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The Social Question as a Problem of Soul Life
GA 190

I. Inner Experience of Language I

28 March 1919, Dornach

There are certain things I have to put before you which apparently have not much to do with what we are at present discussing, with our discussions, that is, of the social question. Tomorrow, however, it will appear that this connection does none the less exist. Last time I concluded by showing why children born in recent times, since 1912–13, say, come from their spiritual life before birth with what one might call a certain reluctance to merge themselves into the cultural inheritance they find on earth as a legacy from their immediate forbears or ancestors of the last century. I told you that among the actual experiences possible in the spiritual world a kind of meeting takes place between the souls of those just dead, who are returning to the spiritual world through the gate of death, and those souls preparing to appear again on the earthly stage. Whatever links with the spiritual world men have had before they die act forcibly when they have passed through the gate of death. This is of special significance in our time. In our time if a faint feeling of the link with the spiritual world still lingers, it is an atavistic one. After passing through the gate of death into the world of spirit, man can therefore receive impulses that they can carry on only if they have consciously concerned themselves with conceptions of the spiritual world. Today there already exists a great difference between those who have died having gained ideas of the spiritual world in one way or another in true thought-forms and those personalities who have lived entirely in the conceptions of our materialistic culture. There is a great difference between these souls in the life after death, and this difference is felt particularly strongly by those souls who are setting about their return into incarnation in an earthly life.

Now you know that in the course of recent times, until well into the twentieth century, the materialistic tendencies, materialistic thinking and feeling, on the earth became more and more intensive. Those rising into the spiritual world, through the gate of death have few impulses which, if I may put it so, awaken in those about to descend to earth pleasurable anticipations of their earthly sojourn.

Its culmination was reached in the second decade of the twentieth century. So those children born in the second decade came to earth with a deep spiritual antipathy to the civilization and learning customary on the earth. This stream of impulses that came to earth with those children helped in large measure to call up the inclination on earth to wipe out this old civilization, to sweep away this culture of capitalistic and technical times. And he who is in a position to penetrate the interrelationship between the physical and super-physical worlds in the right way will not misunderstand when I say that the desire for a spiritual civilization in the hearts and souls of our youngest fellow citizens has contributed essentially to the events on the earth in recent years.

You see, my dear friends, that is—if I may put it thus—the bright side of the sad, the terrible events of recent times. It is a bright side in that it shows that the dreadful things caused by the decadence of the materialistic age have been willed by heaven, sent down as messages in the subconscious of recently-born children. It is an expression of soul which in the most recently born children is something quite different from that in children born in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. It is now essential that mankind should direct finer powers of perception to such things. In these days mankind is proud of being practical: where, however, this practical sense should be most active in observation of actual life, people pass lightly over all these things in their seeing, speaking and thinking. The melancholy expression seen in our youngest children, in their countenances, until their fifth or sixth year is little noticed. Should it be noticed, that in itself would awaken an impulse that must cause a powerful social movement to take place.

But one must acquire the sense for the expression, the physiognomy, of human beings in their earliest years; one must indeed develop such a sense, it is quite essential. Much of the sense for these things can be cultivated (however strange that may sound to many today) by allowing oneself to enter into the aims of Eurhythmy, not just superficially seeking sensation, but with one's whole soul. You will soon see why this is so.

Whoever is in a position, through his occult experiences, to communicate with the dead will readily notice that many thoughts (for it is by means of thoughts that one does communicate with the dead) by which one wishes to have a mutual understanding with the dead are not understood by them. Many thoughts that men have here on earth, customary thoughts, sound to the dead (naturally you must take this in the right way, I am speaking of interchange of thought with the dead) as a foreign incomprehensible language. Probing further into this situation, one finds particularly that verbs, prepositions, and above all interjections, are relatively easily understood by the dead—I repeat relatively easily—but nouns hardly at all. These leave a kind of gap in their grasp of the languages used. The dead never understand if one speaks to them chiefly in nouns. It to noticeable that when a noun is turned into a verb they begin to understand. Speak to the dead, for example, of the germ of something; the word germ in most cases will not be understood. It is as though they had heard nothing. Change the noun into a verb and speak of something germinating and the dead will begin to understand.

