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The Social Question as a Question of Consciousness
GA 189

Lecture I

15 February 1919, Dornach

In some of the lectures I have recently held here I have dealt from several aspects with the now urgent, burning social question. Everyone who does not sleep through the events that weave themselves into his life, can be aware that this so-called social question has long been, and continues to be, an urgent and burning one for all mankind. From lectures I have held here and also from extracts of some given publicly by me in different parts of Switzerland, it can be seen how far in man's modern necessities of life, and in his most recent development, this social question has taken a definite form, a most incisive form, for life. In our Anthroposophical Movement, therefore, it behooves us to arrive, from our point of view, at a judgment about human destiny especially in regard to the social question, a judgment which in a way possible to us could be put into actual effect.

For a considerable time certain of our members have endeavoured to make their powers of use in our difficult times. Many things have been considered and put under review. Naturally for each of us it is possible to intervene in affairs only in the way his fate, his karma, and his position in life allow. As a result of the various aspirations among us, the following has now evolved. Three well-known members, who set themselves the special task of working in Stuttgart to meet the demands of modern life, Herr Mott, Dr. Bock, and Herr Kühn, came to me early in February and decided to put into practice, as far and as suitably as possible, what we have been able to learn from our world-outlook and conception of life. When we are dealing with a matter not of mere consideration but of practical application, the question can only be what at a definite point of time is suitable, what answers the purpose, what in a certain relation is the fitting thing with which to begin. If one does not make a suitable beginning one will rush in where angels fear to tread and, as a rule, accomplish nothing. For us at the present moment it is a matter of doing something in accordance with what has gone before, something the hard-pressed German people will find justified. In the events of the present day, above all appears one thing that is most significant—the existence of a deep gulf between the classes of men. On one side of this gulf stand the circles that have hitherto more or less led men's destiny; on the other side, the proletariat pressing forward with the reality of their social claims. The proletariat, it is true, appears to the observant in two forms, the workers themselves, and their leaders. I have often shown here how all the thoughts, aspirations and impulses in the heads of the leaders, by the help of which they gain their influence over the workers, are fundamentally a legacy from the middle-class thinking of the previous century. We have spoken of this here from various points of view, and sought to confirm it.

Now one of the most significant phenomena is this deep gulf between the two human groups. In recent days this has been clearly visible to those who follow the history of the times; on the one side Paris, where the standpoint of the formerly leading circles of mankind prevails, where man's destiny and that of the present time are dealt with; on the other side, Berne with its Conference in which lives everything that is divided from the other by the deep gulf. Whoever has carefully followed what has issued from Paris and what on the other hand has been attempted in Berne, at the socialist Congress, could not but confess that the essential thing, the significant and lasting thing, that will make itself felt in human evolution, is not the result of what is thought and hoped for in Paris or Berne, but the fact that in these two places two such very different social languages have been spoken. To be really honest one has to confess that here we have two totally different languages, languages up to now mutually incomprehensible.

On due consideration this significant phenomenon may strike everyone as justifying what I have so often said here, namely, that if we are to understand these things and share in the working out of possible solutions, many root causes must be looked for that are deeper than those sought today by either side. Time and again we have the opportunity of seeing what I referred to two days ago in a public lecture at Basle—that the social question, the social movement, is already an actual question, a question of present events for a great part of civilised mankind, in as deeply decisive a way as anything in the history of mankind. It presents itself in this way to all those of insight. And how often have I pointed out here that the deeper causes are to be found only through those considerations of reality that result from the Movement here for Spiritual Science, Anthroposophy—the deeper causes also for the social study of life and of things.

At the beginning of the year [ Note 1 ] I pointed out something I believe to be significant, namely, that today it is possible for mankind to be thoroughly pessimistic not just from emotional reasons but on actual social grounds. At the time, I read to you an excellent article by a man [ Note 2 ] who in this way is really able to estimate social matters. I have told you that it is profitable to think pessimistically only when one is not conscious of the other side of the fact—that help can be found by turning to the spirit. For that, a consciousness must be cultivated more and more that there is only ground for belief in destructive forces, which can produce terrible results in the coming decades, if men refuse to turn to the consideration of the realities arising from Spiritual Science. Naturally we do not mean by this the dogma of some spiritual movement or other, what we mean is an appeal to any forces of the spirit that alone can heal and help at this critical juncture in human evolution.

