not as in the Orient from the individual human soul.
Historical thinking and history, history in its highest sense, that is the task of the Occident. However, this requires that we recognize it in every moment. History confronts us when individual facts unite in the understanding of the different ages of man. We have history when a child stands before an aged person. Here we grasp the historical sense by recognizing that the old person was once a young adult and before that a child. What is consecutive in history can also appear side by side in space. Eastern, Western and Central Europe, though next to one another in space, can be understood only when also seen in a historical sense as following one another. This, of course, must be done in the right way.
These tasks stand before each one of us. When we widen our horizon to encompass such matters we shall in our living relationship with what is around us attain that gratification for which our soul longs.