Wherein lies the cause? You realise that it lies not in the dead but in ourselves, in those, that is, who speak with the dead. And this is because since the middle of the fifteenth century, at any rate for all mid- and west-European languages—and the more is the farther west one goes—the living feeling for the picture expressed by the noun has been so lost that, when nouns are used, they sound nebulous, echoing only in the mind; indeed few people think of anything actual and real when using nouns. When obliged to turn nouns into verbs they are forced by an inner compulsion to think more concretely. To speak of a germ does not generally mean that a concrete conception of the germ of a plant, say a germinating bean, exists as an image in the mind, especially if the talk is abstract. A picture arises of something vague and nebulous, as it might in the case of some principle. When you say “what germinates” or “that which germinates,” because you have used the verbal form you are at least found to think of something growing, that is, something that moves; which means that you go from the abstract to the concrete. Then because you yourself go from the abstract to the concrete the dead begin to understand you. But, for reasons I have often explained here, because the living connection between those alive on the earth and those who have passed through the gate of death, the discarnate souls, must become increasingly closer, because impulses coming from the dead must work more and more effectively into the earth, then will of necessity take gradually into their language, into their speaking into their thinking something written over from the abstract to the concrete. It must again become an aim of mankind to think imaginatively, pictorially, when they speak.

Now I ask you how many people think concretely when, let us say, they read of legal proceedings, where there were judges who judged, pronounced judgment; to have judged, to pass sentence—that is, to exercise the judicial function.1Translator's note: The argument here is based on the customary use of the german words richten, Richter, das Recht, and rechten, meaning “to judge”, “a judge”, “the right” or “justice”, and “to go to law”, and the root from which they all sprint. Where then is the concrete thinking, or where in the whole world is there any concrete thinking, when the noun. the right or justice is uttered? Just take this very vague abstraction that is in mind when the right, justice, is spoken of, when going to law, the right thing, is expressed in speech. What then is the right really, taken purely from the point of view of language? We have in these days often said that the state should be above all a rights-state—what then is the right considered purely in itself? For most people it remains quite a. shadowy conception, a conception that traffics in the dreariest abstractions. How then is one to arrive at a concrete conception of the right? Let us examine the matter by taking a single case.

You will have heard, my dear friends, certain people called clumsy (literally “left-handed”). What are clumsy people? You see, what we try to do with the left hand when we are not naturally left-handed we usually do awkwardly, not being skilful. at it. When anyone conducts his whole life in the same way as one behaves when doing something with the left hand then he is clumsy. The basis of the description clumsy is the completely concrete conception “he does everything as I myself do when I use my left hand”; no dreary abstraction. but the wholly concrete “he behaves as I do when I use my left hand.” From that arises, apprehended concretely, a contrast in feeling between the left-handed and the right-handed, what is done with the right hand and. what with the left. And what is right-handed (skilful) is contained in the noun “the right”. The right is originally simply what is performed as skillfully for real life as what is done with the right, and not with the left hand.

There you have indeed brought something concrete into the matter. But now picture to yourselves . . . you need only picture it with a clock, but there are numerous other cases in which. one could do something similar as a rule, when you have to regulate a clock, you will not wind with the left hand, but with the right; that is how you regulate a clock. This winding from left to right accomplished with the right hand is the concrete regulating, righting, setting right. One even says “to set right”. There you have the concrete conception of the circular movement from left to right, the putting right. That is to judge, to right. One who has strayed towards the left where he should not be is net right by the judge.

It is by means of such things that one can succeed in linking concrete formative conceptions with the word. You see, such image conceptions were still linked with the words till right into the fifteenth century. But this thinking in imagery has been thrown overboard. We must once more cultivate this making of imaginative conceptions. For the dead understand only what resounds formatively in speech. Everything no longer resounding in imagery—as is generally the case in modern speech—everything that does not produce a picture, which is not formulated in pictures to produce an Imaginative conception in the people concerned is incomprehensible to the dead.