Thus, in a particular way, because it is not called forth arbitrarily but by observation of the forces of the times, the spiritual knowledge of Anthroposophy becomes in the anthroposophical members the needed healing power in the highest sense. It is not indeed the programme of one individual or of several individuals, but the result of observing what the spiritual leadership of the world dictates as necessary for mankind's present progress. It is on that account only that we can speak of Spiritual Science, of Anthroposophy, otherwise it would obviously be presumptuous. But what springs from true modesty need not be deterred when making itself felt, by the reproach of the presumptuous.

What has come from Paris can be said to be in keeping with an attitude towards life that in the last four-and-a-half years has led ad absurdum. From Berne has streamed what seems salvation to many, but has originated in an insufficiently deep source. From Paris there flows what occasions fear in almost all mankind; from Berne was meant to stream what in a great number of men can arouse hope and belief. And these two things speak quite different languages; there is no possibility of mutual understanding across the abyss. That will come only from the soul's inner appeal to Spiritual Science.

From such impulses arose the thought first at least to speak to the understanding of part of mankind. For it is a question of understanding. I have continually emphasised that in our social chaos we shall make no headway until we succeed in our appeal to the understanding of a sufficiently large number of men before instincts become too uncontrolled. This is what inspired my lectures in Zurich, Berne and Basle. Recently, various people with whom I have talked have given frequent opportunity for discussing how to approach the understanding and whether it be possible to discover the way before there is complete disaster? Now the latter question is one that cannot be raised by anyone who thinks in realities. For anyone thinking in realities does not speak with hypotheses about what is possible or not possible, but seizes on what he considers necessary to be done. When one one sets out on some road, a first step has to be taken; and we should not think, when the first step seems incompatible with the desired goal, that this step is useless. On a long road the first step can only take us a very short way. When going towards a specified goal it is first simply a question of not going in the wrong direction, either to right or left of the goal. Secondly, having once started on, the path, it is a question of having the will to keep to it and not to stumble against anything either left or right. If we would take our stand on realistic ground, we must also be in touch with what is happening at the time, what is already there, and not build castles in the air. Our though must be linked with something showing that from a certain direction a real stream is flowing. The first step may often seem most unfortunate, and only after a time perhaps turn out to be otherwise.

Now the three men previously named—Herr Mott, Dr. Boos, Herr Kühn, have discussed this matter with me. Since a spiritual appeal is to be made to the understanding of mankind, it must first be asked where anything of the sort has been seen to have an effect on men's thinking. You may remember an appeal made to the so-called world of culture, issued by ninety-nine German personalities, for the most part professors, or so I believe. Judged from the point of view of reality and not of emotion, this appeal can only be considered very clumsy. Yet for the most part they were professors: The appeal made an impression, however, and influenced thought in an unfortunate way. And it still haunts us. Being in a certain sense a reality it was a reality that had a worse effect than many others for it set waves in motion.

This makes one wonder how it might be in the present urgency to send out an appeal in contrast to this untimely set of antiquated notions, an appeal to man's understanding, arising out of the real conditions of modern human life. First, arising out of the facts themselves, an appeal to the German people, who have experienced the fate of seeing swept away the whole framework of a State in which they had hoped to realise their appointed task. They should be appealed to in a way to make them see that facts are speaking to them and not just a collection of words or some particular opinion or idea. Whereas perhaps the greater part of mankind would be loath to listen as long as old forms still remain, it can be assumed that the Germans would be more likely to listen, because no longer able to remain on the old ground they must perforce seek out a new basis for their life's task. For men are like that; so long as anything of the old remains—when it is not just a matter of clothes—they will unquestioningly hold firmly to it, unconscious of any sign that this is no longer possible. No one believes what a part love of comfort plays in the inner life of man.