When you consider the matter further you will see that in the transformations into vivid imagery but now is the first to go. Then everything passes into verb form, or at least passes into something that compels one to develop picture conceptions. You see when one cultivates such a style today that picture conceptions underlie it, then as a rule one gets the response that people do not understand this, it is very hard to understand. But he who faces our times honestly will consciously strive to put things in such a form as can be conceived entirely in pictures. In the pamphlet which was published on the social question—where one is forded into abstractions because at present wherever the social question is discussed we get for the most part mere abstractions—in that pamphlet itself I strove as far as possible for a style in which the matter could be presented in picture form. It is especially in the present-day discussions over the social question that the capacity for being abstract is driven to its furthest extent. People have gradually become accustomed to accepting the words as a sort of verbal currency with which they no longer think in any concrete pictures at all. Today, to read a social pamphlet or book you find you must have been for years accustomed to what is meant in order to come to terms with the book at all. The whole meaning of such discussions depends upon the conventional use of words. Who today in speaking of “possessing” deals that the word has a certain connection with “to be possessed”? Yet the genius of speech as I have often remarked is very much more significant than what the single individual can think and speak; it creates innumerable connections that only need to be discovered by the individual for a return into a certain spiritual life. It is just when we tried to find the verb behind every noun and make it a practice not always to speak of light and sound, but to speak of what illumines, of what sounds, and then find ourselves obliged to penetrate more and more into the reality of things in contrast to the non-realities, that then we arrive at a path that can lead to healing.

Even the adjective is much better than the noun. I'm speaking much more concretely when I say “he who is diligent” than when I say “The diligent”. But “the diligent” is indeed much more concrete than what I call up the dreadful specter (for the dead really feel it a dreadful specter), the dreadful specter “diligence”. When you speak of “the how”, “the what”—Goethe once claimed the apt phrase “I ponder the What, I should rather ponder the How” (Das was bedenke, mehr bedenke Wie)—it is for the dead a speech full of life because they themselves need to feel concretely when you use such words as what and how as now. Today when you talk about a principle—“I take a certain standpoint on principle”—you have for the dead called up to specters, first the “principle”, were generally no one now thinks of a principal at something concrete, secondly “standpoint”. Consider this ghost of a “standpoint”. It has generated greatly already in our language and in all West European languages,, so that in speaking of it for the most part, everything significant is left out. Sometimes the compositor even corrects one! When in the manuscript I write “when one sees something from out of a certain standpoint” then the compositor generally cross out the “out”, and one has to insert it again in one's revision; for people have become accustomed to utter the nonsense “When one sees something from a standpoint”. To speak in concrete terms one has to say “to see something from out of a standpoint”, and thereby say something concrete but when one speaks of seeing a thing from a standpoint—for one speaking concretely the only possible conception is that one sees something from a point on which he stands; a little piece of a point! Now, a little piece of a point is surely a bit difficult to think of.

You see, such things are extraordinarily important and significant, for they give an intimation of the relation between the sense world and the world of the spirit. These things give a conception about this relation between the sensible and the supersensible much more than what it is today often so impressively given in abstract words. And as for the methods—my dear friends, just look through the literature of spiritual science which I have tried to put into writing, and test the method there—it is a test which apparently few have carried out; the method always is to explain one thing by another, so that the matters are mutually clarified. And a real understanding of the spirit can be arrived at in no other way than by one thing referring to another. Take for example the one word spirit! Anyone who wants to avoid the materialistic thinks that he must for ever be speaking of spirit, spirit, spirit. Take the word Geist in the German language. In Latin it has a still more concrete character: Spiritus, which is something which for most people does not clearly indicate what they understand by our word geist, and on further consideration it all becomes very abstract because you cannot conceive a Spiritus, can you? That is the fundamental concrete conception. But “Spirit Self” (Geistselbst), “spirit” (Geist), what is that? What is its actual concrete significance? Do not most people imagine the spirit—as I have often complained—as something materially very tenuous, absolutely thin, like a thin mist, and if they want to speak of spirit, they speak of vibrations. At theosophical gatherings, at least at their teas, I have so often heard people speak of “such good vibrations”! I do not know what they mean by these vibrations, in any case they were conjuring a very material process into the room. These worth Geist, Gischt, Geischt, Geschti, and so on, a sort of vapour issuing from some opening: this would be the concrete conception. In our time, however, the fifth post-Atlantean age of civilization, one cannot arrive in this way at a concrete idea of Geist, spirit: it is impossible. For you either remain in some shadowy abstraction that you connect with the word “spirit” (Geist) or you are obliged to think of Spiritus, spirits of wine: in thinking of an inspired (begeistert) man you then arrive at a very curious picture. Or else you are obliged to think of something welling up, spurting out of a crevice, a vent hole, and thus arrive at a concrete conception.