Out of these thoughts I have composed a sort of Manifesto, and imagine it may be listened to by those souls who, where our own particular cultural questions are concerned, can be brought to an understanding based on reality. Above all I hope it may be understood by those Germans who are intelligent; to these it is addressed. But I mean it to be read by the enemies of Germany also, as something that has been considered and found fit by the people of Germany to be translated into reality. I thought of the ninety-nine signatures; if another ninety-nine of the Germans of the old Germany and of the old Austria can be found, and if the ninety-nine could perhaps be increased by a few personalities having an understanding of the present necessities of life—people in neutral countries, in Switzerland for example,—then something positive might be done in contrast to the former negative undertaking of the ninety-nine.

I beg you to understand me aright. This is first and foremost an appeal to the German people. But it is thought that what will be discussed in this form among the Germans themselves should be heard by the whole cultural world. I shall read this appeal here. The ideas will be known and familiar to you, since we have often discussed them. It is not meant to give advice, but it should show people that there is a way and how this way may be found. Certainly the presentation can be criticised as too short. But it is not a question of a textbook, it is an indication that there is something within mankind that can be of help.


The German people believed the structure of their empire, set up half a century before, to be secure for an unlimited time. At the outbreak of this catastrophic war, in August 1914, they saw this structure firmly established and imagined it would prove invincible. Today they see only its ruins. After such an experience must come reflection, heart-searching. For this experience has shown that the thoughts prevailing for half a century and more, especially those holding good over the war years, to have been tragically misleading. The question necessarily, arising in the souls of the German people is: where lie the reasons for this tragic error? This question must promote inner reflection in souls, and on their power for such reflection depends the very survival of the German people. Their future depends upon how far they are able to consider the question in all seriousness: How did I fall into this error? If today they face this question, the knowledge will dawn on than that, half a century earlier they founded a realm but omitted to set it the tasks arising from the essential nature of the German people. The realm was set up. In its early years all efforts went to the adjustment, as far as life allowed, of demands remaining over from the old tradition and yearly arising from new needs. Later men went on to confirm and increase their outer predominance in material strength. With this they combined measures concerned with the social claims born of the times, measures that certainly took into account the needs of the day but lacked the larger aims which should come from knowledge of the evolutionary forces to which modern man must turn. Thus the realm was established in a world-connection that lacked a real goal to justify its survival. The course the catastrophe of the war took has revealed this in a tragic way. Until the very outbreak of hostilities the world outside Germany could not see in the conduct of the realm anything to suggest that its rulers were fulfilling a world mission of historic import, not to be lightly swept aside. The failure of the rulers to find such a mission has necessarily given rise in the non-German world to the opinions that to those of insight have been the deeper grounds for the German downfall.

For the German people infinitely much now depends upon their impartial judgment of this state of affairs. In misfortune there must arise the insight which, in the last fifty years, has not been willing to show itself. Instead of the feeble thinking about day-to-day demands, a greater impulse must arise towards an outlook on life that with vigorous thought strives to understand the forces at work in evolution, and devotes itself to these with courageous will. There must be an end to the petty desire to sweep aside as unpractical idealists all those who pay heed to evolutionary forces. So too must cease the pride and presumption of those who imagine themselves to be practical people, who through their narrow vision in the guise of the practical have brought about disaster. Heed must be paid to what the truly practical men—decried as idealists—have to say about the present requirements of evolution.

The ‘practical’ men in all directions have for a long time seen that quite new human demands are being made, but they have tried to fit them within the frame of ordinary traditional thinking end organisation. The economic life of the day has produced demands that private initiative seems incapable of satisfying. One class of men consider it necessary that private enterprise should in individual spheres be transferred to companies; and this would be carried out wherever it appeared profitable according to the outlook on life of this particular class. The drastic transference of all individual work to associations became the aim of another class who, through the development of modern economic life, have no interest in retaining the handed-down aims of private persons.