Now in the method as carried out here in the anthroposophical prosecution of spiritual Science the attempt is made, by means of many-sided conditions of the conceptions in question, gradually to lead over into the concrete. Just think, if from one side only it is mentioned that the human being is divided into physical body, etheric body, astral body, sentient soul, intellectual soul, consciousness soul, spirit self . . . and here “spirit” comes in—spirit-self, life spirit, spirit man. It can only take effect with full consciousness, for most people who hear the matter can come to no concrete conception of it at all. But then it soon follows that the people will be told—“Look at the course of human life: from birth to the seventh year, to the change of teeth, the physical body comes principally into activity, then till the fourteenth year the etheric body, then the sentient-body, then from the twenty-first to the twenty-eighth year the sentient soul, then in the thirties the intellectual soul,” and so on. With that people are told: “Observe the concrete man from the outside developing through the course of his life and the differences that appear. If at the beginning of his twenties you look at a man with his special characteristics, these characteristics will be symptoms for what you pictured when the expression “sentient soul” is employed. If you look at a child with his characteristic of doing everything that his elders do, of doing everything through his physical body, then in the way the child behaves you will get an idea of what one understands by “physical body.” And if you look at an old man with his gray hair and wrinkled countenance, with the flesh noticeably withering and observe him in his movements, the way he acts, you no longer see as in the child, how whatever is in him is acting chiefly through the sheaths, instead you see in the old man, indeed, what is beginning to free itself from the physical body. Observing the old man, you will gradually get an idea of the spirit from his gestures, his way of behavior. Comparing an old man with a child and comparing the gestures of the old with those imitated by the young, there is awakened in your soul a feeling of the difference between spirit and matter. Think how in that way the pictorial power in imaginative ideas is helped, my dear friends. It is an indication that one should. think concretely of the course of human life, and then gain an experience of filling your onetime abstract words with concrete content.

Again we try in every way possible to show how, for example, mankind itself has become younger and younger—how we are now twenty-seven years old, that is—we have in our civilization arrived as mankind at our twenty-seventh. year. When you compare what you can know of early civilisation-periods with what you hope of later periods that will again support imaginative thinking. Through forming conceptions by way of comparing and relating them you progress from the abstract to the concrete, and strive to prevent the abstract from having any longer a value in itself, but to lead over to the concrete, to discover the genius of speech.

In this the school must come to the help of what is a great task of civilization. In the school this creation of concrete ideas should be made a practice so that in speaking one begins to feel oneself into the speech, to feel oneself in the world in speaking. Take as an example that I have written something on the black-board. Someone says “I do not understand it”. . . Think of the confused abstractions you sometimes have in mind when you say “I do not understand”. They would become concrete if you would picture to yourself that you want to grasp it, take it in, comprehend it. But you do not grasp it, you remain aloof—you do not get into touch with the matter. But you must think with your very hands. Try with the most important words. What will you be doing? You will in fact be doing eurhythmy in spirit! When indeed you speak concretely you do eurhythmy in spirit. You cannot do anything else than eurhythmy in spirit. He who is actively alive in sea things finds most men of today—if you will allow me to say so—sluggards, men who go round with their hands in their pockets and then want to talk without any feeling. For, spiritually considered, abstract thinking is putting the feet together and the hands in the pockets, and withdrawing everything as far into oneself as possible. This is how the man of today speaks. To leave out the concrete from one's thinking is just to be slovenly. But most men are that today. People must become more mobile inwardly, that is, they must feel with the world. Even those who do this often do so unconsciously. One knows people who place their finger on their nose when considering anything. They are quite unconscious of the fact that this is an actual concrete eurhythmic expression of the strong feeling of self when deciding on something. People today do not even consider why they have a left and a right hand, or two eyes. And in learned books the most foolish things—which explain nothing—are said of the seeing with two eyes. If we did not possess two hands so that we can grip one with the other we would not be able to have any clear idea of our own self, our “I”. It is only because we can grasp the one hand with the other, the like with like, that the conception “I” is attainable in the right way. And just as we can cross the left hand with the right, as we experience ourselves, and are astonished at this experience, at experiencing ourselves, we also cross the axis of sight in our eyes, although this crossing is not so visible as that of the hands. And we have two eyes which we can cross for the same reason as we have two arms and two heads.

If we wish to keep in sight the deeper essentials of human development from the present into the future we must bear in mind the necessity of taking up into our speech what the speech of today lacks. Because of its lack man is shut off from the whole world in which he is between death and a new birth. Hence we are exhorted, when we would establish a connection with a dead person, not simply to speak with him in verbal conceptions, for that achieves little, but to think of some concrete situation—you have stood near him in some particular way, have heard his voice, have shared an experience—to think quite concretely of the situation and everything that happened in relation to it that makes a connection with the dead. Today man uses language in a sense which shuts him off completely from the world of the dead; the genius of speech has died to a greet extent, and must be reanimated. Much that is customary today in the use of language should be dropped. A very great deal depends upon this, my dear friends. For it is only by actually trying to listen to the genius of speech lying behind the concrete words that we shell come back to imaginative conception (which I have already mentioned here as essential for future evolution). Then we shall gradually free ourselves altogether from distorted abstractions.

Something else is involved in this. A man feels an enormous satisfaction today in thinking in abstractions, free from the reality that the senses bring him. But he simply comes thereby into gaps in his conceptions; at least they are gaps for the dead. Today when people repeat spirit, spirit, spirit, the words are just so many blanks for nothing concrete is called forth. Most present-day thoughts are abstractions. The farther east one goes, say Europeans the more pictorial speech becomes. And that is just the reason why speech is more nearly related to spiritual things the farther east one goes; because it is more in the form of pictures. Speaking in abstractions should not lead away at all from the concrete sense-conception, but should simply illuminate it. Just think how many of you, my dear friends, thought concretely of the sentence I have just spoken: the sense-conception that have reality should be illumined by the abstractions? You may imagine the concrete sense-conception as a darkness which is illumined by the abstraction. So when we utter the sentence “into our concrete conceptions abstractions enter to illumine them” we think of rays of light falling into a dark room which is blue-black except where the yellow rays stream in. So when I state “into our concrete sense-conceptions the abstractions send their light” I have in mind a dark room into which fall bright rays of light. For how many people is it the case today that they really have such a picture in mind? They say aloud the word illumine without having any of the actual concrete conception in what you would call a spiritual sense. But the important thing is that when we pass over into abstraction, we do not only have a different picture of the concrete, of the physical, that we experience the change in conception. We can make this experience our own on watching eurhythmy; for then through another, less over-worked, medium, through the medium of gesture, what lies within the words comes to expression. And men can find their way back to imagery in ideas.

light rays streaming into a dark room

Few men are conscious that a hand outstretched is an actual “I”, for they do not know that in uttering “I” and connecting it with a concrete conception that they are extending a part of their etheric body. But gradually they realise that they are extending something of their etheric body in uttering “I” by watching the same movement in eurhythmy. It is no arbitrary matter that is introduced here, but actually something connected very strongly, very powerfully with the development of our civilization.