In all the endeavours in connection with the modern demands of mankind up till now, there is something in common. They press for the socialisation of private undertakings, and count on the latter being taken over by the community (State, Commune) that has sprung from conditions having nothing to do with modern demands. Or men think in terms of newer associations, such as companies, that are nevertheless not formed in complete accordance with these new demands but copy old forms,out of traditional habits of thought.

The truth is that no associations formed in the sense of these old habits of thought can take up what one would like to see accepted. Prevalent forces press towards recognition of a social structure of mankind having something quite different in view from what is customary. Until now the social communities have for the most part been formed out of man's social instincts; the task of our time is to penetrate the forces of these instincts with full consciousness.

The social organism is membered in the same way as the natural organism. And as the natural organism must manage its thinking through the head and not through the lungs, so in the social organism the membering into systems must be such that no system can take over the task of another; all must work together but maintain its own independence.

The economic life can thrive only in developing as an independent member of the social organism in accordance with its own laws and its own forces, and avoids creating confusion in its structure by allowing itself to be absorbed by another member, the political member, of the social organism. The member that works politically must have a completely independent existence alongside the economic life, just as in the human organism the breathing system exists alongside that of the head. Their mutual work cannot be carried on beneficially if the two systems are under a single set of laws and administration; each must have its own, working, however, in a living way with the other. For the political system must destroy the economic life if it wants to take it over, and the economic system loses its forces of life when it becomes political.

To these two members of the social organism must be added a third, completely independent and formed out of the possibilities of its own life. This member is all that is produced spiritually, in which the spiritual part of the two other spheres also have a share. The spiritual part must be given over to them by the third member that is provided with its own laws and administration, but this spiritual part cannot be governed nor influenced by the other spheres more than member organs of a whole organism are influenced by one another.

Already today what has been said here to be necessary for the social organism can be quite scientifically substantiated and developed. Here there can only be given the guiding principles for all those who would follow up what is necessary.

The establishment of the German Empire happened at a time when these necessities were first appearing to modern humanity. Its Government did not understand how to give the Empire a task through insight into these necessities. This insight would alone have given it the right inner structure, it would also have given its foreign policy a competent direction, and enabled the Germans to live in common understanding with other peoples.

Insight must now ripen out of misfortune. We must develop the will for a social organism that is possible. It is not a Germany that no longer exists that should have to face the world outside, but a spiritual, political and economic system in its representatives must have the will to negotiate as independent delegations with those who have cast down that Germany which has been made into an impossible social form through the confusion of the three systems.

One fancies one can hear the ‘practical men’ becoming eloquent over the complexity of what has been said and finding it troublesome even to think about the working together of three corporate members. This is because they have no wish to know of the real demands of life, preferring to fashion everything according to the easier demands of their own thinking. They must come to see that they must accommodate themselves in their thought to the claims of reality or they will have learnt nothing from misfortune and in what arises further, will go on repeating the past ad infinitum.

While I was lecturing in Zurich, Basle and Berne, Herr Mott, Dr. Boos and. Herr Kühn were busy in Germany obtaining signatures for the Appeal. And in Austria others were similarly employed.

So far, although it is only a short time since we began, we can be well satisfied with our progress. For we have an Appeal as well supported as the former unfortunate one. And in the lectures recently given in Zurich—held there because Switzerland is the pivot for the connections of the civilised world—my object was to show that here and there people were to be found whose understanding was ripening. Thus, naturally it was important to learn the results before the last Zurich lecture. By 11th February I could make the happy announcement that about a hundred names had been collected, exclusive of those in Switzerland and Vienna. The news came from Germany where our fiends had been working everywhere, in a suitable way, to make this thing a reality. At the same time I received the following telegram from Vienna: “By midday 11th, 73 signatures, more certain tomorrow”. And on the following day: “Total 93 signatures”. That could be announced from Vienna, and more signatures were reported later. Results so far have been satisfactory. What we need next will be to find among them a number of signatures of well-known personalities capable of making the Appeal public, so that it is seen by those it concerns. For in a case of this kind much depends upon this. It actually concerns everyone today. And it may indeed be said that in the subconscious of man's soul something is calling upon him to understand such an affair as this. As I have told you in the course of these lectures, the idea appearing in this form is no new one to me. At the time when this catastrophic war was taking a decisive turn, I tried to help, on this necessary impulse towards reality wherever it came to my notice. I have described to you how this took place. I told those who had to do with the matter that this is not just a programme, not just an ideal, but that it should be considered as something having evolutionary force for modern mankind, something that certainly will be made a reality in the next ten, twenty or thirty years. It is not a question whether it is realised but solely how it is realised. I said to many of these people: You now have the choice either of having recourse to reason and of bringing about something through that, or of undergoing cataclysms and revolutions. It did not take long for people to be convinced that this was no false prophecy. It is hard, however, for the easy-going man of today to find the way from a certain understanding to that courage in life which, in accordance with his situation, is necessary for him to carry on the matter into the realm of reality.

Here in Switzerland, too, several signatures have already been obtained. We have always to consider here that in the first part of this Appeal something is said of the necessity for the German people to reflect about themselves and the errors in which they have been implicated. Thus, it has been said that it is impossible for the Swiss to give instructions across the frontier to the Germans. I do not believe that today we should still think like that. Before 1914 such things might have had a certain significance as old mummified thought, but now they have lost that significance. In these times the narrow-mindedness that comes from judging on national grounds must cease. The misfortunes of the last four-and-a-half years should have taught men this. Today even in Switzerland one should be able to think differently from the way one did four-and-a-half years ago. For here, too, something should have been learnt if thinking is to correspond to the picture we get by following the last four-and-a-half years with a little insight. They really appear like centuries which have been poured over mankind. And it seems most remarkable that people today have been willing to set up a new world-order, a new map of Europe, out of old national prejudices of a former age, or out of mummified thought, which really by 1914 should have come to an end. This map-building in Europe will be very quickly upset by other forces, the only ones with power at the present time and the only determining forces for what is called politics, that is, the social factors. For today all the rest is a mask. That, however, is the reality. The Europeans will very greatly deceive themselves if they form their judgments and criticisms out of ancient mummified, thinking.

Of course the objection can be made—I myself could easily give you a whole catalogue of objections—that with this impulses are given to all the States; that this can only come to pass when all States make a beginning. No! One single so-called State can make a beginning; it is indeed so, one single State can begin. And the beginning once made, the State will have done something for all mankind. It is indeed a misfortune for the German people that its Empire should have been set up at the start of more modern history, when at the time of its foundation the necessity already existed for the Empire to be given this as its task. And because the Empire did not accept this task it has never been understood why it should have any place in the world. Had it undertaken the task everything would have happened differently, for then men would have had before their very eyes the conditions of their existence and seen this existence justified.

Today people make their decisions out of mummified thoughts. There are many in Europe who cannot free themselves from mummified thinking and today regard the world-famous personality, Wilson, as a savior—perhaps out of some fear, it is difficult to express it. Nevertheless, if people should think without condemning Wilson, and put their question on a basis of fact, they must ask themselves why he has become such an influential man in his own country. This is because he is against all other Parties, and out of sound American instinct has carried out a policy utterly opposed to that of a great part of Europe. A great part of Europe wants to steer towards a community, the politics of a social community, in which the individual forces of liberty will go under. Wilson owes his election and his influence entirely to the circumstance that as an American democrat he has contributed to the release of the individual forces in economic life.

Let us suppose that Europe realised the ideal of Bolshevism, the ideal of the Berne social democracy, which means the social democracy of the Socialist Congress. What would be the consequence should these people achieve what they are dreaming of? Europe would take on a form so that despite every national prejudice all free forces would of necessity flood over into free America, where Wilson has become great by means of his opposite policy. Between Europe and America terrible competition would have to arise, making it impossible for anything to happen but pauperism in Europe and wealth in America—not from any injustice but out of the foolishness of European social politics. That would be the shape of things if Europeans do not, in accordance with their task, interpret and bring to realisation the social forces so that they meet the demands of a healthy social organism.