It is important to grasp this. Our period now is the fifth post-Atlantean, that is one, then we have the sixth and seventh ahead of us leading to a great break in human development. During this fifth post-Atlantean period speech must again recover its concrete character, and conceptions become pictures again. Only in this way can we fulfil the task of this fifth post-Atlantean period. Now speech will return less and lees to picture-conceptions the more the state gains control of the spiritual life. The more schools, and spiritual activities have come under state control in the last centuries the more abstract has all life become. Only the spiritual life based on itself will be able to call up this necessary symbolization of man's spiritual being which must be evoked. In the course of the fifth post-Atlantean period things will appear which will act most disturbingly on the spiritual strivings. During this period everyone will only rightly experience himself who can imagine himself in the following situation: “You are in the world, you must be conscious that on the one side you are constantly approaching luciferic beings, and on the other ahrimanic.” This living feeling of standing an man within this trinity must impress itself more and more on mankind in this fifth post-Atlantean period, thereby overcoming the great dangers of the period. The most varied human characters will appear in this fifth post-Atlantean period: idealists will be present, and materialists. But the danger for the idealists will always be that of entering luciferic regions in their conceptions, of becoming fanatics, visionaries, passionate enthusiasts, Lenins, Trotskys, without ground, real actual ground, under their feet, with their wills they can easily become ahrimanic, despotic, tyrannical. What real difference is there between a Czar and a Lenin? In their idea materialists easily become luciferic, prosaic, pedantic, dry, bourgeois; and in their wills become luciferic: greedy, animal, nervous, sensitive, hysterical. I will write this up on the boards:

Idealists: Ideas can easily become luciferic: fanatical, visionary, passionately enthusiastic. Wills can easily become ahrimanic: despotic, tyrannical.

Materialists: Ideas can easily become ahrimanic, prosaic, pedantic, bourgeois. Wills can easily become luciferic: animal, greedy, nervous, hysterical,

You see, idealists and materialists are exposed to similar dangers from different sides in this fifth post-Atlantean period—the idealists to both the luciferic and the ahrimanic: only from the side of ideas to the luciferic, from the side of will to the ahrimanic while materialists are exposed to the ahrimanic more, in their ideas., and to the luciferic more in their wills, The various characters that arise will have this in very different degrees. That is where the difficulty of bringing mankind forward will lie: for all that will be a source of error. Whether he be idealist or materialist, man will never be able to progress aright unless he has the good will to penetrate into material reality in full understanding, and on the other hand also letting the spirit enlighten him in the right way, that is, when he is not one-sided. One should not become one-sided where the most concrete outlooks on life are concerned, in particular not there.

Whoever likes only children faces the danger that very strong ahrimanic influences affect him; whoever prefers the old is in danger of being affected by the strongest luciferic influences, Many-sided interests will be essential for men if they wish to help civilization to evolve fruitfully towards the future. That is the foremost task of this fifth post-Atlantean period.

But these three consecutive periods will encroach upon each other considerably. What comes two expression in the sixth, and even what the seventh expresses, must already be unfolding in the fifth. There will not be so much differentiation in the future as there has been in the past. In the sixth period it will above all be necessary for men to cause the ahrimanic to be fettered, that is to come to terms with reality. How does one come to term with reality? For this it is essential in the first place that the life of rights that has separated from the cultural and economic spheres, that this life of rights in which men must live together democratically must now become as conscious in a higher way as it was unconscious in the Egypto-Chaldaic period. In everything that goes on between man and man, men must learn to experience significant processes on a higher level. Such ideas must become as living as they are presented in my last mystery play, in the Egyptian scene, where Capesius says that what takes place there in little has significance for the whole of world events. When men once more realise that no one can lie without a mighty uproar being made in the spiritual world, then things will be fulfilled as they must be in the sixth post-Atlantean period. And when we arrive once more at the possibility of a wise paganism alongside Christianity then what must come to pass in the seventh period, but is even now particularly essential, will be realised. Humanity has lost its relationship to nature. The gestures of nature no longer speak to man. How many can have any clear idea today when one says: in summer the earth is asleep, in winter awake? It seems a mere abstraction. But it is no abstraction. Such a relation to the whole of nature must be gained so that man can feel once more his identity with all nature.

These are matters that are essential for the inner life of the soul. Of how it is connected with all that we call social impulse we shall speak further tomorrow.