In this Appeal we have not to do with something merely thought out, but we are indicating forces everywhere present in what is reality, forces that must be brought to realisation, without which the fate not only of Germany and Austria but of all Europe can be simply a fall into poverty, suffering and alienation. from the spirit. We are living in serious times from which we cannot escape by trivial thinking. In men there lives something that attracts them to what is said in this Appeal, something that can already be observed. Because this is so, because one can hope to find the way to the hearts and souls of men, we are seeking now to reorganise what, as I said, was a necessary form to be sought during the catastrophe of the war, into the form necessary for present-day conditions.

I only hope no one thinks that this kind of Appeal has a significance that is absolute. I spoke of this to someone—concerned with it later—in January, 1918, as it was then drafted, and ended by saying: This can of course take on many different forms according to the different conditions prevailing at the time. It has nothing to do with a theory, nor a programme, nor an ideal, but with what has been thought out of reality. I said further that because the thought comes out of reality, for me it is nothing Utopian. Utopians who set up their programmes imagine everything to be bad that is not carried out according to their plan. It does not strike me at all in this way. It may happen, for example, that such a matter touches men's souls, and because they consider it practical they begin to put it into practice. And today it can be said quite clearly that a beginning has been made to put it into a practical form, suitable for life everywhere. I can quite well imagine that nothing may remain of all I have said here and in the lectures in Zurich, Berne and Basle, but that everything will take on a different form. For anyone who thinks in realities it is not a matter of his forms and phrases being put into practice, but that they should somewhere be laid hold of by reality. Then it will soon be seen what becomes of it. Perhaps it will go another way, there is always that possibility, but it is certain that the result must be in conformity with the conditions. For it is not any abstract ideal, any programme striven for, but simply a seizing hold of the forces of reality. What we are concerned with here should be as far removed as possible from all fantasy, from all dogmatising. Therefore I was much astonished when a well-known personality, whose signature one of the three friends mentioned above had undertaken to procure, let it be known that he would have thought, in making the appeal, I should have addressed it more to men's spirit, and went on to say that mankind's salvation could only come by their finding the way back to the Spirit.

Thus people want one always to be repeating spirit, spirit, spirit! But that is not what is of importance; what matters is that the Spirit should be shown and proved able really to give form to the facts. They are fundamentally dangerous who keep on speaking of the spirit without giving any indication of its reality; for they refer to it simply in the sense of an ideology. We have reason to be thankful that in the midst of our society personalities have been found with understanding, active understanding, at what is aimed at here, so that they will also actually do something. One hears constant echoes of this.

Our friend, Dr. Boos, after in my last lecture in Zurich I had referred to the results of our Appeal, issued an appeal on his own account that, from among the audience, people willing to take a practical part in this matter should come forward and give their addresses. The result of that evening, too, was extraordinarily satisfying. There were of course objections but I could well understand them. They were, however, of a nature to make one see that men today do not take their stand upon reality, they are carried away by enthusiasm. And this applies precisely to those considered the most practical. Hence, at Zurich, in a lecture when speaking of enthusiasts, I gave General Ludendorf as a good modern example. That is the type, the representative, of an enthusiast, a man who may be good or bad, but to my thinking bad at understanding strategy, and in regard to everything else remote from life and all reality, having no idea of the conditions of the reality in which he should have been active. He was an abstract idealist in a way that only a socialistic utopian can be. One should pay good heed to this insane concept of the ‘practical man’ which has done such harm to mankind. This being practical, up to now in such favour, is nothing but enthusiasm carried into actual fact through brutality, an unrealistic way of thinking, and it is above all this that must vanish. What has to come must be created spiritually, and the bearer of this will be the Anthroposophical Movement.

This is what I wanted to tell you on this eventful evening of our Lecture Cycle, as something that has proceeded out of the inner being of our movement.


1. Lecture of December 31, 1981 not translated

2. Walther Rathenau